Thursday, January 26, 2017


Then and Now

If I could hear the water running through
the rocks and the stones under my
feet rumbling, I could behold your voice
again and feel my surprise wherever I go. 
You crack a smile somewhere far away. 
I confer the warmth of a kiss
onto the most solitary star in the night sky. 
Coming here has always been my wish, and now
it is my reason.  From pulp to legal tender,
the truest reason is made from wishing,
and the first sign of spring is that which awakens
within me rather than what I awaken to. 
My first intention is an impulse budding,
not sunned by any need I know. 
I have another day on my mind I must overcome
to forget.  Old hurdle, I have jumped it
a million different ways.  I had a place in mind before
I came to this breezy garden, a maze full of yellow
roses and ivy.  How can I break this unending
splendor to myself, this actual solace of Japanese
maples in the first fog, that so exceeds the flowers
I had thought I would find?  The world I listen to
is the private enterprise of learning. 
I grow older in what I hear than in who I am. 
The years that approach me come to me
in the strictest silence and the starkest light,
and your voice is the clean break I make
with indifference, when you tell me how your father
cannot find himself among his many
waking hours.  There is no alarm for us. 
I keep what you said when you stood
behind me at the party last winter. 
I part my lips to receive your breath.

Joel Fry

Published in Poem.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why Poetry Must Become More Philosophical

The following essay (sans poem) was published in Eclectica.  The poem was published in Stirring in the summer of 2000.

Why Poetry Must Become More Philosophical

Since the 2006 publication of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins there has been a massively renewed interest in whether God exists, whether humans have free will, whether there is an afterlife, and whether artificial intelligence is attainable any time soon.  This influx of interest, this sudden fire of controversy, has meant a staggering success for Youtube as well as an onslaught of atheist / theist debates.  It has made people rich and has created a kind of thinking republic of the world.  One would think that poetry has cashed in on this, but little seems to have changed.

While it is true that isolated poems like John Hennessy’s “Convenience Store Aquinas,” as published in the March 2015 issue of Poetry Magazine, have begun to address concerns over whether the business of living is an accident, a happy coincidence, a mistake, an emergent property of God, or something there is no word for, I have yet to read more than one or two contemporary poems of vital significance that comment on what any of this existence forebodes.  Yes, all poems are about just that, but few of them tackle the issue in a way that directly confronts the kinds of dialogues that are playing out all over the world.  None of them debates the issue relentlessly and exactly enough.  None contends for more than consolation, at least not to my satisfaction.  Is Richard Dawkins right to suggest  that the universe ultimately has only blind, pitiless indifference to offer us?  What I find to be most curious is that *$200,000,000.00 can’t make a difference.  It has finally been proven that all the money in the world can’t make poetry relevant.  What does this say about human nature?  About poetry?

I’m not suggesting that poetry which moves me to weeping or laughing is anything less than divine.  I’m not implying that consolation is not great in its own terms.  I’m saying that lyric poetry is bigger than any of those things.  In my poem “Such a Bright Future” I begin by saying, “If freedom means anything / it means one thing.  Be free from want / then do what you want.”  Those lines are mere attempts.  Lyric poetry is more than just emotion.  Narrative poetry is more than just story.  I want to see more eternal poems like “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” but I also want to see more poems like “The Man With The Blue Guitar.”  

Thinking for its own sake is thinking for the sake of the world as well.  One promising paradigm might be Metamodernism (  Though I’m not sure terms need to be defined that neatly.  Whatever the terms and conditions of poetry they need not imitate nature.  There is no need to believe that poetry is subject to entropy.  There is no need to see gravity as the opposite of levity, for that matter.  Some of the best poetry is that in which sanity is called into question: either the sanity of the poet, the sanity of the reader, or the very idea of sanity altogether.  Reconciling opposites—which is one of the major themes of Metamodernism—is important.  So is drawing a fine line between two related things.  Poetry is a kind of logic.  I’ll write my story / so deep in myself / no one will hear it / in my voice.

The end of thinking may be either tragedy or joy.  One may realize in his thinking a zenith or a nadir—but at least he will know where he stands.  This is usually the case.  Thinking clarifies one’s life, but it can only be done within a context.  It can only be managed within a need.  If there is no need there is no need to think.  Poets must bring to mind the need that never alters its course, the star which all the other planets revolve around.  How do I know what I need?  If I’m hungry I need food.  If I’m thirsty I need water.  Poetry cannot live without the one desire we all have in our natural state, which neither dissipates nor dissolves.  Remind the reader of that, but do it in a way that accesses the soul by means of the brain, just as Emily Dickinson did.

