6.30.2005

Didja know Bob Dylan probably borrowed the phrase "Idiot wind" from Weldon Kees? See the last line of "June 1940" : "An idiot wind blows; the conscience dies."

p.s. & Kees's mother's maiden name was Zimmermann ! Omigod! [Twilight Zone theme music here]
Was just handed (by the librarian who manages the Awesome Gigantic Monster Lovecraft Special Collection - & who rumor has it is a former CIA operative) the galley proofs of HP Lovecraft's Case of Charles Dexter Ward, for "processing". Lovecraft : 'nother horripilous RI scene-maker.
Went to Chan's in Woonsocket last night, with my guitar-pickin' alter ego Jim Chapin, for their open-mike run by Jim's friend Ken. As usually happens with open mikes, there were too many players, so we didn't get to perform.

A regular assortment of loud guitarists, 25x that number overweight harp players, plus a tall man with a small sax in a duet with a short man with a very large sax, and an extremely overdressed swank fop with boots, spurs, hat, rope necktie, kerchief - strong impression of wongo artiste on the run from former life in Nottingham or Leeds or some such place. There was also a good crowd of graying, white blues enthusiasts, all of them waiting to hear how they sounded in front of a supposedly live audience of themselves.

We had fun even though we didn't play. The frighteningly bubbly Woonsocketeers were there, piano-tuner Bill (who does the afternoon gig - solo barrelhouse & old-time New Orleans - apparently exclusively for visiting biker gangs, who want to hear blues, man! What is this shit!) & soi-disant accordionist Emily. Chan's also has a fine gallery of musician photos.

Ronnie Earl at Chan's

John Chan, visionary owner/manager
Rainy muggy day here. Started reading Weldon Kees, Collected Poems. At first glance, he seems powerfully talented... & very very gloomy. Not in a boring way, though. Not at all.

Back in the late 70s I was living in a communal house. There was a quiet blonde-haired guy there, with what I now recognize as a Weldon Kees moustache. I can't recall his name, or any of our conversations... except that we had a mutual interest in poetry, and that he asked me once if I'd read Weldon Kees. (Never heard of him.)

When the mysterious housemate moved out, he did a generous thing - gave me his personal, hardbound edition of Whitman's poems & prose. A very nice rust-covered book, which I've never stopped reading.

So I open the Kees, & the first poem is called "Statement with Rhymes", which begins : "Plurality is all." A sort of despair-ody of Whitman.

In this week's New Yorker essay, Anthony Lane tries to figure out if there isn't a literary genealogy or factual background to the sort of Everyman character, who appears in a number of the poems, whom Kees calls "Robinson". Is it a reference to one of Celine's characters of that name? He mentions a couple of other possibilities, which I don't recall. But my guess is, the main allusion (with the caveat that I don't think allusions have much importance in his work) is to another poet, whom Kees seems to resemble in a number of ways : E.A. Robinson.

Lane plays up the image of Kees as kind of a shadowy, spectral figure, an outline, a ghost, almost not there. Robinson is his alter ego, the shadow of the shadow.

Kees apparently committed suicide off the GG Bridge. Somewhat mysterious circumstances, body never found. He had talked about going to Mexico. There have been legends, sightings, speculation that he vanished, went incognito. All baloney, apparently. Then again, that quiet, reserved housemate... back in the 70s... (dyed his hair...?)

6.29.2005

Thanks to Jeffery Bahr for pointing toward PLEIADES, and some fine reviews (online) by Mark Halliday.

(Halliday's reviews, beneath their charm & urbanity, show some Aristotelian spine & rigor. Wasn't I, not long ago, complaining about dearth of good reviewing? It's out there, flooks.)
An article on Weldon Kees in this week's New Yorker.

Kees articles tend to surface mysteriously, periodically, on some kind of comet cycle of decans.

Everything can be explained, probably, by Nebraska.
Notes Toward & So On (11)

A book of criticism on the mid-20th century American poets by Adam Kirsch - titled The Wounded Surgeon - got a rave review in the NY Times yesterday. (The photo of Kirsch - with the little TS Eliot glasses & tie & hair mussed just so... amazing, like some kind of hologrammic projection or clone of the quintessential 50s English prof. Send it to Jim Behrle for processing.)

(Dude, whazzup with your author photo?)

According to the review, Kirsch's thesis is that under the intimidating shadow of the previous generation, the mid-century poets (Lowell, Berryman, Bishop, et al.) were forced to branch into a less monumental, more personal, inward (if that's the right word) practice - but that, nevertheless, the stringencies of the Moderns maintained influence benign.

I'm going to see if the library has this...

Thinking this morning about Pound, though. As critic & schoolmarm-stickler, he certainly had tremendous influence. Yet did he practice what he preached?

Pound is somebody whose mad flight manifests, in all its maniacal fibrillation, a certain freedom, profundity & ranginess, which is not exactly an applicable paradigm or learnable rubric of modernist/New Critical technique. These attributes are cultivated, perhaps, by an insatiable appetite for knowledge - combined with a faith in poetry as the medium of a unified sensibility : an integral consciousness, integrity. (This in no way justifies the stupid, harsh & mean aspects of Pound, though his obvious nuttiness somewhat mitigates our judgement.)

A unified sensibility delves into the world, reality, & finds ways to characterize it - which is why the works can be studied repeatedly, always offering new perspectives. The faith in poetry's value, as a means of expression, results in a long struggle. I guess this was the motive for the production of long poems, even after the displacement of epic by fiction. (On the other hand, an integral sensibility is also the means by which poets discover their own distinctive style - whatever length or form it takes.)

Pound was that kind of resilient, stubborn, independent soul, that solitary eccentric (monomaniacal, actually) thinker. There are better, purer, examples of the artist - the ones who succeed in the struggle to unify & transmute sensibility into poetry. It's the flagrant eccentrics, like Pound & Blake, whose extremity illustrates a more general rule.

In fact this may be the main lesson - "soul freedom", utter (vocational) commitment, the link between integrity (of sensibility) & art - which Lowell & Berryman, anyway, took from Pound, rather than anything to do with the monumentality & objectivity of the art work.
I'm grateful to Allen for his encouragement. I would like to encourage him, too, though he probably doesn't need it, even if he thinks he does : Allen seems confirmed in his independent ways & schedule.

6.28.2005

Am starting to explore poetry of Kay Ryan. I really like what I see. (The few of her poems I've read sound like a conversation between Emily Dickinson & Stephen Crane.) Here's an essay of hers on Marianne Moore.
Enjoying some things in the annual "humor" issue of Poetry. Report by poet Kay Ryan on her trek to AWP conference. Somebody's limerick poem on the world's religious sects. Great little poem for children by Richard Wilbur, about those words which have other words inside them (like uncle in unclear).

Puts the blogging in a different perspective. Feel shriven today, like an old bloggarrulous crackerbarrel crackpot. Guess I should read more magazines. You can talk about poetry in the abstract only for so long (I think I should go in the Guinness for that). Those who want to be serious poetry critics have their work cut out for them : so much poetry today is seriously un-serious (witty). Verbal feuerwerkerei. Have to sift through the pretentiously tasteless & the sleekly facile, the Alexandrian slosh of the iron-browed Goliath.

6.27.2005

... in the same issue yesterday (NYTBR), an essay by David Orr on 2 novels in which the perilous plot climaxes hinge on the recital of a poem. I thought Orr's argument about poetry's useful/useless-ness was sort of contradictory & over-subtle. He used the novelists' "application" to emphasize poetry's distance from any obvious utilitarian purposes, and he showed a familiar disdain for the general culture's misguided notions of poetry's therapeutic or "uplift" or political aspects.

Somehow I think he may have missed the real point the novelists (through their characters) were making : which is that on some basic simple & essential level, we are all poets : we think poetically, we want words which work poetically, we read life itself poetically. I was reminded inevitably (by the fictions' plots) of the woman in Georgia a few weeks ago, taken hostage by a man who had just shot to death 3 people at the courthouse, who talked him into surrendering to the authorities, by reading to him from an inspirational book. Everyone is a poet on some level, it's a human trait.

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

- Wallace Stevens, from "Men Made Out of Words"
Notes Toward & So On (10)

Looking back at last week's outpourings... what was I thinking? Who can read all that? Have be more concise & focused.

OK, back to thinking out loud.

This all began with the question of "what is to come" in poetry. Crosses somewhat with the various bloggussions about reviews & reviewing.

I have certain models or benchmarks always in mind. People who read HG Poetics already know what they are. There was the moment in the late 70s when I found the David McDuff translations of Mandelstam : from that stemmed almost everything (in my 2nd life in poetry, that is : the 1st life being high school, college, NY School days - 60s to early 70s).

It was M's handling of imagery which struck me, & opened all the other doors : leading to Crane, then to the long poems (Pound, WCW, Olson, mostly), Celan, Montale... & back to Renaissance & other poetries (ring-structure, number symbolism in poetry, epic narratives, etc).

So there is a predilection for ut pictura.... & a sense of a divide between poetry and ordinary discourse & socializing. The literary work is a very highly-elaborated special environment, dense with particular affect(s), which should be approached with circumspection. The lion sleeps on its paws./It can kill a man.

Now what my tendencies are may have very little to do with where poetry-in-general is "going". I've been talking around a constellation (or muddle) involving symbolic facts with something like seriousness. Melopoeia (song, lyricism) underlies & supports phanopoeia (imagery) which radiates logopoeia (symbolism). Serious, in part because a "symbolic fact" is something irrevocably tied to experience; and in part because the tradition of poetic song involves intensity (of thought, of feeling, of encounter). But most poetry operates on a much broader, looser band of rhetorical effects than what I've focused on here. So let it go where it will.

What is to come, for me anyway, will circle around the core characteristics I have adumbrated in this lecture-babble series. Drawing from that lyric-ecphrastic-symbolic center, the resonant meanings will branch out in many directions.

In the Sunday Times book review section, there was another long take on Robert Lowell's Letters (reviewed by Walter Kirn). He quoted an early (adolescent) letter to Pound, in which Lowell magnified on Pound's greatness & force, & expatiated on how he (Lowell) would carry on the torch & take it further.

