Frederick Glaysher's Blog
November 23, 2014
By ADAM KIRSCH and LESLIE JAMISON
The New York Time Book Review NOV. 18, 2014
Adam Kirsch articulates exactly the kind of despicable drivel that has become finely tuned to eviscerating the art of poetry and propping up the decadent, philistine plutocracy that it in fact obsequiously serves at every turn, which is precisely all The New York Times Book Review and similar publications that function as mouthpieces of the oligarchy have been capable of doing for decades, coveting the filthy lucre of the publishing corporations and carrying out their bidding. The American academy deserves the bastard child of its own creation. Nothing could be more pathetic than the current state of the art of poetry in America and wherever on this planet its degraded “cultural” influence has reached.
The post How Has the Social Role of Poetry Changed Since Shelley? appeared first on The Globe.
November 18, 2014
The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem
New review by Umme Salma of the International Islamic University Chittagong, Bangladesh. Transnational Literature Vol. 7 no. 1, November 2014, Australia. Over 1,200 words.
“The lucid and placid feet of the language moves deftly and smoothly from the beginning up to the last line of the poem. Bravo to the Poet for this toilsome but brilliant endeavour.”
The Myth of the Enlightenment: Essays
Hardcover. ISBN: 9780982677834. Earthrise Press, September 2014. 230 pages.
The Myth of the Enlightenment: Essays. Published September, 2014.
Hardcover. ISBN: 9780982677834. Earthrise Press, September 2014. 230 pages. $22.95. Ships free in the USA within 24 hours. If purchased from this website, free shipping in the UK (from the printer in Milton Keynes) and to anywhere in the European Union, and in Australia (from the printer in Scoresby, Victoria). Elsewhere see Order Books Worldwide. DRM-free PDF $17.95.
Free PDF Copy of the entire book for evaluation: The Myth of the Enlightenment: Essays
I’m afraid I’ve had to be away from The Globe for several months in order to focus on and finish writing The Myth of the Enlightenment. Now that it’s out and setup well on much of the Internet around the world, I hope to have more time to come back here and post my thoughts on things, at least once in a while.
There have been three review / blurb responses to the book so far, with more coming, I hope, with time…
From the Book Flaps:
Fourteen years in the making, The Myth of the Enlightenment is Frederick Glaysher’s first collection of literary essays since The Grove of the Eumenides in 2007. Divided into three sections, these essays and reviews were all written during the 21st Century, with many of them central to his evolving intellectual and spiritual struggle to write his epic poem, The Parliament of Poets, which he completed and published in late 2012.
These essays open up Glaysher’s own biography and his life-long interest in the writings of Leo Tolstoy, Rabindranath Tagore, John Milton, Saul Bellow, Robert Hayden, and other poets and writers, offering a fresh, new vision for literature and culture…
“In an era in which the value of human life has become as precarious and narrow as the study of the humanities itself, we need Glaysher’s voice more than ever.”
—Phillip M. Richards, Colgate University
“In short this is a book I’ll be returning to for the rest of this year and no doubt afterward. I’m glad it exists and I’m grateful for the wisdom it sends my way.” —Laurence Goldstein, University of Michigan, Department of English
“Frederick Glaysher throws down a gauntlet to all who consider themselves informed and reflective thinkers. He compels us to consider the daunting question of what we read and why. His persuasive answer is constituted by the thoughtful criticism of the Myth of Enlightenment, which insightfully examines important texts from Milton, Tagore, Tolstoy and others of that eminence. Through a series of astute readings, he grounds the canonical status of these works in their high worth as a wisdom literature. That is, they constitute the experiential knowledge gained from the examined lives of our greatest writers. Whatever one’s final judgment of this claim, it must be considered if only for the literary acumen of this author. In an era in which the value of human life has become as precarious and narrow as the study of the humanities itself, we need Glaysher’s voice more than ever.” —Phillip M. Richards, Colgate University, Department of English, author of Black Heart: The Moral Life of Recent African American Letters
“This is a marvelous book of eloquent essays by Frederick Glaysher, one that honors the old literary masters, East and West, while exploring the deepest corners of spirituality and its implication for ameliorating the conditions of modern humanity. Reading each essay, whether it be Rabindranath Tagore, Saul Bellow, Tolstoy, or Robert Hayden, as examples, feels like entering into the secret chambers of the writer’s consciousness struggling “with what is universal in the human being”—struggling to express the universality of the human spirit:
Now more than ever, after centuries of falling down into the bottomless pit of nihilism, the world needs to recover the vision of universality, what the great religions and people of various centuries and cultures have in common. For all too long, humanity has obsessed with what distinguishes and separates, what divides people from one another, setting up our little racial, nationalistic gods and idols….Universality embraces all persuasions and transcends them. That is the great challenge.
