2.07.2006

Here's a new project, maybe, from LP (Lazarus Posthumous):

JUBILEE DIARY


2.7.06


The view stretches west from the bench
at Prospect Park. The bench on the cliffside,
the statue at its edge, the edge of the wide
sundown horizon. The dense hunch


of dunce Hen whispers : here commence.
Aloft, above roadside habitats,
drab clapboard rats'
establishments, Providence


triple-decker tenements. Wayside
caves for every surrender (your
habitual morsels of remorse - those
broken seals of very spendthrift guys).
Joseph Brodsky has always stuck in the craw of American poetry scenesters. This guy comes in from Russia, becomes the darling of the anti-soviet establishment and literary lionizee, promotes metrical & rhymed "verse", Frost & Auden, writes mediocre poetry in English, and wins the Nobel Prize!

Sam Hamill wrote a long diatribe against Brodsky for APR about 20 yrs ago. Even though Hamill's probably "Quietude" to Ron, they both showed a similar political spin & knee-jerk resentment.
Jonathan on the Brodsky thread.

The comparison O'Hara/Auden/Mayakovsky is fun, but I think their differences outweigh their similarities.

As regards the rest of Jonathan's comments : I am really tired of this kind of criticism by insinuation, based on very slim knowledge, and even less fellow-feeling, with the poet in question. What Ron might have thought about what Brodsky might have thought about Mayakovsky - what is the point of this? A little research in the Brodsky archives might turn up a totally different, and far more interesting and informed, perspective on Mayakovsky/Brodsky. But we'd rather settle for myth, rumor, insinuation, and the other ingredients for the potential cooking up of literary slander.

It's not enough that Brodsky was, in his own country, an almost dissident-by-default (Jewish, somewhat independent) under a dictatorship, and sent into exile; we have to make efforts to "place" him aesthetically and politically with these little filaments of meaningless genealogy (N.C. to SoQ etc.) and these animadversions of political incorrectness (Brodsky, let it be noted, arrived in the U.S., with his suitcase from China & his rudimentary English, in the fall of 1972 - a little late and a little disconnected from the moral responsibilities of the Vietnam War).

Here's a link to some basic biographical information.

2.06.2006

Seems fitting, this time of year, to post again my old contribution to the Yeats/Auden/Eliot/Brodsky elegy round-robin. (from Way Stations):

JOSEPH BRODSKY

But each grave is the limit of the earth.
1


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


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


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



2


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


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


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


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


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


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



3


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

2.2.96



The final section of this poem alludes to a Brodsky poem about a boy and a moth, which in turn alludes to a Nabokov short story. Oddly enough, the 2nd and 3rd sections of this poem were written before Brodsky died. The original version was not an elegy for Brodsky : the poem had opened with a section about my adolescent infatuation with Nabokov! So, when you consider that this elegy is part of a cycle of elegies - Auden for Yeats, Brodsky, echoing Auden, for TS Eliot - then this Nabokovian reference forms a second loop.

cf. Mandelstam (in a not-so-great, not-terrible translation) :

Sisters - Heaviness and Tenderness - you look the same.
Wasps and bees both suck the heavy rose.
Man dies, and the hot sand cools again.
Carried off on a black stretcher, yesterday’s sun goes.


Oh, honeycombs’ heaviness, nets’ tenderness,
it’s easier to lift a stone than to say your name!
I have one purpose left, a golden purpose,
how, from time’s weight, to free myself again.


I drink the turbid air like a dark water.
The rose was earth; time, ploughed from underneath.
Woven, the heavy, tender roses, in a slow vortex,
the roses, heaviness and tenderness, in a double-wreath.

2.05.2006

I've gotten into a tussle over Joseph Brodsky with Ron Silliman. This happens now and then in my life. I wrote a long letter to American Poetry Review back in the 80s, answering a particularly jaundiced attack on Brodsky in that magazine.

