Thinking on God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reading a lot of British philosopher Gillian Rose lately (Dialectic of Nihilism). (Led there by citations in Geoffrey Hill essays.) Reminds me how little philosophy I've studied. Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida... it's all over my head. She makes connections between writing, history, philosophy, religion and law, which I've never thought about before...


Great article in this week's New Yorker on the exiled Russian bells at Harvard.

Toward the end of Forth of July, a section called "The Green Constellation" was conceived with Russian bells in mind (it's also divided into 4 parts, which correspond - using syllable-keynotes - to the 4 tones of the familiar "doorbell ring"). Here's a passage that refers explicitly to the bells.


Made some improvements (I hope) to Lanthanum Road 3.

Condense. Show, not tell. Still very good advice...
Thoughts on Rimbaud from Robert Archambeau. Tres interessante. (He should write more often in this concise notational vein.)


New post over at the Plumbline (on the "broken middle", & Gillian Rose).

Progress in Schooling

Ron Silliman, in his post of today, elaborates further on his taxonomy of the American poetry scene. He sets out all the schools & types & movements & mini-movements of the School of Innovation (my term), & reiterates his notion that the School of Quietude is that vast unexplored region of traditionalist poetry "which tries so very hard to be the unmarked case", the school which will not name itself.

Among other rhetorical questions, he asks, about that space of Quietude : "Not only could such a poet-critic map this space, they could answer some important questions, such as why become the poetry without a name? Why is it so important not to acknowledge the existence of other kinds of poetry?"

It's interesting in this context that he also explains the term "post-avant" - which is his umbrella term for all the innovative branches - as having evolved out of the prior term "avant-garde", which is now obsolete, since said a-g has existed for so long now and become so important that one would have to use the term "avant-garde tradition", to describe it - which is an oxymoron. So "post-avant" is more accurate.

So if the "avant-garde" brand has faded into the past, and "Quietude" is the school that will not name itself, then the "post-avant" poetries dominate a middle space, between two kinds of invisibility...

But to get back to his two questions, above - it seems to me they are related. His "Quietude" covers a vast & varied field of poets and poetry, but perhaps their common characteristic, which defines them as an entity of some sort, is a rejection of the ideology and modus operandi of the School of Innovation. We could describe this praxis in a nutshell as an application, in the field of artistic activity, of the ideology of social-industrial-technological-political Progress - progressive change as an unmixed good. Progressive change requires unremitting, urgent innovations and applications, along with the new names for these entities and activities. Thus in the realm of poetry, a new rhetorical technique will be heralded as a qualitative advance, and a motive for the birth of a whole new poetic "school". Progressive innovation also demands its complement - ie., "the old" : the remainder, the trace, the detritus, the disjecta membra, the waste, the excess... all that stuff which had to be thrown out in order to bring in the new.

Ron's "school without a name" - if it existed - would refuse to name itself, simply because it would not partake in the mythology of mass-industrial innovation in art. If something is not "new", it doesn't need a brand name : it is simply poetry. This relates to Ron's 2nd question, because by the same token, the supposed "quietude" poets would simply not recognize all the various fleets & sub-fleets of the school of Innovation as anything important enough to warrant mention. They might certainly focus on specific poets who have been labeled one way or another : but the branding process itself would be seen as both unimportant and extraneous to the work of finding value in the poetry itself.
Have to re-work, rethink some of Lanthanum Road.


Ars est celare artem

Mark Wallace & Michael Theune are starting to plan an event or conference devoted to the issues of hybrid, avant-garde, poetry style wars, etc. Might be interesting - like the battle of Saratoga.

Two related thoughts on this occur to me :

1) maybe all the brouhaha during the last century over experiment & innovation in poetry should be understood as an epiphenomenon : I mean as an off-shoot of the general zeitgeist of modernization, industrialization. In other words, not so much driven by something within the sphere of poets & poetry-making per se - but a force acting on art from outside. I realize this idea is neither new nor subtle. But it has implications when we think about "what is poetry" in itself (if you agree there is such a thing). I believe there is such a thing. I believe poetry is older & more consistent than changes within poetry. This is not to deny the value & necessity of stylistic & technical change. It is rather to frame their place within something more basic & central.

2) maybe all the fetishizing & obsession with technique (and technical gizmo-tweaking - as in conceptual, flarf, investigative, Language, post-avant, neo-formal, etc etc) - maybe all this para-poetic bubbly activity should be characterized as a logical sub-category of IMITATION. & nothing more than imitation.

