Surprise, surprise (to me!)... sometimes it just melts like frost on a Frisco stove (Crisco)... this reminds me of a certain type of yodel that was published in The Hat and Fulcrum (& Dove Street)... - & lots of other things, back in the Qua-train (let the Midnight Special... shine a light on me). Must be because yesterday was my birthday (& JFK's!) - & tomorrow's WW's birthday...


Harmonics of the octave tend toward unison
on the 8th day when Raven sheds his feathers
and descends out of the primitive Fathers'
fresco out of Voronezh Calabria an icon

of Diving Eagle (trailing a shadow in grey
watercolor) mosquito weather 109 degrees
in the shade
of the petrified well of Sheba's
garden (Shulamith) (surely a myth) hey-ey-

eye of sunstroked horsehair afloat riding the
air like a Scythian soothsayer toward a wedding
without fail furnace of B-flat cosmic soldering
fearing not heat o'th' sun by day nor the

moon by night since he carries the sceptre and
wears the crown seated in the Pushkinian
catbird seat of ink-wound path
and meteorite and the myrrh-box of a Magdalen

opens for him hidden under a cloud of royal
Ethiopian milk where the ark (like funereal
bridal train or PT-hovercraft hymeneal
barge of the Law Melchizedek-amygdala

- lucid Sophie, from way back when) shines
in the sunlight your spiral-jetting J or
Golden Gate your Fontegaia your
Itasca-source victorious amid green summit pines

so the harmonica steeled in the Iron Age
breathes forth and sounds a trump-card chord
and the seraphim's 8-winged triplets (all aboard!)
transpose (B-fl to C) this waltz for disguised page
Fontegaia, the poem, is winding down... I'm in the last chapter (#5); the grand finale was actually in #4; thinking of Whitman's slow leavetaking in Leaves. Who knows, maybe there'll be a final bit of fireworks.

I'm already thinking of what to do next. This poem, as I've noted before, feels like the coda or caboose to the very long quatrain-train that began with Stubborn Grew, over 10 yrs ago. Taking a deep breath, trying to see how to proceed.

Hope to find ways of writing in a more direct & clear way. Going back to shorter poems, maybe. Try to break into a more public conversation. I've been writing for a long time, changed many times, tried many things already... maybe I'm just getting started. We'll see.

As far as style goes... I don't believe in programmatic method & technique, I think the artistic revolutions & programs are over-rated... often they simply amount to poets without either style or subject-matter trying to create a program ex nihilo... trying too hard. There are group styles & period styles... but they seem to happen spontaneously, a sort of coalescence of mutual interest, friendship & shared enthusiasms.

In my view, poetry itself is a kind of living ongoing organic entity or phenomenon. Just because you can write doesn't mean you can write poetry; it doesn't start from scratch, from nowhere, as if discourse & language were a-historical.

Of course, the aim to fold as much not-poetry as possible into poetry is a basic project...

Literary style per se (grammar, rhetoric); subject-matter, topoi, the ancient occasions for certain kinds of poems; the personality and existential situation (the particular historical or social dilemmas) of the poet; literary models & mentors.... all these things coalesce for the poet who has discovered a way into that living entity or gestalt. Thus it's an extremely complex interaction, a personal & individual encounter between a singular talent and a very subtle game (or calling). This doesn't mean the poems themselves have to be turgidly difficult - far from it.
A video of the April 23rd reading at Brown, with Anny Ballardini & Peter S. Thompson, is now on the web. You can view it here.

It's about 90 min. long. I open with a Shakespeare sonnet, in honor of his birthday (and because "Let me not to the meeting of true minds" made me think of the art of translation).

(& I know, I need to work on my delivery...)


Fontegaia 5 reaches the quarter-post...


Horse chestnuts lift their festive candelabras
all over the breezy spine of Providence, today.
The Blackstone (placid, parallel) fans toward the sea,
hidden, cryptic (behind massed Swan Point cypresses).

And when civilization takes the impress (gives
the impression) of a system of cemeteries...
then, when wind blows through the trees
and gets them droning, you'll know where Raven

goes, lives... into his own song (measuring
the distance from his former spring).
The bird-man sketches a landscape for
escape - papyrus silhouette (plane, crumbling).

Only a matrix of whispers, out of a shack (or
hovel), hovering grey beneath titanic arc or span
astride the Bay. As if a piano (infinite Man)
flew 9-1 centuries back - 1132, to be exact...

So the old hobo (former farmer) mutters his
reversals. To his imaginary friend (yours,
mine). The implacable one - the one the birds
chirp for (in California, in the Hitchcock frizz) -

call them the Fates, or Nature, or Genetics -
call her the Bride, the Spouse - Sheba (pal
of solitary Poe-types, mages-mineurs) - Ligeia, Sal...
what you will. She's listening, you, you... geriatrics!

List. Only wind (in a craggy chestnut, on the cliff).
Bent limbs (eighty). The seal of the living God -
consciousness, my friend. Mind, conjecturing
athwart one questing, jesting heart. Cleft.

(note : William Blackstone, the early RI settler for whom the river was named, was buried on his property in Cumberland on this day in 1675.)
What I made (homemade) in a B & B in New Hampshire. Not realizing I was 2 blocks down the road from Robert Frost's house.


