1.21.2004

It would be pointless for me to pretend to be cognizant of & attuned to the threads in po-biz & blog chatter these days. I'm involved in a very slow process now of trying to orient my own writing & thinking in different directions. Part of that does involve looking back at the long-poem efforts which absorbed me for several years. I guess much of what I say about Forth of July here sounds about as obscure, eccentric & irrelevant as can be. But for anyone who feels like looking into it, these blog notes might offer glancing openings to it. So I'll try to continue to spend a little time each day reviewing my own efforts, for my own benefit & for possible readers too.

I think of Forth of July as working in part by analogy, a structure of thematic parallels. Thus the notion of resurrection, or retrieving a connection with the dead, translates a concept of poetry itself (as a kind of vital experience of creative awareness or imagination) into a theme or a proto-narrative. The attempt to revive or reshape the American long poem & its meanings mirrors or parallels a theory or concept of the meaning of life & history in general. You could compare the process, oddly enough, to a run for the Presidency, say Howard Dean, for example. A heroic narrative (the outsider challenger, the knight on horseback) becomes a vehicle for the articulation of a perspective on broader questions.

In Forth of July, this theme of resurrection is channeled through the Orpheus story. "Bluejay", the ghostly shaman-spirit guide [Bluejay is the Orpheus-like protagonist in Northwest Coast Native American folktales] , leads "Henry" into the world of the dead. What seems in Stubborn Grew to be an attempt to come to terms with a dying marriage, proves to be, in the central book (Grassblade Light), a different psychic process, of coming to terms with the death by suicide of "Juliet" ("Henry's" cousin, who leapt from the Golden Gate on her father's birthday).

The central "panel" of Grassblade Light, titled "Ghost Dance", welds together many of the thematic parallels, in a kind of shamanistic resurrection of dead poets & poetry (Hart Crane, John Berryman), the long poem itself, and at the center, Juliet, bringing them all into the spiritual "now" of the "living, breathing" poem.

July, the third book of the poem, in turn, reckons with the illusions & limitations of the romantic-iconic summoning of the dead found in Grassblade, & goes further into a kind of "pure poetry" of America, oddly shedding/transposing some of the personal elements, while discovering & probing still deeper motives for the effort.

Here's a section from the final panel of Grassblade, titled "Rite of Spring":

         6



The garden seethes with rust.
The king's litter (a dry canopy)
transported around a pool. See
the young maiden dancing,


as she must – arm lifted,
hand waving forward
like a figurehead
for the delicate ship outfitted


to carry her. And the ship
carried on a breath of wind
this way, that – bound
on azimuthal slope


to the meridian (one
angled M-turn
swollen with
dying men).


Gnomon of your returning
Magdalen – to a green gar-
den (time has never been).
There's no more dying then:


for the slave is free – fear
swallowed up in victory –
your vessel a flowering fiery
myrrh-box adrift on a tear


forever. Where the dance
begins and ends.
No more dying then:
the garden seethes


with –


6.4.99

["Rite of Spring", of course, an allusion to the Stravinsky ballet about an iconic dying maiden, a spring sacrifice, folds into the Russian parallels of the poem, its return to its "Russian origins" - the instigation of Mandelstam's work - as well as the "springing" origins of the narrator - since the Rite was first performed on May 29, 1913, and 5.29 is the poet's birthday, and the numerical structure of Grassblade as a whole pivots on the number 29 - 5.29 being both the date of JFK's birth ("return of the American Camelot king") & of "Black Wednesday", the fall of Byzantium, 499 years before the poet's birthday.]

No comments: