Happy Spring.... I wonder if people remember Go Little Sparrow? The music is still there, to enjoy... it's rough & ready, hit or miss...
& so the conclusion of Lanthanum, Bk 2.


Sort of exuding Lanthanum... like a sap.
Sent this comment to Harriet blog :

"...The anxious aura around poetry. But I don't think it's only a matter of feeling intimidated by "not understanding". If people can read & understand all kinds of prose books, they can understand poetry.

Poetry does not fit neatly into substantial "book" form. The reader cannot relax into the comfy alternate prose world. The "packaging" is thin. The difference between prose & poetry is this dramatic IMMEDIACY - the same sense of vague threat or discomfort you may feel from sitting too close to the stage at live theater. Is it "real" or is it "fiction"? Is it art, or is it this person in my face, so to speak, talking straight at me?

Poets in person have been Sacred Monsters, surrounded by this aura of unpredictable immediacy, since the days of Dylan Thomas & before (say, back to the Hebrew prophets, & Plato...). Popular poets sometimes get around this by assuming a kind of camouflage (familiar example : Robert Frost, in his complete Old Yankee outfit). You never know about poets. They are longhairs. They may be lunatics.

Accept the perennial reality of the Sacred Monster, folks. Learn to live with poetry's essential strangeness. The straw man of "difficult" Modernism is not the problem. The dream of domesticating poetry, of measuring its "popularity" like other forms of art & entertainment, will never come true. It died with the Fireside Poets, smoking their pipes under the iron rooftops of Victorian Scientific Progress. It died with the Restoration Wits, jingling along with their metrical cribs of Rationalism. It's always dying off, shedding its skin. Dionysius is always lurking in the woods nearby."


Lanthanum, drawing toward the close of Bk 2.


Laborious Lanthanum finds its own way home.
Swamped with work lately, etc. Hence lack of bloggismo.

Today finished G. Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook. Hope to have something to say about it in a review. Strongly affecting. & I found it fascinating.

& not by any means because of all the "local references". That's just an extra. But Gudding "ploughs his (alternating) verses" with a prosody made up of back-&-forth road trips from Providence RI to Normal IL (he writes the poem while driving, using his very special fountain pens); the turning-points of these repeated journeys are at a gas station 3 blocks down Hope St. from my house.

Today finished RI Notebook, 1:15. pm 3/24/09. (Was one of 2 witnesses at GG wedding, of which he writes. Also, once upon a time, noticed child's artwork in chalk on sidewalk near home; wrote poem about it; sent poem to Gudding 4 yrs later, not knowing artwork had been drawn & signed by his daughter Clio...) Tonight 3/24 go with Sarah to see lawyer, to sign my/our first Will & Testament.


Yet again Lanthanum.



Lanthanum rolls on.

(Also some major repairs to an earlier section.)



More Lanthanum.
Getting into a debate with Bill Knott, over at Harriet. I expect more fireworks.


Reading G. Gudding's road poem, Rhode Island Notebook. Not very far along. So far, is HILARIOUS. A "gas". But more than that.



(The (re)discovery of a pretty convincing portrait of William Shakespeare has reminded me of my long-ago psychic encounter with the Bard. It's a long story. My apologies to those who've heard it before.)

In the fall of 1972 I was a junior at Brown University, majoring in the new discipline of "Semiotics" (which meant, for me, taking poetry-writing seminars). I had come to Brown in 1970 on the strength (I believe) of a college application essay which was actually a long poem, inspired by the New York School poets, especially (Rhode Island native) Ted Berrigan. (I was not new to poetry : had been writing it since junior high.) During my first two years there I was very prolific, really blooming as a "NY School" ephebe. I won the two poetry awards which were to be won on campus.

But by the fall of '72, I was losing confidence & peace of mind; became depressed & withdrawn. I had broken off two love relationships in quick succession, & was feeling ashamed & guilty. Poetic effusions were not coming so easily (I was reading more). Then in early December, my cousin of the same age, Juliet, jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. This left me badly shaken & sad.