“This quest is, as Glaysher clearly reveals, the never ceasing search for creative unity to which he and many others have given over their life, through their thoughts, words, and actions. The essays in this book aim for the author’s highest vision; that is, an attempt to “embody and represent the fullness of human reflection,” an inclination intended not just for academics, but a voice for all, and one that speaks to our time. And to that end, Glaysher has allowed himself to draw “from the soil of literature and culture whatever they need to produce and sustain their fruit.” In talking about his relationship with Robert Hayden, Glaysher tells us, “his own poetry had worked its way deep in to my consciousness.” I cannot think of a better way to describe how this book impresses itself on the reader; if there are millions of people waiting for a sign, as Allan Bloom is cited as saying, then this book is assuredly evidence of what such a sign looks like.” —Julie Clayton, New Consciousness Review
I The Myth of the Enlightenment
“Of True Religion” by John Milton 15
Tolstoy and the Last Station of Modernity 21
Leo Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad 39
The Poet’s Religion of Rabindranath Tagore 43
Tagore and Literary Adaptation 72
Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein—The Closing of the American Soul 79
Robert Hayden Under a High Window of Angell Hall 87
Aristotle’s Poetics and Epic Poetry 104
Decadence, East and West 108
The Post-Gutenberg Revolution—A Manifesto 129
II Reviews and an Interview
Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair 155
The American Scholar and the Decline of the English Department 157
Fang Lizhi and Human Rights in China 162
Bitter Winds, Indeed 167
Global Tragedies of Our Own Making 171
To My Opposite Number in Texas 173
Interview of the Author of The Bower of Nil 179
III Race in America
Robert Hayden’s Angle of Ascent 191
Creating Equal. Ward Connerly 198
Enough… Juan Williams 199
White Guilt. Shelby Steele 203
Reawakening the Dream. Shelby Steele 207
The Quest for Cosmic Justice. Thomas Sowell 210
Black Rednecks and White Liberals. Thomas Sowell 213
For Betty—Oh God, What Have We Done. David Horowitz 220
Winning the Race. John McWhorter 222
FROM the Preface
For over three-hundred years, civilization has been under the sway of the Myth of the Enlightenment. While the Enlightenment initiated a highly beneficial movement away from autocratic government and religion, a stifling reliance on past authorities, accompanied by an ever-increasing scientific and practical development, very early on stress and cracks began to be felt in the structure of the psyche and society. The twentieth century witnessed those cracks transmogrifying into crevasses of gaping and violent proportions, often circling the globe.
The last few decades have borne all the more testimony that the Myth of the Enlightenment has become part of the problem and no longer sufficiently comprises what is needed to resolve and heal what civilization is suffering from.
Speaking broadly, to reach the imagination of the entire culture, the cultural richness and plenitude of the humanities are essential and must include all of the religious and wisdom traditions. Story, myth, and drama reach the deepest into the psyche, as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, among others, understood, as they had learned from the greatest works of art and myth that were in fact at the core of their own studies.
Science cannot alone heal the divide that it, too, suffered as a result of the upheavals of the seventeenth century and modernity, though quantum physics suggests a transition of worldview. Neither can literature and the humanities alone heal the wound of civilization. It can only be done together, an act in itself that at last demonstrates the divide has been crossed, dramatizing it, as it were, for all to understand…
April 3, 2014
Emphasizing the continuing influence of Robert Hayden, Phillip M. Richards of Colgate University, educated at Yale University and the University of Chicago, writes, in his 2006 book, Black Heart: The Moral Life of Recent African American Letters, “In the long view of African-American poetry, Hayden’s symbolist poetry has proved more influential than the Black Arts movement…. Hayden, years after his death, remains our most influential black poet, and his followers the most productive and distinguished school of artist intellectuals” (178). Similarly, Charles Henry Rowell, editor of the journal Callaloo, in his book published last year, Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, writes, “The title of this anthology . . . pays tribute to Hayden, a master artist who left behind an extraordinary gift in the pantheon of North American poetry.”
I want to emphasize what Charles Henry Rowell is implying by his carefully choosing the words “North American Poetry.” Rowell understands the literary, social, and aesthetic values that Hayden stood for and realized he couldn’t narrow them down. I myself read Robert Hayden’s poetry for years before I became one of Hayden’s students in 1979. While fully recognizing and relishing Hayden’s poetry, then and now, as I believe the foremost engagement with African-American experience in poetry, I’ve always had the sense, too, which Rowell suggests, that Hayden’s poetry speaks to the human experience of all North Americans, with the universal aspirations of the greatest poets, such as a Whitman. As the author of an epic poem in which Robert Hayden is a character, that has been reviewed in Poetry Cornwall in England as “a masterpiece that will stand the test of time,” and reviewed by Dr. Hans Ruprecht of Carleton University in Ottawa as “a great epic poem of startling originality and universal significance,” I gratefully acknowledge that I could never have written my epic poem, The Parliament of Poets, without the example and tutelage of the art of Robert Hayden. Today, we honor Robert Hayden’s striving for the universal, his ability to help us see and understand that about ourselves and our nation, our national experience, one of the perennial goals of great art. At a time when the goals and scope of the literary art were becoming smaller and smaller, turning inward on the small experience of the confessional postmodern self, all the cliches of the personal, the deriding of so-called meta-narratives, Robert Hayden unabashedly saw the personal against the backdrop of a wider social canvas, ever increasingly global in his reach, leading to his poem “[American Journal],” the cosmic vision of his persona from an alien civilization, more human than we are, pondering the nature of life in the United States and on the entire planet.
