David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
The Lamb's Message

 

                                      D. Swartz

 

                   after George Fox

                      

 

[for Edmund Clarence Stedman]

 

 

 

i

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you roaming priests,

Who crowded out the best and minced and teased

Your way to notoriety and a calm just death,

No one to finally know you sucked in breath.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you with your professional verse,

Who sized your life up for a hearse

By writing for the vanity of public taste,

Chasing a decade, glitter of pomp and paste.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you marginal souls,

An appetite for victory in the polls,

Proclaiming your poetry, as rampantly conventional

As your mentors’, simply more intentional.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you minor talents,

Obscurity and permanence in the balance,

Who seized the broadest path to set it straight

And seldom quailed at what you ate.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you who had the stuff

To make a banker, screw the local tough,

Who minced your way through blandest turns of wit

And turned around some small man’s shit.

 

 

 

 

ii

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? seeking each other out,

Sniping their rears but frontally devout,

Who called your art the highest mental grace

And vanished in thirty years without a trace.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you Buddhist chants

Or other mantras in the cause or circumstance

For verse, all attitudes that make you sing

Lamely but correct in all but the itself thing.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who would scorn the real

If they got to know it, just the casual feel

Of one great line, here, there, undying,

And turn and turn it out simply for trying.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you who had the decency

To set things down with some great recency,

Current as the ads on our multi media

Or the romance market or what was feeding you.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who summon poor Blake,

Some madman with the guts to make it take,

But tone it down to make the better rags,

Beloit, Antaeus, Poetry—we know the tags.

 

 

  

 

iii

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? serene or bilious,

You find all metrics quaint or spurious,

Until trends change, and, supercilious,

Proclaim free verse open, formal injurious.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you launder out the juice

And let it limp on home for God to use

As needed, content with laudatory prose

More lurid than your subjects chose.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? there is a careful lot

That will make do with what they’ve got,

A bunch that’s serious, wise,

And if they’re lame, it’s still a grand disguise.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who flee the stanza

Like alliteration, rhyme, who claim a man’s a

Predator for seeking some sublime solution

For the call of verse, who offer self as absolution.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who prey on formal trends

When the ghost of William Carlos has the bends

Too sudden from its depths brought to the light

Of Ginsberg, Lowell, squinting at the sight.

 

 

 

 

iv

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY?  who would like to be Plath

Without the suffering, eschewing the narrow path

That leads to Sexton, wallowing in the gutted mire

Where lesser spirits spin without treads or desire.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who would ease their conscience

With a bit of fame, who cling to accidence

Most peripheral to all but the waiting game

Where small talents wish and wish for just a name.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you roaming priests,

Who lately feast on the deceased,

Who tabulate inner visions for the sake of verse,

Whose genius is a talent, whose talent is a curse.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who won the smaller victories,

Establishing prosodic rectories

Where the mean-spirited could drop a name or 23,

Be home in time for “taking of a toast and tea.”

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who lost the larger battle,

Where combatants seldom rely on prattle,

Wordsworth, Coleridge, hand to hand in trenches,

Forsaking calm for all that wrenches.

 

 

 

 

 v    

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who earned a comfortable living

Making some sense for the easily forgiving,

Who’d pass their work about for the shop to analyze,

Dissect, destroy, detect, revise.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? whose genius was the herd’s,

That looked on gift like plumbers turds,

And challenged all the peaks of distant times

By leveling height and middling minds.

 

GULTY OR NOT GUILTY? who ate their luncheons bravely

In the quest of no small fame, who nodded suavely

At the proper moments, hauled out a bit to read aloud

For the sanctioned editors and the college crowd.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who had small gift but otherwise

Were inoffensive, longing simply for their paradise,

Some snippet in the APR, New Yorker,

Whose poetry was bacon, whose muse a porker.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? we ask you once again,

Who watched our stuttering progress with a nasty grin,

Who caught us in the arrogance of pride when

We tried for something larger than their modest ken.

 

 

 

  

vi  

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who hated greatness in the flesh,

Who lived a world where nothing big was fresh,

Who tidied up their personal lives

Confessionally, whose priests lacked juice or drives.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? whose duty was a yawn,

Desire a simple means to carry on

Affairs of state, a state of torpid bliss,

Who yielded to the song but lost its kiss.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who tried to make it happen

By chopping off ten centuries, clapping

At the sight of trails of words denuded

Of all that shouts in praise, who just exuded.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? whose ear was dead

From listening to what lesser souls have said

About Eliot, Dylan Thomas, even Whitman,

Whose fear was of the poet as a hitman.

 

GULTY OR NOT GUILTY? who broke the news to Pope

That couplets strained, gave Dryden little hope

Of being trained, called Pound a liar and a cheat,

Yeats simply demented, some other things I won’t repeat.

 

 

 

 

 vii

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who felt that verse was evolution,

The current trends some final solution,

Where weeding out is earnest sober work,

Like born agains, idealogues of the knee jerk.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who cast about to left and right

To see if folks were aping what was, in their sight,

Conforming to the natural laws of Adrienne Rich

Or William Stafford or some other son of a bitch.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who traveled to the churches

Of the blessed and read like some lame knight that lurches

Toward a windmill of the sentiment

And stirs in pots for ecstasy and excrement.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who seek the light of truth

Like ping-pong’s Babe Ruth,

And stagger toward their graves on fire

With sobriety and cant, who seldom tire.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who want us in their league

Where genius wanes and brains fatigue,

Where gut is brass and hope a battle cry

For the poems they skewer and the fish they fry.

 

 

  

 

viii

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who yearn for wild applause

At sheer idiocy or whatever the cause,

Who live to have their egos stroked

By public taste or what the public choked.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? whose secular religion

Takes root in current hearts, an arid region,

Probes vistas where the data people reign,

Who process Abel for the lambs he’s slain.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? where fancy grins

With perfect teeth and temperate sins,

And buggers brother for a fix on his concerns

And slips it to his sister if she turns.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who milk the teats

Of editors who’ve seldom heard of Keats,

Who navigate the backyards of the soul,

Grilling the Muse with borrowed coal.  

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? you toss-it generation,

Whose rush for fame ignores the veneration

Of a wider time where facile gift is buried

With the tediously labored and the mercilessly hurried.

 

 

 

 

 ix   

 

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? I ask you to deny

The fact or call it supposition, some sly

Slander of the heart, a stab of humors

Better shown compassion despite the rumors.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? who made all talent pay heed

To slavish mediocrity where the slashed won’t bleed,

And bread knives open up the canker in the groin

Or leak the brain of those who failed to join.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? even the common cold

Can’t stop my railing at your bold

Presumption, nor influenza nor consumption, you priests

Of prosody and pomp, intact, diseased.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? I plead you beg the question,

Where what was fact is now suggestion,

A taste of some rich fluid of the heart

That begs a rhyme, and lo, the rhyme is fart.

 

GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY? for now you hold the stage

As mentors for our cultured age,

And that you are, culture with the larger C,

Guardian of decorum, virtue, poetry.

 

                                                                                1986

 

                                                one man's alternative 

 

                                    

                                                                      H. Namuth & P. Falkenberg

 

 

which could well equate with

 

 

                                                                                                         Unknown

 

 

[Father, forgive them, for . . . ]

 

 

White Light--detail

 

 

 

                                                                                     Pollock

 

No. 32, 1950-detail

 

 

                                                                                             Pollock

 

 

which is likely

 

 

                                                         Unknown

 

 

the elder Jahweh

 

 

                                                                       Unknown

 

{before the elders}

 

 

 

                                   Unknown