10.29.2004

It's Everywoman, Everyman. It's you, me, it's Berkeley in Paradise... the Son of Man, the Imago. It's All Souls' Eve (& Happy Halloween).
Emerson:

The Rhodora

On being asked, whence is the flower.

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.
We fuss & we bother about Poetry & Commerce. O the sorrows of the American Poet, the lost, the neglected... oooh....

It's been that way from the beginning. No one can explain how or why we happened upon the chewy verses of Edward Taylor, 250 years after he put them in his cupboard.

Art, nature's ape, hath many brave things done;
As the Pyramids, the Lake of Meris vast,
The pensile orchards built in Babylon,
Psammitch's labyrinth (art's cramping task),
Archimedes his engines made for war,
Rome's golden house, Titus his theater.

The clock of Strasbourg, Dresden's table sight,
Regsamount's fly of steel about that flew,
Turrian's wooden sparrows in a flight,
And th'artificial man Aquinas slew,
Mark Scaliota's lock and key and chain
Drawn by a flea, in our Queen Bettie's reign.


- from "Should I with Silver Tools Delve Through the Hill"

10.28.2004

take a look at the poem posted here on 10.24 ("Wind").

this is someone who grasps what form is for. to strain out wasted breath. to emphasize the music. reminds me of the exercises a singer performs, with voice & diaphragm - to purge slack noise, the untrained amateurish quavering, the dross. she has a very refined ear.
I love the style at the smoky loge.

Still, I find myself harboring reservations (do you take reservations?).

Something is wrong with the sour & stale critiques of the previous century. The oppositions underlined by Adorno, ornamented by Rasula - the notion that writing (poetry) stands opposed to exchange, the merely political notion of "canon" as elitism and exclusion - something missing here. & what's missing leads inexorably to JL's closing fantasies of an autotelic/invisible victim-poetics (the writer above the filling station).

Sure, there are truths in all this... but I say something's missing, something's left out...

First of all, the exchange binary. Works of art, poems, are BOTH inalienable labor and forms of exchange. They are exchanges of aesthetic-intellectual values. Of beauty, if you will - which cannot be divorced from ethics (ie. there is something you could call "moral beauty" : the just equilibrium of a humane civilization, the life-force, manifested in liberation from various forms of oppression).

The sullen hopelessness of much 20th-cent. critique is, of course, based on a sense of outraged moral value; the irony, parody, and refusals of the artists often draw from, rhyme with, or contribute to, the general intellectual critique. The trouble is, without hope, critique because an end in itself, becomes autotelic : and it then reads art in the mirror of its own refusals. Thus Adorno simply juxtaposes art and (commodity) exchange. But if art is also exchange, then the modernist claim of pure autonomy is not strictly true : intellectual/aesthetic exchange runs parallel in some way to general economic exchange.

Rasula's strictures against Western "canon" build on the same set of alienation-formulas. But to reduce canonization to a sociological mechanism actually deforms the role of artists themselves. My readings in Russian lit history bring this home very clearly. The artists themselves nurture and create the canons, not some theoretical pyramid of hierarchical society. Read Wachtel's book, noted here earlier, and watch how 200 years of Russian poetic tradition draws consciously on its own "canonical" roots. Listen to Brodsky:

"When I left school, when my friends quit work or college and started in on poetics, the people we read - and we read a lot - we chose by instinct, by intuition. We had no feeling that we were continuing any sort of tradition, or that we had any mentors or spiritual fathers, or anything like that. We were, if not the black sheep of the family, then orphans. And it is a marvelous thing when an orphan begins to sing in his father's voice."

Later.

Grand Fenwick worked out the PPP (Partisan Polarization Problem) ages ago. We delegated it to a two-headed turkey buzzard named Pindar.

10.27.2004

Halloween is coming.
Really interesting review by John Updike in this week's New Yorker of a new translation of the 5 Mosaic Books (by Robert Alter), in the course of which Updike talks about his own youthful encounter with the Bible. Also quotes two short passages from Auerbach's Mimesis, which felt (to me) like commentaries on my "Midnight Knock" travail.
Justice Bramhall writes (in an opinion lodged as part of his "tributary 2004" brief):

"I also wonder about the surety artists have about their own work and what it is 'doing'. as if intent (even as far as one can know one's own intent) translated directly to practice. "

The wonder of it all is what grows unexpectedly out of certain ambitions, intentions (or stubborn allegiances, habits). So in my own explanatory-para-poetics anthill, the labyrinth of meaning is always seen in retrospect. I'm surprised by what coheres.

So if you, expert legal surveyor, go over here to Alephoebooks & re-read the two adjacent panels ("Midnight Knock" & the trip-to-London/sonnet fandango), I think you will agree with me that there is a kind of rhyme linking a manic "Shakespeare episode" in the mid-70s, a wayward rock n'roll adventure of the same period, and a NY-Schoolish/Berrymanish/Shakespearish sonnet-gumbo sequence written over 20 years later. In other words, the focus on Shakespeare doesn't go away, but it gets filtered through the lens of a much later time in life.

Did I plan this then, intentionally? No. Not guilty.

10.26.2004

Jack Kimball has his own lit-industry schtick going. Clearly aspires to write for Newt Gingrich's mag, Manlyfesto. I'd take him down too, wipe the mat with him just like I do with Silliman, except, if I did that, he might make fun of me. What a world we live in today. That's why they founded Grand Fenwick, you know.
I've been using Ron Silliman's blog as a scratchpost since the inception of this here blog. I guess it reveals my own limitations more than anything else. My shallow/tunnel-vision perspective on both Blog- & Poetry-World. It's all Silliman's fault(! - just kiddin'!) because he sets himself up as genial Yertle, master of all he surveys, and because that brings out a rivalrous argumentative attitude. He's a foil for my own ostentatious litter-hysterical narrative.

Also, I read him as one of the spokespeople for the literature industry In Our Time. But he's only one, & I shouldn't pick on him alone so much.

HG Poetics stands (in Grand Fenwick) on the following bedrock principle: Literature is Not an Industry. Don't ask me to explain this. OK, I will explain. Poetry (aka Fenwickana arcana) is the escape from everything that is not-literature (including industry, business, publishing, success, failure, getting-along, making a living, eating, sleeping, networking, and so on).

Industry is Sleep.

10.25.2004

& everywhere this Love comes home to me!
as every island road leads to the sea.
I took Pushkin the cat for a walk in the back yard, in harness... poor cat. He has been in too many cat fights, &,& is getting too expensive (poor cat). Anyway, I thought I would mention a predicament.

They have no music, the receptors.

They are enamour'd of the pretense & the sophism. They have no music, I reckon.

If they redden themselves into the sound, the singalong hopalong sound, they might hear something.

But they have no music, though tho' th'receptors are constantly convening (receptions).

Happy Halloween from the KC Moaners Posted by Hello

jug band Posted by Hello

Jim Chapin, music man (not the schtick variety) Posted by Hello

Colette Fournier, Jim Chapin, & me: the KC Moaners Posted by Hello
Over the weekend, the Grand Fenwick Poetry Reception Grand Council held its annual "Reception Council Reception", on the lavish spread known as Duchess Vilkommen Park, under particolored tents.

What is the GFPRGC, you ask? You, perky young visitor to this little "Window on the Duchy" of mine? The GFPRGC is a venerable association of associations, actually actually, founded in 1439, after the last in a long (endless, actually actually) line of Potage Family Laureates passed on to that big old Fenwick in the sky. After the Potages, no one was quite sure how poetry should be "received", when it appeared (unaccountably, as always, like a mild burp in the serene ruminative digestive process of Duchy animal husbandry). So a group of ministerial minstrels got together and founded the Grand Council in the middle of the night, after one of those famous middle-night Middle-Ages roustabout binges, among the tankards and tank bellies & the frog legs, you know what I mean.