Imitation is essentially preliminary to the actual art-process. By foregrounding the incessant & supposedly highly-serious important hugger-mugger over Techtweakish Innovation, poets (& poet-kibitzers) are putting the cart before the horse, turning the inside out. The Innovator will say : why not? The poet, however, might ask a simpler question : why? The cynic in me will suggest that all the group-formation blitzkrieg around technical gizmatics is simply a method to give mediocre & half-formed poets a leg up in that world where lies their main interest : the world of the world, the world of glamour, the world of buzz.

The true ethic is this : poets should front only their finished work. Ars est celare artem.
Lanthanum, version 3.5.


Having fine ol' time reading & trying to follow & make sense of Geoffrey Hill's magisterial criticism (Collected Essays); his arguments go along like by-ways in a morris dance, or some kind of a-symmetrical old cathedral building... can't even try to summarize or paraphrase at this point. Last essay in the book speaks of the "eros" of poetry - but more as a kind of pain of desire, which fulfills itself in "alienated majesty" (tag from Emerson) - alienated from its own historical ground... yet speaking to it. He's against the clever & influential rounding-up of poetry in service of Important Social Crusades (mentioning in this regard, Eliot's culture-criticism, Raymond Williams)... but he also leans against poetry as complacent frippery (late Auden)... calls upon Charles Williams, Gillian Rose, Austin Farrer, other British thinkers & poets, toward an understanding of poetry on its own proper ground, so to speak (actually I'm not speaking so precisely here at all). Duns Scotus, especially GM Hopkins : Aristotle's idea that our generalizations can never be equated with "individual" particulars (Hopkins & "inscape", Scotus' haeccitas) : & this has something to do with poetry's own individuation & integrity... but there is always this moral & historical contextualization (that is, Original Sin : the inevitable evil, the central standing-in-need of grace & redemption) which shades all writings & poetry - the ground-bass of suffering, guilt, mortality which shatters art's (de-humanized) "autonomy"... close here to Celan.

But I started puzzling over what he meant exactly by "eros" (& its mockeries - mentions something about magazine verse & "awkward mating dances")... thought about the fact that most of my own poetry over the last few centuries seems to revolve around or be addressed to someone... (Mandelstam : "the soul is feminine, & loves trifles") -

& Hill mentioned Joyce, which triggered thoughts about the impact of reading Ulysses (& some of the criticism around it) - this sense of creative joy in the image of a particular place, soaked in the moist & alba-atmosphere of some kind of feminine awareness, another mind, another sensibility... somewhat in Pound too, & the "troubadour spirit" leading Dante (in his view, anyway)... Mandelstam : poetry is the "call of the fife"... (Montale, also, a big presence in Hill's poetry...)

not sure exactly what I'm getting at, except maybe the idea of art-making & poetry-making as a form of erotic activity transposed to spirit & sensibility... so busy with its own processes & originality (haeccitas - Hopkins' idea) that it can never be enlisted or reduced to anything... only allowed to flourish, to be what it is....
Deleted recent post on politics. Maybe a mistake. Anyway, impatient with my own conflicts & don't want to subject others to them.


Got myself a copy of Ralph Maud's "counter-biography", Charles Olson at the Harbor (critical of Tom Clark's previous bio). Looking forward to this. Heard about it in Kenneth Warren's magazine, House Organ.


Continuing with G. Hill's essays. Two of them, toward the end, basically take-downs of TS Eliot. Eliot gets no respect from nobody, nowhow, these days. Sometimes the animus on Hill's part seems a little heavy-handed. He puts too much weight, seems to me, on offhand comments Eliot made to a reporter at some verse theater festival in Scotland (part of his evidence for asserting steep decline in quality of Eliot's later poetry).

But right now, Hill's powerful attention & intellect carries a lot of weight with me... just seems pretty obviously to be shaping his British canon - & shoving Eliot down a notch. Maybe he's right. Pointed toward a book by Eliot contemporary Charles Williams (English poetic mind, c. 1932), which sounds pretty good, based on the bits quoted.


Reading fine work by Geoffrey Hill (in Collected Essays) on Emerson, Whitman, GM Hopkins.