Here's the paragraph of Ron's with which I took issue:

"One of the great ironies of this sort of dismissal is that a Joseph Brodsky, whose solution was a return to the formal precision of pre-Soviet poetics & to abstain from collaborating with the aesthetic bureaucrats of his time, easily fell into the hands of the same sort of apparatchiks once he was able to come west. An even greater irony – the new critical roots behind Brodsky’s later School o’ Quietude friends could be traced back¹ to the Russian Formalists & their principle source of inspiration, old “Cloud in Trousers” Mayakovsky himself. Now that the old Soviet Union is no more, of course, they are constructing a monument to Brodsky in St. Petersburg."

(The "dismissal" referred to is Ron's notion that Mayakovsky is not given his critical due because of his affiliation with official Soviet literature.)

Let's have another look at this fascinating paragraph. First, Ron says that Brodsky's "solution" to soviet repression was a "return to the formal precision of pre-Soviet poetics". As I understand this, Ron is applying a familiar template from American poetry - i.e., that there is some sort of parallel between literary experimentalism and political engagement - to the Russian situation. But this does not hold up. The poets responsible for experiments in early 20th-cent. poetry in Russia cover the political spectrum, from Tsvetaeva's White-Russian royalism, to Mandelstam's gradual separation from the regime, to the otherworldliness of Khlebnikov, to Mayakovsky's revolutionary commitment (I don't know enough about Kruchenyk's politics to speak about him). To argue that Brodsky returned to a pre-soviet formalism as a political move, simply does not jibe with the facts. The Brodskian model was neither literary conservatism nor political withdrawal. He did not "abstain" from collaborating : he was sent to a labor camp at the age of 24 for "social parasitism", and his case became a Russian cause celebre when the bizarre transcript of his trial was written down by Nadezhda Mandelstam and published in samizdat. He was eventually released after a storm of public protest, and forced into exile in the West.

Brodsky's poetry developed gradually, and draws on many, many sources. To describe its development as a "return" to pre-soviet aesthetics is a myth. As I wrote earlier in Ron's comment box, Brodsky's most immediate mentors were soviet-era poets (Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva), one of whom (Tsvetaeva) was a tremendous innovator and literary experimentalist.

But let's move on to the next part of Ron's statement : [Brodsky] "easily fell into the hands of the same sort of apparatchiks once he was able to come west". Ron bases the supposed irony at play here on the notion that the established poets who helped him on his arrival in the West (most prominently, Auden) were somehow similar in social position and function to the officials in the Soviet government who deemed him "social parasite" and sent him to prison. Now it helps to have some knowledge of the particulars of Brodsky's trial & conviction in order to understand the full absurdity of Ron's comparison. There are a number of web sources available on that trial : here's one. But what he is implying is that literary figures & publishing organs of the West - those which helped Brodsky find a job, translated his work, helped make it known - were in fact equivalent in some way to the punitive organs of soviet repression : the ministers of propaganda, the censors, the jailers, etc. Without such an equivalence, there is no "irony".

This claim is a reading of literary history and politics which is so extreme, as to represent a kind of absurd, anachronistic soviet propaganda.

But let's move on to the next sentence: "An even greater irony – the new critical roots behind Brodsky’s later School o’ Quietude friends could be traced back¹ to the Russian Formalists & their principle source of inspiration, old “Cloud in Trousers” Mayakovsky himself."

Here we get into some inner workings of Ron's literary genealogy. It goes something like this : Brodsky's new Western friends were part of the School of Quietude camp; the SoQ has its roots in the New Criticism; NC has its roots in Russian Formalism; RF's principle source of "inspiration" was Mayakovsky. QED : the "father" of SoQ is really Mayakovsky! Brodsky's new "apparatchik" pals were really descended from the poet they reject (for his soviet affiliations)! Oh my, how ironic!

This is an example of a sort of idee fixe, which obsessively threads its pseudo-logical needle, without seeing the pattern of facts which contradict it.
What if:
1) Mayakovsky did not "inspire" the literary scholars who called themselves Russian Formalists - but that, rather, he was one among many of their literary objects of study?
2) The New Criticism was not some kind of genetic outgrowth of Russian Formalism, but rather a set of American critical theories & practices, which drew on RF among many other sources?
3) Ron's "School of Quietude" is not descended genetically from NC, but is rather a polemical grab-bag label applied to many kinds of contemporary poetry - including, for example, vast amounts of verse modelled on Lowell and the Confessionals - a poetics developed in direct opposition to the precepts of New Criticism?
4) Brodsky's main friends and mentors - Auden, Lowell, Walcott - practiced various modes and styles deeply at variance with the supposedly a-political, aesthetically self-contained modes promoted by the New Criticism? And, for that matter, deeply at odds with the practices Ron impugns as SoQ?

