Fontegaia, onward, underward...


Under alp-bank in Switzerland, scientists
mole through superdimensional cheese,
carve expansive titanium race-
course for unknown particles

(Higgs hobos - shifty-eyey - elusive).
Junior Einsteins carry oversize
branes across antimatter (sideways)
toward theoretical, onion-beehive

Domesday - can they count every bee?
We seem to be alone in the multiverse.
A saddle-shaped cosmos. Our hearse
or hers (Bootes up backward)? Maybe.

He's the oldest son of the youngest
paisan. Prodigal scrabble-player,
dense brown dwarf (WIMP). Here
and gone, we hardly nothingested

his talent for tunneling (with pencil)
athwart our own plain planet. Maimed,
drawn (with quarters in the subway) -
shame on her, was he, dense exile,

doodlemeister. Sand Franciscan
on rocky road, indeed! Heartbreak
of the Protons
on TV - let's make
Caesar salad spread veinous marzipan

crows crazed witless Addition (EZ-
WAY OVERNIGHT chortlez Shanty Choir.
The early effort to engage & absorb literature (labyrinthine fold of moth-wing) - happens in solitude & company, in school, out-of-school...

"formal" training, jobs, etc.... the bureaucratization of life....... these don't have much to do with "it"...

the banality & mediocrity you encounter among the supposed literati.... seems like mostly the result of being too easily satisfied... cardboard for breakfast...
I hate to generalize about this, but it seems to me that for many poets everything begins in early adolescence. (Maybe it's all a puberty rite.)

In early adolescence there are no sharp borders between poetry and other kinds of writing, or between poetry and experience in general, or between a writer and his or her comrades in writing.

Classicism(?)... we (or I) need a new word for this. Since the Romantic era youth has been lock-kneed, stereotyped, as rebellion. But the passion of young poets for literature has as much to do with a secret affinity for the voice of experience. Classicism should not simply be equated with realism or world-weariness (though these aspects cannot be denied, either). Think rather of the notion of hard-won experience. The voice of character & wisdom - of the veterans of spiritual battles, of living itself.

New forms of such classicism appear in every generation - the enthusiasm of young poets for their own literary discoveries, their delvings into the past, the obscure quaint voices of the ancients (or even just the previous generation) - which turn out to be unexpectedly familiar - clear & pungent.

Keats we think of as a Romantic... but he was also classic in this sense. The classiest of the classic.
Tides have a way of turning.
Art : successful marriage of ethos and harmony. (think Sophocles)
Enjoyed the J. Latta gelato yesterday.


Reading the wonderfully clear & accessible critique of string theory, The Trouble with Physics, by Lee Smolin. An education in scientific method.

I'm in the 1st chapter. Discussing how scientists seek to explain diverse phenomena through unification in a comprehensive theory.

What would a "theory" of American poetry look like? It would have to be grounded in a particular idea of the nature of poetry in general, and in a good grasp of the literary history.

Probably some such set of principles (defined or implicit) is part of the equipment of every good critic.

The idea would be to unify one's judgement of the various approaches and styles based on such a "theory" (or set of principles) - & thus offer a persuasive interpretation of the jostling tribes.
Are my poems locked in their own world of private symbolism? Well, maybe. I write like I do because it's fun. But the result is not just meaningless jabber. With patience you can make the connections. I've been writing this way for years now.

Science explains how steady motion is equivalent to rest.

I started writing poetry in about 1966. The career aspect of literature both bores and scares me. It seems like a ticket to compromise, which doesn't bode well for the writing itself.

When I started out the professionalism was less noticeable. MFA programs were something new. Underneath, though, the scramble for jobs, status & attention had been going on for a long time, I guess.

I was blessed with good teachers from the beginning, & they reinforced my ridiculous self-confidence.

But I'd like to write a novel, if only to get a little respect. & make my parents happy. (These are clearly not the best motives.)

Poetryland doesn't take me seriously - probably because I don't get out enough. Too busy working, raising kids, etc. Or I haven't written any substantial essays or articles. Or been published in big magazines. Or people think I'm crazy or something. Oh well. See you round the blogs.

I should work on those essays.


today's Fontegaia.


