Here's another one, from 1969.

ACC. NO. 14 FOR 3/21/69

a tall creosoted tree
tangent to an irregular steelglass
object which is bent
out of shape
gray concrete rolls out following
redgreenblue objects of flat steel
black shiny object with red flashing dome
on top two blue objects congruent
with boots they move around
other similar figures many of them
move around also they communicate
dumb bastards can't they read
the roadsigns?
Here's another poem I wrote in 1968, published in Talisman ! It reminds me of some current movies. (These old poems surprisingly remind me of ee cummings + Yeats. I was a big fan of ee cummings in those days.)


Glass men march through clogged sewers
Nursing marshland dreams,
Cursing rattling ghosts.
They must protect a fragile falsehood -
Hide it behind tin medals,
Save it with searing metal.
Yet they know there is no hope,
And when their toys rain down
From orange skies, they frown
And say, "There was no other way."
"If we have to start all over with Adam and Eve,
I want them to be Americans..."
Glass men march through clogged sewers
dreaming of last days.
Peter O'Leary's review of fellow Minnesotan Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook.

I have a strange deja-vu, reading this, & am reminded of a poem I wrote in 1968, which was published in the Blake School (my high school) literary magazine, Talisman (1969 issue) :


rusted rails running to
Moose Lake, Bruno, Willow Creek
North Branch, Stacy, Forest Lake.
white farmhouse wanders by among
clusters of contraptions -
a dirty once blue pick-up sits
on concrete blocks
a crazy useless tractor, one wheel
sunk in spring mud
a wind vane creaks on a pole.
the brown once red barn
slides sloping into earth again.
restless freeway runs between
Moose Lake, Bruno, Willow Creek
North Branch, Stacy, Forest Lake.
where screaming metal screams past
screaming glass, and billboards flash
sun-scorched, unread scrawls.
dairy queens stretch their spray-paint
crowns across the road, one last try
before they die in the darkness behind.
telephone poles crash bravely through
the barrier, and men in blue shirts dig holes.
the stop lights are always green
and the towns
Moose Lake, Bruno, Willow Creek
North Branch, Stacy, Forest Lake
speed by without breathing
brown brick
Joe's Bar B-Q
gray grain elevator
then gone, flashing dull.
when they have gone,
only the gray, billboarded, roadsigned
tongue remains -
always running, running to another
Moose Lake, Bruno, Willow Creek
North Branch, Stacy, Forest Lake.
Some new Lanthanum.
We now return to our regular programming. I've deleted the last post, which was my list of "25 random things" about me, which is a thing people have been doing in blogland. I was finally embarrassed by it - but not too embarrassed. I've decided to make it the start of a separate blog, called Random Henry. I may add to it now & then, or may not. More as a kind of memory-jog, hopefully, than ego-trip.

(My deepest apologies to RC, who sent a funny & enthusiastic comment to the 25-list post, which is now gone. Sorry, Reyes - but I got yr message. & thanks.)


Bloom, yes! Bloom, bloom, bloom. The Everyman from elsewhere. Pivotal.

& "Henry" is canonical, too. Henry Flower, that is.
Very absorbed of late in a book about the theology of 7th-cent. Byzantine monk, Maximus the Confessor, by Urs von Balthasar (I love that name). Title translated as Cosmic Liturgy. This reading has a lot to do, actually, with the confidence with which I proclaim the theoretical foundations of AIEE! Poetry.

Balthasar explains how Maximus synthesized Western, philosophical, proto-scientific thought, rooted in Aristotle and the Stoics, with Biblical & Christian theology - which was in the slow process of being formulated at the time, & which reflected some Eastern, Platonic, Gnostic elements which he (Maximus) tried to correct or oppose. (He ended up a martyr in the cause of "Chalcedonian orthodoxy", against a Byzantine theocratic government which was attempting at the time to shore up its military-political defenses by making dubious theological compromises.)

What the heck does this have to do with AIEE!, you ask?

The early & mid-Byzantine/Hellenistic intellectual era was primarily focused on formulating theological explanations & demonstrations - developing a shared understanding - of the mysteries of Christian faith, in particular the conundrum or paradox of the Incarnation - the "God-man". I don't have the capability right now to go into further detail on this, except to say that I find Maximus via Balthasar very, very illuminating. He seems to display a kind of "grounded" thinking - a supreme reasonableness - which helps him, as I say, synthesize the philosophical investigation of "nature" in general, with the logical organization of metaphysical concepts. He's a kind of Thomas Aquinas, yet perhaps with a more-heightened kind of visionary eloquence. A sort of Aquinas-Cusanus, 500 years beforehand.

The universe and history, in Maximus, hinge on the paradox, the conjunction-of-opposites, of the Incarnation. The Aristotelian, necessarily-symbiotic union of body & soul, in the human being, shows a kind of analogy to the unique union of divine & human in Christ. Moreover, the synthesis which we observe throughout nature, between the individual thing and its species, its kind - a synthesis which retains (beautifully) the logical substance, the integrity, of both aspects (individual & species) - "without confusion" - this synthesis is understood, again, as a sign or metaphor for the pivotal God/Man union.

All this is combined with Maximus's Aristotelian-Stoic understanding of the status of the "person". The individual person realizes the general potential of the unique union of body & soul. Generally, there is an emphasis in Maximus on the wholeness & integrity of created Nature - combined with an awareness of its absolute contingency with respect to an absolutely autonomous, incomprehensible Creator. It's the union of absolute otherness with complete humanity - "without confusion" - in the person of Christ (the "orthodox" witness of Maximus) - which is the pivot of history and the Redemption of humankind.

