Essays by Dean Blehert
America, who are you?
"Everything changed on September 11."
Don't believe them, notebook.
"America has lost its innocence!"
What? Again! America must be
a professional virgin. . .
Dean examines who we are from many angles in this part verse
part prose essay.
Abstract and Concrete
One function of rhyme, meter and poetical diction is to make
it easy to know when one is writing (or attempting) poetry. With
the rise of free verse (and long before, but less desperately),
poets began asking — as if it were the most natural question in
the world — "What IS the difference between poetry and prose?"
— as if they knew what prose is!
When we attack the big lies that move people to vicious acts,
we commonly underrate humanity. We assume that they are weak enough
or foolish or hateful enough to be moved to action by lies that
sound to us blatant and insane.
On Making it to the Big Time
A poet (or anyone in a challenging field where many aspire and few achieve fame) often seems to be on the brink of being discovered or making a leap into the “big time,” only to have it fizzle out, then feel that nothing came of it. After a series of such “failures,” he slopes toward despair.
Actually, few or none of these disappointments were entirely failures. Something of use came of each—or did if one notices. After all, attention (and admiration) happened. Now it expands or not, but something has happened. I remember how after my first marriage fell apart, I realized that despite the loss and seeming end of “everything,” something had happened. I knew, for example, that a woman could love me . . .
Certainty and Opinion
Few seem to know the difference between certainty and strongly held opinion. The difference is not one of logic, elegance of proofs, documentation, etc. Applicability of conclusions is a result of certainty. Certainty works. But certainty precedes workability. . .
Cute Psychiatric Word Games
Those of us who seek to expose the fraudulent bases of psychiatry
would probably be assisted by a good understanding of some
of their terminology. I don't think it's worth the trouble
to try to grasp every specialized term, since new terminology
is invented daily, and each of the many versions of psychiatry
and psychology has its own buzzwords. . . .
On Placebos and Poetry
Not to put down any specific poet, but it seems to me that
when one sits through readings of fairly well-written poems
(or reads them in a book) and feels increasingly dull and
sleepy and bored, there are only a few explanations. . .
On The Validity of Brain Scans as Proofs of
Dr. Grace Jackson, a psychiatrist and an expert on brain imaging,
refutes the validity of the attempts by various psychiatrists
to defend the "science" of their diagnoses by using
comparative brain scans. Her article, which, I've linked below
my own write-up, along with her references, is technical enough
to leave many readers in the dark, so I've tried to put her main
points into simple, non-technical language first, then link the
article for those who want all the technical details
The Power of Prayer
A friend tells me that in a pinch he prays, and his prayers are
answered — and asks what do I think of that? Prayer is something
I've thought a great deal about over the years. Prayer traditionally
has meant different things to different people (to coin a phrase).
Hell, it means different things to the same person.
The Human, The Spiritual, and the
Dean talks about why this total simplicity, life (you, me) should
be so intimately involved in complexity, so that the forms most
associated with life are also the most complex forms... and covers
why art involves a combination of recognition and surprise.
Increasingly one sees articles about the overprescription of
psychiatric drugs like Ritalin and Prozac among school children.
Even the New York Times got into the act recently, despite its
bias towards the large pharmaceutical companies who pay so much
for ad space and would prefer to pretend the controversy doesn't
exist. When even the Times decides that this news if fit to print,
the issue is getting too hot to ignore.
Art, ideally, is the exchange of universes, creations, ideas,
etc., where the exchange has rules (agreements) enough to make
it a game, such that communication (exchange) can be considered
to be of greater or lesser quality. Thus, one of the major roles
of an artist is helping self and others keep the in view the ideal
scene for spiritual existence: It's not that the art is ABOUT
spritual existence. The art IS, as a game, spiritual existence.
It is what we, by preference, do when we remember who we really
The dictionary says a critique is a critical estimate of a work
of literature or art. "Critical" is both "Inclined to criticize,
especially unfavorably" and "Exercising... careful judgment; exact;
nicely judicious"--not necessarily negative. This essay explores
how to use critiquing successfully.
The major assumption that narrowed the scope and audience of
Twentieth Century poetry -- and other arts to some extent -- is
that the basic truths of existence (or the deepest truths we can
reach) are unconfrontably horrible.
One of the great half-truths of psychiatry is the idea that an
insane person is "off in his own world". The insane
person is insane to the degree that he is cut off from his
Opinions of Opinions
Opinions are fun. They give us things to argue about in
bars.... Except sometimes they're not.
Poetry and Freedom
A poet writes how she walked into a San Francisco bar, heard
a wild poet richly ranting and knew that poetry was freedom -
she could say what she wanted to say. She no longer had to muffle
her yawps in complex ironies or silence her lusts, rages, and
sillinesses. In the same 'zine (mostly articles on poetry slamming)
another poet identifies poetry with freedom. Sounds good. Where
can I get some?
