7.29.2005

would be interesting to look at Laforgue & Weldon Kees.
Look at this fascinating bit from a Cox essay on Jules Laforgue, printed here in Jacket. I guess this is the kind of thing I meant, yesterday, as the standard of "world literature". Just really careful, perceptive, informed reading. A real critic is a real literary historian.

"Laforgue’s poetry is more moving and more difficult than anyone would think whose idea of it derives from Eliot’s imitations. Eliot captured some of its tones of voice, applying them to ends of his own, to mask and evade. When he found other means to do it his interest in Laforgue declined.

Pound’s never lapsed. It was Laforgue who opened his eyes to certain qualities in Propertius and it is features of Laforgue’s writing that underlie the Homage and crop out at places in Mauberley. To call it verbalism seems to degrade intellectual detachment to stylistic trickery but the facts are complex. If some of his tricks are extreme, Laforgue’s detachment is exponential: he mocks his own self-mockery. Something in him Pound always found hard to grasp but knew was there and strove to emulate. He once described it as force coinciding the fragility, great power with great nonchalance. It’s not exactly nonchalance, rather a studied offhandedness. His last word in Canto CXVI: ‘...Jules... deeps in him...’"

[I like the line about "Jules" too. Sounds like a quote from Forth of July, ha-ha]
reading about Kenneth Cox over at Jacket. I see he translated the Sienese writer Federigo Tozzi (Con gli occhi chiusi = Eyes Shut).

7.28.2005




"coracle" [detail from photo of Dakha, Bangladesh, taken by Phoebe]
Jordan sez: "I wonder (I'm always wondering, call it a character flaw) whether Ron's p-A/SoQ distinction isn't at bottom about prosody and diction."

I think it's about trying to define what is especially "American" in poetry in English (& implicitly identifying what is "American" with what is lively, contemporary, etc. in English poetry worldwide - a globalization-effect).

It's agonistic/dialectical - defining what is by comparison with what, supposedly is not (SoQ is not really American, except as some kind of effete remnant of colonial imitation, or ersatz product of a stodgy, artificial pecking-order/system).

Such pigeonholes are convenient for making snap judgements. But I think they continually bump up against uncategorizable examples.

Trying to examine some of the distinctive qualities of modern & contemporary American poetry could be a very interesting project, an aspect of some kind of larger project of cultural self-awareness & reflection (where have we come from? how does this surface in our writing today?). However, it would be better to try to ground such in a more disinterested framework of literary values. In Ron's framework, there is already a body of progressive/oppositional/approved poetry, and the effort involves matching & absorbing ever more & new examples & products to the existing model of value. It's a kind of collective self-promotion. The binary/agonistic/sports model facilitates this process of self-congratulation : there's always a negative shadow which sets off our shining lights.

By contrast, what I mean by a "disinterested framework of values" would involve comparisons and investigations of contemporary work within a much broader field : ie. world literature.
a little more from My Siena :

10

The Lord hath created a new thing in the earth.
A woman shall compass a man
.
Jer. 31:22



In the quiet womb of what shall be
The estranged, homesick word flies back to its nest
Of abiding peacefulness.
Alighieri and
Ezra circle home again, through the door
Beneath a bookstore's rocking sign
For Wisdom (coracle) - touched
By patient, penetrant
Forgiveness - lifted
From the jaws of Leviathan.


The womb absorbs their eccentricity.
An unexpected equilibrium takes hold.
The empty wind and the words it carries
Ruffle the water and reflect unspoken things.
What was justice for the High Commissioner
Becomes a pathway for the downcast immigrant -
That baby refugee, whose throbbing wail
(Still untranslateable) will parse
The future tense.

7.26.2005

Cooling Chords
what is it with counting today?
Here are two more short sections (present for Jonathan):

1


The blithe young maidens dancing in a ring
In the peaceful street, in the ancient hill town
In the painting, slowly fading on the wall
In the ancient hill town -
How many were there? Five, seven, nine?
All in a ring - did they sing a counting game?
One, two, three... faster, faster!
Only a ring now (one dizzy blur).



2


The path from the beautiful day
Through the summer maze, through the needle's eye
Back into sunlight.
The blind step
From a screenless porch, to fly through the air
And roll in pliant grass...