The last of the sunset, a pink slip of violet fire
cradled in a vertex of these ancient feminine hills.
Here laborious Farmer George buried his skill
for burial. Terse kingdom of New England ire

(think, Hesiod). Elliptical. Stubborn stub,
stump. Great-Grandpa saw his opportunity
and lit out West (pretty gals, plenty money)
leaving behind old Yankee (post-Civil War)

memoirs. That time he fell onto the thresher,
kept it to himself. Somehow the story got out
- but whence this diffidence, meek Cincinnatus?
Fumbled for the key to the machinery... there

entangled (grimacing a bit, in pain). The last
of the nine (Melpomene) leans down (goldfinch,
turtle-dove)... eight bells, sounding. Winces...
wings to silence. Copper profile, soldered to mast.

There was, once, a very brave racehorse
(in Kentuck). Like Catherine upon her wheel
she took to the Derby, a Frisbee-Elohim... fell.
Limps now from the grave (a horse is a horse,

Mr. Eddy Puss) - come back again... somebody's
Magdalen (out of a charnel-house of universal
freeze). And she pulls that hearse of hers
with her shoulders (home to her mother's house,

handsome). The octave swells, then
(from the old 33) : his pastured accompaniment
to her deep well-voice, on the radio (gradual bent
through sky). Clay pipestem lips mime violin.

Franconia, N.H.


Old poem from Way Stations. (note : "pass the torch to those who follow" - line from my high school's official song. Same high school poet Allen Grossman attended 20 yrs earlier - another poet obsessed with poet's "vocation", poetry's social authority or sanction. (cf. his remarkable essay in latest Chicago Review.))



It is no longer in my power
To pass the torch to those who follow.
Long ago I fell away from the steel
Fiber holding up the school gymnasium,
And years have obscured the clear
Path I walked, a serious child,
By the dreamy lawns, the sheltering
Oak trees of the suburbs. Shame
Weighs on me, tugs at my pride:
My tongue grows awkward, inarticulate,
Unable to confess in clever numbers
All the grotesqueries this antic mind
Would indulge - my soul, snagged
In a filmy web, in the seamy afterlife
Of manifest destiny, that central pomp
Of high-riding families, magnified
On the national screen. An irony
Hovered with dark wings over the slow
River of my growing, marking a sign
On the brow of the elder son.

We plant our feet on the boards,
And pretend a scene. But every word
Tingles with guile; the simple form
Of the body recites from memory
A better tale - more harsh, more
Innocent, exemplary. To be born -
To be thrown off-center - the rest
Is only lust, or circumcision -
And perhaps a morning breeze, echo
And reconciliation.

Enter Hamlet, reading.

Pray God, your voice, like a piece
of uncurrent gold, be not cracked
within the ring.

The envious ghost burns for his
Possessions - rattling armor there
On the far side of the battlements,
In the outer dark. Gertrude?
Ophelia? I remember Memorial Day,
Gathering families in the clear
Green stillness of the huge park -
And my brothers scampering, acting up,
Waving their tiny stars and stripes.
As in a grainy home movie, I can see
My meek father hovering over the grill;
Granddad motionless, his hearing aid
Turned off; and Grandma and my mother,
Laughing, bustling around, two bird voices
Diving into the water, where a bronze
Hiawatha carries Minnehaha carefully
Across the muttering stream...

Heading out for a few days, back Monday evening.


Old quatrain-train in his hero-dotage.


In far-off Scythia, little horse-bells tinkle
in the wind, among the effigies, circling
the terror-mounds. Effeminate soothsayers
(Enarees) plait, unplait their strips of linden-bark.

Air flows clear across vast prairie.
Saskatchewan, maybe. Rattling my old snake-
rattle now, one arm swerving the daylight-radius,
muttering around the square perimeter, hey-ey.

Behind the skeins of Henry pilots Enaree.
Under the eyelids, dreams, wind. Clear light.
And the woman veering away as you pivot
yourself... back into mist... who be?

Shoulder hunched, brow intent, eyes
scouring earth... Amazon on foot?
River-nymph on shore? After chariot-
wheel? Lost where my flood rose...

I can't bring back one who never left.
So song goes blind, just air over grassland.
Word-rods, tempered - beholding, as they bend
cities to their will, how the frail grass-waves lift

in the wind. Not to speak of the broken sun-
spoke, its expectant fling across that steep
last curve. Servants glean what remains, sweep
up the dust, murmur, croon (... will be done)...

How the air-flood sweeps away my crumbling
babble - what's left of ribcage holds no sail.
Only oscillating, in a hangar, wired to a nail...
icon of garden-angelus (blue eyes trembling).
Reading Allen Grossman's terrific essay on Hart Crane in recent Chicago Review. Also Kent Johnson's funny spoof on JH Prynne in same issue.
So be it...


Magnetics of a blue-green gaze, out of
resplendent horsehair. Through colored
oil. Across lacquered wood. Light poured.
Blonde, with casket of brune acacia (wheels

within Kiev-wheels, Irina). Gift of myrrh
sent through a frame. So she handed me
the stereopticon (old Providence in Tuscany).
Her mother, dove in local ground (my father's

birthday). Strange elevator, dropping scales
(Justitia and Pax, either end of Byzantine
couch). Mary Magdalen (Siena version) -
sea-blue, veiled glance (frankincense?) - all's

. And eyes well with tears. All's well.
When the local scene takes hold of its vitreous
reality, suddenly compact with very specific (US)
gravity. Down the hill from the art gallery - we'll

go find Willy's original spring, won't we? Still
there, beneath granite, iron. Like Delphic
tripod-oracle - perennial glimmer through thick
3-D shades. Primary crayon civilization, ex nihil.

Only light! A cyclo-paean (absolute devotion).
Because I love, because I love, because I love
Frisbee traveled from fire, through mauve
dusk, back to evening star (run, run...)

and in the well of years harbors (like tree
from a tiny light). Shed milk of regal
Negus-kenosis. Hunch of equality (Lincoln-
simplicity). Double-thing, W-ing from eternity.


