More thoughts on "visionariness" (see previous post). Awkward word, I guess : there's probably a better one...

Differing views on the relation between "this world" and some future world beyond probably signal some kind of hard-to-resolve crux or problem, such that the human imagination wavers between its opposing sides. The ancient Jewish sect of Sadduccees, for example (along with Stoics, Epicureans, many others of various faiths & philosophies), rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead, while the Pharisees affirmed it. Proust wrote somewhere that "the only Paradise is Paradise lost". Freud & psychology attempt to liberate us from faith in our own wishful thinking, our "illusions" of omnipotence or eternal life, by translating them into effects of the psyche - signs of inner conflicts & desires we must try to resolve or bring to awareness (in order to find happiness through adjustment to the disenchanting truth).

This oscillation between commitment to a stoic/epicurean worldiness vs. platonic/religious other-worldliness surfaced in the polemical debate between Russian Symbolism and Acmeism, in the early years of the 20th century. Gumilov, Mandelstam, Akhmatova & their circle formulated an argument opposing the vague otherworldly mysticism of the Symbolists, on behalf of a resolute, craft-oriented acceptance of the known "four dimensions", and the beauty/vitality of this world.

In the reading I've been doing about Joachim of Fiore, Bonaventure, etc., a similar oscillation comes to the fore. There is a shift toward (or return to) a notion of divine Providence which included the redemption of this world, in history : paradoxically drawing Christian theology slightly closer to the Jewish conception of world history as the drama of God's salvific acts in this world as well as for eternity (on this see Robert Lerner, The Feast of Saint Abraham, Univ. PA Press, 2001, as well as Joseph Ratzinger's monograph on Bonaventure's theology of history, noted here previously).

I guess in my own thinking, and in this ongoing poem project, I'm not coming down firmly (not yet anyway) on one "side" or another. It's all so fundamentally subtle & mysterious! I favor a notion of purpose in history, or "providence", as opposed to a purely subjective or individualistic concept of reality; as Martin Luther King put it, we are involved in a "web of mutuality". I give weight to the visionary/prophetic imagination, which asserts some mysterious mingling of two realms - earthly and "heavenly" - both now and (even more so) in the future. But most of all - and this is how I provisionally resolve these mysteries - I accept the analogy between the universe - nature itself - and a work of art.

When I think of the work of art, I think of a kind of beauty which depends on both an equilibrium/proportion of the whole, and on an intense, affectionate perception of, and care for, the particular and partial things and creatures contained in within it. Thus I can imagine a Creator who does not show his/her hand about eternal life and resurrection : does not make it plain. This artist-creator only hints at such. And why? Because this creator gives priority to the limited, mortal, and diverse particulars - to the play of time and space in all its strangeness, splendor and pathos. As Mandelstam put it : the artist plays hide & seek with God.

This notion of hiddenness (ars est celare artem) and resurrection reminds me most of all of : Vladimir Nabokov.


Fontegaia lucky 13...


The old pilot in New Orleans told me
while we mopped up after monster K
each town declines from its first day
the way a spring becomes the Mississippi.

Every city has its ideal model
hidden in the plan of God (he was
an old-school evangelical); the mazy
stream swirls back to its original

source. The Sienese collective dream
pivots in mid-August (a virginal
Mary-go-round, with actual
horses and real money). Paradigm

of local Paradise : salvation history
rooted in medieval circular (1260
their Route 66). On a pinwheel, Gertie.
Merrily we roll along, merrily merrily...

But you fled from me
faster than I could ever run
(at the end of August, 2001).
Vanished (gone maiden, horse-

chestnut tree). I stumble after you
slower than the famous Colt
44 (slowest draw in the West);
crawling round a fleeting (nowhere)

laurel, beside a crystal (balled-
up) creek. In the shade of shady
perennials, dangling buildings, where
we hung up our rusty lyres (Ja-el).
It's always an uphill battle defending the greatness of Hart Crane. The attacks come in a steady, evenhanded critical stream over the decades.

He has many weaknesses, yes. But he's a great American poet because, to put it in a nutshell, he unites his music (melopoeia) and his imagery (phanopoeia), with an ecstatic-visionary quality (culminating in the concluding section of The Bridge (Atlantis).

Crane's "visionariness" is not like Pound's conservative/archaic mythologizing. Nor like Eliot's resignation/spiritual renunciation. It has, rather, a kind of "titanic" quality, which seems distinctly American - perhaps because it stems directly from Whitman. (Whitman got it from Emerson, & amplified/electrified it. Whitman is to Emerson as Bob Dylan is to the New England folkies.)

As I see it, this American "titanic/ecstatic" visionariness is not simple and pure : it contains a certain ambiguity. "Atlantis", according to the myth, was a high-tech civilization which fell, eons ago, through its own pride & corruption. Crane opens The Bridge with an epigraph from the Book of Job (something like "walking to & fro upon the Earth"), which was spoken by Satan.

