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CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Jezetha Verbergen (IP Logged)
Date: 18 December, 2002 05:12PM
Hello, CAS admirers! As I am new to this forum I would like to tell you something about myself in relation to CAS. I am Johan Herrenberg, 41, writer, Dutchman. I discovered CAS in the 'seventies, both through translations that were made (two collections in all, featuring most of the Zothique cycle, and many of the Hyperborean one) and through the originals: in Amsterdam, where I was born, there was a bookshop in the old city centre, called American Discount, and they sold the Ballantine Adult Fantasy books. That's why I can still treasure my Xiccarph and Poseidonis volumes. I got to know about CAS through Lin Carter's book "Imaginary Worlds" in which he praised CAS to the skies. When I started to read Smith in earnest, I wholly agreed. I was still young (14), but was rather precocious and obsessed by language and literature. As I liked my Milton and Shelley, reading Smith wasn't that different. His superbly wide vocabulary, proud rhythms, striking images, and the fantastic landscapes evoked, coupled to Eros and a sense of doom - these things impressed and influenced me in that period of my development as a writer. I must admit that some years later I fell under the even more potent spell of Shakespeare and Joyce, so my writing now is "realistic", more or less. But I have never forgotten CAS, and, what is more, I find his stories eminently re-readable. They really have stood the test of time, classics of their genre. (At present I am reading Joshi's Lovecraft biography, and I disgree heartily with his assessment of Smith's prose works. In my opinion it is Smith's poetry that is terribly derivative and narrow. His stylistic genius for me really takes wing in the stories, and create something wholly original.

Greetings from Holland!

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Francis D'Eramo (IP Logged)
Date: 18 December, 2002 07:03PM
Jezetha, I do confess that I agree with you. I think that the genius of CAS lies in his short stories, not in his poetry. He was indeed an original.

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: George Hager (IP Logged)
Date: 19 December, 2002 10:16AM
I'll have to agree, somewhat. CAS's poetry is superb, but is overshadowed by the equal quality of his short stories--a quality that even CAS did not fully appreciate. How can "equal quality" be overshadowing? Only when one form is more popular than the other, which is the case with short prose and poetry, respectively. And perhaps this is the only reason CAS considered himself a better poet than a fiction writer. He simply preferred poetry.

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Jezetha Verbergen (IP Logged)
Date: 19 December, 2002 03:27PM
Before I, Jezetha, try to be more precise about what I meant by maintaining CAS was an original as a prose-writer and an epigone as a poet, let me first say that I am glad I wasn't verbally beheaded for this opinion... After I wrote my first post I thought it was a bit unkind of me to start off being so critical about one aspect of Smith's work. Fortunately this group counts independent-minded people among them. For which I am grateful. Because this is the only way in which we can the better determine wherein the uniqueness of CAS really lies.

On to what I promised:
why, to me, is CAS a derivative poet? Because , for one, he shamelessly plunders his great predecessors without transforming them. Two days ago I read Smith's poetry for the first time, after having downloaded the whole bunch from off this site, and I was shocked. Here I saw someone who, as a young man, must legitimately have been absolutely revelling in the power and eloquence of Milton ("Paradise Lost") and Shakespeare (the major tragedies) and Keats ("Endymion" and the Odes), and the fiery bizarreness and erotic pain of a Baudelaire (and is there a whiff of Beddoes in Smith, the weird Victorian of "Death's Jest Book"?), and I saw him simply, almost onanistically, reproducing the thrill of them for the rest of his life... To give only one instance (I found many): in one poem Smith brazenly uses the word "incarnadine" (verb), meaning: making red. Well, probably the first and certainly the greatest use of this rare word is in Shakespeare's Macbeth ("this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red") In Shakespeare the effect of this word (apart from the situation) is tremendous, coming after the sonorous polysyllables of "multitudinous" and the Anglo-Saxon concreteness of "seas". Shakespeare has judged the use of this hyperbolic word brilliantly. And this is exactly my point: in CAS' poetry the words are not judiciously used. They are used like an incantantion, a mantra, and on that level they sometimes work. And I must grant Smith the power of metaphor. But - too many of his images are repetitively cosmic or ghoulish (all those worms). The fact that Smith as a youth learnt the whole of the OED by heart says a lot. The Brazilian writer Joao Guimaraes Rosa once said: "Every dictionary is a poem". The reverse of this, alas, too often creates still-born poetry.

In contrast, the point about Smith's prose is: here CAS must make his words work, as narrative. His style has an inner tendency towards the static and the cloying. But storytelling demands linearity and development. Therefore Smith's best stories are like great poems in action, or miniature epics. The style is high and Miltonic (sometimes ironically so) and they elevate and intensify a subject matter that otherwise, in some respects, would be your average standard fantasy fare. Now we can admire triumphs of language. (I don't know if Wallace Stevens is well-known to the members of this group, but his long poem "The Comedian as the Letter C" is a bit similar in this respect, in that it also, linguistically, is a bravura performance in a very interesting and mannered style).

Greetings from Holland!

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 20 December, 2002 09:18PM

Your perspective on the relative merits of CAS's poetry and tales is very interesting; however, I couldn't possibly disagree with you more.