Around then, I began reading Shakespeare's Sonnets for the first time. From my viewpoint over 30 years later, I can't help but think my response to these poems had something to do with my very melancholy state of mind.

The Sonnets struck me in a very powerful, uncanny way, such as I have never known before or since. I felt that Shakespeare, in person, was addressing me - speaking to me alone, in person.

This experience triggered a few days of lightheaded euphoria & wonder. Yet in the midst of it, I was clearly aware of its irrationality. I was not one for ghosts & spirits. It disturbed me so much that within the next few weeks, I decided to renounce poetry altogether. An occult connection with the ghost of Shakespeare was not going to help me emerge from my depression. I changed my major to History, and worked very hard through the spring semester to do well in that new direction. I thought I might take after my father, and become a lawyer, instead of a poet.

Over the following summer, I worked on a ranch in Wyoming with my younger brother Jim, haybaling mostly. It was hard work, & I felt invigorated & confident heading back to Brown in the fall. (In the evenings, on the ranch, I had read the Revised Version of the Bible, straight through - and this had perhaps an even deeper (though not exactly "occult") impact on me than did the Sonnets.) Indeed, I was so confident, I thought to myself - "What the heck, I'll take another look at the Sonnets. No harm in that."

This was the beginning of what exploded into an intense, manic mental breakdown. It was in the late afternoon or evening that I began re-reading the Sonnets. Slowly, inexorably, the sensation returned : Shakespeare was talking to me. This time the feeling was stronger than it had been the first time. I thought the ghost of Shakespeare was in the room. I moved into an overwhelming state of excitement & self-confidence - a kind of mania. I didn't sleep over the course of the next 3-4 days. Soon, I started writing long, rhymed poems about episodes in American history. I started a series of poems on the 50 states. I saw myself as becoming the American Shakespeare, with the blessing of the Bard himself. I distributed my new poems to friends & faculty (in particular, poet & scholar Edwin Honig). I was on cloud nine.

Then, after a day or so, my manic "fury" began its downward spin. I began to doubt myself, my sanity - but most of all my spiritual state. I had been baptized & brought up Episcopalian, but felt no strong Christian leanings until that summer in Wyoming, & reading through the Bible. Some words from Ecclesiastes seemed aimed like arrows directly at me : "And I saw that youth, the second one, he who is to come after : and he was lord over all the people : and yet this too is vanity, and a striving after wind." Suddenly the notion struck me that this Shakespeare ghost was actually a demonic spirit, from the depths - tempting me onto a path of worldly vainglory, and eventual soul-loss & damnation...

I couldn't sleep. I rushed around campus, desperately retrieving the poems I had just passed around. I went to Prof. Honig's house, & his wife, with a quizzical look, let me in; I shuffled through the papers in his study, without success. She told me he was meeting a friend up in Boston. I went directly to the bus station & headed to Cambridge; there, on a hunch, I went to the Grolier Bookshop. The red-haired manager told me Edwin would be arriving shortly. I sat down to wait; when Edwin arrived with another Brown prof, I accosted him - demanded he return my poems. & when he said it would have to wait, I grew agitated, tried to explain the urgency of the situation - eventually broke down in tears... Honig, that very kind man, took me to a Cambridge health clinic. He & his colleague had their dinner there, in the cafeteria, with me : & eventually I calmed down enough to make my way back to Brown.

Back in my dorm, I was still in a manic state. A new paranoid element entered in. I began to worry that Harry, a friend of mine, a fellow-poet & Brown student, might steal my poems - & turn himself into some kind of worldly Poet-Dictator. My thoughts had no rational brake : what I thought would most certainly come to pass. I fell into despair; it seemed the Devil had already fooled & overcome me. I was not to be this glorious American Literatus : instead I was merely an accessory to the coming crime.

The old Faust-story washed over my imagination. At this point, I knelt beside my bed, and began to pray. I begged God to save me, to relieve this mental and moral torment. I remember this very clearly : there was a bedside clock. It was near midnight. And at the very stroke of midnight, there was a knock at the door.

I jumped up, trembling all over. I thought the Devil was at the door, to fetch me. Shouting out, "this is the bravest thing I've ever done!", I cracked open the door.

