3.30.2007

Investigating the curious Joachim of Fiore, following up on a note (in book on age of Giotto by Hayden Maginnis) which relates him to St. Francis & Fransciscans. There are connections with Joyce & Vico. (Joachim & I share name-day/birthday - May 29).) Discovered the ring-designs I'd been obsessively drawing in notebook (as part of attempt to "plot" Fontegaia poem) are like one of Joachim's (he was a very inventive geometer & numerologist-interpreter of obscure Trinitarian theology)...

3.28.2007

27


I play the same chords over and over,
a trio of suspended 7th (A - infinity).
A simple bridge by Bernardino - he
of catenary smile (in arch-alcove) :


the one who battles, overcomes himself
makes peace, becomes a fruitful vine
.
For the ben comun, for the Florentine
florescence, for the Sienese seraph


hovering above her vernal vineyard-hill.
Yon hobo Mexican in mental ward
sketched an analogy for every word.
His caballero tombed in prison-cell,


embalmed in crayon-honey, pistol
high - his freight-train ouroboros
(endless, serpentine, circuitous
regression - repetitive ur-tunnel) - and


an open-handed, blooming Guadalupe.
This Mary (of Coatlicue-echoes
and eyes of Constantinople) billows
up toward pencil-heaven, smiling, loopy...


I play the same chords, over and over.
Lodes of a mosaic Justinian
forever offering his mini-dominion
(pink-walled Providence) to Jaybird-lover.
The language poets and affiliates thought they could jettison the myth of the lyric self & romantic subjectivity & so on by objectifying "language" as a "material" phenomenon. In doing so they had to narrow down the theory of poetry, exclude all those epiphenomena we ascribe to accurate description, definition, feeling, evocation, symbolism, plot, meaning, etc., and just leave poetry a sort of stripped-down protest against the supposed domination of the signified. Some of the langpos aimed for pure versions of this procedure; their postmodern affiliates used those methods to "torque" (their term) their "language" in eye-catching contemporary fashion.

In my view the "language poetry" concept should be clearly rejected, as a cramping limitation on what poetry actually is and can be. I've tried to do just this, over the years... The essays over here around the Chicago Critics try to present a broader concept, which is formalist in a quasi-Aristotelian sense : the poem is an achieved intellectual-affective form, which is not restricted to its verbal texture - because texture is not the sum or limit of what poetic language does. Instead, language is a transitive element - a form of transportation - which may lead to both referential meanings and to aesthetic (intransitive) equilibrium.

Moreover, poetry is ineluctably personal. (I would go so far as to say that reality itself is ineluctably personal, but that's a somewhat different debate.) We will never return to those archaic times when art was the anonymous social expression of collective myth. But art is not only personal : rather it represents a synthesis of subjective and objective, personal and social. The modes, forms & genres of poetry are past signs (& not always relevant to the present) of the complex struggle to discover or create such syntheses.

The locus of interest in poetry is that very tightrope between these poles : it is precisely this wavering dialectic which opens the line of connection between poet and reader.

I suppose I'm behind the times, being anachronistic, by harping on the langpos and the postmods at this late date. Younger poets have "moved beyond" that bygone era of language poetry's flourishing. But how have they moved beyond? In the direction of new dialects or mannerisms, new sub-schools and urban collectives, new identity-affiliations? I'm suggesting they could move in the direction of a more capacious theoretical understanding of the art's possibilities.

Of course, theory generally (as John Latta's recent quotes from Larkin & O'Hara testify) can be considered inimical to poets and what they do. It is usually irrelevant to the working-out of a poet's life and gift. All I would suggest is that a theory which emphasizes personality, feeling, concreteness, accurate description, formal integrity, and at least the possibility of substantial, verifiable meaning - such a theory would be congruent with the actual practice of those two poets, and perhaps future poets too.
...removed #24. Seemed hopelessly saccharine this morning.

3.27.2007

Fontegaia keeps spouting off...

26


Every poem is a small apocalypse.
Justly the great ponderous world
turns lightly on the nonchalance
of Pax - twirling an upright slip


of green, where she lolls at ease
(in comfortable slip) across the corner
of the couch, in Lorenzetti's fresco
of Good Government. Just so a breeze


of evanescence bears elusive scent
of something inexplicable - world, life
set right
- 7th (sustained) after grief
and toil - a restoration (plangent...


prescient). Over Palazzo Pubblico
the spry agave-spine (Torre del Mangia)
leaps into space; time pauses where
your singing icons drone (calm echo).


Insignia of Sabaoth, harmonious iron
of time fulfilled. Every person is an end
in Pax's slow-revolving laurel crown (when
she comes into her own, the labyrinthine one).



(I like the way she looks like she's listening...)