Methinks somebody could write something about connections between JH Prynne & Vallejo. When I read Prynne's scientistic jargon-jags it reminds me of late Vallejo.
I said it ALL better 10 yrs ago, talking to Kent Johnson in a Jacket.
Reckon my insistence on the otherness of poetic language (see post of yesterday) takes me to the edge (or over) of lunacy, for some readers of this blog.

Certainly poets & poetry are also engaged with, and in complex processes of exchange with, the prose of life & what I was calling "ordinary" language, as well as with everything to which such language is addressed... (see, again, J. Latta's comments today on CD Wright's Poundian poetics of reportage...)

Yet when I tried to think about this briefly (on coffee break this morning) the image of a spiral came to mind... what was this? Double helix of poetry or something? (Now I suppose this really sounds wacko...)

No, I was seeing the spiral, I think, as an image of the root motivation or process of poetry-making... which in my view has its basis in song or harmony... & not in a self-enclosed or autotelic sense (cf. New Critics, Langpo...), but a sort of mystical sense, I guess. That is I think art reaches up to, or drills down to, some locus amoenus, some fundamental rightness, some Paradise, Jubilee - what Stevens meant when he wrote that "poetry is the sanction of life"... & for me anyway this deep harmonics actually shifts the nature of poetic language in the direction of its own telos, pleroma, end, fulfillment.

& I'm attracted to the Romantic notion (see Schlegel, Vico, et many al.) of poetry-making as a recapitulation of original human language-making; that language-creation was/is fundamentally a poetic process; & I am very intrigued by this corollary, that poetry-making actually turns or curls language-creation back on itself - the primal reflexive art-recursion - so as to repeal the structural alienation or distance established by the act of "pointing" or indication or measurement which underlies the making of the first human words. Maybe this is the spiral I was thinking of...


Fontegaia rolls on.


That other one, with the beard, the slouch hat
of tramps, the pathetic pipe - that needy old man,
wearing out his welcome among blessed suburbanites -
where he gone? Southwest with the Soo Line, I bet.

Down to the turquoise desert, maybe - watching sunrise
light the razory edge of ye planet. Doing the ghost
dance bit with the birdcage whistle of a limberlost
vacationer in these parts (passin' through, guys).

A pattern in the sand, like a sidewinder mandala.
No cameras, please. An excuse for a man,
dug up somewhere (straight from the can,
I reckon). Better move on, fella.

Whistle on through, like a Hiawatha
with fins - like a Frisbee hovercraft
over a couple of stereo kids (daft
in love, falls like Minnehaha).

Everybody's shadow lights out somewhere, Huck.
The spin doctors the wound but won't heal
the mortal - since it was a formidable
yearn to begin with (out of a garden walk).

So's the story, anyhow. Hope to see her someday,
quoth King Solomon (speaking the dark cause
of him condition). She'm the reason I chose
to chase them varmints over the hill
, agreed Will A.

Who your buddy, Poe? Lasso-Man? (Can't we all
get a lung?) She'll be roping up your neck
as we speak, pard - Legal Aid, I mean - heck,
she's law, f'cryin' aloud. Sheba's Blackstone, pal.
It's not unusual to think of poetry as the speech-expression of pure pleasure principle (see John Latta's fine detective work today, re: Joan Retallack's playful writing).

But I can't help thinking of metaphysical or ontological implications. Though I know many poets & artists are opposed to metaphysics on principle. Anti-metaphysics can be a principled stance.

[An aside : but often it strikes me rather as a kind of complacent flatland of self-pleasing epicureans & blind egos (I'm not referring to either Latta or Retallack here, for heaven's sakes!). The self subsists always in relation to something or someone else...]

What I mean to say is that over the last few days I've been pondering along a parallel track to Retallack's comment, quoted at the end of Latta's post today. But maybe I'm thinking of it more abstractly or something. Poetry is distinct from other kinds of writing & language use in that it foregrounds & dramatizes (in & out of "performance") a living breathing speaker - even when there seems no rational reason to do so; in this way it (poetry) seems often to stumble over its own "feet", while ordinary language goes about its functional & impersonal business of declaring useful & necessary things.

& what exactly is happening here, in a linguistic sense? It seems to me that the pleasure of poetry pushes back against language's inherent alienation from that which it indicates. Poetry tries to close the ring of the space separating "horse" from actual horse. Paradoxically, it can only do this through a sort of playful embrace of solipsism and tautology. By focusing not so much on the real horse, but rather on its own imaginary song-horse, the poem, counter-intuitively, gives the horse itself a vivid sort of virtual reality. Thus poetry goes along singing its contrasting counter-melody, against all normal denotative indicative descriptive functional language-use.

The tendency in postmodern poetry has been to celebrate and revel in this contrast between poetic & ordinary speech. I think where I am leaning is toward the idea that all poetry - plain or obscure - whether the poets are conscious of it or not - all poetry is radically different from ordinary usage. This distinction gives evidence of poetry's link with archaic modes of intuition, prophecy and soothsaying, as well as ancient forms of praise & celebration.

It is possible, actually, to conceive of poetry's tautological ring-around-the-rosy as manifesting a form of knowledge-by-analogy, as in visual art - not by analysis or definition, but by modelling and implication...

(the end point being, perhaps, dramatic poetry : where theater & reality, play & history, come into intense engagement...)


Improv Fontegaia, winding down.