The fact is, all these "what ifs" are well-founded. There is a lot of evidence to support the historical truth of each one of them. Thus, Ron's interpretation of Brodsky's & Mayakovsky's literary-historical meaning for us seems to be based more on theory than on fact, on fantasy than on history. Thus the rationale for these "ironies" evaporates. We are left with a tendentious, mean-spirited complaint about a new statue for Brodsky, a quintessential Petersburg poet, being erected in his home town - from which he was exiled for life. After his forced removal to the West, he never saw his homeland (or his parents) again.

2.02.2006

something mini-medieval from The Grassblade Light :

 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
... in the last pages of Stubborn, the "voice" of "Henry's father" suddenly breaks in for the first time. He talks about "going to his chamber" in Jerusalem.

Now this is a nod toward a very famous scene in Shakespeare, which you will have to hunt down for yourself. Happy Candlemas Day.
... bringing me to the diagram with which I began the previous post.

What might a "neo-medieval" reading of Stubborn Grew/The Rose (Forth of July) involve?

ut pictura poiesis. Most of my long poems have paintings all through them. (My mother is an artist - I grew up with the smell of turpentine & canvases.)

Think of poetry as occupying a middle ground between painting and the unrepresentable (God's name, Simone Weil's "decreation"). Ekphrasis : in two directions at once.

Chinese characters/brush strokes.

Stubborn begins and ends with "J". (Bluejay : the bird, the man; Juliet, Jonah ["dove", sister-dove], Julie, July, Jubilee, Jerusalem...)

"J", the letter, comes from "i", iota, jot, yhod : the smallest letter of the Hebrew script, maybe going back to Egyptian/Phoenician pictograph for "hand" or "arm". In Hebrew, it's the 10th letter, the smallest letter (jot or tittle), a little dot or black wing-stroke or swirl. A J-swirl.

The whole poem can be understood as an ekphrasis-expansion from the letter J. (When I was beginning to write it, I was heavily influenced by a particular Melville study, titled Game of Creation, by Viola Sachs, which goes into the scriptorial letter-symbolism deeply encrypted into Moby Dick.) A Book of J.

This practice is maybe a new-old kind of neo-medieval classicism : in which the individual imagination is not stifled by dogma, but tempered by the necessary impossibility of representing the Invisible, the Unspeakable.
some hobo thoughts on "neo-medievalism" :


                imagination


poetry + painting


natural vision


Nicolas of Cusa, or Nicolas Cusanus, the 15th-cent. philosopher/theologian, is a good psychopomp for neo-medievalism. A liminal figure : both medieval mystic and renaissance humanist, and not quite either. (See poem posted a couple days ago.)

The notion of God's incomprehensibility, un-representability, was curiously empowering, rather than limiting. Like a precursor of Vico, Cusanus imagined a "human universe" : all our conceptions & images of the divine are irrevocably, foolishly human. Thus his doctrine of "Learned Ignorance".

We cannot "represent" God, yet we are (through the Incarnation) God's representatives in human form. Thus God, for both Cusanus & St. Paul, is paradoxical : the "conjunction of opposites" (Paul's "cross").

In neo-medievalism, the confidence of (a somewhat absurd) faith resolves the dilemmas which dogged the poets of Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Victorianism, Modernism, Postmodernism... how so? Because it's a faith like that of Cusanus : it sanctions, rather than denies, the human imagination.

The Romantic poets tended (on a sort of scale from middling to extreme) to exalt and triumph in the human Imagination and the human Self. The Victorians & the Moderns tended to hedge that triumph in - with irony, doubt, despair, scepticism, science, or dogmatic religion.