Palio-town spins like a gyroscope,
driven by heaving horses, meager men
against the gravity of time. Now
is then. Eden in a shady envelope,

or den of thieves. A word on the lips
of a blind old oracle, pithy, mythy -
like the ragged shrouds or shifty
rags of earth's first refugees. Lips

Monastery? Vagabonds from Ararat,
maybe. Shards of a hoary quarrel's
quibble over terms. Through a needle's
eye - who's first? Not this, not that...

And the race is not to the swift
whispers the epileptic hierophant
begging by the Golden Gate (can't
get there from here). Lift?

Lift yourself. She sees the wheels
a-wheeling over sodden Voronezh
like ravens - voron-voron-neverish...
and whispers around them (feels

her way). Or flickery knives,
or tongues of silver-serpentine,
a rusty green gone phosphorescent -
like a river underneath the sky, or

beehives on the prairie. Between
the start and finish line (or Man
and Word) they hover there - thin
fleet of arcs - a goldfinch sun.
... come to think of it, "clerk Kent" (in the old sense of clerk as a scholar or scribe - pronounced "clark") is not a bad nickname for KJ.

Clark Kent also managed more than one identity... kryptonite was his language poetry...
I was down in Jersey for a few days, near Asbury Park (my 85-yr-old mother-in-law is a Springsteen fan). Ol' Henry is phlegmatic lately.

Speaking of coincidences : ol' Kent Johnson emailed me last week to say he'd been reading a New Yorker profile on Finnish composer Sibelius, & his thorny relations with 20th-cent. avant-garde, & Kent thought of me. & then this week I received a package from Tasmania, from Ralph Wessman, the only editor on this planet who actually solicits material from me. Latest issue of Famous Reporter includes an excerpt from previous endless Henry series titled Rest Note. The excerpt mentions a lot of birds - Sibelius was a serious bird-watcher (his last words were about his beloved cranes) - & concludes with these lines :

Symphonic morning (slow Sibelius) : from night
to day, processional (with cloud-parades).

Thanks, clerk Kent.


John "Coffee" Latta yesterday, quoting Guy "guy" Davenport quoting Sam "Samuel" Johnson on the etymology of "pagan" & "heathenish". A pagan was a "countryman". The old urban/rural, civilized/natural, Confucian/Taoist dichotomy raises its head in ancient grease.

Chimes with book I've been reading, Burton Mack's The Lost Gospel. Attempted take-down of Christian "mythology" by way of separating out the "Book of Q" (assorted Jesus warnings & wisdom sayings, some of which accumulated in Sermon on Mount, etc.) from the rest of the message.

Mack identifies, remarkably, the Jesus sayings with the Cynic philosophy & lifestyle of the Hellenistic multicultural mix of that time. A Cynic was something between a stand-up comic, Diogenes the truth-teller, a prophet, and a hobo. Sort of the official society ornery nay-sayer. Voluntary poverty, making fun of greed, vanity & corruption of world, wandering about issuing witty rebukes & pithy sayings, calling the world to account...

Seems faintly ridiculous & far-fetched to me, how much Mack has to leave out in order to conduct his analysis (such as to ask, why, exactly, were the counter-cultural Jesus groups forming & going on missions from town to town? The answer seems to me to lie more with the Jewish, John-the-Baptist type Qumran/Essene communities of purification and revolt, than with the Cynics & their philosophies).

But Mack's curious thesis & Latta's comments got me thinking about a stream of proto-Franciscan, beat, hobo, Thoreauvian-Whitmanic, voluntary-poverty commitments (or non-commitments), which runs through American poetry somewhat at a slant. (cf. "folkiness" discussion. poverty, "self-taught", & originality. or should I say freedom.)

& there's certainly a possibility the young Jesus, as talented part-time Galilean nazir ("singer") & carpenter, could have soaked up some of the Hellenistic influences there in that easy-going outside-the-mainstream rural Minnesota of the Middle East (Galilee).


slowly stumbling along (clip-clop) with Fontegaia...


