12.21.2007

& this is it. In a nutshell. Maybe.
...so in this vein, some Rest Note reminders...
Reading Bachelard, Poetics of Reverie. What everybody read back in the 60s or so. Fine Gallic stouthearted defense of poetry's useful dreamy uselessness. Seems rather French, how he says he spent decades trying to reconcile conceptual reason and imagination, until he finally realized they were irreconcilable, dialectical contraries, etc. The English would rather meander in an undecisive manner between the two.

That "poetry" dream I had recently - seems so oddly familiar, almost like a cliche or pantomime... was it more like a "waking dream"? The impression was strong, the feeling extraordinary. (Was I thinking about my daughter, who got married that very day in Bangladesh?)

I am pondering my usual conundrums today (quiet at work, nobody here).

Artists & poets in the borderland between reason & dream. So that when I had that "Shakespeare/Bible" crisis back in 1973, my mind was a vulnerable. (There's some psychological term for the breakdown of reason & fall into a more primitive, regressive state - mise en abime? I forget.)

Experience like a 2-sided mirror. I mean there's a subjective/psychological explanation, & then there are other ways of interpreting the same things...

I have faith now : but I don't want to find myself trapped in a regressive-mythological frame of mind. So I try to understand these mysteries.

Americans perhaps have to choose between Eliot & Emerson. Between doctrinal allegiance and Romantic spiritual individuality. & being Episcopalian is akin to androgeny : you're Protestant-Catholic.

Charles Peirce somewhere writes about how God must be the always-new, the continually-creating. That's close to Emerson, and the dignity of the Romantic poet's office : the creative Lux Fiat of the imagination.

The dignity of the poet's office : the Russians, the Petersburg Russians, seem to have a special understanding of this. The regal Akhmatova, the tigress Tsvetaeva, the kingly Mandelstam, the princely Brodsky. (They got it from Pushkin, mainly.) The lordly regalia of the creative Imagination (Coleridge's great "I AM.")

As a Protestant, I think of the Biblical-Hebraic tradition as essentially iconoclastic and writerly. Yahweh the revolutionary, the universalist, the unknowable - the One who challenges every merely human myth and cultural idol and local tradition, on behalf of a more stringent ethos. A disenchantment on behalf of the truth.

As a Catholic, I think the truth is actually mysterious, elliptical, and feminine : I think the truth is love-beautiful in its incarnate and particular splendor.
Truth is not abstract : the Word is Psyche. Life is pathos, and charity means self-sacrifice.

As somebody who takes an interest in Nicolas Cusanus and Giambattista Vico, I have this sense of history and anthropology as "conjectural" (in Cusanus' sense). That is, all our human doings are imaginative projections; we impose the very orders we live by. We enslave ourselves to traditions and habits of our own making. It's both frightening & liberating to recognize that we make the world we inhabit. It is a recognition at the root of the world-historical struggle for political freedom.

But there is another, more curious, conjecture I maintain, until proven otherwise. I distinguish somewhat between all these human imaginative constructs, and the founding event(s) memorialized & chronicled in the Bible. I actually believe that, beneath the murky & ambiguous testimonies of scripture, there lurks some kind of intervention from "outside". (I am not saying I'm a Biblical literalist, however - not at all. I think the Bible is endlessly-interpretable in all kinds of allegorical & psychological ways.) This intrusion of the Word - from its origins in Mosaic exodus to its conclusion in Christ - marks out a differential reality or space : an iconoclastic, anachronistic break-through. The plumbline of justice depends from a space above the human : the space of "the Father", of the One of whom every human being is a partial image and replica. I say "iconoclastic" because the Biblical event uprooted every myth and dependency outside the purely human relation with this "plumbline". As the New Testament puts it (roughly from memory), all power & authority have been delivered into the hands of the Son, and no one knows the Father except through the Son. One way to intepret this is as I just have done : ie. the Incarnation ratifies and authorizes the complete humanization of reality, but strictly in terms of a primary relationship with the original source of this order. And from whence did the (providential) plan for this manifestation of order proceed? My guess is that it came, somehow, from our own future : the intervention of the Word involves some sort of feedback loop, which we don't yet comprehend.

