April 7, 2018

"Tell all the truth but tell it slant..."

Wrote Emily Dickenson, quoted by the novelist Mary Gordon, leaving out the word "all," talking with the actress Glenda Jackson, in "Mary Gordon & Glenda Jackson Talk Poetry, Theater and the State of Feminism" (NYT)"
GJ: I’m so pleased you said that, because I’m a big fan of Emily Dickinson. The view of both Stevie [the British poet Stevie Smith, played by Jackson in "Stevie"] and Emily Dickinson seems to be that here were these two solitary, depressed, lonely women, but they lived in these fantastic worlds!

MG: They’re great, greater than anybody around at that time. But their forms are small. And so, female gets defined as minor. Some of American women writers’ best work was done in the form of the short story: Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Stafford. I think what’s funny is around the same time that Emily Dickinson wrote, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise,
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
ADDED: This seems to gesture, differently, at the "fake news" problem we fakely fret about these days. Maybe the participation of women has changed public discourse in a way that we haven't quite acclimated to. Consider the benefits of circuitous truth. It's the only way to get the "all" that even Mary Gordon let slide.


M Jordan said...

Stevie Smith has a wonderful poem called about a misunderstood person whose drowning is overlooked by others because they think she is just “larking” as usual. But she was always drowning, never larking.

Maybe I’ll dig it up and post here.

M Jordan said...

And here tis:

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life

Fernandistien said...

"I am large, I contain multitudes."

The Germans Have A Word For That. said...

"Tell all the truth but tell it slant..."

Chinese propaganda.

The Germans have a word for this.

rhhardin said...

Supposing truth to be a woman - what? is the suspicion not well founded that all philosophers, when they have been dogmatists, have had little understanding of women [have been misunderstsanding as to women], that the gruesome earnestness, the clumsy importunity with wich they have been in the habit of approaching the truth have been inept and improper means of winning a wench? Certainly she has not let herself be won - and today every kind of dogmatism stands sad and discouraged. If it continues to stand at all.

Nietsche, cited in Derrida's _Spurs_ p.55

William said...

Delight is the circumference of light, the circuit and not the fence.

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

Sometimes chicks post poetry on 4chan. And a lot of it is sad fat Goth Girl-cutter stuff, with lots of trees in winter with no leaves and dead birds in the snow and shit. But there are some that are actually kinda good, if you don't mind them not rhyming. Personally, I like the poems that rhyme better, but I guess when it's art it doesn't have to rhyme anymore.

There was one I liked a few weeks back, and I copied-and-pasted it because I knew I'd probably never find it again. Here it is:

My hate for you

little boy / man

is a flower

that blossoms between

my thighs

that you will never


I think I know a lot of chicks like that, who are angry at men and won't let us touch their flower, but it still kinda makes me think that she might be kinda hot.

Anyway, I think a lot of people liked the poem, because she got a lot of comments. Although most of the comments were just dudes asking her for nude pictures. But I think the kind of girl who writes a poem like that isn't also going to be a chick who spreads her ass cheeks and shows her asshole in a picture. Just my hunch.

She wrote several poems, then disappeared from the boards. Here's another:

You took

my sister's tender petals

and hid them from

the sun

how I wish

to see your dead body


under the concrete bridge

down past the

gas station.

I kinda liked that one, too, but the whole dead body thing makes me a bit uncomfortable. I think the point of the poem is that some dude fucked her sister and then he treated the sister like shit. Maybe it means something else, I don't know: I'm not, like, a poetry translator or anything. But I wonder if her sister was hot.

And here's another:

I scream

but only in my head

where you can't

hear me, but

if you heard me

you would know

that I am screaming

at you and in my dreams

I have a knife.

And I understand that feeling of yelling at someone but only in your head, so I don't think it's just a chick thing, which maybe makes it, like, universal, I guess.

I mean, maybe the chicks yell in their head more than dudes, which means they're also probably crying and shit, and I hate it when chicks cry, unless they're also smoking a cigarette, because that smoking-a-cigarette with their eye make-up running down their face can be kind of hot. I had sex with a chick like that once, but she was crying before we did it, so it wasn't like I made her cry and shit.

So sometimes I check out chicks' poetry on 4chan. But I'm pretty worn out on trees in winter with no leaves and dead birds in the snow and shit: chicks -- there are three other seasons, okay?

rhhardin said...

Maybe it's a good time for Althouse to read a few pages of Derrida's Choreographies, about the place of women


Short form, woman's place is to create places.

mockturtle said...

Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Demon-possessed man to Jesus,"My name is Legion, for we are many".

mockturtle said...