All this sounds like gobbledy-gook & blather, I'm sure - and in no way am I capable of even approaching an adequate precis of Maximus's very scintillating thought... but notions of subjectivity & personhood and individual realization - the uniqueness, the quiddity of individual things within an "organic" whole - have implications for a way of approaching - of writing & understanding - poetry, I think. James Joyce does some very interesting things along a parallel Aquinian-Aristotelian worldview (the extreme & elaborate quidditas of a fictional Bloom in a real Dublin, for example...). Joyce understood this as a kind of "medieval" poetics : but it goes back to Byzantium.

& some of this, I hope, can be seen as a consistent focus in all my henotic Henryesque Henrification projects (Stubborn Grew, for ex., is very Joycean in inspiration.)
I will be quiet about Flarf now. I've never blathered so much about something I know so little about.


I have been following & mixing it up a little with some of the blog-discussions about FLARF (Ron Silliman has linked to most of it). I have to admit, I like the word "flarf" - sort of a synthesis of fluff, laugh, and a dog barking...

My Theory on Flarf is that it is essentially a kind of Clowning - a primitive form of Comedy... its "serious" critical apologia are just another shtick in the program - Allamistakeo, as EA Poe put it... & those who take them seriously fall into a "serious" trap...

They are the Fellinis of contemporary American poetry (without Fellini's wistful sweet big-hearted so-Italian nostalgia - essence of Clown, purified to Super-Clown-Saint)...

So let's take this thought-experiment a little further : Flarf has become the dominant-hegemonic-canonical form of Contemporary Poetry! Whole Collegiate programs are devoted to studying & celebrating its Heros & Heroines... deeply-considered doctoral theses are defended & even written...

Paradoxically, Gabriel Gudding emerges as the Flarfiste's Flarfiste, since his critical pronunciamentos are both more deadpan-serious & funny than the flarfistas themselves...

Kent Johnson is celebrated as one of the Original Sad Clowns... his plangent personae & rumbustious challenges to the Establishment are recognized at last as nonpareil "bigfoot shuffles"...

Even minor poet Henry Gould gets his due in Flarf Kingdom! As the air-filled Shelley-balloon of Lilliputia - he of the enormous endless epic HENRIAD - there in his own private tiny Rhode Island...

Grad students excavate & debate fine points of the Flarf Renaissance of Dramatic Poetry, rooted as it is in a fundamentally Dionysian attitude - play, play play! -'s the thing...

They will deliberate over the Flarferrians Oedipal relationship with their Father, John Ashbery - since his status as "original Flarfist" is a contradiction in terms (Official or "Tectonic" Flarfism categorically denies the existence of "originality")... this crux or dilemma hits hard, especially on the NY-School-derived Flarffers, such as Jordan Davis, Drew Gardner, Gov. John Connolly, JFK, "Toenails" Lantucci, Nada Gordon, Gordon Nado - who love-hate Ashbery, since their own literary identity derives from a non-identity with Ashbery, who's own non-identity generated the non-identical techniques of Flarf, so that an escape from suffocating identity leads to an identity which circles back to a suffocating non-identity which sounds very familiar... - so where's Berrigan when we need him? Back in Rhode Island, no doubt.

This is a deep, complex topic which I doubt I will be able to manage in the space of a few furtive key-taps at work. Let's recall, first of all, that the "I" initiates the phrase "Internal Emigre-Emigre", which suggests that the "I" inhabits a condition of (perhaps internal, inner) exile, and that the "subject", therefore, is always "on the move", traveling.

The best analysis of the self and the ambiguity of otherness, in relation to the grounding principles of AIEE! Poetry, can be found in Elena Corrigan's 2000 monograph, Mandelshtam's poetics : a challenge to postmodernism (SUNY Press). Corrigan argues that M's poetry & poetics cannot be subsumed under contemporary theories of postmodernism. For Mandelstam, according to Corrigan, the self is neither simple, essential and unitary, nor illusory and effaced by otherness. Writing is a distinctive process which synthesizes both estrangement and growth. The self, the textual "subject", grows and changes through a process of affinity or "kinship" with other textual voices (see esp. M's essay "Conversation About Dante"). AIEE! Poetry, in turn, as a kind of American offshoot of Russian-Mandelstamian Acmeism, shares and endorses the orientation outlined in Corrigan's study. We can see the outlines of this position in the very lexical and phonic attributes of "AIEE!" itself. The "I" of AIEE! is necessary, distinct and inalienable : but it is meaningless without reference to its place in the sound & spelling of the word "AIEE!" as a whole. Thus the microcosmic wholeness of the "I" is echoed in the structural wholeness of the natural forms in which it has its being (the word "AIEE!").

What must be repeatedly emphasized, however, is that the word "AIEE!", in turn, while integral and multivalent as a word-in-itself, is deracinated from its primary meaning unless we recall the first principle of AIEE! poetics itself : that is, the notion that poets, through their compositional labors, participate in a unique and distinct mode of verbal expression, whose perennial and substantial qualities - the process of "transfigurement" sketched out in the initial AIEE! Manifesto - bracket and subsume more temporary and local and timebound forms of stylistic change, within an overarching system of (worldwide, with variations) tradition. Thus the articulation of AIEE! Poetics is itself, also, merely an epiphenomenon (of self-awareness) within the larger schema or milieu of poetic transfigurement.

