7.25.2010

A chip off the new Lanthanum

Here's a plonk of more obscure Lanthanum. Harks back to some ancien matiere de Stubborn Grew.

3

Another solo Sunday, sweltering.
I mold my provisional home here, out of faulty
memories of weddings - each waltzing peripety
& its aftermath. From 157 Doyle (sheltering

tenement apartment) extending consequences
to infinity. Beside the Y there, just below
the Doyle Observatory (tracking a showy
morning star, her amiable glimmer). Providence,

my Providence, he whispers, like St. Louis
outside Tunis. Wrecks & errors
& the homely sorrows... nowhere's
where am is, he sez. His fraying quipu's

knotted to 1256 - but he can't explain
what he would like to sing! The choir's
aloft, but the soloist's a-hoarse - cribbed
with that defunct crabshell up in Maine -

helmet of some lost poilu (ultimate unknown
soldier). We found a single fingerprint, though :
a twirling labyrinth, back to the protozoa;
wound like snailshell, or cat-o-nine-

lives' smile... what does it mean? I think
it means the old man's comin' back. The Sojer-
Boy, back from the sands - the Ghost, the Over-
Ghost... back to embrace his mourning Morning

Star, once more. That Old Man of the Mountain,
that clay-foot weeping statue, that... silhouette
of a leaping Lafayette? In a state of minuet?
Through the needle's eye... whirl, premonition.

7.25.10

7.23.2010

"As muted organ pipes / Accompany a woman's voice."

When Ezra Pound was locked up in a prison cage, he was given a Bible & an old poetry anthology by a kindly G.I., his guard. Osip Mandelstam's forced exile & final deportation to Siberia, by Stalin, was a hundred times more severe, and infinitely more unjust. He too was short of books (& most other things) in the provincial town of Voronezh. One of the few books he took into exile, & steadfastly carried around with him, was a copy of the Divine Comedy.

On Feb 12, 1937, he wrote the following untitled poem, translated here by James Greene :

I'm plunged into a lions' den, a fort,
And sinking lower, lower, lower,
Under the yeast shower of these sounds:
Stronger than lions, more potent than the Pentateuch.

How near your summons:
Keener than commandments of childbirth, firstlings -,
Like strings of pearls at the bottom of the sea
Or baskets meekly borne by Tahitian women.

Motherland of chastening songs, come close,
The declivities deepening in your voice! - O primal mother,
The shy-sweet faces of our daughters
Aren't worth your little finger.

My time is still unbounded.
And I have accompanied the rapture of the universe
As muted organ pipes
Accompany a woman's voice.

Nadezhda Mandelstam (in Hope Against Hope, ch. 39) writes that M. had been listening to Marian Anderson, then visiting Moscow, on the radio - singing African-American spirituals, and that this was part of the poem's scenario; but they had recently returned from a visit to another exile, also a professional singer, who was distraught over her husband's sudden arrest and deportation, yet still hoping - desperately - to use her musical talents to earn a living & win her husband's release... & this too was part of the subtext.

Maybe there is yet another dimension in the background. M's devotion to the woman's deep-singing voice echoes Dante's relation to Beatrice. And there is a parallel between M's role as Daniel in the lion's den, sinking lower & lower, led by "chastening" (purgatorial) song, and Dante's redemptive journey through Hell. There is a pivotal, dramatic moment in the Purgatorio, at the conclusion of canto 9. Dante & Virgil have arrived at the very gates of Purgatory. They encounter an angel, who scratches 7 P's (for peccati, sins) across Dante's brow with the tip of his sword; then, using 2 keys given him by St. Peter, the angel opens the great doors so Dante can enter, & leave the Inferno behind. Just then, he hears voices singing on the other side :

Io mi rivolsi attento al primo tuono,
e "Te Deum laudamus" me parea
udire in voce mista al dolce suono.
Tale imagine a punto mi rendea
cio ch'io udiva, qual prender si suole
quando a cantar con organi si stea;
ch'or si or no s'intendon le parole.

[ Hearing that gate resound, I turned, attentive;
I seemed to hear, inside, in words that mingled
with gentle music, "Te Deum laudamus."
And what I heard gave me the very same
impression one is used to getting when
one hears a song accompanied by organ;
and now the words are clear and now are lost.] (trans. Allen Mandelbaum)

Mandelstam's "summons", the commandment of the "chastening song", the Muse & music for whom & by means of which he mingles both the power of Marian Anderson and the suffering of his victimized friend, here aligns Dante's Inferno with the lion's den of Stalin's prison-empire, & points with strange hope toward the way up & out (toward the "rapture of the universe") - as "one hears a song accompanied by organ."

Here, too, was a "true Dantescan voice."