Someday perhaps the traditional & patriarchal concepts of scriptural authority will give way to a new understanding of human imagination, writing, and truth. As Isaiah puts it somewhere, "they will all know Me in their own hearts". This is where the feminine imagination of reality (poetry), and that iconoclastic, elusive & hidden Will (represented in scripture), might meet (in some ultimate Song of Songs).

John Berryman, dancing his antic (Hamlet-like) St. Vitus' dance on the edge of all these things.

12.20.2007

"Nature is a prairie for outlaws." (Thoreau, via Latta-meander)

*

Hear, hear. Sends me back to Rest Note :

16


Far-off rehearsals of a whippoorwill
send Oblomov into the summer deep.
Yearning's sister is eternity. The steppe
is brother to the sky. So still


the planet's perihelion : so beaten round
the concave of the heart. Its cup
so plenished with pleroma-envelope
(reverberant bell-boom of circum-sound).


I am but a poor herdsman, a dresser
of sycamore trees
, bespeaks Hobo. The priest
(amazed) beseeches him, leave off, desist!
His plumbline oscillates from nothingness.


Its long suspension seals the summer rain;
the swingset's rusty interrogative
repeals its requiem (equable ruth).
A whippoorwill replies. They will remain.


Across the rolling distances, a prairie
butterfly makes delicate, indifferent way.
Zigzagging here and there. A monarch, say,
or viceroy : his plangent rule a mockery


of rule, his slip of flight a sweet retort
to blind and dutiful raison d'├ętat.
He's gentle evanescence, only that -
an evanescent elegance, the earth's ├ęclat.


The sound of the whippoorwill penetrates
the humid summer afternoon. Late summer,
later afternoon. Oblomov twists an ear
of wheat between his fingertips. He waits.
Had one of those unusual "in dreams begin responsibilities" dreams last night. One of those out-of-left-field dreams, that has you lying there thinking at 3 AM.

Was encountering, and reading poems by, a poet, say in her late 30s or 40s, who was living with her young daughter in a cheap, discount basement apt., someplace up north, like Canada. She was charming, winsome, reddish blonde... the daughter was like a little sprite, an Ariel - kind of moody - she had a special flying car or sled which she would lodge in a hollow tree trunk, her hideout... it had a great name (the sled) which of course I can't remember... (not Rosebud, anyway...)

It was clear that the poet was bohemian, poor, living only for her poetry, a dreamer... her poetry was about her daily life with poetry... sort of a Mandelshtamian "blessed poverty", allowing her to live in & for her imagination alone... the daughter a kind of quintessence of that life... I was reading some of the poems, but can't remember much about them (except that she used the occasional ampersand (&)).

What struck me was the clarity and force of this impression of impractical dedication, the brave "negative capability" she was manifesting, and the vibrant, verdant, vernal feeling of joy - I have a clear image of her smiling sideways glance, and the forest greenery around her daughter's sled hideout - which seemed to emanate from the dream as a whole, & stayed with me after I woke up...

Bachelard or Jung would call this some kind of "anima" dream, I reckon. It was a poetry dream, a dream from poetry.
Allen Bramhall has started a new blog for his poetry reviews, with an apropos name : The River's View.

12.19.2007

Interesting article in the New Yorker this week, about the decline of reading. Refers to new book on science of reading, Proust and the Squid (Maryanne Wolf). Origin of writing in visual hieroglyphs; powerful historical impact of different alphabets; Chinese script stimulates different parts of brain; etc. Effects of decline of literacy & obsession with viz-technology on US culture & politics.