I had the odd thought that Lowell was narrowing in on the literary practitioner, & in so doing, had surrendered a certain critical distance. I thought about Ezra Pound, not perhaps as he would have thought of himself (a Great Modernist, an ego-beak thrusting into the future), but as a figure stemming from a certain time & place - post-Civil War America : the late 19th-cen. world of Henry James, Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, et al. Something about the Innocent-Abroad The American insouciance and command... as if he & Eliot, in a way, were perpetual cruisers on their Gilded Age, Belle Epoque, postgraduate jaunt to Europe. Rooted, despite all their struggles, like flies in amber - in the fading echoes of prewar Europe & Old America.

This I think would be an interesting way to read Pound, anyway.
Not sure what this has to do with the generalities with which I started today's maunder. Except that maybe it reinforces the notion of reading poems - even poems written today - as dense with background & cultural-historical resonances.

6.24.2005

I was kind of tired & sloppy when I recorded this after work. But it's OK for practice. Jaybird Coleman, I'm on my way.
new Sappho poem published (after 2600 yrs). Noted in NY Times here (you may have to register to open this). Poetry enters History again (on midsummer's day).

You for the fragrant-bosomed Muses' lovely gifts,

Be zealous, girls, and the clear melodious lyre:

But my once tender body old age now

Has seized; my hair's turned white instead of dark.
the Nazir goes along hummin', tying together history's sleepy Wake-up call of beginds-&-hens:

 6


He walks the thread-thin bloodline
like a lion on a tightrope, or a Templar
in Jerusalem, or like a Nazir
scored by whiplashed Narbonne


Moorish twine (from Septimania
or Babylon). Walks on palm-leaves
naked as a Galilean, grooved
for service as a Benjaminite lyre-


plucked brand – the word God flying
from his ribcage like an undivided
pigeon. Yes, he bears it, laden
with J-puns: his mother (Hagia


Sophia
) grabs him by the hair and
carries him off to Mount Moriah
singing, dancing (Messiah
between his lips, under


his tongue) while the dread iron rings
of Rome (all nine of them) congeal
and Pilate's unrevealing,
convenient surprise brings


down the curtain of the veil again.
Yea, upon this Rock I have unfolded
your Mandylion – my body held
in golden photoplasm for an icon


of a raptored rhaptor's kingdom
.
So in present tense infinity
that honey-hunter's blind tenderly
scotched his mother's mordant home.


4.20.2000
some old weird poetry-history, from toward the end of Forth of July. W. Blackstone places his "W" over a map of the Mediterranean:

 2



It was Good Friday (raining) in Lima, Peru;
it was a rainy April day in Washington.
It was November 22 in Avignon
(a lucky day in Paris – Dallas too)
.


Blackstone lay half-sleeping in a meadow
underneath an oak – his white bull
grazing drowsily (slow, calm) downhill.
And half-dreaming, saw (in the shadow


of his hat) strange visions. On a wide
and blue-green map (where a playful whale
dove deep toward shore) a serpent curled
(all blue) from hidden mountains northward,


and, at a bulrush delta, zigzagged right;
then wheeled again (upon a huge, rugged
stone) into an island labyrinth, caved
inward by the sea – while from a root


in Aquitaine, or Septimania, a dragon
like a red thread spun straight forward
into Constantinople, and there turned
likewise back to sea – and wound


itself, entwined, with the Southern serpent
(tightly, lovingly as any Solomon enfolds
his Sheba – one, unfathomable, sealed –
one purple veil-knot). Out of his own entrails,


then, strangely, this woven Minotaur emerged...
til Blackstone woke with a start (the weird
hex going, the map dissolving, merely muttered
into his own fuzzy beard)... and spring surged on.


4.15.2000
cf. Hotel on bridges today, overlapping with Samizdat on the emotions of syntax.
Notes Toward & So On (9)

If, then, we follow the logic of the Addendum below... poetry includes realia - symbolic facts, factual symbols - with something of a different purpose than does history.

History recounts the truths of what happened on behalf of knowledge & its truth.

Poetry transmits its truths so that it may suffuse them with feeling. Emotional truth.

Oh-oh. This sounds like another pitfall. There were lots of intellectual propounders of the last 2 centuries who were eager to limit poetry to "feeling" (while serious grown-up minds focused on the "thought" of reality - scientific, political, social, etc).

Which brings us full circle, back to the substance of the poetic image - that fusion of intellect and feeling, head & heart - that sense of things, around and about the borders of which Coleridge, Blake, Dickinson, Whitman, Hopkins, Eliot, Stevens & so many others wrote with such authority, with the ring of emotional rightness.

addendum #2: & this still doesn't get it right. Because art also presents symbolic facts as a form of mimesis - perhaps at least as accurate, exact & true, in its way, as any other form of discourse.
Addendum

I feel I haven't said anything very new or interesting in my lecture for today.

You wasted my time, Henry!

What underlies this impulse toward "the real" - whether it be history, or the symbol grounded in experience?

Isn't art a playground of indifferent materials, scribbled & folded & shaped into something utterly new - something totally & joyously irrelevant & free? & isn't that - exactly that - how it says the most profound & simple things about life (if it bothers to say anything at all)? Doesn't it refresh life so, with pure disinterested self-fulfillment? Isn't that its perfection?

Yes... but...

that's only half the story.

The other half is about saving the world. How? Through taking on the most terrible things, the most frightening things, the most "sublime" things - and domesticating them, humanizing them, making them intelligible. Why? Because somehow joy doesn't want to live in a ghetto, surrounded by misery. It doesn't want to close its eyes or clasp itself by the arms - it wants to open its eyes & arms & clasp you.

Hence those great grave messy emotional symbols - Beethoven (not only Mozart), Dostoevsky (not only Pushkin) - those plangent art works which fuse suffering & joy. Pushkin : "my sadness is luminous". Art in a minor key.

[Some would call this not sublime, but simply realistic (life is mortal, timebound, essentially divided - spirit & flesh). So the strange dance of the children goes on, happy & sad by turns.]
Notes Toward & So On (8)

I know I didn't do justice to JH Newman's thinking (in Grammar of Assent). But it seems to be a part of turn-of-20th-cent. general attention to distinction between what Newman calls "the notional" & "the real"; maybe similar to TE Hulme's distinction between abstract "counter-language" and "the image".

Newman focuses on how the mind works with perception and concepts. His "illative sense" is the mental faculty with which we synthesize (1)what we actually experience with (2)our understanding : with what we sense as the inner logic or meaning of that experience. Thus through the illative sense we experience/process what for Newman is "real". This he contrasts with notions, or abstractions which are part of some verbal structure which we have not yet apprehended (or processed with the "illative sense").


Warning! I've probably got this all wrong! It is likely I haven't properly processed these notions through my own illator yet!

Nevertheless I'm interested in how the symbolic language of poetry emerges from these imaginative-illative modelling processes. Because eventually I think Robert Archambeau's & Kristen Prevallet's documentary or contingent poetics might be confronted with some difficult & productive paradoxes involving the differences between poetry & history.

History, like science, can precipitate or solidify into forms of positivism. Somehow, because it's a written document, because it's historical evidence, it's more real. Its objectivity offers the poet an avenue of escape from solitude & solipsism; its communality - after all, that happened to us - seems to strengthen the poet's rhetorical position.

Setting aside the possibility that documents can be misinterpreted (there's a good book out there somewhere, author/title I can't remember, which goes into the young Pound's unintentional misreadings of Italian Ren. documents) - & setting aside the over-familiar issue of cultural-historical relativity - it seems to me that the crux of the problem comes down to this distinction of real & notional (maybe related to TS Eliot's distinction between "information" and "knowledge").

Fundamentally, poetry & history do different things with time. History works with chronological succession, showing how the train of human actions fit into the passage of "ordinary" time. & though the historian's narration may provide all kinds of panoramic, kaleidoscopic palimpsests, the end remains the same : an interpretive recounting of "things that happened".

What does poetry do with time & history? In poetry, history is "figured" within a primary aesthetic experience (the experience of the poem). Time itself - the (aesthetic) "now" of the poem - is absorbed, elaborated, intensified, translated into a new symbolic form - a counter-time. This is the remarkable effect of the imagination's - the "illative sense's" - modelling of its own experience.

& there is no general, abstract imagination. There are shared images, shared symbols, shared histories, shared facts - but there are only individual minds and individual art works (or works by the shared activity of individuals).

Aristotle's distinction between poetry & history comes to the same position from a different direction : poetry exceeds history via its capacity to represent "universals", whereas history deals in particular events. On the face of it this sounds like a position opposite to the one I am outlining. But this is not the case. Aristotle's poetry is capable of representing universals because, in poetry, concepts have been absorbed, shaped, synthesized into a logical architectonic - experienced as real (through the pathos/ethos/logos of identification - the "illative sense").

Thus, I think Robert or Kristen's future "contingent poetries" will face the same kind of critical/aesthetic evaluation as always : that is, have the verbal materials been transmuted by the imagination? Do we recognize & respond to the authentic imprint of original experience?
Likeable post from Robert Archambeau today, via John Peck, on Pound's & Olson's differing syntax. Daniel Albright (in Quantum Poetics) also covers the way ol' Ez would sideline the subject of his sentences & promote the verb (in a letter to someone, EP re-did the opening of the Gospel of John as "In the beginning was the Verb"). (Mandelstam wrote once that he'd like to live in the "future perfect conditional case" [hope I've got that right]. Probably means something completely different in Russian.)

I practice the harmonica walking to work these days. Learning from Sonny Terry again : less is more. You focus on the tiny shifts here & there. This is what such attention to the texture of a poet's diction does - leads to new possibilities, new pleasures too.

[huh. synchronicity. Hotel man wrote about harmonica-playing today too.]

6.23.2005

Notes Toward & So On (7 : Interlude/Apologia)

I will keep this short, promise. #6, I know, was too long - left me feeling dulled, wondering what's the point.

So what is the point? The point is to reflect on the background of what is being presented as poetry. The background consists of dense, radiant, intricate poems. It also consists of the theory or theories of poetry with which people have tried to explain their understanding of it.

In this way, both the poet and the reader might gain some salutary distance from the ordinary noise & jostling of the literary herd. (I mean the place where books are skimmed & reviewed with quick but meaningless labels; where poetry is treated as a form of crowd control or lite entertainment; etc.)