Well, the Grand Council of Duchy Poetic Receiving (as it is also sometimes known) has solved all that & related problems, thank heaven. Now, when a little book of poetry appears, someone from the Council is always ready to "receive" it, digest it, regurgitate it if necessary, and tell everyone within ear or arrow-shot of its sparky "existence", so to speak. This, in the long run, assists mightily with the calendrical adjustments of cultural get-togethers & events in the Duchy, since, if no one "received" poetry when it appeared, no one would know the proper protocol for entertaining the author (slap on back? slap in face?), or even more important, where & when to announce their impending or positive author-ship.

Thank goodness we have a thing like the Grand Council! Thank heavens we have a Duchy! Thanks all around, everybody!

10.24.2004

Anna Akhmatova was more intelligent & informed than either of these Americans.
The only & great battle in American art has always been between originality & tradition.

Maybe because America (USA) was the most successful & 1st really self-liberated colony.

This is probably why poetry in America has had so many problems. It wants to best the masters of the past, and at the same time it also wants to sing from the beginning of Time, from the veritable New World.

Thus we have TSE and WCW.

Stevens was probably the most intelligent & subtle of the 20th-cent Am. poets, because he took Keats as his model. Keats was the one who found a balance - an equilibrium - between tradition & origination; Keats was the one who bested Milton, not through Vision (Blake) & not through Wisdom (Wordsworth) but through sheer Lyric (music). & Keats wasn't even American!

Eliot was even more intelligent & subtle; but then Eliot was a professional literary man. Stevens was just an amateur.

10.23.2004

Wachtel's study of Russian verse, mentioned yesterday, makes it clear that even the Futurists, despite their brash gleeful revo-destroyo attitude, worked & re-worked their own craft basis, by means of response to powerful & popular works of the past (see his comments on Kruchenyk's re-do of Pushkin's ballad "The Black Shawl", in his language-game verse crime novel, The Brigand Vanka Kain and Sonka the Manicurist).

I'm feeling shrifted & shifted this morning. Thinking back to Hotel Point comments also noted yesterday (last paragraph of his Friday post).

No one can destroy poetry. But are we ruining it & spoiling it (or just missing it) by too much glib talk? The emphasis is on creating unique & exceptional alternative verbal spaces. Should it be, rather, on practice that tries to reach for the essential, the central, the paradigmatic (through careful engagement with tradition-as-craft)? Such does not necessarily have to be "serious" in a ponderous way (as poets like Kruchenyk show). But the power, the acoustic magnitude, of the communicative instruments of poetry - just as in music - depends on refinement, exactitude, and careful listening.

10.22.2004

here's a nice verbal nod to that pre-verbal gesture, the schticky prestidigitation of the musical hand (swiped from here):

His handpalm lifted, his handshell cupped, his handsign pointed, his handheart mated, his handaxe risen, his handleaf fallen. Helpsome hand that holemost heals! What is het holy! It gested. (Finnegans Wake)
by the way, dear Emperor Jonathan, I don't think one should reduce Berryman's "Mr. Bones" interlocutor in the Dream Songs to "music hall schtick". I know some poets & readers take offense at that particular black-talk imitation, but I think the offense is misplaced. Berryman's alter ego is not a subaltern, but a function of his conscience. Clearly, no one should accept the notion that African-American identity is limited to white Americans' imaginary constructs or fantasies about same. But it is mistaken (and uncharitable) to discount those constructs as merely - inevitably - empty, worthless or malign. They can be ironic, critical representations of cultural landscapes & relations, at certain points in history.

This is obviously a "vexed issue", a controversy, within the general heat of cultural politics, and I don't claim to have the final answer.

I think it could be argued that Stubborn Grew takes the representation - the "schtick", if you will - of submerged (oppressed) conscience, and makes it pivotal to the plot. Some intrepid scholar might want to dig into the sources of this - such as (even more than Berryman) Melville's "counter-Bible of the cosmic castaway", Moby-Dick (cf. Olivia Sachs' weird, hard-to-find Melville study, Game of Creation).
Schtick (impersonations) perhaps a sub-kitty of parody. & parody a big part of imitation, of listening & re-doing. Getting this from study of Russian metrical forms, how they migrate & transmogrify through particular poems (Michael Wachtel, Development of Russian Verse, Cambridge UP 1998). (Looking at how painters take from other painters illuminates what poets do, sometimes.)

I don't agree with Rasula, here (today). We are not simply a-swim in language. Feel very strongly about the pre-verbalized gesture, the motive, which in-forms & flavors the actual compost. & this has to do with theme & purpose, which are trans-literary (in the sense I suggested a couple days ago speaking of "cultural politics"). But I like the last paragraph & its question in Hotel post of today.
Hello again from Grand Fenwick, the molten core of world poetics. Here even the grasshoppers are fledgling poets. There's an old saying in Fenwick:

"When the grasshoppers do their cricket schtick, November is upon us."

How poetic can you get.

This morning, as I was out with Gee-Whee & Guppy for our morning (not-so-strict-constructionist) constitutional around Pond Pond, I noticed Bon-Bon Billiman also perambulating, with his new friend, Private Mayhew. Bon-Bon was looking intently down at the marsh grass, muttering something like "peanut butter is not a poetics". Then I noticed a dark-haired woman in a trenchcoat, unobtrusively tailing them. I think it was Marion the Librarian.

TO BE CONTINUED....!!!

10.21.2004

THE EXPOSITION OF MARION THE LIBRARIAN (copyrighted. any abuse, misuse, refuse, or booze in relation to the following will be prosecuted to the full extent of the public stocks in the public square of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.)

A schtick is not a poetics.

This brief declarative sentence appeared, without further explanation, on the Bemsha Swing blog of poet, scholar, translator, jazz drummer, & inhabitant of Kansas, Jonathan Mayhew, yesterday.

This gnomic admonition cries out for interpretation and analysis. As author of the phd. dissertation "Genesis and Pratfall : the Poetics of Schtick in the Infernal Landscapes of Milton's Paradise Lost" (Harvard Univ., 1986), and presently municipal Librarian of River City, Iowa, I feel appropriately situated for such an endeavor.

We have learned, since the advent of historical-material-nosediggin methodologies, to approach text in context. Paradise Lost was not composed in a vacuum: it was orated verbally by one John Milton, specific middle-class London person, to his three specific daughters, Hepzibah, Pepzibah & Zepzibah, on a specific day, in a specific week, in a specific room, of a specific house, in a specific England - about none of which specifics, unfortunately, we have any specific information. Fortunately, however, we know much more about the schtick-poetics contextual nexus in question.

We understand that the issue taken up at Bemsha Swing has nothing to do with the poetics of schtick (the techniques, methodologies, and philosophies of composition of the specific types of tomfoolery, trickery, "routines" and impersonations, folded under the umbrella (the trick umbrella) of "schtick". Rather, Governor Mayhew is voicing a limit-rubric, a critique, a boundary-value, with respect to the philosophy of poetic composition. General Mayhew is asserting that schtick as we know it is an insufficient basis for a true praxis-oriented poetics.

There. We feel better now.

Now I would like to turn to a brief remark made by Lieutenant Mayhew in the Comment Box of a post yesterday at HG Poetics. Here Officer Mayhew states: "Take away Chaplin's pliant cane and hat, and he'd still be Chaplin." This little offhand remark actually drills toward the nub of the ambiguities swirling around schtick-poetics. Just as Chaplin does not exist, in any actual Chaplin mode we know of, without the totality of his performative acts - in fact, without his acts, Chaplin probably goes by a given name different from "Chaplin"! - just as Chaplin-&-his-schtick present a symbiosis of Person-In-Action or an apotheosis-disappearance of Person-Into-Creative-Act : so the Poet, and The-Poet-as-we-Knoet, is indivisible from the performative acts by which he-she embodies creative vocation.