By Hayden’s own self-assessment, the arc or trajectory of his life was painstakingly slow, and would include among its highlights, as a brief sketch, his birth in 1913 and growing up in Detroit’s Paradise Valley, his years at Detroit City College, now this institution, Wayne State University, writing theatre reviews for the Michigan Chronicle and radio plays in Windsor, for the WPA “A History of the Negro in Michigan,” eventually studying at the University of Michigan, first as a part-time student and then full-time, earning a master’s degree in English, and staying on for a few years as a teaching assistant. His taking W. H. Auden’s class in the Analysis of Poetry was a crucial experience for him and helped further open up for Hayden a wider understanding of the art of poetry and the role of the poet that he sought to serve the rest of his life, no matter how fierce the chorus became for him to return to his earlier, less intellectually sophisticated folk style of the 1930s. At Fisk University for decades, overburdened with teaching as many as five courses a semester, Hayden somehow still continued slowly to write remarkable poetry that accumulated into his early books, poetry of striking moral, spiritual, and aesthetic vision. Although there were many encouraging signs for Hayden throughout his life, he often felt he was, with some justification, as he was once called, “the best unknown poet in America.” No account of his life can leave out the irony that in the same year, 1966, he received the Grand Prize for Poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal, Africa, personally presented to Hayden by President and poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, and was attacked at the Black Writers Conference at Fisk University, antinomies enough to shake up and test the soul of any poet, causing Hayden to weigh ever more carefully what he really believed. The complexity around race for Robert Hayden goes right to the heart of the matter, of what does it mean to be human and an American, recalling the reflections of the early American French farmer Crèvecœur, the perennial struggle of “life upon these shores.” The son of a father of African origin and a mother of Irish, Hayden found himself torn between his natural love for his parents and a society that sometimes failed to affirm who he was in terms of his full humanity. On more than one occasion, Hayden made clear to me that he had experienced racist attitudes from both blacks and whites. Thirty-four years after his death, we Americans still have much to learn from Robert Hayden, though, arguably, we’ve made significant progress, not to be lost sight of.
In an interview with Alvin Aubert, Jr., in 1975, Hayden responds to many of the issues involved with race for him by saying, in perhaps his clearest statement of what he believed, “to advocate or to support separatism in any form is to give aid and comfort to the bigots.” Hayden goes on to criticize the tendency to pull away or back, self-segregate. Phillip Richards, in his courageous and important book Black Heart, insightfully discusses in extensive detail the dynamics involved. Richards’ chapter on Hayden is the most insightful essay I’ve ever read. Hayden once told me that as a graduate student at the University of Michigan he had had to live a significant distance away from campus, out in the area of Ann Arbor where most blacks of the time were essentially forced to live. He hated it and wanted to live in the dormitories with other students but couldn’t. Such experiences are behind his saying to Aubert, “I think the ‘Toms’ are the ones who are running around being separate, running around college campuses wanting their own dormitories and their own cafeterias and so on.” Notice, there’s nothing there about the Baha’i Faith. It’s all right out of lived experience, and lays out his thinking in clear and stark opposition to the louder voices of the Black Arts Movement, supposedly avant garde. Closing the topic with Aubert, Hayden stated, “If we’re in separate dormitories and classrooms, then we don’t have to be dealt with. So that’s my answer to that.” To look at all of it in another way, Hayden understood the Black Arts Movement was a coterie, which by literary definition always involves some form of the narrowing of vision, separatism. To Hayden, this coterie emphatically had potentially devastating social and cultural consequences. His wisdom in this regard has been proven by time.
In 1975, Hayden had already been back in Ann Arbor for five years, even a little longer as a visiting professor, and was about to become the first poet of black heritage to be the Consultant in Poetry at The Library of Congress, to which he was reappointed for a second term, an honor in itself which doesn’t always happen. Looking back at Hayden’s development as a poet from our vantage point, his career can look more like that of a poet who made slow but steady progress, hard won every inch of the way, or one should say, earned by the struggle and sweat of his own brow. Another way of phrasing it, is that Hayden had to struggle to find readers who could understand him, a struggle that in some ways continues, as it does for every great poet, as layer upon layer unfolds over time. All of which brings to mind the poet Samuel Johnson’s observation on Shakespeare about how he had managed to write so many plays, in a word, Johnson wrote, “perseverance.”
