6.30.2004

6.29.2004

Po-biz is hop-lez. Herez sumpin ta read while thugh Indushtry iz on yakkashunn.

from BRANCH, ALMOND



It begins like this, on a dark autumn day.
The wind is blowing, you don't know
where it leads. Pussy-willow, dogwood
wave their last leaves. The lead-gray sky


shrouds the universe in its camouflage
of sleep and melancholy. Ravens
mark your place in the book of dying
and being born. Goldfinch paces his cage.


*


In Bruegel's panorama, the herdsmen
follow a ridge in the foreground, drawing on
their oxen, charcoal outlines seemingly stolen
from the Lascaux caves. In the distance


storms lash a somber, mountainous coast
helmeted with desolate castle;
shipwrecks ornament the entrance
to the harbor. A wintry violence


looms in murk above muted ruddiness,
ramshackle roofs of valley and village;
Bruegel grins in the teeth of all this rage,
shepherding home his cataclysmic canvas.


*


Every leaf bears an image of the tree
(as when the underside of an autumn olive
stands upright, tall – a tiny silver cypress).
Every book bears an image of the Book To Be


and every child bears an image of the singer
(almond-eyed) who left a humming shadow
in the neighborhood – that summer cicada
shrunk to autumn cricket (fading, lingering).


*

6.28.2004


Pretty quiet in blogland. Meanwhile, here's another frog hunt for you. Posted by Hello

6.25.2004

More wild & wacky summer mumbo-jumbo, fresh from the oven of Shakespeare's Head:

15 (continued) 

Entranced by the glittering ferris wheel
(creaking round and around to raucous bells)
you forgot the humble hand you held,
that held you close, that kept it real.


The dizzy design is built on spin;
a bent pole points to swirling haze
somewhere near Bear and Hercules,
a Cup pours out a frothing dip of Dragon-


breathing vertigo, and here we go
again, sledding down into the Maelstrom!
Big Bang potter’s clay, it all came from –
and soon the Grand Finale (here below


the Moon) will row us home, over the water
(when Whale gives birth to Virgin Daughter).


*


The shadow of a mortal mediator
falls across the Great Year’s star-on-star
.


The hand that raveled the colored threads,
numbered the sequence of time and season,
measured the stately rolling motion –
a painter’s hand, that sketched those heads


and limbs, so turbulent, troubled, at the table –
was this the hand you held at the carnival?
Sent by a mind and heart arraying all
in the light of kinship (mirrored, equable)?


A rooted flower blooms amidships, nested
in the hold, where the last full measure is
familiar epiphany – homely treasure.
And on the seventh day... that Hand rested.


*

Behind my eyelids, a strange planetarium.
There’s Leo, sketching (with tiny whorling
J-strokes) a design for a light-swimming
catamaran – delicate lightweight (over an M);


and two lads, little gems, in a joy-ride
galaxy, sailing on their milky way –
watching each other, timing their Day,
with 153 (or 4) doubloons in the hold


(two weeks’ worth of salmon-mammon).
Paddling up toward Orion (Perseus?
St. G.? Al-Khidr, maybe?) at the axis
of the matrix – his bare, cubic weapon


lancing a wounded, white polar dragon –
there, where birchbark spins around again.


*


Under the ju-ju tree... I don’t remember when...
behind Shakespeare’s Head, before you were born.


Under the shade of the paradise tree, in sum;
under the Phoebe moon, the Ur-night sky;
by the rivers of Ethiopia; her epiphany,
the little shady flower – watch it bloom,


now. In a round-dance with her, near the sun,
overhead, like an Etch-a-Sketch, forever
waltzing your ellipse, across, a starry floor...
your doubled love, with a V – the only sign


for Victory. And so the sunny flower lifts
from the surface of heaven-ocean; so the
three or four rivers begin to flow again
(beside an almond, amid snowdrifts).



6.23-25.04

6.23.2004

Something rich & strange (from Shakespeare's Head) for St. John's Eve:

                  15



A shaky hand begins to sketch in summer
as if emerging out of deep dream-space.
In the silver of a hubbub universe
a vast and lumbering cosmos-designer


plays with the baby galaxies, doodles
twirly-curls in the arroyo dust.
Swaddled in a tiny gyro-nest,
graven in Middle Earth, dreidles


and paper lanterns, fireworks in the lake:
the whorl of a dervish crown inspires
reunions, clowns, processions, choirs,
love-potions, divination, gypsy music


spun from the drowsy round of Everyman.
The spell was cast: Hamlet’s muttering began.