Thus a poetics of Impersonation, of Echo & Mimicry, is none other than the biological imperative, encapsulated in the dance of the Bower-Bird of Tango-Nika, or the chortlings of the Chortle-Bird of Irkutzk; and the boingy schtick of Chaplin is no different from the squiggly phallic-Hermetic Stick of the Lame Oedip-Orpho-Burpic Shaman of the wilds of Northern Cressida, in Thessaly, O Child of Dionysos!!!

Now as Kernel Bramhall pointed out, a poet's (as opposed to a critic's, or a boll weevil's) poetics follows, rather than precedes, the work itself. A poetics is an armature, an adjunct, a trace, an emulsion, an extra walnut. As such, a poetics can indeed fold itself recursively (see my study, Nonlinear Dynamic Systems and Time Travels with Loch Nessie in the Poetry of Robbie Burns) back into the poetry itself, and in so doing, that is, in folding back into itself, folding, as I say, fold upon fold, so to speak, back, itself into, poetry, poetry can, fold, folding, folded, make creative use of poetics; but this granular-recursive aspect should not be understood in any other than a quarky way, that is, as a part, not a whole, of the performative array or implosion known as poetic crystallization. (For more information, fold here and throw yourself into River City! If you've got the moxie to step outside of Grand Fenwick for once in your lazy lives, laddies!)
I was walking Gee-Whee's little dog Guppy this morning (since Gee-Whee's ankle is still tangled up in fishline) around old Pond Pond. The leaves was turning on the poplars there, the sky were a shade of Fenwickian opal, and all's right with Grand Fenwick - when suddenly I noticed a stranger perched on a rock by the shore, with long black hair, and black-rimmed glasses, and trenchcoat, studying what appeared to be some sort of portable computer-gadget.

I introduced myself, and Guppy, and she said, "Oh, you must be Henry of HG Poetics. I've just been reading your blog. I'm Marion - Marion the Librarian. From River City, Iowa."

"Iowa..."

"USA. Across the ocean from here."

"USA...hmm..."

"Let's just say, from a different Broadway show. But I'm glad to meet you. I'm doing some graduate work on the poetics of schtick, and was just amazed to read Jonathan Mayhew's comment, on his blog - where he says, 'A schtick is not a poetics.' This is precisely my field. I'd like to unpack his remark, if you don't mind, & see what you think."

"Unpack..."

"Analyze."

I sat down gingerly beside Marion upon the huge puddingstone outcrop (puddingstone eruptions are rather common throughout GF, by the way - geologically speaking, of course).

"Marion, I'm all ears."

TO BE CONTINUED

10.20.2004



Big Game tonight in Grand Fenwick. Go Twins!
A schtick is not a poetics? I say thee nayhew, Mayhew. A schtick is a pliant cane.

And yet these fine collapses are not lies
More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane;
Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise.
We can evade you, and all else but the heart:
What blame to us if the heart live on.

The game enforces smirks; but we have seen
The moon in lonely alleys make
A grail of laughter of an empty ash can,
And through all sound of gaiety and quest
Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.

- Hart Crane, "Chaplinesque"


Henry, right in the middle of morning troop exercises, sights "stone fallen from heaven". Bon-Bon, beside him, is unimpressed.
Gee-Whee & Bon-Bon were down at the Boathouse this morning, where Gee-Whee was trying to untangle some fishing line that had gotten snarled around his little dog Guppy's ankle, & Bon-Bon was taking notes on the bat colony under the roof (hoping that the geometrical arrangement of sleeping bats might help him organize his catalogue system for reading the 1700 types of poetry he had identified on his sagging bookshelf). As they worked at their respective chores, they had a little chat about Henry's latest "post" on his "blog", which was getting a lot of attention around the world (the world of Grand Fenwick, that is).

BB: These bats seem to form some sort of nonlinear dynamic pattern... a pattern which I can't see from here.

GW: & I can't get this darn knot untied, either.

BB: Did you read Henry's blog this morning? He doesn't sound like his old art for art's sake effete self. He's contradicting himself. He's saying literature is a social construct, or something like that.

GW: Are you getting jealous, Bon-Bon? That he won the 2002 Litter Medal?

BB: Why should I be jealous? I won it myself in 2003! We rotate the medal, you know, Gee-Whee. This year is Baldwin's turn. Henry gets it again in 2005. Nothing to be jealous about. No, I was just surprised.

GW: You needn't be, B-B. Look more closely at what he wrote. He didn't say that literature was determined by social forces, "cultural politics". He said that "literary POLITICS", not literature per se, is determined by culture.

BB: Sounds like a mere quibble; a putative, ostensible distinction; without substance, however.

GW: Remember, Henry is a disciple of OSIP MANDELSHTAM. M. maintained a distinction between poetry and what he called "literature", or "official literature". The authoritarian nature of Soviet government brought home to him, with absolute clarity, the coercive power of cultural politics. Poetry, on the other hand, was "a stone fallen from heaven", free from determinism of any sort. M.'s "poetry" equals Henry's "literature"; M.'s "literature" equals Henry's "cultural politics".

BB: this dual-use term "literature" is awfully confusing, Gee-Whee.

GW: Literary politics, sez H., is a kind of faulty hearing, a white noise (likely caused by ear-wax), a listening which is actually a sounding-off, a yelling, a badgering. Literary politics is the aggressive self-assertion of cultural politics, dressed in the masks & get-up of art. Literary politics latches onto the free constellations of artistic imagination and integrity like a leech, like a parasitical growth.

BB: This is why, here in Grand Fenwick, we have the annual Fenwick-Failieure Medal Award for Litter. The calm annual triune circling of that honor amongst the three of us, Balwin, Henry, & Bon-Bon, serves to protect the august autonomy of Literature from any taint of venal interest.

GW: I'm so happy to hear that, Bob-Bon.

[Clumping sound along dock outside boathouse.]

Henry [peering down into boathouse]: Hey fellows - has anyone seen my copy of Rod & Reel?
this is new to me. I wonder if Poland is somewhere near Grand Fenwick. I wonder if anything is somewhere near Grand Fenwick.

10.19.2004

The Weekly Fenwick Fenestration

Today's fenestration demonstration opens a window on What is Literature?

1. Cultural politics (how we live together) determines literary politics. Not in a linear-Marxist way, but simply because most literary efforts express the experience & viewpoints & opinions of particular social groups. Literature is not strictly defined by cultural identity, but the latter is certainly a big influence. The most valuable literature offers a critical & evaluative reflection of exactly such concrete backgrounds.

2. Literary politics, & literature itself, consists, mostly, of masks, protective coloring, camouflage, and illusion. It is cultural politics (relatively less-mediated, relatively direct personal experience) - not literary politics - which moves, challenges, frightens, inspires, motivates people. Literary politics is generally an escape from & compensation for cultural politics.

3. To speak of mainstream vs. avant-garde literature is to refer to an imaginary divide within a sphere of literary production which represents, on the whole, an extremely narrow band of prior cultural politics. To dwell on this supposed schism is to displace the pressure of real experience, of real cultural-political dilemmas and schisms.

4. The motor of the narrative sequence, the plot, of the poem Stubborn Grew - the Guide, the Hermetic psychopomp, the "Virgil" to the narrator's "Dante" - appears to be a ghostly voodoo Native/African-American possibly gay half-crazed possibly ex-con street person (Bluejay). He guides "Henry" throught the bowels & rear of the "whited sepulchre", the Atheneum, a building representing cultural "establishment" (supported, paradoxically, on the pillars of the infernal literary pride of Poe & Pound) - echoing Virgil's guidance of Dante through the anus of Satan.
reading a little JH Prynne for the 1st time(!) - hear unexpected reminder of Eshleman's Vallejo translations (Human Poems : sound of abject impoverished man gone wild, reciting from discarded Science Dictionary).