Many also ask : is I the "I" in "AIEE!" really just... Henry? The answer is : this depends on your definition of "Henry". Obviously my own view (as a Henry) might be blurred by proximity - however, I can state with some confidence that the "Henry" delimited by AIEE! Poetry is only a symbolic model for the distinct, inalienable quiddity of every single poetic subject and object. Thus univeral Henrification is simply an abstract index of the mysterious actuality & architecture of created & creative Nature. It might be appropriate to characterize AIEE! Poetry as not exactly "Henryesque", but rather "henotic" - ie., "harmonizing, irenic" - deriving from the Greek work for "one" (Hen).



Too tired from late night not to blather. Pouring white stuff outside. So here goes...

What, you might ask, can be AIEE! Poetry? Well, it's a homemade branding moniker for my poetry, obviously...

Do I need such a thing? No, probably not. Is it upstanding & ethical or even intelligent to muck & mudgeon about with such things? No, I suppose not. I've been slumming for 15 years now (since the dawn, for me, of internet poetry conversation - Buffalo Poetics List) - verbally wrassling with my sub-subcultural compeers over Important Topics in Poetry & Related Topics... while the fine upstanding & successful poets shuffled along their diurnal rounds - publishing in magazines, books, winning awards, "placing" themselves in colleges, & such like... I could have started doing that myself Forty Years Ago if I'd had any sense... instead I became successively Jesus Freak, Music Bum, Hobo, Food Coop Manager, VISTA Volunteer, Junior Politico, Mandelstam Disciple, Family Man, Divorced Family Man... you name it, I've been there. Ranch Hand. Professional Resume Writer. Wholesale Produce Delivery Person. What the heck. (mostly, Sub-Sub-Librarian.)

So, getting back to the Subject... what is AIEE! Poetry, then?

AIEE! Poetry is the poetry of an "internal emigre". This was the Soviet Writers' Union label for a social-professional outcast - basically, a criminalized person under Stalinism - those who survived to milder times to become "dissidents" later - personae non grata, those who (to use the Greek word, lanthanein) (successfully or not) "escape notice"...

& how does one become an AIEE Poet?

There are many paths (& many internalized motives) to this exalted status. I choose to focus only on that aspect of this dilemma which most directly challenges the cultural structure which arranges my placement there (ie. I'm ignoring perhaps even more important, inner, moral or psychological motives). The aspect I'm referring to is the strictly literary or artistic orientation of said emigre.

There are two primary paths in American poetry today which the AIEE! Poet has chosen not to take:

1) The Path of the Professional Poet (PPP). The Professional Poet is the poet who is capable of correlating his or her craft - which may be of a very high calibre - with the established social rewards currently offered (teaching jobs, tours, books, awards & so on). The PP is an upstanding adult member of the World As We Know It - the Institutions & Organs of same. Poetry here is Part of Our World. & a very good Part of Our World it is.

2) The Path of the Oppositional Poet (POP). The Oppositional Poet is the poet who is capable of assimilating his or her craft to an ideology of Revolt of one sort or another. (The really deft OPs combine a Revolting Worldview with the constellation of said established social rewards (see #1 above) - but this is a side issue.) In fact entire large critical-parasitical counter-constellations have arisen, which habitate (in symbiotic survival mode) with the Institutions and Organs of the World As We Know It.

& so where do I, Henry H. Gould, scribbler of long standing, fit in here? Let's ignore the first path for the time being. For 15 years or so I have engaged in dubious battle with by-night armies of the POP variety. & wherefore? Well, there may be all sorts of competitive & aspirational (vain) motives in play... But again, I will emphasize what I think is the critical difference - the disagreements over the nature of poetry & poetic style.

Let me zero in on what I believe to be the crux of the matter. It's this crux of debate which initially arose when I began piping up on the Buffalo Poetics List these many odd eons ago; and I think it has mildly resurfaced again (hence this screed of mine) in the tiffs over Flarf.

The POP trend - originating, perhaps, with the divagations of John Ashbery in Tennis Court Oath, if not before - & leading into the playful ellipses of NY School, & the not-so-playful strictures of the Language School - developed initially in opposition, not only to the Old New-Critical establishment of the 40s & 50s, but also to the simultaneous personalization & informalization (direct colloquial talk) of American poetry of the 60s & 70s, led by Robert Lowell & John Berryman.

POP arose as an effort to differentiate poetry from the undifferentiated flood of prose & prosaic free-verse - & POP tried to do this by way of formalization, abstraction & de-personalization. Hence we have the contemporary anti-dialects of postmodern poetry : the "verbal-material systems" & "procedures" we know so well.

Well, let me tell you, the AIEE! Poet rejects POP in its entirety.

Let's look at the example of Henry H. Gould, for example. How does this particular AIEE! Poet actualize an approach which differs from both #1 & 2 above?

Gould's poetry is founded on two very basic orientations or principles. Firstly, (1) he thinks of poetry as a distinct medium or mode or form of artistic expression, which by means of its roots in past & very ancient practice, maintains a kind of autonomous & healthy - one might say perennial - presence in the cultural-intellectual life of humanity. This distinct and autonomous mode operates as a kind of translating or transfiguring process : absorbing the events & discourses of real history & experience, & reconfiguring or transmuting them into its own distinct idiom. & here is the key corollary : this process of transfigurement is the radical activity of poetry per se, which brackets or supercedes both the ideological (political) and stylistic (aesthetic) dynamics of stylistic change.