& why take such a lonely and misanthropic and anti-social path?

Because it's not really that. It's the path of love of poems in all their depth, obscurity and radiance.

The background helps provide that. It helps one recognize characteristics of literary language which are overlooked or dismissed by current theoretical jargon-spinners. & so to make a place for something serious, outside the grounds of the po-biz carnival. The specific gravity of the poem & the life.
& he has a wave going. happy bookworm hoping to molt or bolt.
Notes Toward & So On (6)

In this series of somnambulistic early-work channelings, I am not trying to legislate how to make poetry. Rather, I am searching for new frameworks for reading, interpreting, understanding.

In a witty and clever book titled Quantum Poetics, Daniel Albright investigated the science metaphors & worldviews which Pound, Eliot, Yeats & others used to explain what they were doing & how they conceptualized poetry. Particle vs. wave - the oscillation between these two determined the pattern of indeterminacy to follow. I think my musings on the symbol locate me closer to the particle end of that spectrum; Albright notes how Pound & Wyndham Lewis, especially, rejected Einstein (the magician who vaporized matter, space, time) in favor of the earlier philosophy of Leibniz & his concept of the monad : the smallest particle of thought-matter in a vital universe of mutually-mirroring microcosmi. (Oddly enough, Einstein spent his later years taking long walks in Princeton with his friend the math genius Kurt Godel, a confirmed Leibnizian.)

Is poetry a Byzantine mosaic of interpenetrating mutually-reflective correspondences, corresponding in turn to the "signatures" of Nature? Is the text a crystallization of same, a glowing object of infinite labyrinthine riddles (Joyce)?

Or, on the other hand, is language a kind of open, free-play medium for wave-vibrations - reverberations, instantaneous relativity-connections - Whitman's cosmic love-vibe (or Joyce's watery Wake)?

I think I would like to find some synthesis of the two. "Resonant symbol." & I have a hunch this morning that the path in that direction leads through the relationship of word & psyche.

What is an image, after all? A product of a certain faculty of mind - the imagination. Ancient concepts of human consciousness located three distinct areas : Reason (judgement), Imagination (conception), and Memory (knowledge).

John Henry Newman, whose great work Grammar of Assent is something I intend to look at carefully, centered the conceptual activity in something he called the "Illative Sense" - a kind of architectonic capability, fusing all three areas of mind in the work of conceptual modelling.

Language, from the beginning, has been the human conceptual-sense response to unmediated reality (experience). The poem can be seen as an end-product of the shaping activity of the illative sense (imagination, taste/judgement, memory), using that primary human tool of representation. But it more than a record of experience : it is a living image of same. How so?

First of all, words themselves present a fusion of senses (image, sound, & evocation of touch, taste & smell). Secondly, poems exhibit a reflexive or self-reflexive pattern : their sensuous qualities - rhythm, image, sound, word-play - run rings around the reader in a reverberating echo-chamber. Reflexivity is a generator of expansive dynamism, a principle of nature & art exemplified in the famous "golden section" of the Greeks, the fibonacci sequence, etc. (ie. any patterned object which contains a ratio between smaller & larger parts, which equals the ratio between the larger part & the whole).

I wrote earlier in this series about the conceptual complexity of the symbol, which faces in two directions : toward the actual object the words evoke, and toward the universe of correspondences or meanings with which it sets up reverberations. Or, as quoted from Austin Farrer, earlier : "We write in symbol when we wish our words to present, rather than analyse or prove, their subject-matter... Symbol endeavors, as it were, to be that of which it speaks, and imitates reality by the multiplicity of its significance."

Again, despite the "reverberations", I am presenting an image of poetry which seems to lean toward the Leibnizian/particle/mosaic end of the spectrum. The completed poem offers a conceptual-sense fusion or unity in dynamism; thus the critic is free to analyze it & explore its constituent parts and implications; the poem is a kind of object, rather than a wave-transmission.

But this is not the end of the story, today or any day. Because I want to go back to that with which I began this post : the notion that the image-symbol is an effect of a faculty of mind (the imagination). Newman's "illative sense" is profoundly, substantially personal, because the mental act of imaginative or conceptual synthesis of experience is just that : a kind of assent to real, as opposed to abstract or notional or merely verbal, experience. & such experience, in Newman's view, can only be personal. What are the consequences of this for our idea of poetry?

Poetry, then, becomes both a record and a communication of real experience (in Newman's sense, real experience can be imaginary : it's an imaginative rendering or conceptualization). The poem is no impersonal object : it bears the fingerprint of an individual (I'm reminded of the Borges poem about how all the texts in his librarian cosmos were really a map of his own face; or the Walt Whitman version of the "disintegrated" cosmic self). Turn over the intricate Byzantine-patterned coin-symbol-object, & you discover the profile of its maker : & the poem is a reverberant wave-pattern, a message, of the poet, from the poet, to you. The Word is a Person. (the langpo is a NY schoolie)

6.22.2005

Notes Toward & So On (5)

The image, the image... I bump up against the limits of my own vocabulary. One falls back into imagining some kind of neorealism, some one-to-one correspondence between the poet's picture & the "real thing". But this is definitely not what I'm talking about. It's not simply a perceptual flash, as in Imagism, or a familiar recounting, as in a realist novel or an anecdotal lyric or a memoir. "Symbol", as I mentioned, is perhaps a more appropriate word for what I'm talking about - a poetic whole which resonates with meaning in different directions, because it speaks from and to the experiential knowledge & feeling of its readers or listeners.

Take a look at Allen Bramhall's post of today. On first glance one is struck by the rather jarring dissonance between this kind of writing, and the "project" for poetry I have been describing. It's difficult here to pick out any kind of familiar "objective correlative", or synthesis of logic & impression. Yet obviously Allen is drawing on & pointing toward certain streams of writing, Whitman to the present. & he's engaged in a kind of poetry-making - a particular manner - which is not so concerned with representation as with pure creation : a kind of happy expressionism, which follows words in their sentences where they lead - resulting in continual surprise. However, if you look more carefully at this kind of writing, you recognize that under and around the sort of free jazz improvisation float the shadows & edges of both arguments (statements about how things are) and feelings (the emotions which words & their connotations evoke). The improvisation and the "mix", the "surround", go together, mutually encourage each other. And the whole leads in the direction of a sort of phantom impression or pseudo-argument (A = A) - self-defining, self-defending - an enjoyable end-in-itself.

Think, in this regard, with what Crane did with the Brooklyn Bridge. Despite the fact that he wrote parts of The Bridge from an apartment looking out on the actual bridge itself - an apartment once occupied by Roebling, the bridge's architect - Crane's goal was not to reiterate what was already known, or memorialize an already-existing history. Crane's purpose was symbolic. In the Brooklyn Bridge he had found a correlative for the real subject of his poem, which is too complex to be paraphrased. The bridge is a symbol for a metaphysical unity (a kind of time-transcending Bergsonian vital Beauty) for which poetry - Crane's "single, never-before-spoken Word" - is itself a more encompassing symbol or counterpart : creation's end-in-itself.

The poem of the "resonant symbol" which I am promoting, has less to do with 2-dimensional image-making, than with multidimensional "speaking pictures" : the fusion or synthesis of impressions into a unified complexity. At the root of speaking lies the cognitive (logical) image or impression - a paradoxical synthesis, which is the poem's underlying bone structure, its "argument". (Again, note how the scale of values differs, here, from that postmodern "indeterminacy" we have come to know so well.)
Notes Toward & So Forth (4)

Robert Archambeau (post of 6/20) presents a version of historically-grounded poetic language. The idea of poetry being infiltrated by, or overlapping with, the "speech-acts" of history, which never really disappear - this seems related to what I was trying to describe as a (Joycean-Cranean) sense of the symbol grounded in experience.

Though again I wouldn't want to encourage another dichotomy, this time between sentimental poetry (Archambeau/Matthias' "travelogue") and realistic history. The problem is one of finding an adequate, authentic speech, capable of both representation ("history") and resonance (intelligible, emotive).

Such poetry can throw our functional, ordinary notions of time & history out of whack. What seemed past becomes present : ie., suddenly relevant, personal; illuminated, illuminating, from a new perspective.

We know that this kind of critical talk exists on a level of abstraction, and we are constantly aware of poets all over the place experimenting with styles & themes in distinct ways. But remember, for the last 20 years or so, "critical discourse" about literature & poetry has been propounding that history & experience are always trumped by the inherent paradoxes, contradictions, limitations and lacunae of text, language, subjectivity. There has been an obsessional focus on the supposed solipsism of textuality, the closed circle of hermeneutics, etc. Unfortunately, solipsism sponsored by theory - while it may show superficial stylistic differences - is not that different in substance from other kinds of literary solipsism (the anecdotal, personal, confessional lyric, so derided by language poets et al.).


Oblomov - one of my favorite movies of all time.
Notes Toward & So On (3)

& so on we go... as remarked in previous, on first glance talking about "image" & "symbol" seems rather anachronistic. The forthright Josh Corey, responding to these notes, suggested there might be something less than socially-engaged in such focus. He admits to an early interest in the image, which has shifted over to "melopeia" & "logopeia".

On could argue, however, that after the disjunctions of postmodernism, a project to reinvigorate the poetic symbol might be a worthwhile effort. Pound's distinction of phano-, melo-, and logopoeia, furthermore, can be seen as a typical 20th-century reductive dissection. The resonant image/symbol presupposes a synthesis of sound, vision and meaning. Taking a cue from Coleridge, Eliot, & many others, we can say that poetry's basic, characteristic mode is one which fuses the sensuous image with intelligible meaning by means of compelling sound.

I don't quite understand the assertion that such a focus would be somehow a-social or disengaged. I also admire Kristen Prevallet's explorations of "documentary poetics"; poetry can absorb and turn to good effect all kinds of reportage and political-historical material. I have no particular how-to lessons - at least not right now - on the various technical aspects of shaping a poetic image. All I will say at this point is that I'm interested in the notion of aesthetic-logical unity or wholeness of presentation. (There was a book review in Sunday's NYTBR of a book titled - I think - A Different Physics, on trends toward investigating synthetic or holistic phenomena, rather than always taking apart the engine - murdering to dissect.)

