The Illustrated Stubborn Grew

15 years ago, Spuyten Duyvil Press published Stubborn Grew, a quasi-epic poem rooted in Rhode Island.  The book never got much attention.  I've decided to re-introduce it by way of a new blog, The Illustrated Stubborn Grew - which, by way of excerpts, commentary and photos, will delve into the poem's local background and foreground.  Come & see!


Literary contests and The Contest

Kings and Councillors, by A.M. Hocart.  This is one of my favorite books.  I'm re-reading it now.  Hocart is a free-thinking anthropologist - but more than that, he writes well.  A scholar who semaphores not from cloistered halls, but from long experience in the messy world-field.  With a lot of asperity, wit & humor, but mostly with a great synthetic imagination for the human "project".  He's not tedious or eccentric, like many a free-thinker; he's quick, addressing complex problems with leaps of pithy insight.  Like a poet should write, but a sort of logical poet.

He was something of an outsider for a long time (his whole life).  I guess I can identify with that.

My own changeful, discombobulated, nomadic life of late (back & forth on U.S. 80 between Providence & Minneapolis) has somewhat dislocated me from my own patterns of self-confidence, you might say.  I am out of the library where I lived as a quiet squirrel for 30 years.

I reflect in brief bursts of "consciousness" between one rest stop and another packing-&-moving problem.  My strong father is gone.  My kids are on the move.  I have to say goodbye soon to Rhode Island, & to my backyard where poems are made.  I have to go back to the middle of the country, where I lived long ago (really long ago) as a child, as a yoot'.

It's good (I hope).

But let's get back to poetry.  Amazingly enough, I have piled little pebbles into this blog-pit for almost 15 years.  It is read (or visited) - if you can believe Blogger - by scores &/or hundreds of people around de world every day.  Who you peoples?  I don't know.  Hi.

Let me introduce myself : me am an Hocartian of the poetry scone.  The stone of the scone, if you will.  Hard to place.  A presence on the margins.

As I hurtle down the superhighway east-west, I reflect on this fate.  Why me?  I am extremely meek & normal.  Yet I think there is a barbed subtext there somewheres.  I remember the battles of nearly 20 years ago on the "Internet", as it was called.  There were tribal poet-wars & gang-turf conflicts in a twilight of sudden free-speech spaces.  Mostly men, but not always.  The Buffalo Poetics List.  The Sub-sub list.  Debates about different "schools" (New York, Language, Conceptual).  Remember avant vs. traditionalist (Sillimanism)?  Cooked vs. raw, etc.?  I was right in there with 'em, slinging the wahootchie.  I was a walking talking internet scandal, now & then (now very much then).

Listen & learn, ephebe, of the vanity of the vanities.

But what, at root, is the meaning of this clash of elkhorns?  This is an anthropological & psychological riddle to me.  There is an archaic prehistoric quality at play, very appealing to the pseudo-anthro-psycho-ologist in me.

Because it seems to get a my own track through this maze.  A mirror.

At the juvenile numeral of anno 63, I am absolutely nowhere in the professional literary world.  It's as if I occupy a negative space, invisible except for the noise I make (the poems themselves are imponderable).  Yet I have all this time been pursuing, in a fairly consistent limp or habitus, a strategy, a meaning.  To put it putly : I write long poems.  I do this because I am engaged in an agon, a game, a rivalry for the crown.  Like two elks clashing horns in the forest (I am both elks).

The name of this crown seems to be epic.  I have been engaged in long poems because I am struggling with the inheritance of The Waste Land, Ulysses, The Cantos, Maximus Poems, "A", Paterson.... and Iliad, Odyssey, Star Trek, Divina Commedia, Paradise Lost...  (not to mention the Romantics!)...

I want to wear that crown : in order to do so I have to play a very long game.

But why would anyone want to wear that crown, or any crown?  It all sounds like the most musty wrongheaded chauvinist reactionary hateful autochthonous archaic primitive "traditional" & stupid complex of mental hash Ezra Pound or any other crazed megalomaniac would ever want to creep into, like a creep...  very un-American.

But there's the rub.  It's a shady struggle in the sacred woodshed, you might say.  Like Hart Crane in a way, or David Jones, I am trying to inhabit the past, because in certain respects the past radiates a memory of something lost.  It is a psychological search, as well as an epic claim (to auth-author-authority).  Something beautiful, finished, resolved, complete... something whole.

