Aggressive Regionalism: Texts
3. The Lariat
The Lariat (Portland, Oreg.: 1923)
THE LARIAT January, 1923
What is Poetry?
Poetry is a verbal composition in which the predominating feature is ecstacy, an emotional atmosphere that pervades all literature in its finest parts. Thus sayeth Albert Mordell in one of the latest texts on this subject (Boni and Liveright, N.Y.) Continuing from him:
"It is the unconscious in literary art and may be found in prose and verse.”
"Metre aids poetry; but it may have metre and rhythm, without ecstacy, it is not poetry.”
"Unrhythmical prose, with ecstasy, is more poetical than rhythmical verse without.”
"Poetry translated into prose of another language, remains poetry. If ecstacy and poetic emotions do not remain they were never present in the original work.”
"In real poetry, when rhyme, rhythm and metre are abstracted, the poetic fire remains undiminished.”
"Winnow the voluminous verse writers and but a modicum of poetry remains. Neither rhythm nor metre makes a literary performance poetical if the author’s soul does not enter into the work. The greatest prose compositions contain much poetry. It is an easy matter to arrange any fine poetical prose in blank verse or irregular rhythmical lines.”
"In the past efforts were made to put the Psalms into rhyme and all failed. It did not make them poetry but spoiled their effect.”
"The virtues of blank verse are the virtues of rhythmic prose. Every great passage in Shakespear [sic] in blank verse would continue to be poetry in regular prose. * * * The free verse of modern times, the revival of which is due to Walt Whitman, is really the oldest form in which poetry was expressed. * * * Free verse has come to stay, and numbers many able poets among its devotees. * * * A great idea is poetry. A profound and farseeing idea is poetry, whether written with rhythm or not. * * * Poetry rises above art for art’s sake. * * * Much of the old poetry should be discouraged for it is debased and undemocratic. * * *Poetry seeks to change human feelings. * * No greater poetry has been written in the last two generations than the novels and prose dramas of Russia, Germany, France, Italy, England and Skandinavia. * * * Poetry is the literature of ecstacy. * * * Arabic and Persian poetry is the most ecstatic.”
Here endeth Mordell. Now as to my own views. The West is thrilling with poetic productions. More millions consume the rhymes of Edgar Guest, Walt Mason, Jas J. Montague, Jas. W. Foley, Muriel Steward, all western writers, than of all other poetry in
existence in our country. Our tastes are democratic. Sales of these poets run into the hundreds of thousands of volumes. Writing verse is the most profitable occupation. Still this rhyming for the masses is not great poetry, in the sense that the best work of Longfellow, Lowell, or Poe was. Poe’s Raven digs down into our feeling and emotions. It was coined out of the misery and pathos of his tragic and wretched life and finds a response in us all. I admit primarily but two great groups of poems—those on the emotions and beautiful sympathetic poems on nature. The West demands rhythm, beauty, music, sentiment in its poetry. Stilted, artificial poetry must go. There must be swing and freedom to our rhythm. The freedom born of prose poetry has always been the step-mother of rhymed verse. The West says puritanical poetry is impossible as art. The poet’s trinity is art for art’s sake, beauty for beauty’s sake and truth for truth’s sake. All kinds of literary art merge into one when we make the poetic quality the supreme test. The ecstatic and emotional essential of poetry is hard to inject into moral, didactic and philosophical rhymes. The West, nearest the Orient, whence sprang the greatest poetry in the Bible, shall become the indigenous haunt of poetry. In these great free open spaces a million crickets are singing in the sun. THE LARIAT prints some of the beautiful minor poems, many of them from the West. Poetry is and shall be a great feature of our Western expression. There shall be no hard and fast rule as to what is poetry. But let it give pleasure to the ear and the heart. Let it have music and feeling and sentiment—not too much of the minor chord that is twanged so much by the New England poets. When you find a beautiful poem, in metre, unmetrical, free verse, blank verse, prose poetry, or whatever you think is beautiful send it to THE LARIAT. Let the West express its tastes. Perhaps we are more right and wise in our literary judgments than the elect highbrows of the world. There must be humor and freedom. The world cannot live without mental ale and cakes. We are strong for love poetry. The famished affections of the world can stand bales and bundles of sentiment if it is western alfalfa, the growth of our soil, cured in our sunshine, and flavored with the winds of the plains and the free air of the mountain ranges.
Quirts, Prods and Punches
It is a fight for clean literature and higher standards.
It is a magazine for writers, artists, and musicians and those who love literature.
THE LARIAT will never be much larger. We have hundreds of publications big enough and filled with trash. Anyone who reads the LARIAT is supposed to be wised up on literary matters.
I am not a purist and have read nearly everything that has been in the market for fifty years, but I see no merit or value in Cytherea, Gargoyles and the thousands of like character that are spewed out over the clean souls of western Americans by the money-greed of the materialistic east.
The pages of THE LARIAT, every article, every line of poetry and prose should be an inspiration to the individual for better creative work, for development of a greater efficiency in the service of humanity, for a more complete self-realization of all the gifts, talents and abilities of the individual.
THE LARIAT stands for western qualities and western individuality. It stands for a fresh western breath of freedom. It stands for a new school of writers who have outgrown eastern dictation and commercialized standards. Your identification with this movement means placing a new value on ourselves and on the work of western writers. Our writers organizations are weak and the best work done in the west (best in our country) at best is paid for at ridiculous prices. Every writer with a heart and soul proud of the western field should join THE LARIAT movement for asserting that there is a western standard of ideals and it shall not be battered down by the eastern waves of commercialism.