- different eras, different names and flags
For the human effort. The mute donation
Of the groundlings : wholeness
Counting up to one


And one (the hermit's witness).
Working on a new project again, provisional title : My Siena. Can't post much here (bad luck & superstition). Here's one measly section.

8


The Sunday thought, hexaemeral,
Assembles the weeks of years of
Heaviness. Its frame seems
To recall the shape of
Woman or guitar;
Out of a round
O floats your
(mute) rest-
Note.

7.24.2005

Sunday Chords (Earth version only)

7.22.2005

Lovely article on Upton Sinclair & the "Lanny Budd" series in NY Times today. Lanny Budd - "natural" offspring of Henry James & Herman Melville.



"Henry Thunder Winnebago,
recording songs in a grove"

[from an old postcard. He's
singing into a recording
instrument next to the car]

7.21.2005

Listening to Jubilee on Mars, I was reminded of something I'd read about the cacaphony-harmony of Russian church bells, which reminded me of this section of >July (a kind of found poem):

 7


Maybe it is the belfry of the Church of the Nativity
of the mother of God but it is still cold as Hades
60 feet up a corkscrew staircase shoulders
brush the cobbled walls the stumbling ascent


a blend of dirge, railroad-crossing clanger and
shattering wine goblet a disharmonious sweetness
makes a beeline what they create and give away
no Muzak peal can duplicate It is peace in the soul


said Mr. Dorokhin, 29 cacaphonous and
hypnotic the miracle is that they ring at all
its bells were carted off the vacant building
(gagged) became a holding pen for circus lions


When it's cold like this, it sounds better
Russian bells are stationary the ringer strikes
them by pulling the tongue with a rope carefully
tuned, but harmony is coincidental a tree


of iron droning like a cork within ethereal
and capering fire or an upside-down Higgs
particle afloat in a cup of gegenschein
or a grain of faith profound and whole


lifted overhead into far-off rooftop watercolors
and a basil swell where the turbulence began
where a spiral snakes into interior nègre
like a turnstone wheeling Hamlet's cradle


of inward sin simultaneously out into a hamlet
of fate at the navel of a rippling font of sound
where his father's agenbite incuse nostos
just rest spins the will toward Elsinore


a cue for the angel troubling the water
in a maze of circles with a rod of iron
for restitution at last this diorite
horizon of my clay you turn...


1.26.2000
I've been pretty dumb today. I understand what Jonathan wrote about letting your fingers do the talking.

  14


Pitter-patter, Pater-potter... one long reign
of tears. Wanda Landowska's fairy fingertips,
so tender, hardly there (Mozart ellipse
from oh and ah). Its name is Pain.


The octave you could barely reach, one time
in Mendelssohn – from H to H across
the street – across Swiss Alps, almost –
stretched chords (from dream to dream).


Foot anchored to the mute (hush,
pianissimo). Architecture
of release – an iron armature
drones unison-vibration. Only touch


the key... Within a nest of windowsills
light lingers, warm (you hear the bells).


*


Old Orpheus struggles with his empty crown.
Glints like a ring of rainfall, twisting down –


your idiocy, oh India-pendant man,
oh solitary card, your phantom weed.
Horizon-benchmark, yoked yet
to the plumbline – your antipodes.


Harsh gongs, harsh bells clang
hurry on to the end. She's gone.
You hear a whisper... listen,
then. An interval takes wing –


snow drifts slanting down the street
between hers and yours. Soft sound
to rest lightly on the humble ground
goes home compassionate, complete.


11.4.02


[from an unpublished poem called India Point. (Singalong with Clint Eastwood & Jimi Hendrix, here.) The line "Its name is Pain" - swiped from a fine poem by Edwin Honig. I edited & published his collected poems.]
sing along with ecstatic Martians

7.20.2005

Guitar Doodle Infinity (here & on Mars)
See You on Mars (again)
poem posted previously was based on statue of Geo. Washington, standing, behind some cypresses[?], in public park, in Minneapolis, across the street from Art Institute. Where resides (in the basement gallery) Chagall's "The Poet", about which I wrote a nice poem once, back when, which I have, since, misplaced.

Synchronicity, huh.