Women many have written some poetry but would they ever have invented the internal combustion engine? Jet planes? Expansion bridges? Computers?

Chris N said...

‘Dickenson’ appears in your first sentence.

Richard Dillman said...

One of my favorite Dickinson poems. It provides a clue and some advice for interpreting her poetry. Did you know that Dickinson very likely suffered from epilepsy, which might explain her reclusive behavior to some extent?

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

I was thinking about that 4chan poetry chick I mentioned before, and I found another one of her poems.

I can choose

not to be here

and I can choose

not to be with you


I am my own magic

and I can choose

to make you


rabbit boy

I kinda like that one, too, but it makes me think she maybe listens to The Cure too much.

But, like I mentioned before, she disappeared from the 4chan boards. Which happens a lot, but sometimes you wonder where these people went.

Like, does she have a new boyfriend now, and she's like happy and shit, so she's not writing poetry? Because I bet it's hard to write poetry when you're happy, I think, because poetry is how you tell people the world sucks.

Or maybe she's realized that why she doesn't like a lot of men is that she's really a lesbian, and she's, like, happy and shit about that. But if she was a lesbian I would think she would still write poetry, but there'd be more poems that talk about her vagina.

Then maybe she just gave up on 4chan because she was tired of dudes asking her for pictures of her spreading her ass cheeks and showing her asshole: if I was a chick that would probably suck, unless you really wanted to show pictures of yourself spreading your ass cheeks and showing your asshole, and I don't think many poetry chicks like doing that shit.

And of course, maybe she died, like in a car crash or some shit like that. I bet that happens a lot on the internet, but I think that pretty much happens to old people. And there aren't many old chicks on 4chan writing poetry, I think. I know I wouldn't want to read any poems my grandmother wrote about her vagina. But she's dead, so I guess I don't have to worry about that.

Sometimes I post my shit here.

Phil 3:14 said...

Two old women discussing how life was and is unfair to women and during the conversation, this exchange:

"MG: And look at what happened to Hillary Clinton. But it seems to me you had a moral imperative for going into politics. You wanted to change something.

GJ: Certainly anything I could have done that was legal to get rid of Margaret Thatcher — she said there is no such thing as a society, and it made me so furious I walked into my French windows and nearly broke my nose."

Clearly it's all about unkindness to women.

FullMoon said...

Women many have written some poetry but would they ever have invented the internal combustion engine? Jet planes? Expansion bridges? Computers?

"1940s glamour movie star Hedy Lamarr held the patent for Digital Spread Spectrum, the technology that provides the basis for advanced radio, telephone and cellular communications. Back in late-1930s Austria, the young film star attended countless technical conferences with her husband, an arms merchant supplying the Nazi regime. Lamarr soon escaped Europe (and her husband) for Hollywood but took with her an understanding of electronics."

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

There are other chicks that write poetry on 4chan, but some of them suck at it. But that's kinda what 4chan is for: people who suck at things get a chance to put their shit out, too. But it ain't all chicks, there are some poems where I think the poet is a gay dude maybe. Here's one:

I can still smell the burnt toast

from the kitchen

with the Ikea cupboards

that morning after

you brought me to heaven

with your mouth

I don't know, maybe it's a straight dude writing that shit, but it reads gay to me. Because I don't think many straight dudes write poems about blow-jobs, they just like them.

But when I read it again it could, like, be a lesbian writing about another lesbian chick going down on her and eating her lunch-box. Because I bet a lot of lesbian poets write that kinda shit, but I don't read a lot of lesbian poems, so I'm just guessing.

I think in the old days straight dudes would write poems to try to get chicks to fuck them. I'm talking about the 1800s I think, when a straight guy could still be named Percy and people wouldn't call him a fag because of it.

But nowadays, I think straight dudes just write lyrics and play the guitar, hoping that'll get chicks to fuck them. But even that can get fucked up sometimes. I mean, Kurt Cobain wrote songs and became a big star, he could probably fuck any chick, but then he decided he would just fuck Courtney Love, which doesn't make any sense to me.

And then there are the rap dudes, who write rap songs that get women to fuck them. And they even write in their raps songs how they want to fuck them: face-down/ass-up, in the club, shit like that. And it seems like it works for them, but at least their stuff rhymes and shit.

I post my shit here.

Phil 3:14 said...

Lazlo disses ST.

FullMoon said...

The 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

Sometimes chicks post poetry on 4chan. And a lot of it is sad fat Goth Girl-cutter stuff, with lots of trees in winter with no leaves and dead birds in the snow and shit.