Secondly,(2) - with (1) clearly in mind as a basis - Gould's poetry is rooted, along with all authentic poetry, in an inner telos or drive toward clarity, wholeness, and recapitulation (of experience). Poetry, in other words, aspires to simplicity-in-complexity : to the making of a clear & compelling mirror (the simple) of a differentiated and substantial reality (the complex). & this aspiration in turn is grounded in the sense of firm ontological ground itself : an Aristotelian-Aquinian-Maxi-musical notion of a holistic Cosmos consisting of Real, Integral Particulars (Individuals). Things are Real, and unmistakably Themselves (ie. they are not simply identifiable with, or reducible to, their various Descriptions or Labels). History is an Actual Record of the Real Process of the Change & Development of Things through Time. & Poetry is the Distinctive Expression of the Real Individual's Intellectual-Aesthetic Synthesis of the Real Actualities So Described. Personhood & Individuality are substantial and irreducible. So, also, are Intellectual Universals & the Process of History - the relation between the Individual & the Social-Historical (Common, Universal) Actuality.

Poetry, in other words, has a substantial intellectual grounding in Truth. But this grounding is not simply a given : it is the result of the Poet's own effort to discover & synthesize more General Truths. It is the grafting process of the unique & playful act of artistic making with its own wider contexts. Thus Great & True Poetry upholds this crown of artistic endeavor - this grafting process with the intellectual & experiential currents of the Real & Actual Larger World of Time, Space & History - as the real fruit - the ultimate aim & original source - of its own Traditions.

Gould's multifarious extended poetic Projects - all the long & short poems - can thus be viewed as forms of poetic Orientation toward a Larger World. Through the mode of art, poetry invests Experience with formulae of intellectual-emotional Meaning : the underlying structure or holistic arrangement of these discovered Meanings reveals a distinct Viewpoint, which simultaneously expresses Individual Personhood and World-Historical Reality. It becomes a "Henry" World, in other words : "Henry" cannot be exiled from his own verbal model of Truth.

So Henry's status as AIEE! Poet - or Internal Emigre - is like the reversible many-colored coat of that (subjective, artistic) World where Henry is always "at home". & the lights are on.

This orientation - in which Particulars & Individuals are both (1) real & Substantial & Inalienable in Themselves, and (2) part of a Real & Actual World-Historical Process or Drama which is inherently more than the sum of its Descriptions or Verbal Models - is clearly at odds with the POP trend. The POP trend, as a mode of Postmodernism, (1) denies the substantial Reality of said Realities, and (2) replaces them with a variety of Explanatory Overlays : these are the ideological-intellectual Discourses or Filters which POP has adapted to the mode of Poetry. In the process of such they must also Deny the Existence of Poetic Tradition (the mode of perennial Transfigurement I sketched out above). You might fairly ask : how does such Transfigurement differ from the Postmodern Overlay-Description? It differs in that Transfigurement bears witness to an allegiance to Realism or Truth. What Postmodernism (& the POP) denies, the AIEE Poet celebrates.

& It Has Yet to Be Noticed (lanthanein) that the Drama (a comedy of sorts) of the Internal Emigre-Emigre Poet - the irreducible inalienable Henry of American Poetry - is returning, is returning, is returning home again...

(p.s. I have deemed this Blast worthy of postage over at Essays + Reviews...)
- speaking of flarf, I gave a reading last night with major local flarfiste Mike Magee & 3 other poets, down at Tazza, courtesy of the gallant Mairead Byrne's monthly series. read some bits of Lanthanum. Mairead re-recited E. Alexander's inaugural poem, with blues quartet backup. Fun.


Having minor comment-box skirmishes about flarf today, over at Possum Ego. Kind of fun.

Maybe'll spur me on to another screed or manifesto. Oh boy!

from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man :

"--To finish what I was saying about beauty, said Stephen, the most
satisfying relations of the sensible must therefore correspond to the
necessary phases of artistic apprehension. Find these and you find the
qualities of universal beauty. Aquinas says: AD PULCRITUDINEM TRIA
these correspond to the phases of apprehension? Are you following?"

He makes it sound easy... but I'm liking better what I've been delving into in Maximus the Confessor.


- or something like that.

By clear and determinate I'm thinking of Maximus's (Aristotelian) high valuation of the particular individuality of every thing - each part of a whole retains its unity and uniqueness, as part -

the universal only exists in relation to the particular, the specific - & vice versa -

If we have the fortitude to look at time & space & history & experience as real, actual - then part of the poet's task might be to grasp & reflect, as clearly as possible, this set of limited and determinate actualities - & synthesize them, transpose them into form(s) of intellectual meaning - & in the process express the very unique whatness & quiddity of himself or herself, as unique being/creature/person... this I think is in line with both GM Hopkins & Joyce... doesn't Hopkins call it "selving"? Maybe not. Inscape. & History.

(For Maximus this harmonic many-in-one is underwritten by the utterly ungraspable simplicity, unity & quiddity of its Creator... the integrity of wholes & individuals is an imperfect reflection of that incommensurable divine integrity...)

But the recent generations of postmodern poetics (from Buffalo unto Flarf) seem determined to dismiss & deny such quidditas...

- more later maybe -


Lanthanum, today.


Great slang over at Latta today. I'd hate to see him wing into me. Loved the photograph at the end of the post.
I had been planning to look for John Berryman's grave while I was in Minnesota over the holidays. Resurrection Cemetery, in Mendota, just south of Twin Cities (across Minnesota River). Didn't get to it. Too durn cold. Maybe this summer, if I get out there.

I did visit (Frank Gehry-designed) little museum on U. of M. campus (Weisman Gallery) - just down River Road from parents' house. Big picture windows look out on Washington Ave. Bridge. The museum is located in a corner of riverbank where Berryman took his fatal leap.