Often in history, cities, East and West even, have marked major turns in direction, or encouraged them, through the dedication of new civic symbols and statues, helping people to have a visible sign of change, renewal, the direction in which to go or strive. About a year ago, walking out the back entrance of the Detroit Public Library, the thought occurred to me that the large island of the circle drive, having nothing but grass on it, facing Wayne State University, would be a most suitable place for a bronze statue of Robert Hayden, a visible sign of the values of knowledge and learning that he represented and had lived his life for, the young poet who studied at both the library and now adjacent university as it has expanded. Recall that it was at the Detroit Public Library that a librarian in the 1930s would set aside books of poetry for him knowing his interest in the art. Facing the campus of Wayne State University, it would honor and highlight the importance of both institutions as well as the example of a man and poet who was the offspring of both. I gladly share what for me has become a persistent idea with anyone willing to consider making it a reality. If there’s any poet from Detroit and Michigan worthy of the honor, it’s Robert Hayden. The arc of Robert Hayden’s ascent is still rising.
In the poem “For a Young Artist,” Hayden turns biography into myth, one might say as every great poet does. Inspired by a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hayden transforms the plot into the arduous ascent of the artist, through trial and tribulation, misunderstanding, if not antagonism, to the realization of his deepest aspirations and visions, an almost Jungian myth of the process of Individuation. (ended with a reading of the poem)
March 25, 2014
Robert Hayden / Dudley Randall Centennial Symposium, Wayne State University, April 2-3, 2014. I’ll be talking about Hayden’s “Angle of Ascent” and reading an excerpt from my epic poem in which Hayden’s a character. There’s a more readable PDF at the link, of the screenshot below.
Hope you can make it!
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February 21, 2014
The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem
Epic Poetry and Quantum Physics
I believe the only way to reach the imagination of the entire culture is through the cultural richness and plenitude of the humanities, speaking broadly, which includes all of the religious and wisdom traditions. Story, myth, and drama reach the deepest into the psyche, as Jung, Campbell, and others understood, as they had learned from the greatest works of art and myth that were in fact at the core of their own studies. Having read the astronaut Edgar Mitchell’s The Way of the Explorer and various other things, such as Frithjof Capra’s The Turning Point and George B. Leonard’s The Transformation, long ago, I respected their attempt and approach. There are many voices who have and are grappling with these things, from various angles.
Science cannot really heal alone the divide that it, too, suffered as a result of the upheavals of the seventeenth century and modernity, though quantum physics has led some to reconsider and foresee a transition of the worldview as a result of it. On the other hand, I acknowledge that literature and the humanities cannot heal the wound of civilization alone either. I’ve come to realize that it can only be done together… an act in itself that would at last demonstrate the divide has been crossed, dramatizing it, as it were, for all to understand.
Science fiction can produce a good read for some but I don’t believe it can bear the weight of the entire civilization, in a form that commands cultural respect commensurate with the theme in question.
Resolution can only come about for the entire social sphere through literature and culture, at the most sensitive levels, bearing a sense of history, of the past, as well as a sense of the new scientific worldview implicit in quantum physics. Believing all that, I chose the epic form because of its universality, its presence in some form in most major cultures, and its ability to carry the burden of epochal reassessment and transformation, which it has repeatedly demonstrated in the past.
By dramatizing those antinomies, like life itself, beheld in a mirror, as it were, I believe we can imaginatively choose change, in consciousness, change consciousness, leading to and helping to make more possible adjustments in reality, which we all so dearly need around the world.
We human beings, our thinking so narrow and restrictive, as soon as we “organize,” in the supposed best interest of others, whether “religious” or “secular,” every “box” failing sooner or later… often with much woe before we realize it. To my mind, the whole modern assortment of cardboard boxes, whether traditional institutional “religion” or the Enlightenment myth and its offspring, are crumbling all around us, unable to hold together and do justice to the contents of the psyche, protect and guide us from our own worst passions and assumptions, crippling fragmentation our daily bread and dilemma.
It’s not an easy task to confront all that and suggest a modest reassessment, not Utopian hubris, but it seems that every sign continues to demonstrate how urgent it is that we human beings achieve it. What but universality offers hope in the face of all the movements clamoring for exclusivism, in one form for or another? What have we lived into around the globe if not the rich and fertile pluralism of universality?
I feel the rich heritage that we carry with us, though, has become open to everyone around the globe, so that instead of only one exclusive tradition, if you will, we human beings have been becoming for a long time now increasingly heirs of all the past forms of transcendence. Far from their being swept aside, what is universal in them has become increasingly clarified so that it can be seen and appreciated as universal… an infinite Unity and Oneness, the global heritage of humanity.
I think of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, when he extols basically the life force versus ideas about life… as in the totalitarians forcing their ideas on the whole society, to the destruction of a civilized form of life. The West has gone about it in different ways, but, to an extent, arguably, achieved something like it in its own way–both materialistic at the core.
Early in life I had also read Ram Das’ Be Here Now, in my early twenties, along with some books by Alan Watts, Carlos Castaneda, Krishnamurti, Arnold Toynbee, Sufi poets, and so on. Having actually read even earlier in high school The World Bible, one of the early popular collections of the Upanishads, Buddhist, and other major scriptures, I was open to, shall we say, every current on Earth. Still am.
But living in Japan and traveling throughout China, and so on, sobered me up, in a lot of ways, study and life making clear that the East too has passed into the crucible of modernity, where we all have been mixed and poured together… human at best.