Take me up in your silver wheel then,
morning spider - spectral spokes
held weightless there. Olde bokes
by elder blokes stutter again again

as a gay lil' E and a wee lil' J
swirl mudpie-full of sayings-together
- where Seahorse rides the nether-
waves, a Tilt-a-Whirl or rim o'clay

(evening in Voronezh, or Petroglad).
An archaeology of mumblings
from farmbelt district (rumbling
groundlings?) - Homer's nod

to drafty sheets - shifty pliers
of the silky seas, a-moving,
moving (wheezy Dream o'Dreamy
wheels). A roving tattoo clears

the air. Earned in July at the early
Palio, it shapes a square of lucky
turns, a green cat's-eye quaternio :
some hobo's charm of purly

gold (rushy reed in windy arc)
or some Francisco's pencil-sketch
of Lady Poverty (O lazy wretch!).
The wind blows where it will - mark

how it wheels, look how it meets you,
J-J - way back in the rowboat stall
behind fleet contenders, pal -
a donkey in cobwebs (glue, horseshoe).


Yesterday, by surface mail in the actual world, I received a note from Kenneth Warren (editor of House Organ) about In RI (I'd sent him a copy). Kenneth was so enthusiastic that I had to go back & read the poem again myself. Surprised to find how topical/political it is. A blast against fundamentalism.


good comment today by Jack Kimball re these issues. I agree, though it may not seem like it. At least I agree if one is willing to think of the Bible, the Constitution, Shakespeare, Keats, Pushkin, Poe, etc. also - along with Dickinson and Whitman - as "folk art".

Authentic "fine art" is sophisticated art which has kept its roots in reality, experience, feeling, truth. Like authentic folk art.
There must be something to what I wrote yesterday, because my first impulse, from the moment I posted it, has been to question & oppose it.

You could argue that the true tradition of America is just this originary, rebellious, antinomian, independent, ornery-individualist vision, the 1st principle of which - a sacred vocation - is to exercise the right to make everything new, to re-invent the wheel - starting here and now.

You could also argue that the "rebellious" poets (the oppositionalists, the marginalists, the isolatos, the aesthetes, the avant-gardists, the bohemians, etc.) are not ignorant of history & tradition - but they know it from underneath, from an angle of vision from which the sanctioned, established, canonized Works of Culture reveal themselves to be inadequate & false.

You could also argue that aesthetic vision/artistic capability is natural in a way that opposes and transgresses - because it is essentially alive - all those crystallized cultural forms and collective (artificial) compromises which go by the name "traditions".

The dialectical and agonistic scenario sketched out here is indeed the dominant image of the artist and poet which contemporary American culture reflects and projects. Emerson is its source, and Romanticism generally.

But what I'm suggesting (in previous post) is the possibility of recognizing a different image of the poet : something you also find in Whitman, as well as in poets like Shakespeare, Auden, some of the Victorians, some of the Restoration poets, Pushkin... The quality inherent in this image, what I'm trying to get at, is something like "geniality" or "equanimity" : the willingness and ability to synthesize opposing viewpoints : to analyze and judge things without totally dismissing or rejecting them : to see things in their fulness and roundedness : to criticize and challenge society, to condemn human folly, without turning such criticism into an egotistical platform for self-apotheosis : to respond to the traditions and history of one's culture and re-make them, without chasing after novelties or pretentious experimentation : etc.


Reginald Shepherd, in his post of July 8, relays some interesting commentary by Anne Lauterbach on the dynamics of the American poetry scene, as influenced by academic-theoretical agendas and the pressure of group-identification. Included is a passage from Gertrude Stein, which Lauterbach herself quotes, in which Stein explains the rarity and lastingness of great classics as due to the fact that "they exist because they come to be as something that is an end in itself and in that respect is opposed to the business of living which is relation and necessity".

I think this nod to "classics" suggests a direction which might lead away from some of the problems Lauterbach criticizes, though I think Stein oversimplifies and gets it only partly right.

It seems to me a "classic" is a work of art which somehow (miraculously) absorbs and lifts up all the very real and specific "necessities" of a particular time & place - lifting them, without simplifying or minimizing or denying them, into that art-realm which is indeed an end in itself.

And this idea of "classic" suggests a way to think about tradition as a measure of value in poetry. If we remember just how substantially our history and culture are founded on and structured by texts and utterances, we might discover how contemporary poetry-making could find sanction and value in relation to those more general, pervasive and public texts. I'm talking about, for example, the Bible, the classic texts of ancient philosophy and history and poetry, the Constitution, the great speeches in our language, Shakespeare and the dramatic tradition which evolved out of the medieval mystery plays, the classic English & American 19th- and 20th-cent. poets, etc...

