1.31.2003

Heading to NYC this afternoon to see Elena Shvarts et al. at the Russian poetry festival, Lincoln Center. I hear it's sold out & I don't have a ticket. Hope I can get in.

Pasternak (very roughly): "Poetry - our ticket to the good seats."

Mandelstam was angered by that poem - he read it as complacent, considering the times & the conditions (Stalin). "The apartment is quiet as paper. . ."

so, until we blog again. . .
Hybrid form. The plot of Proust's supreme prose work is riveted to a poetic notion: the return of past time (via an unaccountable, involuntary impulse) to a receptive, responsive Now.

I guess the metaform of this blog is similar: the re-emergence of old poems in a retrospective context. Recapitulation. Mandelstam's "incarnational" take on biology (quoting Darwin or Lamarck, I suppose): "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny".

Recapitulation, ontology, teleology. Acmeism's "nostalgia for world culture", the "gold coins of the global humanism of the future": founded on the notion of the Person as microcosm, telos.
There is a "Biblical" way of thinking about this poetic notion: fulfillment of the Scriptures. "Before Abraham was, I am." One theory about why Jesus was said to be from Nazareth or a "Nazarene", holds that he was a "nazir", or nasr - which could mean both a member of a special sect set aside for holiness (called the nazirites), or a poet, a singer. "The Kingdom of Heaven is in your midst"; "the Kingdom of Heaven has come upon you" - what a Blakean-poetic way of speaking! The Now. I don't want to reduce or exalt Jesus to poet-status though - that would be a big mistake. Only to say perhaps that there is a teleology inherent in poetic language use, tending toward immediacy, the event now, the living presence, the embodied word.

I have played around with this in my poetry, both in Stubborn Grew and its sequels, & in the sonnet sequence Island Road: the notion of "making" the literary name of "Henry," in various places (Shakespeare, Dante, & esp. John Berryman). The notion of embodying, fulfilling the "Henry" scriptures.
I sent a post this morning to the Poetryetc. discussion list, in which I said that what distinguishes poetry from prose, basically, is that in poetry language becomes an event, whereas prose language points toward another event. Poetry heightens language, prose subdues it, makes it transparent. The relationship is subtle and symbiotic, not black & white.

Does this heightening have a telos or goal or meaning beyond itself? One such goal, anyway, is to bring both the poet and the audience or reader into the "presence" (in both senses) of the event. Whitman: "this is no book, but a man". One of the elements of Mandelstam's Acmeism was the somewhat Nietszchean idea of the simultaneity-return of past poetry - "I want the living breathing Ovid," he wrote (or something to that effect).
Another little poem from long ago (found in Way Stations).


Vines tremble in the night
around the house's wooden doors,
rustling in the soft breeze, whispering.

Otherwise, not a sound. The high
moon stands over the hurrying clouds,

motionless in the central dark;

the wind tries everywhere for a resting
place, vainly turning over leaves;

and someone stands there in the shadows
looking out at the dry garden, listening
to vine-limbs creak in the night air.

1.30.2003

Mandelstam in one of his essays talks about poetry as the crossing of two strands: the verbal material & the impulse. Or sound & sense, to simplify. (Elena Corrigan's interesting book "Mandelshtam's Poetics" goes in depth into this concept.)

Achieved or received lyric forms add a third level, since these forms create signals of their own, another semiotic dimension. S.K. Heninger (in "Proportion Poetical") describes how the early sonnet form was designed as a replica or microcosm of cosmic creation (the 7 days in 14 lines). The coils of the sestina supply an undertone or overtone to the verbal statements.

So these received forms can act as invitations to send complex messages. For the most part, though, in late 20th-cent. US poetry, the invitation has been turned down. The motivations have been varied. For one thing, the modernist practices of Pound, Marianne Moore, WC Williams, ee cummings extended technical innovation far beyond the limits of these medieval and Renaissance forms. The populist impulse of free verse gave them an outmoded image. And the multiple alienations and "makings-strange" of postmodernist poetry made illegal, so to speak, the communicative contract of the traditional forms; they represented a fallacious, naive harmony, just as did the uncomplicated egocentrism of "mainstream" free verse.

In the 80s & 90s I was on a different track. As described earlier in this blog, I was in the process of absorbing & integrating a religious/Hebraic/incarnational worldview with making poetry; in the effort Mandelstam & Acmeism were serving as models & guides. At the same time I was getting interested in the long poem, as a way of formulating some kind of comprehensive vision/message. For me the problems were not the one posed by postmodernist anti-metaphysics or the stylistic differentiations & alienations of the New Americans. For me the problems were simpler, in a way: the means toward the conceptualization & articulation of a message which energized me. Direction, not indirection, was the aim.

So for a while, before I could manage long poems, or as a way of taking a break from that issue, I played with some of the received lyric forms. What I liked to do was "cross" them with other strands. So for example in a series of sort of autobiographical poems called "Midwest Elegies", I interwove allusions to early anglo-saxon forms. I was crossing my personal origins with the origins of poetry in English. I wrote a dream-vision ("Grain Elevator": see archive for Jan. 9); I put down a subtext of a.-s. laments & elegies into some of my own; & I wrote this little poem, crossing Hart Crane with a particular a.-s. riddle, along with the Song of Songs:



RUSTY EXIT RAMP


How many spears, frozen in phalanxes,
how many iron hills circled the fathers'
hope - chained waters of enmity,
cars harnessed for a pathway through the sea -

when, with a jesting wave, philosophies
of unsettled pyramids the fluted palm
of your promise whispers toward autumn
beneath twin-risen towers, O City of Cities!



This is a poem about Crane & New York; it's also about the displacement of hatred & despair by some kind of metaphysical/poetic intervention. It has a strange sound to me after 9/11.

To reiterate: at the time I was interested in "crossing" the lyric received forms with opposing material. By sending a fairly direct, simple message, via the traditional over-determined envelope of received forms, I was really doing the opposite of the encrypted, hermetic, disjunctive approaches of the contemporary postmodernist poets. For example, I wrote the following sestina in the mid-80s, when mass homelessness was still a shocking anomaly, before we had become so inured to & complicit with this social evil. I wanted to cross a very sophisticated literary form with a very unsophisticated message. The closing stanza, however, can be interpreted in several different ways.


DOWNTOWN SESTINA

Downtown is gleaming, a nest of glass
scant refuge for the homeless and the poor
who trudge along under looming towers
hungry, frazzled, begging small change
and subject to the better sort of people
whose eyes reflect the glitter of the city

And so many circles animate the city
captured in the high gloss of the glass
what's taken for the playground of the people
erases every doorstep of the poor
in sprawling ellipses of loose change
under the stolid mystery of these towers

Under the bright conundrum of these towers
these measuring rods allotting every city
gyroscopes adjusting every change
by whirling speculation in the glass
the downward spirals of the ornery poor
set stirring turbid shadows in the people

And shuttling promotions of the people
forecast by divination in the towers
(who's growing rich and who remaining poor)
start dancing fevers in the chattering city
and snarl the artist in her broken glass
frail craft undone by overmastering change

When fortune is the favored end of change
suburbia the limbo of the people
and tender conscience faints before the glass
rocketing skyward in pretentious towers:
to serve the sleek imaginary city
or swell the sullen rancor of the poor

Meanwhile the rhetoricians of the poor
in campus pockets rummaging for change
inscribe the true authoritative city
and mint sterling mementos of the people
studies wherein the mind serenely towers
over safe specimens tacked up under glass

So let's raise a glass to the dizzy city -
a toast to towers, and all red-faced people!
And drink for a change among the homespun poor.

3.16.86


Again, after 9/11, the poem has a strange feel.
Providence very pretty this morning, walking in to work. Dusting of new snow & luminosity, pastel Easter-egg sky. How I imagine St. Petersburg on a good day.

1.29.2003

Here is a poem in a form (the "nocturne"), circa mid 90s.




NOCTURNE

in Pawtuxet, with the "pioneers"


The night air is soft, the trees hold their places,
the meeting's adjourned, we emerge from the loft.
The streetlight illuminates (diverted faces).
The night air is soft.

Words, words, tarred with a treacherous weft. . .
heart's treason, scars. Posthumous traces
you'll replicate later - when no one's left.

Soul. . . death will bear your disgraces.
Friend. . . let this river be - raft.
Soon, soon - the deep gulf will displace us. And
the night air is soft.




("the pioneers" refers to a little group called the Poetry Mission, who were setting up some readings & an archive at the Hall Public Library in Cranston, down the road from Ted Berrigan's childhood home. Speaking of whom. . . in another form. . .)
I know, Socky: "you won't see anything with your eyes closed."
Some helpful "rants" from Jonathan today on formalism. I like what he says about Pound's metronome. "The sequence of the musical phrase" would mean a rhythm & tempo not dominated by the fixity of the metronome.

But a more sophisticated use of traditional form & metrics must be represented by poets outside the camps of "early" New Formalism! I just don't know where they are.

& O critics, O reviewers: show me the wheels within wheels!!

The Wheel of (Virgilian) Form: how the innate primal perennial poetic IMPULSE emerges as lyric receptivity; didactic forthright argument; epic vision.

The Wheel of Metaform: how the impulse circles around, from ephebic formal imitation, to mature absorption of experience, to the recapitulation of these experiential metaforms in original, inward form.

"Sounds really German to me, von Heinrich", quoth Socrates.

Well, Socky, I'm looking for a paradigm. I'm weary of the promos for pomo innovative elliptics; I'm weary of threadbare surfing attention to traditional means. Bring your reviews to the table & we will evaluate them in Russian translation.
This week's NYorker has a brief review of Marsden Hartley show in Hartford. "the master of Dogtown is having his day". Did Charles Olson notice? Hartley did a lot of painting in Dogtown.

"the middle voice". not elliptical. where on the Virgilian wheel is the impulse? see, simplify, speak. meter-making argument. sound & sense & pressure of experience. he paints a blue mountain.

My kids' mother Francesca born & raised in Lewiston, Hartley's home town.