Stones, sculpture... I got home after another granitic day at "The Rock", where I spend my days [ja privistu maia dnei?] & found this week's New Yorker in the mailbox, with a really terrible poem by William Logan, and another poem by Billy Collins, about statuary [contains the word "plaque"]. I enjoyed his poem in the way I enjoyed an iced caffe-latte from Dunkin' Donuts, which I never do, but I was with somebody (Jim Chapin, from the band, who drinks them every day - we were talking about Otto D'Ambrosio...). The poem is somewhat Whitmanesque - ingratiating, but without the balls...

Here's my counter-NYorker poem (from Stone, 1979):

Statue standing grey in summer rain,
wrinkled stone worn by many seasons,
brow, shoulders, backbone full of purpose,
memory shivering in the roar of battle,
emblem of endurance everlasting,
lasting now in peacetime summer rain.


Rising in the shadow of the trees,
mist of thoughts returning from the dead,
comes to life within the broken heart,
comes to join the living and the dead,
statue of the mystery of glory,
statue standing grey in summer rain.


tomorrow, maybe, I start my "found poem" series...
Poetry is dumb, certainly. Intransitive. Mute. Dense. OM's bit about the modest, unassuming (gray-pebble) exterior, containing within a "terrifying density".

Title of his first book : Kamen (stone). (anagram of Akme : summit, quintessence - ie. Acmeism).

(title of my 1st book : Stone)
cf. the NT (Paul's epistles?) phrase - regenerate, spiritual humanity as "living stones".
Or soil science : Stubborn Grew began with a kind of sculptural impression of muddy Voronezh farmland, as presented in Mandelstam's little landscape poems (The Voronezh Notebooks, trans. the McKanes, Bloodaxe Bks).
Salience... silence.
Going back to remarks of a few days ago...

Sculpting the mask - molding it out of materia poetica - the timbre & range of the voice, the character & intellectual focus of the speaker.

& tying this into the vague notions of sculpture per se presented yestahday.

The poet as the salience of a locality in time & space. A sculptural bump.

As such, only the "verbal representative" of what Everyman & Everywoman yis.

The human person - and analogously, poetic speech - as geological salience. (Mandelstam was fascinated with some such notion. On "salience", see Mandelstam the Reader, by Nancy Pollak.)

To envision the human being as mute. As sculpture. Why? Because I'm thinking of this sort of in Whitman's sense of the poet's identification with "dumb humanity".

But not with the bardic or patronizing meaning of giving a voice to the voiceless. No. Rather to conceive of the "dumb human person" as sufficient unto him- or herself. Why? Because a person's deeds are their true speech. The devotion of ordinary "dumb" (mute) persons to ordinary acts of unselfish charity throughout their lives.

"Piety", in the old sense.

I am wandering dumbly far afield, a stony salience in the furrow.
like this & this today
I've tweaked the "feed" at Go Little Sparrow so you can hear it on iTunes, I hope. I don't have a player myself, so can't really tell. Curious how easy it is to access the songs in the archive - how they circulate. It's all a mystery to me.

7.19.2005

I'm using Go Little Sparrow to document chord progressions so I won't forget them. Trouble is, the sound quality is so poor you can't hear the actual chords very well. Nevertheless I sort of like the rough scratchy sound. They are neat chords - someday I'll set up a better pod system.

I'm a firm believer in musical ignorance & improvisation. You learn (almost) as much by doing it yourself as by trying to sound like some great technician of guitar athletics. Every time I pick up the instrument I discover little things I like.

(Perhaps I should apply this principle to my literary efforts.)

I was going to do some writing last night (if possible) but got sidelined.

["Henry Hankovitch, con geat" - Berryman, Dream Songs. note the patronymic]

7.18.2005

See You on Mars
sculpture celebrates permanence, persistence (by pleasing, surprising, confronting).

the courageous art.

a sculpture doesn't dazzle, magnify, seduce, inform, etc. Instead, it stands there with you.
sculpture is the art of muscle. what is explicit in dance is implicit in every sculpture.

that mangle of steel has a person inside it.

the sculptor is the opposite of the bomber (Conrad's "pest among men" - cf. Secret Agent).

"to be builders, not destroyers" [Cantos?]
The Former formertive fortress-thoughts, & the Latta on sculpture.

solidity & many-sidedness. approachable-impregnable. more than the sum of its rip-offs.

sculpture is serious. the expense of sweat & the weight and roundness, the fact that it's just going to sit there.

though there is plenty of lightness & humor in sculpture nowadays.

not that I know much about it.

in sculpture the design is its own armature and gravity is built into the equilibrium. what you see is design itself, and you feel its weight. (& the materials, their sheen or depth.)

a sculpture ornaments or crowns a place. it is built to last.

it marks a happy contingency, at the insection of objective & subjective.

sculpture is just an extension of landscape, a salience. ridges, rocks, trees - even meadows are sculpted.

