1.31.2004

This beautiful last published poem in the Voronezh Notebooks of Mandelstam seems to capture (better than I ever could) the feeling I tried to describe in previous post. I recommend these translations by the McKanes (publ. by Bloodaxe), despite the awkwardness. The notes included are very thorough, carefully done. In this poem OM sort of turns the Orpheus-quality inside out. (Natasha Shtempel (handicapped, with a pronounced limp) was a music teacher living in Voronezh, very kind to the Mandelstams. She wrote a memoir of their friendship.

I love this poem.

 
22. To Natasha Shtempel


1.


Limping against her will over the deserted earth,
with uneven, sweet steps,
she walks just ahead
of her swift friend and her fiance.
The restraining freedom
of her inspiring disability pulls her along,
but it seems that her walking is held back
by the clarity of a concept :
that this spring weather
is the ancestral mother of the grave's vault,
and that this is an eternal beginning.


2.


There are women, who are so close to the moist earth,
their every step is a loud mourning,
their calling is to accompany the resurrected,
and be first to greet the dead.
It is a crime to demand kisses from them,
and it is impossible to part from them.
Today angels, tomorrow worms in the graveyard,
and the day after, just an outline.
The steps you once took, you won't be able to take.
Flowers are immortal. Heaven is integral.
What will be is only a promise.


5.4.1937
I've been posting a lot recently on the long poem, Forth of July. Will probably be slowing down a bit here in days to come, in order to focus on other projects.

There's much I haven't gotten around to yet, such as the character & some details of the 3rd & 4th books (July & Blackstone's Day-Book), what the Native American aspects represent, et al.

Moreover today it strikes me I haven't even begun to articulate the poem's real grain or pith.

The Orpheus plot is truly mythical or symbolic in a certain way. It "stands for" something : perhaps merely for a pervasive feeling or emotion.

The long poem is a poem of longing.

The keynote of "Henry's" nostalgia - situated in a rather cramped little coastal state & dreaming of wide open steppes & midwestern prairies - is also symbolic; it represents or stands for a kind of inherent, continuous radiation or radiating image from the past, from life as a whole, from childhood onward - the dream or memory of Melville's everlasting oceanic "green Tahiti of the soul." (the grassblade light.)

from Mendelssohn (the childhood neighborhood) to Mandelstam's black earth. mendel/mandel = "almond". 2 illustrations from Stubborn Grew, early & late:


The land, the land stretched out toward sundown.
At the end of the forests without end, the sun gleamed.
Magnitudes undreamt
by Greeks, the dry flute flown


into moist green, light fern-green
ghosts in the trees.
I'm driving the empty roads
in early May, at dawn.


Someone cries out Eurydice, Eurydice
into ramshackle and forlorn wastelands.
Blind joyful grief behind the railroad lines.
All gone to seed. Oh say can you see.


--


Upon a Roman rood was fixt
clay lips gone underground. Still
through the pinedoor, drifted sound.
Her calling me. A morning rose. Finixt.


Catch us the little foxes, Solomon,
that spoil our vineyard. Lucky,
true love's the cardinal pt (sd Bluejay).
A monde, almond. All made. I thirsty, mon
.

1.30.2004

Doctus Johannes Latta-day Latta (Dukeh duh Donuts?) hath prethenteth somewhat of a praeliminamalarial Anatomie of the multitudinous incarnadinatusi de Awahnt-Gardes, herein [in re "Japery"].

Rara quidem, et si monstra sint, nos movere solent. - Nicolaus Cusanus
birthday commentary from Heaven (it's Mairead, on parade down the road from me).
cf. the section of July quoted earlier today, some of the layers: it helps to know that Mandelstam, in exile in the late '30s in the little farm-river town Voronezh ("raven-knife"), listened to Marian Anderson on Moscow radio (Marian Anderson, the black diva whose concert at the Lincoln Memorial was almost cancelled by the D.A.R.), & wrote a poem about it (the poem is also about a Leningrad singer whose husband had just been sent to the camps). #45, 2nd Voronezh Notebook.

the reader should be aware by now that I find Mandelstam's Voronezh poems extremely beautiful, like the 3rd movement of Beethoven's String Quartet op. 132.

(incidentally, the "arc of praises" where "love & liberty are married" through the trials & tribulations of a "little school of J" is a pretty good summa of the "law of identity/tautology" poetics I outlined last week.)

1st & last stanzas from the poem, in the McKanes' (clearly inadequate) translation:

I am buried in the lion's den and into this fortress
I sink lower, lower and lower,
listening to the yeasty cloudburst of sounds
stronger than the lion, more powerful than the Pentateuch.


*


My time is still limitless,
and I accompanied the joy of the universe
like the quiet organ's playing
accompanies a woman's voice.
I see from Laurable's calendar that Brodsky & Yeats died on the same day, Jan. 28th.

Curious, considering the round robin involved when Brodsky, in his elegy for TS Eliot, closely echoed Auden's elegy for Yeats, both of them emphasizing the cold January weather. (I tried to do the same thing for Brodsky a few years ago.)

 
Joseph Brodsky


But each grave is the limit of the earth.


1


You died on a cold night in January.
It was Superbowl Sunday. A supine empire,
Preoccupied with bread and circuses,
Land Rovers, stratagems of muscle-
Bound heroes. Next day, fire
Swallows the famous opera house in Venice.
Not with a bang – with a light rustle
Of red silk, your heart passed the final
Exam, black-sailed, in the science of farewells.


Snow falls on the fleeting moiré of the sea;
It falls on horsemen passing by, on the halfbacks
Of the dolphins' curved smiles (in a mirror
Of alien tribes). Snow falls on night grass
In the trackless pine forest; it falls with the stars
Drifting down from unnumbered, shiftless heaven;
So it fell, and will fall, on those bronze eyelids.
A guarded glance, coiled in frozen hexagons;
Shy cedar voice, immured in pyramids.


Snow mixed with tears signals a hearth somewhere.
Not in the street, not in this Byzantine air
Of columns and cenotaphs – no. Just a home
By a river of marrying streams; a certain Rome
Where tongues descend – ascending voices mingle
In companionable flame. This friendly fire
Eats brotherly dusk, shakes fearful ether
Into evening wine... one hawk's cry
Screams – and melds into the Muse's profile.


2


Life's flimsy laundry, easily
Unraveled. Transparent butterfly net,
Wing of a moth, how slyly they
Trap the hunter, iced on an alpine sheet.


You fight the droning in your head
With all the cunning you can muster;
Turning its power against itself, you lead
A life Laertes would approve (bluster,


Business laboring for acclaim)
Only to drown the voice above the trees.
Relentless, impervious to shame,
It finds you out, brings you to your knees.


And like the heavy signet ring,
A chieftain's ring, that hidden in hand
Sealed Hamlet's heart (O molten, circling sting) –
The droning issues forth its stark command.


You listened, followed. A shuttling pencil
In a nighthawk's beak – a spear in your side;
And a huge sea-moth with crossbone stencil
Shattered your lamp. Died.


Summer ends, the droning subsides.
The ruthless tango of prose and poetry
Is dead. Cicada shells, butterfly hides...
Some leftover spider's ecstasy.



3


In the depths of the Soviet winter, in the ponderous cold
Of Siberia, a boy cups an abandoned moth in his hands,
Born – to die a few hours old –


Into a false firewood springtime. Its delicate wings
Are only an affront to the divine benevolence; he understands
Nothing; his hands, like an insect coffin, bear the stings


Of the nails themselves; like a dry cocoon, absently,
They drift to the shack wall, and the fingers fan,
In unison, a camouflaged figure in the pinewood pantry.


This tender sign... a tenderness snuffed out.
This heavy icon, then... true mimic of an action?
Or only the swollen, distorted wings of a parasite?

Or only the screech of broken chalk on slate?
Droning brittle wings, poets take their stations
At the edge of the cliff – their noise intuitive, innate...


The butterfly is gone. Its form was here, immaculate;
The hands tracing its flight, aimless, serpentine,
Mimic its undetermined motion – late, late


Since that double-woven fountain, afloat with indirection,
Surging, sparkling, translucent, seeks its mate
In a signal heaven – a camouflage beyond dissection.



2.2.96
the political aspect of Forth of July hinges on premonitions of Jubilee.

         12


Deep drone of train or iron cicada
across an infinite prairie steppe or
taiga and where do the past
and future of these parallels ascend?