I think Josh's reservations - perhaps related to John Latta's comment yesterday about the "earnest burden'd academosphere" - has to do with a fear of critical distancing from the new, post NY School, post-Langpo group-scene poetry environment. Archimedes said that with a lever on the moon, he could move the earth. Poets are justly nervous about critical levers & leverage in general (it's so often misguided, stifling, & wrong-headed).

But perhaps we need some critical distance from the society poetry of today - & I mean society poetry on every brow-level, and in every scene setting. Writing itself is a lever, a tool for distancing, for questioning social assumptions. Perhaps a focus on the effective, resonant, parabolic symbol would enable some poets to identify their proper sphere, synthesizing both social engagement and aesthetic commitment (autonomy). If we begin to approach poems with disinterested critical method - as a resonant artifacts which speak to us as meaningful wholes - we might discover how poems can engage the larger problems of the world, and pass beyond those familiar barriers, which so often render it marginal, minor & ineffectual.

Recently, the so-called "post-avant" generations have been grouped either as leaning toward the NY School, or the Language Poets : toward talky, self-deprecating, slangy "presence", charm, joie-de-vivre, authenticity, on the one hand, or toward politically-saturated, engaged, ironic, intellectual, aesthetically-revolutionary, experimental, on the other.

I would suggest that the very phenomena of social grouping by way of such vague generic qualities represents a critical blind spot : a fogginess about the symbolic, representative, intelligible-emotive powers and processes of poetic language itself, and about the means and ends of poems as distinct aesthetic wholes.

6.21.2005

Reading Oblomov. The scenes between Oblomov & his servant Zakhar. A serf/aristocracy system had so many "natural" qualities; it was a long-lived adaptation to necessity, by which a few lorded it over the rest. Bizarre society based on false (master/servant) values. Comedy of Oblomov : the pathetic lovable ineffectual master; the pathetic lovable hopeless servant. (ie., eternal Russian paralysis.)

Anthropology of aristocracy : the big smart primates rule, & enjoy the fruits of dominion. Everybody else fits in as needed, in their humble subordinate way.

The anthropology of misplaced value : religions mirror hierarchical, authoritarian social arrangements. People desire to love and serve - but what do they choose as the object of their desire?

Power & dominion. Pecking orders. Celebrity.

The revolutionary concept of the common good, and the value of service to same, rather than dominion. "The greatest among you shall be your servant."
Notes Toward & So On (2)

In the previous entry under this heading, I focused on the idea that new directions in American poetry & criticism might involve a new perspective toward symbol and image. On the face of it, this doesn't sound very new. Didn't the modernists just about cover this, from WCW to Pound to just about everyone?

The modernist image was an expression of its era, which was in revolt against the dying embers of post-Romantic Symbolism - its vagueness, otherworldiness, dead rhetoric. TE Hulme and Pound, the founders of Imagism, emphasized the difference between poetic and ordinary (functional) language - the latter, Hulme's "counter" language (words as counters) is abstract and utilitarian; the former (in good British empiricist fashion), using sharpened metaphor, striking juxtapositions, and careful attention to individual things, rather than abstract ideas, allows the reader to see the world anew. The focus is on physical perception. It was the dawn of the Photo Age : even with Pound's ideogram, the desire was for instantaneous perception of relationships.

Needless to say, we inhabit a different era now, a cyber-semiotic age. The computer has given new relevance to the complexity of the sign, ie. in the theories of the founder of semiotics, Charles Peirce. "Signifiers" represent "signifieds"; then, in a sort of chain reaction of semiosis, signifieds become signifiers, on another level. We are close to Dante's sense of the fourfold nature of the image. In the previous post, I wrote about a new version of the poetic symbol, rooted not in an otherwordly allegorical system, but grounded in the complexities of earthly reality. I don't have a name for this new image/symbol : but I'm thinking of qualifiers like "resonant", "harmonic", "parabolic" : signifying-symbolic chain reactions, tending toward an artistic and intelligible unity of meaning and impression - ie. "sense".

Over the weekend here in scandal-prone RI, a story broke on the pages of the Providence Journal. A family accused their lawyer, the son of a former State Supreme Court judge - considered a family friend - of taking advantage of their 16-yr-old daughter; under the auspices of providing her with legal counseling, he had corrupted her with cocaine & sex. The father, an ophthalmologist, related how, in the course of giving the lawyer an eye exam, he had discussed his suspicions that someone was victimizing his daughter; the lawyer said he would do whatever it took to find out who it was.

This is an example of a situation resonating with irony. The eye doctor is blind to the fact that the lawyer and family friend, sitting there under his lens, is the very culprit he seeks. Betrayal lurks beneath the level of mere physical perception. In semiotic terms, the "objects", the signifieds, of this account - the doctor & the lawyer - have become signifiers on another level of intelligibility.

I am suggesting that the evaluation of poetry of our age might have more to do with such parabolic symbolism - with whole poetic systems of intelligible representations - than with Hulme's or Pound's instantaneous cognitive-perceptual flashbulbs. This is why I argued previously that the example of Crane's Bridge - perhaps the most complex elaboration of a "grounded"/intelligible symbol in 20th-cent. American poetry - might be a pivotal reference point for a new kind of symbolic poetics.

6.17.2005

On the American version of the image, see Edwin Honig's intro to that very middlebrow anthology, Oscar Williams' Mentor Book of Major American Poets.
Notes Toward & So On

The imaged Word, it is, that holds
Hushed willows anchored in its glow.
It is the unbetrayable reply
Whose accent no farewell can know.


These big yak sessions about where poetry is going next, they are, which, a sucker for, I am.

Definitions of various critical notions - such as Image, or Symbol - change over time. Symbolism, as inherited from Poe and Baudelaire and Mallarme and the Russian Symbolists, was tinctured with something approaching allegory : the radiant, outlined image or symbol was an earthly representation of some intellectual, spiritual, supernal substance.

The modernist movements of the 20th century were strongly marked by a rejection of Symbolist-Romantic spiritualism, vagueness, emotional blur. The emphasis was on positivism, the strict isolation of art & poetry within their own autonomous spheres, reductionism in notions of "true (scientific) statements", etc.

Aesthetic developments shared in these trends. Thus the Hulme-Pound push for imagism carefully limited the image to a concrete, isolated representation of some actual thing, or the yoking of two isolated things so that they resonate as an isolated (metaphorical) third thing. The New Critics, strongly influenced by the categorical scientism of I.A. Richards, isolated the poem within its own "autotelic", self-referential aesthetic sphere.

Nevertheless, there were counter-trends at work. Eliot, in his critical writings, and especially in Four Quartets, promoted a notion of imaginative synthesis, in which poetic language united the intellectual & the emotional in the image from "outside" (his "objective correlative"). Stevens, the quasi-Romantic, quasi-Symbolist, turned around and around his central, productive metaphors - simultaneously uniting and distancing the beautiful and the real, "poetry" and "life". & remember Marianne Moore's apothegm : "imaginary gardens with real toads in them".

But perhaps the most substantial counter-example was offered by Hart Crane. Of all the American modernists, Crane learned the most from James Joyce about the properties of symbolic language. Just as Joyce grounded his symbols in the steady, all-round gaze at concrete reality (Dublin, Ireland), so Crane centered his (double) vision on something both actual and metaphorical : the Brooklyn Bridge. In this way, the poetic symbol emits a double resonance : toward actuality, on the one hand, and toward a universe of metaphorical similitudes, echoes, and meanings, on the other. The verbal symbol is grounded in actuality. Similarly, Joyce's early notion of "epiphany" draws the symbol out of the "quiddity" - the substantial reality - of each particular thing. (Similar to GM Hopkins' notion, 50 years earlier, of the radiant things of the world speaking their essential nature - which is, that is, to speak themselves.)

One way of thinking about the progress of American poetry after 1950, is as a search for an adequate idiom to represent reality, on the one hand, and discover the unique, particular purpose for poetry, on the other. A hunt for the Grail, or wild goose chase.

The New Critics developed a kind of 20th-century neo-classicism, by focusing solely on the internal properties, the strictly aesthetic rhetoric, of "the poem itself". The Confessionals broke that mold, liberating poetic form and bringing into the poem vast areas of "experience" : but at the price of setting a whole new mold or mask in place - the anecdotal egoism of personal narratives & psychodrama, which only reinforced more general currents of American exceptionalism and narcissism. The "Deep Image" poets explored the character of symbol and image more directly : but limited to a narrow range of Jungian-Surrealist "subconscious" material - another layer of psychologism. The Beats took their breakout from New Critical traditionalism in the direction of counter-cultural adventure narratives, which exhibited literary-generic limitations of their own. The Olsonian Projectivists and Black Mountain poets took adventure narrative to another level of psychic-spiritual development - toward zen, Jungian-occult Christianity, and other forms of poetic nature-&-cosmos mysticism. The NY School executed a balletic inversion of New Critical practice : the poem retained its playful aesthetic independence - but now it was grounded, not in the morose narrativity of the Confessionals, but in the plangent de-centering of the "I", and a plunge into an American sort of "high-pop" aesthetic pleasure principle : the firmness of the literary symbol always somewhat undermined by the talky, self-deprecating persona of the Whitman-O'Hara-Ashbery narrator (talking-rambling in the foreground, rather than the Eliotic disinterested background). The language poets and post-avants executed their own kind of inversion, this time turning around the anecdotal narcissism of 70's free verse by systematically dissolving both "subject" and "object" : dislocating entirely the logic of meaning, syntax, rhetoric. What was autotelic, for the New Critics, on the level of the poem itself, became totally opaque, for the language poets, on the level of individual words, since, for the language poets, poetic "language" was reduced to a kind of denatured "thing", without any external correlatives or consequences whatsoever. This was a radical move, both in a political and an aesthetic sense : but it was part of a wider trend in postmodern philosophy, heavily indebted to Nietzsche, Derrida, and other theorists of the dislocation of discernible meaning. With language poetry we come to a kind of terminus to the notion of "epiphany" or "objective correlative" or Coleridgean sensual-intellectual symbol, since the word (in language poetry) no longer has symbolic capability : in fact, the "language word" actively disrupts consistent representation.