It was not the Devil. It was Arnold Weinstein, Brown English professor, who happened also to be the resident dorm advisor. I heaved a great sigh, full of gratitude & relief. He invited me down to his rooms, introduced me to his family, calmed me down... The next day, the college advised me to go home for a week, rest, & get a psychiatric evaluation before coming back. My parents happened to be coming East to visit my mother's old college friend - Alexandra Weinstein (no relation); so I went back home with them.

However, the battle was not over. The paranoid, apocalyptic fixed idea - that my friend Harry would steal my poems, use them for evil purposes of world domination - was planted deep. I rested up at home; I met with a psychiatrist, & put him at ease. (I showed him some of the poems I had recently written, including a long one about the duel between Hamilton & Burr. He told me he wasn't much of a poetry reader, & that he might be a little biased, since he was a direct descendant of Aaron Burr.) Meanwhile, I went and bought a pistol. I had figured out a test. If, when I got back to Brown, I discovered that Harry had broken into my room & taken my manuscripts, I would do away with both him & myself...

The night before I was to go back, I was down in my parents' basement (where I was staying) with my younger brother Mike; sitting together on the bed, I told him the entire story, including my plan. By the time I was finished, we were both trembling. (All my life I have been ashamed of the fact that I laid the burden of that knowledge on my little brother.)

As I was going to sleep that night, I seemed to regress into a more childlike state. In the midst of my fevered imagination, I was afraid of what was coming. I didn't want to hurt anyone; I didn't want to die. I started crying quietly. My kind father came down the stairs; he rested his hand on my forehead, told me everything would be all right. I went to sleep. The next morning, just as I was waking up, I heard a voice, not my own - seemingly emerging from my chest. The voice was saying the Lord's Prayer.

When I got back to my dorm room at Brown, no one had broken in. I threw the pistol in the Seekonk River, where I suppose it remains to this day. I tried to start up with school again, and lasted about a month. The strange & charismatic experiences I had undergone were too overpowering for me to continue. My holy-fool/Jesus-freak wandering times were about to begin. I threw my record collection and most of my belongings in a dumpster. I worked a couple weeks as a cook in a local Pancake House to earn a little money. Then I took my guitar & set out on the road.


Surprised to learn over the weekend (from local paper) that the John Hay Library, across the street from my place of work, houses (in a secure vault) Walt Whitman's personal copy of Leaves of Grass. (& that's a bust of Dante, outside the building, on the left.)

Seems lately I'm travelin' along with my own daily leaf-grass kind of thing (Lanthanum). Or maybe more like tree rings. Lanthanum gradually extending as a calendar-line through cyberspace.


Some new Lanthanum.


Over at Plumbline : Sense of Being Right.


New Lanthanum. (Also slight changes to last stanza of #14.)
Excerpt from an old essay ("Journey to Hoboken") first published in Witz, 12 yrs ago. A report on a Russian-American poetry conference I attended, in Hoboken NJ. (I've reprinted the whole thing over at Essays + Reviews)

"Craft and personality (passion) have always been rivals,
variables. Now toss in another variable--history. Enlightened
America protects the Individual proper (properly tied), to the
"detriment" of State and Religion. Russia experiences the
reverse. In America, the Individual, so glorified, becomes
commodified; in Russia, the Individual, so abased, becomes a cog.
The old East/West yeast. . .

Modernism, experiment, avant-garde. . . these in the West mean
subsuming the Individual to Craft, for the sake of utopia.
Postmodernism, in the West, is only blurredly differentiated from
the above, a reaction. Modernism, avant-garde, etc., in Russia
mean the same thing: subsuming the Individual. Now refer back to
paragraph #1 (history). So postmodernism means. . . something
very different, in Russia. It strongly opposes modernism and the
avant-garde from beforehand. It means the tradition of the
human, the primordial, the transcendent--a utopia beyond
"utopia"--and beyond the reach of power, force, and will. Only
miracle and grace achieve utopia. This is the Russian

Everything is reducible to Futurism vs. Acmeism. Miracle and
grace have aesthetic implications.