7.16.2010

The Well is Always There and Forth of July have been added to my profile page over at Google. You can preview or search quite a bit of each book there.

7.15.2010

Zaccheus the peasant

re previous post : it occurs to me that this "conservative" stance, so described, is not so different from the attitude of the medieval (or older) peasant, who hides his grain under the cellar floor whenever the Royal Tax-Collector, or the Army, or the local mercenary band comes around, to grab what they need. Not the most civic-minded attitude, I suppose... but maybe it's very local.

As it happens my great-etc-grandfather Zaccheus Gould, of Topsfield, Massachusetts, penned what must be one of the earliest public petitions to government authority in America. I found it long ago in the old Essex County record books. It dates back to the 1630s. Zaccheus & his fellow farmers petitioned the Massachusetts colonial government to allow the young men of the township to skip militia training practice during the summer months, because said military duty greatly increaseth the hardship on farmers, as it interferes with the haying.

Zaccheus' petition appears in the long village-history poem, In RI (ably translated into Italian by Anny Ballardini).

(- as I say, this attitude may strike you as not very civic-minded - as rather small-minded & tight-fisted, conservative... but I would not be surprised if you also find traces of it in your own family history.)

Back to the Bull Moose

Sent this comment to the blog digital emunction just now :

"People gen­er­ally on the left (as in this post) wonder at the seem­ing dis­junct between Amer­i­can qui­etism & the impov­er­ish­ment of the middle class of recent decades. But there is a basic con­ser­v­a­tivism in Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence which has to do with the desire of indi­vid­u­als & fam­i­lies to manage & dis­trib­ute their own wealth, the pros­per­ity & well-​being they have labored at them­selves. This is at the root of the idea that “the best gov­ern­ment is that which gov­erns least.” Now those on the left may mock this posi­tion, as deluded-​sucker false con­scious­ness; but there it is – the basis of the dis­junct.

Some­body will figure out a con­vinc­ing cen­trist vision – some­thing like Pop­ulism or TR Pro­gres­sivism. Because the solu­tion is not in some economist’s math­e­mat­i­cal pro­jec­tions or sta­tis­tics; the solu­tion is in Amer­i­can soci­ety as a whole, making a com­mit­ment, with con­fi­dence, to a new sense of a shared common good. It’s not down with cap­i­tal­ism; it’s up with fair­ness & good gov­er­nance (TR’s trust-​busting as one exam­ple).

Part of the prob­lem is that Tocqueville’s repub­lic began with town­ship democ­racy. Vil­lage self-​governance is hard to trans­late to the scale of con­tem­po­rary nation-​states. But this is the exper­i­ment we must take ahold of, with… gusto… !"

(p.s. in this regard, see my "Teddy in the Amazon jungle" poems in Rest Note.)

Franciscan on St. Henry's Day

Today, July 15th, used to be a Catholic saint's day - St. Henry's Day (the celebration was moved to July 13th in the 1960s). On this date in 1999 I started the final volume of the long poem Forth of July (titled July). On this date in 1099, Geoffrey Bouillon & the Crusaders entered the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (after conquering the city with a bloody massacre).

I've been reading an interesting book by Mary Alexandra West, titled The cross that Dante bears : pilgrimage, crusade, and the cruciform church in the Divine Comedy (Univ. Press of Florida, 2005). All about how Dante "maps" his poem onto the medieval cartographical orientation of the world with Jerusalem in the center (with the East at the top of the map). She also focuses on the militant, "crusading" dimensions of Dante's poem.

These themes are not lacking in Forth of July. It was done consciously, in an indirect, imagistic fashion. "Henry", in that final book, goes on a pilgrimage of his own - but into the interior of America, & into the "spiritual interior" of the poetic word. He goes on a crusade of his own - but it's a march of puns - centered on July, Julius, Yule, Julie, Juliet, Jubilee, JL, and "jewel-eye"... which delivers a sort of Franciscan overturning of political force & violence ("Julius Caesar") by the spiritual power of the Word, or the Holy Spirit of wisdom ("jewel-eye"). The poem (July) progresses thus from St. Henry's Day, with all its crusader/Jerusalem connotations, to the Ides of March (8 months later - Caesar's downfall) and the Ides of April (Good Friday, Easter, death of Abraham Lincoln).*

I think the U.S. poetry world has been slow to pick up on the "major music" available to them in this & other poems of mine. But I'm pretty confident that day will come. I was looking over Forth of July again last night, under the instigation of some political commentary over at the Digital Emunction blog. My poetry may be complicated & evasive in some ways, but it's not autotelic, not hermetically-sealed-off from the world, & not meant to be. But it's meant to be poetry, not prose or commentary - & I serve a jealous Muse, who previously cohabited with Hart Crane & Osip Mandelstam, among others.