Something true.

So every writer has a schema and a leading idea.  A plan.  But there are poets out there with plans or schemata which do not fit into the immediacy of the scene, of the industry of poetry, of the established protozoa.  They do not win the literary contests.  They are engaged with something deeper : the kingship battle in the forest of Nemi, for ex.  "Who will wear the crown?" wails Janis Joplin.


Jesus Thoughts in Elkhart

I'm passing through Elkhart once again, writing this from motel.  This is Amish country.  The Elkhart visitor center is across the street; they have an exhibit of quilts there.  Turns out both quilts & quilt gardens are a tradition in Elkhart county.  (There is something quilt-like about Ravenna Diagram, which I will have to investigate.  Quilts are mosaics and lattices of sorts.  Lattice within lattices, if you think of the cloth fibers.)

Being quaintly or unusually Christian is as American as hot dogs.  I was raised in the Episcopal Church, but my spiritual history is as distinct as anybody else's in the great awakening around these parts.

Sometimes driving the Buick across these vast farmlands I try to focus my thoughts, turn off the radio.  Open up to possible new vistas of the old, or old vistas of the new.

It's not easy to say anything new about Jesus Christ.  He has been pretty well covered by professional preachers, theologians, memoirists & historians.  The great spectrum of denominational & devotional Christian life, going back 2000+ years, has its own very deep traditions of scriptural interpretation, preaching, devotion, & shared ways of living.  Then of course there is the Jewish tradition, going back at least another 1000 years, on which all this Christianity is founded.  So it takes some moxie, some chutzpah, to try to say something new about Jesus.  What's more, words can only go so far in the plain detached public sphere, dislocated from any solid participative readership, any engaged reception.  It's one thing to listen to a sermon or an evangelical homily (you can find a lot of these - some very complex - on the radio around these parts) within a context of prior belief or experience.  It's another to come at a blog post, out of the blue.

What's more, I'm not sure I actually have anything new to say about Jesus.  But we will try.

An author has a worldview, a way of looking at things.  She tries to bring it across to the reader.  In the process, she has an implicit sense of the reader's reaction to whatever she writes.  This sense of a response conditions what is actually written - it's a sort of inherent dialectic.  You are there as a kind of potential interlocutor.  I have to try to convince you of what I think I see.  It's an effort of persuasion.

So I was driving along in the Buick yesterday, somewhere in Pennsylvania.  I was thinking as I often do in a vague way about the political meaning of kingship (having been reading a biography of Richard III, the one they found under the parking lot).  The monarch is a representative of tribal or collective leadership, among other things.  Humans live in groups : the king is an invention put together in response to a social problem  - how to live together amicably in a group.

The idea of the Messiah of Israel had a royal, a political dimension.  In one sense the Messiah was a cultural response to the fact that Israel was often a people in bondage to more powerful, and foreign, peoples.  The Messiah would be a "son of King David", who would restore the nation.

But there was more to the messianic idea in Israel.  At its root was a forecast that the Messiah to come would be "a prophet like Moses".  Moses was more than a king for Israel.  He was the ultimate "founding father", in a sense.  He was the prophet who bound Israel in its covenant with the Most High God - he was the servant of Yahweh, who stood before Him & spoke with Him.  This is a religious, priestly dimension, a category separate from kingship per se.  For Israel, in a sense, Yahweh is the ultimate King : Israel's kings are Yahweh's chosen servants.

Now it is with this sketch in the background that we call to mind the specific mission & message of Jesus.  The leadership role assumed by Jesus was mocked as "royal" by the Romans (at least as depicted in the Gospels), and then, later,  royal regalia & symbolism have been heaped upon him in the centuries of Christian tradition which followed.  Jesus is called "king of kings".  But it's important to keep in mind the distinction between "messiah" and king.  Jesus was attempting to do & say something on a distinctly different scale.

The difference - the fork in the path - which Jesus' message instigated has both spiritual & political consequences.  How so?  What is the crux of this message?  Let's cut to the chase, Henry.

I remembered driving along today an old study I read once, title I can't recall - about the themes of justice and mercy in the medieval English poem Piers Plowman.  The author detailed the medieval understanding of a sharp divide between earth and heaven, time & eternity.  Good deeds are not rewarded on earth; they are stored up for honor in heaven.  This is partly why people are instructed to give alms in secret.  It's not about vanity & worldly renown; it's not about the earthly self at all.  It redounds to the benefit of the eternal soul.