And one cannot acquire a basic knowledge of at least some of these writings, without discovering an element of public rhetoric in the modes, styles and forms of poetry. The work of Auden, Frost, Lowell, Brodsky, among others, reveals an awareness of the public, declamatory possibilities of poetry, which is a consequence of such basic cultural literacy.

If the roots of our culture and history are in historic public utterances and texts, then our poetry should be able to find the mode or level of address which achieves some kind of fitting or seamless relation with that general culture.

But if you survey the contemporary scene, you'll quickly see how strange and anomalous this sounds. Think of all the assumptions and attitudes which are the building blocks of the academic poetry industry or the literary subcultures. Here's just a sample :

1. the poet is a rebel, an original tradition unto him/herself, an autonomous individual speaking as an autonomous individual before & above all else.

2. the poet gives voice to the identities & identifications of her/his subcultural affiliations - which are in resolute opposition to the "mainstream" or the "dominant" or the "hegemonic" society.

3. poetry is an act of pure rebellious play which exhibits no affiliations or points of contact with "bourgeois" culture and its determinations; it is opposed to "journalism", "discourse", and other forms of cultural illusion and false consciousness.

4. poetry is a craft which flourishes best in its own autonomous artistic sphere, which is itself a transvaluation of ordinary concerns, and for which professional poets commit themselves in purity and seriousness so as to pass on their craft to other craftspeople.

etc. etc. Ironically, these forthright aesthetic commitments reveal, with the utmost transparency, the depth of cultural illiteracy, pedantry, and parochialism of their adherents.

(p.s. I'm not just channeling Allan Bloom here (Closing of the American Mind). Please understand. I'm aware that art is an act of critical engagement and re-making - based in the discovers & contingencies of our own times. But you can't remake something if you simply dismiss it, if you refuse to engage with your own tradition.

Furthermore : I'm a complete partisan of the personal and the individual in art. But a person in a solipsistic coccoon or egocentric balloon usually ends up reiterating, in not very interresting ways, what's been done before. There's the personal - and then there's the Horse and the horserace of Poetry. You need both.)


More dangerous burbling from Henry World (Fontegaia) :


At the root of the furious horserace in Siena
beneath the rivalry and vanity of the riders
lurks a phantom river (long-desired) -
clear civic fountain (figure of Diana).

Longing for water, water of long
memory - when the painted wood
of the account books of the Nine
wed justice and proportion (prong

of mercurial fire the silver starting
line, the finish line). The Sienese
were happy children - olive tree
shoots of equity (Time, departing,

grows crystalline) - and the phantom
spring, trembling on lips (the word
begins in J and ends in ice)... guardian
angels ward us from that infant kingdom

(leafy, lofty). Too simple to express.
A Virgin Mary in a catamaran
hoisted over the Campo is the sign
of our homesickness here - where the race

is won by one slow-witted yearning boy.
He cries, your moon-face is the lowest,
nearest star in my poor sky, dearest -
unforgettable horse chestnut tree

Immovable on the steep slope of the Terrace
in the shadow of the founder's finding arm
the shape of my desire takes form : swift
limbs that waver in their signal place.


Sweet star that wavers in its signal place
on the brow of the hill of everlasting Providence
with your trains of candles - flowery iridescence
bowed like pilgrims on a mountainside. A race

won by the meandering mule. You led me here
with a low sound, equable and everywhere -
a wave-vibration, b-flat, basso profondo (Air
for Water Sprites Y-Cleft through Fire

It semaphores through squares of Martian
saucer-shapes (some Greek discussion
with an Arab sheik, sans percussion -
syncopated Sanskrit, maybe) - quaternion

of green and lucky plans, a seedling nation
in a merry spiral (cartoon) carton flipped
o'er the Rhody gam, where Rachel shipped
him Ishmael - blasted son of all creation!

7 x 7 is the square of your returning
whorl. Out of one equal sign (Saena Julia)
comes a reunion with yourself (my ME) -
the lovely ring tin tin of faithful perning

gyroscopes (Antikythera kissers) - gaiety's
font of fatherly, cardinal car-alarms.
His hand floats like a levitating snake-
charmer's fire-breathing peripeteia

over the emblematic city - casual sign
of heartfelt causality - your father's
father's father's little tree. Crusaders,
martyrs... pioneers, pilgrims... everyone.