The Neo-medievals (I must find a better name for them : perhaps Groundhogs?) recognize that there is no dogmatic (or artistic, or philosophical) formula to resolve the dialectic between the human and the divine, between Self and Other. It is a paradox; a conjunction; a symbiosis; a ping-pong.

The self is always in dialogue : the "son" with the "father", the body with the soul. A Person is a relationship. Candlemas is Groundhog Day. More paradox!

(p.s. : I understand, & I truly sympathise, with those for whom this all seems like meaningless or worse-than-meaningless religious mumbo-jumbo mystification. But ever since my "Shakespeare thing", I have lived not only in a "human" universe, but a universe suffused with Personality.)
somebody at the bookstore told me that today is Candlemas. Midwinter day.

HG Poetics : Candlemas

Groundhog Poetics : Groundhog Day

This is the day that, in prehistoric times, little cave children dressed up as groundhogs and dug little caves for themselves inside the big family cave. Just at sunset, they would hop out and yell "prolegomena!" - which was the origin of both Candlemas and epic poetry.
Groundhog Poetics : the inverse of HG poetics.

HG poetics is about the obsessions & obsessional behavior of verbalist HG.

Groundhog poetics is a projection of these obsessions onto Everybody Poet.

HG Poetics is elitist; Groundhog Poetics is egalitarian. HG Poetics is like Chartres Cathedral; Groundhog Poetics is like the bus terminal.

Will ever the twain meet shall?

Check back in 6 weeks.

1.31.2006

Reviews of my books tend to alternate in (roughly) 30-year cycles. Back in '79 I got a very positive review of my first book. This one, in '06, is faintly damning. So hang on to your hats - there should be another positive one coming along around 2040.
Simon DeDeo reviews Dove Street. & this is the first review I've gotten in 30 years. I'm glad it's not an excerpt from a blurb.

His take on it seems to quote (without attribution) from this stanza:

  Under the Bruegel-skies of late November
a hobo stumbles on, hunched-over, broken-
down, his fortunate misfortune taking on
a common nature – weathered, as it were.

1.30.2006

...an illustration, from Dove Street (apologies for repetition):


NICHOLAS OF CUSA, SAILING HOME


Never suppose an inventing mind as source
Of this idea nor for that mind compose
A voluminous master folded in his fire
.


He was on board ship, sailing from Byzantium
when the moment of illumination came, a flash
of light that staggered him (as happened to Paul
on the Damascus road): when he understood
there can be no ratio, no means of comparison,
no middle term, between the finite and the infinite
.
Thus, since God is infinite, we have no means
of knowing Him (invisible, incommensurate); so,
as Paul says, If any man thinks he knows anything,
he has not yet known as he ought to know
.
It follows then, for Nicholas (De Docta Ignorantia)
our proper study is, to understand our ignorance.


I think of him in Constantinople, looking up
into that limpid sphere, that massive cupola,
Hagia Sophia: gazing back at those gigantic eyes:
Christos Pantokrator, hovering there, magnificent
in lapis lazuli, translucent marble. He would
have known that, even then, all-conquering armies
of the Pasha were encroaching on the city gates;
had swept away, already, the last flimsy shreds
of once-almighty Christian Rome – history itself
grown incompatible with that triumphant
image glaring down.
I cannot know You
as You are
. But when I think of you
I think of Bruegel panoramas: there’s Mankind
(a little, furry, muddy, peasant thing – yet
at home upon the earth – its caretaker – self-
conscious, quick – inventive builder, gardener –
blind governor – your tarnished mirror);
and, as he painted in The Road to Calvary,
you hide amongst us, suffering servant, near
the center of our troubles: buried in the crowd:
one of the roughs (disguised, in camouflage,
unknown).
Busy with work & worries these days.

I seem to have the sort of mind, if you can call it that, which has to circle around & re-invent the same problems/solutions over & over again.

Like, mainly, the question of God.

These days am trying to get into a long-poem (or simply poem) writing state again. Many causes for discouragement; but it's even more discouraging not to be writing at all, so...

I'm in favor of a sort of neo-medieval sensibility, I guess. Medieval in a good way, that is (there are lots of bad ways too, as we know).

What do I mean by that?