Here I am, receiving the Fenwick-Failieure Medal for Litter in 2002 (the award goes to the most passive-aggessive librarian who has not published in a major unknown possibly-invisible or non-existent foreign non-Fenwickian serious journal or book in the year in question (in this case, 2002)). (Bob-Bon Billiman was judge that year. We rotate that duty amongst the three of us, I mean the three retired poetic librarians still residing - that is, still breathing - in the Duchy.))
The weather has been lovely in Grand Fenwick this season. Golden leaves drifting over the fragrant blogs, the scent of odors, the odor of scents... Poet, journalist, avocado, & true Fenwickian Bon-Bon Billiman has jetted his sprightly communiques on a regular basis for the hectorization of yeoman & yo-yo-woman alike, both here at home & hither & yon (our neighbor Gee-Whee McPhilterffed told me yesterday that there are indeed seven separate nations to the east of Fenwick, beyond the Widget Mountains! This is news to me!). Lately Bob-Bon has taken to expatiating on the grand vastness of poetic production in the world these days; he uses a special method which he himself devised (while fishing for squealers last June in Bloggy Pond) to sort incoming male & female poetries into 1700 categories, starting with Readable & ending with Unreadable. We wish Bob-Bon all the best with this new venture! He has often complained (in good-naturely Fenwickian fashion, of course) of the lack of public attention given to Small Press Poetries, of the general lackadaisickal quality of the School of Soporificism, and other hobby horses which, truth to tell, only he can explain apodictically. (Now if you know what that word means, you are probably a visitor with us! Welcome to Grand Fenwick! Here you will find lots of people who love to talk about poetry!)
Yikes. The knives are out in po-blogland. Must be election season. Sure glad I'm not a 50-yr-old-passive/aggressive-librarian failed poet! I'm 52! Nyah-nyah!

10.17.2004

Oh, to have a reader... this is a sweet thing. I THINK I have a few more copies of this chapbook; if you're reading this, & want one, email me (Henry_Gould@brown.edu).

10.16.2004

Reading:

Orhan Pamuk's novel, Snow (set in Turkish provincial town).

Also, Joseph Brodsky's essay, Flight from Byzantium. (My birthday is 5/29 - "Black Wednesday" - day Constantinople fell in 1453. My daughter Phoebe was born on 5/11 - day the city was founded by Constantine.)

Also, interesting New Yorker essay (this week's) by Nicholas Lehmann, on Bush.

Bush seems a little like a Roman emperor: he imprints his (Texan-plutocrat-quirky) personality on the world. The choice is not simply pro or con, elephant or donkey. I'm trying to think about him as if I were Marvell thinking about Cromwell, or Virgil about Caesar Augustus.

Civilization & Nature run deeper than the polarities harped upon by our 2 political parties. Stand back & take a deep breath.

I'm deep Minnesota, deep old New England.

10.15.2004

Reading Ron Silliman's blog. Ron's poetic seems to stand on a series of dichotomies:

political right vs. left
traditionalist poetry vs. experimental
conservative religious culture vs. Enlightenment neo-modernism
new formalism vs. post-avant
mainstream vs. oppositional poetries
"School of Quietude" vs. "post-Language"


(some of these are different terms for the same thing.)

He writes today about reconstructing a non-totalitarian modernism as a basis, it seems, for contemporary aesthetics/poetics.

It seems to me that what these dichotomies tend to do (& I've said this before) is fortify a system of barriers between poetry as oppositional subculture, and the public at large. In this schema, the most advanced, self-conscious aesthetics appears to be a neo-modernist autotelic space - free, self-determining & politically resistant.

I think it's fair to say this is a pretty common perspective among the experimentalists of recent decades.

I don't want to try to challenge this viewpoint today (at least any more than I already have). I only want to say, again, how forcefully it strikes me, that my trajectory in poetry for the past 30 years seems to deny or negate these dichotomies. I'm the conjunction of Ron's opposites. I'm the neo-modernist post-avant left-aesthete's worst nightmare.

10.14.2004



I started this wild memoir jag back on Oct. 7th, after posting an image of the young Vladimir Nabokov. So I'm ending it with an image of Will Shaksper. The 2 of them share a birthday, April 23rd. This is the English National Day, I think; traditionally St. George's Day, patron saint of both England & Russia.

(I was born on May 29th, which is Restoration Day (or Oak Tree Day) in England.)
There have been thousands of loony ideas about Shakespeare, down through the ages. There are & have been millions of confused & troubled young people, who take themselves & their own visions too seriously. Granted, my grandiose adventure with the ghost of WS & the sound of the Sonnets, 35 years ago, has its farcical & pathetic aspects.

What has stayed with me, though, and continued to influence my direction in life, is something in the complexity of the total experience which I tried to relate here. Not so much the obsession with the Sonnets, but the way Shakespeare & the Bible turned into an interior agon, like a remake of an old morality play, God & the Devil struggling for a soul. Not so much my megalomania, but the way that "synchronicity" & coincidences (& I am not merely imagining the "knock on the door", at midnight, as I was on my knees overwhelmed by the Faust story; nor am I simply inventing the "voice," which I felt was emerging somehow from my chest) seemed to reinforce the sensation I had that I was living out some paradigmatic drama.

I think what I'm trying to tell here, or want to tell here, or have been telling here, over the past week or so, is a poet's story. Allen, over here, wrote today about the social economy of American poetry, and the sense of being out of the networks, out of the loop. My feeling has been for quite a while that it's very hard to generalize about all that. There are too many groups & group labels, which are nothing but shortcuts (or short-circuits) for apprehension, response & evaluation. I would want to emphasize the uniqueness of each poet's path & approach, as well as the individuality, the originality, of a genuine critic's responses & discoveries.

& I feel like boasting, too. I feel like saying that my work & my example & presence are just too much for the "arbiters" & the systems to handle. Too much of a challenge to the popular aesthetic theories, the networks, the sacred cows, & the ingrained predilections. So there, I'm boasting. But it's futile & counter-productive! A cul-de-sac. I can only keep putting it out there & wait for somebody (like the 2 AB's!) to listen.

10.13.2004

After returning to the US from my year in London, I went back to school, finally (3 yrs later), to finish my senior year. The hangover from my wanderings, a combination of scruples & exhaustion, led me to a new, somewhat firmer renunciation of literature. I needed to do something social & impersonal. At Brown I did a year's independent study of local RI agriculture, and after graduation, I turned a small health food store near campus into a food cooperative (this is a very Minnesota thing, by the way).

5 years later, in the early '80s, my life was quite different. I was married, a parent, a VISTA volunteer working with community organizations in downtown Providence.

Gradually, too, I had been developing what was, for me, a somewhat new approach to poetry. The charismatic-ecstatic-egotistical adventures of the 70s were in a sense projected, vicariously, onto the sacrificial-paradigmatic career of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam. I had happened upon a volume of his work (Selected Poems, trans. David McDuff; NY: FSG, 1973) & liked it immediately, which led me to his wife Nadezhda's 2-vol set of memoirs (Hope Against Hope; Hope Abandoned). & this led me back to other poets, with renewed interest: Anna Akhmatova, Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, Eugenio Montale, Ezra Pound...

How to describe my new sense of what poetry was about? I would say I was developing a perspective in which poetry was, as Stevens calls it, "the sanction of life". How so?

I began to think of poetry as a mode of communication which represents, better than any other verbal mode, the actuality of things and experience. What gives poetry this special role is its creative/aesthetic self-sufficiency, its reflexivity. Because poetry is "good in itself", because its language is not simply a delivery-system for something else, but a (partial) end in itself - as such, therefore, poetry reflects or shines forth the "glory" of reality, its inner creative meaning, its character as "creation".