3.26.2007

25


Quiet agave in the desert lifts
a solitary mast (for listening). Rush
of wind, ache of rue. Sift of ash
from old volcano. Local glyphs


of weather and millennia - cuneiform
sparrow-tracks, flute-prints... you
dear dry green spine, curlicue
clay (my snail-scale home).


*


Tiny town of Massa Maritima
(Siena's miniature hill-neighbor)
houses festal phantasmagoria
(Lorenzetti, Maesta) -


rapt saints, apostles zone that gloze
('mid gilded violas, crowns, bouquets,
rhapsodic Faith-Hope-Charity displays)
on one small kiss (melodic honey-maze).
Interesting article in today's NY Times arts section (by Edward Rothstein) - new book by anthropologist Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles, on role of ring-structure in ancient literature (Bible, Homer).

Not a new discovery. Alastair Fowler devoted several books (decades ago) to ring-structure and other numerical-geometrical patterns in poetry. But it looks like Mary Douglas has expanded the field.

(Fowler had a big impact on my own writing - ring-design became basic aspect of composition, after I read his work about 15 years ago.)

3.22.2007

23


Sweet Bea hit me with a sidewinder
in the sand, sent me hopping sideways
too
. Estrangement is the maze -
serpentine scratch, remainder


from nothing. Ramirez
applies graphite across tile
floor, straight-edged until
heart-cauterized
.


Leaves, pesos, paper.
Spring equinox. Hums
etched fuse
. Magnesium
splinters winter's keepsake


sky (plumbs Venetian
blind). Little myrrh-
box memento-murmur
lifts now toward perihelion.

3.21.2007

A mini-essay for the 1st day of spring : 3-D Poetics.

3.20.2007

There were values (impersonality, historicity) of the "Golden Age" of the American Moderns (1st half of 20th cent.). One only has to think of Eliot's essays, Pound's clusters of reference-allusion, Moore's exactitude, Crane's epic expansiveness, Stevens' conversations (in the poems) with precursors & contemporaries, his ambition for a "theory" of poetry in poetry... (though they each show as much originality & subjectivity as impersonality/objectivity...)

There have been at least 3 or 4 generations between now and then, during which American poets for the most part (though of course not entirely) were fixated on their own subjective interiority and the private experiences of life in a vast & singular nation. In retrospect, and in comparison, the early Moderns - whether they lived in the U.S. or abroad - come across (to various degrees) as exiles. The 2nd generation lived in their shadow; the 3rd generation rebelled against the New Critical crystallizations of the 2nd; and the 4th generation rebelled against the egocentricities of the 3rd - by the application of protocols or methodologies (the postmoderns, the "post-avants").

Perhaps the next step will be a sort of "silver age" - a 2nd flowering of some of the compositional principles underlying the Stravinskian neo-classicism of the early 20th-century. Methodologies of surface style will no longer be sufficient. There will be a return to "3-dimensional" composition : uniting topical subject-matter with generic modelling with original invention.

3.15.2007

22


A ballerina pirhouetting weightlessly
spiraling inward on a shrinking radius
or pine tree vertical in somber forest
lifting its green lance (relentlessly)


- such are the spin-offs of my mappamundo.
The wayward pilgrim seasoned in chianti
limps and stumbles (April mummery)
and sniffs a myrrh-box (cryptic, chiuso)


somewhere in sub-basement of museum.
Light shines in the darkness of the tempera.
An emerald Magdalen looks back at me
from casket sealed by Lippo Memmi. (Womb.)


*


The mirror in the murmur of the myrrh
is your desire (fletched, arrowed, framed).
And your desire (targeted, tamed)
surges toward sunlight like a conifer...


Siena's embassy to Providence
is miniature, mercurial (an emblem
of the light of day). Semblance
of a pantomime - Sabbath-dance


of slaves set free.

3.14.2007

As biologists grow more dogmatic (all is brain chemistry), physicists are becoming less confident (all is dark matter/energy).

(See last weekend's NY Times Sunday mag article. The billions of stars, galaxies - the entire known universe - makes up only 4% of existent matter. Physicists are confronted with a cosmos, 96% of which is unknown, invisible - conforming to no currently applicable physical laws.)

Here's a lecture (sound recording) by my neighbor Nancy Kendrick on Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz. (Sound values not so great : adjust volume down...) Kendrick is chair of philosophy dept. at Wheaton College.

There was a recent book on the personal/professional relationship between Spinoza & Leibniz - will try to find reference (OK, here it is : The Courtier and the Heretic, by Matthew Stewart). A revisionist-historicist's view(?). Want to find out.

The description of Descartes' proof of God's existence (God = "that which must be", etc.) - reminds me of the passage in the Gospel of John where Jesus says "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (That which must be = Truth.)

