12.23.2009

Note on Mandelstam (& "the axis of the earth")

There's a short poem in O. Mandelstam's Second Voronezh Notebook which begins :

"Armed with the eyesight of slender wasps"

(see L. Schnairsohn's translations & commentary). Schnairsohn & others have remarked on the wordplay in this poem, on the etymology of (Russian) os - connecting "wasps", "axis" (of the earth), "Osip" (Mandelstam) and "Iosef" (Stalin). Schnairsohn's version reads, in part :

I don't paint, or sing, or draw
a black–voiced bow; I only pierce
the skin of life, and love
to envy wasps, powerful and sly...

I wish that someday I too could be forced
By a sting of air and summer heat,
To pass over sleep and death, and hear
The axis of the earth, the axis of the earth...


I've found a curious subtext to the speaker's desire to listen to the "axis of the earth" in G. de Santillana & H. von Dechend's unusual book, Hamlet's Mill, where (in appendix #14, pp. 377-383) they explore the Indo-European roots of a complex of words & syllables having to do with manth-, math-, mundus, mundil, mnd, etc. They relate these roots to various mythological & etymological meanings of "axis" or "axis-whirler", the cosmic "churn" which rotates the world-axis...

"Mandelshtam" itself contains echoes of "almond stem" or "almond branch"... but here we have a more archaic (Indo-European) layer of meaning. In the poem, Mandelstam puns repeatedly on his (& Stalin's) first name; yet this unspoken (conceptual) pun lurks there as well, on his patronymic.

12.11.2009

Ol' Possum & me & Edmund Burke & Franz Wright &...

Just discovered that my 2nd marriage (in 1992) took place on TS Eliot's birthday.

*

Went down into the depths of the library stacks today (basement level B) to retrieve a copy of Edmund Burke's essay on the Beautiful & the Sublime. Discovered that the book I was looking for was slightly mis-catalogued (turned out to be a collection of essays on Milton, including a brief excerpt from Burke). But I thought perhaps I had written down the wrong catalog # (PR instead of PN), so I hiked over to the PNs. There by chance I found a book by a scholar named Ziolkowsky, on modern fictional representations of Jesus. I took it up to my work desk. I logged onto Digital Emunction (the group blog to which I've become addicted & attached myself leech-wise), where there was an animated discussion about Franz Wright & his poem in this week's New Yorker, which I had read a few days earlier. I took another look at the poem... & suddenly it struck me that Wright had (intentionally or no) written an allegorical poem, in which Wm Burroughs figured as Christ (here's the poem). An interesting day, for a librarian. Advent season.

12.04.2009

Beethoven, Ol' Possum, & me

video

(p.s. turn the volume control way down before you play this!)

Followers of this blog might have learned how much I adore Beethoven's late String Quartet in A minor (Opus 132). It has turned up here & there in my poetry... never fails to move me. So I was amazed to discover, just this evening (in a NY Times article about a performance at Lincoln Ctr last night), that this work meant a great deal also to TS Eliot; some consider it a major influence on his Four Quartets. (The concert was a dual reading/performance of both works. Wish I could have been there!)

Anyway, this got me so excited I went & pounded out an improvised bing-bong Henry version (or massacre) of a couple themes in Op. 132... please forgive the Russian-bell effect...

Henry's aphorism

Every literary award is a consolation prize.

11.20.2009

Late night last night with my old blues brother Jim Chapin, at the Mill. Neat place in old factory, out in Greenville - took me back to the 60s. Blues & folkies gather there to play for each other. We did some jug music with Jim & friends, heard some excellent harp players, & banjo & bluegrass singers...




Silly picture of Jim & Colette & me, several yrs ago

11.15.2009

Berryman, Blackmur & the "American sublime"

The website digital emunction has posted a mini-essay of mine, on "the American sublime".

11.14.2009

If you go to the preview of Lanthanum, & look at the 1st poem, I'm happy to see how the beginning (including the snow in line 1) predicted my daughter's cover photo. But I'm thinking especially of line 19. (The shade there, in the picture, is the shade of the bridge.) Forms a sort of "decussation" (cf. Sir Thos. Browne)...

11.12.2009

Lights are on today at the dumpster island. Here's to one memorious detective.

Saarinen's tuning-fork

See Gabriel Gudding's excellent essay on the Gateway Arch. I hadn't come across the "tuning-fork" metaphor before, but it made an independent appearance in Lanthanum.

11.11.2009

Saarinen synchronicity

Just 11 days shy of 11 months ago, in mid-December 2008, I began writing this long poem Lanthanum, which originated in an odd dream I had had a few days before, about the Gateway Arch monument in St. Louis (something I'd never seen, nor thought about previously).

On Monday, I finished the first book of Lanthanum (1st of a projected 3 volumes). Today I self-published it via Lulu (see previous post). & when I got home from work, & stretched out on the couch, & opened the NY Times... there was an article about a new exhibit at the City Museum of NY : on Eero Saarinen (architect of the Gateway Arch).



The gateway monument, by the way, is in the form of a "catenary arc" - the shape a flexible string or line makes when hung upside-down. Jasper Johns has painted a whole series of works incorporating the catenary arc.

Lanthanum Bk I - now in print

The first volume of Lanthanum is now available in book form. (You can preview it there.)

Cover photo by my daughter Phoebe. (View of Mississippi shoreline, from bridge in Minneapolis.)

11.09.2009

& last of Lanthanum, pt. 4. Tout-toot.
& a little more Lanthanum. (Coming near the conclusion of part 4.)
some primitive Lanthanum.

(Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to show some of the original format on the blogged version. There are extra spacings between some phrases in the final 2 stanzas of this section.)

11.06.2009

One way to read Lanthanum is to think of it in terms of Jasper Johns. The method of playing variations on a few favored symbols.... even some of the same symbols. Hart Crane is a major presence. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a catenary arch.

11.05.2009

Lanthanum : another explanatory note

Lanthanum.... may be a little hard to read (too conventional? too unconventional?) - & even harder to understand.

It's a long poem, which is about 1/3rd complete at this point (at least that's the plan). It's slowly (hopefully) gaining momentum; it's a process of accumulation & syncretism, if you will, of symbols & images & meanings. By syncretism I mean (using the term very loosely) a mixing-together of personal & impersonal, private & historical, religious & cultural... aiming toward a kind of fusion - an amalgam, a lanthanum alloy or compound, meant to burn more clearly & brightly as it slowly rolls forward...

It's epigram or motto could be a line from one of Osip Mandelstam's poems : "an arch appears in my muttering" (or mumbling). The arch in question has many-sided meaning... but paramount is the reference to the Gateway Arch monument in St. Louis, which itself takes on a collection of symbolic reverberations or (metaphorical) analogies...

11.03.2009

Lanthanum, downstream

11.02.2009

another Lanthanum paper airplane

11.01.2009

Lear-Lanthanum.

p.s. now linked to some of my books at Amazon. The only link missing as yet is my book partially set in the Amazon (Rest Note)...

10.30.2009

HG at Amazon

I put up an author page at Amazon today.

10.29.2009

Jack-o-lantern Lanthanum
Neglect & silence can sometimes be a blessing. Allows me to go deeper into things, & write without worrying too much about who's listening, public reception, all that.

10.28.2009

Lanthanum Progress Report

As time goes by & the world turns & I find myself older, & more disconnected, & disaffected from Poetryland (as the rejection slips accumulate, & the silence is deafening...)...

more alone in my own world of failures, large & small, private & public...

yet strangely, very strangely, I become accustomed to it, without losing confidence too much... well, it comes & goes... but it grows, strangely... this confidence... very possibly a grand or not-so-grand illusion-delusion...

I feel neglected & ignored, dismissed & condescended to... yet all the while I feel I'm on the right track, even when it needs correction... doing something important in poetry...

I recognize some of my blocks & limitations... I want to speak to the present world & its complex debates, I want to clarify & sharpen what I have to say, so as to be of some use... yet I acknowledge my estrangement... & I like to think of myself (in vain, surely) as in the line of my ancient farming ancestors... from the cow-country of Hertfordshire to the cow-country of Minnesota... extremely slow, shy, ruminating & earth-bound... a gradual process of recovery...

Lanthanum is no. 57 in the table of atomic elements... its name means "hidden, ignored"... it's classified as a rare earth, which is actually not so rare... used in experimental road surfaces, it assists in drawing pollutants out of the atmosphere... clearing the air...

I am moving slowly in this direction...

Lanthanum (the poem) is superficially old-fashioned, & actually unusual... a true experiment, which began in a dream I had, a few months ago - about the Gateway Arch monument, built by Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, in St Louis, MO... a dream about a structure I have never seen, & had never thought about... in dreams begin reconstruction projects...

My aim in this poem is to synthesize contraries, by way of a building project... Medieval/Modern, Europe/America, TS Eliot/Hart Crane, Faith/Reason, Past/Future, Berryman/Henry...