The ambiguity I'm talking about stands at the core of that prophetic/apocalyptic mentality in which the poet/prophet, situated between Iron & Golden Ages, looks beyond the conditions of the present into a completely transformed future. One could diagram the situation like this :

[ Titanic-Atlantean high civilization / Present Age / Franciscan-Edenic future ]

- with the poet's vision wavering between, or blending together, all three "ages".

In both Judaism & Christianity, the path from present to future (from earth to kingdom of heaven, or from "this world" to the "world-to-come") goes through redemption and then resurrection (into a new form of angelic or heavenly "body").

The question of how such ideas are to be translated into personal life, and into history in general, has been answered in very different ways. But the visionariness I'm talking about ultimately stems, it seems to me, from an underlying awareness of some kind of crisis or disjunction - between "this world" and "paradise", or between the vicissitudes of mortal life and some kind of different, angelic realm (the pupa/coccoon/butterfly effect).


OK, lemme "unpack", as they say, just one obscure sentence from previous (in the context of earlier post this week, about the general aims & analogies of this Fontegaia poem).

...A sissy on a singing ass will win
Veronica's napkin, pallidly drawn

cast-off of your unbound
feat, mis-spoken jockey (nailed
in the Campo every time).

The "sissy on a singing ass" fuses together : the loser-poet, St. Francis of Assisi, the "slow horse" (the donkey, Jesus's "colt" which carries him into Jerusalem as "King") of poetry (Pegasus), etc.

"Veronica's napkin, pallidly drawn" : the "palio" was the small cloth or prize or "pallium" given to the winner of the Palio race in Siena - the cloth linked with the Virgin (patron of city of Siena), & through her to "Veronica's napkin", the cloth which supposedly showed an image of Christ's face.

"cast-off of your unbound/feat, mis-spoken jockey" : generally thinking of the difference between the "real" Jesus and the various cultural/religious shapings, (mis)appropriations & distortions - throughout the long, tangled history of Jewish-Christian dialogue & dispute - of his "image" (much like current iconic celebrity-simulacra).

"nailed/ in the Campo every time" : the Palio race is, for the jockeys, a risky proposition in several ways - not least the risk getting beaten up by angry partisans of one horse or another. Also Jesus (the "nailed"/"feat" - the losing horse).

- this is, of course, just one sentence - there are other things going on here (echoes of Hart Crane etc.), & more (& different) things in the other stanzas....


p.s. you don't need to know all this stuff, carry all this baggage, to "get" the poem (or maybe you do). Often I don't "know" it myself very clearly. I relax into the poem, following certain parameters (like an algorithm). Like the bit about the "shadow faster than light". Came along when I happened to remember a NY Times op-ed piece from last week by Margaret Wertheim : shadows (because they are literally no-thing) actually can travel faster than the speed of light. The experiment (or thought-experiment?) she discussed had to do with a very powerful light beam circling on its axis in space. At a very great distance (on the perimeter of the light's "orbit") the shadow cast would travel faster - cover more distance - than the light itself.


more Fontegaia...


Your shade shapes my circumference
faster than light. Horse, chariot fused
in one Black Sea brow. Hydroplane Muse,
hippopotamus from Ethiopia... my nonsense

rim. Spiral mote in the eye
of Hurricane Harry - gold glint
or old lint? - your transparent
dust-parenthesis mesmerized me

like the ME scrawled upside down
in undatable Greek along a curve
of vernal copper (Antikythera
treasure trove, kosmos in an

ancient ice-cream cone). We were there
on the Green Mountain, boys
- sprung
cruising a dulcet Sienese ring
beyond the river of time (spry

ninefold harmony). The circle wheels
back forwards (like the last crab
in July) for Assisi Frank, Calabrian
Joe - upon an alphabet of eagles'

wings, or Justice in a tight-wound
J. A sissy on a singing ass will win
Veronica's napkin, pallidly drawn
cast-off of your unbound

feat, mis-spoken jockey (nailed
in the Campo every time).
Old sack of sheep's bones, Abram's
folly - U (hoarse whisper, wavy wand).
... & what do I mean, exactly, when I align poetry and horse-race?

- thinking less about contemporary po-biz, more about Pindar and Dante.

Pegasus stamps ground in Greece, sets off 9 Muses' Pierian Spring. What's that about?

The cicada-sound of poetry displays an animal otherness. It is a tradition unto itself. This uncanniness, this "call of the fife", is propelled by a powerful motive distinct from our ordinary utilitarian pragmatic fill-in-the-blanks provisional necessitous usage.

Such functional usage differs diametrically from that of the bower-bird (poet) who must be able to grasp the potential aesthetic value hidden in the cheapest bit of driftwood (drift words). It's an innate capability.

Poetry is the horse. We're just the jockeys.

The muse (fed by Pegasus) possesses the poet : the poet sings.