Well, to my way of thinking, the "solution" to the mystery of God's existence/non-existence rests in a concept of what Mankind is.

We have trouble imagining a "personal" God : but there is a way to do it. It has to do with extrapolating from what we know about the personal or personality or personhood in a human sense.

It's a matter of admitting our ignorance : we don't know clearly, or we know only in a very dream-like or subjective sense, what a person really, substantially, is. But we experience persons.

God resides somewhere in the "transcendent" or supernatural realm of personhood.

This, if one can accept it (provisionally), changes how we perceive existence, reality, as a whole. A subjective, personal element is infused.

This is extremely difficult for the modern, "scientific", sceptical mind to accept. In fact it's easy to read it as absurd.

But there is a way of interpreting experience, reality, existence which incorporates this notion (of human & divine personhood). This is what I'm calling "neo-medieval". It could also be seen as an analogical or symbolic or "literary" reading of Nature.

It's possible to see Mankind on earth in terms of a divine/symbolic ecology.

Again, it's a matter of extrapolating or analogizing.

If you consider human consciousness & presence on earth as an anomaly - what makes it so?

Think about this. This is at the conceptual root of the analogical notion of Imago Dei (man as "image" of God). & that is at the root of "neo-medieval" vision.

To many it will sound like I'm talking in circles, talking nonsense, talking non sequitur, talking talking. So be it.

1.25.2006

When you read, as I read in the Victorian and Modern Poetics book noted below, about how the famous Moderns (Yeats, Pound, Eliot, in her telling) in substantial ways repeated the formulae of the Victorians (Hallam, Tennyson, Arnold, Browning, Pater), and that both generations were still struggling with the dilemmas and ambiguities bequeathed by the Romantic poets (the status of the imagination; solipsism and objectivity; sensation, will and intellection; discourse vs. "the picturesque"; aesthetics and didacticism; etc.) -

well, I know this sounds awfully boring, but...

actually I draw the lesson that the vocation of the poet - & the techniques of poetry - are still very much in play :

& that there are a lot of interesting avenues a poet can take, if in an adventurous and problem-solving mood -

the game is poorly described by the ponderous & pedantic theoreticians of the day (& I'm not talking about Ron Silliman here : but rather of the philosophers & "theory" mongers) -

a panoptical, literary-historical perspective - from within the actual practice of the poets - is more helpful, maybe -

1.23.2006

The bohemian and the primitif : two very different animals. Enemies, almost.
John Kinsella translates Rimbaud's poem "Larme" [tear] in the recent issue of Poetry magazine.

The poem employs a number of "conceits" to (simultaneously) narrate & conceal the story that young Arthur spent a lot of time in the woods, and that while he was there, he got drunk on sunlight.

The poem sort of jars with the book I'm reading about Victorian & Modern Poetics, which begins with a history of the dramatic monologue, the persona, as a technique shared for varied reasons by poets from Browning & Tennyson through Swinburne & Wilde.

Rimbaud as far as I know never projected a persona. He was a sort of french Whitman, apparently - naturally endowed with literary savoir-faire.

Poets of the 19th & 20th centuries (& 21st, I guess) assume various counter-cultural and bohemian poses - which are, paradoxically, very limiting. (C. Christ discusses this.) The mask, the dramatic monologue, the persona - for these poets - counterbalances the (bohemian) pose.

This is complicated, I know.

Hart Crane tried to juggle all these elements - but he seems pretty close to Rimbaud in a number of ways. They were both extremely tough, in an odd way.

Rimbaud rejected both the sophisticated, hypocritical, "dramatic" literary world of the poseur, & the Rousseau-ish romance of a narrated childhood. For Rimbaud, childhood was too real, too profound, too immense for sophistry.

I guess something similar could be said for Proust. (Proust prevailed against all the febrile worries about "personality" & "subjectivity" & "narcissism" etc. which beset the 19th century. He only talked about himself.)
Started reading an interesting (& nice & short) study by Carol T. Christ, published by U. Chicago Press back in 1984, titled Victorian and Modern Poetics. (Book was referenced in the Langdon Hammer Crane/Tate book.) Explores the extensive continuities between Moderns & Victorians (despite pervasive & very influential Eliot/Pound attacks on their predecessors).