I began to identify with the sacred/sacrificial, the incarnational quality of the vocation itself, as embodied in the lives, and the exalted claims, of poets like Mandelstam, Celan, Dante, Whitman, Crane.

So the hermetic-ekphrastic imagery of Mandelstam & Celan fascinated me, as different expressions of this kind of claim. So the "authoritative", communal poetics of the long poem began to absorb my interest through the 1980s and early 90s, and many experiments in writing followed.

& maybe one can glimpse how my playing with the "incarnational", with the name of Berryman's "Henry", fit into this development out of both the adventures of the 70s and the deeper reading of the 80s.

But does any of this make an impression, relate in any way, to the literary history of American poetry & poetics of those same decades? Where does a poem like this fit in to the "canon"?
Again, this poem seems like the clearest summation of the tumultuous travels just described here.

10.12.2004

I've copied the Shakespeare-encounter saga over to AlephoeBooks, with the sections in numerical order.

Relentless caper for all those who step
The legend of their youth into the noon
.

[p.s. 5.21.07 : since deleted from Alephoebooks]

10.11.2004

5

I'm not making this up; my little traveling clock read midnight. I got up, shaking and quivering; I went to the door, yelling "This is the bravest thing I've ever done!" I thought Satan had come for me. I was raving mad.

It was the dorm advisor, Prof. Arnold Weinstein. Someone had notified him of my condition and asked him to check on me. I asked him, "are you related to Alexander Weinstein, up in Boston (old family friend, retired geneticist at Harvard)?" "Why, yes, he's my brother," Arnold Weinstein replied. He invited me down to his apartment to talk. (As it turned out, Arnold's brother was another Alex W. in Boston.) I thought, later, that God, rather than delivering me to the Devil, had brought me a "winecup" (Weinstein).

My panic subsided, but my paranoia was not over. On the advice of school officials, it was decided I should go home for a few days (classes hadn't even started yet), and speak to a psychiatrist. I agreed to this, but was secretly afraid that in my absence, Harry Howe would break into my room and steal my poems! Over the next few days in Minneapolis, I devised a terrible test. While convincing the psychiatrist that I was OK, I was secretly plotting & calculating what I had to do. (When I showed the doctor one of my recent poems, which was a narrative about the Hamilton/Burr duel, not very flattering with regard to Burr, I was surprised at his response. He said, "Well, actually, I'm a direct descendant of Aaron Burr.")

You have to understand that, to my mind, the fate of the world was at stake. I was living in a realm of spiritual forces, not everyday common sense. I went and bought a revolver. If (and only if: this was a weird sort of test of my own paranoia), when I returned at Brown, Harry had stolen my poems, I would shoot him and myself. ("Religious gunman", indeed - cf. Crane's "For the Marriage of Faustus & Helen".)

On my last night in Minneapolis, I was overcome with sadness. I felt myself regressing to a childhood state. In my basement room, I lay on my bed, weeping. I remember so clearly, my father coming downstairs that night, laying his hand on my forehead, telling me gently that everything would be all right.

Early the next morning, as I was waking up, I had the strangest experience of all.

Just as I was waking, I "heard" a voice. It was coming from my chest, from my heart. It was not my own. It was reciting the Lord's Prayer. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

I was feeling more calm and peaceful; nevertheless, the gun was in my suitcase. Arriving back at Brown, I discovered, to my relief, that no one had broken into my room. I threw the gun in the Providence River.

For a few weeks, I tried to resume classes as usual. But it was impossible for me. In early November I packed my bag, took my guitar, threw away my record collection(!), and headed out into the country.
4

Harry Howe was a classmate of mine; a fellow poet, also a sculptor. He was old Boston, with a deeper literary education than mine (Eliot, Lowell, etc.); but he took to admiring what I wrote and encouraging me. He was tall, favoring heavy riding boots & black outfits, liked to carry an iron rod around as a walking stick. Really a gentle person, there was something a little intimidating about his violent persona & attitudes. (It was with Harry & his girlfriend, a RISD sculptor named Marcia Pels, that I heard John Ashbery - my hero then, in my glorious freshman year - read his poetry, up at Amherst.)

The next phase of my breakdown was paranoia. I suddenly took the notion that Harry would steal my new poems, and through them, HE would become this worldly-literary-deceiver - would hold the demonic place that I so vainly had thought was intended for me - the Antichrist!

I spent a few days trying to destroy all evidence of my work, so that this would not happen! I went to Edwin Honig's home and practically ransacked his study for the poems, without success. His wife said he was up in Boston. Immediately I hopped a bus and, merely on a hunch, headed for the Grolier Bookstore. On my arrival, the redheaded owner told me Edwin was due there in a half an hour. I sat down to wait. When he appeared, with another professor, I poured out my tale, weeping, panicky. Where were those poems? Edwin, kind & patient, assured me they would be returned. He and his friend ended up having their dinner with me, at a local medical clinic, where they had taken me. After I calmed down somewhat, they saw me off to the bus back to Providence. (I've never forgotten Edwin's graciousness that day.)

That night, waves of anxiety and exhaustion washed over me. My heart was pounding; I was near total collapse. I thought to myself : I am Faust; I have lost the spiritual battle. Around midnight, I knelt down by my cot & prayed to God to forgive me, to protect me. At the stroke of midnight, there was a knock on my door.
3

Thrilling, frightening, fantastic (ridiculous, too) - the next few days would change me forever. All the symptoms were there: hyper-manic energy, megalomania, paranoia... - and something else, like a thread through the maze.

For my senior year, I had a dorm room of my own. On the first day there, right after unpacking, I flopped down on the bed and thought, "why not?" I picked up my copy of the Sonnets. It was as if, with my self-confidence and equilibrium somewhat restored, I was challenging the Bard to a duel - daring him to throw me again.

Will won; I lost. Slowly, gradually, as I read the melodious lines, it began happening once again, this time even more powerfully. It was as though the ghost of Shakespeare were hovering there as I read those sonnet-epistles addressed directly to me. Suddenly I was filled with a sense of manic power, poetic "fury", "divine afflatus". This was an hour of destiny. Will was the Bard of England; I would be his counterpart, the Genius of America!

Over the next few (sleepless) days and nights, I tried to prove my hunch in verse. I wrote long rhymed & metered (never having bothered with that before!) historical narratives; I began a series of 50 poems on the 50 states... and as soon as I had typed them up, I fired them off in the mail, or delivered them to friends and teachers (Prof. Edwin Honig, in particular). I was in a manic state: every thought was crystalline, clear, yet each one hit me like a sledgehammer.

Suddenly, in the midst of this, a sort of pendulum swung. I began to remember lines from the Bible. Ecclesiastes, in particular. And I saw that youth, the second one, and he was lord over all the people. And this, too, is a striving after wind.

I stopped in my tracks. A kind of Manichean duality took hold. Suddenly I saw myself in a Faustian light. What was poetry, but worldly vainglory? What was this Bardic "spirit", but demonic delusion? It was as though the high ground, the pinnacle I had ascended, was instantly swept away beneath my feet. The fright of hell & Satan took hold, gripped me.

I began racing about, trying to retrieve my poems, as a new wave of panic arrived.
2

The next 9 months were a gestation period for what proved to be a far more intense crisis. My memories of the time are sparse. I know that all through those first few years at college, I puzzled over the conundrum of the poet's role & vocation - the riddle of my future.

I don't remember exactly when I started reading the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, whether it was during that spring semester ('73), or later that summer. I do know I was reading it steadily, beginning to end, during the 5-6 weeks I spent with my brother Jim, working on a ranch in a remote section of Wyoming. After a strenuous day of haybaling, I would stretch out in the bunkhouse we shared with the rancher's feisty 14-yr old son, & read & read.