"By the fragrant Androscoggin,
clogged with noise & smoke. . .
Lewiston High School. . ."

Numerological symbolism in his painting for Hart Crane ("Eight bells"). Eight bells means noon, time he jumped off the ship. 2, 9, 33.

Crane the other side of the coin from Eliot's alloy of traditional/modernist. the flip side.

Hartley & Max Beckmann. Painting in Minneapolis Art Institute ("The Departure").

1.28.2003

& speaking of Eliot. . . here's the concluding section of my endless poem, "Forth of July":


8

Old men should be explorers.


I lay on the tattered sofa
near Lucky. Her little clay
fisherman tested the Secchi
depth with a black-white O.

Feathered black in Voronezh,
an arrow flew from Muskovy
with a grain in its beak
like sun along a knife-edge.

*

In a garden of huge routes
I found a spear pivoting near
the ides of April. This is where
St. George pinned up the involuted

pattern: star to star,
Janus to July (your hand
plunged into the red wound
with clover, pennyroyal, myrrh).

*

I’ll be in Indiana
living in a shanty
shanty (grainy
boxcar–Hiawatha)

with a cloverleaf
for mercy seat–
red, white, violet
(el Bluejay’s nef ).

*

Fire licked the Rome
of your smile, indivisible
Petrogram–where RW
touches Jerusalem

and threads knot
above Las Cruces.
The nef rows, rows. . .
palms, heartbeats, light.


5.28.2000
So I will try to address again these two points & answer Socky at the same time; I have the feeling that if I can carefully define the idea of "metaform" it might deal with both issues.

Originally I proposed this notion of metaform as a critique of New Formalism - against the assumption that "forms" are all there is. But my point refers really to any emphasis on technique in isolation, whether by the formalism of traditionalists or the anti-formal formalism of innovators.

Form is the building design. Metaform is the actual building, in the open air, in its environment. Moshe Safdie on a hilltop seeing his 10 or 15 structures scattered around Jerusalem.

But poetry persists in a different kind of environment, differently social, conceptual, performative. Its atmosphere includes the intellectual & cultural context, the surrounding climate of its time. Thus for example part of the "metaform" of Wordsworth includes the climate he helped instigate - a new focus on "ordinary speech", folk music & balladry, "romance" in the medieval sense, and, most importantly, a spiritual doubt & questing around the foundations of received religion & 18th-century Enlightenment received ideas.

However, if we left it there, we would not be talking about poetry, but about the "form" of social & intellectual history in general. As I tried to point out earlier in this blog with reference to Mandelstam: metaform, in the context of poetry, has to do with a process of internalizing & creative re-making - the transmutation of cultural metaform into the inimitable aesthetic form of a new poetry.

We could think of metaform in terms of a process of a poet's development. It could be seen as a kind of oscillation or circle: first, the beginning poet practices & becomes practiced at received forms (in the technical sense of form - free verse, sonnet, etc.). After gaining a certain confidence, she or he applies this talent & newfound technique - seeks to engage with the culture at large through creating interesting, relevant works & offering them to the public. This is indeed a period of trial, as any poet knows who looks back at rejected poems of a long time ago or just yesterday: all those poems that fall short, either from lack of energy or shape, or from trying too hard to "sound like" poetry - and ending up sounding inauthentic: it's not really THEM speaking, it's an unconfident imitator of something already done before. If the poet persists, however - and through luck or effort or destiny discovers originality - the process of interiorizing the cultural metaform(s) of her time & place begins: the inimitable poems are made which exhibit an aesthetic, intellectual & human integrity. Often the late poems, at the end of this struggle, are the most beautiful. Occasionally the Rimbaud will arise whose originality short-circuits the whole process. But this originality is the cultural metaform, reflected in & transmuted into poetry.

OK, how does this relate to the 2nd issue - the assertion that "oppositional" poetics exists in a sort of dialectical or symbiotic relation to a larger tradition?

American ingenuity, starting with Whitman, Dickinson & Poe, valorized originally by Emerson & Thoreau, set in motion a certain cultural landscape or metaform. American poetry would be absolutely original, experimental & new in relation to the poetries of old. This idea was not developed in isolation, but in the context of more traditional poetics of Longfellow, Tennyson & others - it instigated a creative tension. It exploded into view with the Modernists of the first 2 decades of the 20th century. However, it was (fortunately) never "resolved". Both Eliot & Pound, for example, but primarily Eliot, revealed a Janus-faced approach to innovation, and as time went on, the traditionalist Eliot came to the fore - pressing the notion of a single European Christian culture and a poetics aligned with the Renaissance & Dante. Eliot had tremendous influence on the critical & pedagogical developments represented by New Criticism & the southern poets, Ransom, Tate & others. Their influence, in turn, was so strong that when Lowell broke with them in the 50s and began writing confessional free verse, it seemed to mark a sea-change in American poetry. But that was only the beginning. The 50s & 60s brought on a multifaceted expansion/revolt in US poetry activity. The revolt was aimed against both cultural and aesthetic norms. "Aesthetic norms" - when crystallized in prescriptive or traditionalist poetics & pedagogy - seemed like an oxymoron, when the essence of lyric poetry seemed to involve spontaneity, openness, a rejection of social controls, and dream-work or surrealism.

So, by the 1970s and 80s, the US had produced a smorgasbord of different approaches to poetry-making, along with an academic "creative writing" industry. At this late date, in this conflicted environment, how can one possibly suggest that there is a "tradition-at-large"?

During the same period, of course, there was an effort through translation & anthology-making to expand the vistas of tradition & possible models. But their is a difference between translating or anthologizing on the one hand, and creating a new poem or work of poetry on the other. The cultural metaform - whatever shapes & boundaries it may exhibit - must be interiorized and recapitulated in new aesthetic forms & works. In the Middle Ages, poetic mastery was represented in the model of the "wheel of Virgil": the poet's movement from lyric contingency, to didactic purpose (the Georgics), to epic vision - in the process producing a world-image or culture-image - a reflection of the culture as an entirety.

Lyric contingency (or receptivity, openness), didactic conscience or purpose, epic or religious vision - these impulses perhaps underlie the application of the whole variety of technical approaches, specific forms & genres, etc. The US context or heritage is marked by a conjunction of extremes: the extremity of Emerson, Whitman & Dickinson's revolt against British norms; the extremity of Eliot's reassertion of traditionalism. Extremity lends itself to "scene-making": young poets are influenced by the notion that a particular technical approach, idiom, or cultural attitude is a momentous commitment. In a sense, it is: but the decision to follow a particular model is only the beginning of the process of making original poetry - the process leading from form to metaform & on to new form which I outlined above. This is a fact which is often lost to view.

If we take into consideration something like the underlying impulses behind the Virgilian wheel - and add to it a consideration of the developmental process (form/metaform/originality) - we may begin to recognize the outlines of a "tradition-at-large": the character of poetic making as experienced at all times & places. This perennial character might serve to set the US experience of extremes in a new context. Within this context, perhaps we can approach what's been done and is being done - as readers and critics - with an eye not only toward the influence of idioms & scene-makers, but toward how individual poets have interiorized & re-presented both the materials of poetry per se, and the "metaforms" of the surrounding culture. Keeping the underlying impulses in mind, we might be more ready to recognize new lyric poetry, new didactic poetry - and eventually the challenges of poetic & social vision implied by epic.
I have been doing this blog for almost a month. Looking back, often embarrassed by the incoherence & obscurity of some of my pronouncements on poetics (especially in the last few days).

Current emanations from some of the blogs listed to your left point up the ambivalence, ambiguity, controversy at the borderline of poetry & politics, poems & "scenes".

Two things that have recurred in my comments: 1. search for a way of thinking about "form" (form & "metaform", etc.); 2. the assertion that "oppositional" poetics has to be seen in relation to a sometimes invisible tradition-at-large.

Am I making this up? I can hear Socrates or some other interlocutor immediately challenge me : "To the contrary, sir: Tradition is a construct - its definition will vary depending on the motivations of interested groups & individuals. Tradition is the embattled prize of divisive culture(s). So your version of T-at-large is likewise an interest-driven imaginary construct, no more valid than any other."

I have to go for the moment but maybe can figure this out later.

1.27.2003

Eric Staiger (Basic Concepts of Poetics) on the essential unpredictability & uncontrollability of lyric, proceeding as it does from a receptive state, the instantaneous verbalization of a dominating mood or a dream. His theory of genre based not on pigeonholing of formal properties or stylistic analysis, but on clearly differentiated impulses - lyric, epic, dramatic. Mandelstam's notion that future scholars would focus on the "impulse" of the text.

Beneath the worldviews that have become ideologies and normative language practices - the strata of the poetic "impulse".
[Another short poem from many years ago.]


OLD TIME ELEGY



Lord, we will write and write.
Your August ripens.
A radio keeps the beat.

The writing is what happens,
while merged with the wheat
a single strand of hair stays hidden.
Monday, always a good time to backtrack. I can't "prove" a poetics. Moreover, there will always be an oscillation between the "out there" & the "made thing", even if you can idealize Reality with a capital R as inherently singable. Somehow the poetics has to include the completely useless.

In a way that's what I started with on this blog, when I wrote about the babble of the SOUND of poetry, as reflexive, turned back on itself - the source, perhaps, of Plato's suspicion. I think, though, that my general tendency in these polemics is to protest against the self-reflexive as a system: what I've seen in postmodern poetry as a denial of the relationship between the poem & an "out there", or, a similar position, the attitude that reality is always more chaotic & meaningless than the artificial structures, the imaginary worlds, of art.

I guess I feel in sympathy with the general attitude of the Objectivists & neo-objectivists (Anastasios pointed out to me in a backchannel their affinities with the Russian Acmeists): the view that poetry is in relationship with an actual "out there" which can't be dismissed as either meaningless, chaotic, or simply presented as the stasis of cliche. It's a relationship in which both art & reality signal & gesture toward one another, and poetry exhibits an innate harmoniousness that it discovers in both. Such "realism" is, for me, one of the avenues connecting present-day poetry to all the poetries of the past; acknowledging the simple, direct & mimetic in speech and representation, without insisting on some prescriptive, necessary or a priori version of them. & if we go from there to these interesting ideas from Anastasios about nature in poetry, the "aural analogue" (or the beautiful sound & its analogy in "inscape"), maybe we can see how, in a preliminary sketchy way, such a perspective begins to show the outlines of a consistent poetics (& by that I mean not a technique but an understanding of what poetry is & can be). Moshe Safdie again, on architecture & the natural/cultural landscape (see recent NYorker article).