Accompanied by mute organ-pipes
in Voronezh or an anti-telephone
in Moscow (making superluminescent
waves) or just my new triangle on the barn


banging and banging like an old tin can?
The rapture of the universe is on
the radio tonight everybody knows
it (even the D.A.R., Grandma) it's Marion


singing there in Washington
under the Depression and the shadowy
long hands long face still washed
with kindness twinkling like a star


his homely lonesomeness
is in her voice also tonight a silky
charity-chariot with malice toward
none we'll ride it home Bluejay forget


the bondage of the 44 rail-split and
quartered in a milky map
rivers and forests in your palm
life-lines and spirit-trails


deep into tracklessness a limber
timbered everlasting habitat
we'll make it home to bathe
again in that spring water Abraham


as the drone rises to the tops of the oaks
in an arc of praises love and liberty
are married there a tribal tree of
tribulations crowned a little school of J


2.8.2000

1.29.2004

from Dove Street:


Now the snow (pure, blinding).
Water slown down, retarded to
star. Yet I know you're there,
under the gleaming ring,


unseen. Where images fade out.
Puffy doves purr, tut-tut, bunched
on the ridge of a tree-branch.
Having you left... you're all I've got.


*


The war goes on, outside the brain.
Where the grey dove of Bran or
Bretagne once dove in.
The mirror's extra dungeon


for X, of X, in X:
stage envies, accomplices,
maybe lateral damages.
Machine read-out: You're next.


*


As if you were there with me on the branch
I'll mumble and purr, puffed-up in the cold.
Because you're not here doesn't mean
you're not there. Unfold, again. Branch,


little tree. Tomorrow's always,
and always is your birthday
and this is all I have to say -
your birthday, always (little tree).


1.29.04
I wish my prose didn't so often make my own eyes glaze over. there's something in it, but awkward.
Issues with a theory of poetry founded in "tautology", or analogy with metaphysical Love-Word:

1. Mental prison-house of identifying the divine or holy with our images of it, one of which is "God-as-Word". Bible itself gets around this in at least 2 ways : first, intense emphasis on God's ineffability, unaccountability in human terms, prohibition against images. 2nd (Christian approach), a kind of constructive formation (Trinity) in which different aspects are shared among Persons in a mysterious fashion (in a Mystery), ie. God-as-Manifest-Word is specifically Christ's incarnational role, not the Father's exactly or the Spirit's, exactly.

2. Word itself is an elusive entity : it can be understood as always dialectical, ie. a form of gesture toward or response to an other. Thus perhaps the most interesting poetry is also a form of reportage on some otherness, howsoever sophisticated or para-literary. Another way of considering this particular problem is in terms of the undeniable importance of Keats' negative capability : the poet as passive vessel for forces, responding to other forces.

Poetry cannot be some expression of boring self-revolving monism or unmotivated, self-satisfied unity. One cannot define love in these terms either. So perhaps there is hope for my poetics no matter how important a role is played by this medievalesque analogical "identity/tautology" which I described a few days ago. Because the other side of the "Orpheus" analogy reveals its hungry driven-ness, its unappeased desire, which propels the whole plot, which creates its duration.

Part of the political aspect of such "disequilibrium" or dynamism, which comes out more fully in the 3rd volume, July, has to do with the dialectic between empire & equality, between "Julius" (Caesar) and Bluejay/Jubilee. Of course this has historically been an inescapable theme for serious poetry & its "unacknowledged legislators" : to speak divine Equality to Power. (Mandelstam took very seriously his role as people's poet-vs-Czar, echoing Ovid vs. Augustus.) (Part of my attraction to Crane, as opposed to Pound, & my interest in "bringing him forward", was the absence (in Crane) of the nostalgic, reactionary, elitist, aristocratic, authoritarian delusions. . . - though of course it must be said that Pound was utterly divided against himself, & some of his best poetry narrates the destructive consequences of pride & power.)
NY Times front page photo today (lower half of page : kids in snow). Sarah said, there's a Bruegel for you -
I've quoted quite a bit this cold January from "Letters to Elena", retracing that 5-yr-old snow-trail. Soon we may continue into the delta mysteries of ch. 3, "Palm Sunday". yup. & we haven't even talked about July yet. ("The pants were big in the waist and the shirt ballooned out, for my brother Julius had a fat chest. I wiped my sweat with a handkerchief stitched with a J." - Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift)

from "Letters", the conclusion:

 
*


It is finished. The dove will not return
to the empty sanctuary. My blue pines,
my frozen childhood firs... a saw whines,
a wolf howls, Elena, in that forsaken


garden. I whisper to myself alone,
I say. Just then – the darkness wanes.
Gratitude swells... through windowpanes,
the shadow of a hand grows light toward dawn.



Providence
2.5.99
from Grassblade Light (ch. 2, "Letters to Elena"). written 5 yrs ago. the "star of free speech" : a leading Petersburg democrat & feminist, assassinated as she returned home from work.


         14



It's cold here, Elena. Almost like Minnesota.
It must be cold where you are too, and dark.
Where a star of free speech fell – look,
she breathes
... no more. At her own door.


Like More, or Marlowe, murdered for a candle.
Free mind, flown out the window, gone.
And now the sun is gliding down. In
honeycomb cubbyholes you bundle


up, bound tight around the spindle
of Aurora Borealis. And wound
upon wound, as mummy-cloths are wound
...
the spiral tunnels into Shakespeare's wonder-


brain... an unknown worm or summer soldier
wintering through night upon a polar sledge.
Against this tested light what need to rage
is only a promise. Only a promise. Dear


limping leg of the stony trail toward Lent,
dear crutch, dear rhyme-enfrosted heart!
At midnight we shall pilgrimage (start
now, in PJ's) toward the dark tent


of heaven. Yoked with uncertain
flutters planted there – each
crossroad underwritten – search
your own mosaic microcosm! Then


into the black stone of Jerusalem,
where blind eyes and seeing fingers
hear, feel the running waters – tumble,
froth – break forth – gush forth for them.



1.30.99

1.28.2004

Dream Song 317:

Henry with joy lay down for his next bout of rest,
in happy expectation of the next
assault on his divided soul.
Does the validity of the dream-life suppose a Maker?
If so what a careless monster he must be, whole,
taking the claws with the purr.
I just want to say one last thing tonight, before 28 becomes 29, which is, that, beyond all my glibbery explicationary activity hyarabouts, there are 1 or 2 or 3 levels or aspects of Forth of July which remain & will remain classified. I have not discussed & will not discuss them. As Akhmatova says about her long "poema" Poem without a Hero, "it's a casket with a triple-false bottom", or some such. secrets of the life-raft (or Nile barge, cf. OM)
in the pine trees. . . so try this (inching along, hesitant, grieving).
from Dream Song # 313 :

Heaven made this place, assisted by men,
great men & weird. I see their shades move past
in full daylight.
The holy saints made the trees' tops shiver,
in the all-enclosing wind. And will love last
further than tonight?
from Dream Song # 308 (An Instruction to Critics):


My baby chatters.  I feel the end is near
& strong of my large work, which will appear,
and baffle everybody.
They'll seek the strange soul, in rain & mist,
whereas they should recall the pretty cousins they kissed,
and stick with the sweet switch of the body.


Do you hear Yeats there? Here's cousin Julie & Henry.
As a matter of fact & conjecture, dear patient Reader, I think we're just beginning to discover
the weirdness of it all. . .

Henry goes back to Berryman, looking for traces of himself. . .
& discovers anew what Berryman was doing
with his long poem. . .
which was in part to answer Pound & Eliot et al.
with the spirit of Yeats (whom they thought to have superceded)
& to answer the spirit of Yeats
with Berryman (& Shkspr, & Spenser. . .)

why is this important?
because the silly men et al.
have got it all wrong. . .
Berryman, Dream Songs:

25


Henry, edged, decidedly, made up stories
lighting the past of Henry, of his glorious
present, and his hoaries,
all the bight heals he tamped - - Euphoria,
Mr Bones, euphoria. Fate clobber all.
- Hand me back my crawl,


condign Heaven. Tighten into a ball
elongate and valved Henry. Tuck him peace.
Render him sightless,
or ruin at high rate his crampon focus,
wipe out his need. Reduce him to the rest of us.
- But, Bones, you is that.


- I cannot remember. I am going away.
There was something in my dream about a Cat,
which fought and sang.
Something about a lyre, an island. Unstrung.
Linked to the land at low tide. Cables fray.
Thank you for everything.
& then Henry, when he talks too much, also becomes a parody of "Henry".
Part of the misconception that Jonathan & others seem to have of Henry & "Henry" as being way too self-absorbed & narcissicistic - which of course is true, as it is of many artists - is that it's as if this long poem is simply an ego project. I'm spending time & energy defending & explicating it here not so much because it's me or mine - but because it's something that happened to me. This is partly what I was describing to Kent, below.

I suppose this is not very believable. Anyway, I'm also defending it because of my crazy faith in its objective worth as poetry, which value jars with its objective (non)reception in the literary world.

What I like about it anyway is not so much "Henry" or the biographical material or the birthdays, etc., but the simple music of the lines, stanzas, cantos, books - the way it changes, the way it hangs together.
Kent Johnson emailed me the following question, & suggested I post it with my response here. I'm doing so, despite misgivings : I don't like using the word "shit" in public (or private, actually). But according to such august authorities as Yeats & Akhmatova, this is where poems come from. . .