Tom Sawyer heard her great-great grandmother
"Next appeared a dark–complexioned, black–eyed, black–haired young lady, who paused an impressive moment, assumed a tragic expression, and began to read in a measured, solemn tone:


"Dark and tempestuous was night. Around the
throne on high not a single star quivered; but
the deep intonations of the heavy thunder
constantly vibrated upon the ear; whilst the
terrific lightning revelled in angry mood
through the cloudy chambers of heaven, seeming
to scorn the power exerted over its terror by
the illustrious Franklin! Even the boisterous
winds unanimously came forth from their mystic
homes, and blustered about as if to enhance by
their aid the wildness of the scene.

"At such a time, so dark, so dreary, for human
sympathy my very spirit sighed; but instead thereof,

"'My dearest friend, my counsellor, my comforter
and guide—My joy in grief, my second bliss
in joy,' came to my side. She moved like one of
those bright beings pictured in the sunny walks
of fancy's Eden by the romantic and young, a
queen of beauty unadorned save by her own
transcendent loveliness. So soft was her step, it
failed to make even a sound, and but for the
magical thrill imparted by her genial touch, as
other unobtrusive beauties, she would have glided
away un–perceived—unsought. A strange sadness
rested upon her features, like icy tears upon
the robe of December, as she pointed to the
contending elements without, and bade me contemplate
the two beings presented."

This nightmare occupied some ten pages of manuscript and wound up with a sermon so destructive of all hope to non–Presbyterians that it took the first prize. This composition was considered to be the very finest effort of the evening. The mayor of the village, in delivering the prize to the author of it, made a warm speech in which he said that it was by far the most "eloquent" thing he had ever listened to, and that Daniel Webster himself might well be proud of it."

mockturtle said...

Full Moon reminds us: "1940s glamour movie star Hedy Lamarr held the patent for Digital Spread Spectrum, the technology that provides the basis for advanced radio, telephone and cellular communications. Back in late-1930s Austria, the young film star attended countless technical conferences with her husband, an arms merchant supplying the Nazi regime. Lamarr soon escaped Europe (and her husband) for Hollywood but took with her an understanding of electronics."

I know about Hedy Lamarr. But that doesn't answer my question, does it? As a woman I am nonetheless realistic about what women accomplish and don't believe the trope that women could have accomplished as much as men have had they been given a chance. It's not lack of intelligence. It's lack of creative aggressiveness, IMO.

mockturtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

I don't know, I like the Rush Tom Sawyer more than the Mark Twain Tom Sawyer.

Rush had some great lyrics, but they weren't poems or anything, they were just things the drummer thought of when he wasn't drumming. And he kicked ass drumming in 'Tom Sawyer', there should be more songs that have drums like that. I mean, more songs than those done by Rush, because Rush had songs with drums like that pretty much all the time, because that is what that drummer does.

But that gets me thinking: most chick singers don't sing songs that have drums like that. They have soft girly drums, probably because that makes their lyrics seem more like poems and shit.

I mean, there are the girl pop stars that have the loud dance drums, but that's a different thing, because those drums are to make other chicks dance, not to get chicks to fuck the drummer. Like, I don't know many dudes who play air-drums to, like, Katy Perry and shit.

And I'm not picking on Katy Perry, she's got nice tits. But I wouldn't really consider her a poet. Like:

"Saw a balloon floating away
I thought, "did someone let go, or did they lose it?"

I guess maybe that's kinda poetic, but only because it sounds like a poem a chick on 4chan would write, and the chick on 4chan would make sure to make the balloon black and the black balloon would float past some dead trees and shit.

But there are a lot of chicks singing sad little songs on the internet, strumming their guitar, with no kick-ass drums and no epic guitar solos and shit. And that's cool, chicks can play their own shit, too.

But if Tom Sawyer was around today I bet he'd want to be a rock star, not a DJ. And Becky wouldn't be no Courtney Love, okay?

Sometimes I post my shit here.

mockturtle said...

The first time a man brought fire into the cave, proclaiming its many benefits, a woman no doubt warned him that it was dangerous. And both were correct.

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Earnest Prole said...

If we're now extolling the benefits of circuitous truth then we also must extol the benefits of irony. And on another subject, doesn't the verb extol seem to have a whiff of garner-ness about it?

Bad Lieutenant said...

My recent hate-on for words is "sprawling," as in sprawling compound of whatever elite or richie you're targeting today.

the 4chan guy who reads Althouse said...

