Making Sense in a Subjective Universe

Trying to make sense of life these days appears to be very subjective with each person going his own way with whatever music, literature, movies, media, radio, or T.V. that one prefers, whatever slant one looks at life, a world that William Butler Yeats once described as follows:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;


Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all convictions, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Into this universe stepped in Ezra Pound who made a reality out of himself, a persona which was real and at the same time larger than life- Other poets followed in his stead:  Charles Olson, for example, and other writers who went to school where Olson taught:  Black Mountain College, North Carolina.  Among the poets similar in terms of writing about personal experience, self, persona, and personal myth is one Howard McCord.

Howard McCord is the author of more than 35 books including his Complete Poems which was nominated for the 2002 National Book Award.  I personally met him around 1986 at graduate school at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio where he taught while I was studying poetry in the MFA Poetry Creative Writing Program there.  I remember him as a teacher, teaching Techniques of Poetry and using textbooks such as ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound himself.  Pound himself described how one should study poetry in ABC of Reading:

"The Proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one 'slide' or specimen with another."
   ---(from ABC of Reading, 1934)

Pound was known as the teacher, and Howard is the same way.  In fact, since he is so good as a teacher, one would wonder what his own poetry would sound like, what it would appear like or mean.  The Tao of Poetry, this Possibility X film gives a "careful first-hand examination of the matter"  in which Howard describes in his own words, and readings what poetry means like to him.  Other writers describe Howard including Carl Thayler who was associated with the Black Mountain Poet Robert Duncan and although their words are insightful, none describe Howard as much as he describes himself:

"Life as a poet is a very curious thing in our culture. . .We honor poets, but we don't pay them very much.  And we honor them and don't read them very much.. . .At times I think you can be a little frustrated. . .it's not appreciated but at the same time it was what you were destined to do."  He speaks clearly about the role of the poet in post modern late 20th century America as well as early 21st century America.  His words and insights share what many other poets in the United States have long realized:  Their opinion and their words are ignored by the vast majority of Americans.  Martin Rosenblum, poet and historian for Harley Davidson makes this clear:  "If Chaucer were alive today he would seek a recording contract with a major label."  Still, with The Tao of Poetry, the man and his poetry as well as insights opens up for many not familiar with Howard McCord and what they see in this DVD, The Tao of Poetry is quite a curious thing:

With chapters in the DVD entitled, "more physics" or "why poetry?"  or "life as a poet" and "the poet's regimen," Howard and his approach to poetry and life are fully explored.  The DVD starts with these words:

"How do we know what we know?  How do we know we know it?  What are the limits of our knowledge?  Those fundamental philosophical questions, those still fascinate me.  I think most of my poems are about how the mind knows things and what are the limits of that knowledge?"  Apparently these questions spurred on Howard's work and do so to this day.  The offer the keys to the questions as to Howard's motivations, why he does what he does, why he writes what he writes, and why.

What does this DVD reveal?  About Howard and who he is and what he writes and why?  What does it say?  All the while, when Howard speaks, the teacher comes through:  He answers questions all poets seem to want to know when they get started:  If you want to be a poet. . .

What?  He states it clear enough:

"If you want to be a poet, it means you have a sense of what it is about. . .And so, Just follow that: You're a hound dog, pick up the scent, follow the language wherever it goes. . .It may lead you into a very dark cave, or to something a little nicer perhaps. . ." 

Howard is the voice of experience here, the experienced realist, one who has experienced both sorrows and joys and realizes both constitute life, not one, and not the other, but both.  Thus, this DVD, like being around Howard himself, is a delight, and this DVD captures the essence of the man and his philosophy- Explore-Know- It is the essence of life, but what it tells you might be very little.  Still, the journey can be a happy and a full one.  The voice of optimism is always there, one of hope, one perhaps because his life has been one filled with children and children have always represented hope.  This is shown and captured in the DVD as well as well as many other aspects of Howard including his roots in the Southwest and his sense of "home" in the Southwest even though he has lived in Ohio for a good part of his life. 

As much as he is reflective of where he came from, Howard is unique among writers and poets because of his fascination with the language itself:  As he puts it,

"Language is one of the most distinctive of all human traits. . .It makes us different from every other animal and so it is the sort of. . .archetypal human quality. ." He describes the struggles that a writer has in dealing with language to his audience in the following fashion:  "Those of us who are addicted to language often attribute to it many many characteristics- and when you are wrestling with words sometimes it may be like Jacob wrestling with an angel or it may be like wrestling with a big great polar bear which snaps your back and eats you." 