Eliot from St. Louis, Crane from The Bridge... Eliot from Middle Ages & Four Quartets, Crane from New World & The Bridge... both of these works majestic & wonderful & incomplete without the other...

in dreams...
Lanthanum 44

10.22.2009

10.12.2009

Lanthanum (mixolydian)

10.11.2009

10.10.2009

Nobel Prize for Memory

"This was the superiority of aging one waited for : just to remember. True or false, evil or gay, never mind. The Nobel Prize for Memory. Recipient a suicide enroute to Stockholm, having remembered all his sins at once, sitting in a deck chair sharpening a pencil."

- John Berryman, Wash Far Away
Lanthanum radiation.

10.08.2009

You talkin' to me?

This is one of John Berryman's uncollected Dream Songs (publ. posthumously in Henry's Fate) :

Henry under construction was Henry indeed:
gigantic cranes faltered under the load,
spark-showers from the welding played
with daylight, crew after crew
replaced each other like Kings, all done anew
Daily, to the horror of the gathering crowd
which gazed in silence of awe or sobbed aloud.

The structure huge mounted apace. Some sang,
others in prayer knelt; when the western wing
was added, one vast sigh
arose & made its way into the earless sky.
Lifts were installed, many had their ashes hauled.
Parents in the throng looked down appalled,

In the end the mighty roof was hoised on.
The event transpired throughout the city at dawn,
foot upon violent foot
converged to shining Henry in the risen sun,
question tormented the multitude one by one
to see to what use it would now be put.


(Sounds like a funny pre-emptive jab at my Loooong Poem Projects)

10.07.2009

Lantahnum 4/10

Henry the Activist (ret.)

Now & then I seem to get pigeonholed in poetryland as a (political, poetickal) conservative (if not Neo-Neanderthal Reactionary). So some might be surprised to learn that I come out of a vocational background in (the Republican-vilified) community organizing.

Yes, while other young 20-somethings were getting their MFAs & Phds., I was out there in the grungy streets & asbestos-flaking factory bldgs. of little old Providence, being a VISTA volunteer (5 years+). I specialized in grassroots legislative training - working with neighborhood organizations with lobbying at the RI State House. We published an annual detailed review of the (often execrable) doings up in the big white marble dome. & other things, too - fundraising, organizing. Food coops & community gardens, wholesale produce collectives. Mass meetings, street theater. We held a mass meeting in a hockey stadium with the RI congressional delegation, running up to the Reagan election. Many many many long late nights in smoke-filled rooms, with the 70s crop of Saul Alinsky-inspired activists. Many actions on the defense budget, Reaganomics, housing, etc. & so on...

This is some of my background. My life comes in distinct layers of re-fashioning (maybe too distinct). Actually I think my skepticism about some of the doctrinaire-enthusiastic blendings of poetry & ideology in contemporary poetry, stem not so much from any "conservative" allegiance to tradition, but from my everyday very hands-on experience with something Alinsky focused on : the differences between theory & practice. We went through many scenes, melodramas & turf wars between "radicals" of various left-wing clans & stripes; the neighborhood organizing movement itself grew out of a disillusionment with 60s New Left abstractions.

Of course, I haven't hesitated to drone on with my own theories & doctrines about poetry (physician heal thyself)... nevertheless one of the things that has consistently bothered me, through the 90s & up to now, is the scheming & bloviating about political styles in poetry. What you learn in practical politics is something about the difference between words & deeds : about the limits of "windy discoursing". This background, combined with the fact that I'm from the understated & stoic Midwest, might have more to do with my attitude than any commitment to "traditional styles" in poetry (though there's that, too, I guess).

To repeat : my life fractures into distinct layers. Perhaps also I've simply devolved, grown more conservative with age (a familiar ailment). I'd like to recover some remnant of my intense civic enthusiasm & engagement of those ancient days. Ah, yout'! But "youthful idealism" is something real (though often aligned also with youthful naivete, arrogance). The sense of community is a spiritual sense. The populist demand for justice comes from a (maybe inborn, innate) sense of fairness & humanity - the "ceremony of innocence" which suffers outrage after outrage over time - until the old man sinks into indifference, discouragement, anomie, & despair - all those spiritual blockages which confine Aristotle's virtue (man the political animal) & Dante's spiritual joy (man the animale compagnevole). What is poetry, Mandelstam was asked. "The poet's sense of being right," he answered. & he died for it : with the writing of one 10-line "political poem".

10.06.2009

Lanthanum skims along.

R.P. Blackmur & "tradition"

Reading in & about essays of RP Blackmur, & really liking it. Unlike his more doctrinaire contemporaries, A. Tate, Yvor Winters, & other New Critics, who insisted on establishing strict moral-theological rules of order for the critical enterprise, Blackmur's approach reminds me of Eugenio Montale's "superior dilettantism".

Literature & poetry seem to be, at one basic level, the free play of human imagination. No matter how severe, serious, obsessed & tragic the writer may be, there's a form of "make-believe" going on which is irreducibly playful. & I think this dimension gives the critic a place to stand, an independence. The notion of "tradition" - literary tradition - is a purely critical notion. It has no application outside the sphere of criticism itself. But within criticism, it seems to me that tradition is rooted, not in cultural, religious, or any other kind of mores; rather, real tradition is grounded, paradoxically, in this free play of imagination. It's something grounded in aesthetics, in the sense of beauty.

I'd hate for my statements to be taken as an argument for art-for-art's-sake or pure aestheticism. On the contrary, I think most good art emerges from deep within the larger world of human behavior, history, experience, feeling & thought. It absorbs & reflects upon all those things that impinge upon our sense of beauty. This is the basic challenge to any art which would escape various forms of decadence, futility, desiccation. But the other side of that challenge is the goal of actually making something beautiful or meaningful from all those impingements. & criticism's call to evaluate the results of that challenge, in particular poems & works of art, is ultimately rooted in the tradition of the free play of the imagination. This grounding gives the critic a means to appreciate & evaluate the qualities of poems which may stem from values & beliefs very different from, even at odds with, his or her own.

10.05.2009

Lanthanum happening.

10.03.2009

10.01.2009

Human Manifesto, pt. 5

V. Afterthoughts

I've probably overshot the mark, & want to hedge my remarks a little. My insistence on the epic impulse, on totality, might be taken for sheer grandiosity, magnitude for its own sake. Or for a mandarin complacency, weighed down with pedantry rather than experience : out of touch, out of air. To burden all poets & modalities of poetry with the elaborations of epic would be unrealistic, to say the least; in fact, it would represent an all-too-familiar form of eccentricity. One remembers, inevitably, Stevens' (very 20th-cent.) lines from "Poems of Our Climate" :

Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.


No : all I want to suggest is that the "integral", integrated vision - the epic impulse, the whole story - lies at the roots of poetry considered as a whole itself, as "one thing". It's there, as a dimension which can't be left out (ie. poetry is not reducible to Sergeant Satire & Private Lyric). A sort of underground spring, a possibility, an impulse, an aspiration - a potential source of nourishment.

The human search for wholeness, love, & freedom is not reducible to either American-style Adamism or European-style existential deracination. The search for truth also involves memory - historical, literary, poetic - & the recognition of continuities, returnings, recapitulations - strange/familiar echoes - deja-vu...

9.29.2009

newy Lanthanum...

9.28.2009

& a little more Lanthanum today.
Lanthanum, again.

9.24.2009

The William Blackstone who keeps turning up, hovering in & out of my poems, is the same Wm. Blackstone celebrated in Conrad Aiken's great & seemingly-forgotten poem, "The Kid". (I've probably mentioned this before here. & also previously noted the thread linking Aiken - Malcolm Lowry - Under the Volcano...)
& some new Lanthanum Road.

9.23.2009

Human Manifesto, pt. 4

Here's a draft of a new section :

IV. Microcosmic Recapitulation

From various villas of the poetry blogoshphere (not a typo) - from John Latta's periodic jeremiads against deracinated poetic sophistry, to Stephen Burt's New Thing essay, to Kent Johnson's article on an incipient Chicago School - from these directions & others, we are presently witnessing poets taking note of a new bent toward objectivity & real things, of poetic perception as well as expression. So how might a Berkeleyan Idealist-Maximalist-Christian-Platonic Recapitulationist-Poet, a partisan of "integral poetry", with a lot of conceptual baggage (obviously), connect (if at all) with this new trend?

American poetry since the beginning has exhibited strong "Adamic" tendencies - ie. the drive (very Emersonian) toward origination. To call it the "reinvent the wheel" syndrome would be cynical; the idea is that poetic perception returns the poet & reader to a sort of dawn-time, a spiritual & intellectual inner freedom where all things are made new. This is visible across the spectrum, from Whitman to Dickinson, from Frost to Olson - extending, in Olson's case, to a kind of megalomaniac liminal region, psychologically both risky & exciting (Kenneth Warren has been exploring this aspect of Olson in an extended, complex series of essays, in his journal House Organ). Jungian, inward, soulful.