I had a girlfriend once who left a book of poems at my place after we broke up. By saying we broke up it wasn't so much 'we', because she pretty much just dumped my ass. I mean, there's not much you can do when a girl dumps your ass, you're dumped, and all you can really do is go out and get drunk a lot, and maybe sniff her panties if she left any at your place. But my ex-girlfriend didn't leave any panties at my place, she just left a book of poems.

The poems were by this e.e. cummings guy, and I even kinda liked some of them. There was one called 'Buffalo Bill's' which was pretty good, except he doesn't use a lot of capital letters and he runs words together and shit.

And I'm not sure why he didn't use a lot of capital letters, but I guess it makes the poems more poetic and shit. Especially when they don't rhyme in the first place.

But it's funny: if you use only little letters it's artistic, but if you were to use all capital letters you just sound like some weird guy carrying a nasty sleeping bag and shouting shit on the street. Like this:


It's like -- hey, dude -- you don't need to shout that shit, okay? I mean, maybe if you were doing heavy metal you could shout shit like that, but his poems aren't the type of shit that you shout to heavy metal, really.

I think he wrote one poem that had a balloon in it, but maybe I'm just thinking of some poem that some sad fat Goth-chick cutter put on 4chan. But I bet if e.e. cummings did do that poem about a balloon, the balloon wouldn't have been black, like a sad fat Goth-chick cutter would do.

I mean, maybe you could do a heavy metal song about a black balloon, but if you did that it would probably end up being about a zeppelin dropping bombs and shit. But I'd listen to a song called 'Black Zeppelin', I bet it would kick ass.

Because if you're in a heavy metal band and you can't kick ass with a song called 'Black Zeppelin' you probably should just break up the band already and go back to working at McDonald's, cleaning up the loose shit in the bathroom.

I post my shit here.

William said...

"Only Euclid looked on beauty bare.". It's pretty to think that there are no slant lines in truth, but ithe truth is probably more a wave than a particle so don't even try.

Paco Wové said...

Regarding items truthy and/or slanty, I ran across an article last week. I was certain, up to the very end, the article was an April Fool's joke, so perfectly did it encapsulate the absurdities of the current year, but then I realized it was dated March 26th, and I was forced to conclude that all the people and things mentioned in it were actually serious:

What’s Cooking in That Egg Spoon? A Bite-Size Culture War

TL;DR – Some more people to be added to the list of those to be lined up against the wall when the revolution comes.

Michael K said...

The best thing about Emily Dickinson is that it was the womens college where the Road Trip in Animal House was headed.

gg6 said...

"...what’s funny is around the same time that Emily Dickinson wrote, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Who is to say they were not saying and meaning the EXACT same thing here?
imho, Dickenson's talent and timeless art makes Smith appear a workaday rhyme writer and little more. For Gordon to describe Dickenson's work(her "form") as "small' strikes me as pathetically small minded of Gordon herself. But, sadly, when Females start talking about Females then, yes, indeed, it often seems 'all the truth' becomes small change - and it will, I suspect, be self-destructive in the long run. Meanwhile, in the short run, it's very tiresome .

Luke Lea said...

How about in the form of a semantic and logical puzzle?


Jesus says somewhere (doesn't he?): "Be ye gentle as doves and as subtle as serpents?

Tina Trent said...

Except inasmuch as Michael K is correct, don't assume that Emily Dickinson was referring to women. She wasn't some sniveling proto-activist cowering in a closet until the feminist poets (an impossibility, even where Sylvia Plath is concerned) came to release her: she was released just fine. She lived in an extraordinary social and moral universe animated by faith and wonder, alongside omnipresent disease and death. She had no neurosis regarding her intellect and knew the power of her poetic voice.

She is one of multitudes who would, if reanimated today, first have the impulse go to the nearest church and pummel the minister to the pavement for letting things fall into such disarray.

mockturtle said...

Tina Trent writes: She lived in an extraordinary social and moral universe animated by faith and wonder, alongside omnipresent disease and death. She had no neurosis regarding her intellect and knew the power of her poetic voice.

One could say the same regarding Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Tina Trent said...

Mockturtle: you are right about Browning. I used to do an experiment with my students. I would give them a poem from Plath's juvenalia -- thus unfamiliar -- and tell them it was written by Hemingway. The poem is about bullfighting, so the lie was believable. It was always fun to see them read the poem one way and then be surprised that this woman who has been defined as a victim of a particular mid-century psychiatry and sexism wrote such a virile and manly poem, with such obvious pleasure.

The New Critics made a bit of a fetish of insisting that artistic creations must be viewed in complete isolation from the identity of their creator, but we could use a healing helping of that fetish right now.