7.14.2005

Sometime they might look at what I did with the "Henry" persona, in the Island Road sonnets, in Stubborn, etc.

Berryman put on the "Henry" mask, and recorded the nuclear decay of the Confessional mode.

With me, "Henry" came back, Berrymannish, Joyce-ish. In his Byzantium, his Dublin-Petersburg fortress, in his Little Rhody world.

The only one to show any critical interest, so far, has been that other masquer, Kent Johnson.

The fictional "Henry" was a means to an end : to provide a narrative context for the poetry.

The authority of poetry is the authority of a mask. That is, how you sculpt the mask - what materials you apply to funnel the voice, the tone - affects the transmission of the "content" & themes.
Found myself going back again to Robert Archambeau's essays on "Contingent Poetics".

Though I think he's talking about a certain stream of poetry, & maybe not even the "main" stream - still, I think there are really valuable & substantial ideas to work with there.

Maybe I should say that over the past couple days I was struck by the notion that the approach he's taking might be very useful for me. For dealing with my own present creative impasse & difficulties. Time will tell.

It occurred to me that three or so different factors might be affecting me:

1) the impact that Pound/Williams/Olson had on my development back in the early 80s. I went to work on the long (history-based) poem with their examples at hand, sensing that here was a way to deal with some themes that obsessed me. And also sensing that I wanted to do it differently.

2) the other factor is a hunch that what impelled Stubborn Grew has to do with something Pound was interested in before he started working on the Cantos : & that is the notion of the poet's voice as being a mask or persona.

I'm starting to think that what might be the catalyst for synthesizing "lyric" & "document", or song & fact, is the persona - the ritual assumption of the mask.

I was doing this in Stubborn Grew. I was channeling Mandelstam, in his late, Voronezh, Chaplinesque mode. I'm starting to think there is more to discover & try here.

3) the third factor is a sense that "contingent poetics", as R. Archambeau is outlining it, might indeed be integrated with my ideas about history.

The Jewish, Christian & Islamic concepts of history - in different ways - are precisely the variant records of interventions or juxtapositions (or misreadings or jumblings) of spiritual reality with historical chronology - documentary fact. The whole premise of Christianity, for its part, is based on the testimony of witnesses to things that actually happened. (I don't want to get into all the ambiguities & ironies of religious historicism here, but there are many interesting implications for a "contingent" poetics.)
Enjoying Kasey's (& Nada's) reflections on "what it means to me".

Poetry was not a big part of my childhood. Music, reading & public recitation were, however. There were a lot of school & church plays, speeches from American history to be memorized & recited, hymns & campfire songs & so on. I remember singing hymns & songs all through the long bus rides to summer Y camp. That's how they used to keep us occupied.

"Fair are the meadows,
fairer still the woodlands,
clothed in the beauteous[?] garb of Spring..."

I do remember having to memorize & recite "The Charge of the Light Brigade" for my 5th-grade English class.

Most of the pleasure of poetry in those days came from the silliness involved in class recitals - the many ways kids would find to obliterate the poems.

The NY School can be understood as an outgrowth of this phenomenon.

I think I learned to enjoy reading poetry later, by way of reading fiction. Fiction lights up the imaginative faculties - you learn to "see" the world in the book. & poems are little fictions.

7.13.2005

I guess "fortress" is a rather guarded, defensive way to imagine it.

I am wearing bright green sneakers as I write this.

"poetry is the joining of two strands". With that, Mandelstam had something specific in mind, but there are other ways of applying it.

Like thinking of poetry as displaying the harmonious union of technique and genius (inspiration). "she makes it look easy" : because the technique is driven by an overwhelming impulse or motivation, an ordering impulse. magnetizing, harmonizing, expanding, concentrating.

separate, separate, separate from the everyday.
...[Actually, & I've mentioned this before, I did model the stanzaic structure of The Grassblade Light after the design of a fortress built by Frederick II in southern Italy. Octagonal, with these square towers at the angles.]
Verking on some new versts. Will it amount to anything? I do not know. Experienced so many bloopers & false starts lately. It feels better to be trying, anyway.