Here, actually, we might find an area of overlap between what I'm calling "integral poetry" and these current trends. That ideal "maximalist-recapitulationist" poet, whom I've been attempting to delineate in previous sections of this essay (let's call him Henry, for short) once upon a time took very much to heart the epic & totalizing ambitions of Pound & Olson. He admired Pound's vivid, witty, shorthand notation of historical events, the way he strove to blend them into vast frescos of civilizational flowering & decay; he took to Olson's injunction (offered to Ed Dorn once upon a time) to steep oneself in the cultural history of one region, one locality - become an expert; he saw this carried out beforehand in an interesting, sometimes-graceful way in WC Williams' Paterson. The challenge posed by these masterful poets was Janus-faced : a call both to emulate & to differentiate - since he found a great deal to disagree with in their underlying worldviews...

We have tried to characterize an integral poetry as rooted in experience, not deracinated : that is, a recapitulation, a synthesis of both lived (historical, biographical) and literary past. Here is the point I'm trying to make : the only way to achieve this level of integration is by drawing on the epic dimension, the epic mode. The poet is "maximalist" because totality, wholeness, universality are active, essential elements in the poetic construction.

The "things", the "minute particulars", which surface in the kind of poetry I'm talking about, are not simply particulars of the world in general : they are distinct things within the microcosmos created by the poem. The integral poet evokes & summons up holistic imaginative worlds, within which particulars are surfacing all the time, on many narrative levels - exhibiting a multitude of facets, harking back to the Biblical/Dantean/Joycean richness of fourfold meaning : literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical...

& I should mention that one examplar of this approach happens to be the maximalist-recapitulationist poet, "Henry" - who has been spinning layered worlds for some time now out of the history & psycho-cyclobiography of the little state of Rhode Island, in various modalities of short & lengthy works...
I like the short poems that "Peter" (don't know his last name - believe he resides in England) has been posting occasionally to the Plumbline School ("Valentines") - & sometimes also in the comment streams to those posts.
some new Lanthanum Road (formerly Lanthanum).

9.21.2009

Human Manifesto, pt. 3

(Note : more cogitating today on poetry, & my poetry... so I may add this to previous post.)

III. Song of Songs

I focused in previous sections on some philosophical or religious background/worldview for my own concepts of what the poet is about. Spirit, mind, idealism, totality... & yet I think I've neglected a vital part of poetry's distinctive range : that is, not so much mind (in the somewhat Platonic sense I've been sketching), as heart, & soul.

Maybe it's the time of year. These beautiful last days of summer & incipient fall somehow help to bring that autumnal phantom, "soul", into view.

If it's permissible to generalize... I don't think our culture is very capable these days of distinguishing between the physical and the psychic, desire and feeling, body and soul. We live in a cultural marketplace of the body - its functions, desires, natural cycles, & illusions - in the midst of which the feelings & intuitions of the soul grow more elusive & estranged.

In the prior sections I talked about how an "integral poetry" would recapitulate experience & suffuse it with meaning, feeling. This is the goal of its voracious inner energy. By this I would not want to exclude experience in any of its ranges or registers; but I also think poetry's deepest impulses have to do with the life, the searchings, the intuitions of the soul. Our tumultuous, painful, exalted, terrible, tragic, comic, sublime, & ridiculous dramas of love, in all its forms, are the substance of that life which poetry aims to recapitulate, represent & celebrate. Thus the "Song of Songs" takes this name because it represents an epitome of song, song reaching toward its fundamental purpose or telos. The rabbinical & monastic hermeneutics which came after - all the interpretations of this sensuous love-song, as a spiritual allegory of the soul's loving search for God - are also paradigmatic, with regard to poetry's expressive purposes.

I'm not trying to canonize the Song of Songs (certainly it doesn't need me for that!) - only aiming to suggest how it represents a central aspect of poetry per se : the search for wholeness, integration - the attunement, the harmony of male & female, parent & child, sibling & sibling, neighbor & stranger - of love with life, soul with body, soul with God.

It can be argued that I'm singling out only one aspect of poetry. True, but there's no help for it : this "manifesto" is an effort to describe my own experience. & what I'm suggesting is that the impulse to write poetry cannot be separated from the impulse to love. Song, as such, is an effusion, an emanation from a state of harmony, or an intuition about possible harmony. It is a back-&-forth, reciprocal drama, which happens as a kind of conversation or encounter, within the creative imagination of the poet.

The affective pathos in individual poems, those qualities which move us, emotionally, are like mini-dramas, off-shoots from the central energy of this creative "love-impulse". The poet, echoing & re-echoing an inward "song of songs", is actually wooing some sweet dimension of life, earth & reality. The song of the poet is analogous in this sense to the "bride" or "bridegroom" (as symbolized in the Book of Revelation).

I think it can be said that the two great (unmatched, unmatching) towers of Western poetry, Shakespeare & Dante, share one central concern : to delineate the nature of love, to measure its whole scale of motives & effects - from blind self-regard to the patient kindness of other-centered agape (rooted fundamentally in the joy & gratitude of life).

These are "soul" matters : not so conducive to scientific analysis or determinate calculation. But that's why poetry happens, anyway : because "there are more things in heaven and earth than are met with in your philosophy, Horatio."

LOVE is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath.

- E. Dickinson

I want to mention one further consequence of the state of affairs I am trying to evoke here. It seems to me that, if the life of poetry consists in a kind of soul-courtship, or in Mandelstam's terms, a "playful hide-&-seek with the Father", then maybe we have to try to set aside some of the more pedantic, deterministic, superficial, in-house, or otherwise quantified & utilitarian critical approaches to literary reception. Just as the poet's creative labor is subject to the mysterious impulse of the "muse" of soul-searching love - so the reader's reception of the fruits of that labor will echo these deeper dimensions or concerns. & these things are difficult to judge & quantify. The relationship between a poet and his/her culture is analogous to the unpredictable and dramatic dance of courtship. For every culture, this can result in a very long "crane dance" - over centuries, even - at the gate of a very complex labyrinth.

9.20.2009

Started new chapter of Lanthanum (ch. 4). & changed the name of the poem to Lanthanum Road.

9.18.2009

Human Manifesto

I. Poetry & Worldview

I sent a letter to Poetry magazine, in response to Robert Archambeau's essay on manifestos.

Poetry & Worldview. There's a tension in the idea of poets' manifesting a worldview - since art & poetry are, basically, a constructive escape from abstraction. And a manifesto is a strategic reduction or formula ("My poetry is....")

On the other hand, certain very creative periods (say, 12th century France, or Renaissance Italy, or Eliz. England) seem to have so much energy that philosophy & poetry, abstractions & particulars, find their way into productive chemical (alchemical?) bondings...

As regards poetry, I'm a maximalist. I'm drawn to the deep thinking of Wallace Stevens & Mandelstam, on the spirit of poetry & the poet's vocation. The "theory of poetry" is about the relationship between poetry and the world, between poetry and worldview. It assumes that underneath all the differences, somehow, poetry is "one thing" : and that mysterious something is distinct from other modes of human thought, action and art.

So what marks it out, distinguishes it? To put it baldly : in poetry, language is most alive. If you think of the power, the effect of words & conversation & storytelling upon the mind & senses of a young child - & the child's desire to respond with a substantial message or articulation of his or her own - you are getting closer to the motives & effects of poetry. The Word in this sense is simultaneously Order (the world making sense), Meaning (communicating that sense), & Pleasure (having fun with that newfound power). Mandelstam's theme of "domestic hellenism" - poetry's capacity to domesticate & civilize the world, to help us be at home in reality - gets at this also.

If I were to write yet another(!) manifesto this afternoon, I would push for something like an integral poetry. This would be a bent toward understanding the poem & the work of art as an utterance which synthesizes, rather than alienates, its own background. By this I mean something like Mandelstam's voting for Potebnia over Saussure & the Russian Formalists, in terms of the linguistics source of poetics - Potebnia's notion of the underlying image-basis of language, the ur-image. Language in this sense is not an autonomous shuttling of symbolic differences, disconnected from their origins in primitive pointing & representation.

The poem is an enacted recapitulation or summation of experience, as well as a free & self-contained art-work. It must balance these two, if it wants to be fully integral - that is spilling over with both meaning and (emotional, perceptual) sense. It must both breathe and be complete (exhibit finish, shape, fulfillment - the forms of beauty).

Poetry is the human race throwing itself bodily into vocal, dancing evocation. It is the embodiment of language by (the human) spirit. This is how - by being "maximal" - poetry becomes what Wallace Stevens calls "the sanction" of life. The epic impulse - the Bible, Virgil, Homer - is the impulse to an integral fulfillment - in language - of a time & a culture as an entity, as a whole. Northrop Frye writes about this.

Emily Dickinson : "my circuit is circumference".

II. Mindful Consequences

"The letter killeth; the spirit giveth life." If poetry is the human spirit entering, reviving & giving life to the twilight realm of dead letters - & this, of course, is a big & debatable if - what are the consequences? What implications can we draw for both worldview & poetics?