The wild goose chase of post-WW II American poetics, while not finding what it sought, in a sense offered a glimpse of a profile of what remained undiscovered. Only a new, "post-postmodern" mentality or worldview will ground a new style or poetics. My guess is that critical appraisal of new work in poetry will be based on the nature and status of the image or symbol, understood in a new way. An image, or verbal picture, is already a symbol of what it represents. Often the most radiant or vibrant images are metaphors - ie. they apply a contrast or similitude, in order, first of all, to add force to the impression of the thing portrayed, and secondly, to imply a web of meaning (between the two parts of the metaphor, and among all the other things these parts imply or resonate with). This web of resonant interconnections is the symbolic order of the poem. And when the original image is an "epiphany", in the Joycean-Cranean sense - ie., grounded in the apprehension or experience of actual things and natural processes - a symbolic resonance is generated on yet another level, the poem gains in substance and objectivity. The metaphorical double (or perhaps four-fold) vision of the "earthly symbol" is the "bridge", in Crane's sense, or the "rose", in Eliot's (incarnational) sense, to poetry's essential utterances. It may also provide a bridge between the distinctive dialect of American poetic idioms, and the broader stream of (worldwide) poetic tradition.

By focusing on the sensuous-intellective presence or "weight" of an image-complex, or the overall symbolic resonance of the poem, critics will no longer be hampered by a narrow emphasis on the performing personality (stylistic mannerisms, cuteness, cleverness) - the "stand-up comedy" feel of much contemporary verse; nor will they be subjected to the mystagoguery of serious postmodern "experimentalism", which drowns symbolic representation in discontinuity, abstraction, and literary pretense - a combination of overt intellectuality, depleted sense-perception, and emotional shallowness.

6.16.2005

Robert Archambeau, Josh Corey et al. have been musing about a new "post-indeterminacy" era, & what might herald it.

I remember when my own feeling for poetry revived & got redirected, reading the brilliant/elusive imagery in Mandelstam.

So I wonder if a new poetic style might have something to do with a focus on the wholeness, vividness & multivalence of symbol & imagery.

"There is a current and exceedingly stupid doctrine that symbol evokes emotion, and exact prose states reality. Nothing could be further from the truth : exact prose abstracts from reality, symbol presents it. And for that very reason, symbols have some of the many-sidedness of wild nature."

and:

'We write in symbol when we wish our words to present, rather than analyse or prove, their subject-matter... Symbol endeavors, as it were, to be that of which it speaks, and imitates reality by the multiplicity of its significance."

- Austin Farrer, A Rebirth of Images (1949)

[note : he wrote, not indeterminacy, but multiplicity of its significance. Again, something to do with the work of metaphor.]
Today my name surfaced in Ron's blog history of the po-po-universe. It must indeed be Bloomsday.

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


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


[Nota: the long poem Forth of July is bookmarked by the homonyms rose/rows - Empson's emblematic antinomy in 7 Types of Ambiguity. But here it's more like a 7-sided pun, because the poem (out of Mandelstam's Voronezh) emerged from Rus (Kievan Russia), a word some think stemmed etymologically from the Russian for (Viking) "rowers". (A nef is an ornamental miniature ship.) Rus - and Rhode Island, that is. Double vision.]
Nuttall thesis, via Prickett, reminds me of Yeats : "out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry".
Josh responds thoughtfully. Here he says:

"Haven't read Stephen Prickett, but his account of an unhistorical "shared human experience" that trumps Kant (and Descartes' Cogito, too, it sounds like) sounds rather murky. Certainly one of the things that makes literature literary is its refusal to be contained by the hardening of ideology: if it does so harden we're liable to label it propaganda or doggerel. Good writing seems by definition unable to be pinned down to any single program, and maybe that does have something to do with the "double focus" of metaphor—though is metaphor why, for example, Milton's Satan is such an attractive character in spite of the confirmed Christian ideology of his creator? Metaphor as locus of indeterminacy seems to turn metaphor itself into a site of the unrealizable sublime, which is kind of an interesting idea but at least for the moment stops my thought in its tracks."

- I admit that was a weak section of my post. I haven't translated Prickett rightly there. He writes about the vagaries of "poetry" as a critical term : from ballooning out to include all human mental activity (Coleridgean creative poiesis of the human world), to restricted to representing modes of subjective feeling, leaving "objectivity" to science & history, etc.

Prickett cites A.D. Nuttall's studies of Shakespeare, where Nuttall focuses on what makes a certain work of literature compelling, and finds it where the force of particular & peculiar human characters, & their interaction - the record of experience - the record of consciences coming up against intractable difficulties - breaks through the writer's own set of social conventions & stylized formulae. This leads to a certain messiness or "indeterminacy", indeed - & yet what Nuttall returns to is that the work's very forcefulness is evidence of having reached a certain bedrock of shared experience - shared by those who recognize & respond to it. (The title of one of Nuttall's books is The Common Sky). It's the same thing that may be happening in reader's ambivalent response, as Josh mentions, to Milton's Satan.

Is there something here that tends toward a set of critical values for reading both ends of the current spectrum (from Josh's faux-naif (heart? lyric?) to "lucid" po-po-po-constructivism-ism (mind?))? Maybe - if also partaking of metaphoric "double-vision" in Prickett's sense : a readerly dialect that binds together & balances & sheds light on the antimonies & warring contraries & spiritual conundra & exigencies of conscience of the present...

I'm probably using a lot of highfalutin' soundin' phraseos for something very simple. (Anything to do with Jonathan's #3 - poem that is "bad in ways that don't matter - so good" (my paraphrase)? Authenticity? Rightness? I repeat Mandelstam's famous retort when asked by a (state-sponsored) journalist for his definition of poetry : "The poet's sense of being right.")
Have been working, fitfully, to stay in the poetry. A few weeks ago, started writing unrhymed quatrains (this is moving out of the box, for me). I have the abstract, the general idea, for the poem, I think. (Am reading the official publication of the Golden Gate construction managers, also Henry Petroski's book Builders of Dreams.) It's just that these days the focus is elusive. More from Golden Gate :

The muggy afternoon yawns,
slumps toward evening.
Sweltering, limp. Gravity
or accidia draw me downward too;


but when I look for you
behind my eyelids
on a flat empty plain
a thin high sound (like silence


or a whistle through a line
of leaning telephone poles)
seems to assemble me again –
stirs, troubles, draws me


to draw you to me. A sketch
from forgetfulness, a blind-
fold view (provisional,
fragile) – only the surface


of the edge of memory.
The spider, methodical, plies
his thread across a vacant porch;
I inch along around a sphere


of years – scribbling a map
like parasol (under changing
sun, over shadowy earth)
or palm leaf (a gray wing


flickering and gone). The river
glints in the corner of that eye
as it shifts out of sight; the
bridge overhead, a form of solid


vertigo.


6.13.05



A piano sounding chords, a trumpet
floating around and over them,
and the heart wheels toward
those times, when time


drifted into the meadow, gone.
Myriad chains of grassblades
draw me back there, into their
silence (my speechlessness).


And the bridge leans on my heart –
an unknown gravity (I can’t explain).
* * *
* * *


6.14.05
Happy BLOOMSDAY

6.15.2005

... of course, you can interpret Prickett's theme of metaphorical "double focus" vision in religious terms (cf. "single vision and Newton's sleep" - Blake). Transcendent divinity and incarnate mortality. The eye shifting back & forth, unable to grasp the two-in-one... logos shifting back & forth, yoking & dividing the opposites... cf. Sanford Budick, Dividing muse : images of sacred disjunction in Milton's poetry. Budick contrasts/compares ancient versions of logos (Heraclitus and Philo, Greek & Hebrew) - excellent book.
... speaking of "reality breaking through" : the library just bought two issues of Play : A Journal of Plays. I saw some familiar names among supporters & contributors (Keith Waldrop, Kasey Mohammad...).

At home, I dug out a copy of my old play, Manzago! : a Farce in Reverse. A silly song-&-dance about Noriega, GHW Bush invasion of Panama. & it seemed to be about GWB & Iraq! I was more radical back then (1990).

I sent it to Play today.
Fleeting notes (in midst of work) to Josh's post of yesterday:

Like most oppositions, Altieri's is probably both a necessary discrimination, and an oversimplification. A period style cannot be reduced to one-word labels (lucidity/lyricism). What for example is the role of the so-called 'scenic' in establishing a 'lucid' storyline, a narrative which embodies a particular moral/ political challenge? The "scenic" can't so easily be dismissed. Witness the poetry of Anne Winter.

On another issue: one should be careful not to assume clear separations or grant simple "objectivity" to, or simple causal relations between, literature on the one hand, and socio-historical changes on the other. Josh seems to be presenting another version of the Marxist-materialist "superstructure" causal theory of art & culture. Stephen Prickett has a lot of helpful things to say about this (see previous posts on his book Words and The Word).

The "indeterminacy" mode of much postmodern art & literature was part of a philosophical era which emphasized our inability to define or separate the subjective from the objective. But Prickett argues that the Kantian & post-Kantian paradigms, which underlie that trend in philosophy & literature, cannot do away with a shared human sense of experience per se (however much our words for it change through time). He points to A.D. Nuttalls' approach to Shakespeare (A New Mimesis) & other writers. Nuttall emphasizes how powerful felt experience breaks through the stylizations of each literary era (the complexity of Shakespeare's characters & situations breaks through the monarchical-classical literary dicta & crystallized rhetorical artifice of the time; in the same way the personal drama of King David depicted in the Bible breaks through the literary ideology meant to shape and contain it). Prickett shows how Nuttall's approach is close to, but not quite the same as, that of Bakhtin; but I can't get into the complexities of all that here.

We could look at this blog symposium on the future of post-post-post-indeterminacy etc. as a search for a critical vocabulary for what kind of poetry breaks through our own period stylizations into something new & compelling. Prickett returns the focus to the pivotal role of metaphor. Metaphor, he says, stands between diction/etymology on the one hand, and "story" (history, narrative, discourse, science, etc) on the other. Poetry circles around & centers in metaphor itself. Prickett goes back to the disjunctions of the Elijah story and the sayings of the pre-Socratics, & links them with Coleridge & other Romantics, to illuminate how metaphor creates a double-focus or double vision in order to do at least two things: 1) synthesize & relate opposites (Heraclitus' notion of the logos joining opposites in the equilibrium of the taut bow); 2) create a double-focus vision, in order to represent both new discoveries, and the inherently unrepresentable. He looks at the black-white rorschach image of the 2 profiles which form the shape of a vase : you can't see both the vase & the faces at the same time : your focus continually shifts back & forth. He links this to Dante's scene in Purgatory with Beatrice & the Griffin : when Dante sees this lion-bird directly, it's an absurdity : but when he sees it reflected in Beatrice's green eyes, he sees how the animal shifts quickly back & forth between beast & bird.