Henry, so all these connections and layers-- layers connecting and connections 
layering... You seem to be able to verify it all and with impressive empirical
aplomb.
>
>
Did you plan it all out, or did it just happen?
>
>
(A bit of both, I suspect, but could you talk about how all these tropic and
allegorical interweavings were woofed on the warp and vice versa? You might
consider this a follow up question to our interview at Jacket.)
>
>
Kent


Hi Kent,


it's hard to explain, because as you know writing happens in sort of a liminal
area.


I remember a key moment when I was reading the Mandelstam Voronezh poems again,
about "black earth". I have a feeling for that kind of landscape, coming from
where I do. Who knows, maybe on a certain freudian level it's all just playing
with shit (like the kid in the poem I published today, playing with mud between
her legs)!!


But there was a moment when I was identifying with the sound & imagery of that
rural place which OM was evoking, & I linked it with "letting go", & going into
the earth, & somehow retrieving all the broken things in my life from the past &
dealing with them (unrequited love, divorce, Julie's suicide, etc.) - & doing
this through the Orpheus thing. all that plus actively "mimicking" a certain
sound I thought I heard in the Voronezh poems.


At that moment, when I think of it, I was at a point where all my somewhat
unsuccessful efforts were behind me, as PRACTICE & preparation, & something new
was about to unfold. The best way I can describe it, is that it happened - all
those layers & connections - the way an algorithm works. A fairly simple
combination creates a certain energy-stimulus : and that energy AUTOMATICALLY
starts to spiral & complexify. That's what it felt like to me. Those 3 yrs or
so writing this poem, I was exploding with connective energy. It wouldn't let
me go. I certainly didn't "plan" it all. when I finished Stubborn Grew, I
thought it was done. Then when I finished Grassblade, I thought it was done.
But only a few days after finishing each book, the next book would come at me
like a giant WAVE. I felt a kind of dread when that happened because I knew how
much time & energy it would involve, totally absorbing. "one thing led to
another".

stay warm,
Henry
the official motto of the State of Rhode Island is : "Hope." its emblem is an anchor.
from "Letters to Elena" (Grassblade Light, ch. 2). sort of an orphic credo.

         12



A child playing in muddy Paradise.
Lost in the mudpies there between her legs.
Where a word is a profile, and a dog's
cocked ear is the letter J, sideways –


or upside-down. Your birthday
every day, under the clean azure U:
no harm shall befall you,
says the fortune cookie


oracle. In the shadow of a little tree
it all comes back to me – you too.
This balm, this grief, these nettles,
this rue – light lives and heavy


dyings – as though we were all coracles
of hide and willow branches, all sails,
all canvas – from earliest first
bells, launched – infant disciples


summoned to swim toward the shy
vortex of the shadiest voice.
To carry the freight of despairs
toward... how can I say it?


One almond eye. Noah's canoe –
lashed forever to your own eyelashes
in the morning mirror. Hush.
A curving ellipse will show


how the crown of child's play becomes you.
Wear it (your diadem) in truth –
while buried root and blossom both
from the muddy earth are borne anew.



1.30.99
Berryman, Dream Song :


79


Op. posth. no. 2


Whence flew the litter whereon he was laid?
Of what heroic stuff was warlock Henry made?
and questions of that sort
perplexed the bulging cosmos, O in short
was sandalwood in good supply when he
flared out of history


& the obituary in the New York Times
into the world of generosity
creating the air where are
& can be, only, heroes? Statues & rhymes
signal his fiery Passage, a mountainous sea,
the occlusion of a star:


anything afterward, of high lament,
let too his giant faults appear, as sent
together with his virtues down
and let this day be his, throughout the town,
region & cosmos, lest he freeze our blood
with terrible returns.
Nadezhda is Russian for "hope". Nadezhda Mandelstam. Hope Against Hope.

1.27.2004

John Latta's earthbound empiricism a healthy thing. But America has always been closer to Pascal than to Montaigne.

Remember flying home from college in early 70s after nervous breakdown, singing the mealtime hymn "Praise God from whom all blessings flow. . .", with my poor long-suffering father in the seat beside me. A woman came up after we landed & said "Thank you so much - I was nervous about flying too."

& flying back to Providence a few days later with a pistol & ammunition hidden in my suitcase (it went into the Providence River).

Desperate for God the Father. Jesus Freaks.
Generational question. Hard for younger set to comprehend how a turn to the Russians might be driven by the double-whammy of personal history & literary climate.

I grew up in the Age of the Confessionals.

America was the House of Suicide. Russia - via Nadezhda Mandelstam - was the House of Life. Hope Against Hope.

Berryman, from Dream Song # 136:


The sage said 'I merit long life if only because
I have never left bread-crumbs lying on the ground.
We were tested yesterday & are sound,
Henry's lady & Henry.
It all centered in the end on the suicide
in which I am an expert, deep & wide.'


[it should be remembered that Berryman's father also committed suicide, with a shotgun, in Florida, & that his son found him.]

Whereas, from Mandelstam's Octets (translated by yrs truly):


I'll whisper it - in an outline.
Its hour has not yet come.
The chessgame of measureless heaven
is mated with sweat - and wisdom.


And under purgatory's transient sky
we grow absent-minded - forget
that lucky heaven-vault on high...
- is a limber, everlasting habitat.


[ - 1937, in exile, a few months before his death in a labor camp]
Kindness of Jonathan, after all that.

Sadly, I predict he'll be disappointed. . .

I admire his generosity.
some of the Dream Songs were written in Rhode Island (like #61), when Berryman was at Brown.

When he died, Edwin Honig organized a memorial reading, & invited me (an infant freshman) to host the event.
almost pointless to take snippets from the Dream Songs. the whole thing is a commentary on Forth of July - or I should say, vice versa is the case.


from # 103:


I consider a song will be as a humming-bird
swift, down-light, missile-metal-hard, & strange
as the world of anti-matter
where they are wondering: does time run backward -
which the poet thought was true; Scarlatti-supple;
but can Henry write it?
John Berryman, Dream Songs:


354


The only happy people in the world
are those who do not have to write long poems:
muck, administration, toil:
the protototality of an absence of contact
in one's own generation, chiefly the old & the young
persisting with interest.


'The Care and Feeding of Long Poems' was Henry's title
for his next essay, which will come out when
he wants it to.
A Kennedy-sponsored bill for the protection
of poets from long poems will benefit the culture
and do no harm to that kind Lady, Mrs Johnson.


He would have gone to the White House and consulted the President
during his 10 seconds in the receiving line
on the problems of long poems
Mr Johnson had never written one
but he seems a generous & able man
'Tetelestai' said St John.
I could quote the Dream Songs all over the place, but I'm tired of blogging today. signed, Henry
HGpoetics readers might well be bewildered by all this emphasis on dates, birthdays, numbers. etc. What's the point?

I go back to something I mentioned at the beginning of this present run of blog entries on the long poem : that Forth of July is built on a kind of analogical thinking. The myth of Orpheus - the original poet, who brings stones & trees & animals to life with song, & goes singing into Hades to retrieve his wife Eurydice - this myth, in Forth of July, "narrates" a poetics, or a philosophy of poetry, in which the poetic word is in turn analogous (A = A) to the creative Word of Love, which - intervening - renews, resurrects, recreates life itself.

"Henry" - & I use the quote marks consistently, out of a sense that I, Henry Gould, author, am sort of dramatized/translated in the process of the poem into something else, a figure in the song, "Henry" - re-enacts the orphic myth through what I described earlier as a process of "decomposition" - a simultaneous unveiling, unearthing, & exploration, combining personal & historical realities within a "song-framework". Thus the experience of mortality is reconfigured by song (5.29 mingled with 7.4 and 1.6, and with everything those dates (& others) come to represent) into a pattern of confession, hope, renewal, victory, and a kind of cosmic image of reality shaped by the Word. "Birth-days" marked by death & hopelessness (Juliet Ravlin's father's birthday & her own dying-day; John Ravlin's birthday/John Berryman's dying-day) are gathered in memoriam into a new day, a new shape of time. This is the reproduction of the orphic action which is the poem itself (Juliet to jewel-eye, or J-ley...).

One can analyze & talk about it forever, yet only the poem alone can justify itself, in itself, by itself, being what it is, a song. As the old poem from Way Stations has it:


The poet is monotonous, his head
resting on her empty sleeve,
his voice out of the mineshaft
muttering rumors of precious gems.


And stars shine in the black sky,
peacefully, released at last
from that deep unspoken gloom
by his aimless, undying lament.
Another structural note: noticeable, the design of Grassblade Light, based on 7 panels each containing 28 sections of 28 lines, 4 x 7 = 28 : 7 quatrains of 4 lines each : title of book is Forth of July, ie. 7.4 : the "coming forth of Julie, jewel-eye, Bluejay...".