When I was a teenager I thought the fundamental problem in the universe was this : what is the basis of reality - consciousness or matter? I came down on the side of consciousness. I have a clear memory of walking away from camp one evening, on a remote lake in Canada (1967 or so) - looking out at the water, thinking about this.

3.13.2007

I don't think I'll ever be admitted to the Heaven of the Humble... but JL gets it right again, today.

3.12.2007

Had to subtract a section of this poem (the old #20 - hopeless). So am shifting them around. Here's the new #21.

21


Providence rooftops and walls
from the library window (reddish
pink, red-russet, rust-red). Flush
with autumn, always (old colonial


brick-pile). Not much different
from the brown Siena cityscape
of the fresco (mappamundo,
mappamundo). Lorenzetti bent


his figures around corners - loved
overlaps - the hide-and-seek
(parenthetical hypotheticals peek
like Francisco round his mule's beloved


ass). Like the ambiguous griffin
Dante saw buttressed in Nina's eyes
(humandivine) Providence shies
between your dream and mine -


how to explain? It's not on television.
The box within a box, the wave
beneath the wave, the grave

Agave (brave three-master).


(Agave and Agave, courtesy of Wikipedia)

3.09.2007

20


The quiet moss-green image of Sassetta.
Aquinas (black hole) kneels before the altar.
Background of cloister-garden, library...
forsaken stage-set now (only a metaphor).


Aquinas tempered Aristotle, Augustine.
Sassetta memorized antique (pre-plague)
Siena. Emblem of a dream, vague
microcosm (innocent, pristine).


A tiny dove aligned with Jesus-crucified
transfixes him (his body like a train
or veil of thought, beneath brain
impaled by hummingbird).


*


Hobo rambles through America, surrenders
passport, loses wallet, sheds identity.
Ends up in hospital in San José,
mopping with crayon. Sees


vision of Madonna (open-handed,
mesmerized). Nature is feminine
and Wisdom in the streets, O Solomon;
the dove
(ungraspable) is Understanding.

3.06.2007

19


Siena - Wolf-Town - threefold knot
in the twisted thread of Tuscan roads!
Above ambivalent pools of frescoes
your campanile vaults skyward - shot


from earth, a mason's amaryllis;
image of aspiring civitas (exponential
offshoot of such covenants of mutual
encouragement as We the People is).


A tiny peasant-pilgrim in the painted hills
clambers up through ninefold rings of
steppe, vineyard, wall, alcove... dove-
sprinkled street... piazza-shell,


city hall... radiant mirror-
wall... and there takes a final step
into vertiginous icon-gyroscope -
a spiralling, unfathomable sphere


(an airy labyrinth, a darkling glass,
a dream). Tuscany's free-standing
city-state, ripening so, unknowing
what catastrophe was come to pass :


what reaper traveled up the pilgrim path
to meet them at the apex of their glory.
Black Death, Black Death, memento mori.
All roads lead through Rome (to Golgotha).

3.05.2007

18


Out of gray Bruegel-skies, a little snow,
then sunlight. Old Providence streets
could be 14th century too - meeting
the mind's eye in a dumb-show


dream-vision. The mind's mirror
and the mirror in the horsehair fresco
mirror each other (squeaky merry-go-
round's warped arrow, errant caballero).


An old fumbling sinners' waltz, broken
accordion (my life, my life...). And
somehow, out of this, expectations
of expiation, civic destiny (Hoboken


in Hagia Sophia - pinpoint in a dome
of mordant gilt). But the dream-key
is the dreamer (Glenn Gould, shy
hobo huddled in igloo-kingdom


tinder of snowflakes touching the keys
to Goldberg variants - shimmering
so... so is each tree a rustle
of many trees... tiny hands tickling


air, wind). Lorenzetti
held civic fortitude in his mind's eye
until the commune coalesced - Justitia
a naked femme aloft over complexity


of multitudes - a last motif
beyond the turmoil of desire;
the common good entire
our final interest, massive


and first. (Only a tiny hanged man
weighted against the great commune.
Shadow of oneiric dissonance; one
flaw in painful, panoramic span...)


"Torque", on the other hand, is a method for controlling style, a sort of literariness-gizmo. You spin the axle of ir-reference and ir-reverence, like a wheel of chance. But a style can't transcend itself if it's not aimed, from the beginning, somewhere beyond literature. In a comment to Ron's post today, Curtis Faville mentioned Larry Eigner's cumulative momentum as he writes into the unknown. Seems apropos here. The "unknown" is the theme which draws and compels the writer. But a style which is all technique - only technique - can never surpass itself.