*for more on the Franciscan connection of all this with Joachim of Fiore, see here (especially the post on 4.3.07).

7.13.2010

Poetry : it's a numbers game

For a few years now, my poetry has been caught up with numbers & counting. When I start fiddling around with meaningful numbers, stanza designs, line-counts, etc., I know there's a poem on its way. It's usually connected with other things I've been obsessing about.

The work-in-progress Lanthanum... how did it originate? It's been over a year now, I'd have to look through the old scribbles. I remember I simply liked the sound of it - that Greek word for an atomic element (# 57). & what it came from etymologically, as named by its discoverer (Grk for "secret, hidden, unnoticed").

I got into this number thing back in the late 80s, reading books by Alastair Fowler and others on numerology as a design factor in ancient & Renaissance poetry. & in connection with wild speculative books by John Michell et al., on Pythagorean geometry & ancient measuring systems, gematria (the practice of assigning meaningful numerical values to letters & words), etc.

Lanthanum is based on the # 57, as well as the quatrain, & the associated numbers 7, 4, 28. 7 & 28, obviously, have connections with the lunar cycle & the seven-day week. When you think that the 7-day week & other calendrical systems help to "synchronize" human activity with astronomical phenomena (the 365 rotations of the earth in one yearly revolution of the sun), you can start to see how these systems work on a symbolic level. Thus, for example, Genesis describes the creation of the universe in 6 days, with the Creator resting on the 7th; which obviously fits rather neatly into the numerical division of the 365-day year into (52) weeks; so that the tradition of working 6 days & resting on the 7th (sabbath) day means that, in doing so, Man imitates & remembers the Creator, resting "with him" at the end of the work week.

A poem based on these numbers might be saying something similar, in a figurative sense. Lanthanum is (projectively) made up of 3 volumes; each volume has 4 chapters; each chapter has 3 sequences; & each sequence has 8 poems : consisting of 7 poems of 7 stanzas, or 28 (4x7) lines each, and an 8th poem containing 8 stanzas (32 lines). Therefore each sequence contains a set of 7x7 or 49 stanzas (in 7 poems), plus an 8th poem (of 8 stanzas). The total number of stanzas then, in each sequence, is 57 (the number of lanthanum). (There are more complex patterns hidden in the whole design, but they shall remain "hidden"!)

Another figurative dimension implied here in this pattern 49 + 1, 49 + 8, has to do with the "sabbath of sabbaths", or Jubilee year (every 50 yrs in ancient Israel). In Lanthanum I apply lots of indirect & figurative symbolism to synthesize this number (50) with the number of states in the U.S., with the "sabbath number" (7), with their fusion or sum (57), etc. I like to spin out & play with the religious, historical, & poetic implications of these combinations (since I think of poetry itself as a kind of semi-divine sabbatical "play", which intrinsically praises & celebrates life & nature in its aspects of wholeness & creative fulfillment or completion).

7.09.2010

Poetry is safe with Poetry Magazine

In a review of Gabriel Gudding's poetry (a review which was rejected for publication by Poetry Magazine), I declared : "... we live in a time of near-systemic obfuscation — political, economic, educational — amid which the sphere of poetry hovers with an air of insouciant and facetious cleverness. Poetry per se has evolved, it seems, into light verse: an occasion for admirable displays of a poet’s intellectual graces (wit, charm, technical facility, humor, thoughtfulness, etc.)."

I've sometimes wondered whether this statement was the main reason my review was turned down by Poetry Magazine. Mere speculation, & probably mistaken... but there it is. It has occurred to me. Why? Well, maybe because it was Poetry I was thinking of, when I wrote that passage.

Is the statement fair? No. Is it accurate? No. Is it just plain mean? Maybe. Who could argue with Poetry Magazine? It arrives regularly once a month. It's small, compact & manageable, it fits in your hand, the cover art is oftentimes charming. It comes out of Chicago, from the middle of the country, from the wheatfields, from the heartland. The focus is poetry poetry poetry : there is no muddying the waters with anything but. What is the keynote of Poetry style? In a word? The nice word : "exquisite." The mean word : "dainty." The typeface is small & delicate; the poems are short & clever & sweet; tender morsels you can eat for dessert; witty companions who nevertheless know when to shut up - they have the virtue of precision, concision... they are graceful objets d'art.

Grace & gracefulness, of course, are not to be sneezed at. Many I suppose find Poetry a welcome relief from the brassy, snaggle-toothed, unkempt, vulgar, & basically uncivilized howling amateurism which is & has been rampant in American poetry for decades. But a smoothing-over & regularizing process (coinciding with word-processing & new forms of keyboards) has been underway since the 1980s. Scruffiness is out. NEATness (& regular exercise, on a high-tech exercise machine) are definitely IN. (Children born after 1975 simply cannot comprehend what I'm talking about. The scruffy edges of the 50s & 60s were being sanded down as they grew up.)