Forth of July is "incarnational", ie. grounded by numbers & letters & places & persons & names & dates.
5.29 intersects with another pattern of dates, around Epiphany (Jan 6th). Several sequences from the opening of Stubborn Grew initiate this complex. The "narrative" element of Stubborn Grew actually opens with an elegy for James Ravlin, "Henry's" maternal uncle, father of Juliet Ravlin:


6


i.m. James Ravlin, 1912-1997


Light quick mosquitos speed flitter
and slide at latter-day angle easily
mounting every corniced ingle and
fuming, spuming, better, better and better.


Mosquitoes there were in Saskatchewan,
where you were born, between
Granddad's grain
elevators, Grandma's steel-eyed span.


Those clever, clever lips hovered
in camel smoke
like a Cheshire hookah, smiled.
And tumbled out an accent stranger


and stranger. What flute
troubled earth to bear him?
The bare tongue-footed ague of him?
The sweet-eyed flourish, the high note


of his Viennese liner? Where now,
sailor-man, handsome PT-boat boy-o?
He sleeps in his long canoe. He is
scattered... a late Minnesota snow.


Unmoored from the height of land,
drifting from Lawrentian divide,
blueberry, pine, air-filled
cliff, the taste of iron.


The cherry trees and the dogwood
bloom now in this sinner-town.
Pale green sprays tender
over the graveyard.


Soon come the clever mosquitoes,
the new swarms. I inch along.
A snail, with prairie on my tongue.
Hesitant, grieving, stubborn grew, the rose.


Proceeding directly after this poem comes the first invocation of Juliet Ravlin, "Henry's" cousin, daughter of James Ravlin, & the presiding spirit of the orphic "ghost dance" at the center of Forth of July. Juliet committed suicide off the Golden Gate bridge at the age of 19, on her father's birthday.

James Ravlin's father, John Ravlin, engineer builder of bridges & grain elevators, was born on Jan. 7th (1889, I believe). On Jan. 7th, John Berryman leaped from a bridge into the Mississippi River, down the block from & within sight of John Ravlin's home on River Road. "Henry" has been recounting these strange birthday stories ever since. From the 2nd chapter of Stubborn Grew, titled "Ancient Light":


Bruegel.  Adoration of the Kings.  1564.
In the National Gallery in the heart of London
in the hands of black Balthasar in a green
conch on a gold nef. Is that a monkey there?


And the scrawny peasants and the bourgeois tubs
staring at all that gold and frankincense, miraculous!
O clever, clever, clever calculation - and finesse, too!
The has-been, burnt-out Wise Men ignore the rubes


meanwhile - have eyes only for the grinning pug
hidden in swaths of shrinking violet or
marigold blue (I can't remember)... for He
shall Rule the Nations - snug as a bug in a rug.


*


And Henry... what about Henry? Is he ever
coming around again? I wonder.
Around Epiphany, his mind began to wander,
they said. Still have a Q in his quiver?


On Twelfth Night he remembered his grandfather's
birthday. Granddad, Builder of Grain Elevator,
pere apparent of his mother - of the
grainstock of generations, ruler.


Hardy pioneer, flower grower.
Opera lover.
Mother's middle name - Elvira.
Clay vine of Ravlin violin - e vero.


The higher you go the more grain implodes.
Spontaneous combustion fertilizer
mounts to flood tide and none the wiser,
the straight line of inheritance erodes


and out of stumped Henry begins to drift
an example of poor penmanship. Bark
of a splintered retriever out of work
and out of time in London's night shift.


So many neighborhoods of rotisserie syllables!
Nobody needs your babytalk victories, your
bosky driftwood, boy. Work another hour -
or metro enthused back homeless to Minneapolis!
Forth of July turns calendar dates & birthdays into structural numbers. Thus May 29th : "Henry's" birthday, also RI Statehood Day, JFK birthday, day after Blackstone's burial, day after saint's day of Guillem de Gellone, Black Wednesday (5.29.1453), etc.

A bald list of such conjunctions seems rather meaningless. But the calendrical "rhymes" are elements in the construction of a narrative & thematic whole : "a 28 / nestled in 29". "Henry" represents the poet in a pattern of orphic returns or resurrections, a "ghost dance" for the American long poem, for the poet-suicides (Crane, Berryman - the author of the "Henry" Dream Songs), for Juliet (the poem is a "coming-forth of Julie"). That the entire poem is completed on 5.28 "fixes" the conjunction Blackstone/Henry/Rhode Island ("the rose" of Stubborn Grew/The Rose).

The structure of the central book of Forth of July, Grassblade Light, consists of 8-in-7 large chapter-panels, each consisting (with variations) of 28 sections of 28 lines each (7 quatrains), centered on a 29th section of 4x4 or 16 stanzas. The entire book is centered on a single stanza at the center of the doubled panel "Ghost Dance", in the following section:


28


As the whirring shape of a hummingbird
like a miniature bluejay overhead or
bee suspended over the clover
whispered


Love is our North Star high up above


I heard and
(as the rustling of that honey-mover
swelled across a grass-clay sheep-door)
lay in the sweet soil listening for your word.


4.10.99 [note: Stubborn Grew, the previous book,
was completed on 4.10.98, the year before]


Thus the entire poem is oriented at its center on the "North Star" (in Minnesota, the "North Star State", at the headwaters of the Mississippi) - which as this 28th section relates, represents the "tautology" (A = A) - Love/Word/Cosmos (explained a few days ago on this blog).

1.26.2004

not really a good idea.

the artist may intuit something. . . but it's as much moving toward as escape from.
"Life, friends, is boring." [Berryman, Dream Songs]

Literature starts here.

The idea that the writer - like the jazz musician - intuitively - already "gets" it; & art is an effort to escape that knowledge.

Many are called, but few are chosen.

Is it possible that the best art stems from ambivalence (I love it - it bores me). Only the artist who exhibits both responses escapes the realm of Boring/Being-Bored.

Did you know that "dream songs" is the phrase used by the Ojibwa (of Minnesota) to describe their poetry? Where Berryman ended up, in winter, drinking a lot.

from "Ghost Dance" (chap. 4, Grassblade Light):

         17


A silhouette on the snowbound bridge
or sunlit there in San Francisco.
With a cube of memory we go
toward the grain meadow – strange wedge


from elsewhere creases time now
in the hollow between beats. Pause,
suspension... what was
scrapes (stubborn resin on the bow).


As in the spring mystery dream
what was a morsel of death begins
to thaw. Shapes in the mind's
eye – forms of human frame –


Leonardo in the octagon, or
Minnehaha among the hanging
rocks. You're hypnotizing
together a borrowed Vermont –


guest dancing again – while
my heavy draft of burning lead
(a buried man) dives head-
first toward the ice-real


echo in Kosovo (an evil double
of Melchizedek unveils his
haunted prairie... citadels
of graves, villages of rubble).


I lie in warm air under the cedars.
My body remembers what my heart
forgets. A tiny square of salt
becomes – a black and rocky kingdom.


There's where Abraham relented.
Jesus dreamt his resurrection. Michael
intervened - there, where a bluejay spiral
modulates... into my body. Cedar-scented.


4.5.99
How does one start writing a long "epic" poem? In 1997 I'd already written 2 or 3 not-quite-successful ones. After 15 years of off-&-on writing, I'd noticed that "going back to Mandelstam" often had a renewing or reviving effect on me.

Stubborn Grew began as an act of desperation. For a long time I'd been making notes & more notes toward a long poem. The beginning of Stubborn was finally a kind of "decomposition" : I let myself go. I started imitating the slangy, informal quality of some of Mandelstam's late poems from Voronezh. & I centered myself imaginatively in that same "black earth". Stubborn was a lucky conjunction of a style (Mandelstamish quatrains) & a plot - Orpheus-Bluejay-Henry returning to the earth to "bring back the dead". I had no idea how far those quatrains & that plot would take me.

from the 1st chapter of Stubborn:


11


It begins with the headache of a rational animal.
Sepulchred, perhaps, in a whitened rhyme
or bibliophile's musty drawers - reflective rim
or echo chamber, some titanic scuttled shell.


And you lose the thread, and this is the thread.
Purpled, from the mordant notebook,
from the charitable extinct awk's
last corkscrew into a cup of molten mead,


like lead. The chorus and audience withdraw.
You are alone with the sound of an evening of a swing.
Here's the church, here's the steeple... here's the door.
As I've often repeated, almost all of Forth of July is an address to, a conversation with, the spirit of Russian poetry, as manifested particularly in Mandelstam, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Brodsky, & Elena Shvarts. Why is this? Or where does it come from?

I trace it back to the mid- to late-1970s, when I first encountered the dual presence of Osip Mandelstam's poetry (in the early David McDuff translation), and the memoirs of his wife Nadezhda. At the time I was slowly groping my way back into writing, after having renounced it in the early 70s (the aftermath of a psychological-spiritual crisis, which I have described somewhat in an essay in the memoir for Edwin Honig, A Glass of Green Tea).

