We just returned from four days in Taos and a magical* evening at Rane Gallery. (See my earlier post on the event.) Details in a day or so, since I’m digging out from under emails and engaging in some gainful work to help pay for the trip.
But first I have to record some genuine wisdom from a book I picked up during a day trip to Santa Fe at the venerable Nicholas Potter Bookseller. The book is Trial by Time, Thomas Hornsby Ferril‘s third collection of poems, published in 1944. In the introduction, Ferril writes:
I wouldn’t say it isn’t worth while, at some time in your life, to know what scholars have said about poetry, because poetry is a lazy short-cut to more experience than you can get anywhere else. […] I once learned more poetric theory, from Aristotle down, that I thought I could ever know. It gave me background for noting how little sense of history there was in the favorite critical controversy of th 1920’s and early ’30’s: whether a way of saying something superseded the importance of the thing said. This dull issue had all been raked over by 1586 and laid to rest in 1829, but very seldom was it treated historically. The manifesto of 1586 had merely proclaimed that nothing necessarily depends on the subject; anything goes, provided you’re a poet. The sixteenth century had finally broken with the classic tradition which insisted on important subject matter. Inadvertently we did add something to this ancient heresy, but not entirely to our credit, as noted by H. L. Davis of Oregon. our intellectuals — I prefer Davis’s word intellectualoids — went beyond the notion that anything goes in poetry; they resourcefully concluded that, under many conditions, nothing becomes a better subject than anything. Poetry should have no meaning whatever, it should exist only in a pure disembodied state.
This all struck me odd, first, as I have said, because nobody treated the hullabaloo historically, and, second, why it occurred at all. A good many poets were, of course, groping for a theme and rationalized any excuse for not finding any. Say, if you like, that America was also groping for a theme and that poets only mirrored America’s uncertainty. But that doesn’t make sense. We always had a theme, America herself, groping or finding, a positive theme, coming or going. Our land was so rich in subject matter I used to wonder if America needed poets at all, so great was the need for simple stenographers merely to take down what the land was saying. Yet we devised precocious philosophies, and imported them from expatriates, all to prove that we had nothing to say and needed nothing, and to prove further that poetry proliferates only from the body of poetry — generations of beautiful mistletoe growing from generations of beautiful mistletoe and nobody asking: Where’s the oak?
 “Let us pass to a universal and true conclusion — that the matter comprised in science, in art, in history, can be a convenient subject for poetry or a poem provided that it be poetrically treated.” — Patrizzi, Della Poetica, La Deca Disputata, Ferrara, 1586.
 Preface to Les Orientales, Victor Hugo, 1829, described by Saintsbury as “The Magna Charta of Poetry,” to the effect that in the great garden of poetry there is no forbidden fruit.
 As late as 1926 Archibald MacLeish was arguing in his Ars Poetica that a poem should be mute, dumb, silent, wordless, motionless in time and, finally, “A poem should not mean, But be.” It was interesting to note that Mr. MacLeish refuted his own argument by the images and similes with which he endeavored to support it.
This passage struck home, I supposed, because I read it after experiencing an intersection of arts — poetry and visual — in which all kinds of sustaining trees abounded: a whole grove of them. Not the singular and perhaps simplistic oak of Ferril’s figuration, not “America,” but “Americas”: several theme-rich traditions that would probably be dismissed by today’s intellectualoids, who prefer poetry by, for and about nothing.
The counter tradition on display in Taos was substantial, I mean, and hinted at by a sign on the espresso machine at the World Cup coffee bar just off the main square: “Proud to be an Americano.” There are more themes in the garden of poetry, dear post-avantists, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!
*In the undebased sense of the term “magic”: “the art of influencing events and producing marvels.”