From the essay on Hopkins (p. 518) :

"Among the numerous consequences of the era of so-called 'protest art' is the irrational embarrassment of the current reaction against the theme of protest, or of political writings in general. Whatever the excesses and affectations of the 1960s and 70s may have done to harm the cause of poetry, there is nonetheless a real connection between it and politics : as real now, if we could disclose its true stratum or vein, as in the Tudor court poetry of Skelton, Surrey & Wyatt or in the political sonnets of Milton or in the relation between Wordsworth's 'Preface' to Lyrical Ballads and his tract On the Convention of Cintra, or between Whitman's editorials for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and other papers, and Leaves of Grass...
"Civil polity - let us make the claim - is poetry's natural habitat..."

Civil polity is poetry's natural habitat. Curious rhyme there with the likes of Dale Smith or Kent Johnson (& obviously many others). But G. Hill strongly opposes "the divine common" (Whitman) with "the mean, flat average" (Whitman, too). The commerce of literature & po-biz, the power of the Big Cliche, is opposed to true "glory" (in Hill's parlance, both divine & human).

(Did you know he has a poem for/about Jimi Hendrix?)



I was a better blogger 4 years ago.


Today's Lanthanum.


Took Good Friday off. Did my taxes (2 states, 4 hrs - the old way, with pencil). Then sat in little backyard (sun already gone) & read Geoffrey Hill, Collected Essays.

Hill is really the Mountain of poetry in English; the normative, the bringing-it-all-back-home. Hard to follow sometimes, because for him there is a stretch of about 4-500 yrs (1550-2009) of English poetry & prose, which is all one mountain range (are there mountains in England? There are Welsh Hills) to contemplate, take in, evaluate. Serious dark bitter honey. Stringent, accurate, humorous, conscientious... Kind of a deep player, ranging over vast areas of the already-studied, finding new unlooked-for furrows & grooves... in the Book of Everlasting.

I'd like to meet him someday. & write something corrective to the picayune snipes & miss-the-target-by-a-long-shots magazine blab (or maybe I just haven't noticed the more attentive readers).

Stubborn Grew
was finished 11 years ago today (on Good Friday).


The scrambled oeuvre of Henry Gould

Play, play,
it's time to play!
Play all day,
that's what I say!
Your work is done,
come out in the sun -
play, play, play!

If you count this poem I composed at age 4 (in 1956), preserved by my father in pencil on a key tab, I have been writing poetry for over 50 years. Actually, there was a hiatus of about 10 years there, when I played at various other things. I started up again in jr. high school, with the encouragement of good teachers, good books, and fellow student literati. I kept writing through high school, influenced by ee cummings, Rimbaud, the NY School poets... & when I got to college (here at ol' Brown) I really took off : within a year I had won 3 literary awards. I was on my way.

Then I had my strange encounter with Shakespeare & the Bible... dropped out of school, dropped (partially) out of poetry... traveled around, was at various times a missionary of one, music bum, organic gardener, food coop manager, community organizer. Discovered the life & poetry of Osip Mandelstam. Began to read modern long poems (Pound, Williams, Olson...). Got married, became a father. My last job outside the library (I was scraping the bottom) was as a "professional resume writer". I made what seemed to be a conscious, principled decision to step back from community activism so as to concentrate on my writing. I became a door guard in the Rockefeller Library, at my alma mater. That was in 1984. Have been doing that (concentrating on my writing), mostly, ever since.

Aside from a prize from the Pawtucket (RI) Arts Council (annual poetry contest), those college awards I garnered back in 1971 are just about the last "official" recognition, as poet, I've received from the outside world. I've had much friendly acknowledgement & support from some other poets (Edwin Honig, John Tagliabue, Stuart Blazer, Karen Donovan, Lissa Wolsak, Tom Epstein, Elena Shvarts, & many internet pals, in particular). I'm proud of the fact that I've had 3 poems published on the op-ed page of the local newspaper, the Providence Journal (including my elegy for Joseph Brodsky). I've edited a little mag (Nedge) and an anthology for Edwin Honig (Glass of Green Tea - with Honig), & Honig's collected poems (Time & Again). I helped organize the Poetry Mission, which sponsored a number of readings & events back in the 90s. I've spent (& perhaps largely wasted... though not all a waste, by any means) a lot of time & hot air on internet poetry chat lists & blogs.

& that's my back story. (I'm probably forgetting several important things.) What about the poetry?

As far as style, the major influences are : NY School; John Berryman; the magnetic, harmonic, elusive imagery of Osip Mandelstam; Hart Crane, as filtered through Mandelstam (I saw a kinship there); the long poems of Pound, Olson & Williams, with Crane as my pivot & counterpoint; & other Russian poets.