*


Ophelia or Imogen, where the river ran
to the sea: star-flower, scribbled in crayon


in the sketchbook of the mumbling ghost
(invisible hand), at the vanishing point
where lines meet, where circles pivot –
at the apex of the beehive (Time’s lost


sundial in the garden), where two boys
scramble and play around her knees
and beneath the stars’ crosshairs:
twin constellations, light rays


aligned by a solstice, at the height
of the parade. So we read the stones
from before the Flood, in Babylon –
in the hammock-canoe, one summer night.

*

Everyman, blind, beneath his natal star
leans his shadow athwart the night;
limping, he reads his limp aright
in pinpoints threaded there – a car,


a flower, a wheel, a bear
... and
Hamlet plunges to the salt sea-floor
churning the everlasting tables there
around the ring, the ring the King bore –


overturning time’s iron-gilded rule,
wagering all upon one leading hunch,
Orion-worm, crawling, inch by inch
toward a stage set for an antic fool...


a play-within-a-play, where he must die
to renew the earth (with equanimity).


*


The love that flowers in a fiery eye
guides Everyman’s unfailing destiny
.

His hunch, an octave and a unison:
since each soul is the hero of its dream,
and cosmos images the cloudy scheme
like human breathing on a windowpane;


so Hamlet paces back to Elsinore
like Jonah stepping from Leviathan;
so the prophetic soul of Everyman
throws his constellations to the floor,


scrying their hieroglyphics in his heart
before the waking of the summer sun
lifts, over the trees, earth’s perihelion.
His muttered covenant will not depart.


*

6.22.2004

I've been entering literary contests lately, keeping me busy. You see your writing from another angle.

Interesting article in NY Times science section today about math & origami!!

Some more from Shakespeare's Head. I'm trying to focus my attention to continue this, which I left off a year ago.


                  4



There is a struggle toward a common light,
a frame of reference, a shared resolve;
the enterprising covenants revolve
around a painful common sense (of being right).


So they gathered once at Shakespeare's Head
(each head, each pair of eyes a theatre,
a globe) to try each phrase – each character
puffed out and flowering in air, a wing├Ęd


moth or butterfly (conjectural, extemporal,
provisional). From dialectical balancing,
an expensive delicate set of riggings
begins to whistle in the distance, rise


and fall, as if breathing on the morning sea;
and the mast answers – tall, tree-like, fatherly.


*


Orpheus knows the moody marsh he mirrors
is only his own (splintered from flocks of errors).


And Hobo, with his rusty O-ring, rows
into marginal shallows, among rustling
reeds. Length of arm is the beginning
of native estrangement – so it goes on


reaching, into infinity (anonymous,
primordial, a someone) – still selfward,
like a hobo's law of identity (A = DUD).
Like the thingness of things – various,


ephemeral, enormous. Like the ring
itself, gleaming dully in dun-colored
palm. Heaven-earth tethered there,
polar, in steadfast silver – breathing.


12.12.02

6.18.2004

                  2



The silver of the Bay reflects the sky.
As in a Fibonacci microcosm,
Orpheus reflects the scene (home,
she's not at home
). One almond eye


is all of Shakespeare's Globe – quintessence
in the garden, behind Shakespeare's Head.
Garden or marsh, Itasca or Shadda (wed
wetlands and low clouds with innocence) –


birchbark or balam, long canoe or tarada,
Mississippi or Euphrates, Hiawatha,
Haji Hamaid – waters will reflect your
silvery Dragon's Head, your starry


mornings. Rippling conjunction,
hovering shadow – cradle for the sun.


*


Out of the manger-matrix comes the star
reflected in the paysans, where you are.


Reflected in the water by the shore,
reflected in a waiting shepherd's eye,
reflected in the sand dunes too, nearby.
The light was early – never seen before.


And natural law (in curvature of glass
slanted to a singer's thirsty throat)
found balance at the point of rest
between power and peace – a


general outline of the lacrimae
between brute force of interest
and salty conscience of the just
(black iris, fiery aureole its eye).

12.10.02


[Reminder: Shakespeare's Head is a building in Providence. The name referred to a sort of tavern sign which used to hang outside (portrait of the Bard). Was a gathering-place for journalists, literary types, revolutionaries around 1776.]