I have a long and complicated religious lineage, or journey, one probably easy to misread. I hope to write someday more about it in prose, a Confessions, if you will, though my epic, I’d like to think, is the best account. One of my essays may be my next best attempt to suggest it, in literary terms,
Tolstoy and the Last Station of Modernity
What religion-become-doctrine does is disperse the mystery from lived life. I attended once an interfaith meeting in which two Christian ministers spent much of the time rehashing consubstantiation versus transubstantiation in front of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, and others, as to which interpretation was essentially the “true” Christian one. I’ve never been able to see any Christianity in either, and I’m someone who actually studied those doctrines, at various times, out of historical and literary interest. Much of the culture is frozen in all those antiquated categories of “religion,” and then much of the rest of it is locked into fighting against those outdated conceptions, skewing its own thinking, while our crises loom ever larger.
The language of poetry is the only tongue that can evoke and probe the matters of the soul… short of prayer. So there must be a way, to… reach…
January 16, 2014
Kickstarter. A New Global, Universal Vision of Life on this Planet! http://kck.st/1m5XFyD
In Performance, on Stage, The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem, by Frederick Glaysher.
Like a story “around a campfire.” —From the Audience.
“Certainly wowed the crowd at the library with the performance [boldface added] and the words themselves.” —Thom Francis, Albany Poets News, New York.
Thirty years in the making, in late 2012, I finished and published The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem. Now after several public readings and as many reviews, my Kickstarter Project is to take it to humanity, in Performance, on Stage, at a Michigan theatre, in 2014. At approximately thirty minutes per chapter, I would read the first three chapters or “Books” of the epic, what has traditionally been called “in medias res,” in the midst of things, a flash-back device, with the action already in mid-stream on the moon.
In ancient Greece, the rhapsodes, reciters of epic poetry, an oral art, traveled throughout the Greek world, from city to city, reciting the tales of Homer and other epic poets. Nearly thirty-five years ago I had a theatre class in the interpretation of poetry that set me to dreaming of writing an epic poem and then traveling worldwide to recite it. Now I am ready, epic in hand, to commence that journey!
I believe that the imagination is at the core of all human endeavor, and that an imaginative vision of a New Global, Universal Vision of Life on this Planet can help inspire people to make it a reality. Together, from the moon, we can see it.
I need your help and support to bring the vision we all long for to the attention of humanity. I am painfully aware that I cannot do it alone. I could study and write alone for decades, needed to, but now I must turn to others to aid me in reaching an audience. I don’t have the financial resources to do it alone. I need $9,625 to take my epic poem to humankind! Please help, if you can…
Read a Free Sample Chapter, Book I, on Amazon (USA, UK), Barnes & Noble, or as a PDF. http://fglaysher.com/images/FGlaysher_The_Parliament_of_Poets_Book_I.pdf
THE ARGUMENT – A brief headnote sketch of each chapter or “Book.” PDF.http://fglaysher.com/images/THE_ARGUMENT_The_Parliament_of_Poets.pdf
YouTube Playlist, Epic Poetry Readings.
Please share this Kickstarter Project with friends and family, blogs and elsewhere, the media, whatever you can do, and help get the word out about The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem, *in Performance, on Stage*.
I’m very grateful for your help. See you at the Performance! Journey to the moon!
The post Kickstarter. A New Global, Universal Vision of Life on this Planet! appeared first on The Globe.
November 17, 2013
The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem
Review by Nana Fredua-Agyeman, Accra, Ghana, Africa. ImageNations.
The Parliament of Poets (2012) is a 294-page epic poem by Frederick Glaysher, which has the moon as its setting and deals with important issues such as science and religion, the current consumerist approach to our economics, profiteering and capitalism, gradual wearing away of morality and spirituality, wars, hunger, general deprivation, race, and more. It is a poem in twelve parts or Books. This review shall be restricted to Book I, which deals with the general issues covered in the individual books, and Book XI, which involves the persona’s visit to Africa and involves Achebe’s character in Arrow of God, the Priest Ezeulu.
As already stated the setting of this epic poem is the moon, specifically, the Apollo 11 landing site. The gathering of ancient and modern poets from both East and West was called by the Greek god Apollo and the Nine Muses. The main subject for discussion is the meaning of modernity and modern day nihilism. Several poets are gathered: Cervantes, Du Fu, Li Po, Vyasa, Tagore, Basho, Saigyo, Rumi, Attar, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, Keats, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, African griots and shamans, Balla Fasseke, Merlin, Job, and others. Before these gathering of awe-exuding poets stood the persona – The Poet of the Moon….
…a beautiful poem that falls off the tongue smoothly. …an excellent piece of poetry.”
The post Review by Nana Fredua-Agyeman, Accra, Ghana, Africa. ImageNations. appeared first on The Globe.
The Parliament of Poets: An Epic Poem
Amazon Review - Most Important Book Of Our Times. October 29, 2013.