Probably shouldn't post them, seems like bad luck. Which means I probably will.

What do I think of POETRY today? Enjoying Latta's uncommonplace speed-book, as usual. & the William Loganisms over here. AND a good summing-up of sumping by Gospodin Samizdat.

There is so much of everything nowadays, so much wordage, that poetry will have to be built like a fortress. Surrounded by yap-yap, workage-in-ploddage, schoolroom industry (all the conferences, all the workshops, all the pronouncements...), it will have to become formidable, impregnable... Not hermetic, though - rather, the reader will have the sensation of being surrounded by a fortress. It will not bend to any discursive formulae, yet it will answer for itself & everything.

Think of it the way composers or old blues guys or painters think about where they come from : overshadowed by thick sounds and sharp tones and bass notes from the past. Something separate, separate, separate from the exchange. Something people make by turning deep down, a personal dream - something from working in solitude with the materials of vision.

7.11.2005

Yeats wrote out prose "plots" or paraphrases as part of the composition process.
Following the discussion of poetry-&-paraphrase from Jonathan, Kasey et al.

I guess I would question whether this is an either-or thing. Why can't a poem have meanings, which can be extrapolated from the poem, & yet retain its integrity & quiddity or whatever as an artistic end-in-itself? The sum is greater or different than its parts - the meanings are abstracted from the poem after all. But these meanings are also evidence of the poem's generative capacities.

Imagine the geometry of a poem as being like a "vesica" - the lens-like shape formed by the intersection of two circles. The shape has integrity despite the fact that it draws from two different figures, two different directions.

I sometimes think that the power of poems has something to do with the compression of meaning into parable. "Telling it slant" (E. Dickinson). You read a 3-line haiku and you experience the pleasure of a whole array of possible meanings, at once. Riddles work in a similar way.

"Paraphraseable meaning" is such a boring way of putting it. The negative connotations stem from the concept's origin in the New Criticism, which was built on a rejection of overt, politicized, didactic poetries of the 1930s (in this it was in line with much 50's art in the US). "The poem must not mean / but be" & all that crap (Archibald MacLeish).

Poets work in such a variety of ways that there is, obviously, no correct method. Negative capability & the passive reception of imaginative expressions & forms is a huge part of the process. However, to deny the importance of "meaning" - & its symbiotic dualities & energies at work in the poem - seems like the kind of rubric which makes a lot of postmodern poetry pretty vacuous & turgid.

7.07.2005

Josh responds to my post of yesterday. He misreads a couple of my comments. I didn't say I found the supposed relations between economics & culture depressive & oppressive in themselves; what bothers me (or should I say offends me) are the pseudo-sophisticated translations of those relations into supposed literary or critical values. This was the kind of thing the Soviets did so well, and that ideologues of both left & right always pursue : making political dough out of the yeast of art.

Secondly, my comments about developments in India & China referred not to labor outsourcing or globalization : my point was that the astounding expansion of (relatively) free enterprise economies and (relatively) private property relations rendered pseudo-Marxist terms like "late-late-capitalism" meaningless.

Labor relations, social justice, and human rights will be forwarded on a different basis and with a different vocabulary of values than those exuded by the stale and peevish academic-literary communities of the US - which can't seem to admit to themselves that their current attitudes and concepts have very little of positive value to contribute to the actual reform & betterment of society.

7.06.2005

old poem from Way Stations :

  The wind exhaled, this world
sprawled – a spring disaster, flocks of embraces
in the garage, under the oil refineries
hospitable sirens, waltzing on broken silver.


And night deepened around the temple,
a yellow-black wafer, crust for the swans;
and the wind circled the olives, a morning watch
all night by the Kedron, all day by Euphrates.


And we'll meet again by the wintry river
where we swaddled the sun in a double wreath,
cedar and lilac, tangled in a knot of beaten
gold – sea-roses, breathing in Jerusalem.
You can't blame poets, though, for making gestures toward a messianic realm. That's their main job, I guess : evoking a utopia hidden in plain sight.
Curious how left-politically-oriented literary readings, like Josh's - now that Marxism appears finished for the most part as a systematic economics, and as a political movement - re-animate the Benjamin/Adorno term "messianic". As though there's a ratio between actual political conditions (since 1989) and the level of vague utopian-mystical emphasis in some literary circles.