Both literary generations wrote in shadow of the Romantics : that is, within a practice of poetry which focused on, & represented, a personal/imaginative response to the external world. Both were wary of the individualism and subjectivity of this approach, and tried to find ways to counter it.

Just getting into it. Maybe such a panoptic perspective will help me write some more mini-essays at some point.

1.22.2006

Two incredibly good poems by Rimbaud in latest issue of Poetry, translated by John Kinsella. They stopped me in my tracks, so to speak.

1.18.2006

Children should be taught how to write from, say, first grade through junior high school. After that, teaching should focus solely on how to read.

Poetry is for dilettantes and amateurs, sorry. Others need not apply.
The Thousand and One Nights is, I guess (I'm not an expert), structured on the idea of saving life by wasting time : idling it away with stories-within-stories, told to keep the tyrant amused - distracted.

1.14.2006

Josh Corey has been conducting an interesting improv on the differing time-effects in prose fiction & poetry. He suggests that good fiction involves an experience of "time-forgetting", whereas poetry always brings us up short with its focus on the fine grain of speech and language, the music of performance.

I've written some on this topic here at various times. What has struck me is that, while good storytelling does encourage us to lose ourselves in the story & forget time, nevertheless fiction tends to make time a theme of the story, so that the experience of reading it is double-edged : we lose ourselves (& time) in stories which describe the effects of time's power. The Odyssey and In Search of Lost Time are, I guess, the prime examples.

Poetry, on the other hand, does not simply intensify our experience of time : poetry changes the basic character of that experience. Prose may demolish our awareness of time; poetry seems to demolish time's very objectivity (as sequential, historical, impersonal phenomenon). Poetic time is a kind of performed Now, in which language spirals back reflexively on itself - and in the process, reshapes perception, knowledge, the sense of self and others.

I think it's worthwhile to emphasize these distinctions between the time-effects of prose fiction and poetry. And to repeat that the experience of a pleroma or a fulness of NOW (containing pasts and futures) - the recapturing and transmuting of past into present, chaos into order - is a theme of major narratives. Thus a notion of poetry is implicit or encrypted in the substance of fiction.

1.12.2006

Responding in part to Robert A.'s interesting post on public/private manners & mannerisms:

Here's a passage from an essay that TS Eliot published in The Egoist in 1919 (& never republished):

"This relation is a feeling of profound kinship, or rather a peculiar personal intimacy, with another, probably a dead author. It may overcome us suddenly, on first or after long acquaintance; it is certainly a crisis; and when a young writer is seized with a passion of this sort he may be changed, metamorphosed almost, within a few weeks even, from a bundle of second-hand sentiments into a person...
...We may not be great lovers, but if we had a genuine affair with a real poet of any degree we have acquired a monitor to avert us when we are not in love... We do not imitate, we are changed; and our work is the work of the changed man; we have not borrowed, we have been quickened, and we become bearers of a tradition."

- this is quoted in Langdon Hammer's Hart Crane & Allen Tate, as part of his history of Crane/Tate/Eliot's ambiguous-subliminal erotic psychologies. Crane responded (as a gay man) to this early Eliot; Tate, on the other hand, to the reserved, impersonal, authoritative Eliot of "Tradition and the Individual Talent".

I post this to point to the contrast between this, on the one hand, and the informal, relaxed familiarity of the NY School approach (which RA describes). Poet-friendships, there, are not surrounded by an aura of ambiguity, romance & taboo.

This "demotic" attitude seems connected with the general relaxation (or vulgarization) of sexual mores : the taboos have broken down.

The idea that private name-dropping in poems, etc., impinges on the boundaries of traditional public speech is true in more ways than one.

I think it's possible to send private, personal messages & public messages - separately - in one and the same poem. The overuse of obviously private messages seems kind of slack, in a way. But it may also be a realistic acknowledgement of the limits of a poet's reach & impact. & it reflects, back to us, the quality of our own private lives.

Eliot's passage above, by the way, seems like a script for my own comically-representative experience (I mean Mandelstam's impact, & the "Shakespeare episode"). Shakespeare's ambiguously erotic & narcissistic sonnets literally knocked the wind out of me - & threw me back into the Biblical fold.