I'm for literary democracy, I believe poesie springs up everywhere; as Edwin Honig wrote, it's "a buzzing in the air". At the same time, however, I believe in the literary absolute, ie. the Tradition of Pegasus the Centaur.

A nation's or culture's literature is ultimately judged by its faithfulness, not to various socological parameters or editorial juggling, but to the literary absolute.

That's the start & finish line of the only race in town.
I guess a critic might quibble with a style that requires so much machinery (see previous).

But maybe it only demands such for the special conditions of an offer of an excerpt in a snippet on a blog.

My method of working is a s-p-a-n, a r--a--n--g--e, a c~o~n~t~i~n~u~u~m.

I've written already many a short poem. Now I'm just a goon a-goone onna loong pilgrimaage, take it or leave it.

The self-publishing poet has a lot of strikes agin him-or-her, since for many a publisher & mag editor & reviewer & collegian, the chancet to manage an established pooblic oriffice like a Magazine or a Publinking House is the very Capstone of thems Career, & so... a DIY dope is an imp of an explicit challenge, of sorts & sortations.

Swipe it off the desktop, matey!


Mumbled something here a few days ago contrasting present-day concept of form/beauty with that of Moderns 100 yrs ago - Joyce's autotelic "quiddity" vs. today's "intelligibility". The excerpt from Fontegaia I posted yesterday might suggest I'm not practicing what I preach... what the heck is this strange obscure garbled stuff? Especially if you haven't been following the whole loopy string-along poem...

Anyway, it's a work-in-progress, & there are limits to what I can clarify about it, but... It's from the 2nd section of Fontegaia, which has been focusing on the distinctive Sienese horserace called the Palio. What I've been doing is using features of the race & of Siena/Sienese history in general as a foundation, & also as a jumping-off place (metaphors for other things).

Gradually I'm working toward some structural parallels or analogies between :

- Palio/Siena
- poets & poetry (as horserace)
- history/eschatology (the concept of the "end of time" - Apocalypse, 4 Horsemen of, etc.)

Siena links (in my mind) with eschatology by way of Joachim of Fiore, St. Francis & franciscanism. The Palio race itself is, for the Sienese, a way of sort of "stopping time" - it celebrates & mythologizes the "original" independent city-state & its founding victory over Florence at the battle of Montaperti in 1260. 1260 or thereabouts was also supposed to be an apocalyptic date in Joachim's & Joachimite messianic thinking.

In my private symbolism here in this & other sections of the poem, the contemplative/unworldly loser-poet (kind of an image of poets in America generally) is identified with the visionary saint/hobo (Francis), who paradoxically wins the race by losing it - wins it riding his slow donkey (Francis called his own body - affectionately - his "ass", bearing burdens). Contemplative vision & spiritual poverty are "slow" in relation to the quick foxy worldly utilitarian thinking which surrounds the poet on all sides. & the confrontation between these two mighty forces (worldly & spiritual) has its analogy in the Book of Revelation & the Apocalypse itself - the end of time.

"Ramirez" (in the section posted previously & others) refers to the "outsider" Mexican artist Martin Ramirez, whose paintings of railroads & immured horsemen etc. I'm using as another sort of link in the nexus Francis/hobo/San Francisco/Siena/horsemen/Apocalypse. (As noted in an earlier post, Ramirez, who was famously mute most of the time, sent a message through his family to the wife he had left behind in Mexico - "I'll see you again in the Valley of Jehoshaphat", ie. at the apocalyptic Last Judgement & resurrection of the dead.)

For "Ezekiel" - cf. the Louis Armstrong version of that song (alluded to by Eugenio Montale in his poem "Ezekiel Saw the Wheels". Montale also wrote a poem titled "Palio").

The last line - "Father! the chariots..." - an excerpt (revision?) of prophet Elisha's cry as his mentor Elijah is taken up bodily to heaven in a fiery chariot - "the chariots of Israel and his horsemen!"

There - all clear now?


Fontegaia revving up again.


Summer in Providence. Infinite
depth (I cannot plumb). Kingdom
of sidewalk dragon-world. Microcosm
(in your heart). Radius (toward Planet

X). That your heart find peace
unknown in a world of highways -
where old Hobo goes crazy (Ramirez
portfolio; San Francisco long-term lease).

The secret love that croons in the cast-
off harbor (in the distance, under the
copperhead bridge) - lovely plot
of oblong racetracks (Franny's ass

comes in last) - shaded by hands
quicker than light (early morning
straw in the Campo). Ezekiel saw
dem wheels a'glory
- tottering

in the ring of a pickled Babylon
(no way, nowhere). Remembered
first light in Jerusalem (embered
aubade). Muttered his symbolon

for foregone generations. Poets wheel
like horses - a mud-splattered ellipse
snorting the finish line through nostrils
of bloodswelled eclipse (each parallel

its own infinity - each bursting heart
harnessed by mesmerized hoofbeat
to the end). Until bells (replete with
time) doom-boom : Father! the chariots...