Why this particular interest? Well, I feel personal connections. Have written about this before. (I guess he's part of this whole elegiac-homesick attitude I have about my home town - that's one aspect of it, anyway.)

& he's kind of a liminal-pivotal figure, between old & new. ie. the scholarly attitude (even though he failed at it much of the time). The Shakespeare studies, his devotion to Yeats, his old-time bardic-vocal manner. These are the "old". The new is - personal-confessional-anecdotal-slangy style. & how he grew out, or away from, some of the egotism of that (in an excruciating way) toward the end. A purgatorial path. Into the cold & snow. Sad but real. He carried a lot of psychological burdens - "inner demons", as they say.

("dream songs" - a phrase the Ojibwa used to describe their music.)

"Resurrection Cemetery" - a pretty good general description of human history & life on earth.


Maybe Hobo is to Henry as "Henry" is to Berryman. They might start dancing around in a circle soon. There's something of each of them in the others.

Lately writing poems feels very much like sailing a small boat through mist & fog, near a shoreline, or islands. I have my primitive compass, boat, rudder & sail - that is, the basic themes (more like perpetual problems) I keep obsessing about. & I have only the vaguest idea where I'm headed (though I try very hard to discover that). But as long as I keep working at it - & it is work of a sort - then unexpected little details of sea- & landscape tend to crop up.


S'more Lanthanum.


Lanthanum slowly advances...

& Happy MLK Day...


Latest Lanthanum news.


& yet a little more (secretive) Lanthanum-emission.
A topical addition to Lanthanum, today.


...more from me on Acmeism, from a while ago. Thanks again to Octopus magazine.

On the bit about "capaciousness" & Whitman etc., toward the end - circumference - see these further thoughts in a mini-essay called "How to Read a Long Poem", here.

"Circumference" = ...kenosis.
The Renaissance philosopher/theologian Nicolas Cusanus wrote of an understanding of the divine as a "conjunction of opposites". He opposed this form of logical contradiction to what he saw as the over-rationalization & superficial verbalizing of late Scholasticism.

In a kind of elaboration on this basic idea, he wrote about humankind's intellectual activity and perception as the construction of a "conjectural world". The reality we see and experience is a fully-human construct, because our perception is filtered through the limitations of human vision & understanding. Our conjectural world is not exactly equivalent to the real or actual world, which is God's Creation.

Our conjectural world and the actual world are united, according to Cusanus, by the revelation of Christ - the Incarnation, the Redemption. The Incarnation itself is understood as a wonder, a logical contradiction, a conjunction of opposites (infinite/finite, spirit/flesh, time/eternity, mortal/immortal...).

I seem to take a perpetual interest in these thinkers who stand at the borderline between humanism and theological vision : Cusanus, George Berkeley, Wallace Stevens... They themselves are fascinated by this oscillation between the "artifice" of our perceptual world and the world as it actually is.

I have a feeling Teilhard de Chardin, the 20th-cent. Catholic theologian, might be of interest here (I have an old book of his on my shelf, which I haven't read yet).

The theology of the 2nd Coming or Eschatology... the inkling that if you put together an understanding of the 3rd Person of the Trinity - the Holy Ghost - with the idea of the transpersonal unity of the Church (the "Body of Christ") - & combine these with a sense of the historical destiny of humankind as a species...

I mean I'm imagining far into the future here, and identifying the scriptural image of "the Son of Man" with a Teilhardian concept of "species-Man". Man as Imago of God united with humanity's "conjectural" (constructed) world. The georgic/Virgilian ideal of a renewal or recreation of the earthly Paradise, humanity's ultimate harmonization with the natural world of the earth & the social-political world... The long, slow destiny of Mankind-as-Gardener, who will, as Faulkner said in his Nobel speech, not only survive, but ultimately prevail. I'm always reminded, in this context, of the (quietly hilarious, heartfelt) episode in the Gospels, at Easter, when Mary Magdalen discovers the empty tomb, & sees Jesus standing nearby, & at first mistakes him for the gardener...

(some of this "gardener" impulse surfaces at the very end of Stubborn Grew... the Joycean bit with Anna Akhmatova rambling on pilgrimage toward Oxford to get her honorary degree, cheered on by rural farm-folk...)

I think this kind of visionary impulse underlies three deep & ancient channels of intellectual labor : epic/dramatic poetry, prophetic witness, & philosophy... it underlies Dante's integration of political & theological hope.

Here the historical work of Redemption replaces the cyclical or fatalistic tendency of traditional religion and Stoic philosophy... this-world optimism replaces otherworldly pessimism... Russian Acmeism supercedes Symbolism...

(there is some of this also in the "Joachimite" (Joachim of Fiore - another Joycean figure) undercurrent in that other book, Rest Note...)


new nonsense at Lanthanum...
"hide & seek with the Father" (or Mother, or Other) - this little phrase disguises a very profound idea, about the human person's inner or spiritual orientation toward divine or metaphysical Personhood... "humanism", indeed.
In Hope Against Hope, Nadezhda Mandelstam repeatedly evokes something she calls "humanism", or "traditional humanism", by which (I think) she means the basic ordinary values underlying normative civil society and social life, basic human kindliness and sense of mutual responsibility, sanity, "piety" in the old sense, natural law, the golden rule, simple good nature, the "love your neighbor" ethic... - which she records being systematically wiped out under Stalin, and which she found in paradoxical places (not so much among the intelligentsia, as among the humblest & poorest workers & displaced peasants, who helped the Mandelstams on their hard road).