The work of this pair of writers - the poet & his survivor & memoirist - had what I would call a very powerful "normative" effect on my thinking. Mandelstam's inspired, gorgeous & mysterious poetry is situated, put in context, by his wife's astonishing, razor-sharp, humane, cultured, & resolute literary response to the terrifying era of Lenin, Stalin & their followers, from the 20s to the 60s.

To a young person experiencing extremes of spiritual dislocation & homelessness in 70s America, along with alienation from his own writing talent, these writers came as enlightenment, saving grace. I was able to reconnect to American poetry through them. & the result was, I could no longer respond to the American tradition I was exploring (Whitman, Dickinson, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Crane, Williams, Olson, et al.) without hearing these poets through a Mandelstamian lens. The era of 20th-century poetry was a different assemblage of Eliotic "tradition" due to this Russian influence.

The impact of Mandelstam's revolutionary-yet-classic lyricism, his riddling imagery, led me back into my own poetry. This, combined with the impact of the epic thrust of the long-poems of Crane, Pound, Williams & Olson, fired my ambition to re-interpret, to re-shape Pound's "poem including history" according to my own, different, lights. These were the 2 fundamental motivations driving my effort - at least on the conscious level. But poetry works at a deeper-than-conscious level; and my experience of diving into the long long poem involved letting it bring forth its own shape & reveal its own expanded (both high & murky) motivations. Yes, "the plot thickens. . ."
Another section from "Letters to Elena" (chap. 2, Grassblade Light):

         11



When the trembling, expectant overture
is almost over – when suddenly
the human song breaks high
across the brooding score –


then you will remember
how the word in harmony
fulfills itself (as poured honey
streams from youthful hearts forever).


And when you walked for the first time
out of the summer forest, under
high humming in the cedars
where the cicadas droned (rhythm


massed in weightlessness) and
sound was rhymed with the scent
of blue-gray pines – it meant
you would never look back again:


your lot to turn a pirouette each
way (this way, that way) until
freedom became a codicil
encoded in your living will – to breach


each dying fall with a new birth (or
improvised branching). Because
that raven framed against
the flimsy flow of cloud cover


was drawn by a knife
with a flowering handle.
Because that almond stem
blooms in January... petrified.



1.29.99
People want me to be clearer, more comprehensible, include lengthier selections of my poem. It seems to me I've posted quite a bit of Forth of July lately, along with links to longer passages.

Besides, I'm not here to make it easy for you : it's not easy for me! Why simplify a complex game, one which I've put my heart & soul into for years? My poetry is not a fast food franchise.

This is my "free time", provided free to anyone interested. You don't like my product, so long, das vidanya.

1.25.2004

I'm used to the put-downs, believe me.
In the same way that Mandelstam/Aristotle's "law of identity" (A = A) marks the tautology of a universe in which Word=Love=Cosmos, the "Orpheus/Eurydice" romance adumbrates or narrates a reality brought back to life by song (Orpheus' lyre caused stones & lambs & lions etc. to sing together) : just as poetry invites its listener into a "Now" of loving creative play. So for the infinitely hungry "Henry" of Forth of July, Mandelstamian Russia is reborn, re-incarnated in the Petersburg (city of the "Midnight Sun") poet Elena Shvarts (etymologically, "shining black") - the heiress of Russia's "black sun" (cf. Mandelstam), Pushkin. The hunt for "Pushkin the black cat" leads through Bluejay back to Petersburg (by a roundabout route).

from the 2nd chapter of Grassblade Light, "Letters to Elena":

         10



Pushkin's catgut stretches taut
across the wood. From here to there
it's a walking game (your
move, Beatrice). Astigmatism taught


you better than they knew : Jerusalem
both here and there. Many thousand gone,
one just begun, my Lord
. Is just begun.
Body and soul, tourist-pilgrim,


heart-mind, lover-beloved,
promise-desire, shroud-ark...
Elena, nightmares of the shark
will never shake your silhouetted


chariot's erratic circuits over Venice
(like a spiral J at sunset). East
to west. Human-beast,
animal-flower, water-stone
. Finis.


And a wave-curve emerges
continuously out of these
reflections as
the blurred eye sees


and the blind eyes feel
and in the adjacent niche
the icon's eyes reach
forward toward you... seal


that endless enigma of longing
sin remorse and imperfection.
All is resurrection now – and
a slow walk toward spring.



1.25.99


[note: human-beast, animal-flower, etc., and the "circuits over Venice", refer to 3 famous Shvarts poems, "Elegy on the Cardinal Points", "Animal-Flower", and "The Virgin Rides on Venice, and I on Her Back", available in English in the Bloodaxe selection of her work, Paradise.)

1.24.2004

Chris Lott finds my excerpts & explanations utterly confusing. Understandable! I warned they were obscure & eccentric.

It's a Song of Myself, a counter-Cantos [cf. Bluejay on Poe & Pound, EP & EP]. & still ongoing.

from July (chapter "A Catenary Arc"):

         – some star – like the articulate
ghost of my fathers and of yours, who
could not speak in life, but in the owlish
afterlife – Ba, Ka, Crow, Lamb... tracked


upstream to Ethiopia, the truth of it –
manuscripted messenger, papyrus
Pappy or Osiris sire, Moses ripened
in the wilderness). Mountain oak-tree.


Cedar. Pitch-black tar (for
mordant). Bebi, General of the Asiatics.
Quick-runner, wasp. Pharaoh's taxi-
driver. He Who Controls the Rat-


God's Offspring. Latecomer,
fast-talker. Journalist for Delta
Crescent. Walker of the tiled
ink-paths, typesetter. Market-


rent-collector, solitaire, free-
speaker. Literal, exact, exacting
horsetrading slavestealing tax-
gathering figure of a reefer-


man, fearful, a-feared.
Goes down ghost-trails
under live-oak lairs
of rattlesnakes... adrift


in jagged eddies of nude alphabets.
Murmuring to himself, saliva-
white, spume-frothing blanched
avalanche easily frozen, baffled, back-


stabbed – easily beloved, won-over.
And adhesive through the crane bone
into the gravity waves (nacreous
mob of carnelian nouveaux


baubles all around the funereal
sunken canopy of maudit covenants,
rumors, glittering knives –
ressentiment scripted into feral runes).


A crossroad of aluminum tubing in the swamp.
Ping from outer space, deflecting the rays.
Silence, alligators, flamingos. Yarns
and picayune lagniappe – pommes


de terreurs
– spooks and voodoo queens
if you're scared of the dark – a muttering
broom delta, the sowing of the tombs
beneath the Gulf. Steal, sneak


away now, Jim – Julius is sound asleep.
We're going down the inky path
toward a kid wrapped up in llama
tarp and catnap tape, tripwired – peels loose


at midnight – watch! While my ghosts
of keen-mauled, kill-skinned, tree-masted
River-Sixties gather steam upstream
like a money-caulked coot of wood-


crocodiles, bobbing at the dawn levee.
Watch – there go the shadows of the swallows!
Soon the sun arrives, lifting over the lousy
prism-blocks (Angola, Ethiopia veiled, unveiled).



11.22.99

1.23.2004

I stumble along slowly through the stubble-field of po-biz, surrounded by my little band of scoffers & mockers.
The triple form of the argument or plot of Forth of July, as I've described it, gets back to question I mentioned a couple days ago : why does Bluejay disappear at the conclusion of the 1st part of Stubborn Grew? After leading Henry on what he thinks is an epic re-enactment of Dante's descensus inferos, into local Rhode Island history?

Bluejay disappears because Henry must undergo further descents & disintegrations before he can speak & recognize the truth; in the process, the truth becomes first "nationalized" (the dream-journey up & down the Mississippi, the encounter with Whitman, Lincoln, New Orleans, etc.), further "poeticized" (the Orphic drama of raising the dead Juliet & the suicide-poets Berryman & Crane), further universalized (the infiltration of Biblical, Russian, prehistoric-shamanistic, Vallejo-Peruvian, etc. elements), and further personalized (as the motivations, desires & actions of Henry are unveiled, the search for a "lost cat Pushkin" leads, at the end, to an identification with the villain in Pushkin's gambler tale Queen of Spades).

All these developments are prefigured in miniature in various sections of Stubborn Grew (the 2nd chapter, "Ancient Light", is a virtual microcosm of the entire poem); in the 2nd half of Stubborn, after Bluejay has disappeared, the poem subsumes both Pound's Cantos & Joyce's Finnegans Wake in paired parodies delimited by the Falstaffian "downfall" - & hinted recovery - of "Henry" at the very end of the book (finished on Good Friday evening). Before he leaves, Bluejay continually hints & predicts to Henry that he is still unaware of the deeper purposes of their trip.