In general, the only stylistic element that weakens CAS's poetry, in my view, is his insistence upon clinging to archaic vocabulary ("thee", "thou", and the like). The notion that his poetry is merely derivative, however, is simply wrong. For instance, I defy anyone to unearth in the Romantic canon a work remotely akin to The Hashish-Eater (which, by the way, is a narrative poem). "Nero" may be a dramatic monologue, but I daresay that Browning would have choked if he had read it. Further, one would search in vain to find such metaphors as "drawn voidward by the vampire-lips of sleep" among the English classics (with, perhaps, the exception of Beddoes, of whom there is more than merely a "whiff" in Smith's work. The Dead Will Cuckold You positively reeks of Beddoes, I think.)

In a similar vein, if one were to research painstakingly the sources of inspiration for such poets as Shakespeare, Milton, and Keats, one might find them equally "derivative". Originality is always relative, and it never arises in a vacuum. That said, Smith's most original contribution to his chosen form is his cosmic persective, a quality that you seem either to overlook or undervalue. To be sure, Smith's cosmicism derived much inspiration from the work of George Sterling, but it far outstripped that of his mentor. Part of what makes The Star-Treader and Other Poems so extraordinary is its utter lack of human relationships as its subject matter. Add to that Smith's colorful vocabulary, his extraordinary gift for metaphor and imagery, and his use of horrific images to convey a sense of wonder and numinosity (in this sense, he differs very much from Beddoes), and we have, in my view, one of the two or three greatest poets of the Twentieth Century, and far and away the greatest American poet of that period. To add my own critical opinion, I do feel that, once the young CAS discovered the potent allure that his good looks and poete maudit persona held for the bored housewives of Auburn, many of his verses became more amatory in nature, and, at that stage, he did begin to add a little water to his wine (Lovecraft was of the same view). However, Smith ultimately remained true to his unique vision for his entire life. He rightly saw himself foremost as a poet, and not as a pulp tale-spinner, an activity that he undertook purely for financial motives. Once the novelty evaporated, and he became fed up with the strictures of pulp magazine editors, he all but abandoned fiction-writing (which, in any case, took but a decade, at most, of his creative life), and that fact should tell us something about how he himself wished to be remembered.

I'll conclude this rambling defense of CAS's poetry with two observations. First, I cannot help finding utterly absurd your use of Shakespeare as an example with which to belabor Smith's diction. If Shakespeare is the standard against which our efforts are to be judged, then we ALL may as well quit writing immediately! Second, despite your overt claims to be an admirer of Smith's, I really cannot help wondering how much genuine appreciation or understanding of Smith's work you have when you, with apparent seriousness, make such statements as the following: "[Smith's] style has an inner tendency towards the static and the cloying". No artist is above criticism, I'll grant you--even if all such criticisms are ultimately mere value-judgments--but this generalization seems to me as harsh as it is hasty.

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Francis D'Eramo (IP Logged)
Date: 21 December, 2002 07:20AM
If you agree or otherwise, you must admit that Jezetha has jacked up the level of the discourse here.

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 21 December, 2002 02:15PM

Yes, I agree with you. It has really surprised me that few here seem interested in discussing CAS and his works in any depth or rigor.

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Dr. W.C. Farmer (IP Logged)
Date: 21 December, 2002 11:29PM
Gentlemen: Interesting to see a bit of action here. Have been away on a lecture tour of the East Coast on a travelling archaeological exhibit, so have not checked in
The notions expressing a general inferiority to Ashton's
poetry are, in my judgment, grievously in error. Attempting
to get inside a poem by dissection, analysis, cross-analysis
etc are at best mere curiosities. Until you have heard
the poems read aloud, by someone really good at it (this
will rarely be the poet himself), you will fail to catch
the cosmic wind that moves the sails of his elegant and
eloquent use of language - Are there occasional lapses or
imperfections in Clark's large volume of work - sure; he
who wrote "Falstaff" also wrote "Titus Andronicus." Listening to some of Clark's work can be like listening to a
glorious aria in a language you do not know - the meaning
and power are in the sound -- adding knowledge of the verbal
content serves to focus the emotion, but not define it.
He and I had lengthy discussions on this subject, and it
was for this reason that he loved to hear Dylan Thomas
and G.M. Hopkins, Henry Reid and Vachel Lindsay -in three of
these (among many others), the music is superior to the
content and has the power to move even when what is said
when read silently appears trite. I might add, that Clark's
stories read aloud rarely (and only with a truly gifted
reader) snare the imagination in the same web as when
closeted privately with them - with the previous page still
haunted you out of the corner of your eye.
Great fun!
Happy Yule to Y'all from Texas.
Dr. Farmer

Re: CAS in The Netherlands
Posted by: Jezetha Verbergen (IP Logged)
Date: 23 December, 2002 04:59PM

In view of preparations for the Festive Season no lengthy answer to my critics. Yet. But I _have_ read the interesting rebuttals. I'll think some more. And, by the way: I like sharpness (in others too), because it forces you to be as clear about a subject as possible.

Merry Christmas!

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