Let's say there are three central branches to the tree of Jesus' worldview : the living God; God's creation; and the eternal soul.  The Incarnation and the Resurrection are in a sense corollaries or consequences of two most basic things : God's power to create the cosmos, reality as we know it; and the fact that the soul is eternal and thus has the potential to "live" again, in any form or body or time or place which the Creator chooses.

Jesus is saying something even more radical & astounding.  He saying that he & the Creator are united, that they share one Spirit.  The personal Creator is "father" to Jesus as "son".  Comprehended from a certain angle, this is an astonishing proclamation of joy.  There is nothing to compare to the joy expressed here.  Jesus is saying he will live again, "with all the company of heaven" - among the ever-living spirits in God's company - & return again in the flesh to earth.  & he is suggesting that anyone who sees & understands this way of seeing things will also recognize their own ever-living soul, their own spiritual connection with that "company of heaven".

This is mind-boggling in a way - it's so upsetting to our everyday sense of mundane reality, the humdrum roll-along of time to old age & obliteration.  The "logical", "scientific" mind tends to reject such spiritual visions.

Yet there is a logic to the ancient & medieval worldview also.  I think of it as the logic of creation, or the logic of the beautiful.  We see the spiritual greatness of certain men & women, certain culture heroes - & we recognize something beautiful in the lives they have lived, in their spiritual victory over the pettiness & evils of human social life.  Then we start to notice the same beauty in the lives of ordinary unsung people too : we see the spiritual in nature, so to speak.  The logic of these examples relates back to the argument for creation : that the cosmos is too splendid & marvelous to be meaningless & empty; it has come from nothing out of some kind of powerful creative will-to-be, will-to-love.

But I want to bring this all back to the idea of the Messiah.  The Messiah of Israel is distinct from a king; yet the message of Jesus, as messiah, has real political repercussions.  The Good News of our eternal soul, and its place in an eternal, heavenly realm, applies to every man and woman on earth.  Suddenly our moral, ethical, social existence is not chained to a particular place and time or a particular form of government or economy.  Ethics has been universalized.  Morality has been universalized.  Our own spiritual future has been universalized.  We are members of an eternal association, the "company of heaven".  As Dante put it in the Divina Commedia (to paraphrase from memory), he looks forward to that day when he will be "citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman".

The notion that I have an eternal soul - that a priestly messiah-figure, one Jesus, has called me to recognize this fact & participate in a newly-visible, eternal community, a universal polity - is the kind of powerful message of hope & liberation capable of shaping a new way of life.  As Jesus says in the Gospels, "you must be born again".  You who were a child of human parents, here in a particular spot & time on earth, are being invited to become a "child of God".

We have to imagine - to conceptualize - & then to recognize, that Jesus with this message of soul freedom is re-shaping the political & social, as well as the spiritual, identity of every human being on earth.  We are getting our eternal life back.  This kind of moral liberation has political consequences, historical consequences.  It affects persons living under every form of human social regime & political polity.

Roger Williams, the Rhode Island pioneer & radical thinker, called himself a "Seeker".  He was trying to understand the right relation between spiritual life and social, political life in the world.  & he became a powerful advocate for what he called "soul liberty" or "liberty of conscience".  In this way he was a kind of sponsor for all the wild & different experimental Christian sects which sprang up in 18th & 19th century America.  But at the base of his own thinking was this old medieval sense of a "realm", a "kingdom", slightly different from this present world.  It was the same sense underlying the moral algebra of Piers Plowman : some kind of secret exchange between earth & heaven, time & eternity.

Critics of Christianity have condemned this two-tiered picture of reality as escapist, otherworldly, quietist, detached.  But all these critiques are based on a superficial misreading of Jesus' message.  The Incarnation is the ultimate expression of the joining, the wedding, of these two dimensions.  The "providence" of the plan of Jesus' "heavenly father" is a work involving, first, the liberation of the person, through a recognition of eternal life; and second, the redemption & repair of the whole creation - as a result of the joy instilled by this very liberation.  The message of the new Pope Francis (along with the old St. Francis) is certainly in line with this concept.  Humankind is called upon to restore the right relation to the beautiful creation.