I keep returning to the same old memory -
you, pointing to those evening panoramas.
Icons of what pleased you, always.
Remembering the Emperor, his toy city

offered to those almond eyes... trim reciprocity.
Song circles thus, thirstily, around its own joy.
A taut tautology, twirled tight, suspended...
(highway for hovering Frisbee dit-da-ditty-

datta data-hum). Only a neurotic project?
Overshot bridge to nowhere? Sunburst
heart like expunged orangutan, immersed
in his analysis (decomposing rancid intellect)...

and will it always be so? Furtive raven
scrapes surface of the road, Poe
weaves zig-zag after... pines solo
tremolo for Whitman... weeps later on

for Poe... I don't think so. Raven slices air
southwest, like a blind spot in the sun belt
of Orion, southwest... where fire felt around
wings of a Phoenix proscenium - the choir

belted out Messiah. In the continuum
song circuits around its immeasurable flame
as gull-be-dove, wheeling high... terrific frame
of golden lyre, Apollo-harbinger (incalculable sum) -

old hobo-love burns there, over the stream.
It never ends. It is longing-equilibrium's long
home's Big Rock Candy Mountain... simple strum
of a suspended 7th (33 light-yrs from yr sunbeam).


Beginning final chapter of Fontegaia.


The heavy-laden lilac leans and sways
toward the light blue-yellow wall. The May day
glories in its brilliance; old Hobo will have his say.
These words like sand that slips between my fingers

... those first words formed, those infant sounds
measuring the distance between lips and breast
the welling O... orotund as gentle eyes that rest
on me, grant my whole body rest
... so time rounds

home, rounds out of mind. So the muttering
of Everyman circles its secret sun - the word
like a primitive hunter, blinded by its own weird
mirroring (til General Davy sets Gem in a sling).

Homesick Eddy wanders empty Providence. Then
a green light stops him in his tracks. Some ghost
of springs long-gone (a-spiralling)... he hears a host
in sandy Frisco (bit by his own heart's shady evidence).

Beyond earthquake and fire, the approaching clip-clop
of apocalypse - the unspeakable plague of his tabloid
taboo has turned him (pearl-lined, clammy) inside-
out (twin magnetized Ligeia-orbs, under eclipse).

And hobo-poet stumbles, blind, his mother-wit
now branded on his brow. It wells from swollen
veins beneath the crust - cheap sour wine
gone vinegar, an infinite discomfort

roiling, rustling across his tongue - the fatal crown.
Touch of hot iron sears the whole mouth now.
So near, that solar flare - where a lone crow
(raving, pivoting southwest) tastes his renown.


You can do these google searches on HG Poetics & come up with some strings of ideas... but I don't think they go back through the entire blog... or maybe they're limited by number of entries.

Anyway, looking these posts over I recognize my combination of garrulity & vagueness. Must try to communicate more deliberately with my compeers, somehow... write some essays & reviews... I spend most of my time chasing my strange muse, composing...

The emphasis in these particular posts on gesture and embodiment... on the difference between poetry & prose... does this align me with Olson & the Projectivists?

Not really. For a couple reasons, I think. On the conceptual level : I see Olson's attitude as (to a degree) akin to Pound's, & with certain strains of primitivism or romanticism - in that he idealizes pre- or ir-rational Nature at the expense of discursive reasoning - & thus sets up poetry in radical opposition to the utlitarian-technological rationality of Control, which is the great bogeyman of 20th-cent. modernism & postmodernism.

Superficially, this actually sounds like a lot of things I've said myself over the years (say, in interview with Kent Johnson at Jacket, & on this blog) - ie. when I promote poetry as a special kind of visionary discourse, providing uncanny "answers" (while science & philosophy ask questions) etc. etc.

But I would want to differentiate my attitude from this Olsonian (& maybe Prynnean?) point of view. I see no historical-epistemological "break", as Olson does, with the advent of Platonic rationality. Eliot's "dissociation of sensibility", a somewhat similar concept, is not as extreme, but there is the same promotion of perception and feeling at the expense of abstract reasoning, which of course you also find in Pound's imagism & parataxis. Or, perhaps it's more correct to say, Eliot's ideal for poetry is a poetry in which feeling is infused with wit & reason - but the end point is primarily a sensible artifact (an aesthetic object), not a new kind of understanding.

I would rather align myself with the spirit of Nicolas of Cusa. The intellect is inventive, constructive, creative and playful in itself. Artistic making is as much a form of intellectual exploration (logos) as it is sensitive expression (pathos).

In fact I would suggest there is a specific pathos of the intellect. The artists of the Siena frescos were depicting an ideal city as a practical matter - the frescoes floated above the meeting rooms of the city hall, didactic reminders of the state's foundational values. And this intellectual-constructive effort - to contain and mirror actual, historical & political existence - this practice of modelling - is an act of measurement which is impossible without a certain degree of alienation. The maker must stand aside from both the world and the work itself in order to create something adequately objective & true. This "standing-aside" puts the maker (or the intellectual generally) in a potentially marginal & abject position - the outsider. ("The prophet is not without honor - except in his own country, & among his own people," says Jesus in the Gospels.)

The maker is the uncanny double, the other self, the blind spot in the mirror. The art work is, possibly, a true representation of an objective world - but it is also the trace of the maker's silhouette or fingerprint.

Olson - & much 20th-cent. art & poetry - idealizes the vital energy of the world outside, beneath the human, the rational. My own desire would be to show how creative intellect sits crowned at the center of reality - as the core of civilization. Despite all the fearsome, destructive, world-threatening perversions it undergoes for the sake of greed, arrogance, ignorance & war. I would identify true intellect with the humility of the estranged outsider or servant, the victim of brutality & persecution.