OK enough of these wearisome abstractions. . . it is Monday after all. . .

1.26.2003

The extra, the surplus = the halo (see blog entry for Jan. 2, quote from quote from McCaffery book).

1.25.2003

APHORISMS

Wallace Stevens jotted down some notes about the equation poetry = life. Figure it out, Sore Bun.

I HATE SPEECH (Grenier) appears to come straight out of Derrida. What is a salience? A salience is an excrescence. A surplus, an extra. The extra special something in the way you dress that appeals to me. The text as surplus, divagation (Ashbery & Bernstein alike). Sparky light. Different.

I wish I could quote S.K. Heninger Jr.'s entire book (Proportion Poetical : the subtext of form in the English Renaissance). He's read them carefully (the philosophy, the philology). Today's NY TImes on the new science of Networks: look at Heninger. He shows the line of descent from the Renaissance: from the new scientific empiricism, through enlightenment deism, to Romantic ego-sublime, to Modern angst, to postmodern deconstruction. From Saussure through New Critics to Derrida. But he shows what they left out from Saussure: the local networks of meanings which limit the arbitrariness of differential signs. "Brown" is ONLY arbitrary (or differential - ie. according to Saussure, "brown" only means "what is not red, blue or the other colors") within the sub-class COLORS. & how Derrida tried to erase late Saussure on the consistent "human nature" (which assigns meaning to local categories or classes of things), by relegating it to an "absent trace" which is self-contradictory (by the same token the image of his own logical slippage).

Why is this important or anything?

I'm going to prove how the sub-networks of US poetry (Olsonian, NY Schoolian, langpo) WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT, are positive contributors to a more comprehensive theory of poetry which transcends the postmodern condition. Poetry = life, because Ashbery's evasion, Grenier's denial, Olson's psycho-mytho are built on a dialectical feint around Stevens's equation, which parallels the Renaissance/Modern/Postmodern dialectical feint around the ancient/medieval Logos of nature.

The lighthouse is not a mode of differance. The foghorn likewise. Simple indication of rocks nearby. "Human nature" establishes local pointers via speech.

I started this blog writing about the special symbiosis of sound + sense which is poetry. Dialectic of "musical form" (metrics, song) + meaning: a semiotics of sensual or mathematical form alternating with a semiotics of language. The harmonic coherences which arise from this doubleness set poetry apart from prose. THERE IS NO NEED FOR AN ADDITIONAL DISTINCTION (the differances, the evasions, the myths). These additional distinctions are built upon merely partial & polemical philosophical foundations.

Poetry is the sign of the inherent harmonic nature of reality (a Stevensian notion). Philosophical systems built upon denial (post-Renaissance) are only half of the dialectic, and as such they distort the embodiments of language, poetry's material.

Poetry is not a New Critical "material" built on an autonomous system of differences ("language"). Both language & poetry are human harmonic gestures toward either real things or real imaginary fables.

The sound of your singing bears

"Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were a part."
Gary Sullivan's (Elsewhere) musical explorations. I feel like I'm back in the time of the Crusades, but there are peripatetic monks passing ms. around in Toledo or Edessa. The snob & the obsessive are not far apart ("crank" is the wrong word here). I like African electric guitar too. Out of the thumb piano tradition. There was a jazz underground in Mpls late 60s - Jeff Greenspoon & friends. Jeff gave me guitar & thumb piano lessons. I learned harmonica from a goofball named Eugene.

In SF at the Fillmore I was knocked to the ground by a huge fat Hell's Angel from NYC outside a Dead concert (circa 1974). One straight arm ringed with metal to the back of the head. They were having their national convention & had just stolen my $50. guitar for the offer to get me into the concert (I had no money). I was trying to give them a hard time. They did get me into the concert. I danced onstage (my high school friends Al Franken & Tom Davis - later comedians on SNL - had tickets). Asked Jerry Garcia during break if he could help me get the guitar back - he said "sorry, there's nothing I can do". He was covered with sweat but very gentlemanly about it.

O how boring, America! This is the journalism. How about Angel, the Puerto Rican orphan I met on the street, who could hardly speak english? Our hungry hitchhike from SF to Denver (almost killed by car thieves who picked us up in the mountains - our discussion about Jesus that got us off the hook?) The campfire in the cold in the desert outside Reno - "Henry, you are good, I hope you never turn bad." My flight from Denver - Angel's crusade TO FIND SASQUATCH???

Oh, music. . .

1.24.2003

Socrates: Well, Hankovitch, once again you seem to be running sorta fast & furious. Liable to leave people behind with all your airy abstractions. Lemme see if I can help you outa this mess.

Henry: Please do, Socky. I was over at Jordan Davis' blog, where he was talking about Kenneth K. saying "we were the last to create a world", & the heavy burden of all the prescriptive baggage of being handed an ambition for Unity, & how perhaps writing about what's in front of you, the limits make it authentic as "world"... anyway he said it better in his own inimitable way, & I thought he was responding to some things on this blog & over at Anastasios', and then I noticed I had inadvertently gone into the archive & was reading stuff he had written 3 months ago, late October. . .

Socrates: You ARE confused. Somehow, methinks, we have to speak more simply & clearly about these matters. Poetry is for others, not for just endlessly recycling our own aquaculture.

Henry: I guess.

Socrates: Well, let me see if I read you right. You say there's something called para-form. Well, let's call it meta-form for now, it's more Greek to me. & it sounds like a word for the design or tendency of a poet's overall style, as opposed to "form" in an abstract, generic or strictly technical sense. Is that right?

Henry: well, I guess so.

Socrates: OK, & it seems you are arguing that "form" isn't too important, doesn't even make much sense, without this surround, this metacontext - where the poet's style fuses with the sense of nature, beauty, time, truth, as these are evolving in the culture she or he's in. & some poets, like you said Yeats, Goethe, Ashbery even maybe, Mandelstam in "Flint Ode", Bleguin Sansterre - these poets are conscious of that unitary meta-context, that surround - & their response to it gives their work a kind of coherence or address. That's the meta-form.

Henry: Well, I didn't say that, but maybe it's a nice follow-up. Maybe a poet's deepest impulse, their drive, is to respond holistically to the whole dilemma or wheeling variety around them - & that holism or unitary drive produces. . . coherences, stylistic & thematic saliences.

Socrates: Whew! "saliences" - is that Greek?

Henry: let me get back to you on that. btw, who's Bleguin Sansterre?

Socrates: I'lll call you on the cell about that. Later. In the meantime, you came along with another blast of verbiage today, about MUSIC vs PAINTING & poetry vs prose fiction. . . what the heck was that all about?

Henry: Duh. . .

Socrates: All right, I'll cover it for you. I am Socrates, after all.

Henry: I am Socrates. I am a Man. Therefore. . .

Socrates: Oh shut that door. As I was saying, you was trying to differentiate in a very sushpect way, poetry & the poet from prose & the novelist. The poet, according to Hen, is the representative, the visible sign of Song. Whereas, in prose fiction, the word is a transparent vehicle for a fable - a visualization, a painted scene - in poetry, the musicality inherent in the microstructure of language EMBODIES (sings) its meaning, its referent. It's the difference between the eye & the ear, perhaps.

Henry: I guess that's pretty close to what i was trying to say. [snuffle] Excuse me, I have to blow my nose.

Socrates: So Hen, you are asserting this difference or opposition between poetry & fiction, & the role of the poet & the role of the prose writer. & you were suggesting that just as meta-form rules over microform (& all the USA turf divisions & polemics that involves), so too the musical imperative, the song imperative of poetry rules over the more local turbulence of styles & techniques; because poets in all their variety are still more alike to one another (as & when they make poetry) than they are like (in their methods) those making prose.

Henry: I would also just point out the interesting comments on Anastasios' list about nature poetry - Hopkins & Niedecker & Bunting; & how he connects Hopkins' concept of the unity of natural forms ("inscape") with the "aural analogue", or the onomatopeia of poetic language. We may be seeing sort of a related set of concepts here, related to my notes about metaform (as you call it) & the pursuit of a holistic response to the surroundings (natural, cultural), by way of the inherent musicality. Also curious what Jonathan Mayhew had to say recently about Niedecker & "lightness", the lack of baggage - seems like sort of another name for clarity - the ability to express in such a way that we feel an instant, natural kinship or joyful apprehension - is this a giddiness?

Socrates: None a your bidness. You're attemptin yr usual transumptive warp-wraparound, & getting vaguer by the min. It creates a bland unity, ends up as a blockade.

Henry: Well, maybe not, Socky, maybe not. Listen to this quotation from Plutarch, commentating on you, Socky, yourself: "Fiction, being a verbal fabrication, very readily follows a roundabout route, and turns aside from the painful to what is more pleasant. . . For not metre nor figure of speech nor loftiness of diction nor aptness of metaphor nor unity of composition has so much allurement and charm, as a clever interweaving of fabulous narrative."

Socrates: Somethin the Publishing Industry has been aware of fer some time.

Henry: Think back to what I said earlier about Mandelstam's "Flint Ode" - how, as Omry Ronen has described, the poem's theme is a meditation on the nature of poetry (it is an Ode, after all). And the PLOT of that story is one that distinguishes the poet, somewhat prophet-like, from the "sleepy" fictions of the mass culture-mind. It's a sort of many-sided individuation process - not for the sake of that individual so much - but through the poetry the culture-mind itself comes to consciousness. Now imbricate that with Plutarch's contrast of traditional poetic form with the pleasures of fiction. The poet, as opposed to the fictioneer, because of an ineluctable vow to the inherent quality of verbal song, is the bearer of what truth there is, in song.