Oddly, Eliot here seems sane & healthy to me. He's talking about love, not "eros" or sex (hence his phrase, "we may not be great lovers" - funny). Love may involve passionate erotic energies, but it's not only that. Contemporary mores often simply reduce love to eros.

1.11.2006

One of the old, "pre-epic" poems in Way Stations, which (in very partial illustration of previous post) contains a kind of vow to Mandelstam:

 
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.

(sounds like an OM poem passed through an Eliot-modifier)
So... I guess when I think about my own long poems & what I have tried to do, I fall somewhere in between the paths laid out by Crane & Eliot -

since I tried to carry on with Crane's affirmative-visionary stance, yet I share, in certain ways, Eliot's faith.

My whole poetry life has oscillated between, & tried to integrate, faith & imagination, faith & poetry - since the days of the "Shakespeare ghost" (1973).

& since it was my response to Mandelstam which set in motion the terms of that synthesis, he has remained the key to the "plot" of my long poems.

So... if somebody ever takes the trouble to read, seriously, Stubborn Grew, and The Rose, & the other things, they will find out what I am talking about. (All handy over there at Lulu !)

It has to do with seeing poetry as one door to inward or spiritual renewal, & the renewal of time & history in that light. & it has to do with an interpretation of faith which is in most ways diametrically opposite the stance taken by Eliot & Tate & the other conservative religionist-poets.

If you look into my long poems, you'll see a "ghost dance", where the impulses & writings of Whitman, Melville, Twain, Poe (& others) are aligned with those of Crane, Mandelstam, Berryman (& others) to represent a sort of symbolic "epic America-Russia" (RUS-US), rooted in Crane's, Melville's & Whitman's awareness and acknowledgement of the American Outcast as the spiritual key to America. Where Eliot & Tate experience their faith as a kind of spiritual hierarchy, separating them from modern life, I understand the Biblical tradition as a prophetic framework, or verbal model, for human equality and mutuality. (Melville's Ecuadorian doubloon nailed to the mast of the Pequod; Mandelstam's "gold coins of humanism".)

But my long poems have yet to be read & taken seriously, I guess. I went into a tunnel for about 8 years in order to prepare for & write them. So that made it more difficult for me to write short poems, or interact, as poet, in the magazine culture.

"Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay." That's how it starts.

1.10.2006

I meant "moral substance" in previous post in a vague sense. What I'm thinking of, I guess, are artistic or aesthetic approaches which do not intentionally close off moral-ethical ramifications, or meanings in general. Such intentional hermeticism has always been an option for poets and schools of poetry, to one degree or another. A defensive maneuver. You can see it in the so-called "decadent" aesthetes of the 19th-century fin de siecle; in some versions of Imagism; in New Critical valorizations of the autonomous "aesthetic object"; in aspects of the NY School; in latter sections of The Maximus Poems; in Language Poetry & other postmodernisms.

You can see it also, in a way, in the bourgeois-boho, fashionable epicureanism which Robert Archambeau recently analysed. What he describes is certainly not hermeticism : but it's a set of cultural codes which restrict artistic implications to a very narrow range.

I am not trying to criticize these defensive aspects of poetic practice just for the sake of being negative. I have practiced them in many ways in my own writing. Rather I'm trying to make room for the recognition of other possibilities, other avenues - the kind of thing that Langdon Hammer attributes to Hart Crane's project (which was over-compensatory & extreme in its own way). I mean the approaches akin to what is referred to as (or used to be called) "seriousness", "the grand style", epic, heroic poetry.

1.09.2006

Any substantially affirmative poetry would have to be willing & able to grapple with the deepest, the most unbearable, the most intractable evils & sufferings & injustice.
This is the problem with blogging - you feel the urge to respond before you've thought things through. I want to respond to Bob Archambeau & Mark Scroggins & Ange Mlinko & Josh Corey & Ron Silliman all at once... but I can't put it togedda!