Feeling crushed by indifference this week. Probably the letdown after recent obsession with re-doing my books.

Depressed by (1) lack of interest in my poetry, (2) extent of my own obliviousness/evasion regarding the true situation, (3) the fact that I'm depressed by this stuff.

I observe layers of Poetry World, wherewith none of which I belong. The younger set (soi-disant bohemia, NY School, Langpo, jeunes academiques, etc). The academic professionals. The magazine editors.

This (my current) state of mind leads to screwy ideas, usually.

Poetry itself, the art form, the vocation, has these vague layers too. But to explore the phenomenon takes patience, attention, even some study... the crowded scenes militate against such things (although, by the same token, generosity & openness & collaboration & sharing are the beginning of wisdom).

Ted Berrigan warned against the "language meanies" (by which he meant perhaps the Langpos, or perhaps literary mandarin/snobs in general). But the populist slangy informal attitude (everybody in the Big Tent) doesn't do complete justice to poetry either.

Poetry can be elusive; it's not always going to show its hand to lazy readers, ambitious scenesters or shallow hangers-about. It's not always going to be visible, even.

Then, or now & again, a terrific talent emerges through a popular mode or style, by complexifying it with subtlety & feeling & knowledge. Grafting other things onto it. I could see that possibly happening sometime within the NY School milieu (maybe it already has, what do I know).

(Which reminds me of another New Yorker feature this week, on master engineer/architect Cecil Balmond. Fascinating article, Hart Crane would have loved this guy. Engineers like bridges especially, because they're function/form is so intense, focused, all right there visible. Engineering is the channeling of gravity through structure. Balmond talks about algorithmic design... want to read his book (Informal).)

Some secret gravity leads poetry & the poet toward the center of the cultural life of an era. It's not going to happen within the perfected idiom of a particular school/style. It's not going to happen within the dutiful (& ambitious) realm of academic-professional poets. It's not going to happen within the (self-centered) vain hoo-rah of the populist/hipster carnival.

The gravity involved has something to do with a poet obsessed and driven to find a way of talking to everyone, ie. communicating, about the concerns of the present moment with a new vision of those concerns and either a very personal, characteristic means of expression or a very clear transparent impersonal means of expression.

Again, it's the sense that poetry involves something uncanny, which can't be manipulated, channeled or domesticated. The idea of the poet's social role which I was trying to get at in earlier post : close to the prophetic, that is, somewhere between Iron Age & Golden Age. That's why the poet at this range won't settle down within the established cultural routines : there's some furor going on, something percolating & molten at the core of the culture itself.

These ponderings perhaps only the crazy & twisted sour grapes of someone who doesn't fit in to Poetry World at the moment... take them with a grain of salt, please - don't be demagogued by me... plus it's Friday afternoon & I simply must get out of the library...
Liked the poem in this week's New Yorker by Lawrence Raab. (Always a red-letter day when I like a New Yorker poem. 3 times a year or so.)


Mercury must be in retrograde, or sumpin'. Or the weather's too nice. Or I'm in one of my discouragement phases. Hence lack of blogging, & stalled in Fontegaia poem. (Or maybe I'm on a new plateau.)


Naturally, in them here states all eyes are focused on the resurrection of an old car...

My countrymen, dreaming and drinking down
the livelong day in your smooth Cadillacs,
Americans made of nostalgia, playing the clown
on roads past the high school railroad tracks

- go on, play the radio, shoot for the moon;
your little boy up from grasslands not for hire
is building a tricycle in the backyard, and soon
he'll step inside a brand new chariot of fire.
Reading remarkable study by Jon Levenson, Resurrection and the restoration of Israel. On changing (& misunderstood) concepts of resurrection in Judaism. Reminded me for some reason of the poem below.

You could think of this poem as a commentary on the solitude of anyone who turns to making poems. Acknowledgement, acceptance, recognition can be a long, long time coming.

Better not to dwell on it. But lately I'm haunted by a (delusional?) feeling of anticipation...

The poem was written about 25 years ago.


Adam, under the rain.
Under the somber branches.
To soften, to cross out
the scrawl in the clay -
evening in summer,
buried, sleeping.


Your name is blind,
your name, nowhere.
Your name in the ice,
in amber, solid memory.
An outline under the
compass of my lips.


Blessed be the name
in the rainy dusk,
on the long road
under the bridges;
blessed silence
for hearing you.


Under the old rain,
motionless, lips
flower - a rose
in the slow night;
breathing, solitary,
heavy with time.
Lattoral & Tributary talkin about big Ole.

Olson would have "dug" Viola Sachs.

Olson : the thrill of soldering chunks of metal. Soldering, that is, local unknown minutiae of backwater New England flaking-paint tenement-town nothingness to the grand movements of the C-c-c-cosmos (by cosmosis).