7. 07. 07


Poetry, the "fontegaia", is always happily burbling up from some hidden place at the heart of the person... & if you want to get at the proper & pleasant context of my obscure productions, you will have to follow up the clues hidden in homophonics & puns... there is this "Henry cosmos" (where, as Nicolas of Cusa put it, "the universe giulianizes in you, Giuliano") just as there is a "Maximus" for Olson... & probably the easiest way to approach it is by wearing Dante/Beatrice spectacles... thus the thread of the "J" or the "little tree" which runs from the Island Road sonnets all the way (by way of Bluejay & Juliet) through Forth of July... when (as Guy Raffa put it in his book about Dante, Divine Dialectic) the poet transmutes an "object of desire" into a "spiritual guide"...

so In RI is not only "in Rhode Island", but also a pun for "Henry" and for "in our eye" and a glance at the inscription over the crucifixion... and "Forth of July" is not just the "Fourth of July" holiday but the "(coming-)forth of jewel-eye" or Julie or J... (p.s Providence was once the "jewelry capital of the world" at the center of the lil "isle of roses")... & this "incarnational" muse-music displays a faint echo of Dante, from the bilingual (Eng-Ital) edition of In RI (which opens with a scene of a loved woman "walking to Italian class") all the way to Fontegaia fountain, & the Bonaventure-Joachimist themes which are also to be found in the Paradiso... while it also subsumes (draws into its circle), in its stubborn comical "Henryesque" way, Milton-Shakespeare-Joyce-Crane-Mandelstam-Berryman-Melville-Twain-Montale-Poe-Whitman-Dickinson etc....

& despite the fact that Henry World and Poetry World seem to be alternate realities, which never coincide, time may prove otherwise... happy 4th, everyone...


Both Maximus & Paterson interpellate the narrator/poet with the image of "poet" generally & with the nexus of the "local history". There is some of this in In RI (the poem notes, for example, the coincidence of the poet's birthday and RI Statehood Day) - but it's more diffuse, less dramatized. In both Olson & Williams, you get this "here I am doing this now" work-in-progress scene-setting. In RI is a little bit more impersonal, maybe. Working in a loose genre already set up by Olson & WCW. I was only doing warm-ups, anyway, for the more intense poet-dramatization of Forth of July.

This vague "figure in a landscape" situation of poet-speaking-from-the-local-nook : has some interesting connotations. I mean in terms of the special relation between writing & person, "word & flesh", "letter & spirit". In an "incarnational poetry" (as Guy Raffa points out in his book Divine dialectic), poetry represents the fusion of letter and spirit, the collapse of the opposition between the two.
Robert Archambeau writes a brief note on In RI : a kindly reminder that my books & poetry actually exist outside my own head. Not sure he's actually read much of it, since that "gently melancholy" tone he describes changes as the poem goes along. There is a plot, centered on Roger Williams's successful evasion of theo-cats in Massachusetts Bay, & getting of independent charter for colony of religious toleration & sep. of church/state (you know, lil' Rhody). Concomitantly the poem's tone becomes less "melancholy" & more varied. (p.s. Rosmarie Waldrop's take-off on R. Williams' Key into the Language of America was published in '94, so apparently we were consulting this text at about the same time. I was not aware of her book until later.)

Olson is part of the background - but perhaps more so is Williams' Paterson. I remember I was also reading at the time (the poem was written in 1994-95) Jeffrey Walker's critical study, Bardic ethos and the American epic poem, which takes a rather dim view of Olson.

The blog & the DIY books have allowed me to sift & shape My Very Own "oeuvre" - so somebody could come along & discover this little Rhody Cosmos if they wanted to. As it is though I exist in a virtual webspace or self-enclosed Netherland, a non-entity in Poetry World. Very strange. My past WERKE weighs heavily. I need to write a novel or something, get out from under this oppressive sense of frustration. Am actually very pleased with Fontegaia (poem) of last few months - writing can be its own reward, but I'd like it to be more. Gets lonesome in My Own Private Siena.