I want to tell Bob that I still have misgivings about the grid project, since it seems like some kind of critical trespass, an over-reaching into the domain of the poets. How so? Well, for one thing, because there is a quiddity & a particularity to individual poets & their work which is more than the sum of their placement on a chart; in fact, perhaps the central literary strategy, for some of them, has consisted in transgressing the boundaries of previous charts! How does that fit into the snowflake?

More importantly, the grid is a power-move. It reifies poetry, & in so doing, achieves its own (upper-hand) purposes. The aims and teleologies of individual poets, paradoxically, often transcend literature-as-system. The grid, on the other hand, boxes them in (to a critical GPS location).

But I'm repeating myself.

& what I really want to talk about is the L. Hammer book, & Hart Crane, & the meaning of it all. But I can't. It's too complicated.

Eliot, Allen Tate, the New Critics : they tried to create a new version of pure poetry, of Symbolism, of autotelic art. Under the sign of a backward-looking, authoritarian (anti-democratic) religious perspective. It was a neo-classicism, which rejected Romantic-humanist-renaissance notions of world-renovation and the (Blakean) power of the imagination.

Crane was their opponent & their scapegoat.

The poetry movements of the 50s and after broke up the NC monopoly. Now poetry was personalized, democratized, psychologized. At the same time, the institutional "craft" approach of the New Critics helped establish academic support for the newly-popular poetry professions.

Underlying the turmoil and spiritual angst of the 20th century was a philosophical problem : what is the relation between reason & faith? Between logic and imagination? The Enlightenment never completely resolved the deeper issues, which stem from medieval and archaic (prehistoric) times, having to do with the human conceptualization of what is real (myth? superstition? faith? science? rationalism? realpolitik?) The modernist quarrels over the proper attitude toward art & poetry are really only epiphenomena of these deeper unresolved issues.

Now we have a broad-based popular many-sided poetry scene, with no official dogma and much uncertainty. As I understand it, however, there are two fundamentals which underly the good poems. These are:

1. Pure literary skill. The best poetry displays an awareness of past efforts, and re-makes them - with its own originality, elegance, intelligence, beauty, pathos. It carries forward without losing or denying the past; instead, it wins the past for the present. (This is part of the platform of literary (Russian) Acmeism.)

2. Moral substance. The poetry gives evidence of a personality, engaged with human problems, above & beyond the functional, acquisitive, superficial values of someone else's (debased) measure of literary prestige. This poetry, in contrast, reveals its own inherent values. It may do so with great malice and spite : but it shows awareness, nevertheless. It aspires to ends beyond itself - within itself.

It may have to keep very quiet, considering the braying noise of the jumpy & yakkety culture surrounding it.

Then again, it may find a way to be epic & heroic again. This is what Crane proposed, and tried to achieve : a new grand style, a contemporary form of spiritual affirmation through the poetic Word. That (neo-Romantic) aspiration is what the neo-religious poets (Eliot, Tate, Winters et al.) found so threatening. In a sense, they were searching, too : but in the climate of the 1st half of the 20th-century, for those aspiring snobs, only a very dogmatic and reactionary religious attitude seemed possible. It was a time of war on all fronts.

But the religious (and, equally, anti-religious) imagination can work synthetically, too - with reason, with imagination, with individuality, with communal norms and laws. It reconciles these things, shows them to be still viable, makes Earth a veritable home.

I think this was a basis for Crane's generally positive, yea-saying, visionary attitude. I think John Berryman, also, was working, terribly and agonizingly, & humorously, in this direction - toward freeing himself, toward spiritual liberation. His late poetry encapsulates, sums up that struggle.

It's the autonomous strength of the imagination - Stevens' giant, Stevens' lion - which carries both the threat and the redemption. Because faith only becomes nourishment (that is, truly reasonable) when the imagination can assimilate and accept it; and only the imagination dares come close to expressing the (dangerously) inexpressible.
Very interesting post over here today.

Robert's approach seems to parallel what Langdon Hammer does (in Hart Crane & Allen Tate) with respect to an earlier generation. I mean he looks at the relation between a poet's ambition to address (or create) a certain social class of reader, a social group with certain habits & assumptions - and the effects of this ambition on style, subjects, philosophical attitudes.