This is a paradox about some of the very subtle and highly-wrought styles in our mannerist and mandarin scene - rather than self-surpassing, they are self-devouring. They become brittle style-displays, rather than the trace of an authentic poem (left behind like a cicada's husk).
Style surpasses itself; poetry supersedes literature; poet runs faster than writer (often into brick wall).
On this date died both Stalin and Anna Akhmatova (she outlived him by decades).

Now there was a poet of surpassing style.
A poem's momentum must surpass its style. A wave is more powerful than the sum of its molecules. This does not mean style is inessential : style makes the wave. (If it has no self-surpassing momentum, the style is no good.) You can go back later, straggle through the beach wreckage, & admire that chilly curve.
These days people think technique (rhyme, stanzas, etc.) is some kind of statement in the style wars, some kind of personal attack on somebody else's style, some kind of catological brandifery, an elitist's rebuff, an affront to ill-educated, resentful yokels...

Technique only becomes useful after the artist has left it behind... I mean what you see as some marvel of virtuosity is really just a side-doodle of some other irreducible motivation, the whale beneath the surface...

Once you start talking about technique, or the obvious elements of style, 9 times out of 10 either you don't get it or the work itself is a bore. A reference to technique is of value only when resolving some very specific conundrum in a particular passage... To repeat, people gab about vapid elements of style in order to praise or bash things they either don't bother to understand or which aren't worth reading in the first place...

If the surface elements of style are working at all properly they enfold themselves conveniently & modestly in larger motions of thematic and affective import - ars est celare artem, as I useta say, "the art is in hiding art"...
Muse gives poet skeleton key to native land. Price : exile.

3.02.2007

... this just in from Grand Fenwick...

Swiss Accidentally Invade Liechtenstein

(also : There will be a total eclipse of the moon tomorrow...)
17


Aquila grandis diceris puella,
baiulans rostro ramulum virentem,
nostrorum dira qui devicit bella.
Salve regina



The painters whisper to each other
across the susurrus of the horsehair.
Uproar in the Campo - folded in a mirror
of brittle fresco (where light rays converge).


On the tender brow of reality (yellow-veil
female) - eagles, in roundels. Somehow
got Coppo out of Ghibelline gaol

(burden of my song) to paint beyond the pale


of the Commune
. Some oscillation
signified (red, blue, imperial purple);
meek spectrum chanted beneath steep
glance of raptor-Madonna, in suspension


between splayed feet of Infant J
encircled by her fingertips - a
nailed impression of Apocalypse
whose furrowed brow echoes
aquila-


span. It doesn't matter,
in the end, who rules Siena,
Guelf or Ghibelline. Janus-Julia
reigns in the deep (a mutter


from the Southern Cross).
The constellation of the Bear
or shining Virgo in autumnal air
reflect upon that earthy ruse


- burden of my waking muse; and
Easter's aubade will rouse those feet
to step the vernacular Paraclete
to lead the nine around (O brown recluse).


cf. a painting by Coppo di Marcovaldo in the church of Santa Maria dei Servi, called the Madonna del Bordone ("Virgin of the Burden") - "burden" referring to the drone-accompaniment to medieval melody. Gianna A. Mina (in Art, Politics and Civic Religion in Central Italy 1261-1352, Ashgate Publ., 2000) argues that the title refers to the fact that the friars of the Servite Order - specially devoted to the cult of the Virgin - chanted their hymns in front of the image.

There are clusters of unfortunate obscurities in this poem, which Mina's excellent article (about a very important painting) can help elucidate. She discusses the tiny round eagle-emblems hidden in the Madonna's veil (imperial Hohenstaufen symbols, or subtly anti-imperial (Guelf) scriptural signals?), the way various elements of the painting (including the posture of the infant Jesus's feet) prefigure the Crucifixion and resemble or allude to elements in other paintings by Coppo, etc.

3.01.2007

I mosey over here to read about more recent art...

Aiyeee, what am I doing... fewer & fewer people drop by this blog. What am I doing with this old Renaissance lumber?

What a pyramid of blather I've piled up at HG Poetics. But the fluency slowly inexorably 'sgone away, it seems. You need to sense an audience to be able to speak with confidence. I've alienated or been dismissed in so many directions, can't even count 'em anymore. Just an old wannabe-has-been, I guess.

I'm like a trickling fountain struggling to break through my own frozen grime & encrustations.

Worn out at the end of the day I slouch with my little Neo & a few scribbles. I don't know what I'm going to write, I just go into the woods with a list of vague ambiguous directions. Along comes another number, & I like it, & it feels good to be working on something.

Poetry for me (as I've writ before) is a kind of large-scale construction project. Poems are complex buildings or pyramids, strange engineering feats.

So be it.