& Prickett links this, also, with the dramatic exchange when Dante first meets Beatrice again, & she chastises him : Dante, and the reader, cannot synthesize the image of Beatrice as avatar of divine justice, with her personal injustice toward him : we suddenly see the self (Dante) broken & humiliated just as he achieves the earthly paradise : the shock of this breakdown of the self reflects back on the self's (in)capacity to "comprehend" experience & reality - and then to narrate or describe it at all. We are confronted in this text with both a compelling narrative situation ("lyricism") and a paradoxical representation of the shocking and the "indescribable" (the "lucid").

That "traditional" writings (Shakespeare, Dante, Bible) already exhibit, for their times, both the problems & the solutions - both the lyrical-compelling narratives and their critical paradoxes - should give us pause. A critical estimate of what is valuable to us in poetry today cannot be based on simple oppositions between supposed socio-political-historical pressures (reified always already into ideology), on the one hand, and rejected, stereotyped or valorized period formulae, on the other.
Josh's ability to amalgamate various blog threads is so impressive. & I can't wait to disagree with him, as soon as I have a chance to reflect on it all.

6.14.2005

Still reading the terrific book by Stephen Prickett, Words and The Word.

Following the various blog themes - lambasts of Poetry, calls for a new review locus (good idea). (Didn't Gary S. have that idea too?)

Often feel disconnected... realize how difficult it must be, sometimes, to get into my various hobbyhorses, hereabouts. Well, WCW said dissonance is where it becomes interesting (bad paraphrase of something in Paterson).

6.13.2005

new word for my kind of rambling farrago-midrash on books I'm reading :

bloggerel
Maybe the language poets' (or I should say Ron Silliman's historical version of same) reaction against "speech", and American anecdotal poetry, signalled a dissatisfaction with narrative and representation; but it seems predicated on an equally simplistic (ie. as simplistic as the prose realists') concept of representation. One sees a New-Critical emphasis on the technical analysis of the "verbal object", its autotelism - Clark Coolidge's "word-drumming".

The issue of representation-as-communication - as parable, if you will - is downplayed.

The Romantics understood inspiration as a progressive, purposeful movement of ecstatic vision : the sun is not a 1-inch bright disk in the sky, but a burning eye at the "top" of the visible world, an emblem of the fusing power of spiritual insight - the synthetic, imaginative intelligence. For Hopkins, each thing speaks itself, and in speaking, "selves" itself - communication is its essence; it mirrors the dark "speech" of its origins in the Logos.

These stances imply a cosmology, obviously! A particular interpretation of nature & experience.
I don't want to give the impression that Prickett is just re-asserting Romantic articles of faith. I'm still working through his thesis, but he seems firmly centered on the paradoxes and difficulties involved. "Poetry" - the act of imagination - through the ages - gets proclaimed as the living Mind itself, granted all authority in every intellectual sphere... or it's shunted aside as either mere feeling, or only the faded remnants of worn-out superstitions (Vico). Fundamentally unserious, in our science-prose world.

In a sense this is the project set out for every poet - to find a productive level, an authentic basis, for meaning-making. Finding what (new) can be said.
from Way Stations:

           from a cave


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


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


Such a sweet voice,
twining my cavern ear;
a vine for water jars, when
all the wedding guests are here.
Spent some more time over the sultry weekend with Stephen Prickett's dazzling book (Words and The Word) mentioned a couple days ago.

He's getting into the relation between Romantic & Victorian poetry, & the 19th-cent. movement toward cultural centrality of prose fiction & realist novel.

He does this in terms of the paradoxes & problems of Biblical translation, & the enormous impact, on British poetics & romantic poetry in general, of Bishop Lowth's studies of Hebrew poetry in the 18th cent.

Sounds rather abstruse, I guess. But it's not. His focus is on Wordworth, Blake, GM Hopkins, & esp. Coleridge. Tied into a remarkable reading-back of the various translations of the story of Elijah's encounter with the "still small voice" in the cave. (I have a little old poem along that line, which I will post here later.)

Coleridge's emphasis on the power of the imagination-intelligence to shape perception; of human language as a "subordinate logos" of the (divine) "communicative act" which is Nature itself; & the corollary - the necessity for imaginative participation (re-making) in any reading.

How the trinitarian formula of transcendent Logos united with incarnate person contains a logical paradox (like the "set of sets which contains itself", or however it goes : the infinite God appearing inside "his" own finite creation). (Prickett illustrates with the Saul Steinberg sketch (taken from Escher?) of the two hands, holding pens, sketching each other.) And how any literary representation of reality comes up against a similar paradox.

The prose realists evaded these paradoxes by simplifying the problem of representation. The stories are cast in a form of (desacralized) "objectivity" which reifies the world. (cf. George Eliot's humanist recasting of religion via Feuerbach.)

I thought I noticed faint echoes of some of these issues in Ron Silliman's latest attack on "School of Quietude" representational poetry (remarks on Clark Coolidge, etc.). He sets up a false dichotomy and a false choice between representational and non-representational poetries. If we inhabit some form of Coleridge/Hopkins "communicative cosmos" - within which particular things in nature speak their meaning or Adamic name - then the basic motive of poetry-making - whether "abstract" or representative-narrative - will be to communicate.

When I was working on the long poem, I thought of it as anti-prose, anti-novel. The ghost-shaman Bluejay mixes in with real places & local history. Stubborn Grew narrates the crisis-collapse of its own narrator. I think I have always been aligned with Coleridge & Blake - that there is some mission for poetry which merges with religion & the sacred. Breaks through aesthetic & cultural categories.

sorry, I'm really rambling this morning. back to work...

6.10.2005

You want meaning, drummer-boy? Try to figure it out.

 5


Cornered in a crossweave of very pianissimo
scales tumbling down terraces I learned
a lot from him I learned little things
that mean so much in music get the little


things together the way you build a house
and then the whole structure will stand up

get the patient on her feet and Presto
dancing the minimum the minutest


waltzing bee across a waft so fa so fine
handwoven llama threads all manual
cowpuncho Nilon Ship's Clothing the map
a tiny honey palm-lamp now within a fable


of the feeblest roost or nest beneath a
river of Egyptian stars one lone nut
(almond, acorn) tunneled in the rivulet
of a silky milky nebulae blanket


and sheets of big muddy scarab sound
or terraces of rainbows out of the cosmos
of her sorrow 44 stitches to the cinch
of a single googol [coined by a child]


squared off on a grid of linked unchains
twirling toward mid-April Washington
or Lafayette leftover in a Thursday rain
vale, Jo it's a map of... from a distance


shielded ink kenosi-shrouded crossroad
or galaxy of frailest grassblown wind
a quantum myrrh held in a widow-
pain a microscopic dust sirocco


gleams there dead ahead and green
kayak in a rocket in a yippie eye O kayak
pi A-grid a-wool manually-done and a.k.a.
Mplmnde. Mojómemo Lt. Col. Greenègresham


1.22.2000


far left : my great-great-grand-uncle, Gen'l Delos Sackett [Mexican War veteran. Founded town of Las Cruces, NM, with rawhide-rope survey. Photo at battle of Antietam.] His descendant, my grandmother, Florence Ainsworth Gould, was born on the 4th of July, 1900.]
It's all vanity, guys, sez Kent Johnson. [Knights of the Old Republic, indeed!]
Meanings cannot be equated with referents ("that thing out there") and words are not pointers. Meaning is a sponge, and words are its food. Meaning is The Blob : organic, living, minatory - & I'm a-comin' t' gitcha!!!
...I understand such books probably sound turribly stuffy & old-hat. Nothing new there for poets in those quotes. All ABC stuff (Coleridge's notion of participation, etc.).

What I'm appreciating, though, is the subtlety of analysis, & the way he identifies sources & trends in thought about these problems. You start to see the genealogy of certain familiar ways of defining things. Thus for example, Ron Silliman's focus on Jakobson's 6-sided figure for language (see today's post) : using Prickett's angle of focus, one might start by recognizing a certain techno-positivist character to Ron's application. As if language is this 6-sided "object" which one can manipulate & turn about in various ways : & as if this manipulability is language's main point of interest to us, as poets & readers. Where is this approach to language coming from? Curious that such a functionalist notion of language is used to defend a poet (Coolidge) who is defiantly "non-functional" in Ron's sense of the word (ie. "vulgar representation").

I think Charles Peirce, for one, would look askance at the 6-sided operational model. Why? Because in semiotics, signs overlap & form hierarchies. Which also parallels the notion of an earlier philologist, Wilhelm von Humboldt : that the basic meaning-unit of language is not the word, but the sentence. If the basic meaning-unit is the sentence - and if signs form hierarchies, overlaps & algorithms of meaning and effect and affect - what happens to the simple die-cast theory of signifier/signified, etc.? The signifier disappears into the signified, and what is signified becomes, in turn, a signifier, on another, sequential plane of meaning. The notion of "symbol" and symbolic meaning, in this sense, does not fit neatly into a 6-sided dissection ("we murder to dissect", as another poet wrote).

[p.s. on this idea of the symbolic sequences of signifier/ied/iers : as an example of just one among many types of this overlap phenomenon : see Mandelstam's essay "Conversation About Dante", where he describes Dante's chains of metaphors - "imagine an airplane in flight, launching another airplane off its wing, and then the 2nd launches a third..." (rough quote from memory). This whole question - of how multiple layers or branchings of meaning form & dissolve hierarchies of emphasis - an issue for logic & rhetoric - seems worth thinking about. When Mandelstam wrote that future critics would investigate the impulse behind the text, he was adumbrating the difficulty involved in tracking meaning, the author's elusive motivations. The complexity involved seems to explode any simple, atomistic notion of language as a cube with (6) definable applications.]