In the current intellectual climate I suppose my terms & formulae will not find much traction. No, they will be ignored, if not rejected out of hand. Because by using such terms as "spirit", I'm implying an idealist worldview - something of a throwback, akin to the Romantics, & to much earlier thought. One of my heroes indeed is Bishop George Berkeley, a one-time Rhode Island (Newport) dweller (who turns up in the long poem Stubborn Grew) - an idealist if there ever was one, the idealist's idealist, an object of practical Samuel Johnson's mockery.

How can I characterize or summarize my perspective? Our experience of reality and the universe is grounded in consciousness. The human mind is a manifestation (a Human Manifesto) of some more universal & substantial form of Mind. This substantial consciousness is the underlying ground (the sanction, if you will) for world civilization (in Mandelshtamian terms, the global well-being of "domestic hellenism").

So again, what are some of the consequences for poetry? I can only speak for the small sliver of my own point-of-view & my own enthusiasms; there are as many such perspectives as there are poets. & my perspective, to put it awkwardly, is something like incarnational. I wish I knew the technical theological term for my sense of this : it has to do with the logical "architecture" of the manifestation of human thought & language in time, culture & history. One term close to what I'm thinking of might be recapitulation.

Mandelshtam, quoting some 19th century thinker whose name escapes me (Darwin? Lamarck?), writes somewhere : "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." In other words (I think) the individual of a species recapitulates, in its features & characteristics, all the prior stages of evolutionary growth. It carries the signs of its own species-history like scars (or tattoos).

One philosophical implication or analogy I draw from this is, that the individual can be viewed in a "teleological" way : that is, speaking of human beings, the Person is viewed as bearing the signs of an end, a fulfillment, of all prior time & development. Each person an encyclopedia, a microcosm of the species (Whitman harps on this idea in every line of "Song of Myself").

One literary-theological implication or analogy I draw from this notion (of recapitulation) is as follows : each Person is the telos or end or fulfillment of the language expressed in relation to him or her. The Person supercedes or fulfills or embodies or surpasses all the text, scripture, language within which he or she is enmeshed. In this sense, the Christian concept of the "fulfillment of Scripture" is a kind of symbolic norm, referring to an actuality which applies to all persons. One does not have to be a doctrinal believer in order to at least entertain, philosophically, the idea that Jesus' & the Church's playing with the notion of completing, fulfilling Scripture, in Christ's own body & person, is a symbolic representation or acting-out (in a kind of Northop-Frye sense) of a cultural reality which is universal (keeping in mind that the historical record of such theological "play" has included some violent & absolutely tragic results).

I realize I'm getting into some deep & controversial waters - a seeming roadblock to my readers, to anyone who is trying to follow how this gnarled idea relates to poetry itself. Let's go back to the primary assertions here :
1) Poetry is language brought to life by a kind of joyful, expressive energy - of assimilation, representation, & recapitulation of experience.
2) The human spirit proceeds from consciousness, mind - which is the ground of any reality we know.
3) The person, as a kind of epitome or manifestation of this Mind, can be understood in teleological terms as End and Microcosm.

To these basic ideas, let us add the reminder that human language is partial, imperfect, often mistaken : so that that personal "epitome" - the Person from whom, to whom, and around whom language proceeds & gathers - appears in a kind of shroud or disguise of error. Eliot (for one) repeatedly refers to this dimension, with his references to the poet's "faulty equipment, always breaking down" (Four Quartets - if I'm quoting correctly!).

As the Person is the epitome of the species, and Mankind a kind of microcosm of the universal elements, so Poetry aims to epitomize experience in the mirror of language. This is what Frye describes as literature's "epic" drive toward totality, the aim to include everything (see Whitman, Dante, Homer, the Book of Genesis...). Poetry is the telos or summa of language in general; it is speech brought to measure, harmony (& there is no harmony without wholeness, completion).

So, an "integral poetry" would manifest as such on both a micro and macro level : that is, on the micro level, its language would be integrated, synthesized, with prior experience, rather than closed off from it; while on a macro level, its language would aspire to, or at least reflect the presence of, that epic totality which mirrors the substantial wholeness of the original, universal grounding in consciousness itself.

Some of these ideas are glanced at in this stanza of a poem called "Letter to Emily D." (publ. in Dove Street) :

For Scripture precedes history - your insight
precedes Scripture - April's alpha and omega
purl playfully from your soul-saga.
Who finds you meets a palm-tree full of light.


III. Song of Songs

I focused in previous sections on some philosophical or religious background/worldview for my own concepts of what the poet is about. Spirit, mind, idealism, totality... & yet I think I've neglected a vital part of poetry's distinctive range : that is, not so much mind (in the somewhat Platonic sense I've been sketching), as heart, & soul.

Maybe it's the time of year. These beautiful last days of summer & incipient fall somehow help to bring that autumnal phantom, "soul", into view.

If it's permissible to generalize... I don't think our culture is very capable these days of distinguishing between the physical and the psychic, desire and feeling, body and soul. We live in a cultural marketplace of the body - its functions, desires, natural cycles, & illusions - in the midst of which the feelings & intuitions of the soul grow more elusive & estranged.

In the prior sections I talked about how an "integral poetry" would recapitulate experience & suffuse it with meaning, feeling. This is the goal of its voracious inner energy. By this I would not want to exclude experience in any of its ranges or registers; but I also think poetry's deepest impulses have to do with the life, the searchings, the intuitions of the soul. Our tumultuous, painful, exalted, terrible, tragic, comic, sublime, & ridiculous dramas of love, in all its forms, are the substance of that life which poetry aims to recapitulate, represent & celebrate. Thus the "Song of Songs" takes this name because it represents an epitome of song, song reaching toward its fundamental purpose or telos. The rabbinical & monastic hermeneutics which came after - all the interpretations of this sensuous love-song, as a spiritual allegory of the soul's loving search for God - are also paradigmatic, with regard to poetry's expressive purposes.

I'm not trying to canonize the Song of Songs (certainly it doesn't need me for that!) - only aiming to suggest how it represents a central aspect of poetry per se : the search for wholeness, integration - the attunement, the harmony of male & female, parent & child, sibling & sibling, neighbor & stranger - of love with life, soul with body, soul with God.

It can be argued that I'm singling out only one aspect of poetry. True, but there's no help for it : this "manifesto" is an effort to describe my own experience. & what I'm suggesting is that the impulse to write poetry cannot be separated from the impulse to love. Song, as such, is an effusion, an emanation from a state of harmony, or an intuition about possible harmony. It is a back-&-forth, reciprocal drama, which happens as a kind of conversation or encounter, within the creative imagination of the poet.

The affective pathos in individual poems, those qualities which move us, emotionally, are like mini-dramas, off-shoots from the central energy of this creative "love-impulse". The poet, echoing & re-echoing an inward "song of songs", is actually wooing some sweet dimension of life, earth & reality. The song of the poet is analogous in this sense to the "bride" or "bridegroom" (as symbolized in the Book of Revelation).

I think it can be said that the two great (unmatched, unmatching) towers of Western poetry, Shakespeare & Dante, share one central concern : to delineate the nature of love, to measure its whole scale of motives & effects - from blind self-regard to the patient kindness of other-centered agape (rooted fundamentally in the joy & gratitude of life).

These are "soul" matters : not so conducive to scientific analysis or determinate calculation. But that's why poetry happens, anyway : because "there are more things in heaven and earth than are met with in your philosophy, Horatio."

LOVE is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath.

- E. Dickinson

I want to mention one further consequence of the state of affairs I am trying to evoke here. It seems to me that, if the life of poetry consists in a kind of soul-courtship, or in Mandelstam's terms, a "playful hide-&-seek with the Father", then maybe we have to try to set aside some of the more pedantic, deterministic, superficial, in-house, or otherwise quantified & utilitarian critical approaches to literary reception. Just as the poet's creative labor is subject to the mysterious impulse of the "muse" of soul-searching love - so the reader's reception of the fruits of that labor will echo these deeper dimensions or concerns. & these things are difficult to judge & quantify. The relationship between a poet and his/her culture is analogous to the unpredictable and dramatic dance of courtship. For every culture, this can result in a very long "crane dance" - over centuries, even - at the gate of a very complex labyrinth.

IV Microcosmic Recapitulation

From various villas of the poetry blogoshphere (not a typo) - from John Latta's periodic jeremiads against deracinated poetic sophistry, to Stephen Burt's New Thing essay, to Kent Johnson's article on an incipient Chicago School - from these directions & others, we are presently witnessing poets taking note of a new bent toward objectivity & real things, of poetic perception as well as expression. So how might a Berkeleyan Idealist-Maximalist-Christian-Platonic Recapitulationist-Poet, a partisan of "integral poetry", with a lot of conceptual baggage (obviously), connect (if at all) with this new trend?