The emotional affects or effects of this "descent-ascent" vary greatly - basically the whole poem is a set of ring-changes in various emotional & visionary keys - but here's just one sample from toward the end of the poem of the mingled sense of universality & personal displacement or journeying (from July):

         5


You stole through the Hopkins cemetery side-
stepping the gravestones while for 35 years
you hid a pebble on your tongue unsavory
Bosch-man unsavior unable to decipher


the broad paths of the Republic nor
the narrow corridors footprints of
one sole's limping history interpretations
of a colorful clan shaded by particulars of


unacknowledgeable shame your private
Halloween mocks you dog star a silver
stake left (pointed, unconnable) reveals
a secret ski-pole star black vapid revels


of unlaminated Pushkin the wager you bet
unaware one night against your neighbor
and if forgiveness comes (your rubbery rosary
well-said from sad well's deep tab's tub)


it must come from her who rose a stone
from the depths of your fire-tonged
prison Henry for whom you return in
ash-strewn flame and a reverse nostos


where the vernal jewel of a summer submarine
repels the magnetic pole downward toward
the bull's eye of your signful urn (retarded
twice-embossed crossed-out snaildrum)


heart and hope to die the children swear
over the grave pregnant beneath layers of
ice-coated Qs and endless lines of wayfaring
strangers
in a winded anti-host-figure


to that crossroad mapped red-eye trained
on your heart dead-central lemon a
cup of green Teo-Hiawathan T the scent
of death steam-railing toward a restoration


1.22.2000
What is a long poem?

They come in a great variety of forms, obviously, but what interested me in the beginning was how its 20th-cent. American versions carried forward & revised the epic mode.

Northrop Frye wrote a useful summary of its generic attributes. Among them are the epic's encyclopedic & cosmogonic qualities, the aim to present an image of universality.

One of the contrasting or counterbalancing characteristics of 20th-cent. poetry, though, from Symbolism on, was a push toward aesthetic autonomy, self-sufficiency, singularity : the idiosyncratic charm of modernist poetry lies in its assertion of the humble-sturdy beauty of things in themselves, including poems-as-poems. The poem becomes a delightful & useless contraption, rather than a utilitarian medium for something else. This is a particularly American spin on the notion of "invention" - & it goes somewhat against the grain of America's own iron laws of practical & useful enterprise.

& I think this idiosyncratic autonomy is what differentiates my own poem (Forth of July), contra Jonathan, from the prosaic medium of traditionalist narrative long poems.

Forth of July, as a form of late modernist epic, presents an encyclopedic cosmogony of sorts; & I think this was probably the underlying motive propelling its construction. Moreover, it's a cosmogony founded on a strictly poetic equation. A better phrase for this would be "poetic axiom", or poetic given : which, in any realm other than poetry, would probably be considered a tautology. As Milton understood, the frame & plot of epic is built on its "argument"; but in the 20th century, the age of autonomy & self-reflexivity, art focused more than ever before on the notion that its best, perhaps only, "argument", is its ability simply to be : all the assertions and denials which proceed from that are merely corollaries of an irreducible & complex manifestation.

A tautology is a kind of "ring structure", the primordial form of traditional epic poetry; we might liken it also to Mandelstam's (contra Symbolism) "law of identity" : "A = A".

Readers may be surprised at how postmodernist my discourse here is tending. Yet this tautological law of identity is more radical than standard postmodernism allows. Underlying the law of identity is an assertion of unity and universality, ie, "A = A" includes the universe (whereas in postmodern thought, "all" is "nought", and identity is an illusion with totalitarian implications).

The fact that a contemporary long poem has an argument of any kind, no matter how obscured, confused, and tautological, points up a distinction between (at least one aspect of) modern & postmodern; the corollaries of an argument for "identity" (A = A) lead to unities of form & construction which postmodern literature denies. I think this distinction is part at least, of the challenge my poem offers to the contemporary climate.

But can I be more explicit about the argument underlying Forth of July? How is it a strictly "poetic axiom", a tautology?

The argument of Forth of July can be likened, with reservations, to the controversial "anthropic principle" in physics (itself a kind of tautology). The epic journey-story of narrator "Henry" - with the help of spirit-guide "Bluejay" and wisdom-spirit "Blackstone" - does three coordinated things simultaneously. It unveils the layered roots of desire motivating the experiences of personal history ("Henry's confessions"); it unveils the roots of local, national, & strictly literary history as a story of repressed & denied realities (Bluejay's "basement" narration of Rhode Island & United States from the perspective of a homeless black/native American crazed ghost of ambivalent sexual proclivities); and it asserts that global history itself pivots on a mysterious "intervention" in human time & affairs of a Word of Love, analogous to poetry itself.

In this third element lies the ring structure or tautological aspect of the epic argument. For if human time & history pivot or revolve on a Word of Love comprehended by humankind, then poetry is a manifestation or mimetic image of same. The "wildness" of poetry, the poetic license which spins objective realities into dream-speech & fiction, comes round again (the ultimate "ring structure"): turning, as Whitman knew, on the essential, the most fundamental purpose of speech in the first place : to build a home for human beings, through love-speech (mother-love, father-love) - to reconcile the child to the mortal world. Mandelstam called this "domestic hellenism".

1.22.2004

I like the lilt of a neat (but not too neat) little quatrain. It's something I learned from Mandelstam, in Voronezh. I've written a few thousand of them.
Jonathan back-forward pedals. I respect him too; but I must say that while caution rules the day, I can't afford caution anymore.

But who cares about that? It's irrelevant, anyway, what my opinion of my work is (nevertheless, I have a right to my opinion). It's not a matter of what I say about my own work : it comes back, always & everywhere, to the quality & depth of a work itself. I've made a big gamble on it, & I stand by my bet. You can call it bragging if you want, you can be skeptical based on what I say about it. . . but I insist that such judgements aren't worth much. Anyway, there's too much literary parlor gaming & gossip based on social pecking orders rather than straight literary awareness. I'm using the bulk of this blog, not for bragging, but for trying to open up what I've done for possibly interested readers.
People who can't be bothered to read carefully or attempt to grasp what a writer does, yet feel qualified to sit in judgement.
Typical dismissive comment from Jonathan Mayhew. I'm very used to this sort of thing.

Forth of July is much closer to the long poems of either the "Pound" wing or the "Crane" wing than to Derek Walcott or most other contemporary-traditionalist narrative poems. But pigeonholes make thinking so quick n' easy...
I've mentioned before the salience of the numbers 28 & 29, the date 5.29, for Forth of July. Speaking of Blackstone, just want to note once again : he was buried on Study Hill on May 28th, 1675. The next day his library/farmhouse was burned to the ground by Narragansett raiders (this was time of King Philip's War). May 29th is Rhode Island Statehood Day.

The entire poem (Forth of July) was finished on 5.28.2000. "In my beginning is my end."

Stubborn Grew. . . The Rose (the Rhode).
This see-sawing back & forth between dramatic action & meditation is repeated through Forth of July, with growing intensity; thus, after the fireworks of July appears the visionary brief coda to the entire poem, titled Blackstone's Day-Book (published with the sonnet sequence Island Road; also in the complete sequel to Stubborn Grew, titled The Rose). Here is a sample from that section:

         7



Your law shines from the depths, a stone
of mutual promises, dropped ex caelis
to the navel of the earth, at the sea's
lair. There it gathered your gravitons,


gradually, from a massive rug of tangled
superstrings – Love, from the height
of night (through funnel of Amphitrite).
The tiny strings thundered, wrangled –


from the far-off realm of Prester John
across horse-grass dominions (Scythia,
Sarmatia) to labyrinthine Pythian
Rhodes – it was inwound cornu,


your love – sheath of dome,
ark of Shittim wood – a 28
nestled in 29, sword-blade
bent straight again (Rome,


roaming, Romany, along a knife-edge
trimmed with fish-scales – serpentine,
sly, undoing Knight and Amazon
with quintessence of Negus-


mystery). Where stale steel of the Ossete
meets tempered gaze of his twin-Tartar
Amazon upon a span of tears – where
a grain-bin swells, and sweetly


soars (fluted in stone). I hear, I hear
ice breaking, underneath a bridge. . .
in a land of whirring wings,
beyond the rivers of Ethiopia
.


4.6.2000
Blackstone in Forth of July tends to emerge in the aftermath of action, out of the shadows. Thus Grassblade Light, the sequel to the tumultuous Stubborn Grew, begins with its first chapter-panel, "The Lost Notebooks", set in an autumnal-winter landscape with a meditative Blackstone at the center. (The book opens with an epigraph from Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano:

–"Talking of corpses,"– the Consul poured himself another whiskey  
and was signing a chit book with a somewhat steadier hand while Yvonne
sauntered toward the door –"personally I'd like to be buried next to
William Blackstone –" He pushed the book back for Fernando, to whom
mercifully he had not attempted to introduce her. "The man who went to
live among the Indians. You know who he was, of course?" The Consul
stood half toward her, doubtfully regarding this new drink he had not picked up.


Then he emerges again, in the fifth panel ("Of W.B."), following the central double-sized panel ("Ghost Dance"), and before the final nekuia tour-de-force descent of "Giants In the Earth". He transmits elusive, visionary messages, links between the "American" epic of Henry, Bluejay & Juliet, with his own Mandelstamian-Biblical-global sources. Here's a sample from "Of W.B.":

         3

Heart be ashamed of heart,
blent with life's foundation.