* * *

Still--who or what is this mysterious Person, this Personality,
this Personalism? Are we to fall back into the blasted
ego-poetries of the seventies, into the nightmare of pale baby
Shakespeares, the filigree of greed and self-promotion? (Have we
even awakened yet?)

Once, in the nineteenth century, there was a Russian thinker
named Chaadev, a bold explorer, akin perhaps to Emerson. He
journeyed into the West, but then returned, called back to his
homeland by a sense of duty; bringing with him, like an unwelcome
prophet, a Western lesson--the gospel of moral freedom.

What is this moral freedom? A word, a phrase-capsule, for a
concept of the basic dignity of the human spirit--resting on the
human being's capacity to dedicate herself or himself--out of love
and piety (in its full uncanniness) and daring--to something
better, something beyond self, some One, some Other, some others.
The vanishing point where "moral" and "freedom" fuse.

Part of the artistic and identity crisis of the West has been the
fracture of the Person: the demand, the pull from both Right and
Left on behalf of either autarkic or subliminal--either nostalgic
or futuristic--concepts of justice and the good. Like mirror
images, Right and Left command our allegiance with the full force
of both rhetoric and experience.

Yet perhaps--perhaps by some strange grace, it is Russia--that
great animal, that evil empire, beyond the pale of enlightened
democracies and the full birthright of humanism--impoverished
Russia, suffering Russia, Potemkin Russia--that will return the
gift of Chaadev's moral freedom to the West. Mandelstam wrote
that in such times as these (speaking of his pyramidal, "Assyrian
age"), Man must become the hardest thing in existence, harder
than diamond. The free, loving gift-of-self is the essence of
art and the limit of artistry: but it is another step to
recognize it everywhere as an ontological fundament of reality.
Mandelstam again (trans. Robert Tracy):

It's not Rome the city that lives through the centuries
But man's place in the universal scheme.

This is the voice one hears in the strange, ceremonious finality
of Russian recitation; it is an echo, the curve of a shell, the
arch of a wave, a ghost dance, washing up in Hoboken."
Come in Lanthanum...

(the element "lanthanum", atomic #57, is hexagonal in shape)


Starting to read Gabriel Gudding's Rhode Island Notebook.

It's not easy driving a car nonstop across half the USA by yourself. I've done it a few times; even with one other person, it gets very wearisome about halfway across Pennsylvania (if you leave from Minneapolis), and you just about fall asleep in Connecticut. Imagine writing a long poem while doing that...

The longest such drive I took was in the summer of 1971. I was driving my grandfather's hand-me-down, an enormous old silver Buick. I drove from Mpls to Alabama to see a girlfriend, whom I had tried to break up with, & then changed my mind. Was hoping to set things right. But I hadn't been able to reach her on the phone. Finally, when I called her home from a pay phone outside a truck stop deep in Alabama (she was living with her mother on the southern end of that state), somebody there told me she wasn't home. She had gone to Texas to visit her brother.

I was about out of money & time. I went back to Minneapolis, nonstop. That's a long drive.

Think I'm going to enjoy this book...
Still on about "greatness". Our thanks go to David Orr, for instigating the diligent examination of this quality, by so many persons whose work is defined by the lack thereof.
Reading Gabriel Gudding's A Defense of Poetry (in preparation for Rhode Island Notebook). I'm always a few years behind the times.

Plan to write review of both books. Defense is really something.


Latest Lanthanum.

I'm Play-doughing my own micro-idiolect here... a risky thing.
Easy to pooh-pooh, if you're a poo-poo-er.

Plenty to find fault. Few to enjoy. Fewer to understand. That's the risk. Fewest to care a whit.

I/you have to struggle with/against the incoherent, incomprehensible sing-song.
If it's going to mean anything, in this world of poor mutes.

But nobody plays the guitar like me.

Henry Gould around 1978. (Pretentious prig poet portrait!
Taken by a kid who had reviewed a book of mine for local newspaper.
Was I trying to look like Mandelstam? I never wear hats.)

Before & after. Recognize this old coot?



Lanthanum enters March.