Dan Schneider’s Poem: War Comix #1452

As a continuance to my Schneider primer, let’s take a closer look at one of his poems. Now, Schneider himself has characterized his style as ‘cathedral-like’ in nature. Every verse or line is like a hardy brick building up to a grand picture.

Another artist who was described as creating ‘cathedrals’ is the composer Bruckner, and sometimes this criticism wasn’t a positive thing. Other terms that people have used to describe Bruckner includes – the creator of symphonic ‘boa-constrictors’. He’s been frequently contrasted with Mahler, whose symphonies were all about building up a world of color, sound, and feeling – both pleasing & ironic/jarring.

Many people out there confess to finding Bruckner’s symphonies too slow and choking. But others have argued he stands at the pinnacle of symphonically intellectual composition. Slowly and methodically making every piece fit into a structure.

To bring us back to poetry, if you were to contrast Schneider with a poet of lyrical shimmer like Plath, or ee cummings – you would something close to that kind of Bruckner/Mahler divide. He’s also rather different from a poet of pure delightful abstraction like Wallace Stevens. He has a thickness of technique that acts as a high barrier to entry to people who are unable to conjoin the constituents of all the parts.

This doesn’t apply to all of Schneider’s poetry though since, as I said before, he takes up a lot of subject matter. But Schneider’s closest compatriots poetry-wise would be Whitman (even he professes that Whitman was what first inspired him), Hart Crane, and Robinson Jeffers. But he’s also not a smooth follower of that rugged and rocky American verse. He can sound too prosaic at times, but this is only to people who can’t see the closer effects and combinations. Most importantly, he is a poet of the ‘intellectual-hijack’.

Let me, for example, look at this poem about one of Lichenstein’s Comic Book Paintings:

          WAR COMIX # 1452:

“IN LIECHTENSTEIN THE WAR WITH THE NAZIS WAS ALL PURE HELL….”

[Captain Armstrong ponders his perfect gaze
in a mirror. A man looks for himself
in a mirror. A woman looks at herself
in the album behind the dashing young officer
preening himself for battle. The man finds himself
in his eyes’ benday glint. In a moment
the olive-toned woman will drop the album.
She will succumb to his certain future and thrust
her brunet love, a gesture of appeasal,
on to his blond manhood, like young boys
surrender their plots to the bitter
TAKKA-TAKKA-TAKKA of machine guns….she will
love his pink unscarred body for now….the silent
lucidity of love will fill her eyes….unalone
in the empassioned air’s embrace….his death
will be a last finished panel to the selective genius
of war….the transcelestial flourish of honor….denied
to those who only carry justice on their tongues….]

Armstrong to mirror:
“….FOR THE LOVE OF MY COUNTRY….”

I chose this one because it has a very clear example of a technique that Schneider frequently excels at – the usage of enjambment to create 3-4 simultaneous meanings in a single line. If you can’t see these continuous aggregation of meanings, you can’t appreciate his verse.

The lines are at the start:

[Captain Armstrong ponders his perfect gaze
in a mirror. A man looks for himself
in a mirror. A woman looks at herself

The poem is based on Lichenstein’s paintings, some of which are based on one of those war comics with idealized male heroes. Already, this is set up in the first line which is a prosaic description of the idealized American soldier looking at himself in a mirror, but it then gains an extra meaning about sexuality & misogyny by the second and third lines.

The subtlety of the ‘for’ and ‘at’ characterizes the male as the ‘searcher’ while the female principle can’t ‘see beyond herself’ – and this is so true of those comics where the other gender is simply depicted as hanger-ons to the hero. On the other hand, it also holds a metaphysical import – describing the ‘Yin/Yang – Sun/Earth’ kind of archetype that is discussed by Mystics, or Weininger, or Jung etc… But it doesn’t show that layer through open analysis. It just draws a simple parallel through a shift in one word.

You can see the three simultaneities coming together here. Dan is describing the comic, but he’s also talking about American ideals, and misogynistic perceptions, and he’s also talking about abstractly about the dual M/F archetypal. And he does this by this sly enjambment where looking ‘in a mirror’ can be read with the part of the next sentence.


in the album behind the dashing young officer
preening himself for battle. The man finds himself
in his eyes’ benday glint. In a moment

This builds up the idealizations in the last few lines, by describing the young officer as ‘dashing’ and ‘preening himself’. There’s the enjambment again where he links the preening with ‘the man finds himself’ – which talks about arrogance & pride in externals.