Looking back on it now, I think that the Bible compensated for my drought of literary reading over the previous several months. I was fascinated with it; I found the long saga's poetry/history/mystery utterly compelling. The Bible was not completely foreign to me, since I'd been brought up in the Episcopalian church; but it had been many years since my confirmation meant anything to me. Now I was soaking up the Good Book through my pores. Three literary effects come to mind as central then: the moral force, the sense of demand that runs through the Mosaic Books, the prophets, the New Testament; the sheer drama of some of the storytelling; and finally, the "chronicle" aspect - the sense that, spun & garbled as it might be, the Bible is a record of vast, so-ancient events.

I went back to school in September, to begin my senior year, feeling invigorated & newly-confident after my summer outdoors in Wyoming. Then the real crisis struck.
Kent Johnson sent a query to the comment-box of the previous post. I deleted it along with some ill-considered responses of my own, but it got me thinking about the "Shakespeare event" of 1973, a pivotal crisis in my life. So I'd like to try to address his question somewhat, and at the same time provide some context, as I see it, to that experience. I think I will have to do this in a sequence of posts. In the meantime, the "hypertext" Island Road post, below, has teleported over to my warehouse/distribution center, AlephoeBooks, for those who would like continued quick access to it (AlephoeBooks doesn't scroll so fast as HG Poetics).

So here goes.

1

In the fall of 1972, I was a junior at Brown Univ. Those were the heady days of "curricular reform", and I took full advantage of the lack of required courses, choosing mostly creative writing classes. In my freshman year, I won 3 literary contests offered by the English Dept., and had my first chapbook published. That was exciting. Of course, the war in Vietnam was on. I had applied for conscientious objector status, which angered & worried my father. But I had the student deferment, & got a high draft number. So I was lucky, and I didn't push my "objector" status to any substantial act of protest.

In those days, I think you could say I was on the edge of manic depression. I was often gloomy and withdrawn, shy of human contact. One romance had already ended, another was in trouble; the "sexual revolution" and my feelings of guilt & dislocation were in jarring contrast. On top of this, my writing was not going so well. My sophomore year was far more difficult than the previous one. I had, seemingly, already played out a sort of happy-go-lucky NY School (award-winning) persona; I was reading a lot of heavy-duty "masters" (Stevens, Rilke, et al.) and feeling unsure of myself.

In early December of that year, my cousin Juliet jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. I took this very hard. My own sense of psychological balance was fragile.

Later that month, I picked up Shakespeare's Sonnets for the first time. Suddenly I had the strangest sensation, totally new to me, simultaneously frightening & exhilarating. I thought that, by some unknown process, utterly anachronistic, Shakespeare was addressing me personally. The sonnets to the Young Man were written to me.

I'm fully aware that the literary history of responses to the Bard is chock full of eccentric episodes (such as Prof. Looney's theories of authorship, & far beyond). Even as it was happening, the irrationality of my experience was shocking to me. And shortly thereafter, I renounced poetry altogether. In a sense, this first "Bard episode" was the culmination of a downward spiral of depression. Dimly, I recognized the manic nature, the compensatory aspect, of my response to the Sonnets. I changed my major to History, and signed up for a completely "unliterary" spring semester.

10.10.2004

a Rhode Island road


Autumn, 1975. Gerald Ford is President. I am 23. Living illegally in London. My valiant attempt to replace Mick Taylor as Rolling Stones guitarist has ended in failure. My grandfather Ravlin, back in Minneapolis, is not doing well.

I've been playing music, doing a few gigs, with some loveable Irish & Brit guys I met through work, at the dear aristocrats' ex-import/plant watering business (around the corner from the Royal Court theatre). I've moved to a drab apartment across the street from Wandsworth prison. I've gotten involved with a Brazilian-Lebanese singer, a former pop star & TV personality, who's singing with our band. I had met her in a shabby squat apartment, where I was applying for a guitar position with another band. She's fallen on bad times, moves in heroin/drug circles (all her friends are addicts). Her Brit husband is across the street, in Wandsworth, for dealing. This rather accentuates my qualms about the affair (wasn't I here in London on an exalted spiritual mission?).

Our little band plays a gig at one of the members' church. A Halloween party for the youth group. We play them old Beatles songs, they're just kids. Yellow leaves are falling around the grey stone arches, into the green yard outside the windows. A sweet Middle-Ages feeling.

My year in England was wonderful & lonely. I had foresworn poetry a couple years earlier, after a series of charismatic/psychic upheavals which I have described elsewhere (Shakespeare in spirit, the Sonnets, etc.). My life now was music and mission. But one shouldn't have the impression of a single-minded packed & sorted sort of person. I spent a lot of time in tattered London 2nd-hand bookstores (having no money to speak of). I read the Bible, I read other obscure books, mostly I listened to my own thoughts & ruminated, puzzled over mysteries of Time, God, Incarnation, History, Destiny. I drew odd diagrams, pictures which attempted to clear up the geometry of person, spirit, God. I played my instruments & wrote songs. (Once I traveled out to Stonehenge and Glastonbury, taking time to announce to the gathered Euro hippies that Babylon Has Fallen. I remember beautiful old country lanes, leaves falling against stone walls, my solitude & hunger.) Then I began skipping work, to be with Alma. Finally one day the gentle aristocrats told me, apologetically, that they had to let me go. This was in November, getting very chilly there. I spent a few difficult weeks wandering the streets, delivering flyers for small change, searching the gutters for coins. I thought I could find something eventually, but was beginning to have doubts. I didn't want to be in London if my grandfather passed away. Finally I called home. My father wired me a plane ticket. I was home for Christmas. By January I was back in school.

10.08.2004

Sad & disturbing article in this week's New Yorker, titled "The Devastation". About AIDS & general health/demographic disaster in Russia. If I were a real missionary, I'd be going over there.

10.07.2004

there's a river in Brockton. & flowers in Massachusetts. (listening to the sound)

New England turns her head toward autumn now.
The monarch butterflies are on their way to Mexico.


then there's this Dapper Dan from the Duchy. I was reading him before I was playing the harmonica.


the old school gang from Grand Fenwick. Akhmatova & Mandelstam on the right.


My senile garrulity... let's change the subject!
One of Al & Tom's first collaborations was a stage version of a short story of mine titled "The Movie-maker". It can be found in the Blake School literary mag for 1968, I think (Talisman). It was a kind of Shirley Jackson imitation, about a film-maker coming to a small midwestern town to do a documentary about "real small-town America". He is opposed and finally defeated by three ancient men who never move from their park bench: "still and silent as stone, and old as the trees around them."


it's all coming back to me...
Jeff & Tom (Davis) were deeply involved in Mpls version/spin-off of Merrie-Prankster acidhead scene. We're talking late 1960s, pre-draftage adolescent hippie-dream grungeworld angst paranoia nightmare, depicted/invented so faithfully in R. Crumb & Zap Comics. They staged a variety of anarchic "events" around town for their own delectation. Of course I admired them, but was too old-fashioned & cautious, too inhibited, to follow completely. I was captain of the soccer team, for crying out loud. At one of Jimi Hendrix's final concerts (in St. Paul) I came down with a bad case of pneumonia.