While I shall not spend much time on the degenerates I shall try to make our position very clearly known that this is a western fight for clean art. The good people do not know the oceans of filth sent out by commercialized literary enterprises. “Gargoyles” is openly advertised as “devastating.” Give us clean western standards. We should have a LARIAT club in each county and that club should elect a censorship committee to stand for better books and better periodicals for the people. Even our school libraries have a great deal of trash in them.
Clean Western Standards
THE LARIAT has standards but it is not finicky or old-maidish. It recognizes, however, that we are not living in the days of Boccacio, or Rabelais or Shakespear [sic]. It must be admitted that individual conduct and social codes have become more refined and both polite conversation and manners have improved over 200 years ago.
THE LARIAT cannot even see why, living under Prohibition of the liquor traffic, so much popular fiction and the movies have to stage wringing-wet drinking scenes. With all the complaint about the newspapers playing up vice and crime, the journalism of our country is less open to criticism than scores of books that are published. Openly advertised sex novels and degenerate fiction could not be run as a serial in the daily press. Poetry, more nearly allied to music, has wonderfully advanced in its standards, from the mid-victorian period. Erotic poetry, such as the Swinburnes and Oscar Wildes showered the world with, cannot be found today. The volumes called “Poetica Erotica” must be made up from the preceeding centuries and music-hall songs of the decades past. Those collections are not enriched from the great sound-hearted west that has produced poets since the days of forty-nine. The movement for western standards is soundly American and extends at least to the Dakotas and Texas.
The importance of forming correct literary judgment and good taste, and a few well defined standards of culture in the matter of books, music and art, cannot be denied. These are too little a part of public education.
For young people to grow up without preferences based on sound principles in this great field of human interest, without mental training or any intelligent basis of criticism is to leave them victims of caprice or to follow their own too often mistaken idiosyncracies.
It must be admitted that familiarity with the best is a means of saving grace to unformed tastes and that in literature especially, more so than in music and art, evil communications corrupt manners, morals and mentalities.
Vicious books are too common and have not yet been driven out of circulation. The movies and works of art are too obvious to prosper in degenerate presentations. The ever-elevating principles of beauty and truth to life enter with all their all-powerful corrective. Degenerate pictures or sculpture are speedily driven into obscurity. Until the invention of jazz and ragtime, with their sensuous suggestions in the dance, music remained pure and undefiled art, as all better music remains today.
An educated or cultured taste need not be puritanical or prudish if developed on broad lines of truth, beauty and an informed mind. The individual acquiring sound principles of culture increases capacity for pleasure and enjoyment. Ignorance misses moral and ethical values. Ability to discriminate between the ethically true and the false is founded on good taste more than upon science or religious dogma and without it there is no enduring salvation for the individual.
Literature from the Tombs
It is a melancholy fact that the human mind in the past has revelled in death, mourning, sickness, sadness and the ever-pathetic minor chord.
Young’s Night Thoughts, the Anatomy of Melancholy, and other illustrious classics of the heart-wringing and depressing order were popular.
Many of Dicken’s novels and the great bulk of social fiction and plays were spun around the tragic pealing the changes around grim pathos, distress.
There is too much of it in modern prose and poetry, and it is slowly giving way to rosier, brighter sides of life, joy, health, and happiness.
We pick up literary magazines, and especially from New England and the older middle states, where most of the articles and poems are pessimistic.
Here is one with a long poem written by a man in prison who was to be beheaded the next day, and a second about death, grave and shrouds.
Next comes the “Swan Song,” lugubrious lines to death; then a review of tragedies by a playwright long since dead, followed by other lethalities.
Next comes an account of a tragi-comedy of hallucination; then a garland of dismal yew is laid on the hearse of Aspasia, long buried and worm-eaten.
The prose and poetry of despair, gloom, sorrow, suicide, cemeteries, misfortunes, shipwreck o’ershadow the life of literature.
THE LARIAT says, let’s quit it. We had better err on the side of the daughters of joy, the caterers to life abundant.
We Want Prime Beef
Of the West
Is the test
For the rest.
Nothing too good.
For mental food.
The mangey maverick
Or some poor Freudian trick
Are poor bones to pick.
Then throw the Lariat
For beef that is fat
From the western range.
The sex gags
And petting jazz
—Col. E. Hofer, Salem, Oregon.
I stood gazing at a hillside
In fact, I rudely stared
Never thinking for a moment
That the silly thing cared.
But she proved to be so modest
Before I looked again
Across her lovely face she drew
A veil of soft grey rain.
—Ethel Romig Fuller, Portland, Oregon.
With golden days and silver nights,
With rosy dawns and sunset lights,
With verdant vales and purple heights,
She charms the traveller to rest.
She carries magic in her streams,
She lifts our thoughts to higher themes,
She helps us realize our dreams,
The great, resourceful, smiling West.
—Emma Cowan Barber, Shoshone, Ida.
To The Lariat
It’s an even bet, with your Lariat
You will rope in all the poets
In this Northwest all will do their best,
But some there are, with intellects rare
Whose visions are beyond compare
These favored stars, will win gold bars.
There are others like me, will strive to be
At least, winners of some small glory,
These thoughts of mine that seem sublime
I can’t express though I do my best
Dear muse I implore, help me more
To write the thoughts I hold in store.
Oh! lack a day, and must I hear you say?
We have not space, you write in haste
There is hope for you, but this won’t do
But write some more, more passion pour
Into your verse, make it more terse
Don’t picture funerals, or a hearse.
Dear Lariat, we will do our best
And trust to you to do the rest
You fill a want we have needed long
For those who write in verse their song,
You’re a worthy task, keep right on.
—Isabel Payne Whitney, Roseburg, Oregon.
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