The Imagination of Grandiosity. Walla-walla-halloo! (Pain in the neck, mostly, to ye true olde stoic scrappy New England sourpuss-lemon stock.)


My baby pint-sized books will slowly filter into consciousness now, impinging on American culture... sort of a lit-model resurrection of "Henry" from out the sub-sub-librarian grave... (that's the dream-song plan anyway...)
I'm what they call a Person of the Book, I guess. Not only have I been a bookworm forever, & worked in a library for almost a quarter of a century : my own ponderings & writings are all caught up with metaphysics & religion & scripture. My life took a sharp & fateful turn when I read the Bible at age 19. I was baptized Episcopalian from infancy; at age 50 (old sinner by then) I started finally going back to church.

This is all prelude to saying that there can be people in the world like me who are not part of the global pious-moralist-fundamentalist-superstitious cultural pressure of our era.

"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." What is faith? As I understand it, faith is an inner conviction (despite the lack of complete knowledge or information) that something is true. It's a prudent, considered hunch, a choice between possibilities rather than firm facts.

One's view of the substance of experience in its entirety can be focused by such faith-judgements - even if they are understood to be provisional, subject to change.

So my personal poetics or metaphysics or understanding of history or anthropology are all colored by these hunch-beliefs. There is no getting away from it. My artistic development has been shaped by the prior shaping of my worldview.

NONETHELESS. ALL THAT BEING SAID... the fact remains that I am an adopted Rhode Islander (there are two Gould Islands in Narragansett Bay) and a partisan of Roger Williams.

Williams had a concept he called "soul liberty". Which, as I understand it, refers to the free activity of the individual mind in search of grounds for those inner convictions understood as "faith". Williams, simply put, devoted his entire life to the defense of soul liberty. He understood that the inner union between a person and the divine had to be one of true conviction and free choice. Any manifestation of what he (& others) called "enforced religion" was a grotesque 3-pronged insult : an insult to the authentic substance of faith; an insult to intellectual freedom; and an insult to the peace of a (self-governed) community, made up of people holding to diverse beliefs.

This particular conviction of Williams was the historical origin of the separation of church and state as we know it; of the concept of religious tolerance as we know it; and of the oldest surviving secular state in the Western world - Rhode Island.

One of the key elements of Williams' philosophy was an idea related to the medieval concept of natural law (as a young man, Williams was a student-assistant to Edward Coke, the great English barrister, famed for his defense of Parliament and "ancient right" against the encroachments of the Crown). The idea is that humankind, as made in the image of God, displays the God-given, natural capacity to know right from wrong and to achieve self-governance in lawful, peaceful commonwealths. Williams, the friend of Narragansett chiefs, loved to harp on the idea that non-Christian nations (such as the Narragansetts) could be wiser, kinder, gentler, more civilized, more peaceful than many so-called "Christian" nations. (Of course, according to RW, such refined virtuous gentle & civilized pagans would sadly miss out on the Kingdom of God and eternal life, but that was an utterly separate issue.)

This history is part of the "epic theme" I dealt with in my sort of Olsonesque poem In RI. Written back in the early 90s.

(this post was inspired in part by Frederick Wiseman's documentary, shown on PBS last night, about the ordinary workings of the Idaho state legislature... a fine film! Reminded me of my time (back in the early 80s) as a VISTA volunteer, when I worked for community groups as a "legislative analyst" at the RI state house.)


I think of Wallace Stevens as pondering along some such path as this...

The mind is creative, the imagination is primordial, originary - since experience is unavoidably subjective : the world we know is the world as we see and experience it.

Thus the vivid, bracing, inventive, concrete perception of poetry offers reality made new - re-shaped anew (or, reality in a new light). Thus the "supreme fiction" displaces the worn-out myths which have congealed into doctrinal belief.

Poetry in this sense is representative of art & artist generally. Which are, in turn, representative of free creative conscious perception generally.

This is very basically the "standard model" of the Artist, since Emerson, the Romantics, etc. And I accept it, I agree with it, for what it's worth : a working credo for the nourishing of creative talents & aims. But it ain't the whole story.

Interesting juxtaposed reading these days : Pope Benedict on St. Bonaventure (Theology of History of St. Bonaventure) on the one hand; a critical study of Finnegans Wake on the other (Joyce, Dante and the poetics of literary relations, by Lucia Boldrini).

I have the feeling Bonaventure would have found FW out of court (even though Joyce is so deeply fascinated with both Christianity and the notion of creative world-making).

Joyce is awfully deep & subtle, but he seems to shape the book in a sort of circular, "Buddhist" (or Hindu) framework : life circles around & around like a river forever & ever. For Bonaventure, the assertion of "the eternity of the world" was one of the primal marks of Aristotle's pagan error. For Bonaventure, the world is a creation, and history has a singular plot (even if B's version of that history has a certain circular quality about it : history is the story of the world being sent forth from God, pivoting on Christ, and returning to God).