Am I doin' better than Bob Dylan here? see p. 784...
I started playing guitar when I was about 15, with the encouragement of a school friend, Jeff Greenspoon, who was already an accomplished jazz guitarist. (Had studied piano previously.) Jeff introduced me to a lot of music & musicians around the Twin Cities area. But in my first band, with the silly name Spur of the Moment, I played harmonica & a miniature stand-up piano which we miked. That band had a spangly Elvis-lookalike lead singer, and 2 blond guys from Wayzata who did the "Cream"-imitation endless guitar/bass solos. We played a lot of proms & frat parties. I remember we did the tune "Heat Wave" in Hinckley MN, a farm town mostly famous for the terrible Hinckley Fire in the 1880s or so. So we changed the wording of the song (instead of "heat wave.. heat wave... HEAT WAVE" it was "Hinckley..."). I know this is fascinating, everybody. Tom Davis, of Davis & Franken fame on Sat Night Live, was our groupie. The back of the van smelled strongly of marijuana, thanks to Tom. It was my dad's van so that worried me much of the time.

I learned harmonica the usual way, from old Sonny Boy Williamson & Sonny Terry records. Tony "Little Sun" Glover, of Koerner Ray & Glover, was based in Mpls; I studied the little purple handbook he wrote. (I am lucky to have heard the terrific Spider John Koerner in concert a few times.)

In college I didn't do much music. Getting back into it was part of my "missionary activity", in a way (but only in a way), after the mysterious-weird "Shakespeare/Bible flip-out" when I was around 19 yrs. (written up partially, as you know, in Glass of Green Tea). I was "full to bursting with the Spirit" in those days. The plan was actually to bring that message to/with the Rolling Stones (which is why I introduced Biblical studies into my conversation with Keith Richard). Can you believe this stuff?

In a way, though, getting back into music was liberating too. My newfound faith-visions gave me "permission" to drop out of college & wander around the country.

But I allus came back t'SCHOOL, fer some reason!!

I started playing again, after many music adventures in London, in the early 80s, with a country-blues guy named Jim Chapin. We have gone through several music formations since then. Jim was just given a cache of almost 100 old "Recordio" home recordings his father & family made in their kitchen back in the 50s (his dad also played guitar & mandolin). A treasure-trove of folk, country, popular music, some wonderful singing on there. The Smithsonian or somebody should take an interest.

I got the reminiscence blues today, sorry folks.

10.06.2004

I've added a new barnacle to the bow of HG Poetics.

That's Roger Williams, for those of you who just arrived here. A WPA statue from the 1930s, he's gazing (from Prospect Park) over the town he founded, Providence. Providence is a theological concept. This was written down by the river. Hobo-man, Dark Lady in mind. (in many ways, these poems are glosses on the poetics of the name "Henry", as it appears in Berryman, Shakespeare, Dante, and, of course, throughout the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.)
Weird, man. Berryman's very late "conversion experience" happened a few years before my own "spiritual Jordan". Bracketed by that dark cold December night, on the bridge over the Mississippi - the bridge my mother could see from her bedroom window in my grandfather's house. Weird, Henry.
Dream Song 31

Henry Hankovitch, con guítar,
did a short Zen pray,
on his tatami in a relaxed lotos
fixin his mind on nuffin, rose-blue breasts,
and gave his parnel one French kiss;
enslaving himself he withdrew from his blue

Florentine leather case an Egyptian black
& flickt a zippo.
Henry & Phoebe happy as cockroaches
in the world-kitchen woofed, with all away.
The International flame, like despair, rose
or like the foolish Paks or Sudanese

Henry Hankovitch, con guítar,
did a praying mantis pray
who even more obviously than the increasingly fanatical Americans
cannot govern themselves. Swedes don't exist,
Scandanavians in general do not exist,
take it from there.

(ca. 1964. hmm. my daughter's name is Phoebe.)
& what was it that set me gallivanting through the wild West & East, like a holy fool "Henry Hankovitch, con geat"? - some personal experience of a power which seems to carry moral authority with it. (cf. below)

Maybe the most concise literary image of those days is this.
The voice of Reason today:

Natural human morality is socially conservative, tribal, hostile to outsiders, and vindictive. The repressive use of religion is a symptom of this condition, not its cause. Yet this symptomatic use is enough to ensure that a recovery of religious practice does not automatically lead to a restoration of a purer moral order, or deliver religion from the hatreds of human life generally. It is almost always mistaken to think that religious revival will produce moral renewal. It is as likely to lead to different forms of supine conformism, attempts to enforce rationally unjustifiable but allegedly ancient or revealed traditions, and repressive hostility to those who differ.

Nevertheless, it is not true, as some secularists claim, that the practice of religion is bound to lead to obscurantism, reaction, and hatred. If the practice of religion needs to be humanized by consideration of what makes for the welfare of human beings, secular morality needs to be motivated by belief in a more than human power which can make moral principles objectively obligatory and ensure that in some way moral commitment will not be ultimately in vain. Unfortunately, the conscious invention of the idea of such a power will not be motivating at all. The French 'religion of Reason' was a dismal failure because everyone knew that it had been invented by intellectuals, and was no more than their projection of human ideals onto the cosmic order. Immanuel Kant's postulates of God and immortality proved to be similarly ineffective. If they are props to an independently established morality, then morality can survive without them. If they are really necessary to moral commitment, then Kant's universal and rational morality is a defective analysis of the nature and basis of autonomous, secular, morality. Pure Reason proves to be little more, in the end, than the fading echo of the voice of a dying God.

What is needed is some personal experience of a power which seems to carry moral authority with it, and which offers hope for the vindication of a moral order in the universe. Such an experience cannot be manufactured, and it cannot be affirmed simply on the basis that it is needed to bolster some independent system of moral truths. Religion is neither a prop to sound morality, nor a guarantee of moral probity. Religion has its own proper validity as the realm of the relationship between humans and an alleged spiritual order which bounds human existence.

- Keith Ward, Religion and Community, pp. 122-123 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000)

Roger Williams would say YES.
other Famous Rock Stars I've met:

Mick Taylor (bar in Kensington. friendly, very cool. told me how to contact the Stones about the lead guitar job).

Jerry Garcia (backstage at that famous club in SF. friendly. Apologetic, unable to help me get my cheap guitar back from the Hell's Angel who had swiped it, after his 300-lb. tattooed bald colleague from NYC whacked me upside the head with his ring-spiked arm).

Duke Robillard (famous around here, anyway). (took some guitar lessons with him. friendly, very nice.)
I thought the debate last night was very interesting. The Duchess Louisa XXVXVXMCRRII made some very telling points about the problem with the mildew on the roof of the mudpuppy coop behind Gamekeeper Freddy's carousel, which Prince Leewebald failed to address all summer (flirting as he was, incessantly, with Contessa Malebranche, tut-tut!!). I give the Prince credit, however, for the way he held himself. A good soldierly posture. Especially appropriate, sad to say, in these times of turmoil, hullabaloo & general bother (oh those silly Luxemburgers!).

Has anyone seen my poodle?
I don't know what came over me yesterday. Henry Gould is not 70s Jesus-freak Hank Williams. No, no. Henry Gould is Poet Laureate of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, yes, yes.

10.05.2004

But I haven't done a thing. I'm the cautious elder brother. My redhead younger siblings rode the rails, jumped off bridges, started a chicken farm in Texas, put out forest fires.

They had their music bands, too. Bill & Mike had a band called Rendered Useless. They opened once for Prince in Mpls. Bill's band later, Run Like A Girl, had songs on the radio in Colorado.

They can't play harmonica like me, though, ha ha. I'm the oldest.
I hitchiked once from Denver to NYC with 35 cents in my pocket. I had been living there for a few weeks with an old high school friend (keyboard player in our little band of those days), & working in a Taco Bell. But I left one day because he was drunk all the time, the music was going nowhere.

In the mountains I got picked up by a couple of tough guys, who had just stolen the car we were in. I talked to them about Jesus, it was all right. They didn't take my guitar.