“I believe Frederick Glaysher’s book, The Parliament of Poets, is one of the most important books of our times. In this grand sweeping epic, Glaysher has managed to live up to the task given to him by The Parliament of Poets. At a gathering on the moon of many of the most important poets of all time, Glaysher as the Persona is given the task of creating a new vision for humanity; one of Unity and Oneness of humankind. As he travels around the globe, throughout history, guided by the various poets and thinkers of days gone by, he has the vantage point of viewing humanity’s oneness from the overview perspective of the moon, synthesizing and integrating the great thinkers of all time. He has returned from these journeys to the moon and back with an epic poem that manages to fulfill the task given to him. He manages to create for the reader a tangible vision of our shared humanity, and makes an impassioned plea that we WAKE UP before we destroy ourselves and our one precious planet. His is an inspired epic that integrates the ancient wisdom teachings of the world’s greatest wisdom teachers and poets and breathlessly leaves the reader returned safely to Earth with a new vision and sense of responsibility towards our shared humanity. It is a very important book for our times and a MUST READ!!!!” –Soulwhisperer; also on Goodreads
November 4, 2013
Read at the ROBERT HAYDEN CENTENNIAL CONFERENCE AND POETRY TRIBUTE, The University of Michigan, November 1, 2013. YouTube link at the end.
“It is hard for a man to find one kindred spirit among thousands of his fellows, and if at last, softened by our prayers, fate grants one, there comes the unexpected day, the unlooked for hour, which snatches him away, leaving an eternal emptiness.” —John Milton’s Elegy for Damon (tr. Anna Beer)
As a young poet I had chosen not to go off to the university after high school, but followed what I thought of as the solitary examples of Robert Frost and E. A. Robinson and other writers. For a few years, living and writing on an old farm in Oakland Township, Michigan, I tried on the singing robes of Whitman and others, eventually moving to Detroit, near Seven Mile and John R, having been born at Deaconess Hospital on East Jefferson Avenue. More than one line of my family tree has roots extending into the neighborhoods near and of Jefferson Chalmers, some back into the 19th Century. One day at the Detroit Public Library, I noticed a placard that a librarian had posted about the poet Robert Hayden. I sought out his books and read and immersed myself in his poetry, deciding, in time, I would transfer to the University of Michigan in hope of studying with him. My dream came true more than I had ever expected, taking three classes with him, one in Recent Poetry, an independent study of Emily Dickinson, and a private tutorial in writing.
As I explain in my essay on Hayden in my book The Grove of the Eumenides, during the poetry class, he was diagnosed with cancer and was understandably devastated by the prognosis. Looking back I think my writing for him a paper on Countee Cullen brought me to his attention, or an office visit, before long in and out of class. His poetry had already worked its way deep into my consciousness. He knew I held him in high esteem and I felt it a duty to let him know it. In time he became not only older poet, master, mentor, but, I believe, mutually heart-felt friend, father, taking me increasingly into his confidence, hiring me as a secretary to help him get his papers somewhat in order, and allowing me entry into the private life of his home and family, often two or three afternoons a week for the last several months of his life. Robert Hayden is not merely a literary, academic subject to me but the pivotal personal relationship of my entire adult life.
I found in Hayden’s writing a confrontation and engagement with injustice and modernity unlike anything else on the landscape of post-World War II poetry. As a Detroiter myself, having been born in the City, with many childhood memories, eventually growing up in the suburbs, I was fascinated by Hayden’s ability to evoke and probe the complex human experience of modern life, whether writing about Detroit and America’s seemingly endless traumas with race, the wider sweep around the globe, or the spiritual profundities he intimated. Robert Hayden’s poetry has always spoken to me at a deeper level of consciousness than any other post-war American poet.
Having written extensively elsewhere on Hayden in terms of race and poetry, I want to focus on his grappling with the universal evils and violence that human beings perpetrate on one another. In “Words in the Mourning Time,” evoking Vietnam, poem “III” offers a striking example:
He comes to my table in his hungry wounds
and his hunger. The flamed-out eyes,
their sockets dripping. The nightmare mouth.
He snatches food from my plate, raw
fingers bleeding, seizes my glass
and drinks, leaving flesh-fragments on its rim.
Horror incarnate. Vietnamese, napalmed. The horrifying dehumanization of the image evokes and condemns what we Americans have become, merciless in our military might, imposing our will on others, our political and military-industrial-congressional complex destroying anything and anyone that stands in our way, carpet bombing nations into submission, ignoring, in the case of Vietnam, the UN resolution that we not go into that country. Only Randall Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” spoke to me the way that many poems by Hayden did.