Poetry epitomizes this turn to the dainty & the manicured : in fact the magazine probably contributed a good deal to its propagation in poetry circles. The Poetry Foundation, there in the center of the country, with its fabled wealth & all its new poetry-popularization/new media projects, offers, finally a resolution to the ancient quarrel of the Poet with America - that angst-ridden, anxious, tension-filled, sexually-ambiguous, fundamentally troubled relationship, put with delightful tragicomic irony by Saul Bellow, in his novel (based on Delmore Schwartz & the other struggling poets of his generation) Humboldt's Gift :

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

But Poetry has solved all that (ironically, in Bellow's home town & the scene of much of the action in HG). Poetry is... now featured in Poetry! What a neat & elegant solution! The crisis is resolved! Now both America and poetry can relax - have fun - be sweet & charming & graceful again!

I hear somebody object : 'But Mr. Bones, what you got against sweetness & light? You don't like elegance? You don't like WOMEN, or somethin'?"

Me, not like women? Heaven forefend! How dare you even suggest such a thing, Mr. Somebody! Henry loves them all. But Henry grew up when women was just as shaggy & scruffy & unpredictable & disorganized as himself. He feels threatened by neat & organized (male or female).

Somehow this diatribe has evolved into a self-analysis (what else is new!). I guess I must confess that at the root of it is something personal, a very personal disappointment. As I put it over on (the highly-organized) Facebook this morning : "In the hot-muggy light of morning, a boxing match with Poetry Magazine sounds a little less cool... though this IS the season for catfights. Problem : 1) I like the magazine; 2) they rejected a poem I hold in very high esteem - after a series of rejections, which I could accept (c'est la guerre; I'm not God - believe it or not; I'm nobody special)... but this one was harder to take. Thems don't like Henry."

Thems don't like Henry. I'm not dainty enough for them. But not all that's graceful must be picayune.

7.07.2010

The Well Is Always There

I published a massive tome today...

The Well Is Always There : HG Poetics, 2003-2010. 736 large pp. And I had to cut a lot! It's pricey, unfortunately - though the ebook format is cheaper.

Why would anyone want to buy this, when the blog itself is FREE, & full of links? Well, it's a selection. & a kind of summation & record of all my babble.

Maybe your library - if it still exists! - would be so kind as to add it to their collection...

7.04.2010

Lanthanum, 7/4

Here's something from the 2nd volume of Lanthanum (drawing toward the center of the poem, now...). I'm only posting this because I can't imagine any magazine wanting to publish this very obscure passage... (p.s. "soul liberty" was a phrase Roger Williams used to characterize his notion of freedom of conscience. & the bit about "Cyrus" draws on Sir Thomas Browne's wonderful & justly famous numerological-botanical essay titled "The Garden of Cyrus". & "perfect rune"? Well, in a sense this refers to the number 28, the number of lines in this poem, which is a "perfect number", & has long been associated with the lunar calendar).

6.2

Quiet, all quiet... the
boom of last night's fireworks giving way
to sunny Sunday, 7/4. Soul liberty,
he said - only a single secret path through the

labyrinth. Its perfect rune, rhyming
with lofty, solitary moon (not white
not black, but dappled by limestone light
that shines before stars start wandering)...

one seven added to those fifty stars
that shimmer in the haze of history -
for sabbath-day, for Jubilee - really
one red & cardinal number (yours)

for wedding memory & justice (everywhere).
Cyrus planted a garden once, to celebrate
Earth's intricate flourishing (a quince quintet);
the center of the world, enclos├Ęd there,

was calm (slight violet eye, beholding
hurricane). It was his grandmother, calling;
it was his grandfather, responsive, echoing;
before Cyrus was born, before Time began -

a wedding-song, a dream, a constancy.
An octave note, for makings of one family
from reconciling tribes, & tyrants finally
dethroned - bell-booming independency

on earth, as it is... in Cyrus's garden;
when the milky light at last reigns equally,
& fifty stars are seven sisters (really
one star, one limestone pentagon...). & then...

7.4.10

7.02.2010



The wise architect of the Great Temple designed it as a perfect microcosm of the Universe, an elegant replica in gold & precious stones & lapis lazuli. After much labor, he completed his blueprint, & lay down to rest. But as he slept, God appeared to him in a dream, & said, "You've left something out." The wise architect immediately rose from his bed, and took up his work again. Finally, after staring at the blueprint all morning, he made a slight change in the lower left corner : he added a tiny image of himself, working quietly on his blueprint for the Great Temple.