Socrates: But Hen!!!!!! How is this relevant to the newsletters of the poetry clubs of TODAY!!!!! They want to prove themselves!! They want to be poets today & tomorrow! They want to grow in their art! They want to live in their art! They want to make themselves at home in their art! As somebody told you once, "Don't tell us what to do!!!"

Henry: My two or three meta-imperatives here are not prescriptive, Socky. They are really not. In fact I was thinking today that it would be bestest for me & perhaps bestest for us all to stop thinking in the old ways of the USA around here about this stuff. It's not a coffee clatch for the Hatfields & McCoys. We might think toward the larger world & wider publics & ordinary unknown readers. We might think of Poetry as a vast vague meta-imperative which we are free to explore. The tools are basic & primal: 1. the song in words (the poetic imperative); 2. the beautiful & mysterious holistic inscape they encapsulate (the imperative of metaform); 3. the Mandelstamian-Celanian truth imperative (which finds differing modes of expression in poetry & fiction) (Celan's "Walk in the Mountains" story is a meditation on these issues).

Socrates: But Hen, how can something so imperative not be prescriptive?

Henry: Imperative is the wrong word, maybe. I'm talking about the conceptual/creative order that shapes the overall character of poetry. Song, metaformal beauty, and the individuating-epiphanic process of truth's undertone - the sound of the pedal - emerging beneath fable & sleep. These are the larger constellations that overshadow our more parochial concerns.

Socrates: Can I have some of that cookie?
(& cf. Anastasios' comments on natural form & sound values of words in GM Hopkins & unity of being & English tradition over at Ineluctable.)
Formalism some more. Another angle on "para-form" (& I recommend in the regard a book by S. K. Heninger titled "Proportion Poetical").

The polemical fracturings between supposed formalists & supposed innovators disguise the fact that both fall together on one side of a deeper fissure - between poets & prose fiction writers. I know that even to admit the difference is highly controversial. But - & the Heninger book is very helpful here - the divide goes back to Plato vs. Aristotle on the nature of poetry. Is the poet, per Aristotle, primarily a maker of fictional imitations of a real or idealized reality - ie. primarily allied to PAINTING - so that verse & metrics are incidental? Or is the poet, ala Plato, the inspired (drunken) vessel of divine fury, possessed by a dithyrhamb, primarily allied to MUSIC? Does the poet require & insist on music in order to be able to invent the appropriate mimesis of the ideal harmony of the spheres? Or is versification less important than realistic description & plot?

The debate since Pound & modernism has intensified, with the different crosscurrents very obvious in Pound: he needed free verse both in order to be properly "musical" AND in order to include a more accurate representation of "contemporary reality". But the musicality of Symbolism was to some degree predicated on a rejection of prose, everyday speech, "journalism"; while on the other hand the metrical traditionalism of someone like Frost served as a kind of grid or framework to HIGHLIGHT or intensify "ordinary speech", the Wordsworthian poet speaking the language of everyperson - and so avoiding the symbolist distancing effect.

But as I say underlying this internal debate, it seems to me, is what makes formalist & anti-formalist close kin : their allegiance to poetry as opposed to prose. Poet means "maker"; fiction means "made thing" - yet the poet is signed by a vow to primitive SONG, while the novelist is devoted to "ut pictura" through the rhetorical drone or equilibrium of prose description - a very different endeavor.

This poetic allegiance to the immediacy & presence of song can be seen to have consequences for the poet's role in culture, on the one hand (the implications for "para-form"), and consequences for the poet's technical development (the implications for form: how does the poet balance the "music" & the "painting"?)
First thing I do this morning: process "V.Imp." & "Million Poems Journal" for the Harris Collection (maybe the biggest collection of American poetry in the world). Be nice to poor old uncle, he's archiving the future for the present.
[& yet another wee olde poem from long ago.]


from a cave

Such a small voice,
I would not stop to hear;
the sun was going down, and
there were no houses near.

Such a strange voice,
whispering out of the ground -
familiar, though it seemed
unearthly, utterly profound.

Such a sweet voice,
twining my cavern ear;
a vine for water jars, when
all the wedding guests are here.
John Berryman had come up in discussion on the New Poetry list, & I promised to post this poem today. The scene takes place along the Mississippi, down the block from Berryman's fatal bridge. [Unfortunately I'm having trouble with the template here - 3 lines should be deeply indented ("maybe you'd be by the upstairs"; "and Dad will get up"; "ROOSEVELT SPEAKS TONIGHT"]:


THE FRONT


When the front rolls in from the southwest,
Spreading a wide fan of shadows and rain
Over the prairie, the towns anchored
Under the bulbs of the water tanks
And waiting for the downpour
To soak the fields, rinse
The machinery -
maybe you'd be by the upstairs
Window, looking out through the big black
Bars of the oak tree toward the gash
Of the river, moving there, hidden
Between the steep slopes, the skies
Quickly lowering.
And Dad will get up
And put down the paper
(ROOSEVELT SPEAKS TONIGHT)
Take off the hearing aid, and close
The south windows downstairs (near where
The piano music curls on the bench) -

And when the storm finally breaks
He'll watch for a while too, leaning
Against the mantle, thinking
Of Kanesville (swollen
Creek, fragile apple trees )-
While the rain storms down in sheets
On the grass, a silver wall
Between the river banks, and thunder
Rattles the blue chinaware, and Grandma
Lights the dinner candles,
And evening hustles out the day.

From the upstairs window
Maybe you'd see the strange
Incandescence, the last
Light burning through
Beneath the storm,
And your face like a
Smaller star, leaning there
Against the clear pane -

1.23.2003

Socrates: Hen, you AWFUL good at glurping out them shimmery concept-bubbles which unfortunately tend to pop before they drop. This gander about "para-form" fits the genre to a T. Sound sushpicioushly like a dead end again.

Henry: Well, I know, Socky. The special temptation to verbalize from the preconscious cortex afflicts us daily.

Socrates: the question I have for you is, ain't "conceptual" form been done about 30 yrs ago, with a lot of boring art anyway?

Henry: Likely so. But maybe the deal with poetry is somewhat different, since the verbal & the conceptual are such close cousins. & often poetic expression tries to put into words the pre- or nonverbal aesthetic/conceptual apprehensions which are also represented in music & painting.

Socrates: And?

Henry: Well, in the essay on Form which I put into this blog a couple weeks ago (Jan 6), and in the interview in Jacket with Kent Johnson, I was trying to get at this idea a little more. The Form essay draws on Rifatterre's study of poetics, which emphasizes the close relation between aesthetic form in poetry (poetics), and semeiosis. The poem is a signal of wavering or variant meaning(s) - not hermetic, but not disclosed in a fixed form either. I would like to build on that notion of the poem as an allusive object of multivalent meaning (simultaneously self- and other-referential, self-sufficient & symbiotic), by adding to it the meta-role of the poet in culture & history. The role I have in mind is a figure (one among others) for the role of the artist in general.

Socrates: & ?

Henry: Think of Yeats, for example. Engelberg's great monograph on him, "Vast Design", brings out the depth and variousness of Yeats' interactions with other arts, particularly painting & drama, and theorizes a "European" concept of all-round culture (he compares Yeats with Goethe in this respect). (Hey, OK, think of Ashbery too if you want.) A unity of being toward which Yeats yearned.

Socrates: Et?

Henry: Et in consequendum heh-heh. The formalities of what US poets have come to think of as formalism languish like chunks of grid-architecture tossed by the side of the highway if they are not integrated into some more natural/traditional sense of aesthetic form - beauty, if you will. In this respect maybe I'm close to the perspective of the US/Israeli architect Moshe Safdie (featured in a recent NYorker article). Beauty that is "functional" in a cultural, aesthetic, intellectual, ethical, and spiritual way all at once. & in a social sense this is perhaps the "unity of effect" for which the utterances of the poet correlate local formalisms informalisms & semiotic signals. The telos of technique. Para-form.
Formalism. For a while I tried to run through all the forms in Lewis Turco's Book of Forms. But I've come to believe that the unique & particular worldview of the individual poet - as it interacts with the "cultural thinking" of the society as a mass - and as translated into aesthetic choices - creates a sort of para-form or conceptual armature within the poet's oeuvre. Maybe I can try to explore that further at some point. Omry Ronen argues that this parallel between the poet's role and the "sleepy" social group-mind is a major theme of Mandelstam's "Flint Ode" (see Ronen's book Approach to Mandelstam).

Anyway, here's one of my formal efforts. My wife & I bought a print, produced by a special technique of wiping the ink-covered plate (I forget the name for this). At the time we met the artist, Sylvia Petrie. Eventually I wrote the following poem, & sent her a copy. She wrote back to tell me that the image was not actually from nature, but from an etching in an old edition of "Piers Plowman". The poem uses a Portuguese form called the "glose" which I think is interesting in its own right.



ON AN UNTITLED PRINT

for Sylvia Petrie


The work is finished in the dark.
The world's invisible, unknown.
A night of snowfall leaves its mark.
It will remain, when we are gone.


Inside the silver picture frame
frozen winter night has come.
An image like a negative.
Black ink feathered off, by hand,
imprints a landscape (winter gloom).
The traces of your handiwork
are what gives light - the glowing land
flows down (from hills to scattered sand)
in random touches. . . flick and fleck.
The work is finished in the dark.

This labor scatters into day
like Monday mornings - who can say
what these wayward shapes contrive?
Triangular, amid uncertainties,
one tiny house (snowbound, lonely)
gleams (nestled, shrunken)
between the looming cedar trees
and those unclear interstices
which could be universe - or none.
The world's invisible, unknown.

The picture hangs against a wall
where afternoon light sometimes falls,
and sometimes (strangely) time will give
instead of take. . . and I can see
what you were doing, after all.
Through curving space, look
back. . . into reclusive memory.
This house, this hill, this endless sea
were yours. Engrav├Ęd. Cold and stark.
A night of snowfall leaves its mark.