I find these equations between "late-late-capital conditions" and changes in poetic style sort of tedious and depressive, or oppressive. Something a-historical and attenuated about them : general spleen about working conditions & politics gets larded with these pretentious comments on the latest poetic in-group fringe phenomena. "Late-late-capitalism" : how baroque, considering current conditions in India, China, and around the world : how utterly irrelevant as a descriptor.

For me Catholic Church doctrines on economics are more subtle & relevant, since the Church has had to find a way to balance things like Polish independence & Western capitalism, liberation theology & theology per se, and living & working conditions not just in the socialist & capitalist countries but throughout the world. This balancing act, along with the Church's longstanding tradition of concern for Labor, has filtered into its analyses. I certainly don't agree with everything they come out with, but I like the late Pope's criticisms of both capitalism & socialism; I like the notions presented in several U.S. & Vatican church documents on economics, which make a claim for both private property and economic justice.

Compared with certain populist & Catholic strains of economic thinking, a lot of American literary leftism comes across as effete & impractical. Yet according to these critics, whole schools of poetry are built on supposedly deep reactions of American poets to economic & political conditions. May be more rhetorical heat than light in those reactions.

7.05.2005

Found a new use for blog : recording music I would otherwise forget the next morning. Was guitar-doodling out on the porch late last night, & as very often happens, I came upon some new chords etc. which I liked. Now I can go on the Machine, & in a strenuous hour or so, honk it for posterity & global distribution. I like the rough-cut impression. Hot off the pan. Often when playing something on impulse, it sounds better than later versions, when I'm trying to tighten it up. Happened just the other day, with "House of the Rising Sun". I tried to quiet down the harp in a new version - but couldn't play it like the first time. Too calculated. (probably a sign of amateurism)

7.04.2005

(rough & windy) Waiting on the Jubilee

It's been dark
gettin little lighter now
waitin on the Jubilee

It's been long
gettin little brighter now
waitin round to be free

7.01.2005

House of the Rising (Martian) Sun
If I Could Say (Martian 4th of July)
Well done, Keyes. Spangle your Banner. Happy 4th to you & all.

(Cara, me & Juliet)
 10



I am coming like a Swede in the night
to Henry's Diner (or not coming)
coming like Ava Gardner with a spring
in her step (and double-cross in her heart)


to the shores of great rivers dancing
with thieves in gilded armor (and lead)
I am coming like Vietnam-bred
hootchie-cootchie man breathing


the same air (brotherhood cosmos)
as a summer cicada hidden in a crown
of tupelo trees drowning (almost)
in their drone beyond reason


coming in the sweet child-food
of Melchizedek that bees make
to temper the blood (just as a book
tempers hot iron paws along the road)


to restore you like the sun
and prepare the way (here it gets
omen-like) for the drama (the set-
up) in a garden of stone manes


where children gather to appease
the dead ancestors ranged
under the prairie waiting red-
eyed all night long for the wise


footstep the light wheeling
pivot the morning
birth-rite (swing
as you may to leeward (heeling


highway crust (Hiawatha



6.6.99
OK, one more (God, I could post the whole damn poem.)

 17



I built a way-too-delicate
ship-in-a-bottle and threw it
into the sea. Was it Lucky
or Sophie – or only


Titanic ox taught to float
too soon toward no one?
A wheel was borne
down to the delta (a


paddle-wheeler, lazy
catamaroon) into New
Orleans, like an ark of J
d'Esprit
or some Degas


jetty-gazetteer-in-brick
Isaac molded for gargoyle
atop Notre Dame. Soil-
heavy, a thrown-back


blue-gill forehead-
figured she-Marie or
Rust & Rosie O'Green
maybe – a Marian, sad-


happy-again at the
cap-tall pen-arcadia
turkey-shoot. A florid,
a rapt – windjimmirror.


Some medieval mother
wounded by arrows. Your
forged seventh to the fourth is
one loft-angle-barn green anchor.



6.9.99
... & one more bit for today...