You mention being scared by monotheistic fundamentalists, their
"rightness", the violence they may do, etc. Why not
say you're scared by humans? . . .
You ask if I agree that Holmes is the first character in fiction
who is above the story's turmoil. Maybe the first HERO.
He's not always above it, but Watson makes a big thing out
of those moments he gets pulled in precisely because he
is usually detached. Of course, that IS part of the story:
The oddness of someone who has made himself into a kind
of detached intellectual machine.
Recently, I tuned in to National Public Radio just in
time to hear part of the "Science" hour, where
a female psychiatrist was being interviewed about her book
on creativity, and we got to hear the psychiatric line on
Rapt Poetry (published in New York Quarterly, issue
While psychiatric theories and practices impinge on the entire
population, there's a special relationship between psychiatry
and twentieth century poetry that renders poets particularly vulnerable:
Psychiatry has been the religion of modern poetry, as closely
intertwined with its practice as was, say Catholicism with the
poetry of Dante. This essay examines some of the ways that the
psychiatric viewpoint has impinged on poetry.
We raise the speed limit - there are perhaps more bloody deaths.
We lower the speed limit - a hundred million people spend
20 minutes more each day dying on freeways.
A Theory of Murder
The thing about murder is it's too easy. Where's the game?
You dent a body slightly -- if it were a car, it would be
easily patched up -- and it's dead. The guy is gone.
Slam poetry is whatever poetry is likely to win over an audience
when read/performed in competition with other poets, where the
audience tends to be people in a bar or people at a poetry-reading
venue, but in any case, usually NOT the audience for academic
poetry (more populist, more activist).
I view art as stemming from combinations of surprise AND RECOGNITION.
It's based on the stimulation of expectations, followed by some
BLEND of surprise and recognition. This can be put in other terms:
a blend of the unexpected and of the expected resolution or fullfilment.
Television Science: the Year of the
I keep hearing authorities on public radio applying logic to
who and what we are that, if applied to a TV set, might run as
follows: Though tradition claims that there is life beyond this
TV set, a life that continues after its demise --actual living
beings who create these moving pictures, the TV set being only
a means of presenting them to others --we know, scientifically,
that this cannot be the case. Here is the evidence: . . .
Things you didnt know you didnt
People have been passing "amazing facts" around for
a long time(even before the Internet). With the advent of email,
the war has just begun! In the following example, Dean Blehert
adds his own comments (in caps) to one of the "amazing"
The Trap of Anti-Sentimentality
By sentimentality, I mean the poet's expectation that the reader
will respond with knee-jerk emotions to non-aesthetic signals.
I mean, also, unearned responses. I mean also uses of language
(and/or thought) that drain the language of utility for future
use rather than add life to language (and/or thought). For example,
it is now hard to use the word "love" effectively because
the word has been milked too strenuously, a sort of masturbation.
Good poetry takes a word like "love" and renders it
usable, returns to it energy and clarity and richness. Bad poetry
simply drains the word.
Tweedledee or Tweedledum? Contrariwise!
Among the mad mirrors in our culture are the two apparently opposed
schools of psychotherapy. I refer not to the various approaches
(talk vs. drugs, directive vs. non-directive, etc.), but to two
radically opposed public personae that might be called the Dionesian
and the Apollonian - the wild and the controlled.
Recently on a radio talk show, I heard an argument on an old
theme: Black people should take more responsibility for their
problems, said a guest. That's wrong, said a caller: It's not
black people, but white people, who are to blame for the problems
of black people.
Visions and Revisions
My view on revision is fairly simple: A poem is a communication from a person to another person or many people (some not born yet, perhaps). I don’t write it having in mind some absolute. If it communicates, fine. If, looking it over as I write or after it’s written, I find something that doesn’t communicate well to me (and I try to read it as a reader, not as the writer), then I try to make it better. When I feel it communicates – gets across, or will to the reader I imagine or does to most people I try it out on, then I leave it alone. If, later, I pick it up and I see a way to improve it, I change it. At what point do I consider it complete, a finished poem?
WHY I BECAME A POET—A SPECULATION
I used to have thoughts, and I’d want to tell others. I remember when I was 4, excitedly telling my mother a discovery: If you said “one two one two,” it took the same amount of time as saying “one two three four,” and that was how you could tell that 2+2=4. I said it worked with other numbers, but you had to say “sen” instead of “seven.” . . . .
Essays by Pam Coulter Blehert
"How does the artist do that?" we exclaim, seeing the vast panorama
of a landscape or the modeling that gives depth to the face of
the portrait or the still life on a two- dimensional painting.
A kind of magic sets the painter apart from the non-artist. Of
course the painter has many tools, but one of them is a knowledge
of some of the rules and conventions for conveying the illusion