What does this poetry mean, though, to the literati? I'm outside the committee paradigms and the bingo lingo. Toodles, chums!
Have been out of the bog for a few days, putting manuscripts together, submitting them to contests.

I do this once every ten years or so, & it makes me feel part of the literary scene. Plus I look at my writing in a new way, as if I were a disinterested judge.

I'll try to find another section of Shakespeare's Head to post here.

6.16.2004

Hamlet's Mill can be read as an extended improvisation on some astonishing essays by Simone Weil (see her Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks). Despite the profound ambiguities & historical-cultural distortions of her (very Jewish) anti-Jewish bias, Weil is worlds apart from some of the New-Age gematriastic numerological-astrological-gnostical book-biz blah-blah around these topics. Basically, she bears witness to the harmony of Hellenic-Hebraic understanding (the traditional evidence of "psychic wholeness" in "the West"): science/art, knowledge/soul, transcendence/suffering. Though she distances herself from her Jewish roots, she never disavows the "need for roots": nor the centrality of suffering & love - suffering for proud "knowledge" (grace redeeming fallen gnosis).

(This is, as we know from the Romantics, Dante, & others, a traditional role for poets, too: saving the appearances, synthesizing reason & love.)

The HM authors (Santillana & Dechend) acknowledge her as one, of just 2 authors, who has a clue.

Rhody roses for Bloomsday 100.

"There are 29 sweet reasons why blossomtime's the best." - Finnegans Wake Posted by Hello

6.14.2004

Have been reading (or struggling to read) Plato's Timaeus, which is really a companion volume to Hamlet's Mill, mentioned here recently. Written in 300 something B.C., it holds, delicately, a borderland between myth & science, poetry & reason... wonderful to hear the ironic paragraph of this person, living almost 2500 years ago, when he differentiates between his own cosmology (built on astronomy & a fairly reasonable defense of the "argument-from-design" : ie. there are living things & dead things; things either move themselves or are moved passively by some other force; living things, as opposed to dead matter, are self-motivated (they move around by their own will); the freedom of self-movement is "life" or "soul"; since the most complex things in the universe have life or soul, then the self-movement of the universe must be propelled by Soul! I love it) & the traditional "gods" of myth - those same gods & myth-stories which Santillana & Dechend (Hamlet's M.) pretty convincingly (to me, anyway) explain, are also symbolic formulations for star-observations & time-measurements - only from an earlier era!

Anyway, all this seems pretty distant from some of the daylight proper concerns of poetry, which have to do with social justice and human values & how these must be defended NOW...

Struggling in my own way to move along, sometimes going forward in writing you have to go backward, to things you've left behind & forgotten. I tend to write a lot, & then find old ms. lying around... this sequence from a couple years ago sort of startled me with its own star-obsessions... so I'm going to post some of it, though some of you may have seen it before on a list-serve, sorry. It's a sequence called Shakespeare's Head, which is a building in Providence, & as you can tell, it's also a sequel to an early sequence (called India Point, another Providence locale).


from Shakespeare's Head


1


Snow muffles Providence in soft light.
Orpheus-Hobo shuffles through the streets
beneath immaculate rooftops, slanted
toward the drifting sky. He is late


for the wedding. In his pocket, a gold band
lifted from the sidewalk (in Fox Point,
on Washington's birthday). In his heart
an image of a toy city - Atlantis, Golden Land.


He'll hold it toward you, shivering -
America in miniature, a tiny Ironsides
reflected in a bourbon bottle - shades
passing through fixed stare (his offering).


So needy excess issues (crystalline)
just as fireworks spring a constellation.


*


There is no better world for contemplation.
No butter-word for such a battered nation.


Only extravagant hobo longing
reaches past fright-monuments
and furniture of Nineveh (arrogant
roar, ablaze with dominion, fading);


only the eyes of Jonah will behold
a green star hanging over gardens
buried in slanting dunes, oblivion
(...distant, pining, as of old).


The bottle toy will sleep in his hand
until a starry shade stoops down again
to shape a nest for Everyman - and
bring a skyborne Jubilee to land.


12.6.02


Happy Flag Day

6.13.2004

Watched the video of the great great Tarkovsky film, Andrei Rublev, the story of an icon painter. Good follow-up to Byzantium show at the Met. Tarkovsky is a cross between Brecht & an Orthodox monk. The film is so Russian, so stringent, such a hymn to the salt of the earth, spiritual asceticism & faith, earthly suffering & fatalistic gloom, Dostoyevskian passionate sobornost (fellowship). You are not in Hollywood in this film, you are in 15th-century Rus.