We grow away from home forever.
Epitaphs for each survivor
elevate the long perspective.
Parallels we harvested
return. As in a childhood fever
everything we once disowned
(what seemed frivolous, detested
chaos) now coheres. Nested
on a hillside, sloping down. . .
it will remain, when we are gone.

3.23.97

1.22.2003

A couple of old midwestern poems, for all you sophistercated urbanites out there in blogland.






RADIAL

Seen once in the distance
behind closed eyelids -
an old country town,
afloat in the depths
of heavy black earth.

Speechless seeing,
the child's eye
obedient, peaceful,
nursing in the blood
such slow harmonies:

the rustling elms,
and houses ripening
in the summer light -
tentative longing
rising from the streams.

What equilibrium
shall we embrace?
And formulate what
loving circumference,
what fateful gift?







MIDWEST ELEGY


On infinite plains,
Among seedy barns leaning
On edges of small groves of oaks
Just off the quiet roads, there
Everyone knows, serious life
Is elsewhere. War simmers
On the east coast, Dream
Shimmers on the west, the rites
Were unbelievably successful -
We fell in love with Marilyn
And Jack before their time,
They gave their lives, articulate
In the labyrinth - a consummation.

The storm comes later,
Up from the south out of
The shifting void of the sea,
When the words are lost
In a tumble of low tides,
The glittering mirage left
Drying among the fishbones
On the shore. Out of thirst,
Out of the dry salt and dust
Of unforgiveness, the storm
Gathers into itself -
Listen: dark silver sound,
Against a screen of long-
Abandoned, broken summer doors.

And what was I doing there,
Riding my father's car
Over the dirt roads toward
Sundown, dumbly tracing the
Scent of your skin and hair
In empty loops around the careful
Plots of the abyss, my fears,
The sad compass of mothers,
Fathers - this useless, neverending
Unemployment, this adolescence,
My slow heart beating, gathering
Desire and fright to approach
Your ramparts glittering on high. . .

An angel with flaming sword
Turning every way stands guard.
I remember our walk down the
Narrowing point into the swamp,
Behind the derelict drive-in
Movie lot - two young adults -
And finding the torn-up porno
Magazine at the edge of the water.
I remember fifteen years before
The fat kid in the back seat,
Under the ghostly drive-in screen,
And the distant lights of Minneapolis,
Kneeling long ago in the graveyard grass.
The recent NY Times feature on Anthony Hecht produced an interesting confluence of responses (see these blogs: Lime Tree, Ineluctable Maps, Mike Snider's, and the discussion on form & avant-garde on the Poetryetc. list).

Hecht's question, "what makes it a poem?" - as he sits hieratically in his white-columned library in Washington DC with the mausoleum-like inscription from one of his own funereal poems written in gold around the walls - comes like the sphinx or the voice from the crypt, asking the style question that no one has been able to answer for the last 50 years or so. "I thought of a butterfly. . ."

For the New American Poets & their inheritors, the question to some degree has already been answered. Poetry has been ineluctably democratized. See Ron Silliman's blog entry for today: the exciting question is not "what makes it a poem?", but, "How will the irrevocable advance made by the New Americans grow and diversify?" This is a rather sanguine, untroubled outlook - avoiding the issue I raised earlier on this blog, that the various "oppositional" styles in US poetry tend toward fracture and balkanization, because they are predicated on denying the existence of a central, major tradition in poetry in English. Stevens: "How to confront the mickey mockers. . . What wine does one drink, what bread does one eat?" (I don't have the book handy - hope I have those lines correct.)

I don't have the answer to any of these questions. But this morning my thoughts are ambling toward a recognition that each poet's work, each poet's poetics, represents a way of apprehending and responding to the world. Often the surface tensions & trumpetings of group developments seem to provide the fascination, the critical handle on "progress in the arts"; but maybe we could look at these matters through a slightly different lens. Say, for example, we took what we consider the elements of style & form & various poetry traditions, and instead of looking at them in some sort of comparative, historical context, looked more closely at how individual poets were able to apply particular formal elements to achieve their own individual ends.

Thus, instead of looking at Hecht, just for one example, as a role-model or exemplar of a particular style-force in poetics - what if we examined very specific formal approaches & techniques used by poets like Hecht, and then looked at how they were used by other, very different poets, poets who do not represent the para-political aspects of New Formalism. I think we would find that there are poets out there who would fall into the "progressive, experimental" pigeonholes, who are nevertheless able to apply traditional techniques (rhyme, meter, stanzas, modal forms, allusion/imitation, and so on). The nonce forms developed by "experimentalists" might not be to the taste of the nostalgic conservatives like Hecht, yet the actual techniques used by both may not be that far apart.

Kasey Mohammad emphasizes how Hecht's biases seem to stem from an inability to imagine or respond, in poetry, outside the traditional & sanctioned forms of old. It's an "archival" approach. Yet I think we have to recognize our own limits in turn. The old geezers have a background in metrics & oral presentation, coming in large part from poets like Yeats & Hardy, through Auden, Merrill et al., which if they could respond to the world-view, might teach the younger generation a number of things about the unity of relations between style, rhetoric, subject-matter, and presentation. Somewhere in that unity of effect, it seems to me, lies the direction of the central, major tradition - not the much-maligned "mainstream" - which the representatives of oppositional poetics too often complacently dismiss.

Ultimately, the arena of the new lies paradoxically with the individual - the individual poet's ability to synthesize many impulses, techniques and verbal capacities, to correlate them all in the service of a worldview and an inimitable expressive force.

1.20.2003

Jonathan Mayhew on jazz.

Favorite trumpeters:
Chet Baker
Booker Little
Miles Davis
Tom Harrell

certain pieces of music put me regularly in a hypnotic trance, sort of sinking into chair.

My funny Valentine (Baker version) & another ballad he does
Beethoven quartet op. 132, 3rd movement
Wanda Landowska playing Mozart piano solos
some of Bach's little piano works for kids
[another old poem. When the coffin of Roger Williams was exhumed in the 18th century they found a strange tree-root inside. Michael Harper has written about this too.]


ORIENTATION

This particular tree had pushed one of
its ramifying roots downward in a nearly straight
course in the direction of the precise spot where
Roger Williams' head had rested in quiet peace.
There the root took a definitely circular turn. . .

- Old Stone Bank History of RI

Everything dark in the fables
and shifting from face to face
like the walls of the earth
and the two elusive luminous
horizons. Gradually drawing
back shadows from beginning
to end the stories murmur
and catch together mingling.

When Eve gave apples to Adam
in the dream where only serpent
and God were wise and a harsh
sun beat down like a dull voice
on parched embraces leaving
clay to comb with heavy rakes -
no one remembers when it was.
Vines branch together and sway,
seeding the years with dizziness.

But like muttering and panting sweat
and the light of the earth's own
burning through bird and child
into the dark constellations.
Out of a murmuring planet a solid
apple-root in the shape of a man.
"Race" - sort of a vague shibboleth-word, shorthand for the most interesting stories, shorthand for the most painful, infuriating, hopeless, hopeful stories in the history of the USA. Happy Birthday, MLK (Melchior, Melchizedek, Milky Way). I have many, many of those stories too.

Here's something from the sonnet sequence Island Road for today.

I few decades ago I wrote this little poem:


IMPERIUM

The Roman guards
cast lots for your clothing,
the way time and fortune
throw bones for kings' crowns;
you left them the shreds
of the Lord's farewell gift,
awaiting the shroud and the
spices of paralyzed women.

Your voice remains hidden
beneath the black mirrors,
diffracted, diffused by the
cold bones, the cold bones.


Then a few years later, I wrote this more ambitious poem (as I mentioned somewhere in the archive, during the early 1990s I was searching for a rhetorical level of address, mostly unsuccessfully, as here I guess). This poem tries to combine a Russian ode-form (used by Mandelstam in "Flint Ode" & "January 1") with American material. MLK dies on April 4. 4/4: the Chinese number for death. On April 5 my parents and I walked around the very circular Lake Calhoun, and on through the city & the neighborhoods in Minneapolis, in memory of Dr. King. I remember it was raining & gray. We went with my best friend Tom Fleming & his parents. Tom later died of AIDS in his late 30s. The last lines came along & felt curious, as if Milton were suddenly walking next to me (see "Lycidas").


BLACK MIRROR


I have a dream. . .


Amid the confused rustling, creaking of summer nights,
the stars' unspoken audience -
builders of kingdoms share out their blood-light
with cries, with a slow radiance.
As when a star, tearing, burning the ripened sky,
plummets behind mid-May lilacs. . .
- afoot by the shore, the sea's troubled reply:
apples - golden; mirrors - black.

Your hand grips a golden orb, the serious apple;
your voice, uttering sleepy cries,
moves like droning August through the people -
but star crumbles. Man dies. . .
and the sea, unraveling your voice between two shadows,
wears out the green glass,
and rubs in waves of salt across the light windows
this black sandpaper loss.

Buzzing of years, growls of unremembered kings,
breakers heaving curt answers -
we are cast out among detritus of things.
Under the white moon's pincers,
a green star quivers in the cloudy dome,
the black sail's insignia;
your voice in the mirror, piercing the dire foam -
one kingdom's echoing regalia.

I will walk as we walked twenty years ago in the rain
arm in arm through the cinders,
around those hopeful lakes again, and once again.
Friendship. Memory. Dry tinder.
Oh to seal finally the dismal eyelids of the age
will a perilous, windy spiral;
to take a child's first step across the clean page,
eyes lit with incandescent coral!

Along a bright trail ringing the grass mountain
voices, feet striking sparks;
at the hillside's foot - celandine, plantain.
Some ghostly shoulder, framing an ark's
limber keel - ebony plumbline over the scattering falls
of cloudy speech; sparkling rain,
curved limbs muscle and horn below the walls,
until your trumpet levels the plain.

And the wind tears the grass, and the wavering shore
herds the sand back and forth,
while reverence of glass and silver blows no more
emblems over doorway, hearth. . .
green pools of broken mirror suffer the long junkyard
years, glinting along the path
of your river-song - Memphis blues, Nile shard
still afloat, on a matrix of wrath.