American poetry since the beginning has exhibited strong "Adamic" tendencies - ie. the drive (very Emersonian) toward origination. To call it the "reinvent the wheel" syndrome would be cynical; the idea is that poetic perception returns the poet & reader to a sort of dawn-time, a spiritual & intellectual inner freedom where all things are made new. This is visible across the spectrum, from Whitman to Dickinson, from Frost to Olson - extending, in Olson's case, to a kind of megalomaniac liminal region, psychologically both risky & exciting (Kenneth Warren has been exploring this aspect of Olson in an extended, complex series of essays, in his journal House Organ). Jungian, inward, soulful.

Here, actually, we might find an area of overlap between what I'm calling "integral poetry" and these current trends. That ideal "maximalist-recapitulationist" poet, whom I've been attempting to delineate in previous sections of this essay (let's call him Henry, for short) once upon a time took very much to heart the epic & totalizing ambitions of Pound & Olson. He admired Pound's vivid, witty, shorthand notation of historical events, the way he strove to blend them into vast frescos of civilizational flowering & decay; he took to Olson's injunction (offered to Ed Dorn once upon a time) to steep oneself in the cultural history of one region, one locality - become an expert; he saw this carried out beforehand in an interesting, sometimes-graceful way in WC Williams' Paterson. The challenge posed by these masterful poets was Janus-faced : a call both to emulate & to differentiate - since he found a great deal to disagree with in their underlying worldviews...

We have tried to characterize an integral poetry as rooted in experience, not deracinated : that is, a recapitulation, a synthesis of both lived (historical, biographical) and literary past. Here is the point I'm trying to make : the only way to achieve this level of integration is by drawing on the epic dimension, the epic mode. The poet is "maximalist" because totality, wholeness, universality are active, essential elements in the poetic construction.

The "things", the "minute particulars", which surface in the kind of poetry I'm talking about, are not simply particulars of the world in general : they are distinct things within the microcosmos created by the poem. The integral poet evokes and summons up a holistic imaginative world, within which particulars are surfacing all the time, on many narrative levels - exhibiting a multitude of facets, harking back to the Biblical/Dantean/Joycean richness of fourfold meaning : literal, allegorical, moral, anagogical...

& I should mention that one examplar of this approach happens to be the maximalist-recapitulationist poet, "Henry" - who has been spinning layered worlds for some time now out of the history & psycho-cyclobiography of the little state of Rhode Island, in various modalities of short & lengthy works...

V. Afterthoughts

I've probably overshot the mark, & want to hedge my remarks a little. My insistence on the epic impulse, on totality, might be taken for sheer grandiosity, magnitude for its own sake. Or for a mandarin complacency, weighed down with pedantry rather than experience : out of touch, out of air. To burden all poets & modalities of poetry with the elaborations of epic would be unrealistic, to say the least; in fact, it would represent an all-too-familiar form of eccentricity. One remembers, inevitably, Stevens' (very 20th-cent.) lines from "Poems of Our Climate" :

Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.


No : all I want to suggest is that the "integral", integrated vision - the epic impulse, the whole story - lies at the roots of poetry considered as a whole itself, as "one thing". It's there, as a dimension which can't be left out (ie. poetry is not reducible to Sergeant Satire & Private Lyric). A sort of underground spring, a possibility, an impulse, an aspiration - a potential source of nourishment.

The human search for wholeness, love, & freedom is not reducible to either American-style Adamism or European-style existential deracination. The search for truth also involves memory - historical, literary, poetic - & the recognition of continuities, returnings, recapitulations - strange/familiar echoes - deja-vu...

9.02.2009

Day by day, John Latta issues his uncomfortable complaint... & it seems right to me, most of the time. What sets him apart : a view of the poet as marking a distance between poetry & all the other busy discourse-games & artifice. Drawing a line on behalf of an imagined unity or congruence between the speaker/singer and the natural world. Nature as a source of equilibrium or restoration, after the corruptions of civilization - actually as a mirror of a free identity or way of living. This is in line with Pound, and through him, Whitman, Dante, the Troubadours... maybe way back to the old bards & shamans.

& the poem as complex material matrix of sound & sense, an object, a work of art - not a flippant game with discourse-symbols, or an abstract program or technical tweak, not a clever groupuscule - because the poet is engaged with a personal & psychic renewal-through-poetry, which necessarily involves subjective experience & objective vision - a personal try at the traditions of verse-music, & a working-out of actual experiential difficulties, which can't be reduced to group sing-alongs & Facebook "shout-outs".

Latta's shambling laughter & sharp left jabs are a way of coaxing us back toward a more natural & significant sense of the "honor", the dignity, of poetry - when it stands on its own feet, & separates itself from the generally lightweight distractions of the phony world of ingratiating po-biz chitter-chat...

a poem as having specific weight & gravity, & form & color - bearing witness to some silent lifting, or lifting silence... a struggle, a labor of composition (as in painting, music, sculpture...) - composing the lips for speech-song...

8.14.2009

Hybrid Nation

Am reading fine book by J. Stephen Russell, Chaucer & the Trivium (along with trying to read original Canterbury Tales).

Russell analyzes the differences between modern & medieval thinking. He talks about the influence, on the medievals' sense of language, of a dual, hierarchical culture (Latin & vernacular). & of the importance of systematic, Aristotelian logic : the 10 defining "categories" of a thing, & their adaptation to medieval school-learning (by Boethius, Porphyry, others). Here's a quote :

"What emerges from this dense enumeration is a pair of distinctions. First, of course, are species, genera, and individuals, material that was amplified in [Porphyry's] Isagogue. Second is the distinction between 'of' and 'in', that between necessary (essential) attributes and accidental ones.

"This second distinction is, with only a bit of overdramatization, the cornerstone of medieval philosophy, the taxonomy that held (and, some would say, still holds) the world together." (Russell, p. 35)

The difference between of (what can be said of a thing) and in (what is integral to the identity or substance of - definitive of - a thing). Substances and accidents - how important this concept was to the Middle Ages is indicated by these lines of Dante's final vision, at the end of the Divina Commedia (Paradiso 33) :

I saw that in its depth far down is lying
Bound up with love together in one volume,
What through the universe in leaves is scattered;
Substance, and accident, and their operations,
All interfused together in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple light.

Today hybrid cars are all the rage (focusing our attention on the species "automobile", to the neglect of the genus [mass] "transportation"), as well as hybrid poetry (see the Norton anthology American Hybrid - a politic fusion of "old & new") & hybrid art forms (or product diversification) of all kinds...

I wonder if there's a way to recuperate this distinction (between "of" & "in") for poetry criticism. Today the "impure" holds the positive valence, whereas the "pure" is under suspicion (logocentrism, racial "purity", essentialism, etc.). But the political manipulation of racial hatreds, for example, could be analyzed as a version of logical category-confusion (ie. the "purity of the (German, white, black, take your pick) race" posits a substantial aspect (race) for what is in truth an accident (race is an accidental aspect of the genus human being). & the proposition of "hybrid" poetries - ie. Ron Silliman : "there is no such thing as poetry, there are only kinds of poetry" (I'm quoting from memory) - referring to such things as, I guess, slam, post-avant, "SOQ", elliptical, neo-objectivism, Slow Poetry, Investigative Poetics, conceptual, flarf, etc. etc. - might also be a kind of category-confusion. Cui bono? Who benefits? Is it possible that these hybrid forms offer a sort of brand diversification, a way simultaneously to make inroads in, & to maintain (or re-vivify), the academic industry of teaching poetry-writing? & in the pursuit of "accidental" qualities, are we obscuring (or denying) poetry's more basic, integral substance?

8.13.2009

posted something new over at the Plumbline.

8.11.2009

Lanthanum. End of chapt. 3 !

8.10.2009

Froggy went a-courtin'



Chester the cat with his courtly friend.
& yet a little more Lanthanum.
& again Lanthanum (nearing the end of 3rd chapter)

8.09.2009

8.07.2009

nouveau Lanthanum

8.06.2009

The Word is Psyche

Working on Lanthanum this morning, looking back through older sections, I was struck by the sense of another level, a poem-beyond-the-poem. Something just intimated or suggested, unexpressed. As if the keynote of the various sections had something to do with this effort to evoke or enunciate a presence or a state of things or persons beyond the actual details, the "narrative". & the whole vague unfinishable quest feeling hanging over it.

Speaking for myself anyway, poets are not very reliable guides to their own poetry. Maybe we're too close to be able to recognize our own distinctive shape or characteristic music... I don't know.

This is another way of saying that often our determined formulations of what we think we're doing are actually expressions of resistance or opposition to our real tendencies as writers - tracks of an inner conflict, maybe.

Thus my harping for years & decades on Acmeism, realism, plain speech, etc. - may have something to do with the fact that in reality I'm sort of an Edgar Cayce of poetry (I exaggerate) - not the "dreamer-prophet", but just the blind dreamer (my resistance to early affinity for Ashbery, a telling sign).