I've got my own inklings about this, which I won't go into now...

But getting back to the "Stevens" bit above... I feel more & more on kind of a Nicholas of Cusa/Byzantine tack, with the central notion of the human/divine imago... that is, there are human creators (with maximum freedom) & yet there is also Creation - these 2 perplexibly & unaccountably meshed (like 2 circles) together... & there is the Event at the center...

Christianity : revelation (the event) trumps reason.

Poetry : the actual (drama) trumps abstraction (discourse).

There's a kind of parallel or analogy there... (worked out in History...)


"Competence" : I'd agree with J. on this one. Just hearing that word makes you want to run screaming from Poetry Room. It's like somebody in ill-fitting polyester suit walking in on ballet practice looking for IRS paperwork from 1974. Excuse me, could I speak with Col. Competent? Oh, he's over at Competence Hall, rm 666, CREATIVE WRITING. The competents will get their comeuppance.
J. Latta, as always... Lights are on, somebody's home. He has a fine-grained way of reading... I think I stand back more & look at the picture from a slight distance. Take his Crane "Cape Hatteras" comments of today. Faulkner's telling a tale, with his droning southern rambling drawl-whisper. Crane, on the other hand, is painting a mural. His individual sections of The Bridge are like odes, or (in this case) Charles Sheeler machine-landscapes. An ode has a big frame : kind of unfair to nip & tuck at individual lines or stanzas, without taking a look at the whole thing. Thus "Hatteras" should be looked at as part of a wheel (or ring of suspension guy-wires, or rainbow) - one of the tones in a huge tone-poem. Look at "Hatteras" through the other panes : ie., the opening invocation to Columbus, or the closing rhapsody, or the ode to 19th-century clipper ships. Each ode should first be taken in & measured in terms of its scope as a whole song among a series of songs, before (over)-reacting to in-grained mannerisms...

Another way to think about the quoted stanza, too, is as parody. "Power's script" shifts the substance of true poetic-visionary power - "The Bridge" as comprehending a new perception of civilization on earth - shifts it to the machinery of power itself, and thus its "script" is diluted or corrupted. So the stanza includes gimcrack takes on Rimbaud's lines from "Illuminations".

Eliot did something similar, it's said, with the 3rd of the 4 Quartets. The whole thing is a self-parody.

I guess this is all special pleading, but anyway.


It seems John Latta, in his Hart Crane post of today, is providing an illustration for the concepts I've been pondering here lately : the poet/seer & Beauty's dislocation...

JL is sharp to point out how Crane muddles & roughens up his own acute (prose) notations as he turns them into poetry...

but I have a different take on this, and I think "The Idiot" is a better poem than John suggests (Crane's complaints aside). The juxtaposition of the prose and the poem serve to point up the difference between prose and poems; and it's not just a stylistic difference. The essential difference illustrated here is between prose, as anecdote or reportage, and a poem as both song and symbolic representation.

I read this poem as a kind of parable : the poet-speaker actually identifies with the idiot boy, who scans the heavens through his tin can and sings his wacky Dio gracias tune. The "song" of the poem essentially seals this identification, asserting a kind of harmonic relation or hidden unity among things or events (subjective, objective) which are (on the surface) jarring, absurd or pathetic. "The Idiot" is an artifact of Crane's laborious effort to "sing his own song" : ie., Crane forges an initial anecdote into the pattern of his typical style/tone/voice/theme, the unified substance of his work as a whole. Look at how that "late" (for Crane) poem mirrors this earlier one :


We will make our meek adjustments,
Contented with such random consolations
As the wind deposits
In slithered and too ample pockets.

For we can still love the world, who find
A famished kitten on the step, and know
Recesses for it from the fury of the street,
Or warm torn elbow coverts.

We will sidestep, and to the final smirk
Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb
That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us,
Facing the dull squint with what innocence
And what surprise!

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

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

Note how, in "The Idiot", Crane has "faced [or re-faced] the dull squint" with the idiot's "squint lanterns". He has echoed the moonlight/ashcan with the tin can/telescope. The humorous/perilous social role outlined for the poet in "Chaplinesque" still holds in "The Idiot".

JL laments the loss of Crane's initial clear reportage in the process of composition; but (unlike most 20th-cent. poets) he's not writing prose. Not only is he not writing prose; he's making a peculiar song which asserts the fundamental difference between the poet and everything "prosaic". The distinction is epitomized in an old Ojibwa term : dream song.
I wrote here a few days ago about Beauty and Purpose and other capital-letter topics. The idea (taken from Christine Perkell's study of Virgil) that the poet has a particular social role, as mediator between the Iron & the Golden Age - that is, between necessity and freedom, history and paradise...

Chaucer was doing something like this in the Canterbury Tales & other writings. Poetry here has a social-ethical aspect, interpreting and judging the mores of society.

