More Writings Available

Hello, I’m Ben, Fred’s son.  We have uploaded a bunch of my dad’s writings not only to the site here (see the Pages on the right sidebar or go to Other Published Works), but also to his account on Scribd, a site that lets you embed, socialize around, and share text documents.

And please think about donating to Fred (see to the right) — we’re putting up his work online for you to quote, cite, play with, and share…in order to contribute to the wealth of knowledge online.  This stuff is the work he didn’t get compensated for before!


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Poetry and Currency

Here’s an outtake from my talk last Friday in New York introducing Dana Gioia, an old friend who has just resigned the chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Arts with great relief to go and write poetry. He was receiving the annual Award for Excellence given each year by the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center, which I am part of and which publishes the American Arts Quarterly.   I was praising Dana’s reading initiative while he was chairman:

“The message was that the word is still the heart and meaning of the flesh, that our material culture draws its basic vital energies from our literary culture.

“We can communicate and create effectively only if there is a place where language can refine itself to say things with exactness while still preserving their richness and multivocality.  As our present economic crisis shows, if our currency is replaced by dishonest derivatives, we will be ruined: true poetry is the hard currency of communication, a language that keeps its promises and honors its bonds.

“Since the invention of the typewriter poetry has become disproportionately a visual art.  Its orphic and intuitive powers, however, come from its musical and aural character—it is memorable because it sings.  New research has shown that the prosodic character of spoken language is essential to its meaning.  This is obvious in a tonal language like Chinese, where the very meaning of a word depends on its tone. But English is no less tonal, except that we use tone and pitch not to establish our lexicon but to establish our syntax and logic.  In English we cannot speak a sentence without instinctively giving it a melody—all songwriters understand this.  It is a natural genius that we all possess, and that poets refine and amplify by the arts of meter and rhyme.

“The Greeks believed that the muses of the arts were the daughters of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory.  True poetry is poetry that is remembered, a meme that sticks in peoples’ heads to be recovered at great need in love, grief, triumph or despair.”

By the way, for anyone in the Dallas area who might be interested, I am premiering my new science-fiction dramatic poem Resurrection tonight (6:30 pm, Mon 2/23/09) at the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture downtown on Routh Street.


Surgeons and health nuts

There seem to be only two schools of economic thought in Congress: surgeons and health nuts.  The health nuts are the economic libertarian Right; if you are dying of dengue fever or hit by a beer truck, they prescribe the economic equivalent of tofu and brisk exercise.  The surgeons are the economic dirigiste Left; if a healthy economy has constipation or a cold they want to do heart bypass surgery or a brain transplant.  Right now we need drastic surgery, and the health nuts tell us the crisis is good for us and we should lots of pushups and eat wheat germ.  But if we do get the necessary surgery, be assured the surgeons will want to do it again and again even after we get well.


Mark My Words


I’m new at this, and I hope the grizzled veterans of the internet will forgive my gaffes in the medium. My remarkable son Ben has set up this space for me, and I want to use it as a place where people interested in my work as a poet, writer, teacher and thinker can meet with me and with each other.

At the moment the things I am thinking about include the following:

The nature of time–always.  How do we extend the present moment so that it isn’t just the automatic working of deterministic causality?  How is it that living things share a present with each other? What if evolution isn’t a substitute for divine creation, but the metabolism of a divine self-creator?

What conclusions about the meaning of life flow from the idea, very prevalent in computer science and some areas of cosmological science, that the universe can be regarded as an enormous piece of computation–nonlinear, self-programming, and generative of apparent concreteness though the constraints of threshold-crossings in its self-organizing process?  Is reality the same as virtual reality?

How is it that the cellist’s fingering hand appears to have a life and will of its own, and acts like a very quick, ruthless little animal? My brother Bob, who has his own brain-scanning fMRI lab in Leipzig, is studying music and the brain. Apparently, he says, chunks of the brain that manage the hands of pianists and string players mushroom out in size over time. This can clearly be observed of the fingering hand. But the bowing hand, I am told, especially for viol de gamba players, is an equal participant–can its work be represented elsewhere in the brain?

What is to be the role of my beloved Texas, defeated in so many ways in the last few years, in the life of the world and nation?

What would a bearable life after death be like?–supposing, for instance, we could be brought back to life at some remote time in the future, when scientists will be able to recover all the information that constitutes our identity and re-embody it.

The relationship between a currency and its backing or base, and the role of national sovereignty in this relationship.

Episodes from my own childhood–is the apparent continuity of identity and consciousness an illusion, or real?

My student Jimmy Wilder, a very talented musician, has got me thinking about the relationship between language and music again. Ordinary speech has a prosody such that, if a piece of conversation is recorded and repeated until its lexical meaning is blurred by habituation, its melody begins to appear. Don’t poets unconsciously use this in their work? My friend Zsuzsanna Ozsvath and I are currently translating Goethe together–more and more I am astonished by the musicality of his verse. Contrariwise, I have started to write poems whose meter is based on melodies I like in classical or church or popular music. I wonder if people will recognize the tune?–I know that if you tap out on a tabletop the rhythm of a familiar tune, it is often clear what it is.

Enough for now. I can’t promise to be a regular blogger, but I will try to say interesting things from time to time.