6.11.2004


The old backyard. Once upon a time, in the willow over the canoe, I heard "Bluejay" improvising, which was the beginning of Stubborn Grew/Forth of July, that neo-formalist traditional free metrical postmodern something or other. There's Pushkin, snoozing under the flowers. Posted by Hello
poleRon's complex counter-polemic (in post of today, 6.11) to the New Formalist polemics of Steele & Schreiber, attacks the latter's oversimplifications of literary history and 20th-century practice. However, the elaborate model of prosody Ron builds & defends here (via Zukofsky et al.), combining language/music/speech/writing, etc. in different permutations, serves to obscure one basic point made by Schreiber:

"Phrasing in music works in relation to the beat, not as a substitute for it."

This is a legitimate criticism - offered perhaps most strongly (& originally) by Robert Frost - to the Poundian nostrum of "composition by musical phrase". The correlation of meter & phrase, or speech pattern, is not simply part of the toolbox of optional traditionalist techniques. It is a basic aspect of poetry, and as such, serves as a kind of grounding for creative experiments of all kinds. To deny or minimize this both rules out vast fields of poetic enterprise, past and future, and distorts the evidence of 20th-cent. literary history.

The synthesis of rhythm and phrasing is one element of the overall harmonics to which composition aspires. It can be found in some of the most memorable passages of Pound & Eliot (Annie Finch's "ghost of meter", for example in the contrast of pentameter lines with trochaic beat of parts of the Cantos, or the hidden metrical forms planted in Four Quartets). The same synthesis was worked out more thoroughly and paradigmatically, if not always successfully, by Hart Crane. Crane again and again trumps these distinctions between free & metrical verse, between modernist innovation and traditional forms. Wallace Stevens, too, in his own less emphatic way, melded pentameter & free verse.

Setting up the New Formalist agitators as straw men with which to thump Quietude & plump Post-Avant is itself a polemic which tends to box, pigeonhole & truncate contemporary understanding of technical possibility.

[p.s. ...& then, moreover, what would Yeats say?]
UNACKNOWLEDGED LEGISLATOR PONDERS KINGSHIP

Providence, RI (maybe?) (AP) At 7 a.m. local time, on a green lawn beside the looming Depression-era statue of state founder Roger Williams, local poet and home dishwasher Henry Gould, an unacknowledged legislator of the world, signed new legislation making himself an official acknowledged legislator of the world. Despite the absence of an audience at the signing (except for a single pesky squirrel, which Gould also acknowledged, with his signature "squirrel imitation"), the newly-acknowledged legislator has big plans. "After breakfast, I think I'll anoint myself King of America, for starts," he chuckled. "After that, I don't know. Depends on what's in the fridge." Absently tossing an acorn at the squirrel, he acknowledged, in his husky, inimitable Rhode Island accent (acquired after years of schooling), "Feels good to be king. I can tell that squirrel where to go, no problemo."
I've excised latest late-night crabby post. Should never blog while playing online chess after midnight.

6.10.2004

Antenna Race dept.: Bob Vincent, my inventor friend mentioned previously (6/4), was written up in today's NY Times ("Circuits" section, under "what's next", here). (Bob's a good friend also of Pushkin the cat.)

"Poets are the antennae of the race." - Ezra Pound
Have been reading Wallace Stevens lately, along with Leggett book previously mentioned (Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory). Also re-reading Hamlet's Mill (Santillana and Dechend), the terrific, crotchety essay on very ancient astronomy & archaic myth. Actually, the last 2 poems I've written (& posted here) reminded me of this book (rather than the other way around). (Some of the "deep-dive" adventures in the latter portion of Forth of July drew extensively on this material.)

Thinking a lot about some of Stevens' obsessions - the symbiosis of imagination & reality, the nature of the human myth-making capacity and its relation to religious belief. Pondering the "culture war" with fundamentalist Islam, & our own homegrown fundamentalisms.

Hamlet's Mill is fascinating by way of the window it opens on culture's deep past, exploring how star-reading was really the first form of literacy, and how myths are not merely projections of human relations, but attempts to comprehend real time measurements, and the meaning of time itself, through long & close observation of constellation/planetary movements. Of course now we understand that the ancient notion of movement was kind of an artificial planetarium (the earth as fixed plane around which stars revolved), but this doesn't diminish the incredible complexity & specificity with which ancient cultures tracked the stars.