There has been great resistance, since the end of the Victorian period at least, to the notion of didacticism in poetry. Poetry is either too detached (Symbolism) or revolutionary (Futurism) or autotelic (Modernism) to serve as a medium for ethical counsel or social critique.

It's not hard to think of many exceptions to this rule, of course. 20th-cent. poets from Yeats to our contemporaries have addressed social-political issues. But there is an understandable hesitation, on the poets' part anyway, to assign any ulterior purpose to art. Beauty exists for its own sake; the forms of art are self-generated and self-sustaining, growing out of the inherent dynamism of beauty and invention.

Here's how I resolve this dilemma (this morning, anyway) : the harmonious character of beauty (expressed in art) is indeed self-sustaining & self-contained, like a gyroscope floating on a string - and this is precisely what is "revolutionary" (disturbing to the world's business-as-usual) about it.

The poet as social interpreter, counselor & critic is simply the poet who has become conscious of the exile/dislocation/estrangement which is already rooted and inherent in the relation between beauty and the world's turmoil : and who takes responsibility for the consequences.


Addendum : of course, Virgil & the other ancient writers didn't leave it at that. That is, the relation between Beauty and the world's trouble (say, History) is not static and a-historical. The key, again as Perkell points out, is this dual notion of beauty (Aristotle), one part of which takes into account the object's purpose or telos. Because humankind also has a telos - a spiritual goal, adumbrated (very basically) by the perennial reality (under many guises) of Beauty/Truth/Goodness - the manifestation of Beauty in art somehow serves that spiritual telos. Suddenly we no longer have a static reality, but a world-in-development, as an expression of essential human aims (philosophers & theologians can argue about the divine vs. human vs. natural origins of those aims).

This gets me, anyway, back to Joachim of Fiore. According to the theologian formerly known as Ratzinger, 13th-cent. Joachim (revised & corrected by Bonaventure) played a pivotal role in a shift in Christian theology - away from Augustine's more static vision of the Two Cities (Earthly & Heavenly, temporal and eternal), toward a kind of quasi-prophetic perspective, which looks to the historical future for a concrete expression of spiritual harmony on earth (call it Peace, or the Kingdom of God, or the Jubilee, etc.).


The poet, then, stands midway between Iron and Gold - "representing" (making representations of) Beauty - in Mandelstam's figure, playing the flute, or the fife... showing signs of things to come... "quickening" (Eliot's term) at the sound...


An illustration (from the King James Bible, Gospel of Luke, ch. 7):

"24 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?

25 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts.

26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.

27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.

29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.

31 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?

32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.

34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

35 But wisdom is justified of all her children."


- of the "fife", that is :

32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
Allen Bramhall, fellow seasoned veteran of the American Muse Stakes (pronounced "mistakes"), says some kind words about me, & leaves his brand new book on my grave. (Hope he doesn't mind me swiping his photo...)


Reading The Malefactors, by Caroline Gordon (a very very good writer). Written in the 40s-50s. Includes fictional portraits of her sometime husband Allen Tate (they married & divorced twice), Hart Crane, Dorothy Day, others.


Ratzinger writes about Bonaventure's concept of "revelation".

"Revelation" is the result of an inspired capability to recognize the truth beneath the "veil" of the scriptural "letter". Thus an inspired hermeneutics (the ability to interpret aright) = revelatory vision.

Counterpointed by humility - exemplified by St. Francis, whose approach was to live out the Sermon on the Mount "sine glossa" (without "glosses" or special interpretations) - ie., simply, literally, taking Christ's commandments at face value.

Since Joachim & Bonaventure (in very different ways) expected the working-out of salvation history as the increasing influence of the Holy Spirit in the world, by way of "spiritual" (contemplative)
Have been reading a book by the current Pope Benedict (formerly Joseph Ratzinger) : Theology of History of St. Bonaventure. Recent delving into Joachim of Fiore led to it. Bonaventure appears to have been influenced (to a degree) by Joachim's writings.

Drawn to this complicated area while working on Fontegaia poems (some posted here recently). Siena, palio, all that. The palio race as metaphor for various other things (the "racing" of the poets, the eschatology of the human race...)

Maybe I've blundered into a spot where it gets more difficult to say anything, without sounding facile, glib, "profane"... doesn't feel like writer's block (I know very well what that is).

Joachim, Bonaventure, Virgil's "audacious" poet (see post below) - all of them looking into the future...


My books are in pretty good shape now. They're all a handy, lovable pocket-size, except for the complete 1-vol. Forth of July.
The big, all-in-one Forth of July, with new cover and illustrations.

New, slightly tweaked & improved, Island Road.

Medievals : "beauty is truth is goodness"

Keats's urn (Romantics) : "beauty is truth, truth beauty"

Moderns : "beauty is beauty, truth is truth, goodness is goodness..."
Poetry : speech made beautiful.

But then, how do you define "beauty"?

Umberto Eco on Joyce on Aquinas on Aristotle...