It's this idea of music or evocation - Mallarme, suggestion - Symbolism, heaven forfend! The idea that poets don't really know what they're about, that there is a finer level of meaning, a kind of resonance tone we can barely recognize, inner sight, inner vision...

we each have our own distinctive private relationship & inner bond with speech & language, & with the persons hovering in the background of those rivery sounds we love & echo-resonate...

Mandelstam : "the Word is Psyche"...

More could be said on this, but I have to go....

8.05.2009

& then some Lanthanum (p.s. revised, 8/6)

8.04.2009

more Lanthanum

Providence/Dhaka jam

Scenes from the backyard... with my son-in-law Khaled, & Phoebe. Playing Khaled's Bengali-pop song.



7.31.2009

On the other hand

The state of my soul, and my rational concepts about religion, are sometimes (maybe always) two very different things (or in two different places). On the other hand, it seems to me that what I believe, and how I act (or don't act) on such belief, largely determine my future.

I am not a Christian fundamentalist; that is, I don't believe in the "literal truth" of Scripture - transparent, beyond interpretation, devoid of symbol or irony. On the other hand, I put great store by the literal meaning of the stories & sayings found there; and I think that within the much-scorned & so-called "right-wing Christian" (sub)culture, there are rich dimensions of experience & understanding which are often outside the range of mainstream mass consciousness. These dimensions have opened up simply because these "fundamentalists" have a serious fascination with the Bible. They read it carefully; they apply its old wisdom sayings & exempla & exhortations in surprising contemporary (everyday) situations (for better & worse). (I'm not just theorizing here... I've met & talked with many such people.)

7.27.2009

Lanthanum, anew.

7.20.2009

Lunar Lanthanum

New Lanthanum.

re some obscurities in this poem -

1. Yesterday was 40th anniversary of moon landing.

2. I went to school with now-Sen. Al Franken. We were on the wrestling team (sparring partners in the daily practices), & in the literary club together. Franken & classmate Tom Davis were already a budding comedy duo then. One of their first shows together was a dramatization of a short story of mine, which was staged in the school chapel. The story was titled "The Movie-Maker"; the Shirley-Jacksonish plot involved an intrusive TV film-maker & his entourage, invading a small town in order to document "real American life" (barging in on town meetings, picnics, ball games, funerals, etc.). They are finally undone by 3 ancient codgers, usually found seated together on a park bench, "as still & silent as stones, and old as the trees around them." The story was published in the school literary magazine, Talisman, around 1968.

(I'm not sure what the phrase "Al Frankenstein", in the poem, means, exactly; but it's certainly not meant as a personal put-down of Al, whom I like & admire a great deal. I'm thinking about how public figures & political personae are to some extent fictional creations of the public "mind"....)
Happy Moon-shot Day!

7.11.2009

Riddles, enigmas : an answer in the form of a question.

7.08.2009

& some more Lanthanum.

7.07.2009

7.05.2009

Lanthanum 2 by 4th.

L'homme avec le guitare bleu

video

some more chords, mes semblables...

7.02.2009

Henry the Rolling Stone

video
trying out camera on computer... must work on sound quality, I guess...

7.01.2009

Thundery ruminations in July

Rainy, dark, thunderous. Quiet in the library. Ruminating my usual crop of enigmas.

Relentlessly, in my thinking, I try to reconcile theological concepts with what seems reasonable or true to me.

One of my stumbling-blocks is the patriarchal/sometimes-misogynistic language and ideology in traditional Christianity. (Presently re-reading Susan Haskins' fascinating book, Mary Magdalen, which confronts some of these issues.)

The language about God and the Trinity is, indeed, enigmatic. The misogyny in much of the Bible & in ecclesiastical history (in contrast to what seems to be Jesus' own attitude toward women as depicted in the Gospels) runs deep.

I put this in sort of abstract/discursive terms here, which don't represent very well the inward (or psychological?) realities - where thinking & poetry intersect...

My view of the cosmos leans toward "idealism"... reality is psychic, "personal" - constructed deep in the mind - and the human mind sinks down at some deep layer toward a cosmic Mind or God (the "I Am")... (see the wonderful Erwin Schrodinger on this... or that sometime Rhode Islander, Bishop Berkeley... or Einstein... Coleridge... Nicolas Cusanus...)

The prophetic "plan of Providence", or the revelation of the divine Word in Israel & Christ, is a deeply dramatic event, a "disclosure" (see Hans Urs von Balthasar on this).

Part of this disclosure involves an element of spiritual power or authority - the authority of the truth itself, the authority of authority, the power of power, the truth of truth. I understand the "plan of Providence" in part as a disclosure of the spiritual rulership or authority of the divine Mind (or Person(s)) at the roots of the sentient soul. One of the consequences of this disclosure involves the instauration of human freedom (since - in the disclosure of spiritual authority rooted in the human soul - all tyrannical, "earthly" powers of human beings, over other human beings & creatures, are overthrown). The "kingship" of God & Christ - as worked out in history - shows itself to be a kind of anti-kingship (going back to the Mosaic opposition to Pharaoh, and up to Roger Williams' "soul liberty", or Martin Luther King's mission...).

(This is the kind of anti-history, by the way, that I have tried to juxtapose, in my poetry, to other, competing or parallel, "epic" visions - in Pound, Crane, Olson, David Jones...)

I think future theology (already underway) in both Judaism & Christianity (though I can't really speak for Judaism) will see a re-fashioning of gender perspectives and symbolism. Maybe the muse of poetry will have something to do with this. Yahweh & the anointed (king) Jesus will be seen as (male) "actors" in a political-historical drama, which also includes a somewhat subterranean feminine presence, influence and (stage) direction. (This is part of my interest in the (perhaps suppressed) role of Mary Magdalen.) Let's call it (after Harold Bloom's notion of a female author of the Bible) the deep Book of J (still in ms. form)...

The cosmos will not fit neatly into ancient human concepts... but I'm a conservative, I don't like to throw out old ideas just because they're old - I like to try to find the newness hidden in them, the enigmas.

I can imagine a Jesus-like figure emerging on countless various planets across the universe, with different forms of conscious life. Because what it represents is something (remotely) analogous to what happens when Alfred Hitchcock walks through his movie, or Durer paints himself in the corner of a crucifixion scene. That is, the incarnate, embodied figure is the living signature of the Maker : the sign, the seal of cosmic Presence and purpose. This is a very deep thing, at the root of Christianity (& perhaps Judaism too). Creation is indeed a work of art - a drama - one in which our Maker steps on stage, and in doing so, makes us one with the Maker...

6.26.2009

Kermit Roosevelt, Noam Chomsky & the East Side Monthly

Poets & spies... the links go back a long way (to Christopher Marlowe, if not before). The recent turmoil in Iran, and the sense that the Iranian Revolution may be coming full circle, got me digging around in my old cardboard files - since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 set the stage for my own slight, indirect (& comical) brush with cloak-&-dagger.

In 1979 I was hanging around Providence after graduation from Brown, running a food coop & trying to write. One day I was behind the counter at Kneecap (the storefront coop) when I was approached by one of our volunteer members, a grad student and film maker. He told me he had been working as a graduate assistant for one of the elder professors at Brown (possibly in the Poli Sci or History depts, I can't remember which) - a professor who had retired previously from a long career with the CIA.

The student told me that the professor had received the proofs of an unpublished book from one of his former colleagues, a career CIA man named Kermit Roosevelt (the grandson of Theodore). The book was titled Countercoup. The book was ready for publication and distribution when the hostage crisis suddenly erupted, in November 1979. At that point, publication was halted : the copies were warehoused. Roosevelt's story of his role in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government, and the installation of the Shah, while not completely new and unknown, was explosive.

Anyway, this student told me he had surreptitiously made a copy of the proof version of Roosevelt's book, and he would relay it to me. We both felt at the time that the truth should come out, though in retrospect our motives seem naive and self-interested (grandstanding, in a situation where hostage lives were endangered). I felt like I was playing an exciting bit part in a spy drama.

After receiving the xerox copy of the proofs, I read through the book and wrote a long "expose" in the local neighborhood paper (probably one of the most unusual articles which the very parochial East Side Monthly has published in its 40-yr history). I also contacted Noam Chomsky, and eventually sent him a copy of the ms. I have Chomsky's correspondence with me from that time : in retrospect he seems prudent (warning against doing something rash in that overheated situation).

That, I think, is the extent of my spy experience, at least up to now... (I suppose it was also the last time the elderly Brown prof - ex-Company man - was himself the object of an espionage attack...)

p.s. on 2nd thought, maybe I'm being too hard on myself & the young grad student. At the time, we thought the Kermit Roosevelt book might simply be deep-sixed, shredded. That's why he passed it to me in the 1st place. & that's why I wrote the whistleblowing article for the East Side Monthly. "Shout it from the rooftops". God is Great. Death to the Dictator.

(p.p.s. I'm reading old Graham Greene novels these days. A high school favorite. My father's favorite movie : Our Man in Havana (reading that now). He's great... so much better than John le Carre...)