I'm finding this archaic science of interest (as you can tell from those 2 poems), 1) because it was a global phenomenon, found in folklore of many many cultures, 2) it provides an interesting way to get behind or beneath mythological-imaginative projections & narratives, the rituals by means of which different cultures identify themselves, and 3) because star-gazing & myth-making were part of the traditional "serious" poet's vocation.

I used the sort of ballad-form refrain style in these 2 poems, not because I felt like imitating Yeats or Villon, but because, basically, it can be effective, I think.

6.08.2004

TRANSIT OF VENUS




Morning twilight rings a globe
washed with suffering and joy,
each body under supine mind
replete with reigning images
(Allah, Buddha, Shiva, Christ)
by law and custom so entwined
into tradition’s seamless robe –
while Venus spins by like a toy,
a blind spot in the blinding sun.


Noonday trumpets of the West
descant for absent presidents:
gleaming coffins lie in state
resurrecting finer times,
harmonizing untold crimes,
molding echoes, out-of-date.
Shrouded figures, gone to rest
beneath a Star’s indifference,
a blind spot in the blinding sun.


Adam, Eve and Oedipus
circle through the fabled fate
spelt within each blistered heart
before a child can walk or talk.
Shadows layered on the rock
by inhuman fiery art
wheel around Prometheus,
lean toward One the veils create:
a blind spot in the blinding sun.

6.07.2004


now: find-the-frog! Posted by Hello
I get the feeling that JL, in his post of today over at the Hotel, via Gerrit Lansing quote, exaggerates the contemporary sway of traditionalist poetics. Why? Whitman & "innovation" won that battle a long time ago. Is it like the pebble in his shoe or the nagging return of the repressed? I mean the possibility that "traditionalist" techniques might represent opportunities denied. Denied by partisanship & polemics. The lingering residue of defensiveness from style battles long over. Red & blue state poetics.

6.05.2004


Pushkin the cat, immortalized in the famous poem Stubborn GrewPosted by Hello

backyard peony Posted by Hello

6.04.2004

Antennae of the Race dept.:

Bob is a friend of mine. We're proud of him here in little Rhody.
Why is Jim Behrle badmouthing Kent Johnson so much? I don't get it. I looked at Kent's Abu Graibh piece. It's standard political satire, it does what satire's supposed to do: it gets you down into the ugliness & makes you squirm. The last paragraph simply zeroes in on its probable readership (poets) & makes them identify/empathize/squirm too. He emailed me to ask what I thought of it, & I said the weakness of it is it seems aimed narrowly at the in-house poet audience, & that it should include more "emails" from all walks of life.

Behrle's take-off on Kent's last paragraph doesn't rise to the level of political satire, it just makes fun of somebody by harping on their supposed weaknesses.

Now I suppose the Behrle campaign will be mounted against me. I don't know all the "history" gossip or rumor behind Behrle's animus toward Kent, it's none of my business. As I recall, & my memory can be fuzzy, he's mad at me because he didn't like the way I was talking back to David Hess some time years ago (& he didn't like me calling him "Jimby", which I don't call him any more). But that's all water under the bridge. I'm blocked for some reason from his comment box (at his blog), so I won't be able to respond, when the torrent comes. I really don't care anymore about all this piss-ant poet "biz".

Everyone should lay off the badmouthing & recognize they have personality disorders which are not cured by aggression & petty sniping. That includes me, that includes you, Behrle.

[p.s. I see Kent has responded to the Behrle piece over at the Hotel today. Whenever I go to "Hotel Point" I think of some big windy light-filled drafty comfortable mostly vacant old hotel on some point in Lake Michigan. & then I think of the hotel in the "Quaker Hill" section of The Bridge.]
WHEN THE ARK TOUCHED DOWN




In every town, in every land and tongue
the priests and teachers purify the faith,
instruct the folk, distinguish right from wrong,
observe the ancient rites, deflect God’s wrath,
urge everyone along the well-loved path:
but there was no such pattern of tradition
when the Ark touched down under the stars of Babylon.


The sons of Noah often disagree
and quibble over points of subtlety:
Shem, Ham, and Japheth share a history
of tangled speech, disputed property,
and death-by-Cain in field or dusty alley:
but there was no such habit of destruction
when the Ark touched down under the stars of Babylon.