You close your eyes when the wind blows,
all ears. And maybe we are Hagia Sophia
with a million eyes
, he said – a ganglion,
or gong of ganglia. Henry goes


back to the school bus (surrounded
by the profane indifferent gang) after
the field trip to Symphony Hall. Were
they all so deaf, indeed? Was he all alone?


Heart soldered open by the solemn
strings, he walked back slowly, hidden
in that crowd of blasphemers. A Stephen
pacing toward his crown – toward Jerusalem.


Each to his own idolatries – candles by night,
a parasol by day – will fall (in the drift of wind's
sly invisible eddies). I labor toward a double-
bind of iron, or some trans-manual sleight-


of-hand: earth's core, man's core, heart's coracle.
Moored Sophie (high-prowed tugboat high
above the clouds). Rusty penny-gone-cowpie
wheeling in the sky (transfixed, transrational).


When the lamb sheds the last patches
of Joseph's coat and limps toward
the chimerical, histrionic ford
(slowly). Singing catches


of Chippewa canoes, dream songs
and rainbow trout flickering upstream.
Furtive Sheba, Phoebe. Off the dark limb
of Lemba arrowroot (a lambent Iron Range).


5.11.99 [p.s. my daughter Phoebe's birthday;
also date of founding of Constantinople]


4



To close your eyes and see,
to sink back upstream into foam
with Maximus, in Byzantium –
eyeless, both his hands cut off.


A cross-grained infinitesimal
continuous bridge, salted
with a mustard seed
of fire. Tall,


leering, lowering, limping –
mother-hearted fisherman-
brother-father – blind
in Gloucester (wintering


over). Toward infinite
heaven in your palm –
the coin of the realm.
One penny (Whitman's


Ringside Indian path) milks
the galactic glide, sailing
like iron filings drawn
into a compass rose


from dust (magnetic net
threaded from a motherlode
under the volcano). And voila!
the sweet delicate trap is set:


where the meek and sheepish
toreador tears the veil of terror
from the red heart of Ferdinand's
wind-world (snore. . . swish, snore. . .)



5.12.99



5



I peer into the neglected garden womb.
A book of roots, of infinitesimal
problems. Lucky to come
up with something very


small (but more than zero).
Blackstone's lawbooks follow
feisty Williams – like the shadow
of a gnomon hugging a slow ewe


out of the cyclopean cave. Where
the clay circulates in angry circles
(each violent escape you crave reels
echoing back (each little lever-


tone swollen) on an unreal screen) –
your children's school a missile site.
So the tower of Salomé fell. White
foam, pigeon-platter. Hush-bane.


Sill, sileage, loam. Humus, composted.
Composed, posthumous. Plowed by a blade
like silver water now, continuous. Wade
in, break the surface. Where you situated


the reservoir (Blackstone's heavy book of
Providence). At the base of the mast.
Where the doubloon gleams. Past
the greenhouse windows – love-


penny, afloat below, full-fathomed now.
Like the clear mirror of one New England
cubic Arcadia salt-savor, world without end
and all amended. Mustered. Beaded. So (W).



5.13.99
The 3-yrs-or-so process of writing Forth of July was preceded by a couple decades of thought & experimentation with long poems & the influence of Crane, Olson, Williams, Pound, primarily. I was always stimulated by local history & landscape, so that Stubborn Grew is in part a local history poem, and some of the symbolic figures of Forth of July emerge from that background.

William Blackstone, the Anglican hermit-minister, scholar, farmer, & early RI settler, is one of those figures. While "Bluejay" emerges as a Hermes-shaman-Holy Ghost instigator-of-adventures, Blackstone represents the search for knowledge, understanding, vision - a kind of reclusive solitary quest for the central meanings of human reality - acting out the scriptural precept, "Make your eye single, and your whole body will be full of light." In Stubborn he stands in the shadows of "Henry's" confessional Lenten shriving. Here's a salient Blackstone section from early in Stubborn:

Rain and wind, wind and the rain. Lent.
Drifting for days, cloudy, over New England.
El Nino. In my beginning is my end.
And Blackstone rode into exile without incident


out of Boston, into Rhode Island, astride a white bull.
Anglican recluse. Study Hill, in Cumberland.
His Study Hall was Alexandrian -
a nest of books; his morning orchard full


of Yellow Sweetings. It was Eden before Eden,
Ithaca before the Greek was translated, hidden Rome
at the end of roaming, Ethiopian Negus kingdom
nestled high beyond flood-tide... heaven


for meditation. 3 Bibles, 10s; 6 English books
in folios, L2. 3 Latin books, in folio, 15s;
3 do. large quarto, L2; 15 small quarto, L1 17s
16d; 14 small do., 14s.; 30 large octavo...L4....5s...



Inventory, May 28th (day of his burial). Body
was hardly cold in the ground.
Band of King Philip's.
Burned Study Hall and all its books. The earth itself
was all that remained.
A few smoldering ashes... two


rough quartz grave markers. Painfully regret the
destruction
... those "paper books". (Probably ms.)
Left England to get out from under the power of lord bishops,
but in America I am fallen under lord brethren
.


I looked to have dwelt with my orchards and my books,
my young fawn and bull, in undisturbed solitude.
Was there not room enough for all of ye?
Could ye not leave the hermit in his corner?



Study Hill became Ann & Hope (first American
shopping center). Blackstone went missing - bones
in a wooden box sealed in lead... heavy lead foil.
Its corners were soldered... 12x12x6 inches in


size
. Ashes, bones, clay - time past perhaps good compost.
I don't insist on rhyme & stanza etc. for other people. Agree with Jordan & Ron on interesting poems of Lisa Cooper, thank you, Ron.

1.21.2004

My long-poem work & poetry in general poses something of a challenge to the supposed keepers of the modernist/postmodern poetry flame. This is, I guess, at least one of the factors behind my longstanding margin-of-the-margins status, from the days of Buffalo List unto the day of Blog.

By having the chutzpa to shuffle the "lineage" with a new long poem, and asserting its legitimacy as such; by counterbalancing the Pound/Williams/Zukofsky/Olson stream with an emphasis on Crane/Joyce/Mandelstam (Russified by a narrative which begins with a search for a lost cat named Pushkin); by insisting on rhyme, and stanza, and narrative, and character(s), & personhood, and continuity, & "readable" (allusive) meaning (at least to a limited extent) - this stance as a whole calls into question any number of literary-historical shibboleths regarding US poetry, its sources, directions, etc.

& yet I have the funny feeling I will win this battle, because I think my poetry is more alive & complex than all their theories, mutual-aid networks & anthologies put together.
John Kerry looks pretty ghoulish. That's because he's an early-60s Kennedy ghost, come back from the grave. I'll vote for that ghost.
Jacket Magazine published a few of the more impersonal, "American" sections of July, here. And some sections from Grassblade Light, here.
& just to give you a sense of the difference in tone between Grassblade Light and July,
here's the opening segment of July:

         1 

Gray skies on a late spring day. A start.
In the parking lot. Pawtucket? Cumberland.
Sound of someone hammering – what?
Iron. Waiting for my daughter there,


her tennis lessons. Nowhere. Somewhere.
Out in the open. Gray skies, hollow
hammering. A hole. A whole
world (of lonesome rune-moss).


Armor. Wheel. Hubcap. Sky-
scraper. Redmen in moccasins
on rooftops – cashmere
lamb's quarters and yaks –


kayaks – stitched all around again?
Like a lake in a corral – your
coracle – row, row, row
we go. I'd like to. . . snag


you, elbow room. A Huckleberry
getaway somewhere. Wide grass
where the hurt surges – surges
like active vitamin – Buick


in high gear. I leaned back
against the health club wall.
Low sub-suburb, lawless.
Clouds moving, carboniferous.


Spaces for eyes. Flag in yard
beside white aluminum siding.
Farmhouse hemmed inside
clutter. Derelict, dreary.


But that hammering was happy.
I was going into the meadows
again – lose myself for good.
So long, Julius. So long, Pap.


7.15.99 (St. Henry's Day)
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.]