Prepare to be eaten then.  The Tao of Poetry eats you alive and spits you out, and as you get eaten into the world of Howard McCord, remember the words he says which drives him and perhaps all of us to write, "How do we know what we know?  How do we know we know it?  What are the limits of our knowledge?"  What indeed? 

---Jean Jones


I watched the TAO OF POETRY now for the 3rd time and I have to say, its great, I love it!

John Haynes did a great job and had a great subject to work with. I loved the music as well.

I do believe that the movie will inspire many people who see it and would not have otherwise done so, to take up the pen and the gun.

My only complaint about it would be that it is over too soon, but there are quite a few extras there. Would the word encore apply here?

---Shane Zoglmam


I just finished watching and listening to your film The Tao of Poetry for the third time. Every time I see it I experience it differently which is the kind of art I like. The Tao flows comfortably and interestingly through my consciousness, its audio and visual dance altering my awareness and leaving me open to the truth of what it presents. Along with the anthology of Howard's work, this film forms one of the main pillars of my library and what a treat that be able to travel all those miles of years with Howard through his amazing and beautiful command of language. You film is an excellent mix of sound and image that conveys successfully the value of this poet to our collective mind. It is plain old fashion fun, to boot. Good job!

---William Moonshadow


Filmmaker John Haynes has assembled a compendium of Howard McCord’s life and work that can stand as a model for future efforts to reveal a poet’s nature, the soul of his art. This record of who he is and of what he has to teach us is indispensable to the survival of an autochthonous American poetry. It’s exhilarating to have this film of one of the finest living poets this country has produced, one of the last in the lineage of Olson, Duncan, Snyder. Perhaps, finally, it will help foster the recognition his work deserves.

---Floyce Alexander, author of American Fires, Bottom Falling Out of the Dream, Succor, and Red Deer


Here's a man I've never met - and I'm the guy with all his books. Anne Heeney and I went out & bought our first television and a DVD machine for THE TAO OF POETRY. Worth it! John Haynes has marshaled the forces of documentary film and poetry to present the clearest voice in American letters - from Texas to Saskatchewan - Howard McCord. Salut!



As a song writer/singer, I lay claim to some devotion to poetry. It was with deep respect that I viewed your film "The Tao of Poetry". I was stirred in unspeakable places. I'm sending my copy of your film to the OSU English department. I believe that young poets will be moved to uncover their potential through the guidance of Howard McCord, his friends, your friends, and the mastery with which you continue to connect amazing people to each other. Thanks for letting the world know you in this way.

---Scout Cloud Lee, Author, Songwriter/Singer and Survivor Vanuatu alum


This DVD has everything a retrospective needs: personal history, international travel, mythic landscapes, road trips, interesting people talking about their favorite poet, poetry out loud, moments of insight, and more than a few laughs. Most important, and what brings coherence to these many elements, is the poet himself, speaking directly to the camera.

Howard McCord is a man of many dimensions, all fully realized. He is one of the most articulate beings on the planet. His contribution to literature is great enough to perturb gravity and curve space.

––James Bertolino, author of Snail River, Pocket Animals, and Precinct Kali & The Gertrude Spicer Story


This is a very cool flick about a very cool guy.
I don't like poetry, but I like this movie about poetry.

--Michael W. Dean,
director of the film D.I.Y. or Die: How To Survive as an Independent Artist
and author of the books $30 Film School, $30 Music School, & $30 Writing School


I just watched “The Tao of Poetry" and am inspired. A wonderful movie about an intriguing & amazing poet. It captures the allure, energy, and mystery of poetry in general and of Howard’s poetry in particular.

Filled with mountains, biography, intriguing poems spoken in their native tongue, humor, and the draw of potent ideas, I can easily see this film being used to inspire and teach poetry.

--Bill Yake
author of This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain


Howard has such a lively wit that the uninitiated might be tempted to dismiss him as just that. Doing so, however, would be a great mistake. There is real wisdom in his work, of a kind poetry should deliver on a regular basis, but seldom does in this age. If you listen closely to THE TAO OF POETRY, you will be spared the collective tripe of trendy journals, hip programs, large publishing houses. You might even be made a better person for the experience.

--David Craig


Rec'd the DVD. Most enjoyable and a real treasure. Never having met Howard except via email, I just enjoy our correspondence. He is a most interesting guy and by the fickle finger of fate we own the same name! Have read his poetry and his novel, and the DVD is icing on the cake.

---another Howard McCord [not the subject of the DVD!]