It seems to me that - with respect to this sense of "humanism" - M.'s notion of the cultural meaning of Redemption - as sketched in the unfinished essay "Pushkin & Scriabin" - is enormously rich in implications & possibilities.

As I noted before here, his idea that the once-&-for-all Redemption sets culture & art free, for spiritual play - "hide & seek with the Father", as he puts it - could be aligned with a sort of classicism. This is so because any concept of Redemption is underwritten by a certain certainty about the divine purpose : the Redemption is a showing-forth of divine providential wisdom & plan. Such belief in divine plan is not solely Christian, but structures most ancient religious thought & culture. One can see it in the Stoic's acceptance of destiny, the amor fati. One can see it in all kinds of fatalistic determinism, religious & philosophical. One of the hallmarks of "classicism" in art is its expressive awareness & representation of "the way things are", the way things cannot otherwise be.

(Simone Weil wrote some penetrating essays on this topic, which offer an interesting parallel to Mandelstam's orientation. She focused on ancient Greek concepts of beauty, necessity, and mediation - and their analogues in Christian concepts of nature and grace.)

But there is something else going on with Mandelstam & his neo-classical Acmeism, something which actually opposes fatalism & any kind of indifference. M. likened the poet or artist to the "grateful guest" in the beautiful & tremendous "palace" of the earth, nature, Creation. This is one expression of the specifically Christian grounding of the idea of Providence in the love-relationship between creature & Creator. The artist - & the human being generally - fulfills his or her nature most completely, by embracing this playful relationship of love & trust between the human and the divine. Life here is given complete meaning within the circle defined by the radius of relation between creature & Creator. This is indeed a specifically religious (as well as philosophical) way or means of understanding the nature of the cosmos & our experience of life. (If our ultimate understanding of experience is shaped by a loving relation between creature and Creator - well, there are implications here not only about fate & destiny & plan, but also about (playful) freedom - the spiritual freedom of the children of God, in the Pauline sense.)

My own interest, for a while now, has been to explore how such a worldview can be synthesized with the specific powers & qualities of making my poems, & with poetry in general (how, in this context, the manner & discourse of poetry relates/contrasts to other forms of human expression). Along with recognizing the human (and personal) limitations on any such verbal formulae or "explanations" of experience : since there is always a deeper level, oftentimes shunted aside or avoided - a more acute angle of perception, a blindspot...


new stuff at Lanthanum.


...please friends, forgive the bravado. Indulge my quirks. No, don't indulge them. Just buy my books! Ha!
Found this NY Times science article on blindsight very interesting (you may need to sign up to read this).

Poetry (in my case, anyway) seems to depend on a sort of unconscious instinct or imaginative conception... I often feel like I'm "feeling my way", stumbling along with my fingers extended (on the piano...). It's always been like this. I started writing when I was 4 yrs old (see sidebar for example). Music & poetry have gone together.

You start writing when there's a balance between the conception in your mind, and a few words & lines (for me it's usually an opening line). This preliminary balance gives you the confidence to go forward... & sometimes there are clusters or offshoots from a theme or word or idea (Mandelstam often worked thus).

Now I keep going back to these long strung-out modes (cf. Lanthanum). There's a cost involved (or maybe many costs!) - ie. a certain indirectness... I don't take on a topical or social topic so directly and clearly as I used to do, the way most good poetry does... I work on this sort of vague architectural impulse, trying to synthesize, evoke and project a holistic vision of reality & history, my view of things-as-they-are...

I still get rejected by the major magazines all the time. I'm not good enough for them, I guess. Funny thing is I still think I'm the best U.S. poet alive today. What the hell (bravado speaking).

I don't build my poems - my poems have built me. I work slowly & quietly, on my own. The poems span a continuum from the simple to the complex. I think many of the old poems, even of 30 yrs ago, remain valid & interesting. I go into regions few have explored. I have a musical sense.

Let them laugh, let them scoff, let them brush me off. Language has a stubborn lastingness. Maybe I will have the last laugh.

Mandelstam had an attitude I admire, a sort of faith or fatalism in the role of the poet - something that can never be dislodged from people's lives. Poetry is there, wherever the free mind & heart are responding to what happens to them in this violent world. "the well is always there". M. would say things to his wife & friends like "if the poet has something to say, he (or she) will make himself heard". (I'm not quoting exactly.) "If they need it, it will be found." He had this very weird confidence in the objective reality of poetry, & how it reaches into the people & culture from which it emerged. Poetry was healing & joy & gracefulness, it's there because people need it, & want it. Basically, he knew his own strength - & he also didn't care that much about his own "literary fortunes". He didn't worry about it. He was too absorbed in the poetry itself, & all the poets & poetry around him. He was a Pushkinian. And Pushkin was Mozartean. The gift was there - the music flowed. Everything else was a sideshow.


Lanthanum continues.

Ol' Henry in more Shelleyan days (early '80s). The little Dutch fellow there? My son Alex.


New rim-shot at Lanthanum.

There's a great passage from Hope Against Hope (maybe I can post it tomorrow) in which Mandelstam (via Nadezhda M.) contrasts poets & popular novelists - the latter decanting their gnosis from a superior (flow of liquids) position, down into the masses... whereas the former - the poets - are so busy with the spirit of inner building - akin to the scientific spirit, the selfless devotion to Riddles - they are so busy with their inward vocation - that they are like all the other mute confused ordinary people - ie. they don't talk down to their readers - they are one with their readers -

anyway, I experience this, working on my "quarrels with myself" - dimensions of inward memory -

poetry is truly a sort of pharmakon - the poison that heals - akin to fasting or prayer... very much akin, indeed, to pasting or (State) Fair...