1.20.2004

. . . & then the somewhat airy-giddy febrile lightweight acrobatics of Grassblade Light lead into something both more rounded-out & also more strange/exploratory, in the fireworks-finale which is July. The difference between the 2 books is highlighted by the use of end-rhymes in Grassblade, as opposed to (informal, variable) reversed or inside-out rhymes in July. Here is a section of that:

         7


In the country of his father forgot and
manacled below decks to his own
sole greenish vomitory (so sea-gnostic)
Hamlet watched the orrery-gyro's daft


starboard tilt left, right a map
flattened over hiding places
green paps of a minatory landscape
a deep red coracle under palm


of his hand two red rivers (north,
south) as they meet in a 3-cornered
(7-cornered) coign of rusted ruth gone
copper-vernal a profile thrown


for a Q by finger of iron in pool
of dust invisible smile of Ms. X
whispered (doubleyoudoubleyou)
's barnacled forehead she loped


into view she balanced a cup of green
Tahitia-T upon speared iceberg head
and frolicked like Luba's almost-baf-
fled grave coronal freed from the grip


of his soiled life sentence the image
of his eye landed (orthogradus ad hoc)
upon ox-back to pivot there (a coda-
clef) and accompany his fewny gam


with fear and trembling beneath the frozen
birches and the bridge over the river there
in Minneapolis where the star unravels
in contrition once to forge amends in


stony Troezen slosh a cup of Lent-anointing
cold just once across your Jordan-brow
(JB) or take a snowy gondola (suburban dirge
or broken fork) into the dull canal at last


1.27.2000
Large shape of Forth of July. . .

burial
rebirth
take-off & return (counter-time)

Stubborn somewhat like a Finnegan-Wakean burial (the book ended, literally & figuratively, on Good Friday evening). The 7 large "panels" of Grassblade Light, like a slow & gradual rebirth out of death & winter. This section (from the second panel, "Letters to Elena") illustrates to some extent the "syncretic" amalgam of Crane/Russia/apocalyptic time-warp renewal:

         21



An airborne bluejay chasing shadows
augurs fever's end – a port-in-air
ship in a purple jar –
blue joy or sadness, luminous.


Petersburg Mews – nine times around
with cat in tow – tiptoeing cat-
o-nines leashed to the bowsprit
there, where Time swam aground –


your skin warmblooded blond limestone
uplifted toward one temperate curve
echoing heaven once again. I carve
a window out of sanded syllables soon


through an hourglass formed by one paw
slipped into yours. Sound of cello...
textured... faraway Gabriel's piano,
all G minor... empty flask, unporous now.


The yardarm swings these shadows...
as the groundswell of the deep wave combs
my shears away all hands now comes
the anchor like a diving kingfisher goes


down toward never-Davy Jonas, and
the wind turns ready about and hard a-
loo blew V blue J a whack ralay raloo ra-
lonniga-lubber galoo baleen – grand


banks of whales above us blowsprit, spout
brit, sprout out loud and lubricate that
navigator's coughing chugboat – so
zesty with taffeta – so transvested with trout!



2.4.99

1.19.2004

My disparate, desperate imaginary world (Rhode Island, Minnesota, Mississippi, Russia, Byzantium, native America, Ethiopia, London, etc.). . . tied together with puns & rhymes. Pappy Rus. Juliet, jewel-eye, jubilee, Blue-J.
I'm just trawlin down big Muddy for a reading, here, folks, a review of SOME kind. . . because no matter how BIG & MIDWESTERN my old poem is, it's never EVER gonna get a hearing from the NY School of cold fish, nor the wary band of Sillimen. . . hey ho what's in a litterbox. . . cat doo. . .
. . . & ask. . . who is Bluejay? Why does he mysteriously intervene in the 1st part of Stubborn Grew, and then fade out, only to re-appear again & again, elusively, in the sequels (Forth of July)?

Forth of July is among other things a psychic edifice, a large icon, sort of a massive ecumenical mysterium (ecumenical is not the word I'm looking for. . . I hope it comes to me. . . it's on the tip of my tongue. . . meaning, a fusion of different cultural/religious elements. . . syncretic, there we are). An algorithm, built on the basic pattern of the Orpheus myth. . . the idea that poetic speech reaches to recreate & re-enact the origins of everything, driven by an overwhelming longing & sense of loss. . . Bluejay leads the speaker into a myth of America, near the River & the Delta. . . MLK & Egypt & Ethiopia & the MLK-y (Melchizedek-y) Way. . .

. . . from one of the nodes of the poem (in July):

         So you done chased yo feline
wid a beeline all dis way.
You done yo jawin an yo yawn,
read all round a boot, an leafed


every dern throwaway lifesavin
catamaran catalog down hard
King Mo alley, right? Drawn
them buckets a fearwater


juss like Fogman ordered, huh?
An here you be. Argo widow
woulda gone wid ya, Hen – d'you
noah that? Golden Hugh too –


that serial son of ol' Blue J!
– he woulda gone justa fleece
the fleas offer yurt coffin, Leif –
believe you he wild! Job


for one hardtack or two, ill sea!
Wid all dem aye-ayes in yo head,
man, you mighta seen at dear
befoe slammin – huh? Yas.


Y'wound un I done wid wood, man.
Ball upn lance them railleries, an
linkum all to the she-player. Nice
reel! Cause what happen in Nam,


bro, should be never a gain for no body.
I been there, saw, felt – done died to.
Been. You can thin out the ought
nought, but it won't play my dobro.


No way. Cause we allus carryin each
fo each bit o'honey. Thas way that pen
gonna be meltin yo mountain an nip
yo lie sites. An – give a chary kitty cheer!
Happy Martin Luther King Day, everybody.

(Rapidly becoming an annual Event) I point you toward this poem from Island Road. . .

1.16.2004

My Maximus : Maximus the Confessor (Byzantium), via Kiev (Mandelstam). Poem-icon : Hagia Sophia of the Pacemaker : the water-strider's gait (your heart, your better self). Dome, curved eyebrow, wing. Imago, Black Stone, meteorite : fallen from heaven, hauled into Rome.
Something from Grassblade Light (vol. 2 of Forth of July). I may have posted this before. I like to think of my longish poem as stylistically somewhere between Hartford & Gloucester.

(My life changed after 2000 - watershed. Kenneth Warren's essay one of those goads to put it all back together.)

         4



Orpheus in love goes undeground,
a demonstration - Blackstone's Law: what's lost is lost.
Blackstone dives into his pile of leaves, his palimpsest,
to prove a mother-of-pearly paradox - what's lost is found.


They baptized you outside the colorful cathedral doors,
a point of light, a peephole in a dreamy spectrum.
Something other than angel, animal - a hum,
a hem in someone's seemly seamless smock - hers,


yours, ours. Henry remembers you, remembers then,
via the impress of your lack of shade - he floats
in whiskered haze, within the darkness that you made,
a Noah, sinking in a sea of bird-calls, in the wine-


dusky seas of Evening Man, winely drunk...
- at the pinnacle of that majestic oak, bluejay
or mockingbird salutes a descending starling, sideways
(choral grackles measuring the distance Henry sank) -


I shall not drink it with you again til Kingdom Come,
he said to them. Blackstone footing out the Roman foot
from here to there: only a cupful, only a child's foot,
only the spectrum of a children's toy, he told them,


spinning and coming round again. A rainbow.
Noah, Bluejay, Blackstone, Henry -
drinking together from the horn of plenty
of memories... old autumnal children now,


old men. And Orpheus goes down into the chaos
shod with mercury, to reap the enormous harvest;
Eurydice, still silent, paces toward the past -
ghost of his future, empress of all his shadows.



10.26.98
Directing a short play at church by Michel de Ghelderode, unusual Belgian playwright. The Three Blind Men; based on a Bruegel painting of that name. (If Bruegel interests you, Michael Frayn's Headlong is a pretty good read. Funny.)
Kenneth Warren's House Organ, issue #45, arrived yesterday. Includes another installment of "The Emperor's New Code", his serial meditation on Charles Olson.

1.14.2004

neat cosmic map, neat essay here. Reminds me of some speculations in yon hgpoetics archive, on the "now" of poetry vs. the retrospective "then" of fiction (Proust the prime example).
quark-gluon plasma
(for breakfast)

1.13.2004

I suppose considerations on the nature of power could be applied to the literary scenes. If power results from free group consent & alliance, literary creation & response is more like freedom in essence. . . hence the inescapable, persistent disconnect between prestige & taste. . .

Arendt, unlike Gandhi, drew a line between love and politics; for Arendt, love was private, personal - inevitably tarnished in the political sphere, because there it becomes a spectacle of interests, rather than pure disinterested charity & adoration. . .
I haven't nearly done justice to the nuances of The Unconquerable World - questions of cooperative vs. coercive power, love & fear - the quotes from Hannah Arendt are wonderful in their own right -

"While violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it. From this results the by no means infrequent political combination of force and powerlessness, an array of impotent forces that spend themselves often spectacularly and vehemently but in utter futility."

in 1969 she wrote: "the head-on clash between Russian tanks and the entirely nonviolent resistance of the Czechoslovak people is a textbook case of the confrontation between violence and power. . . To substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power."

"Power is actualized only where word and deed have not parted company, where words are not empty and deeds not brutal, where words are not used to veil intentions but to disclose realities, and deeds are not used to violate and destroy but to establish relations and create new realities."

Curious to read about how the parallel-culture philosophy & concrete local activities of the Polish, Czech, Hungarian activists against Soviet domination in the 70s, paralleled the early-70s turn to grassroots neighborhood organizing by the left in the US.

Of course, constructive projects to address injustice, poverty & inequality through local organizing is what civil society is or should be all about. . . today. . . acting not to complain or condemn but to address suffering directly. . .