The second way I would differentiate myself from Projectivism & much postmodern poetry is on the level of style & form. I've written about poetry as personal, embodied, performative, theatrical - as achieving its complete form only in performance, in the response-context of its cultural milieu. But unlike the Projectivists - & the Language Poets - I don't see the expressive form of contemporary poetry as situated in an agonistic rivalry with "traditional" poetry. Rather, I believe we have never left the precincts of archaic rhythm. Poetry now & always presents a kind of holistic song-mirror - the aesthetic work as musical-imaginative re-casting of experience - on behalf, I repeat, of a constructive concept or intelligibility. The aesthetic form, the formal finish, of the achieved poem, makes a statement about Being as fulness & completion. The poet's vocation is thus a kind of voyaging toward the return of the Same. If too many short-cuts are taken, the work will not move us - it will seem facile, superficial, cold (since we are still all of us struggling on the way). But the postmodern rejection of order & purpose, in toto, simply surrenders too much - misses (rejects) the intelligible order, the substance of reality.

By these comments however I would not want to be simply lumped with the anti-moderns & formal traditionalists. As I've tried to argue previously in various places, my notion of form is not really focused on the surface elements of style, but rather on poetry's underlying dramatic plot.


Have started paying a little more attention to the terrific British criticism in Jacket, by the likes of James Keery, Andrew Duncan, Steve Clark et al. My thundering ignorance. & the feeling that I'm stepping into a nest of quite poisonous serpent-varmints. Sense in these writers an almost-incurable English angst, with compensatory vehemence... or is it just that they don't share my odious American (or just plain Henry) complacency?
Strange things can happen in libraries. I was thinking on my lunchbreak about the Hitchcock film "Vertigo", which seems to surface now & then in my writing. I come back from lunch, & someone has left some very expensive library items on my desk - old onionskin typewritten screenplays from the 1940s, for "Notorious" and "Spellbound", by "Angus McPhail" (a Hitchcock nom-de-plume). Makes me feel a little dizzy.


Now available, a new version of Rest Note (includes latest chapter, #4).

What is a saint? A saint is a hobo, grabbed by the scruff & assigned a spiritual job to do. What is a poet? Part of the scribbler cadre of this bunch.

Hart Crane on hobos (in The Bridge) : "humpty-dumpty clods"... "they touch something like a key, perhaps". Aside from the probable homosexual joke there, he's also talking about the hobos' nostalgia or connectedness with Mother Earth.

Herodotus recounts the blunt advice of an advisor to Persian king Cyrus, about how to subdue a certain tribe - tell the fathers to become shopkeepers, & the sons to learn the flute & the harp, rather than war - you will make them all effeminate & easy to control. So aggression is gendered down through the centuries.

But poet & saint cannot be subjugated so easily... they have a connection with the original Gardener (Adam), by way of guilt-ridden Cain (the farmer) & guileless Abel (the shepherd). Farmer, gardener... their quiet productive labor in the earth, far from the hot winds of vain cities... the peacemaker, the good shepherd... Milton's muse...

The hobo-poet-saint is not exactly an epicurean Bohemian, a Beat... but there is some affinity in their common desire to negate the harsh & violent labors of the Iron Age... they share the same alienation, but the hobo-saint turns that diffidence into a motivated spiritual labor of another kind... like that of the gardener...

The hobo-poet-saint feels a certain distaste for the profession of letters, since there all the Iron Age labor & vanity enters in again, by the back door... his Arcadia is an evening (after work) of literary "amateurs", slouched in some cafe... nobody pays them for their perfect freedom...

but the hobo-poet-saint must pursue those games with a fiery devotion... blind Miltons all, Chaucers, Shakespeares, chanting the Garden of Eden coming back... the Jubilee... & how to get there... an isolato-farmer's wisdom...

A Nation gets the poets it deserves... some nations turn it all dutifully into trade & busy-ness...


& so concludes Fontegaia pt. 4. (p.s. today is the anniversary of the founding of Constantinople)


Grandma went down to St. Croix on your birthday,
Phoebe, to visit a nest of potters along the river.
Spry Frisbee-soothsayer keeps on revolving forever,
almost - like a venerable Pythia-barge (109 light-years

away, it seems). Your Little Boy Bohu-Pa (some
China clay?) peers out again (through his mosquito-
net) toward a winking, twinkling Ocean shore -
the river-of-riverbanks, a moving firmament

(tesseract dome or drinking bowl). Where
elk-sized almond eyes (through arctic space)
lock into mutual recognition - natural grace
domesticating something else. Grain of sand (or

key of clay) from nowhere. Something immeasurable
nestled in the river-rings - purled mote of fire
in parallax. Becomes an equal sign (9 = gyre)
whose Magdalenian eyes dove into mine. Voluble

pebble on ramble up Nile - light-bauble, hidden
in humdrum clam - Jonah's wail, phonautographed
by Byzantine toy elephant... some corn-fed seraph
Ruth found (a-slumber) on her way to Rachel's barn.

Earth just tuning up, the way an infinite keyboard
found a home in Mendelssohn. Five-finger exercises.
We count the cost together, local guys n' gals
figuring out Saskatchewan - but look upstream, toward

rainy spring (where river-whales play hippopotami
arpeggios). Look there, look there. Cassiopeia
and her Milky King - your mother-stream's calliope -
a muted requiem. The universe. Sings come with me.

5.11.08 (Pentecost/Mother's Day)


Fontegaia chapt. 4, unraveling down to finish line.