 7


The moon was like a shield of milk serene
over the long lazy-Lazarus river of mud
and a mild music in 4/4 time dum-
dee-dum-dum
a faux tod blessed sans


raison
filtered the willow-limbs
like a breeze from the delta
and forth came the deadly belated
jewel-brow of an eddying copperhead W


like a wily whale from an upland cave
speaking in bellicose pitch-tongs
of sullen fury green-gutted
with spite beneath the vacant lamp


of a one-eyed Sears Green Constellation
the whorl of his disaster-tail tipped
through a pinball furnace petals
of velveteen galaxies the venomous patter


of his speech-machine Independence Day
while the clock with four hands (not red,
not black) in the tiny room (engaged,
not vacant) where he waits (intrepid, with cigar)


for the helping hand of an hesitant cripple
aligns at last Greenwich and Washington
Florence Petersburg & Lima Jerusalem
and together cry fly, dove escape from me


through the light breeze in the empty garden
rustling the vines beyond the porch
in the uplands where the serpents play
and lying still beneath your palm the dragon


at the summit wheels (tame now) for you
(fireworks rounding out your forthcoming)
who fused the four hands of the seraphim
inverting dragonship into green infant nef


1.28.2000
Going to post a couple of oddities from Forth of July for the 4th of July. This one was written on the 200th anniversary of the death of George Washington:

 6


To drift on a raft, in the cold Gulf
your mother drowned and gone
to the bottom, your no-go
father waiting, wanting to lug


you back to Cuba. Elián González,
refugee. Half-orphan, political
racquetball. On elliptical
orbit... to please the ghost


of his mother, or follow
his father’s voice? A listening
crane on a listing splinter
under unknown stars (willful


beasts beneath transparencies,
emergencies – self-righteous
crowds of kinfolk tyrannies –
calculated raptures, seizures).


And Henry trying to right the boat
from a Babylonian mess, a mes-
tree, a mystery–semblance
muttered by tabulator-


oracles, never getting blind.
All out of fo’csle fire, folks
– star-speech of sophic
sophisticates in dabble-


science. Dark mutter
beneath the beautiful city
of colored stars (drunk on illicit
l-Iku cubes, original razzmatazz


of paradise). Tom Thumb
(vain little man to the finish line)
hefting his axe to shadows, Nile-
willows, round oak boles... mythed


again. It was the voice of Persephone
brought Kore to the well-stone,
sent Gilgamesh nose-tossing
downward toward the Scorpion


or Mother Sun or Dead Zone
south of Canopus and the big
muddy vermin-mouthed gibbous
Nile-thermousine nose-diviner


raft of pap set loose there;
was Sarah Wilds for truth, hung
swinging for it between Hale
Oannos and Oannos Golden (Rhea’s


Salem shulamite for real) and
all the other saints (from Jeannie
arcing east to Mary Easty, swinging
west) fled to our island Rhodes,


colossal Roger Wilco’s will (his palm
of stone extended over the Terrace
of soul freedom, calm, certain)
for every ignited fire-lamb


of foolishness or wisdom (children
circling around a christmas tree
all lit with stars gold-wrought
and silver-shimmering for their delight:


some happy pappy’s saintly clause
exuded from the fireplace or through
the cedar boughs: some wraith
of presence through chalk-


white blindness: deepening snow
of winter night, adrift... a raft
from the serpentine and far
Antipodes). And snow it was –


since the blizzard of the galaxies
unfolds in chaos, and the choppy seas
avoid the careful, coppery seasons
of Assyrian seizures, accidental


Babylons, and the dismal
dizzy darkness bears, it seems,
the single inkspot of a measly
thumbprint (on a live-oak dreidle


backspun against gravity) –
your will, old Roger’s Will, old Roger
Williams’ will – the will to rage
against stars, for heaven’s vague


unvarying stake – rage like a lion
against cruel stars, their stories
and their cold indifference –
muttered spider tales, nails


in the coffin of each living
soul (nursery rhymes, cribbed
around your eyes – the bier,
creaking at the vile Nile mouth).


Ah... but your rage will turn to wonder
and your Martian heart dissolve
upon the hearth, when the love-star
climbs from the depths – the red one,


turning violet and green - the star
that fell into the well in Bethlehem,
the star that guided Balthasar
from the heart of Ethiopia


to the rafters sheltering a refugee
bringing his single gift - an emerald
jewel-ship (tender shell, immured
in his palm... a gleaming nef).