Got me thinking again about ekphrasis, synaesthesia, poetry as "fluent images", blend of sound/vision. Melville's "hieroglyphic" symbolism (see Viola Sachs book)...
all the paintings in my poems... original fascination with Mandelstam by way of his imagery...

12.14.2007

speaking of which... yesterday was St. Lucy's Day.

"Study me then, you who shall lovers be..."
Quiet in the library today.

Snowstorm yesterday, now sunlight on the trees, old colonial rooftops. Snow-radiance, winter brightness.

Sort of a northern light, Bruegel-light, Thomas More-light... imaginary sense of medieval gemutlichkeit comes to me now & then, like something out of collective memory (fantasy, I should say). It's in a lot of my poetry.

"Lit with the cold and clear Minnesota light" ("Grain Elevator")

Thinking of Stevens' "idea of the sun". & the tale of the Biblical "burning bush" that drew Moses out into eventual Exodus, and a scriptural Code, a social Covenant, & the history of the West.

The spark is like a mathematical equation :
Universal God + Mankind-Imago = Human Dignity/Equality = Justice

ie. if each & all bear this divine image (like M's "gold coin of humanism") then the irrevocable consequence is : dignity & respect & equality for each & all. (cf. the "greatest commandment", from which depends "all the Law & the Prophets" : Love God; Love your neighbor as yourself)

A further thought : these verbal articulations of social design (justice) are themselves epiphenomena of the unspoken Actual - the common intuited relations of love & respect that relatively free & sane persons offer naturally (at their best, anyway) to one another.

In other words, part of the overall gift of life is a certain unspoken normative justice, an equilibrium of happiness & peace.

Then the Biblical revelation (or divine intervention) is not so much a motor of history, on the order of cause-&-effect - but rather a manifestation (a "glory") of the truth as it already is, & always was.

Everything pivots on a sense of the unique Person as enfolded in, or unfolding, an image of the universal & divine Personhood. Everything pivots on consciousness & the Person. "I am that I am."

These things have been known for thousands of years.
Imaginary scholars (my imaginary friends) might be able to find some connections between Paul Fry's notion of the "ostensive" character of lyric poetry, and Rest Note.

A "rest note" in music is silent : a timed pause, the absence of a note. With regard to my poems, the title implies a sort of culmination - the conclusion of my seemingly endless stream of quatrains (!) since beginning with Stubborn Grew...

Stubborn opens beside a river in Providence... Forth of July moves on to the Mississippi... Rest Note goes from the Amazon to a mythical underground river in Siena (Diana), and the fountain in the Campo square (Fontegaia).

But aside from that, the "rest" implies a hoped-for future... the rest on the 7th day, the peace on earth, the Jubilee, Redemption, the Golden Age. The rest and equilibrium radiating from a finished beautiful thing. And the analogy between these two (art & history, or art & theology). Thus the Palio "4 horsemen" on the cover. The references to St. Francis, Joachim of Fiore, etc.

12.10.2007

I made a few slight tweaks to Rest Note. Also removed the read-along notes to the title poem, which I had printed in the back. Too much self-explanatory overkill.

Looks very nice now.

12.07.2007

I suppose the epitaphic sensibility of Paul Fry et al., and Mandelstam's Acmeist notion of "domestic hellenism", could be seen as contrasting counterparts. Where Fry regards literature as an emanation from our non-human roots, Mandelstam understands poetry as an active labor of humanization. I suppose they're two faces of the same coin (see M's "Pindaric Fragment").