Those fibrillating frescos in an old Italian town...
she handed them to me, like 3-D shades, like some
Calliope-kaleidoscope. Good Government their theme,
a peaceful Providence their angular reunion -

in the L-shaped room, where the hero circles back
to square one. Back through green rushes, O...
back up the Nile again, unto oh-so-mysterioso
Ethiopia. Where a triple rainbow on a tripod neck

taught sleepy Sheba how to riddle Solomon
with double consonance (pithy adagia).
A kind of Minnehaha joke on Hiawatha.
Odd misuse (tree-planting in a railroad cabin).

Homeward bound, through the scarred terrain
of hi-ho yesteryear. All those nations, kings...
- it makes you wonder about things,
said Miz Pa to her Uncle Sam (caboosed again).

Em thought so too. A hermit election... old America
wound up on a chessboard toward the end of November
- was they what the people want? Or just an ember
on the lips of a clod? Humpty-Dumpty? Caw-caw

crowed the triplets in a cypress tree - we seed
what ye sow
. A kind of raven-milk for boho
Elijah - seal of Melchizedek on his hillbilly brow.
A raft of Lincoln-logs on the stream of minstrelsy,

I gather - since you brought me here, jailbird -
to the echo chamber (33 Chamber St). Shades
of transfusion on the telepathy-phone... reeds
drooping in a semaphore across the prison yard.
I suppose my comments about poetry & Being sound rather anachronistic or simplistic, compared with something like Paul Fry's theory of poetry's "ostensive" substance (see his Defense of Poetry). But Fry's theory could be seen as a contrasting counterpart to my position, since the "ostensive" also presents a kind of equilibrium or order, which gives poetry a unique and anomalous position in the larger realm of discourse. I posted more about Paul Fry etc. here.

I'm a partisan of the old idea that Being is present to us most clearly in the fact of personhood and consciousness; that individual persons also reflect or stand in for some deeper more mysterious reality of personhood and consciousness; & that this fact of subjective consciousness does not rule out an additional mystery, that all things & beings in the universe also share with us in that representation; that everything takes part, through the slow rolling of time, in some manifold musical embodiment, unfolding or event... & the more I think about this, the more I'm drawn to a sort of franciscan attitude toward nature & experience...

Keats' "negative capability" formulation reminds me that too often we look at the poets of past eras through abstract lenses we learned in school ("the Romantics", "the Victorians"). We forget that poets of every era share more, as poets, than what divides them by way of historical distinctions & differences. Thus Keats here is speaking as a craftsperson, of his experience with making - the experience of living with uncertainties & unknowingness, for the sake of the distinct & anomalous shaping-work of the poem. This is the poet's experience in every era.

What I'm getting back to, I think, is what seems to me an undergirding set of principles, of you will, which distinguishes the poet's motive & purpose in the world from that of any other "worker-in-discourse" : the principle, basically, that in poetry, language, consciousness and personhood are fused together and alive - the poet stands for a humanized world, a civilization, resting in a kind of Bergsonian elan vital, rather than in some kind of cold amoral solitude, a dead universe...

Moreover, the fundamental law of civilization itself rests on this consciousness (ie. our personal attitude toward this "conscious reality", and consequently toward those who share it with us)...

Is this just old Romanticism? OK. It's Franciscanism too, maybe - something even older.


Speaking of performance... in the next week or so I hope to be able to link to video webcast of the reading on April 23rd with Anny Ballardini & Peter Thompson.
Poetry gets made, lips mumble, & the talk about poetry floats around the perimeter.

Literary thought-about-it blends with philosophy, politics, sociology... people proclaim their preferences, allegiances, enthusiasms...

but is there a particular social purpose, role, telos for poetry as poetry? Can this be looked at, without the effort being immediately branded as aesthetical detachment, diffidence, quietism, art-for-art, etc.?

Are you only interested in art as a vehicle for working out your ambitions & frustrations (personal or political)? Or your ideals, even?

The natural pull of what is beautiful tends to send these things (frustrations, ambitions, ideals, ideas) through a sort of shift-changer, a distortion-pedal...

What is beautiful, in relation to what is right? old debate....

A poem has a form (beginning to end). & the form contains a variable degree of moral weight or impact.

But getting back to the question of a unique social role for poetry as poetry... it seems pretty obvious that there is no single or homogenized purpose here. There are different & shifting degrees of social or cultural engagement. The same can be said for the other arts. They are put to differing applications, based on various motives & aims.

What I would emphasize (as often before) is that poetry is a unique verbal mode - one which combines art (aesthetic values), performance (embodiment), & personal presence. As such it is akin to drama. But more intensively than drama, poetry displays (in dramatic form) a fusion of consciousness-personality-language. With drama - as with prose discourse generally - there is an aspect of alienation or distancing, when the text or the composition intrudes between the one who speaks and the one who listens. A poem is a form of soliloquy, of recitation, and a poetic text is the transcription of same.

So what are the consequences of this special verbal form for the form's social role?

If we look at this phenomenon through a kind of amateur or informal philosophical lens, we might see some implications - some implied arguments, which this special form of verbal address makes, about the nature of reality & experience. I guess Heidegger & many another not-so-amateur philosopher (back to Plato) have had much to say about all this.

What strikes me is how the special filter or form through which poetry sends language offers a sort of challenge/critique to prose discourse. Language is embedded firmly in the circle of human presence and consciousness. Even its famous "impersonality" is the effect of an artistic (& personal) ascesis, for the sake of an achieved form which itself will be imprinted with creative consciousness.

This was an element of the stand taken by the Romantic poets, in response to Enlightenment rationalism and the rise of science. If knowledge is related to Becoming (the mind seeking to know, the hand seeking to control), then perhaps art is related to Being (the intuition of wholeness or completion, despite present imperfections - Keats's "negative capability", essentially). And I suppose the conjunction of Romanticism and medievalism is no accident, since the medieval outlook was based on a confidence in an ultimate (sacred) equilibrium, between knowledge & experience, Becoming & Being (a worldview whose static - or perhaps I should say a-historical, mythical - aspect, the new sciences came forward to challenge).