And yet he drags us out again, by linking the soldier to the benday dots of Lichenstein’s painting. The new layer is added. It drags us back into the gallery looking at the painting, and since there’s a close proximity with the last line – the ‘preening’ can be conjoined with the act of creating art.

the olive-toned woman will drop the album.
She will succumb to his certain future and thrust
her brunet love, a gesture of appeasal,
on to his blond manhood, like young boys
surrender their plots to the bitter
TAKKA-TAKKA-TAKKA of machine guns….she will

These lines are saucy softcore descriptions, but they fit in the message of the idealization, and the link to war & machine guns is an ironic twist on the previous lines – what men give themselves up for: this idle masculine dream linked to sexuality & power. In the characteristically sarcastic Schneider fashion, he links the young boys getting shot by the guns to the woman getting fucked – which is pretty much self-explanatory. Even then, the ‘surrender their plots to the bitter’ is another subtlety because ‘plots’ can be linked up with the comic books themselves. It could even be just a general statement of a boy giving up childhood for a future ‘bitterness’ – not necessarily the war.

Even within the saucy description, there is still the sly enjambment of ‘certain future’ and ‘thrust’ – with mirrors with the hopes & dreams held inside the masculine perceiver of the ideal. The next line focuses on ‘gesture of appeasal’ at the enjamb, which points to the idea that feminine submissiveness is core in the ideal.

love his pink unscarred body for now….the silent
lucidity of love will fill her eyes….unalone
in the empassioned air’s embrace….his death
will be a last finished panel to the selective genius
of war….the transcelestial flourish of honor….denied
to those who only carry justice on their tongues….]

These lines lead up to the final message on both the allure & the perception of the ideal. The ‘pink unscarred body’ – both allowing for a link to freshness & immaturity, to the ideal, and enjambing /w ‘silent’ in order to add a metaphysical force to it. The ‘empassioned air’s embrace’ enjambs with ‘his death’ in order to parallel both the feminine ideal loving him, which is in fact the love of his own death. The next line draws us back into the comic-book page, but also implies that all this is the design of a higher thing. As if panel opens beyond a comic, but also a kind of artistic panel put in the final slate of a grand design.

The ‘transcelestial flourish of honor’ is linked to the ideal, but it is also linked, within the sentence, to ‘denied’. That’s is so totally amazing & fucked up! You get, simultaneously, the man striving for the ideal of a transcendent honor in war, but you also get the fact that the reality will deny him this. You can even get the connotation that war itself is the ‘transcelestial’ – the eternal transcendent order that has guided men since the start (see Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian for more ‘War is God’ stuff). The final line reminds me of so many people in my country that like to tell other people that they can’t “talk about National Service until they’ve been through it themselves” – and other kinda shit like that. War is both a horror & a pride. The soldiers take pride in having lived through the horror – floating on the dreams of masculinity.

                                Armstrong to mirror:
“….FOR THE LOVE OF MY COUNTRY….”

This is just like a cherry on top. It wraps up everything into the ideal of a nation, and its wars. Its faults & foibles in foisting a bloody ideal onto the citizenry, but also its allure. Ideal & Mirror. War & Love. Nation & It’s Enemies.

This is what I mean by Dan Schneider being a cognitive poet. In the above analyses I guided you through my thought process in coming up with my interpretations, and how Dan made those interpretations within me. But you can also see how many other people would view it. Think about how a Freudian analyst would view it – it’s so ripe for them due to all that Love is Death shit! Even a Marxist or a Situationist could talk about the spectacle of entertainment. A feminist reading works. But a misogynist could also read into it as a commentary on something that is denied to the opposing gender, because the last line can also be read as a statement of the lack of understanding the fight of men. It can even be read as a kind of metafiction, given that there are cues of the artist due to the benday & the comic descriptions. I chose to parallel it to Weininger & the Yin/Yang because that general abstraction was ripe within it for my brain to latch onto. It has that powerful ambiguity that makes the ending of A Clockwork Orange, with you being unable to know which side to root for (Alex or Government), such a resonant work. This is apparent in ALL of his poetry. I am only just realizing what kind of an iceberg he is. It’s also apparent in his prose as well, which reads like normal on the surface, but aims to leave upon your brain the mystery of life.

The main thing is that Dan’s poem exists before interpretation. It was made to vortex the minds of all sorts of people into it. It is the loveliest trap and this is the very crux of what poetry (and all art) should be. It shouldn’t merely be about lyricism or imagery or technique or a specific worldview – but about this cumulative explosions of ideas structured into a single frame. A world into itself. The Quantum Objective. Even if you like or dislike it based on your own feelings, it is itself a cathedral of meaning – and so a person who can make the logical connections cannot help but appreciate it for what it is.

And all that in a mere 20 lines!

(Forgot to add. Even the title links Lichenstein to Liechenstein – and the Nazis. That adds the extra layer of Aryan & Fascism being mirrored with American Idealizations & Propaganda etc…)

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