Christ's Promethean "I have come to cast fire upon the earth" gets domesticated beside the primordial Greek-Russian rustic hearth (the kitchen stove, a sacred object in those latitudes). The poet's breath breathes on culture and humanizes it, acknowledging with gratitude the (Acmeist) earthly "mansion" - thereby perhaps helping establish the terms of ethical life, or civilization. Brodsky : "Mankind was put on Earth for one purpose : to make civilization"(rough quote from memory). "In Him was light, and the light was the light of men." Nature and the round of life on earth - framed by wisdom to the seasonal, psychic dimensions of human experience & destiny.
Paul Fry's Defense of Poetry really is a defense of poetry, mainly (for me) for its sensitive readings of Wordsworth, Keats & other Romantics. (& he's got me going back to Bachelard, & Wordsworth, & looking for Allen Grossman.) Fry's argument can be understood as an elaboration of Keats's "negative capability" : poetry provides a rest from the "irritable reaching after fact & reason". He quotes Blanchot, who writes that he reads literature to find rest in actuality, the thingness of ordinary things - beyond meaning, beyond reference, beyond interpretation.

His argument is also, it seems, rooted in a disenchanted naturalism. The basic ground of reality is the nonhuman, the inanimate - King Death being the much-evaded terminus, the inanimate to which all dust returns. For Fry the Romantics, especially Wordsworth, are naturalists avant la lettre, or in spite of themselves.

At one point though, in a sort of aside, Fry mentions Blake, as something of an exception to the rule. & I find myself closer to Blake's supernaturalism than anyone else's naturalism.

Naturalism, as a literary atmosphere, succeeded Romanticism, under the pressure of 19th-cent. science, politics, and war. (Symbolism and modernism succeeded naturalism, but only within the restricted sphere of their aesthetic self-enclosure.) Simply put, poetry's role was sidelined and trivialized - penned up in the realm of "culture" and "feeling".

Basically, Science took the place of Religion, and everything else lined up appropriately.

But let's look over at Pope Benedict's essay (see link below). Faith, according to Paul, is the substance of hope, the evidence of things unseen. In Benedict's reading, then, faith is a spiritual something from outside, which we internalize (or already possess) - and such possession makes possible a kind of intuition of a greater goodness or joy which we cannot see yet, but which we hope for. Because faith is a "substance" we actually possess, it is also the evidence which grounds our hope.

As I see it, this spiritual intuition is still active in the world, and provides a way of seeing &/or understanding reality, which has not been displaced by science. And there's a kind of analogy here with the intuitions, the aesthetic discoveries, which guide artists and poets. (& that's the key to my Byzantium)

For Fry, literature & poetry intuit and represent an austere ground of being, in the non-human, the inanimate, the extreme limit of death. For me, I guess, the labyrinth of the human mind and spirit is yet more subtle. At some unspoken level, we recognize and intuit the formations of life & death together (this is actually close to Fry's reading of Wordsworth) : but death doesn't necessarily have the last word.

(I realize my notes might strike some people as a very aggressive and unpalatable confusion of categories... I'm sorry for that. This is how I organize certain categories of understanding, for myself : but my main interest lies in the actual ("shamanic") praxis of the visionary, synthetic imagination...

- & what the heck : I graduated from Blake School, in Hopkins (MN) !)
Vision and synthesis. Again, the notion of poetry as a kind of speaking painting. (Verbal synaesthesia being a hypertrophied symptom of something larger.) Imagination and dream. The project of the poet - to challenge more discursive, abstract, mechanical forms of mimesis - to absorb both dream & reason into singing. The old shamanic/oracular activity, except it loses its utilitarian motives (archaic, magical) in the process of painting the vast image for its own sake. A free-standing model of reality.
So maybe Fontegaia is a love poem of sorts... Trying to show love cohering in synthesis, a "synthetic" vision. How reality itself is rooted in love. (Mostly a ponderous jumble, maybe!)
The driving meditative thought-whisper of Stephen Ellis.

12.05.2007

I suppose Mankind per se is that unruly rabelaisan Infant, loving & devouring, with joyful greedy gusto, the world designed for such, making him/herself the measure of all things... endowed with such freedom & power by the Maker's own express & gracious will... & that such futuristic freedom & power might be difficult for popes & philosophers & kings & generals to grasp... so that the Parable of the Prodigal Son is the greatest parable, and Jesus perhaps took the stage name "Son of Man" in a somewhat literal (futuristic) sense...