Victorian, modern & postmodern (western) science & philosophy have, for the most part anyway, served to corrode the ground beneath the Romantic vision (which was difficult & shaky terrain to begin with). Yet the actual pragmatics of poetic making can't simply be identified with a philosophical attitude or cultural zeitgeist (Romantic, Modern, Postmodern...). Poetry's fusion of art, consciousness, personhood & performance has in it something older, something archaic and uncanny. It is, in itself (like all art, going back to the cave painters) an argument for, a statement of, Being. The philosophers & theorists who deny the reality of Being, must also (& do) deny the order, the equilibrium, of art; and poetry is the art of language.

In a sense Keats' notion of "negative capability" has never carried more intellectual weight than it does right now, in this era - since now the ontological status of everything except that "unknowing" equilibrium, which he ascribed to poets, is called into question. Hence poetry has had many 20th-cent. false friends among the philosophers, from Heidegger to Derrida; notions of poetry's unique status in a cosmos of irreality always end up condescending to it in the end (since language, too, is irreal).

So poetry, then, continues to present language in its ancient musical-dramatic mode, by way of its own play-realm of art, beauty, equilibrium, wholeness. As such it offers a challenge not only to postmodern philosophy, but to philosophy in general - to prose discourse of every kind. The intense presence, the actuality, of the poetic performance belies depersonalized abstractions of every persuasion. Plato recognized the challenge, & acted accordingly (exiling poets from his ideal state).

And if poets want to explore the peculiarities, the special characteristics, of the social role of their vocation, I would think they would do well to ponder these peculiar, pragmatic characteristics of the mode itself - how, through art, Being is represented - and defined, delimited - by way of living (& expressively-performing) persons. Here is where poetry is itself : not politics, not philosophy, not any other kind of talk.


ol' goofy Fontegaia...


A thin Calabrian hermit twines concentric Celtic rings,
rough plunkets of inverted eagle-dives, for his own
2nd-time Olympiad (calibrated to a lonesome
kingship, coming on). A grey dove, practicing

an oboe (flighty tremolo) - paired with another
prophet, somewhere (San Franfrisco?). Ramirez-
vagrant - tunneling crayon horses, chugging trains
around a rainbow-merry (can-can) Mother

(God). They're waiting for the advent of the spectrum-
sun (like Lorenzetti with his Lorelei, in the Palazzo
) - waiting for Captain ground-round Zero -
summa of the summer, light, lightly incarnate. Hum

we with them, strum we zither, cithera - for ascents
of lilac inebriations, Byzantine zones of honey'd joy.
O taste and see. Your body, one with every body -
brother to other, sister to sun (unusual cerements)...

In the gray matter, everything merges into one.
Only tremulous radiance of those triplet rings
(9-pin necklace for the Paraclete) brings
peace. An odd disease (to plumb your own

version, lambkin). O may one hungry eagle-eye
excise the frills
, he cries - O may the pluperfect
descend upon us all
- the Providence (displaced,
immense, commensurate). On the 4th of July

a grand mere milked that hippo train to Jubilee.
Eight limping belles danced limberly, a tender
trot around Big Edicule (ridiculous bender -
ridda-waltz). And we were there (in lilac-scree).
I puts the word "meerschaum" in previous poem, out of nowhere. Unexpectedly. Then this morning, on coffee break, I'm finishing novel by C. McCarthy, Suttree. 1st page I come to : there's "meerschaum" again. Describing ancient sort of voodoo soothsayer Suttree's consulting (for the blues).


zig-zag Fontegaia.


The sparse dogwood in the evening gloom out back
glows like phosphorus. Robins yodeling like mad.
Cars stirring dust at the corner. And he said,
ever-returning spring. Like an old Micmac,

paddling himself upstream always - an argument
by neverendingness, against the tidy closure
of each lead-lined lid of epicurean and sad
composure (meerschaum despair). Saint

George in his own element, an L-shaped move
among the troubadour-cicadas. Militant
amor in armor, silvered whorl of a brow all-
cognizant (disseminated now, concentric wave

on wave). Whose motion is homeward, always.
Like the tale of the sailor hidden in lamb-
limbs - Noman was his name, or Everyman -
one long-delayed and drawn-out share of Paradise

his scarred rebound. What seemed elliptical
and sly was angled right - all zeroed in
toward a squared-up breathing contest (90
degrees in the humid shade - a silhouette of L

whirled in a J-spiral). Where life resides
in shifting clay zig-zags; where the potter
spins her delta silt (rote rotation - water's
utter source wrung round again). He says,

ever-returning spring. And the voice shudders
like flung pigeon fleets - shucks into air,
plummeting, fading. As if no one were there then
between 33rd and Chamber (or just a ghost-rider).


Fontegaia hoboes on.


The rushes at the river's edge, in the shadow
of a tensile span, make a cloudy rustling.
Give voice (below that rusty trestling)
to an urgent source, in shuttling undertow.

Where an ancient vagrant trails his fingers.
Grazing, whiling away a wasted hour, there
beneath steel talons of an eagle's aerie.
Lapsed into memory of bolder wings.