I will close by including a poem of mine which was published in Stirring (as “Down Here in Alabama”) 

Late Alabama
An abandoned car
sits on the side of the road
in 1957.  It's Walter's,
but he listens to the moon ascend
showers in India.

The late drum begins its beating.
Cities, shanties, dirt lots,
miles of corn in Elkmont
depart as sand under the foot
of the stratosphere.

Headlights bead
around twilight every day.
They come down from the Cumberlands
with pine in their bulbs.

And tomorrow,
this land will be turned by rust,
by a machine that hitches its own mule,
pinning him between cattle prods.

It will be too late to sow seed then.
The sky will have stopped.

This is the estimated amount of money the Poetry Foundation has acquired and accrued after the Ruth Lily bequest. (

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Comprehension, continued

What is the qualitative difference between comprehending a moral truth and comprehending an empirical fact?  Is there a quantitative difference between the two forms of comprehension?

Thursday, January 19, 2017



I flash a distress signal, my body alert 
and dancing beneath the sky.  I bring strangers
into the fold of my attention.  Long walks
in the woods carry the world—the sad, receding
claim of sight born without intention.
All the trees take root in the rocks.  The only thing
left to love is myself, and I have all night to grow
warm by that fire.  The worry of other evenings
sparkles and shines through my eyes.  Gratitude
gives me over to the new light, the new way
of seeing, where every branch and stump radiates
rain-slicked luster.  The whole world is sick with visions.
I move through its fever, to the caw of a crow.
My black lashes bat.  The hay fields come into focus
and settle everything seen.  I am not the one working
for this dream.  More and more remains to be heard
when I walk through the pasture that was once
a village and a place to come home to.

Joel Fry

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shame, etc.

I feel shame.  Do you feel pride?

The Good

How does the good change depending on who enjoys it or how it is enjoyed?  How do notions of goodness alter us as we grow?  If we are the origin of goodness how is it that goodness has an objective existence?  Is the external nature of goodness our internal nature?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


If I comprehend the mystery is the mystery what I comprehend?  How does comprehension form?  Are there different degrees of comprehension?

How close is the ability to grasp an object to the mental act of comprehending a moral truth?  How exact is that metaphor?

The Good

What is the qualitative difference between the good that is done, the good that is experienced, and the good that is observed?  What is the quantitative difference?

Is the thing that measures the good he who measures it (for he is measured)?

Is this door the right way out but the wrong way in?  Is it the wrong way in but the right way out?  Is it the right way in and the right way out?  Is it the wrong way out and the wrong way in?

At which point does up become down?

Does the good change because it is known?  Can the good change without being known?

Once a good is known how does it alter the knower?  Is this an existential or an ontological question?

Is the way in which knowledge is known altered with the knower?

Tentative refutation of mind-dependent reality

The basis for reality must be something that is self-existent.  Something self-existent must be absolutely simple (not made of component parts)(see "Reincarnation" below).  It must not have, in its original state, been the product of something else.  This is essence (spirit), not consciousness, since consciousness is (originally at least) the product of the brain and is not absolutely simple.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


The Nigerian economy is definitely on the upswing.  The U.S. should seriously consider making an investment in the nation or in another up-and-coming African nation.  Africa is talking about uniting.  This would be huge.  The way in which the United States treats Africa will determine how Africa treats us in the future.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


The ghost is the dream that picks itself out from among your thoughts and sways to its own rhythm.

Monday, January 9, 2017


What They Say About Me

A nest egg of dumbasses, a family tree of buffoons,
a melting pot of morons, a swath of crackpots,
a body politic of imbeciles, a cabinet of incurables,
a dark night of peons, a tidal wave of ninnies—

I am the foghorn of a piecemeal mind,
the full parliament of self-deception, the provincial
nomenclature for “hootenanny,” depending
on the day.  I rock myself to sleep with the guinea
fowl.  I scratch my balls incompetently. 
Even my friends don’t want to know.  With only a vestige
of myself thinking, a curl of my hair catching sight,
a generous truism measuring my breath, and a cloud
of smog petrifying the distance, I stand. 
All the forces of the world specialize here.
All the fat men find themselves famished
for a thought of me.  The women fall asleep.
Doctors make specimens of my amusement,
breaking down the doors of selective breeding
to catch a glimpse of something like me.
I have two perfectly good hands.  I am wide-faced
and broad-brimmed, bounding through my brain’s
careful climate.  No one knows a hide-and-seek
spot denser than mine.  My contemplation
is paper thin.  I get nose bleeds sitting still.
If only a warm hand would calm me.  If only
I knew how genius feels to be alone.