To remember - day of rest, word singing out of sleep,
limbs rocking, a tender song.
Tall cradling hills of stone, rugged and steep,
fossilize the hopeless wrong,
inscribe in flint and tumbling falls your memory.
Monuments, marble chariots,
swirling of broken veins, of unknown infantry -
such things of time appropriate -

like this unruly amulet raked from the ocean,
a whispered Sunday in the sand,
where a wind-cut lilac spirals in slow motion,
and a cloud, like a heavy hand,
surges with shady blessing toward the disputed slopes -
shouldering aside the idols
and drawing taut the circular tent-ropes
over the offered animals.

Young lambs leap from the stalls there, near the sea;
old men and the dodging kids
fortify the streets with Saturday glee,
while in the shade, trembling eyelids
close in silence. On the graveyard hillside, blossoms
of cherry and apple crowd the blue
crown of your garden - this prism of Jerusalems,
these meadows pacing shepherds knew.

5.18.88
"Nef" is a word for boat with no "r" in it. (I also like barkentine.) A nef was also a technical term for a miniature boat which was placed in the center of the medieval king's or queen's table to hold napkins & such. In Breugel's great Epiphany painting, Melchior, the African wise man, is handing baby Jesus a green jewel-nef, with a tiny monkey peeking out of the cabin. Almost all the goofy onlookers are staring, not at Jesus, but at the nef.

1.19.2003

OSIP MANDELSTAM

The priest, with melting intonation,
bridal sighs, deep shade
of bays, abandoned recesses -

the beardless one, the son
lifts high the censer, scans
the exacting responsorial.

And the difficult - the impossible
sweetness is born once more -
harmony's arrow touches home -

O to be lifted forever
in the resonant ark,
your salt-stung aria!

6.24.89




WAY STATIONS

The child honoring you in dreams,
embrasure of innocence, tender shoots
of early radiance - your figure
landscape, unfamiliar town, scent
of May lilacs along a worn road.

Not to be known yet,
only a heavy cloud pregnant
with summer rain
(iron mortality, rust
of decline not yet to be);

gathering up your skirts
you find your way, slow path
beyond the jealous decorations,
fever of scorn, offended pride,
dry branches crackling - a bonfire.




[& one very old poem:]


SUMMER

The child knows clouds,
and lies in the green yards
as they fill the empty sky,
make it round, looming down,
shying away, or drifting off.

There are no mountains.
On the porch a sleeping cat
rolls over, into the sunlight.
Flies buzz. Around noon
he looks in a window,

a piano leans against a wall
of the blue-green room.
[A few little old poems.]


at noon

Orpheus sings alone,
his lyre left in the wind
moaning in elliptical harmony.

Persephone sleeps, her head
hidden in her arms, and shadows
of clouds passing over her hair.

And John, in his prison, hears
dance music in the rooms above,
and the sound of an axe on stone.
Eric Dolphy is probably my # 1 saxophonist (see J. Mayhew's jazz/poetry diary). Not that I'm an expert. "Feathers" & "Booker's Waltz".

Beethoven's quartet #132, 3rd movement.

"Feathers" : squawks & arpeggios. dissonance & resolution. Baroque display (peacock feathers).

Heard "Louie Bluie", the 93-yr-old blues violinist on NYr's Eve. switch to mandolin after heart attack. Said he had outlived all his doctors by 20 years.

1.18.2003

Marcel Proust was undoubtedly the greatest archaeologist, unearthing the model of a lost artifact, within another model (time's vast turtle-turns). 1979 seems like Pre-Cambrian era to a 50-yr old BOOMER. In that year my 2nd book appeared, titled "Stone", with a quotation from Mandelstam dedicated to Francesca Tagliabue (daughter of neo-Whitman & Ginsberg-contemporary John Tagliabue) and a photo by Aaron Siskind on the cover (Denny Moers, protege of Creeley & Siskind, spender of '78 Blizzard Weekend on my wife's couch while I was stranded in Boston, found it for me); published by Edwin Honig's & David Cloutier's Copper Beech Press. Time, the Greek gift, like language. That's why I was doubly gifted when I ran away from it for a while, like Jonah.

Here's another old poem in this vein:


INVOCATION


Twilight. Beyond the high school soccer fields
the green-bronze nipple of the Catholic Church
peeks up over Camp Street. Evening
earth immerses the pedestrian horizon,
nudges the last daylight into wine.

Soon it will snow. The trees nearly bare,
a tattered blaze against the pastel houses.
The air, chill. I whisper the lines
walking home from work - a spell,
an invocation, one shadow to another.

Star to star, flint to flint. . .
someone moves from village to village,
small tornado, vortex, unpredictable
- and in the councils, whirlwind
of uncomfortable affirmation.

A veteran, I wait here (in the tunnel
of a small town planted in space)
for these medallions of sundown. Lift
the dry cup to my lips, familiar.
Drink to your seashell breakers.

11.20.92
[Another little poem from long ago.]


They are nobody's children,
and they walk with your airplanes,
they touch your shadows.

Nobody heeds them,
they were born on the west side
of the train, in a heavy rain.

They are your time.
Their eyes close on your flag.
They will take no names.

They are nobody's children.
God is the worm in their hearts,
they were born of the Virgin.

1.17.2003

OK, this is it (I think. . .). I wrote a day or so ago about the "occasional" quality of the LP [long poem] Forth of July. Well, seeing as we're coming up to Martin Luther King Day, here's a poem from the 2nd section of Book 2 (Grassblade Light). A few words should be in italics, but I can't seem to manage that here:


1


Elena, you must be sleeping now, it's after Midnight
in St. Petersburg
- just like the movie on TV
that surfaced yesterday. A mediocre thriller - only
Michael Caine, the pastel colors in pale northern light,

the wide expanses of your squares, the bridges
arcing the broad, scaled silver-gray of rivers -
only these redeemed it: an art heist, with connivers
racing guns drawn along pink-blue-green edges

of great perfect granite polygons, hauling
the icons, Rembrandts, and the rest in frames
framed by the camera and your city's polychrome.
I'm home from work today - a holiday, falling

once a year, like peace, like grace, like freedom.
The birthday of one man's falling to earth,
and falling again - from bright summits of faith
into the heart of passionate ignorance. To redeem

through falling, set afloat with a reminder:
I have a dream that we are brothers and sisters,
everywhere
. . . from my rude windswept steppes
to your cultivated meadowlands - children of Peter,

Rock of Gibraltar - citizens of that Rome
where Christ is Roman (in Byzantium, and
in Jerusalem as well). Falling til we understand
the long weekend's brief redemption is a microcosm

of That Day to come. . . that day of Jubilee.
Elena, St. Michael's icon that you sent
rests on the shelf beside me - painted and lent
as a reminder of that realm (that is too close to see).


1.18.99 (Martin Luther King Day)
Blogging away this afternoon, before the 3-day weekend. Here's another "triptych", published in Way Stations. (I should call this blog Way Stations. I'm recapitulating the stations of my way, since I started writing poetry about 37 years ago.)


HART CRANE

1

Above checkered flickering of late
coffeehouse generations, light pricks
tap out a dim, midnight tattoo.

Is it the underbelly of a whale,
unfurling a turbid Mardi Gras? Slow
motion horns dilate for one liquid eye.

Answered by silence. Orisons
babble, fitful reeds rehearse,
recount your rendezvous

with a perfidious bark, while calipers
compress the extant manuscripts
(flagrant gulf no hands could span).

It was a weatherbeaten, Southern face
below the embroidered wash and spume
whispered the one word -

"follow." Upward, through vertiginous
mirror gardens - dangling fluted
routes of a sunken - forsaken Babylon.

2

Spinning, restless, coaxial, cued
to firewater, pried from pueblo
gaol, a primeval kachina leaping
into the blaze - out of time.

Hidden underfoot, to be quarried
from the subway, the broken stone
wheel of a ruptured earth mother
revolves with disjointed orbit.

Weft of vertigo, carbonized. Exploded.
Pronounced from wincing salt, faltering,
slagged. . . flower names. Fertile
reproof. Slanting, bedecked at last.

Volcano, livid, fluent, enlists
the police. Magnified chevrons.
Pulques Finos. Skulls look up,
fed your tangled battering ram.


3

Ironclad northern city in your nightmare,
and the sound of the sea, too familiar,
eager to lock you in a wavy ooze,
forlorn foghorn. . . such was Death's only ruse.

Who waits by the pier to feel your taunts
will always wait now. You waited once
for shoulders tensely spare, the tide's advance;
reposeful strength was gateway - into trance.

The bridge you strung beneath your bones
still rises, harbored, iridescent, out
of your twenties and the century's, still
delicately rides the storm. And Ariel
holds his song. . . and now Atlantis groans! -
surfacing with your ascending steep descant.
p.s. Technology Note:

Honig was a teenager in Brooklyn during the Depression. Once I heard him say:

"When I was young I thought I'd become a poet, because the only tool you needed was a pencil."

(p.p.s. And about writing implements: see Anastasios Kozaitis's blog - read the poem by Oksana Zabuzhko (read it to the end). AND (meanwhile) Anastasios' curious counter-intuitive comment on reading long poems (LPs). "Momentum."
People have their opinions about blogs, lists, self-publishing, poetry communities, etc. But what is the context? Well, part of the context is obviously the revolution in technology which has transformed the publishing media.

In the 90s I labored for what seemed endless hours, trying to help Edwin Honig type, edit, proofread, print & find a publisher for his collected poems from over 50 years. Honig is not a dilettante, but an important American poet who has been involved in innumerable literary projects (translation, scholarship, teaching) along with his poetry. Nevertheless he found it impossible to find a publisher then. We arranged with someone editing an online archive of out-of-print books to include Honig's work, which, because of the sloppy way the site was managed, proved to be a big waste of time. Finally we produced a manuscript which was published by the on-demand publisher XLibris. The book turned out great, and is now easily available and archived in over 60 American libraries. So our years of effort bore some fruit after all, thanks to the new on-demand technology.