No solipsistic postmodernism in Robert Hayden. I remember once his reading to me and laughing about a poem by Stanley Plumly, recounting Plumly’s walking across the street to visit his grandma. Hayden gestured into the air, roaring, “Is that all?” No patience for the small world of the self, detached aestheticism, or what Saul Bellow scathingly called “knee-jerk nihilism,” indifference to life, in this world in which we have to live. Hayden’s poetry is not the clichéd “poetry of witness,” nor the accounts in the daily newspaper, but a profound meditation and exploration of the dehumanization and moral and spiritual vacuum that produce violence against other human beings. A pair of human eyes behind the mask of coke-bottle glasses peers out at the horror, seeking, demanding it mean something, that the toll of all the horror be taken account of and felt, felt by the reader with a human intimacy deep in the heart and soul, artfully suggesting, “‘Raw head and bloodybones night.’ No more.” Deftly, Hayden’s sensibility and craft carries the reader toward a higher stage of humanity. Consciously opposing Auden’s stricture, Hayden believed, “Poetry does make something happen, for it changes sensibility” (CP 11). In such poems, Hayden taught and showed me the way to write about my own experience of modernity, in my first book of poems, Into the Ruins.
Robert Hayden is one of the great American poets. When I think of the major modern poets Yeats, Eliot, Auden, and Milosz, I am compelled to recognize their comparative breadth and the fact that each also wielded a prose pen with which they studied the Tradition and plumbed its depths. Robert Hayden’s prose is of a different nature, most of it composed of interviews. Talking with him once, he explained it to me by saying, “I’ve never really had any ideas about all that.” I was shocked to hear him say that because I knew he had read widely in poetry and literature and taught various classes for decades. Yet his gift resides elsewhere, in poetry of remarkable language and imagination, clarity of vision and insight.
I have always agreed with what Laurence Goldstein wrote in The Detroit Free Press on April 20, 1980: “Hayden ranked among the greatest of contemporary poets of any color.” I still don’t believe there’s another American poet of his generation that achieved a body of poetry comparable in exquisite language, feeling, compassion, love, and universality of humane vision. His development over the decades was arduous and hard won, but his achievement shall last as long as people care about American literature and poetry. Thirty-three years after his death, Robert Hayden’s poems have already demonstrated that they will be among those few to go forward into the centuries. Our presence here today indicates as much.
In his interview in the Baha’i magazine World Order during the US Bicentennial, Hayden states, “Americans have always been dissenters” and “have never submitted for long to injustice.” Alluding to Emerson, Thoreau, and the Quakers, “There have always been among us people who have some vision of how things ought to be, and they have led the rest of us, the rest of the country, in the right direction” (CP 85). Unabashedly, apologetically, Hayden has something he wants to communicate to the reader. Often after meditations on horror, something he wants to tell us. Once, under a high window in Angell Hall, sunlight streaming in, in the very room in which Hayden said he had sat in W. H. Auden’s class, The Analysis of Poetry, I sat and heard him say it. Peering out towards the class, a book in one hand, mildly, quietly even, he tossed it out at us, the other hand grappling in the air, “Poetry has to have something to do with the transcendent.” That is the ancient criterion of the highest art for all civilizations on this planet. Without any argument or followup, moving on to another topic, that was it. In his TV interview with Ron Scott, he stated it in the universal terms of the mystic, “There is something beyond and behind all that we do.” I knew there and then in Angell Hall, and have never forgotten it, that I had heard words that were rarely spoken during the Age of Criticism, doctrinally tending to celebrate Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, similar minds and thinkers, dehumanizing theories and sophistries.
Listening carefully to Hayden, he states in his interview with Denis Gendron, referring to World Order and to a poem he was working on, “Sections will be left out for the magazine—some things I don’t want to appear there,” adding, “If I had not become a Baha’i (we have to attack this indirectly), I might have become a humanist.” Talking about studying Baha’i in 1941, he says, in the Collected Prose, “My wife went to study groups more often than I did, and she still does, for that matter” (CP 110). Alluding broadly to authoritarian leaders, and behind the veil of art, to the Baha’i “counselors,” who impose a very tight control over freedom of conscience and speech, an authoritarianism that comes out of the Iranian Shiism within the Haifan Baha’i Faith, his poem [American Journal] refers to “The Counselors” to whom the persona must report about his mission to earth:
The Counselors would never permit such barbarous
confusion they know what is best for our sereni
why should we sanction
old hypocrisies thus dissenters The Counse
lors would silence them
a decadent people The Counselors believe i
do not find them decadent a refutation not
At times Hayden, and even Mrs. Hayden, would mention “counselors” they felt very worried about, for good reason as time has proven. Hayden was not a Baha’i fundamentalist and loathed literal-minded interpretations of the Baha’i writings and delighted in criticizing and caricaturing such Baha’is. In “The Night-Blooming Cereus,” the persona unobtrusively slips in that the newly opened flower is a “Lunar presence, / foredoomed, already dying,” which is to say, belongs elsewhere than in this world, already passing. Trust the poem not the poet.
Again, with Gendron, Hayden reveals there is part of him that is “convinced that there is transcendence, that there is a spiritual dimension and there is God” and at the same time “there is the other side of me that finds it very hard to accept that, that finds it very hard to believe.” He allows that he can’t “completely surrender and be absolutely obedient”(G 158-160). Elsewhere he emphasizes “I have always been half in and half out of everything all my life.” In more candid terms with me, alone in his study, he would quietly get up and close the door, and then say, “It has always been important to Erma that I remain a Baha’i.” Repeatedly on other occasions, emphatically, “Why I continue to have anything to do with the Baha’i Faith, I do not know! I do not know!”