In London I lived in a closet in Earl's Court. I worked for some royalty types who ran a flower-rental & ex-import hobby business. I told them I had grown up on a farm, & they hired me under the table. They were friends with the Who, & offered to introduce me to them. They liked the Who, didn't understand why I wanted to join the Rolling Stones. "Oh the Stones - they're only in it for the money." I told them the Who weren't hiring. I did odd jobs for them, they were very kind. Once I mowed their neighbor Cat Stevens' lawn. While I was there, some very portly fellows in colorful dashikis or turbans & robes dropped by. Hugs all around. Cat Stevens hated his other neighbors, the orphanage. The little Caribbean girls would climb up on the brick wall & call out, "Cat Steeeevens! Cat Steeeevens!" all day long. I believe his home recording studio was soundproofed, though.

Keith Richard bounced on the balls of his feet the whole time we talked. He was very pale & thin. I suggested he read the Bible; he said I should read William Blake. Carl Perkins was there; he said he & his brother had seen a UFO in Arizona once. (Carl didn't get the job either.)
that time of year. getting that hobo feeling.

incipient senility must help.

"I love to hear that KC when she moans."

Jim Chapin is heading down to Arkansas for the blues & jug festival. wish I was going along.

10.04.2004

A source for the tone in the Berkeley poem posted yesterday (& much of Stubborn Grew) is Mandelstam's Complete Poetry (SUNY Press, 1973) trans. by Raffel & Burago. OM often did portrait-poems of historical figures, painters, writers, musicians & friends - somewhat similar to Robert Lowell's verbal icons, but more humorous & affectionate. He connected it to his Acmeist project of "domestic hellenism" - the idea that poetry was part of a larger human-cultural project to "surround life with utensils, with teleological warmth". With his portraits he presented historical figures (Bach, Beethoven) as part of the family.

Berkeley himself can be seen as a forerunner of sorts for the controversial contemporary physics theory known as the Anthropic Principle (which holds, roughly, that the cosmos seems designed in order to support conscious (or human) life). With his notion that existence entails perception, that the tree falling doesn't make a sound - doesn't even exist - unless someone is there to hear it, he's suggesting a purposive cosmos with consciousness at its center. Samuel Johnson mocked Berkeley's idealism ("I know the stone exists without me, because I stubbed my toe on it", or something like that), and the following era belonged to the Samual Johnsons. But 20th-century physics, starting with relativity, threw a spanner in those works.

My internet shadow-boxing with the langpos & postmodernism in the 90s was partly a critique of their critique of autobiographical, confessional, storytelling styles. The postmodern poets questioned, rejected, undermined the ontological status of the person. Words were dislocated from context and composition was disconnected from authorial motivation.

One of the consequences of doing long poems, however, can be (though it doesn't have to be) the building up of foundational layers of context & specificity. Ideally, in Stubborn Grew (& Forth of July as a whole), the interconnections are there to add a weave, a structure of more & more specificity. Thus the epic journey of "Henry" & "Bluejay" in the first half of Stubborn takes place over the space of about 10 city blocks and 300 years of history; the 2nd half takes place in the narrator's head, at a particular coffee shop table on Wickenden St., in the Fox Point neighborhood.

10.03.2004

George Berkeley spent a couple years living in the "Paradise" neighborhood of Newport, waiting for the loans and grants to come through for his fantastic, visionary scheme to create a College for the Americas, for anglos & natives alike, in Bermuda. The money never materialized, & eventually he sailed back to England. But while in Newport, he composed some of his major philosophical dialogues. He liked to look out at the Atlantic from a cleft in a large puddingstone outcrop, known to locals as "Berkeley's Seat".


Was Irish philosopher George Berkeley an extreme idealist? A realist? A transcendentalist? He wrote against contemporaneous currents in science & philosophy which posited something abstract called "matter", a kind of substrate of reality upon which fleeting surface "phenomena" enacted their changes. For Berkeley, "esse est percipi", or "what is, is what is perceived". An Anglican bishop as well as philosopher & dabbler in scientific speculation (the benefits of "Tar-Water", etc.), his worldview is grounded in theism & a notion of creation. Thus the holistic Reality which we perceive and experience, is so perceived by a means somehow analogous to the divine Imagination which conceives it, imagines it, dreams it.

Berkeley is one of several local avatars in Stubborn Grew, where along with painter (& fellow "Paradise"-dweller) John LaFarge, he sort of sanctions the fiction-making, the fantastic elements, of this "local history" poem.

from the "Once in Paradise" chapter :

16

Aloft there on shale shelf, in cave mouth,
Berkeley's eyes drifted out to sea.
A pair of dicey gypsy barks
gambling on the shepherding waves.

You have your materialist peasants
nattering pedantically along with your
libertine idle blank-eyed statuettes O
London - and this jovial pleasant

noncholeric collared Irish bookish Dean
waves the Vico key in your face. And waits.
Waits for your double crosscheck, mates -
your doubloon that never comes - keening,

why have you forsaken me? In RI? Heaven's
not some dull neuteronian mechanical.
It's providential - and recreational!
A dream, again! - again! - Bermudian!

You're getting near "Paradise" (GB's neighborhood in Newport). Posted by Hello

What George might have seen from Berkeley's Rock (Sachuest Point, Atlantic Ocean). Posted by Hello

"Berkeley's Rock", or "Berkeley's Seat". There's a sketch of him sitting in the cleft under the overhang there. Posted by Hello

George Berkeley's house in Newport (ca. 1740s). Posted by Hello

10.02.2004

Have been reading the section on JH Prynne over in Jacket. Such complex careful attention. Despite the sense that late-Empire Larkinaise (Larkin-malaise) is easily transmitted to Brit academic fellers, one can be jealous of the highly-cultivated ears over there. A poetry gains weight & resonance when it finds a shared language for shared experiences. A "landscape", a "season".

Also Keith Ward, Religion and Community.

from the "Ancient Light" chapt. of Stubborn Grew:


The train ride to Oxford was something else.
Profound droning weight of iron travel machine,
farmland English backyard a pale moss green
in the moist December light, your pulse

is calm outside of London, Providence
might be a way of life, a common sphere,
fair, sensible and just - a Hertfordshire
in an ovoid Shakespeare's head, a salience.


(cf. Mandelstam's ruminations on poetry as evolutionary "salience", in Journey to Armenia.)

"ovoid"? It struck me yesterday - the distinct oddity of the term for the center of power: "the Oval Office".

*

An egg sprung out of winter Iron Age.

At the other end of Stubborn, there's a Joycean-Chaucerian parade-procession of sorts, Anna Akhmatova on her way to get a prize in Oxford:


Nay, the horses are in final fedders and wee flying.
Through the greenmoss ways by the quiet waters,
by the oxenford, near where Actemydovie totters
along with to sieve her mettle, warning and warming

her loving piece all the way to Petroglad, finally;
and well pick Nuckleheadup along the Wye, playing flowt
and flowering flowcraft, like Jimi Hucktrix and what
Bea J Hen can seagal us a supthere, friendly

among the gould keelover flowerpunters,
those steady-eyed treefellers and form farmers
like granite under the holy rollercoasters,
a sprungfeedle farmcanter. A witbull H-er's

resting on the Blackstone shoulders, his liberty
a done thing everydeeday, as we canterbury
along, long plowman's wake - and a very gradumerry
grape it is, ripe to the buddies, from a little tree -

near the edge of the Terrace
the limbs all black and thorny
the buds, just barely
the green moss

soft, tender
spring whispers
kindness now, and grief. Hers,
yours, ours. . . [etc.]


(p.s. the 3rd vol, July, was finished on 3.5.2000, the anniversary of both Akhmatova's & Stalin's death. Akhmatova crops up in odd places throughout Forth of July.)

10.01.2004

I liked the poems in the New Yorker this week. Very sweet one by Derek Walcott ("The Blessing Rain"). & one by Joseph Brodsky ("Letter to General Z").

(I know, they're old famous operators. Sometimes old famous operators can play it right.)