Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, March 2, 2012

Great Poems of Our Time: Studying Savonarola

With one prominent dissenter (i.e. Peter John Ross), "Studying Savonarola, he considers his lover as kindling" would likely be the consensus choice as best poem of this century. Not bad for a first draft! That's right. As with so many of the poems in her collection, "Studying Savonarola" was posted to the Gazebo workshop on Thursday, October 27, 2005 and, to our knowledge, not revised.

I agree that it is the best free verse poem of these last twelve years, and don't argue with those who regard it as the greatest non-metrical effort since T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" (1925). No, this isn't hyperbole and, if you know anything about me, you know I don't engage in blurbing.

I can't add much to the technical analysis found here except that the poem has considerable performance value. Indeed, I'd love to see a performance worthy of the material. This breathtaking love story between two men separated by five centuries, an ocean and most of a continent can be presented as anything from demure to downright raunchy. It is the signature piece of Margaret A. Griffiths, who had been voted the poet 133 tough critics would most want to read seven months before she wrote this masterpiece. If T.S. Eliot had been cited as the best poet of his time before "Prufrock" would we debate who was the greatest poet of the 20th century?

The story of how her posthumous collection came into being is, itself, worth the price of "Grasshopper: The Poetry of M.A. Griffiths". At this point in time, it is the only contemporary poetry compendium that I recommend without reservation.

Poets seeking a role model need look no further. "Maz", as she was known, set a standard as a critic, poet, wit and spokeswoman that few others will attain. As one pundit put it: "Those not envious of Maz have the most reason to be."

Next: "Beans" by D.P. Kristalo

  1. "Studying Savonarola" by Margaret A. Griffiths
  2. "Beans" by D. P. Kristalo
  3. "Antiblurb" by A. E. Stallings
  4. "How Aimée remembers Jaguar" by Eric Hopson
  5. "There Are Sunflowers in Italy" by Didi Menendez
  6. "Auditing the Heart" by Frank Matagrano


  1. Whose consensus are we talking about here? "Studying Savanarola" seems like an average contemporary poem to me, clotted with too much overemotive imagery. "With your amber eyes . . . sun-sign heart like a blood orange"? Really? I'm not sure what a sun-sign heart is, but if it's like a blood orange I don't really care. Now I'm really bewildered about what you're advocating. I do like A.E. Stallings, though her poetry doesn't isn't revolutionary or likely to lead poetry into a new era of popularity.

  2. Kyle:

    The consensus of which we speak is that of online geeks (roughly: anyone who knows whether "Prufrock" and "The Red Wheelbarrow" are metrical or free verse), some of whom you might know from Eratosphere and/or PFFA.

    While "Beans" was a "perfect storm", hammering the listener with powerful phrasing throughout, "Studying Savonarola" is a climactic masterpiece. It really needs to be performed but, barring Shakespearean actors, we don't have or know anyone who qualifies. As you say, it starts very slowly, hitting a nadir with the clichéd "dark as molasses." Note how sparse the sonic repetitions, rhythms and pace are, too. Then watch all of these, along with every other poetic element, build throughout. It may help to see a more graphic representation of this. Check out the URL below and hit the title at the top, "Studying Savonarola, he considers his lover as kindling", to see it in "technicolor":


    I hope you find this useful.

    Earl Gray, Esquirrel

  3. Hi
    It's Cameron from the great speeches post
    This may be the latest comment in history to be posted on an article but...
    Let me say something risky:
    1. I would swap the two around. At least for me, while SS is a brilliant poem, I find Beans more revolutionary, in that it expands and reorientates my expectations.
    2. That Maz's genius was more spread out, that she produced many poems of great merrit, while Kristalo's genius was focused in a few mind boggling poems, but not an entire body.
    To that matter could you provide me with a link to a site that contains some of her poems. I can only find Beans and her other masterpiece on the web.

  4. Your point is well made. One could make a solid case for either poem. You are certainly in good company: the greatest living authority on poetry, Peter John Ross, was not such a fan of "Studying Savonarola". It's hard to imagine two more different pieces. As free verse, Savonarola rocks--literally--with cretics before that final explosion of sonics and unfettered passion. It really needs to be performed to be fully appreciated. Maz was a model of consistency but, as you say, we're talking about two poems, not two poets.

    "Beans" is a technical fireworks show from the get-go, yet entirely ambiguous and nuanced throughout. It is a much greater performance challenge, as the actress has to pause at the line breaks as if to choose her words carefully, as if their ambiguity were her life insurance policy (which it would have been, considering the politics), while sustaining momentum. Both literally and figuratively, the sentiment is subdued until the ending.

    DPK never pursued publication. I know of only four pieces: "Beans", "Joie de Mourir", an AngloSaxon accentual quatrain entitled "Leaving Santiago" (of which I've found only half), and the elegy to Margaret Ann Griffiths that brought DPK out of retirement. All four samplings exhibited one common trait: they didn't waste any time grabbing your attention!

    Both poets were modest to a fault. When approached by the Poets.org spokesperson, intending to name her "Poet of the Month", Maz insisted that there must be some kind of error. The rep replied: "We should make such mistakes more often!"

    We live in a country of cowards and corpses,
    both roll down the river en route to the ocean.

    - "Leaving Santiago", DPK


Your comments and questions are welcome.