Latest reading : Words and The Word : language, poetics, and biblical interpretation, by Stephen Prickett (English prof. at Australian National University). Cambridge UP, 1986.

This is a really brilliant analysis of the shifting inquiries and debates around the nexus defining poetry, historical philology, biblical translation & interpretation. Starting with Longinus' distinction between sublime & beautiful. Through the poets, philologists, theologians, philosophers of the 18th-20th cent. The book is not an historical survey, but a critical interpretation in its own right. I'm only on the 2nd chapter, but finding it very helpful. Full of good quotes, too.

Touchstone : ...I would the gods had made thee poetical.
Audrey: I do not know what 'poetical' is : is it honest in deed and word? is it a true thing? (As You Like It)

Also an interesting etymological fact : our word "soothing" is a kind of lightweight tangent from its prior meaning : "to soothe" meant to verify or confirm as true. "Sooth" meant true or truth. ie. "forsooth". So "to confirm something as true" gradually blended with "to comfort or soothe".

I could identify with this passage (p. 45) on many levels:

"Coleridge's theory of the imagination stressed that all knowledge was acquired by an active integrating mental process; the passive receptivity assumed by the Lockeian and empiricist notion of the 'tabula rasa' model of the mind was an impossibility. Thus in reading poetry we are not receivers of the word, we are, by definition, participators in it. When Coleridge wrote of the Bible that in it 'there is more that finds me than in all other books put together', he is deliberately using the biblical image of dialogue, the process of call and response that is the hallmark of God's dealings with man from Genesis to Acts, as a metaphor of the process of reading itself."

(But, just to be clear, Prickett is not offering his own argument here : I haven't gotten to that myself yet. He goes on to discuss the influence of Vico, who had a very different estimate of poetry & the poetic. While prudently leaving aside the whole issue of biblical scripture and divine revelation, Vico argued that poetry is an expression of the primitive mind, which projects its own fears & desires into highly-colored imaginative symbols - and then falls down to worship its own creations.)

6.09.2005

My publication history is long & extremely complex. The first book I ever wrote is still in my back pocket (hence the embarrassing nether bulge - it's over 800 pp). During the War of 1812, my third volume of poesie appeared under the auspices of the Publication Office of the Canadian Mounties. No, I was not a Tory : it's a long story : the manuscript was avoirdupoiserated (echt "ripped off") by a British spy named Hooliferous Gendarme, and published in the punklands of the north, without my knowledge or consent, as an aide-memoire or strategic map for the benefit of British troops! Not many months later (coincidence, huh???) the enemy invaded Washington and the White House was burned. All because of some silly poems pointing out the major throughways into the DC area at the time!

After my inauguration as President of the United Assembly of Poetry Weirdos of America (UAPWA), I began my gradual descent into the innards of literature, where I was welcomed with open intestines. Soon the calls for more books were coming at me like grapeshot, and I responded with my famous Ptui! Poetry Pamphlet Series, a noble sequence of Henry Gould Verse graciously emitted by Knopf (I mean Pnopf) (which, as most people know, won the Obulous Prize in 1999 (Denver, CO)).

My next book is due to appear in 1947. It will include a portion of my unwritten poetry, as well as a round-up of posthumous and impostorhumous work by the same yours truly, along with some effortless exhalations from Jacqueline Dividenda, my alter ego. She has written more than 78% of my work, under her own name, using my name, as a pseudonym, every other Friday, and some weekends. Jacqueline will continue backwards through my previous published volumes (Gallimaufries & A Side of Fries; June-bug, June-bug, June-bug; Tell me again, June-bug; The Lieutenant and the Other Lieutenant; Gallimaufries & a Side of Coleslaw; etc.) until she has written them all over again in her own name, and then they will be published in a retrospective series (Dividend Gold, the title-to-be) by Popf, again.
... not that the professionalization of community activism was all bad. Mostly it was a process of learning what worked, what was practical. Trial & error. & the problems still remain to be solved, for the most part, along with new problems.

One of the virtues of 70s activism was that it recognized - from the beginning, as one of its basic principles - the difference between words & deeds, between ideology and the actual amelioration of conditions. Sometimes I think the word-warriors of the 90s have forgotten what that's about.

This notion of the common good as an equilibrium or balance of competing forces (Jubilee !), constantly pushed & shaped toward fairness and social justice, has the potential to transcend some of the partisan political wars. This is where writers come in : to make such a notion (the common good as an actual equilibrium) more interesting - as something less susceptible, in the public mind, to polemic & sloganeering. The common good is not owned by left or right, by unions or business, by poor or rich, by workers or intelligentsia. Community is a goal, rather than a self-evident given.
...the name for that social-ecological-imaginative utopia/pastoral (in my long poem Forth of July) is Jubilee.

Jubilee is an important Biblical concept, which combined 1) a seasonal rest-for-the-land (Sabbath), in which fields were allowed to lie fallow & recuperate, 2) a release of tenants from debt and indentured servants from servitude. (There's probably much more to it, but this is what I remember.) Jubilee became a symbol for African-American liberation (the "Day of Jubilee"). The word has been taken up in recent times by advocates for debt-relief for poor & developing nations.

There's quite a bit of social context in this regard (ie. the previous post) in Forth of July, from Stubborn Grew through the sequels. Stubborn deals somewhat tragicomically with RI political corruption, slavery, and the Populist movement, among other things. If you read back through the post here on June 6, you can see how some of these social concepts inform my most specialized "visionary" lingo-dialect.
Josh with some more interesting thoughts on "post-postmodern pastoral", etc.

Interesting that he starts the genealogy with Pound. You could think of epic, long-poem, and pastoral (the goal of epic?) as sharing a certain space. Pound thought of his long-poem as a "tale of the tribe" (see Michael Bernstein book on this).

When I started exploring this area for myself, back in the early 80s, I was still working as a VISTA volunteer for various community/activist groups in Providence. I had managed a food coop & community gardens, & a CETA project with high school kids, to build a "community solar greenhouse"*. I was finishing a M.A. in community organizing at Beacon College in Boston. This work influenced my literary outlook, too. The notion of a long poem for me had to do with forms of poetry which were able to connect with historical movements & narratives, and with a kind of ideal, at least, of "public speech".

So for me the notion of pastoral had (& still has) a populist-political cast. Just part of the general awareness or desire for a "sustainable" common life, in harmony with the world (with people & nature in general). The relationship between social justice, the common good, and a healthy integration with nature.

In the days of VISTA we had a sense that the right thing for young people to do, before they plunged into the private sector in one way or another, was to work in the public sector - to monitor and rein in private interests on behalf of the common good. We were young & naive enough to imagine we had a pretty clear & reasonable notion of what that common good was, and that there was a kind of heroic grassroots/everyday struggle going on, against business interests & corrupt pols, that grassroots people could get involved with.

Why this was the right thing to do was precisely because the common good, since it is so vast, amorphous, and future-oriented, really has few advocates - unlike the narrow & short-term interests of the private sector. And this amorphous ideal quality was akin to the interests of the poor, who also had few advocates. And young people, because of their relative freedom from narrow obligations, were in a position to be those advocates. There's something beautiful about this notion, almost romantic. During the course of the 80s and 90s, political advocacy expanded, sharpened, and professionalized to a great degree. Lines were drawn more sharply, and soft-romantic idealism was curtailed.

This is how I see (very vaguely, anyway), the process happening over the last few decades. But I think underlying the rather naive and perhaps arrogant worldview of those times (mid to late 70s), there is a kernel of truth, an unresolved goal. How so? Well, politics, social policy, social justice are basically about figuring out how to live together. And there is always going to be a necessary balancing-out, an equilibrium, between particular special/private interests (both economic & political), on the one hand, and government policy regarding the welfare of the whole (the common good), on the other.

If one recognizes that political participation means engaging with the project of fostering that equilibrium - and if one accepts the notion of a kind of social-historical poetry (epic/long-poem/pastoral) - one might see how in different ways these two activities intersect. Because an "achievable" or sustainable pastoral world is obviously a project of social justice, in the most general and inclusive sense (ie., all the multifarious ways people engage in beneficial social activity). So pastoral poetry would necessarily have a political aspect.

Language - and poetry - of course, cannot be channeled or directed from the outside, not by any political strategy, philosophy, or 5-yr plan. The force of language - lyric, dramatic, narrative, didactic, satirical, comic - manifests in autonomous and unpredictable fashion. Setting aside any purely aesthetic argument, poetic language is a manifestation of the freedom of the human spirit. The project of epic/long-poem, however - akin to similar efforts in other modes of literature - is to represent "social wholes" or shared realities; they are narratives which reach for wide public recognition and assent/dissent.

[*in the 2nd collage in Stubborn Grew, there's a little photo of me standing next to that greenhouse. The CETA project which built it was probably one of the more unusual in the history of federal programs. A 6-sided solar greenhouse, about 40 ft long and 20 ft tall, designed so its 6 points would touch the side of a "vesica", the geometrical figure formed by the intersection of two circles; length dimensions were drawn from British author John Michell's various books on ancient "sacred geometry". Constructed by Brown student volunteers & CETA high school kids from Fox Point. One of the Brown students, Mark Van Noppen, went on to become a leading builder of urban rehab housing in Providence.]

6.06.2005

When I was writing July, a lot of "American" things came through sort of improvisationally, like George Washington (& Walt Whitman, & Abe Lincoln, & Mark Twain). Luxuriating in childhood reading & memories.