By far the most important aspect of this new technological context is the democratization of access to previously unknown or little-known writers. Of course such democratization still has a LONG way to go. Of course it means that suddenly there is a lot of shlock out there. But the real challenge is to our own initiative - the opportunity to pursue our own leads, hunches, and interests in this vast new world.
Another short poem from long ago (found in Way Stations):




A slow wind blows through the night,
carrying summer in puffs of sighs.
Far off there in the valley hollows
a yellow lamp swings to and fro.

Tree-bark, tree-limbs creaking,
the muffled sounds in the warm air,
and overhead thin clouds hurrying
under a wheeling shroud of stars.

Day will impress our crafty cities
with silver and bronze, the filigree
of spiderwebs, moldering iron,
the legible engraving of farewells.

Night, and heavy-hearted woodlands,
and the rustling of uncut grasses
in the children's books, a lamp
throwing a wide circle in the wind.
Among his many other projects, Tom Epstein co-edited, with Susan Brown and myself, the anthology in honor of Edwin Honig, titled A Glass of Green Tea - With Honig.
A new poetry blog, from Anastasios Kozaitis : Ineluctable Maps.
I first read Elena Shvarts in "Paradise", a translation of selected poems published by Bloodaxe. I was intrigued to discover a Petersburg poet, coming 2 generations after Mandelstam & Akhmatova, whom one could imagine standing in kinship with them. I wrote a short poem in response, and not long after discovered that my friend Tom Epstein, a Slavist and translator, knew Shvarts personally. Tom offered to hand-deliver the poem to Shvarts on his next visit to Russia.

About 9 months later I had the opportunity to meet Elena in person, at a Russian-American poetry conference in Hoboken (an encounter described in an article in Witz). Not long after, she visited Providence, and that encounter led to 2 more short poems, which I combined with my first one in a "triptych" - a form favored by the proto-Acmeist Petersburg poet Innokenty Annensky, and his admirer Anna Akhmatova. The center poem, a take-off on Mandelstam, now seems rather campy & parodic; but I still like the 1st and 3rd sections. Here is the poem:

Triptych for Elena Shvarts


I

Some words floated toward me.
Trailed over oceans,
an ice-locked sea.
Your words, that once

ran beneath your tongue
from canvas near your heart.
(Whiff of cigarettes. Rat dung.
Wrong from the start.)

Aloft, to waver in smoke
at hobo altitude -
an image (hard to make!)
of God. In a bad mood.

Image nonetheless,
with blemishes.
And if he can lose himself
up where it vanishes,

among red leaves,
over nerve-streams,
bent, like a sheaf
in a Joseph dream. . .

I puff the mirage
back in your direction,
translated - world-image;
coracle; orb of affection.

10.4.95

II
after O.M.

I see the lame-foot masquers gathering
on a winter's night in the ancient capital.
Heirs and heiresses of royalty.
Blood of kings - and Sheba's parasol.

I hear it - midnight - toneless rumbling.
Ears razored by the rustling of ice.
So let the heart dilate. When eyes go blind
there comes a scattering of Paradise.

Golden fleece, where are you, golden fleece?
Behind the mast at an inhuman pitch
sirens weave the locks of Berenice, while
cautious Fates unbind - slowly! - the bloody stitch.

We shall be gathered with them, murmuring.
Snow will burn; offbeat hearts
rehearse sun's night. . . while stuttering
Time - Osiris, Pharaoh. . . beat a slow. . . retreat.

5.29.96

III (Sham Death of a Minor Shakespearean)


"I die for the glory of the light and
the majesty of Apollo!" - he cried
- drifting slowly, fastidiously,
to the floorboard bedside.

Head flat against the hard oak
neither he nor audience could tell
if it was by his own hand
or by another's, that he fell.

Only that the heavy thunder, the light ringing
washing through his skull was not applause,
but penetrating phantom fingers
of the black - sable - nurse of darkness.

5.27.96

1.16.2003

Socrates: Yo Hen, you been waxin mighty wearisome today. Orful pedantrical.

Henry: yes, Socky. I am so solly. Tomorrow the Moon retrogradus em-blixen 88.3 degrees NSNWW, which meaneth that my armor will creak less in the cold & my feather ceaseth to droop. I have emailed Guillaume d'Orange about this & he guarantees Aquitaine-like weather. Also Sir Sancho J., worthy Knight of Gauche-Espagne.

Socrates: Maybe if it warms up a little then you can get orf the internet, huh?

Henry: O, Socky.

Socrates: oy vey Henry!

Blackstone was born on March 5th. He was buried on May 28th. Blackstone serves as the genius loci or presiding spirit, Henry's Lenten "shriver" (Blackstone was an Anglican minister); this is "Blackstone's Law". Book 3, "July", ends on March 5th. Book 4, "Blackstone's Day-Book", ends on May 28. The basic unit of Book 2, "Grassblade Light", is the poem of 7 stanzas, or 28 lines. The basic unit of "July" is the poem of 28 stanzas. 28 is a "moon-number": silvery, reflective, hermetic. The structure of Forth of July is built on 28 and 29.

Both Anna Akhmatova & Joseph Stalin died on March 5th.
But I like to think & hope that all these rather pedantic calendrical-memorial-structural elements are subsumed by the main plot, which is also about return or rebirth. The Orpheus story: the narrative track of the flickering ghost of Bluejay-Juliet, the rose out of the clay of July-Jubilee. & Henry-redivivus, who "fulfills the (Dream Song) scriptures". (Dream songs were a form of Ojibwa midewe practice.) & the mysterious "nef" of J, hovering overhead & overshadowing them all.
The "occasional" aspect of this poem can be sketched out as follows: it was written on Nov. 22, the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It is also the birthday of former longtime RI Senator Claiborne Pell. Pell lives in Newport, where JFK & Jackie Onassis were married. There is a "memorial" aspect built into Forth of July as a whole, around the numbers 28 & 29. The poem closes in various points on Good Friday, in particular April 15, the day of the year both Lincoln and Cesar Vallejo died. There are many more instances of this sort of calendrical design, a few of which I have already mentioned here: such as 5.28, the saint's day of Guillem de Gellone, & the day William Blackstone was buried - this being the day before 5.29, JFK's (& Henry-narrator's) birthday. The central poem of the entire book is titled "Ghost Dance", the implication being that the poem sort of scripts a re-birth or resurrection of all the ghosts it memorializes. Probably the most direct version of this is the carnivalizing of the name "Henry", which plays on the idea of John Berryman's "Henry" redivivus (Berryman, as I have mentioned, died within sight of my grandparent's home on River Road, along the Mississippi). (See this poem from the sonnet sequence Island Road.) All this play around ghosts, names, iconic figures from history, birthdays & dying days & saints days, is a way of presenting a carnivalesque image of Incarnation.
Here's a poem from "Grassblade Light":

12


They were muttering in the shadows, Blackstone,
Henry. Amid the tamarack and cedar dusk,
twilight grey, all outline gone. And do not ask
of whom they spoke: you know. It is all one.

Under the harvest evening of the year
time poured slowly, out of the architecture
of the honeycomb, out of the tattooed, fractured
hulk of dead bull, hull, or womb. . . here:

into the hollow drum or heart of Orpheus.
Imagine in that catacomb a clay-borne pearl
lofted (by a threat of courtiers) upon a shell
or spell wagon - rumbling gradually east to west.

That wagon, ark, or agate frigate
travels up the spine - yours, mine;
a blooded pearl, a light wine
tightly casked - for a wedding in Newport.

Imagine a pale pearl, a pellet, a single pinpoint
of autumnal light, hidden by ruddy leaves,
blooded leaves. Buried in dripping hives,
a crown. The son of man makes his appointed

round; out of crowfooted shadows
light sheds rays - from another realm.
Another sphere. Pearl at the helm -
the brow of reality. All one now.

Harvested, slain. A chorus of crossroads.
Son of man, you go as it is determined.
We all go together - into the whirlwind.
Under a light crown the wind upholds.

11.22.98
The "abba" rhyme quatrain of Stubborn Grew & its sequels is the smallest ring structure. I varied it, especially in "July", where I tried to turn the rhymes inside-out or backwards. The most-articulated design is in the center poem, "Grassblade Light": there each chapter has a centered symmetry (ring structure), as does the book as a whole, which is balanced on a single separated line. It is framed by books 1 & 3 (Stubborn & July), each of which have two large parts which are designed to mirror each other. So the whole thing is circular, like a bowl, the way I describe Providence in the early sections of Stubborn (1st line: "Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay.") The 4th book, "Blackstone's Day-Book", sprouts off as a short coda.

The design in some ways impelled the narrative. You travel to the center & back out again, you breathe in, you breathe out. This static design is crossed by the variation in the rhetorical SPEED of each book.

Another aspect has to do with the "occasional" quality of many parts - the poems relate to specific dates of the year. I'll try to post an example of what I mean.
Early (mid-80s) quatrains:


Bees dance above closed lips;
in the clear shadow of the oak
wherever they turn their heads
they follow the bright pattern.

Quietly, by the granite cistern
under a crowded canopy of reds,
in the cool wind a broken spoke
sways whichever way it slips.

1.15.2003

& here are a couple more little poems from long ago (Way Stations):


[infin che'l veltro verra]


Aboard a swift Greyhound
adrift in America,
one of the grateful dead
plays a slow harmonica.

Sons honor your fathers
and heed their command -
it's a surplus contempt
that lays waste to the land.

Fathers honor your sons
and regard the heart's law -
for it's ease and corruption
that open Hell's maw.

And I'll sing the dark waters
and keep the long watch
til that Greyhound swings home
across old Devil's Notch.


*


It is moonlight in the darkness,
and the heart finding after midnight;
it is a boat unmoored on the water,
and the current circling by itself.