- & the same prodigality of freedom & power leading miserable Mankind into all the terrible hellholes of both "progress" & the lack thereof... requiring the difficult climbing ascesis of saints, who love the Source and the Whole - the whole Truth - the suffering Shepherd - more than they love any particular thing (including themselves)... [& then, following along, they go on the difficult downward ascesis, loving each most abject suffering unimportant thing as a portion of the Whole...]

- & speaking of Infants, I was reminded of a particular thread on the Poetry site (a posting by A.E. Stallings), about "poetry & prophecy", where I commented that I sometimes felt my poems had prophesied some of my own later poems... & was reminded of this very early poem, & how it seemed to foreshadow the whole Forth of July adventure...
The Pope's reflections on "Hope" : deeply-considered, sometimes very moving. (disclaimer - I'm not Catholic.) (note to intellectuals : he seems to like Adorno, cites repeatedly). The passage on how we might understand the concept of "eternal life" is especially rewarding & clear.

Two tentative criticisms come to mind. The first is that sometimes, despite his generally brilliant and subtle thinking, Benedict falls into a sort of sacerdotal "religion-speak" (understandable, coming from a Pope). Nothing wrong with this in itself : but it might be relatively inaccessible to non-believers, skeptics - anyone suspicious about, or simply incapable of, conceptualizing a theistic reality. (Maybe it's a job for philosophical poets - like Stevens, for example - to imagine, conceptualize, and picture basic cosmic/human realities in a graspable way.)

The second is more specific. In the course of contrasting humanistic or atheistic social utopias or conceptions of history with a Christian perspective - a critique of notions of "progress" - Benedict emphasizes that, because of the gift of human freedom of the will, we must expect that every generation will have to struggle against evil. Thus incremental human progress toward an earthly paradise is represented as a form of determinism or social engineering, incompatible with freedom, and with the moral imperatives facing individuals and individual generations.

I guess as an American (predictably) I have a problem with this. And I'm groping for a sort of theological ground for a different view. It seems to me that if Benedict's position is the case, then social idealism (whether in Dante or the Social Gospel) is, to a degree, in vain.

I think one could imagine a future Earth where social relations and moral education have changed for the better - so much so, that when new generations of children and young people come into the world, they can - without renouncing freedom of the will - for the most part distinguish between good and evil, and choose, for the most part, the good.

This seems hard to imagine... but there is some Biblical authority for it (I think!!). There are passages in Isaiah and the prophets, about "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and learn war no more". There are verses where God announces that he will replace "hearts of stone" with "hearts of flesh", and that all people will come to know God, in their own hearts. Thee are passages in the New Testament about "saving the world", "a new heaven and a new earth", etc.

How these things relate to eschatology, the 2nd Coming, the Last Judgement - that's another set of issues, and beyond me at the moment...

12.04.2007

Reading Pope Benedict's encyclical on "Hope" (which happens to be the state motto of Rhode Island).

12.03.2007

Welcome to 21st-century po-biz, just like the earlier version. Check out Ron Silliman's weekend news clips. Ange Mlinko's rathery gushy Ashbery review (in The Nation) gets labeled "great". Troy Jollimore's measured Ashbery review (in SF Chronicle) gets labeled "quietist".

O Ashbery. The Mlinko review is indeed wide-ranging and intelligent; but the Jollimore one is good too.

A. Mlinko writes : "The Ashbery poem isn't grounded in reportage or fact. And that is at least one of his great discoveries, if not his greatest: the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information." This is very close to Paul Fry's theory of the "ostensive" ground of lyric poetry : it exists outside of, or before, reference and meaning.

Actually, I don't feel that the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information. Just personal taste, I guess. For me Ashbery represents one of the larger sacred buffaloes in the vast constellation of American confusion.