Eco sheds clear light on an oscillation between Symbolism/Modernism, Symbolism/Acmeism, Plato/Aristotle, idealism/materialism... the halves of these binaries overlap.

More later, hopefully. Must get coffee.


J. Latta quoting Kundera today. Want to read that book, too. Though Kundera seems to have developed a fiction vs. poetry polemic. He condescends to the poets. A worthy antagonist, I guess.


My post of yesterday, on the duplex perplexity of it all (verbal toy or compelling vision?) is what got me asking myself about Beauty.

Joyce (see Eco link, above) follows the general materialist trend of the 20th century, when he tweaks Aquinas' 3rd of the three aspects of Beauty (integritas, consonantia (proportion), claritas) - claritas - toward the radiant actuality of the thing-in-itself. The artist's "epiphany" is a recognition of this unique and particular radiance - the essence of the thing itself - its quiddity.

Joyce's attitude paralleled the Russian Acmeist revolt against Symbolism (at the same period - around 1910 - roughly, birth of Modernism). The Acmeists aimed to praise and celebrate this world (not the cloudy otherworld of the Symbolists) - mirrored in the autotelic craftsmanship of the Modernist art-work.

I think if we took Aquinas' triform definition as a starting-point today, we might bend it slightly differently.

Poetry : speech made beautiful.

Beautiful : and beauty is a kind of end-in-itself. The existence of a work of art is justified by its beauty.

But what is beauty? Joyce's equation relating to the 3rd aspect (clarity = radiance = object's quiddity) - perhaps, for us, falls slightly short.

Today we might relate claritas to intelligibility.

Radiance is not merely self-contained in the object, autotelic, self-generated. Claritas (as well as integritas or wholeness and consonantia or proportion) interpenetrates, transcends its own borders, surpasses itself. The harmony of these aspects is both 1) reflected in the perceiving mind, and 2) echoed & magnified in general experience or reality as a whole. Thus the object is radiant with its own quiddity, but only in the context of universal wholeness or integrity.

This is a shift I guess slightly away from Aristotelian analytics toward Platonic synthesis. But both Aristotle and Aquinas can show a continuum or relation (which Modernism downplayed) between the object's quiddity and universality. Eco's comments (see link above) point the way.

In Aristotle, art understood as craft shows a duplex beauty. An axe can be both 1) beautiful to look at, and 2) beautiful or fitting in fulfilling its purpose, its end (telos). The axe is designed so as to chop wood beautifully. The ship is beautiful in fulfillment of its practical purpose - it sails well.

As Eco notes, for the ancients and the medievals, humankind's existence was understood as having a spiritual purpose or telos. Inasmuch as art serves that end, it is beautiful in Aristotle's second sense. Beauty, Goodness and Truth coalesce in that spiritual telos. Here is where Plato unites with Aristotle.

The radiance of intelligibility is a measure of an art work's integration with universal human purposes. Truth, vision, wisdom... this is the range toward which art can rise, by way of claritas-intelligibility.

Can you see where I'm tending with this?

I'm going back to the issues raised yesterday, with reference to Virgil and the mystery of the poet. The "audacity" of the poet is a spiritual audacity : the willingness to stand at the border between "Iron Age" and "Golden Age". Between humanity's universal purposes, and more short-term (seemingly practical) aims and desires.

In this sense the poet is only a more acute representation of the writer in general or the artist in general, just as the writer or artist is only a "signifier" for Everyman and Everywoman, for humanity in general. That is, the contradictions at the heart of human experience - between now and forever, earth and heaven, self and other, universal and particular - are signified - emblematized - by the artist.

It's this inward contradiction which accounts for the "outsiderness" of the artist - again, perhaps most acutely represented by the poet. In the context of practical America, consider the unique (& very personal, very idiosyncratic) estrangements at the core of the lives of Whitman, Dickinson, Melville, Poe, Pound, Eliot, Crane, Bishop... etc. et al.

Because the oscillation between Iron and Gold, earth and heaven, body and soul has both psychological and political - personal and social - ramifications.

"I had come to hear that great things might be true. This I was told on the Christopher Street ferry. Marvelous gestures had to be made and Humboldt made them. He told me that poets ought to figure out how to get around pragmatic America. He poured it on for me that day. And there I was, having raptures, gotten up as a Fuller Brush salesman in a smothering wool suit, a hand-me down from Julius. The pants were big in the waist and the shirt ballooned out, for my brother Julius had a fat chest. I wiped my sweat with a handkerchief stitched with a J."
- Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift


p.s. of course the 20th-cent. Moderns illustrated their own forms of "spirituality". There's a spiritual-scientific aspect to the artist's personal renunciation in pursuit of the "objective correlative" or the Joycean epiphany. Yeats's "profane perfection of Mankind".
Noticed that labels I created in the index using a slash (ie. form/structure, church/state) were not searchable. I've renamed them, using dashes, etc.