But let it go, let it go...
Crusaders strain toward Mizpah or Montjoie,
the paramount anointing mound, their Calvary
for thundering cavalry, a glaring chariot-show...

his donkey's keyed to a different, a diffident drum.
It's here, in a nondescript burbling of delta salt.
Something tumbling down from Victorian vault -
lake-drawn dawn silver skipping over the ho-hum

mud-stream. Ah, he confirms, even Solomon slept.
Slept like Nebuchadnezzar on his hands and knees
until that immured wraith (among willow trees)
floated into view... deigned to descend, yclept

his very name : the silken spouse, the river-
nymph, a morning diorama, light as a dream is
light. She was with him as some Io or Isis was
and is - as Magdalen slumbers in the dawn-clover;

distaff sceptre, volute volunteer - a Sheba, she.
As Lucy rose apace, pacing into the laggard road
of history... so her streambed (O motherlode
of all desire) repeals that rust-corona'd mystery.
Hectic here these days, but meanwhile trying to read through this long essay by James Keery in Jacket #24 (which I discovered thanks to funny article on British poetry by Kent Johnson in recent Chicago Review).

This essay is incredibly keen & erudite... have to go back to the originals (JH Prynne) to follow along... this thing about apophrades (Harold Bloom term for a sort of pre-echo or reverse allusion or foreshadowing of a poet in earlier poets) is fascinating... & the way Keery interprets the Bible so poetically (they were all nazirim, "Nazarenes", holy-fool singers).

I have had various obscure encounters with this apophratic phenomenon over my years in poet-land... signally around "Henry" & John Berryman... relates to what I sometimes have had to say about "incarnational poetics"....

Keery's theme (apocalypse, Bk of Revelations) resonates for me right now, as there's an undercurrent going on in Fontegaia having to do with Joachim of Fiore, Sts. Francis & Bonaventure, & their interpretations of that text.... (see Joseph Ratzinger's book on Bonaventure's theology of history)...


Fontegaia limps forward.


When light seeps from the old albumen prints
time lingers there, like someone waiting for you
on the seashore, or the river's edge. Small
whirlpool eddying, full of hints and glints

beckoning you to step through the sepia scene.
This was the feeling in the high Siena room
where frescos (radiant in evening gloom)
stood waiting quietly for you to enter in -

where the maidens turn their eternal ridda-
ring, and Justice (regal, adamant, serene)
holds sway (merciful minister) and
Pax, insouciant, leans on a useless shield.

What was it, exactly, you wanted me to find?
It must have been a twirling riddle-game -
a Gorgon-knot, enigma of the Ever-Same
(its figures veiled your whisper, undefined).

And like thin silver rain through the mercury
the farewell trumpet taps against a screen
of 5th-month memory - all that has-been
derelict can summon up again, a requiem

of history (his own). And as a wheel
of moss-green circuitry creaks once
more (around, around), an octave-sense
lifts fifty stars toward flagging Jubilee -

the milk of sadness trembles in the midnight sky
again, the everlasting evening star gleams out,
still there - a folded promissory note (lone heart's
defense) sets sail, its sea-worn prow an eagle-eye.


What is poetry "tradition"? Got into a little thread about that over here.

One thing that got me interested in the Cantos (20 yrs ago) was its blend of "wild & crazy Amurrican" with ancient/classical/Europe/epic. It's so extreme - including its ambition to re-do Dante.

Part of the extremity due to the poet's exalted valuation of the cultural specific gravity of poetry.

Thinking of J. Latta's post today about Whitman & printing books. Poetry as measure - language set to musical measure - measured by letters, alphabetical characters. WC Williams' interest in the capacity of poetry to reflect every level of social experience by means of just this (measurement). Yeats' emphasis on same ("in measurement began our might", or something like that - speaking of art in general).

Nicholas Cusanus' (very Renaissance) dwelling on the notion that to see - & to comprehend - is to measure.

Bible (psalms) - God creates all through "number, weight and measure". (Notice it took 6 + 1 days - thus fitting cosmos neatly within solar year - a sort of mirroring or inset/framing of scriptural logos with nature & time). Augustine's focus on the shared properties of poetry and music. Poetry is essentially measured speech.

Poetry unites music (measure) and rhetoric.

Kirsch (whose book I want to read) seems to scourge both moderns & contemporaries for neglect of poetic tradition (the knowledge of both music & rhetoric). To which I counterposed Whitman's remark (somewhere) that American poetry of the future would be "indirect" (in contrast, I assume, to the "direct" transmission of ancient forms & modes of European poetry).

What might Walt be getting at? The notion I have at the moment is that he was thinking of the global tradition of poetry as dual or bivalent. Because the poet has already mastered, in his or her bones, the ancient forms & motives of poetry (going back to prehistoric times), the new poetry will be indirect, by way of insisting on playing variations on these ancient modes. The tradition will always be implicit - because tradition itself is something more than imitation.

I guess this is all pretty obvious.

But this morning I'm thinking about Pound's (& Yeats', & Eliot's, & Whitman's) extremely exalted conception of poetry & the poet's cultural role. & adding to this the idea that measure, or music, is a reflection of nature itself. Something that the poet doesn't invent, but taps into (cf. the whole notion of inspiration, the Muse). & adding to this the consequence that perhaps despite all the roiling turbidity of artistic ambition & creative & imitative literary ferment, maybe on some level, societies - & poets themselves - do not choose their poetry. I'm thinking of the great "benchmark" works of art as having the character of historical events or forces of nature or acts of God.

Mandelstam's (& Akhmatova's, & Tsvetaeva's) writings about poetry greatly influenced my perspective on this. The Russians have a fateful sense of art (along with just about everything else).

Objectivity of critical judgement based on the notion that artifice is rooted in nature.

This actually is the sort of half-formed hunch or belief upon which I've based quite a bit of my seemingly irrational vocational choices over the years. & I still don't know if my gamble was correct. The one thing in poetry we cannot measure.