*


Yesterday 200 years ago
a humble father of his country set sail
with Utnapishtim, for the terraces
of Ocean-Sky, in far Ogygia


(where all the rivers meet). O
you who love the land from the bare
cradle of the zu-bird to Arabian
phoenix (Jeannes at the teller teamed


with arching armored Johns adorned
with eddying maelstroms, gunslung tattooed
catch-22s) listen: alpha beta gamma Pegasus
at the Florentine font, 529, sidereal,


intones: go out to the Exalted Courtyard,
Iku-Star – where truth grows saltier,
more regal. Light along an axe-blade travels
upstream (pennyroyal mint) to Blackstone’s font.



12.15.99
Myself included.

Halloween.  The sun’s already down.
Everywhere leaves are gathering,
lightly rustling and shivering,
their ruddy bloom already fading,
the sun’s dry wine drunk to the dregs.


The neighborhood grows anonymous.
Soon the small ghosts will appear,
flickering and half–transparent
under the streetlights, costumed
for space travel, or the Middle Ages.


This is that ancient harvest night.
Harvest of time, harvest of souls.
Tonight the years are buried quietly
under a shroud of old leaves, and I
am a child too, standing at the door.
Everything can be explained, probably, by Nebraska. "The plainness of the plains." [Mandelstam] A different landscape of emotional perception offered by small Midwestern towns & farms - different from the jazzy coasts, or the steamy South. The near & the far, the vast & the small, interpenetrate. Time slows down. Childhood is another country.

Kees was an only child, maybe a happy one. Some of the bitterness could stem from exorcised nostalgia. Look at this poem:

1926


The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots
A phonograph is playing Ja-Da.


An orange moon. I see the lives
Of neighbors, mapped and marred
Like all the wars ahead, and R.
Insane, B. with his throat cut,
Fifteen years from now, in Omaha.


I did not know them then.
My airedale scratches at the door.
And I am back from seeing Milton Sills
And Doris Kenyon. Twelve years old.
The porchlight coming on again.


Milton & Doris were movie stars of the time. Childhood another country. How doesn't this terse, somber poem shed a certain slant on the art & life of Frank O'Hara? (& on Tate, Ashbery, & all the permanent children of American poetry? Myself included!)
Reading more Weldon Kees. A terrific poet. Here's an interesting article by Dana Gioia on Kees's influence & reception. Gioia raises a number of questions about the neglect & "non-canonizing" of this poet, who has been praised & imitated by so many other poets (as opposed to critics & anthologists). But he doesn't really answer them, possibly because Gioia doesn't examine the poems themselves very closely. Donald Justice addressed the issue directly back in 1960, in his intro to the collected poems, which he edited. Referring to Kees's (suicidal) vanishing act, he wrote: "If the whole of his poetry can be read as a denial of the values of the present civilization, as I believe it can, then the disappearance of Kees becomes as symbolic an act as Rimbaud's flight or Crane's suicide."

If we shift the "disappearance", here, to refer to Kees's critical reception over the decades, then Justice's statement makes sense as an explanation for same : ie., there is something in the "whole of his poetry" - in its thematics, in its bitter, painful, satirical, harshly stringent, mournful tone - which makes it very demanding and hard to take. Kees's playfulness skimmers over depths of grief, sour laughter, moral outrage. There's a vertigo of despair & social rejection at work. Yet it's also thorny in another way : Kees can't be typed as a bohemian or dismissed as just another lightweight visionary "poet". Apparently he was careful & conservative in dress & manner : it's reflected in his writing. The surrealist & experimental elements are employed with prosaic clarity & force; the diction is simultaneously plain and baroque; the rhythms are steeped in blank verse, sharpened & enforced by echoes of the iambic beat of Crane, the long measured lines of Eliot. The impact of individual poems is a combination of pleasure & shock.

To repeat : Kees is a terrific poet, from whom many have learned & many more could learn. But his stance, his worldview - its clear-eyed, emotionally-overwrought bleakness - has its costs. It's not something teachable, and it's not something societies of any place or time have welcomed with open arms. To paraphrase one of the former Iran hostage-crisis hostages (who was referring to the new Iranian President), Kees is "not on [anybody's] Christmas card list".

Perhaps Kees himself - the person, in life - was victimized by his own acidic art, the melancholy bleakness of its tone. He was undone by his own vision.

I'm going to be reading & studying him from now on.