It is tomorrow; it is a light word
floating through an open door,
and the wind moving in the quiet,
whispering over the land of the dead.
p.s. I wrote here about the 3rd vol. of the poem, July, as dominated by speed. The poem exhibits a verbal acceleration analogous to flight (the last phrase of the vol. is "come fly"). The manifestation poem=land (as I described it in previous note) is subject to sort of a time & space warp. This relates back to what I mentioned before about needing, in my own long poem, to distinguish a different sense of time & history from that found in other US long poems. The concept of "Jubilee", for me, is that of a historical-cultural change which takes place as a result of the intervention of an "unspeakable" otherness, which actually folds time and history into a feedback loop. An epiphany. Jubilee, in the poem, is linked to the motif of the ark or "nef" (toy/ritual boat), which reappears in many forms, beginning initially with the "Breugel-Epiphany" section, which opens the 2nd chapter of Stubborn Grew. So the entire poem, Forth of July, could be seen as a mandala, or way-pointer, or icon, of this intervening otherness - analogous to the otherness of poetry itself.

You could say that this speed/flight theme is prefigured in the "Cape Hatteras" section of Crane's Bridge.
Arriving at work this morning I look at the poetry blogs, & see Kasey Mohammad's has this:

"In order to live completely with poetry, one must gradually learn to meet it as an Other. It comes to one on its terms, which one is powerless to negotiate. If one does negotiate these terms, the results may be skillful, amusing, beautiful, intricate, ad nauseam, but they will not be recognized by the poet, in her secret self-confessions, as poetry."

I was thinking about something like this walking in today (down Morris Ave, along Hope St - which runs between the posh prep school on one side & the "struggling" public Hope High on the other), as I was wondering what to say here this morning. . .

They say an artist shouldn't talk too much about their own work, but none of the hoary maxims seem to apply anyway when no one else talks about it either! So I'll try to say a little more about my long poem. Earlier on this blog I said something about poetry or art in general as a search for wholeness. I don't really buy the various doctrinal psychological &/or religious explanations that have been offered for this, but in my experience anyway something along those lines does seem to be the case. What seems least dubious to me, anyway, is a general philosophical notion of the Good or God as a goodness containing all things, and this is what we hunger for as an integral aspect of our nature, beneath particular satisfactions desires & consolations. A contemplative goal.

Anyway, how does this relate to Stubborn Grew & following? One way to approach this is to ask, who is this guy Bluejay?

Bluejay is a character in the narrative of Stubborn Grew. He epitomizes the marginal, the outcast, the rejected, and the powerful. He's a ghost &/or a man; he's African- or Native American or Cajun. He's Hermes to Henry's Orpheus or Virgil to Henry's Dante : at one point he retells (briefly) one of the "Bluejay" complex of tales from NW Coast tribes which are Orphic in nature (journeys to retrieve the living from the dead). (Bluejay is a trickster figure similar to Coyote on the NW Pacific Coast.)

In the process of "guiding" Henry, Bluejay serves to re-order the signals of epic. He plants an otherness there which parallels the imaginative "shape" of the world the epic represents (the culture & landscape of North America).

In a sense, Bluejay opens a door, leading down to more primal imaginative shapes or world-picturings. Wholeness (in the form of a mandala, for example) describes a way, pictures a way. The door Bluejay opens for Henry-narrator allows him to magnify what began simply as a note or an occasional poem in the first section of Stubborn Grew. I had written a memorial poem for my maternal uncle, James Ravlin, and followed it with one for his daughter Juliet, who committed suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge on her father's birthday. When I wrote these sections I had not yet realized that the writing of this long poem was on a certain level integrating the Orpheus story with my own mourning for an adored cousin, and that the first sequel to Stubborn (Grassblade Light - described earlier here as an 8-sided formal structure) would take shape as a kind of healing mandala directed toward the suicides (Juliet; John Berryman - who died within sight of my grandparent's - Uncle Jim's parent's - house on the Mississippi; and Hart Crane). The mandala is also designed or ornamented as an Ojibwa midewe ceremony. The Ojibwa, living in the regions around the source of the Mississippi, developed this syncretic medicine ritual, incorporating songs & music, in the 18th-19th century. I adapted it in similar syncretic fashion to the form of the long poem.

These developments in the sequels to Stubborn Grew came as complete surprises to me. As I wrote earlier here on the blog, they were like the "rose" emerging out of the ashes of Stubborn. They were elaborations or flowerings of the orphic imbalance or disequilibrium - the love-relation as something lost or lacking. They parallel the "Russian" element in a different key. Each development - each new book in the long poem - strengthened or instigated what followed it. So that the 3rd large book of the poem - called "July" - incorporated all these elements in a textual vortex dominated by speed. "July" is a kind of symbolic manifestation of the poem as end-in-itself - the telos ("Forth of July" - the whole poem - is the coming-forth of "July") - as simultaneously analogous to the manifestation of the land, the continent, the nation (centered on the Mississippi River) - and leading, paradoxically, into a "Green Constellation" of deeper, more submerged levels of meaning & motivation.

These deeper levels - explored in the second part of "July" ("Green Constellation"), and in the gnomic coda to the entire poem (Book 4 - "Blackstone's Day-Book") related to the orphic journey in terms of both heaven & hell. On the "heavenly" level, the journey of Henry-narrator & Bluejay - from the Lenten un-building of Stubborn, to the Juliet-Beatrice-midewe medicine dance of Grassblade Light, to the continental instauration of July, leads toward a new manifestation of "J" - as Beatrice-figure, but also as Jerusalem & Jubilee. Jubilee is an image of world-renewal by means of divine justice or equilibrium. On the "hell" level, the closing parts of the poem intimate new sources and compulsions for the Lenten shriving "supervised" by Blackstone from the beginning. The poem in this way circles back on itself.

These notes, I suppose, appear garbled & arbitrary on the one hand, and overly-neat and -planned on the other, as well as irrelevant to anyone who hasn't read the poem. But the "plan" as described here is only an abstract. I haven't spoken about many other aspects, including perhaps the most important: the compositional process on the micro level of words & lines & stanzas. The "abba" quatrain provides a different matrix for approaching the whole experience & its possible meanings.

1.13.2003

One thing to think of, in reading Stubborn Grew, is that it is just the first "book" in a 4-book poem called Stubborn Grew/The Rose, or Forth of July. & that in this first book I try to transumpt or subsume the entire notion of epic - fold it into a deeper, vaguer notion of a primal Orpheus-relation (or Eurydice- or Beatrice-relation). So in a sense Stubborn is an anti-epic. It's "hero" (Henry) never leaves the coffee table on Wickenden Street. His poem deconstructs rather than builds before his eyes. The first half is a parodic Dantesque "CATabasis" (journey to hell and back); the second half is bracketed by spoofs of The Cantos & Finnegans Wake, respectively. Why is Stubborn designed this way? Because on a certain para-literary level the first book of Forth of July is a Lenten act of repentance (overseen by William Blackstone); a "shriving" of the fictional distance between poet & "epic hero". It's a "carnivalization" of epic - followed by the romance-experiments of its sequels (The Rose out of the Lenten ashes).
I want to write a little more about the longo pome which took up so many years of my life (Stubborn Grew & its sequels).

In the early 90s rhyming became easy through a lot of practice. Should rhyming be easy? Probably not, but as any musician knows, momentum is important, & in my poetry it was compositional momentum which rhyming & repetitive stanza forms helped along. I was also very interested in Alastair Fowler's studies of numerical & ring structures in Renaissance poetry, & using these techniques became another way to keep momentum. These techniques give the poet permission to take a deep breath & really EXPAND the poem.

However, in my trial runs in the early 90s ("Spring Quartet") I discovered I'd written long stretches in which the techniques took over, leaving me with a sort of facile, tinny, superficial rhetoric. The same thing sometimes happened in shorter poems where I used a special form (pantoum, sestina, etc.) - but they were good practice.

When I came back to these methods in the later 90s I tried to be both more careful & less subservient to the techniques. But again, what triggered "Stubborn Grew", what really gave me entry, were Mandelstam's late poems (Moscow Notebooks, Voronezh Notebooks especially). Two things in particular appealed to me. First was the notion of drafts & sequences - short lyrics which were also parts of a larger set. That gave me the idea I could write "chapters" of a long poem based on this idea. The second, and more important, was something M. accomplished under duress, in the Voronezh poems. It was a conjunction of opposites he achieves in those brief, notational lyrics. In a word, they combine finality with contingency. On one hand they are brief, contingent, composed under conditions of extreme stress and suffering: they radiate the intense feeling of being "on the road". Yet on the other hand they PAUSE: the poems are contemplative moments of stasis and awareness. Actually the title of my book of short poems, "Way Stations", typifies this conjunction.

What this manner I found in the Voronezh poems gave me, was a means of starting out with "Stubborn". Rather than over-planning or calculating, I let the short poems come as they would, keeping in mind the general threads of where I was going. So the first "chapter" of the poem leads into the narrative by means of this sort of glancing notation. & I was really amazed, much later, to see how those early note-poems prefigured the larger structures & themes of the poem as a whole.

What also happened later was that the note form became formalized or stylized. By the time I was writing the first sequel to Stubborn ("Grassblade Light"), I was able to combine the same sort of aleatory approach to the individual units, with a much more articulated & formal set of ring-structures. "Grassblade" is a set of seven panel-chapters; each chapter laid out around a central section; the fourth (central) chapter is a double chapter (so in a numerical sense there are actually 8 sections). Each individual poem has 28 lines (7 rhymed quatrains). Each chapter has 28 poems with a central section (making 29). There are variations & planned "breaks" in this symmetry. & there are thematic elements & calendar dates (of composition) which relate to this symmetry (the design was actually modelled on an octagonal castle in southern Italy built by Emperor Frederick II. Sounds kind of silly but there it is). The 3rd sequel - "July" - revises this kind of patterning & takes it further. The final sequel - "Blackstone's Day-Book" - a brief coda, finished on anniversary of the day William Blackstone (Anglican hermit-pioneer-exile-scholar-preacher, who settled in RI before Roger Williams) died: 5.28.2000. Also the saint's day of an ancestor of mine, Guillem de Gellone, one of Charlemagne's generals turned monk - celebrated in the French chansons de geste (the Chansons de Guillaume d'Orange) (sounds kind of silly but there it is).