The Lord, the Pure, the Power, the Supreme,
the Imageless, the One, the Sacred Dream,
the Holiness Who cleanses to redeem,
Existent God, beyond our fleeting sham:
we shape your profile, still beseech you, Come!
For only a perfect maze managed perfection
when the Ark touched down under the stars of Babylon.
... back to the search for a word beneath the word "image" (by the way, that's when I discovered the Secret of Comment Box : if you want responses, don't make pronouncements - just ask a question) -

anyway, Wallace Stevens is almost too quotable, but I happened on this, from his poem "Study of Images II":

As if, as if, as if the disparate halves
Of things were waiting in a betrothal known
To none, awaiting espousal to the sound


Of right joining, a music of ideas, the burning
And breeding and bearing birth of harmony,
The final relation, the marriage of the rest.


This plays with the aura, the resonance, the symbolism, the overtones, the whole or the source of "disparate" imagery...

6.03.2004

I've offered many illustrations from Forth of July, many variations in scale & pitch, over time, here on this blog. This one's from toward the end of the poem, in a minor key.

         3




I lost the purple thread
that led to the heaven-stone
(curled around a cup of golden
mead... but not like lead:


like honey, heavy honey,
buoyant, thick and sweet
forever). One bright
bird-voice cried to me:


this lever, Archimedean –
this little cup of water –
if you did not offer
to the least of men


you offered not to Me
.
This lever, a mercy-pivot,
rocks like a lonely swing at
dusk... Love was, you see –


and swung the empty swing
you heard so long ago (one
summer evening, so
deep, so slow). Swing,


little wooden swing...
my heart rocks too
when we begin anew:
Isaac and Abraham, singing...


(and my little dark lady,
absent one, my little honey-
tree, my true heart's pivoty-
stem, swaying so lonely).


5.23.2000


- this poem reaches back in response, across about 900 pp. of Forth of July, to one of the opening, initatory sketches of Stubborn Grew:


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.


Here the focus is on the protagonist/narrator alone, and the sacrificial-suicidal plunge he is about to take (into his long journey-poem). At the finale, though he has still "lost the thread", the mead is not like lead anymore, but has turned, alchemical-fashion, into golden honey; and the focus is not on the suffering of the hero, but on the love itself, which acts as "lever" (of justice) and "mercy-pivot", on the singing which it inspires, and on the "absent one", the "little dark lady", its ever-present goal. We have moved from the "door of the church" (in the poet's hands, as in the children's game), to the substance of its evangelic mission (love itself). The cup (of lead/honey) runneth over.
What was the pith of what Pound found & celebrated in "tradition"? The same thing Montale found, that both found via Dante:

Provence, the love-song, the archaic-troubadour springtime mating-call, the epithalamion at the heart of Arcadia or Paradise, the Song of Songs...

the deep natural root of the grand epic-cosmic visions (Homer, Dante et al.). At the center of the Divina Commedia, Dante addresses his theme : What or Who is the real and proper goal of all our willing & desiring & loving (& the substance of our singing)?

[Actually, this forms the overall plot of my own grandiose effort in Forth of July, too, where the poem's path follows the transformations & coruscations of July, jewel-eye, Julius/Juliet, J-El, & so on. The "coming-forth of jewel-eye"]
Stray thoughts on Ezra Pound, in relation to the controversy at Tony Tost's blog:

EP assumed the mantle of the traditional poet, in all its intensity & vatic pomp. Anyone who has heard recordings of his chanting the Cantos will recognize some of the effects. The intensity, the dramatic presence, he instilled into his experimental epic, comes through, even as it works in counterpoint across the free-slapdash, quotational-notational, archival-dustbinnishness & slanginess.

As such & so he was assuming a mask, the mask of the ancient epic vates; a very unusual & curious endeavor. I think he did this under the influence, & in the partial shadow, of Yeats, and somewhat in conscious contrast to Eliot, whose Anglified urbanity presented another version of "tradition".

What I find interesting is just the wildness of the project itself, the way this something of a swamp Yankee upstart sloughed off his own Americanness to become a sort of eccentric-yet-representative "figure" for the West at a certain and particular historical crossroads; and the way the contradictions involved in assuming such a pose are reflected in the grain of the poem's (the Cantos') style and "plot", the excruciating way it tries to meld archaic Europe with US political developments, in an overall world-epic of consciousness.