6.25.2009

Erwin Schrodinger, science & poetry...

Finished the Schrodinger book (Nature and the Greeks ; and, Science and humanism). This physicist makes an unlikely ally for the artist, in that he maintains a strict sense of the limits of science. He emphasizes (in reflections on early Greek science & its legacy) how the scientific model of objectivity is just that - a model : insofar as consciousness - the consciousness of the observer - is detached from the agreed-upon common worldview which develops along with the development of science. Schrodinger's philosophic attitude maintains an awareness of both dimensions, without confusing them. He reiterates that science has not answered (and cannot) the most basic question : "Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?" (and all the subjective, personal, spiritual experience that consciousness and identity entail). In this he seems to stand in opposition to much current scientific thinking (brain science, biological determinism). His thinking is dense, sophisticated, & deeply informed in philosophy, history of science, & scientific practice per se (he was, remember, one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century). & a pleasure to read - though so subtle & complex (as when he gets into old issues of free will & determinism) I sometimes have trouble following... Want to find his book Mind & Matter now.

Since I was a teenager I've had this bent toward cosmology, metaphysics... & have tended to think of poetry as a different way of being & thinking - in rivalry, that is, with scientific positivism & determinism... but not necessarily irreconcilable (same with religion & science)...

6.19.2009

On Form & Infinity in Poetry

Have been reading some beautiful things by 20th-cent. physicist Erwin Schrodinger (Nature and the Greeks). What a witty, wonderful writer he is! Philosopher-scientist. Interesting how the crisis of the 2 world wars & the Nuclear Age sent so many different kinds of thinkers & personalities back to origins of civilization (Schrodinger, TS Eliot, Chas. Olson, to name just a few...).

Anyway, reading his description of the encounter of earliest Greek science (Pythagoras, Thales, others) with the riddles of mathematics... it occurred to me that this all might have some pertinence in relation to poetry wars...

The thrust of the "new" (contemporary) formalists - & beyond formalism, the thrust of Poetry-as-Craft in general - is grounded in a concept of elegance : elegance, rooted in "number" in the poetic-mathematical sense. The poem is a sleek sort of toy - a verbal isometry between the concept & its expression (wit) - in which the evidence of mastery takes the form of elegant numbers...

Well, the problem I'm having with all this at the moment is that the idea of number... allied with the notion of craft & finish... & connected thus with the idea of elegance, mastery &, basically, success... (or authority)... well, all this runs head on into an aspect of Nature (that Nature with which Art is supposed to be elegantly married) which we might call either the Continuum... or Infinity... or Irrational Numbers...

an aspect of number which was a conundrum & embarrassment for the Greeks, & a mystifying puzzle for Cantor & other great mathematicians...

In my book, poetry is connected very substantially with the diagonal to the square of value "1" (ie. sq root of 2) - an irrational number... - & infinity - which scares & has frightened so many sophisticated poets, craftspeople, thinkers, calculators & operators - since it seems to open up again what they thought they had so elegantly counted out, measured, numbered, & closed off -

& why so? because infinity & the irrational are connected with the much-maligned "I" - that mysterious Subject - Shakespeare behind the arras - God - Keats' (negatively-capable) negrido - the Soul... & the great inimitable poets of all times are searching (elegantly, sublimely) beyond elegance... toward the (irrational square) root, the supra-elegance of... the ultimate Workshop (of the supernatural Author's... spiral jetty, or... Book of J...)... ie. the steep, the vertiginous, the vanishing point, that dimensionless point in Dante (& Joyce) wherefrom all the elegant magnitudes of creation proceed...

&, paradoxically, the oh-so-fumbly-stumbling quality of their (metaphysical, experiential) searching is precisely that dimension which allows the personal, the characteristic, the improvisational, to shine forth (very American) in their poetry... & make it inimitable & great... what they used to call Sublimity...

You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it
...

6.16.2009

"Programs are for lemmings."

HAPPY BLOOMSDAY !

6.15.2009

Way Stations, Island Road, Dove Street, Stubborn Grew, Grassblade Light, July - all available now (from Lulu.com) via Amazon. Still waiting on Rest Note.
Deleted previous post. Tired of wearing my religion on my sleeve. Or maybe it's just Monday morning.

6.08.2009

Lanthanum civics lesson for today.

6.07.2009

Lanthanum get a little stranger, Pilgrim.

6.05.2009

Local Things - In Loco Kenosis

Speaking of long poems... thinking about Chicagoan Robert Archambeau's recent digest on manifestos, and how, for Robert, style, and the politics of style, seems to be the prime function of poetry, & the pivot of its analysis...

& thinking about Stephen Burt's recent "New Thing" quasi-manifesto, detailing the swing back to restraint, impersonality, objectivism, the thingness of (poem) things... & yet the framework seems to be, again, a focus on the pendulum of style...

which got me thinking of another Chicagoan, Peter O'Leary, who manages to inject a Catholic-spiritual dimension into the consideration of "objectivity" (see his articles etc. on poet Frank Samperi)...

But couldn't it be said that the style of objectivity in American poetry has a lineage in Puritan poetics (Edw. Taylor) & Transcendentalism (Emerson, Thoreau)... & that Emerson, Whitman et al. carried this into a kind of (Romantic) quasi-divinization of the human mind & imagination... setting it free from the Bonds of antiquity & Europe, into the primal wilderness of new "local" discovery (Wallace Stevens, WCW, Olson, Dorn, so many others)...

The thing I keep coming back to is the historical aspect of Christianity... the absolute local "thingness" of the Incarnation... & how the Eastern Orthodox concept of "divinization" somehow echoes, yet corrects & resolves the Faustian egoism of Western Renaissance-Romantic consciousness (precisely because that divinization is dependent on the unique history - the abject-glorious historical actuality - of Incarnation)... as one scholar recently paraphrased the famous formula of Irenaeus - Cur Deus homo? (why did God become man?) "God became man so that man might become God" : "A human being becomes god only insofar as God becomes this particular human being [ie., Jesus. & my italics]." (Arkadi Choufrine, Gnosis, Theophany, Theosis)...

This comes up in my brief essay on the long poem... & reminds me of the tremendous historical-Roman thinginess of long-poem poet David Jones... a local kenosis...

& these theological things might provide a conceptual frame for aesthetics... which transcends the boxed-in artiness of American style-for-its-own sake...

& my own endless unfinished Opusses, lost in Rhode Island... the infinite quatrainian guitar-solos - tending toward the vanishing point of Apocalypse, Eschaton... Golden Age... this is my framework... (& I guess you might even say that this ecstatic see-saw logic of Incarnation - "God became man so that man might become God" - this historical/pivotal, scriptural/anti-scriptural, word/flesh balancing act - is at the root of a style of the "plumbline"...)

(Perhaps the best summa of all the issues raised in this post can be found in Joseph Brodsky's great poem of thingness & crucifixion - "Nature Morte".)

In RI

In RI, the bilingual English-Italian long poem, translated by Anny Ballardini, is now available on Amazon.

5.25.2009

newest Lanthanum. Happy Memorial Day.



Lincoln with his generals, at the battle of Antietam. Big guy at the end is my gr-gr-grand-uncle, Genl. Delos Sackett.

5.24.2009

5.22.2009

new Lanthanum ( you never know).

5.21.2009

Adios for now

I think I'm going to "go quiet" here at HG Poetics for a while. Will probably be back eventually. Feel the need to change the way I do things. Thanks for visiting, friends.

5.14.2009

Off to a wedding in Minneapolis - be back on Tuesday the 19th. Adios, friends.

5.11.2009

I withdrew Lanthanum Road blog. Lanthanum still up there. The former I don't think is salvageable; the latter is going dormant for a while, probably.

5.08.2009

Late Stevens

Reading BJ Leggett's excellent (& nice & short) Late Stevens. I really liked one of his earlier books, Wallace Stevens and Poetic Theory. He has a way of correcting (gently) the Stevens big shots, Bloom & Vendler et al.

Stevens, in a statement on "Auroras of Autumn" : "There are many poems relating to the interactions between reality and imagination, which are to be regarded as marginal to the central theme... [which is] the possibility of a supreme fiction, recognized as a fiction, in which men could propose to themselves a fulfillment." (quoted by Leggett on p.1). & from the epigraph to 1st chapter : "The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly." (from Stevens' Adagia)

Leggett's argument (which I'm just getting going with) is that many of Stevens' later poems (in The Rock, etc.) are intertextually aligned with "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" and other, earlier poems on this "central" theme. & (to paraphrase) Leggett summarizes Stevens' focus on this theme, as a meditation on the idea that the fiction of reality is the generating dream of an inhuman mind - sagacious, inventive, changing, unaccountable, inexplicable... yet - as an imagination - showing a likeness to our own imagination. Leggett attends closely to some lines in the opening poem in The Rock, "An Old Man Asleep" :

The two worlds are asleep, are sleeping, now.
A dumb sense possesses them in a kind of solemnity.