After he died I continued to pack up his papers and dutifully delivered them to an archive of Mrs. Hayden’s choosing. I remember sitting alone in his tiny study thinking of T. S. Eliot’s line, “Leaving disordered papers in a dusty room.” The room was no longer the same without him. And I recall Erma, perhaps in the role of loving wife, meaning well, telling me he had never been beaten as a child, though unbeknownst to her he himself had told me that he had. Similarly, as a caring wife will do, she always claimed much more involvement on his part with the Baha’i Faith, in Nashville and elsewhere, than he himself did.
He once said, alluding to these matters and what he called The Problem, “I suppose everything will have to come out some day.” I replied, “The world always deserves the truth. There can be no growth otherwise.” Thirty-three years after the man’s death, I don’t believe personal obligation demands anything be hidden or swept under the rug. Quite the reverse. Everything is in the prose and the poems. To a significant degree, the world has caught up with Hayden on race, and his sexual battles just aren’t The Problem they used to be for a man of his generation.
Ultimately his religious consciousness is in the broadest sense affirming “the humane, the universal, the potentially divine in the human creature,”adding, “I’ve always been a believer of sorts, despite periods of doubt and questioning. I’ve always had God-consciousness, as I call it, if not religion” (CP 119-20). Hayden is not referring exclusively to the Baha’i Faith when he talks of “God-consciousness.” His experience runs deeper and longer if again we listen carefully. For instance, with Ron Scott, he lightly slips in that he was very much involved with the Second Baptist Church when young, “much more than many think or realize,” and was for a time training to be a missionary to Africa. One of his life insurance policies that I had occasion to see was with the Baptist church. His first book, Heart Shape in the Dust, also records Hayden had a sense of the spiritual even then, evolving further too with that theme throughout the years. Hayden’s spiritual life did not begin with his conversion to the Baha’i Faith in 1943. Nor did his becoming a Baha’i solve all of his personal problems. In 1975 Hayden told Gendron he felt blocked by something. I would argue it was partly his better judgement that something was amiss with the Baha’i Faith which doesn’t sufficiently surface until the advent of the Internet, in the mid 1990s. In another sense, Hayden finally confronts what blocks him in “The Tattooed Man,” written during the fall of 1979, accepting himself, achieving an integration of being and healing that he had long sought.
To be clear, I am not saying Robert Hayden was not a Baha’i, but that what he believed was the Baha’i Faith can now be seen as not entirely existing, as reminiscent of W. B. Yeats’s myth in his book A Vision. Hayden learned this too from Yeats, a myth that Hayden did not have to write entirely for himself. Hayden’s universal myth was a turn to seeking divine grace and mercy, symbolically in many poems. As I wrote in my 1983 essay in World Order (Summer), “Re-centering: The Turning of the Tide and Robert Hayden,” I still believe he’s the first American poet to realize there’s a way out of the anomie of modernity, through universality, and a profound change of sensibility, not ultimately narrowly defined as an exclusive Baha’i box. Heroically, Hayden maintained that there is no such thing as white poetry, nor Black poetry, just American poetry. The same can be said for “Baha’i poetry.” The real living and breathing man, with all his struggles, is much more worth reading than the plaster Baha’i saint. Hayden’s poetry is much more sophisticated and nuanced, questioning the nature of reality and whether and how we can know it, to what extent such knowledge is even possible. Robert Hayden speaks on many levels about transcendence and his Baha’i Faith.
No one can speak for a dead man, but I can say that I believe that the man I knew would never have tolerated much of what has transpired in the religion since his death, recounted in my book Letters from the American Desert. Robert Hayden must not be allowed to be coopted into any position that remotely suggests he would have approved of injustice and fanaticism, as has been done implicitly on his Wikipedia page, controlled by Baha’is for over a decade. Robert Hayden’s poetry is too vital to American literature to be enlisted anachronistically in the proselytizing and support of an organization that has increasingly become antithetical to much of what Hayden tells us is most important to him—justice and human dignity, freedom and liberty of conscience, democratic principles, and the transcendence that he found in the universal Divine.
In the end, we have Hayden’s impeccable art, as in his Yeatsian meditation on Whistler’s “The Peacock Room,” which he called one of his “most important poems,” and in which Hayden artfully writes, “briefly I shelter”:
What is art?
What is life?
What the Peacock Room?
Rose-leaves and ashes drift
its portals, gently spinning toward
a bronze Bodhisattva’s ancient smile.
In my epic poem, The Parliament of Poets, Apollo calls all the poets of the nations, ancient and modern, East and West, to assemble on the moon to consult on the meaning of modernity. On Earth and on the moon, the poets teach a new global, universal vision of life. In a 3-minute excerpt from a 12-minute canto, the Persona begins to recount how he traveled there with his guide, the poet Robert Hayden.