Poetry is, as they say, memory & invention. Poetry is discovery through blindness.

(p.s. re this poem - over the holidays I was in Minneapolis, & went back to the Art Institute with my 81-yr-old mother... there's a wonderful (& early) "installation" piece - basically a walk-through standard "apartment building", much like the ones my grandfather Gould managed (& his father built) along the River Rd., & where I spent my 1st 2 years... (1952-54)...

- you walk into this grungy space & listen at the doors... when you bend your head toward the apt. door, a recording comes on, of whatever apt-like life is happening inside... you have to understand, this is so upper-midwest... so Twin Cities... we all lived (& still do) in these places... & you have to understand - I am not condescending here. We love these cozy-desolate places... they are home...

I don't know the name of the artist... but it's a permanent installation...)


Late-breaking news at Lanthanum.
Mandelstam : "Words are sheer pleasure, a cure for anguish."

This is quoted by Nadezhda Mandelstam in an important chapter in Hope Against Hope, titled "The Earth and its Concerns". About Acmeism & Symbolism, & the philosophical currents in early 20th-cent. Russia which underlay these literary attitudes or movements. Mandelstam &/vs. the thinker Berdiayev...

Here she also quotes her husband : "Thanks to the wonderful bounty of Christianity, the whole of our two-thousand-year-old culture is the setting of the world free for play, for spiritual pleasure, for the free imitation of Christ." She emphasizes M.'s attitude as the "grateful guest" :

"In his essay 'The Morning of Acmeism' he tried to give poetic justification for remaining attached to earth with its three dimensions : 'The earth is not an encumbrance or an unfortunate accident, but a God-given palace.' This is followed by a polemical passage about people who, like Berdiayev, cannot wait to get to a better world and regard life on earth as being literally God-forsaken. In the same essay, which was a kind of manifesto, he asked : 'What would you think of a guest who, while living at the expense of his host and enjoying his hospitality, actually despises him in his heart of hearts and thinks only of ways to outsmart him?' 'Outsmart' here means to escape from time and three-dimensional space. To M., as a self-styled Acmeist, three-dimensional space and life on earth were essential because he wanted to do his duty by his 'host' - he felt he was here to build, which can only be done in three dimensions. This explains his attitude toward the world of things. In his view, the world was not hostile to the poet or - as he put it - the builder, because things are there to be built from. Stone - the title of M.'s first published collection of poems [and mine] - is a building material which 'seems to crave for another mode of being' and longs to find its place in 'a vaulted nave' and thus joyfully interact with others of its kind. M. never talked of 'creating' things but only of 'building' them." [p. 266]

This passage and others like it had a very formative influence on me back in the 1970s. Imagine their effect on someone whose maternal grandfather built grain elevators and docks and other giant structures around the upper midwest; whose paternal great-grandfather arrived in Minneapolis in the 1870s on a steamboat, when the town was young, and set about building houses...

Here's a simple (beginner's) poem from my own first book, Stone (Copper Beech Press, 1979).

to N.M.

Under the mountain's weight,
the snow, the roaring waterfalls,
cold heights where the earth
stretches herself under clouds -
under the weight of mountains,
the dead weight of decaying soil
turns coal dust into diamonds.

Stone is clumsy, and groans -
red earth crushes the blind,
stones long to leap in the archway.

A willow-tree stands by the river
and sighs; the warm season rolls away
over flat water, the mirror of dusk.

In the shadow of the furrowed hills,
brick towers, open wounds and streets,
an echo floats in the falling air,
a birdsong stifled in the ribcage.
Belly and tongue have sealed a pact,
loins and heart have been enticed,
the whole city trembles; blind feet
drum the earth for their very lives.
And a woman wearing a veil of memories
draws from the pebbles her ancient signs:
feathers, broken shells, and sky.


new Lanthanum exhibit, over here...
The Redemption, you might say, is one of the consequences of the interpenetration of divine and human things. Mandelstam (in "Pushkin and Scriabin") sketches it as the act which "saves" the world, sets it fundamentally right : and since this has been definitively accomplished, once and for all, there is no need to re-invent the wheel, so to speak : the artist can simply be grateful for what has been done, and set to work (playfully) to celebrate that redeemed world.

It's a funny idea, easy to criticize from several angles. (There's a kind of underlying classicism to it, which maybe M. soaked up from Pushkin, Gumilev, Annensky, Soloviev... something Petersburgian. I don't know.)

But if we accept that there might be a grain of truth in it, what follows? If we say that the central dispute in American poetry has been between Memory and Invention, what would be the effect of Mandelstam's formula on this situation?

In order to accept or understand the notion of an act of divine Redemption in human history, we would have to be able, logically, to reconcile passing human experience with a kind of Absolute. Time with Eternity - the pleroma, the "fulness of Time". (Sounds like T.S. Eliot a little bit. I am curious now to read an Eliot biography - find out something about his reliigous conversion(? or return) in the 20s. There's Berryman, too, toward the end of his life...)

Perhaps an intellectual reconciliation of history with eternity would lay the groundwork for, would be one of the contributing factors toward, a reconciliation of memory and invention in art. Tradition and the new. The creative Now with its matrix, its context in Memory.
My (seemingly one-way) disagreement with John Latta last month, over the merit/authenticity of a poem by Wallace Stevens, is kind of funny, since I was the one who "framed" him (Latta) with Stevens (in a review of Breeze).