 2


Wail of a far-off freight train
rolling into the distance, the distance
Blackstone deep in solitary meditation
disentangled Anglican by nature or


design looks out upon a landscape
pale green moss near Oxford peaceful
on Orthodox Christmas, Epiphany
in England knotted somehow paschal child


made manifest in birth in starlight
when the light that enlightens is
a kind of new birth and every infant
perception (mangered gemutlichkeit) is


hidden berth of all our memories of
goodness and hidden beneath
our sins which are themselves (Theban
labyrinth) hidden beneath our pride summer's


weeds become so threadbare buried
with the masks prepared for the Mardi Gras
of the world so that we may not stumble
and so the mask may not slip not dribble


accidentally into sight this courage of sinners
in wastelands of each local hell to fabricate
a bolder front O Satan, we thine atrophied
bats! Proud servants, glorying in rancid


shame
! Odd Hessians on a long voyage
in circles toward some banal drunken
surprise across the Delaware naked
and unaware while the Father


of his Country perches (serene, detached)
at the wobbly prow and there is no system
of Dante's hell, only the eternal mystery
of waiting for a punishment which God


I have no wrath will never send since
the evil deed is punishment enough
(along with the heavy tinfoil
masks each deed entails)


A little child shall lead them
Blackstone gazes out the window
past the sagging sagas and the dunes
of fairy tales toward his Bethlehem


down Blackstone River into Sunset Land
since it's always the blanket or
what's under the blanket or the blank
black hole where it was before (Nile


tomb Inca burial cave and icicle child
emerging from a manger steaming
with domesticated beasts) we must
find it again like breadcrust


tossed from the rail into the sea and
floating home where we began
where the blanket wrapped our nakedness
like the frail translucent texture sighs


and comfortings there in the manger
the walls of the coracle, your hurt
heard her heartbeat thread the
nexus naiads now (this gam


of wedded hulls of grain-crumbs drifting
to feed the orphaned gulls crying and
piercing the dead silence, becalmed) raking
the void with fire John Paul Jonas (fighters


with fire sons of thunder Boanerges
suddenly bursting through the powers
of darkness) and James whispers
antiphonal from the tower wall Jerusalem


Jerusalem
rings out over the rooftops
of Jerusalem like the sound
of the Hiawatha hooting Now's
the time was then
as the spotted fur


of the leopard in the emerald nef
spins counterclockwise like
a constellation (Pushkin's
Swamp Fox trail into the fen)


and Bébé climbs into the boat
lets fly the dove and all
at once Law and
Prophets merge in a tub-gemote


A little child shall lead them
your heart remembering under
the wreath of wraiths of undone
wrath gathers the myth


like mud from the bottomland into
the eye of your hand (quiet clay
wheel balanced over the delicate
hides of beasts) in order to wean


the shepherd from the marketplace
of words and the sheep from the stalls
of beastliness and all at last from
the woeful pride of a forsaken masquerade


so that the ship may float like an ark
or civic kayak pivoting on trust
and unexpected grace and the steadfast
love that looks on tempests and keels over


no more but laughs and gives a measureless
measure (floating free and buoyant once
again like the crust of bread or mote
of a sailor's aye-aye Captain!) seamless sails


through Stephen's Gate into Jerusalem
the distance, the distance gone
struck out into the territory one
nigredo fin off Kalevala J-sample


of blood poured hand to hand red
heart from Teotihuacan host
hollowness come home stone
bedrock light afloat through two dear


bears (sun-heart at midnight or
North Star Aurora Borealis
ancient light sown-silver robe
of whispers now dim tiny)


(a tiny light in the middest of
Blackstone veers green
Magdalen Vierge
Venusian and steady) (hum)

1.7.2000


3


Under the wayward spears of an Atlas
Blue Cedar in Swan Point Cemetery
with the Seekonk beside us quiet, dreamy
and the January sun pale distant


seemly tombs inscriptions
fading I come to bury Caesar
not to praise him
Antony's ruse
(coffer with a triple bottom cryptic


spring-wound crosshatched hieroglyph
box-within-a-box Gorby doll
of repetitions Mobius sea-swell
mummy-wound and filigreed


like the brow of Moby Dick)
as I sprawled across the old sofa
and watched the Vikings and
the Dallas Cowboys like a kid


fallen into mother's milk
repeating himself as if reborn
with muses circling a barren urn
fixed pivoting from wheel to kiln


in a spiral toward a Marion Peru
limen or Blackstone's Law
lost in the notebooks buried in a wall
beneath three floors of European


monarchies (of butterflies or swans)
concentric waves of ripples expanding
as the water moves over a damp
Atlantis of Mississippi river mud snow


melting it lands there beside bridges
between twin cities heavy lonely capable
in the bleak winter light balanced
by steep cascading banks mournful dirge


of river-streaming Où sont les neiges
d'antan
? He died on a cold winter night
slowly I have no wrath quinsy
carried him away hard-going gentle


man having accomplished his will and
said goodby his throat closed sealed
against the crackling of thorns
under the clay and all the Law


and the Prophets concentric in a green
firth beneath the bloody flag or
cross of light on Grace Church floor
of renunciations overturnings


humbly retreatings and surrenderings
the servant of his country thus
bending the line of tyrannies and
years into an arch like these windows in


Trinity in Newport these sweet
repetitions of the rooster's crowing
shells within shells of shields worked
over the heart's ancient and riverine


artillery Masonic G plumbline
grown silvery across the iron sides
of railings toward infinity sedes
symmetrical seeds thrones enabling


this kayak at the perihelion of streams
to float out of its frothy berth again
I shall not drink it with you (mug of tea
steaming toward neglected cemetaires


of meteors or one bright lonely star
at the prairie crossroad where iron rails
echo and wind bends in narrow lines
the long soft grasslands rustling)


he left us parked there at Stephen's
golden gate paternal phantom
under the triple floor of a metaphorical
July or sham rock Blackstone's nef


ineffable last gaze toward Nile-mouth
afloat in pyramidal world-dream
aye-aye Cap'n so long Pap unfolded
quaternion whirlpool edicule thumbline


sketch of Royal Palm, shading Tigris
and Ticonderoga Finger Lakes enscribed
with an early ruse before the rooster crows
Abraham takes orders at the well a secret


angel will unfill with gales and stays
of laughter (come to carry Sarah's
not to bruise him
) where Sheba's
finespun blanket is thrown off the scent


for Solomon and the Roman drumbeat
rolls away the stain and sting of death
beneath the third floor of the coffer 13
lucky clovers come slowly round the tumbrel


timbre of the timbrel turned tender dawn
in the greenhouse there in Newport
a successful campaign via terrapin
swamp fox trot, Nathaniel with a nod


toward the east and Touro Synagogue freedom
in the mosaic mordant everlasting lamp
soft light shed like lamb's wool palm
of victory morphed


at the font of washing... salt
of Lima earth one cup of tea, one
baptism gone Florentine
one infant crown afloat


like a ship of light in a cup of water
turned to wine in a plastic cup
or emerald eye (established
before the earth was) Touro Newport


wedding 529 sails puff as
water grows black and death more clear
truth more salty and misfortune
simpler the cask or barrel coffer


with a star afloat like Jonah in its depths
a ghost-reflection one whole dove
set free upon the void
Ephphatha


see through whistling clay
the flute sounds ride the mountain
waves in terraces your naval
natal day plays plangent scales

1.9.2000


4


I was washing up in the winter courtyard,
Julius your red hair and my
failing eyesight meet in a mirror
like a rusted star cloaked in black dirt


brotherhood and Oedipus at the crossroad
crying abba, abba or an inverse she
baa-baa, she baa
over an Atlas
Blue Cedar, somewhere a sleepy sorrow


distant, muted like a child crying alone
on a couch softly muttering and unconsoled
while the loyal troops concerted vigilance
on guard by the old Newport Armory, Nolan


we are everlasting Finns long fellows
Waste Not and Want unraveled into
war beneath a distant invariable
charitable star far-flung swells


after the funeral and I saw him
standing there in uniform after the
re-enactment his name under a reef
of medals Kilroy like some conscription


remnant for the Father of his Country
some ruddy sunburnt equatorial
democracy of microcosm-reality
hove-to in that blinding snowy courtyard


where the general encrusted shell
of heroic David shielded in Scythian gold
obscures the star ringed with tartar dogged
twin not red but green like a glimmering leash


on life yes under the many-colored blanket
blooded with brother's blood (or lamb's)
ripples the star of orphan balm
buried deep beneath pentagonal calibrations


like an emerald bee under a jawbone lie
stubborn borne through black ink and
blank night on the rump of a donkey
Love into your palms my Jubilee


And like the night-light of a mournful child
past midnight and past adult eyes
you will be washing in that courtyard
the ice-cold clearness poured your chilled brow


drinks in the prow of reality ineffable
shadow of the Magi from the source
of every Nile as the Angel knows whose
hand held back the sword and baffled


both command and its fulfillment
this was the many-colored
jewelled lie like Manco Capac
beside the pool called Sent unfolded


leafed in a shroud of shades
the uncut garment of a polar bear
rugged yet mild and dewlapped rabbi
standing in a garden shuddering


with cold and early morning
a little child shall lead them Magdalen
or Lucky green quaternion and emerald
Cuba, Elián an island urn-manger


your berth is here upon an earth
grown supernatural in whispers
in the leaves of wind (lips pursed
with mystery) a tender curling ear


of corn whorled like Ruth
upon a path grown silver
trumpet now with violins
drawn parallel flown through


that feline pinhole of light elusive
jaguar guardian gone soaring
with no one on his track there is
no other happiness to learn from a star


and I'd like to tell you mumbling, my
little one that it's through our babbling
I deliver you to shine Bébé in
that circumference my bumblebee


since a star is only a star and
light is only light a rainbow
your calm smile my Marion Peru
at noon lifted from the cave to rest


and warmth gemutlichkeit
gesundheit
breathing sneezing
coughing crying out a Zeno-
Zeus so lucky home on empty couch


with nowhere to lay your head
until like a hungry blind unhanded
Maximus so slowly inching forward
under the upturned rafters of a dear


mosaic (afloat overhead
where an arch of sheep accompany
your voice a muted organ-pipe
gamboling toward the reed-divining


almond rod upholding the spangled canopy
or mystery poncho in Ravenna
bee-stung honeyed mouth-ravine
grown naked now and copious)


in the moss of night stars melting
flakes of winter snow your hair
flown clean (a feathered ray
falls there and trembles)


inching forward snailshelled
through the rusted fishing boat for
iron ore there in the northland tubular
bereft hulk or love-manger delicious


homeland Hiawatha hollow horn
blown sweet and lonesome now across
the prairie redman Lincoln Norway
spruce blue-green almond eye all


Magdalenian there at the star-cavern
within a nondescript exterior of
Superior stone pebble tear-shaped
eyelid Armenian cupola stern yet vernal


shines veteran dusky dawn-bathed
through turbid potter's clay
a Minnesota spring in January
one leap year one limber habitat


1.11.2000