Joel Fry


I try to transcend my attachments rather than "letting them go."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Poem

Those Men

I envy in high resolution those men
walking ahead of me in their broad swagger
nursing headaches of insight.  They bear
within themselves the woven wealth of nations,
the braids and the seams of their tireless fingers.  
Lights rest on their foreheads when they go wherever
their goodness leads.  I share their courage
and borrow their strength.  The sun rises
across the world, meeting every need, warming
every wish, illuminating the hope we all
carry within us, that the day will fill our 
minds with its twiggy splendor.  The buddhas 
of the highways and the airports explain
how we should live, as if good enough isn’t.
The men and women of wandering 
forbearance, mostly gone from the mass of us,
still see through our eyes, understanding
our sadness and the long drive to work.
Whatever makes us calls us all to our own 
good sense.  We encourage the part of us
that falls for our greatest desire.

Joel Fry

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Running Amok

The reason so many white people go into shopping malls and shoot 30 people is because they live in a society in which people say, "Hey man, I'll call you," and the call never comes. That kind of insincerity will drive you up the wall. --No, I'm not talking about myself. Life is good.

Seeing, Looking

It is not seeing the world as it is that sickens me but looking for something that isn't there.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

For Jorie Graham

I've made myself palpable with my gorgeous swelling before and no one noticed. I made the cliche "no mistake" before and no one cared. If I start to feel hunger I want to return to it. Nope, existence. Did I mention the leaves, so green and golden like a bald-blonde trump of a woman's writs. The world wasn't made for us, you should know. It was made for you and your kind. That's why I listen. That's why I speak. So listen. There are fallen leaves in the clabbered milk. They don't dissolve.

Sye Ten

I'm really into Youtube.  I'm not an atheist, but this is funny.



"he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb."--Revelation 14:10

This verse kept me alive for two years.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Love is a pleasure that remains a wish. As the longing for love is satisfied the wish for love increases. Love liberates us to grow at times and at times it is a burden, but true love is not a fetter.

Recognition and Artificial Intelligence

Recognition and Artificial Intelligence

Recently Donald D. Hoffman, a cognitive scientist, says he has found evidence that humans do not perceive reality as it is.  He claims that due to evolutionary pressure humans perceive objects and phenomena not as they are in reality but as we have come to see them, in a way that offers us an advantage for survival.  One wonders then—if I see a rock and that rock appears a certain way to me, then I take a picture of the rock, and the image in the photo matches the image of the rock I see with my naked sight, whether I am indeed misperceiving the rock with my own eyes.  Could it be that the same misperception which we use to evaluate three dimensional objects applies in the same way to flat surfaces with images of those same three dimensional images?  (A dog will recognize his ball, but he may not recognize a picture of his ball.)  How does that same misperception apply to paintings, and why is recognition of the objects represented in paintings so often instantaneous? 

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that there are two selves: one which finds similarities in the faces of people I meet and one which finds dissimilarities in those faces.  This is, actually, not how the human mind works, but it could be how an artificial mind could work.  In a poem I wrote many years ago I said, “We look for ourselves in a crowd and avoid ourselves in a mirror.”  Perhaps one self finds itself in others and another self finds others within itself.  The discovery of similarities could be my desire, but the discovery of dissimilarities could be another distinct desire.  The similarities and dissimilarities could form a recognition.  Internal harmony could be established or mastered depending on a need for either harmony or disharmony.

How would this be programed into a computer?  If we perceive the world not as it is but as we need it to appear would an artificial intelligence do the same?  And would that intelligence seek similarity or dissimilarity with other intelligent beings?  For that matter it might be better if the evolution of artificial intelligence were not on the same evolutionary trajectory with human evolution, but it seems to me that we are bound to create it in our own image.  This image could be driven either by need or by…what?  What could shape our designing agency other than our own need?

If I’m hungry I need food.  If I’m thirsty I need water.  The rudder of the human ship has become desire rather than environment. Once the need to survive has been satisfied we move on to optimal living, which includes a desire for a high sugar and high fat diet.  If evolution is driving this vehicle it is steering it toward the most basic rewards, or so it would seem.  If I find certain qualities in a person that are agreeable to me I may seek a symbiotic resonance with him and his people to procure what I want.  I seek an escape from myself and a way to further discover myself.  How could these desires be programed into a computer without making the computer a mirror image of ourselves?   

Joel Fry