Today he has some interesting comments on sentences & lines, & quotes Lyn Hejinian quoting Soviet writer Osip Brik. Here's Nadezhda Mandelstam on Brik (which I read in Hope Against Hope a couple days ago):

"In the poetry of the period he (Mandelstam) prophesies the onset of dumbness ('human lips preserve the form of the last word they have uttered' - in 'Finder of a Horseshoe', 1923). It was in fact this line that Brik and Tarasenkov seized on as proof that M. had 'written himself out' - they gave little thought to the real sense of the poem before pronouncing this judgement. For them all means were fair in the struggle. Brik had turned his apartment into a place where his colleagues in the Cheka... could meet with writers and sound out public opinion, simultaneously collecting information for their first dossiers. It was here that M. and Akhmatova were first branded as 'internal emigres' - a label which was to play an important part in their subsequent fate." (N. Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope; The Modern Library, trans. Max Hayward)


The underlying give-&-take in American poetry : Memory and Invention.

Since Emerson, Invention has taken 1st place. The New American is a New Adam in a New World. Imagination creates its own History.

& there is some philosophical or theological validity to this perspective. For example, it is possible to interpret the sacred books of Christianity to support such a view, with one caveat : the "newness" of the New Adam was only made possible by one ineradicable historical event : the Redemption.

Obviously this particular caveat imposes a crux of dissonance or disagreement. But see Mandelstam's essay "Pushkin and Scriabin", which - at least in its own terms - resolves this problem (the problem or crux which divided Eliot from Pound, WC Williams and Stevens, in variant ways).

The mother of the Muses is Memory, according to the ancient Greeks. In the old days, poets were the professional rememberers, the technicians of mnemonics. But what is the American poet called upon to remember? I believe this is a philosophical & theological question. (Eliot raised it, in a deliberately provocative way - as a traditionalist... But I don't think traditionalism for its own sake is the answer. One has to rethink the issues in every era.)

What we are called upon to remember is our relationship to God : ie., the nature of the Trinity. A reality which involves Incarnation : the Word made Flesh. This is a hard thing to understand, put baldly like this (believe me, I know).

The poet remembers reality - as a familial relationship of spiritual and physical Persons. And such a memory has logical consequences for every aspect of life : historical, social, political, philosophical, scientific...

A familial relationship... I am thinking of the unique capacity of poetry, along with the other arts, to imagine and conceptualize and evoke the special vitality and emotional resonance of existence - to clothe it in human meaning. No other form of expression seems capable of even approaching the unspoken familial-theological sense of Reality and Universe that we are addressing (with our blunt instruments of religious vocabulary...)


Mandelstam's life & fate take on a clearer resonance when you see that he was re-enacting, with some solemnity (as was Akhmatova), Pushkin's war of independence - for a free literary culture, for the dignity of the (raznocinets, un-privileged, non-elite, egalitarian) writer - for free literature, free speech... & his poems (Mandelstam's) meanwhile form a very special & complex Petersburgian isomorph or palimpsest interwoven with Pushkin's... (like Nabokov, in another key)...

(something addressed, sort of mock-epic fashion, in "Henry's" search for "Pushkin the cat", in Stubborn Grew...)
I'm re-reading Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoir, Hope Against Hope, which I must have last (re-)read about 20 years ago. This book has always been my Bible (aside from the Bible).

It seems as if the simple power of this book sort of spoiled me for contemporary American poetry. The basic organizing factor of contemporary American poetry seems to me to have been the ignorance of this book. "Simple power" is a good phrase for it. Reading it is like drinking cold, clear water. After it, most things American seem too nervous, too baroque, too cynical, too ironic, too self-centered...

I guess my stance might be abjured for a number of reasons. It would be seen as either naive & irrelevant hero-worship, or self-serving one-upmanship. All I can do is refer back to the power of the book itself, and the impact it had on me, for the first time, around 1977.

Passages like this :

"M. told me that in his poem about the singer with the low voice there was a merging of two images: the woman from Leningrad and Marian Anderson [whom he'd heard singing on the radio]. On the day he was composing this poem, I didn't realize he was working, because he was lying quiet as a mouse. Restlessness was the first sign he was working on something, and the second was the moving of his lips. In one poem he says that his lips can never be taken away from him, and that they will still move when he is dead and buried. This has indeed happened."

[see the opening of Stubborn Grew. I don't think I was consciously thinking of Mandelstam when I wrote the first line : "Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay."]

Or this passage :

"The work of the poet, as the vehicle for world harmony, has a social character - that is, it is concerned with the doings of the poet's fellow men, among whom he lives and whose fate he shares. He does not speak 'for them', but with them, nor does he set himself apart from them : otherwise he would not be a source of truth.
"I was always struck by the absolute character of the urge to serve - with and among one's fellow men - as an instrument by which harmony reveals itself. I can understand Shevchenko's lament - which M. appreciated only too well - about the way his poetry would not leave him alone, bringing him nothing but misery and not allowing him to pursue his craft as a painter, the one thing that gave him pleasure. The urge ceases to be felt only when the poet's material begins to run out - that is, when his contact with the world at large is broken and he no longer hears his fellow men or lives with them. There can be no poetry without such contact, which is the source of the poet's sense of 'rightness'."

The "absolute character of the urge to serve" as an "instrument by which harmony reveals itself". Good will, in other words. Good will & the vocation of the poet. This is very simple & profound & 'right'. [quotes taken from translation by Max Hayward, edition publ. by Modern Library]

& I guess I was somewhat prepared for the simple power of this book by prior intensive reading (roughly 1973-1977) of... the Bible.
New addition over at Lanthanum. Happy Newe Year, friends!