Pound thus presents himself as an inescapable, pivotal literary-historical phenomenon. But what remains valuable is not so much the substance of his own world-view, or his pronouncements, but the example of engagement he offers. Not the engagement with politics (which revealed both his shrunken capacity for empathetic humanity, and his misguided authoritarianism) but the stance he took, his attitude toward poetry as a living tradition, as something of continuing relevance and importance to the world at large. He wasn't satisfied with his own dialect, his own experience, his own land, his own local business: for him poetry engaged the whole world and the whole past and future; Dante & Homer & Spenser et al. were still living literary forces, spirits he encountered. Olson was right to argue that Pound was so tied to tradition and the past that it distorted his understanding of contemporary reality; but the weakness of Olson's technique, in comparison to Pound's, shows how much was lost by shrugging off Pound's vatic mantle.

6.02.2004

Focusing so much on poetry & painting these days, I should re-read Elizabeth Willis' Turneresque. I see Catherine Daly is working on a review.


         ...there
Everyone knows, serious life
Is elsewhere.
small world dept.: someone requested a copy of Nedge #4 yesterday. Someone in Senegal.
Of course, was reading BJ Leggett's fine book again today, Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory : the chapter dealing with what Stevens drew from Charles Mauron's book Aesthetics and Psychology, in particular the bit about the usefulness of obscurity:

the poem must resist the intelligence
almost successfully...


- which section pretty much contradicts everything I've been saying here. For Stevens, at least during a phase of his career, poetry opposes paraphrase and explanation... but I can't adequately paraphrase this excellent study right now...

"Resonance" and "Symbolism", Jonathan & Kent - they both seem relevant to the process I'm trying to outline. Resonance closer to Stevens, in that it has no implication of fixity of "image"; Symbolism - Yeats was clearly a symbolist of a sort - but the word seems too systematic, like allegory - for what I'm thinking of. Actually Greg's definition of "vision" seems about right.

The poem integrates its parts in such a way that they begin to resonate overtones of "symbolic" meaning, they are iconic pointers, aspects of a whole representation, with which the reader can identify or feel-with-affinity in several ways at once.
Such that a context is provided for individual images proper, or strings of imagery, which begin to echo in the reader's sensibility.

"Aura", writes Catherine... now that's hovering somewhere between resonance and vision!
I'm searching for an equivalent to the word "image" as applied to poetry, which is not limited to the sense of a visual picture or illustration.

What I'm thinking of is the way a poem indicates, points toward something, by way of suggestion or allusion or evocation. That "something" may be a physical thing or an idea; but what the poem does is offer a verbal embodiment or gesture or narrative.

In painting, the wholeness of an image is valued (the way the parts of a picture are subordinate to or supportive of an integrated whole): the painting projects a unified image, something the viewer can grasp as such.

If there is something similar in poetry, we would have a verbal embodiment as a kind of accessible or recognizable whole: there would be a substance (intellectual, sensible) imparted by the poem to the reader.

Some poems impart that substance purely through harmonics. That is, there may not be much of a visual element at all; the verbal formulation may be abstract and discursive; but the language may work through its harmonics to create this kind of embodiment, which I'm relating to the idea of "image". Sound, rhythm, and diction alone may create this harmonic envelope.

Yeats was very interested in this notion of poetic holism, the formation of images which are both exact and precise, on the one hand, and full of open implication, on the other, and the holism of the entire poem, and groups of poems (see good book by Engelberg[?], The Vast Design).

I'm interested in how "embodiment" - whether through actual visual images, or through allusive, evocative language - lends itself to natural vision & sensation, returning the poem to the ground of ordinary experience. A poem's finish or fitness would seem to have a lot to do with its capacity to transfer a complete embodiment or image from poem to reader.

And it seems that these concerns are not emphasized in poetry much these days : there's more focus on baroque distortions of diction and syntax, jarring juxtapositions or rhetorical exaggeration for effect (I know there's a term for this out there... - catachresis, I thought of it!), the dilemmas of undecideability. These all seem like surface phenomena. There's less focus on holistic embodiment and its transferences, and more on immediacy, shock, surprise.

6.01.2004

Various bloggers are coming down on the SF Chronicle review of Jeff Clark book. (Let me repeat once again that mocking a reviewer's own poetry is not a legitimate criticism of a review; rather than dealing with substance, this kind of attack is a form of ad hominem.)