The self and the earth - your thoughts, your feelings,
Your beliefs and disbeliefs, your whole peculiar plot.

The redness of your reddish chestnut trees,
The river motion, the drowsy motion of the river R.


He shows how these lines imply that the river & the chestnut trees are the thoughts of one of the "two worlds" (the earth) - that is, that the things of the earth, the "outside", are fictions of a greater, "inhuman" dreamer; & the "two worlds" are mingled together here, ambiguously joined.

So it seems the "supreme fiction" is a new expression of a very old idea... of the fictiveness (the "made" quality) of reality.

5.07.2009

Gateway of dream

I had an odd experience two mornings ago. I woke up thinking about the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO.

Why? I have absolutely no idea. I have never given that particular monument, designed by Eero Saarinen, a moment's thought. I have never visited St. Louis (though the 19th-cent. city of Twain & Melville does show up in a chapter toward the end of the long poem, Forth of July).

In any case, the dream may have set me off in a whole new direction. I am thinking a lot about the relation between poetry & architecture right now. Hoping it will offer me a new way to approach "objectivity". Saarinen's catenary arc (a recurrent image in Forth of July) might offer a model for other things - an example (adjustable, adaptable) of how to "place", integrate or infiltrate poetry in a public world.

Architecture wakes me up. There are a lot of architectonic elements in my poetry over the last 20 yrs. I'm a builder - it runs in the family.

5.06.2009

Posted something new(?) over at the Plumbline.

5.04.2009

5.01.2009

more beginner's speculation on Gillian Rose

Over-simplified version of one major theme in Gillian Rose (at least as far as I can make out) : humanity formulates ideals for itself, and then fails to live up to them. This is the record of history. The "diremption" (violent severance) of ethics from political institutions. The way idealistic intentions lead to their contraries (unintended consequences). Exotic but familiar American examples (my own) : the counter-cultural love-commune becomes the totalitarian death-cult. 19th-cent. Russian egalitarianism becomes 20th-century Stalinism.

The frustrated rage this failure produces, leads in turn to new crystallizations of (pseudo-moral) absolutist or evasive theories & ideologies. (See, in various ways : Derrida, Foucault, Levinas...). Rose demands a closer, harder look at the actualities of the chasm between the stated ideals of modern civil society and the technocratic-statist political mechanisms by which it is upheld and administered. But not on behalf of some new totalizing revolution : rather to make us more aware of this Janus-faced crisis of our civil institutions (our law), so that perhaps we can ameliorate the inescapable conflicts that result (a recognition of the reality of the "broken middle" is the first step toward forms of mediation).

The human tragicomedy of errors should lead to a sense of moral implication, mutuality, recognition, forgiveness, mercy. & comedy. Rose situates herself at the boundary between post-Enlightenment modernity and a more ancient religious conception of human nature - its correlation with & dependence on "Spirit" (Hegelian-Kierkegaardian/Judeo-Christian, I think...).

I may be way off the mark here. Rose is a very difficult writer. Forgive (&/or correct) my mistakes & bowdlerization, you who know better.

G. Rose, G. Hill

Reading more Gillian Rose. What a brilliant thinker. Talk about massive erudition. But it's the path she's treading that interests me most. Between ancient & modern, Athens & Jerusalem (& Rome), faith & reason, law &... Great perceptive insight into the problems with various modern & postmodern philo-socio-anthropological critiques. Has got me very curious to pursue further her indications toward the nature & meaning of "law". Currently reading Judaism & Modernity, a book of essays.

Geoffrey Hill's persistent theme of poetry as irrevocably implicated in the "judicial" context of historical crises, violence, & the "human predicament" (my cliche) seems parallel... I can see why I got clued into Gillian Rose by way of a single reference in one of his closing essays (in the Collected volume).

4.30.2009

Thinking on God

Low energy, in midst of gorgeous spring weather. Burnt out at work. Spend most of my time lately musing disconnectedly about religious-metaphysical conundrums. Interested in new discovery (Gillian Rose). Discouraged about my place in poetry land. Behind on projects unto which I should attend. What else is new? The phenomenology of the Marginal (Failing) Poet in America.

I'm one of the "believers". I can't help it. Things happened to me. I can't otherwise explain them. But - "Help my unbelief!" I spend a lot of time, very unsystematically, attempting to explain to myself - give myself some rational basis - for exactly what & how I believe.

But to put it into worthwhile & convincing language - writing - is another thing. Don't cast your costume jewelry before swine, Hank.

To the untutored modern/contemporary eye, religion is simply mythology, delusion. A projection from the brain. So how do I account for a faith which grants a very special status to one person, one particular Jewish son of carpenter?

Even if I accept that we cannot read the Bible literally - that much of it is "historical" storytelling & editing by priests, in exile in Babylon, in order to design an apologetic text for their own religious tradition - even so, I can still believe that those priest-writers were inspired by the spirit of God. This is, I think, the traditional idea : that the entire Bible was "composed" (via its writers) by the Spirit of God. I can accept this, I think, without being a fundamentalist - I'm not a literalist, I'm not going to argue for the "infallibility" of Scripture. (I'm an Episcopalian, for heaven's sakes.)

& maybe my great absorption as a bookish child in stories & novels and history, helps me to do this. Stories affect us in obscure ways. Their motive/meaning is not all on the surface, not amenable to reductive paraphrase. Stories & poetry are embodied language. So for me the life & work of Jesus can be both obscured by time & mythology, and historically actual & real (though we may not understand its full meaning & import : for now we "see as through a glass darkly").

My faith is rooted and expressed in a kind of enthusiasm (from the Greek, I think, for "inspiration"). An enthusiasm itself echoing, and triggered by, the vision of a created/creative cosmos - of life permeated & given meaning by the divine Being, the divine "I am". Personhood.

I believe the ancient writers of Scripture were also filled with a like enthusiasm (of vision). They were "filled with the Spirit" : they "spoke for" God (in prophecy). Biblical scripture is the formal sign-making, the forging of an image, a "lawful" text, which represents the "in-breathing" of that Spirit. When I say my enthusiasm/vision is "incarnational", this has something to do with how I conceive the situation. I love the word, I love the writing, and I love the life & truth it aims to represent - it's all incarnational.

In this way I can see the particular work - the vocation - of Jesus in a certain light, as the "Son of Man". As the symbolic End-Person : as the "fulfillment of the scriptures", the "fulfillment of the Prophets". The Son of God, the "first-born of the dead", the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the symbolic Imago or pattern of all humanity. The one in whom the mysterious knot of life-&-text, Word-&-Person, Spirit of God & nature of Man - are brought to a kind of closure-in-union. Earth & heaven, mortality & eternal life are joined together. When the Spirit is knotted, in-fused with the Person, this event becomes a kind of "template" to represent the divine spirit (or potential) in every human person. Star of Redemption : which means redeemed - purchased - from slavery. Soul-freedom, liberation.

The modern sceptic will ask : if the task of Jesus was to "humanize" God - then wasn't that job over a long time ago? Don't we live in a completely humanized, disenchanted, post-Renaissance, post-Enlightenment, post-Christian world?

Here again, I can't dispute this on very easily-rationalized grounds. Things happened to me. My enthusiasm I identify as a form of love. Of loving identification. A kind of affinity, a "kinship". Of identification with the lineaments of God as I see them radiate through the "law & the prophets" & the Gospels. The resurrection : I get it. Call it deluded superstition : but again I say, I'm not a literalist. What I get - fundamentally - is the news of a loving creation-Being/Power as source of reality, and of a human culture & human beings responding to that as inspired witnesses : formulating the true words of love & righteous life on earth. Time itself as somehow redeemed by this priesthood of witness. The basic law of love, the Way.

This is not to deny that spiritual wisdom & righteous life take many paths & show many manifestations in many creeds & cultures all over this planet. What it means for me, though, is to affirm a kind of actualization, in history, of the law of a "kingdom of love". That this arose in the Middle East & out of Egypt, both cultural matrices of "divine kingship", makes sense. But this is the counter-action of the Spirit of God, the "king of kings", the Eternal "I am" - the instauration of the ultimate divine law (love, agape, mercy-&-justice). & in the process liberating human beings from inward enslavement to any power & authority not from God : to make the "children of men" into "children of God". & thus to claim their full human dignity as images of God on earth.

As I say, my witness is obscure, I guess. Or perhaps it will be seen as formulaic superstition & mumbo-jumbo. I would not be here writing this if many years ago I had not undergone some charismatic experiences which forced me - as a rational, reflective person - to try to make sense of what had happened to me. Believe me, I have tried to "psychologize" what occurred - to explain my experiences as projections of subconscious personality traits, etc. I am sure there is an entire dimension - or many dimensions - of my life & personality which could be illuminated by such critical reflection. But for me, anyway, those dimensions are not the whole story, or the main story. I've been "touched" by something beyond myself. God's grace, unto this sinful man.