I've written many long poems, oscillating between the stylistic poles of Paterson & The Bridge. I've written some very short, gnomic poems (mostly back in the '80s) which I still like. & I've written a lot in between, sometimes in particular short forms (sestinas, odes, one glose, pantoums, one nocturne...).

As far as subject-matter, themes, I would say there are 3 basic chords : love/nostalgia; history; metaphysics/religion.

The threads of Byzantium & early Rhode Island history run through it, and are sometimes intertwined. Why? I see Byzantium as filtered through Mandelstam & Russian poetry. I think of it as the place where the Jewish understanding of God & the Greek understanding of Man & the Roman sense of government grew together. Theologians like Maximus the Confessor articulated an intellectual balance between the human & the divine - between the incomparable & mysterious historical earthquake which was Jesus, and the philosophical comprehension of experience.

I see the work of Roger Williams as both a parallel & a counterweight to Byzantium. By recognizing that divine "Providence" works mysteriously through all mankind, Williams was able to assert the separation of the "two tables" of the Mosaic law, the civil & the sacred, and sanction the freedom of the individual conscience to seek its own way to the Way. Behind Williams' equilibrium, and the new kind of State he founded upon it, lies the whole law-ful civilization of the West : going back to the Middle Ages, to Rome & Byzantium, & finally to Athens & Jerusalem.

My sense of poetry is that it is a kind of song-language, slightly alien & differing from normal everyday discourse, or prose; and this difference, for me, registers the gap between the worldly & the visionary, the secular & the spiritual, the world of habit & convention, and the world of consciousness & creation. The motor driving the whole thing goes back to the charismatic faith-experiences I underwent in the early 70s (sketched out elsewhere). After these experiences I can only understand life, the universe, and consciousness as fundamentally alive, vital, conscious, personal, spiritual. The cornerstone of the entire edifice (if such it is) rests in one notion : the constant awareness that the human person is an image, seeking to be a likeness, of the divine Person(s). Call it Jung's or Chas. Olson's "Self", if you will - though for me that doesn't quite capture it, precisely because my sense of God is orthodox & Trinitarian : ie. we don't comprehend the full nature of God without including the whole record of divine intervention, sacrifice & fulfillment in the people of God, & in person & acts of Jesus.

For the person interested primarily in poetry, I realize this is a lot of heavy-duty religion piled on top. Can someone even be a free artist, a free thinker, & carry around all this (perhaps mythological) baggage? I guess that's not up to me to decide. Poetry itself - mine included - cannot be "doctrinal" : it springs, like music, from sources more primitive, primordial, universal, maybe inarticulate. The impulse toward song & beauty runs back deep into the unconscious - to the other side of the mirror, the far side of the moon.

A lot of my poetry is available, but it gets little attention. I think people generally don't know what to make of an artist who falls outside the official zones of recognition & promotion. It's not as though I've kept my distance, or kept aloof - I've had my share of rejection slips etc. & I will keep trying to break in in various ways, because I'm the eldest son of a successful man, I come from a hard-working middle-class background, & I want to be able to feel that my 30-odd years devoted to poetry haven't been completely in vain. But that's not up to me, either. There's a kind of special fate attached to a culture's poetry : & only if the Muse actually spent the night, will there be any lasting trace.
Buried under work; unable to blog much; unable to think straight; very frustrating!

Constant battle with discouragement.

What am I trying to do there, with Lanthanum and Lanthanum Road?

With LR I'm trying to branch out, write in looser, more discursive way. More clearly or obviously connected with the world outside Henry-world. But hoping it will converge with Lanthanum itself (which is more my old style of singalong quatrain-hopping). The honey & the honeycomb, hopefully.

It's just getting going, don't know if it will make it or last. Stumbling along lately - much trouble focusing, finding some clarity & confidence, making sense.
Updated HG Poetics layout, with friends & heroes...

Have been reading Marguerite Yourcenar's novel Memoirs of Hadrian - enjoying it as much as The Abyss, which I read a few yrs ago.


New-old comments on the "scene" over at the Plumb...


Lanthanum, already. Took me by surprise (I don't know why. Have been doing this for 20 yrs). The sap is running. (Pine-sap, in this case.)

New feature on these blogs : if you click on the poem-titles of either Lanthanum or Lanthanum Road, they link to each other. This is what I had in mind (the poems are complementary).


the new HG Poetics

Decided to switch over to new format.
& Lanthanum keeps on keepin' on.

Started writing companion poem, called Lanthanum Road.


On to Lanthanum, Book 3.