The argument that an avant-garde is in a precarious position if there is no establishment to advance ahead of, seems to have some merit. I agree that poetry will always be making itself new; I disagree that avant-garde art & poetry will always be a conspicuous feature of every period. Rear-guard critics are mistaken in saying "you can't make anything new because newness has become the new cliche"; however, we should not ignore the fact that a big element of the avant-garde stance as we have known it consists in saying "you can't write like that anymore". The characteristic gesture of postmodernism is the shrug. Well, it's better than the finger-point, I guess. ("dry branches crackling")

Do HG's Poetics show any consistency? Since I'm aware that there are vast ranges of feeling & experience & speech which I'm not very good at writing about, I have to try to counteract that.

So when it's said that you can't write sonnets & sestinas anymore, I write those;
when it's said you can't write long obscure epics anymore, I write those;
when it's said you can't use rhyme & meter anymore, I use them;
when it's said you can't write free verse anymore, I do that;
when it's said you can't imitate Hart Crane, James Joyce, Ezra Pound & a Russian poet from the 20s all at once, I do that;
etc.

(John Berryman once described his poetry career as consistently doing the opposite of what everybody was supposed to be doing. I know what he meant.)

I'm working on short poems with simple clear diction & an interlocking, over-arching set of themes. Do I have any consistency? I'm interested in the integrity/harmoniousness of the image, the image as synthesis and correlation of parts, as yoking of opposites (spirit/nature, time/eternity, reality/dream), the image as cosmic building-block or integral structure, and the role of poetry as presenting versions of this cosmological reality, this harmoniousness. Despite the prosaic flatness of my own poems lately, I'm bored with self-indulgent, talky, oh-so-sophisticated discourse in poems; give me the well-turned, rounded image. As Wally Stevens puts it: "Imago. Imago. Imago." An old poem from 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 make your way, slow path
beyond the jealous decorations,
fever of scorn, offended pride,
dry branches crackling – a bonfire.
At the Byzantine exhibit I learned about "hesychasm" - a movement in the Orthodox Church of that era (12-1400s), which taught communion with God through contemplation. Hesychasm translates as: "quietude".
Had a great time riding the train to NY, looking out the window.

Rare moment, when your vision relaxes into what you see, you yourself sort of dissolve into the trees & iron structures & people on platforms, anonymous.

I really can't put this into words. Sort of calm seeing, sensing. Thought that maybe if angelic life exists, this is something like what it might be: this sort of calm-ecstatic interpenetration of point-of-view & things seen.
I have a little souvenir icon (glued on particle board, the kind of thing you might find in a museum gift shop), which Elena Shvarts sent me once. She said it's St. Michael (& that "he will protect me"), but the image is clearly derived from the great byzantine Angel Gabriel icon, which the Met is using on its catalogue cover (shown at the link below).

(Now I see it is Michael, though. He's holding a sword, rather than a red wand (as in the Gabriel icon), and "Archangel Michael" is written in cyrillic over the top. But the figure is definitely derived from the earlier icon.)
Saw the great Byzantium exhibition at the Met. Spent 4 hours there Saturday; had to go back Sunday (so much to see I got too tired before the end on Sat).

Don't feel up to commenting... anything I say will leave a hundred other things out.

Found the icons-within-icons room VERY interesting.

Also the strong contrast between the Byzantine art and the northern European painting (van Eyck, van der Weyden), despite the fact that the northerners were influenced by art works brought from Constantinople by the Crusaders (during their rule in Byzantium - the Latin Kingdom, 1200s). The Byzantine icons overwhelm you with their emotional immediacy; the Flemish masters distance the image somewhat, by means of, paradoxically, their realism. Van der Weyden's "St. Luke Painting the Virgin Mary" seems pivotal in marking that difference. It takes the earliest tradition (St. Luke himself was credited with the earliest drawings of the Virgin), and combines it with elements of realism, naturalism (such as the landscape in the background with tiny figures irrelevant to the religious image, ie. the man taking a leak against a wall; or the fact that the figure of St. Luke is a self-portrait of Van der Weyden) & reflexivity (there's a painting-within-the-painting: the sketch in Luke's hand).

I wrote a poem about this painting, posted here a couple weeks ago; it was great to see it in the Met show.

Many of the icons are beautiful in the extreme. Painted on chipped wood, like a form of folk art; amazing colors. Stunning miniature mosaics. Tremendous imagery (especially astonishing Russian icon of "Man of Sorrows" in black & white).