I've rambled on longer than I wanted to here.  But Henry the old Plantagenet feels a deep kinship with the poet's joy of Dante, & the poet's elation in Mandelstam (a Dante reader), & the spiritual cheer & brimming good fellowship I find in that Messiah's words & gestures, this vision of vitality & personhood which has the victory over Time & Death.  This Israel is real to me.  May it be for you, too, whoever you are - out there beyond Elkhart or in Elkhart, inside or beyond this green wide Amish-land.

the old Plantagenet pops up in Elkhart again


Iona's Hair

There are many historians who dispense a soporific virtue; a minority will keep you turning the tea leaves, burning the midnight newspaper.  If you want a really good story about the king they found ensconced in a parking lot recently, look no further than Paul Murray Kendall's Richard III.  How the Kendallian image of this chap diverges from the Earl of Oxford version (oh wait - I mean Shakespeare) !  Of course, the Tudors had it in for the Earl of Gloucester.  I think the city of York still likes the guy - as well they should, according to Kendall.  Plus there's a passage in the book which goes thoroughly into fishgarths.


The s-curved spine of attainted king
snakes up from parking lot.
Not Prospero, not quite
Macbeth.  The plot’s the thing

for knucklebones.  Woodvilles & Nevilles
in the nether woods – phosphorus
Warwick, glowing in the dust.
Someone’s gotta pay the bills

for Renaissance magnificence.
The wolfish gusto of these
alpha bĂȘtes!  Rimini’s
laird, Ezra’s ravening prince –

shades in the hollows of Sherwood,
old artifacts of violence.
How did we survive this?
How will we yet?  Pappy understood,

somehow – head bowed with meekness
to a mud-stained plow.
All yang, no yin, was how
blind stick-up men went down.  No sense

of the spider’s tensile teetering
with dewy tread, on thread...
black widow’s offspring (death’s-
head remonstrance for buccaneering

sports).  Be with me, Columba,
bright dove-bird padre
from cloud-slopes of Eire.
Proud kings lie hidden in Iona’s hair.


Remains of King Richard III


so much depends, so many deep ends

Intrepid detective work of William Logan & others unearthed in fine detail the local story behind one of WC Williams' most dependable poems, "The Red Wheelbarrow".  Reading this article, I couldn't help but think of all the local minutiae lurking in my own poems, since I may be departing this dear locality for my native Minnesota soon.  It will be 45 years since I first showed up in Providence, with bicycle, eyes closed, to go to school (Sept. 1970)...

so much depends

a Rhody Red

soused with sea

beside the Black

So I'm starting up chapter 4 of the Ravenna Diagram qua-qua train.  Along with many another internal reverb, there are things in this excerpt which only make sense if you happened to read the Providence Journal newspaper this week... such as the fact that the 2015 North American Irish Dance Championships were held in Providence this year... or that Glee Gum is just one of Deborah Schimberg's exercises in earthy & empathetic enterprise (we were both in the local agriculture & community greenhouse biz back in 1980 or so - she kept at it).

Sail on, Ocean State -


Bridget flings her emerald
signal flags SE,
NW – kicks her heels
& gyroscopes along a thread

of starfish glisten (penciled
Cornish involution).
You follow her confusion
of species, her grave mongreloid

ellipse, toward the vault of your own
vertigo (in exitu
del mio Gypsy-o) –
the weight of this diamond casket (sun-

burnt charcoal).  Mark the black rings
beneath her eyes, ringlets
of raven-hair, her fits
& stirs.  How the pain sings

on the way to Mendelssohn, or
Littletree – way back
to the cricket-shack.
Venite, powerful western star...

or is it North, now (dizziness
part of the package)?  I’m
packing my leaving rhyme,
my Rhody limes.  I guess this is

a goodbye tootle.  Ocean state.
Vast in our eye, your
jewelry gum (Glee-ore) –
the giving was the thing, chic mate.



American Dream

True to form, ol' Henrah keeps doin' whatever the heck he's doin'.  Finishing up another chapter (#3) in his latest irrepressible yawp - that is, Ravenna Diagram.  Just in in time for the 4th of July.


The flag, lacquered with encaustic
in Greenville, S.C. –
like a sand story
in Queensland, or mosaic patchwork

quilt (outside Ravenna, OH).
Her palm inscribes a circle
as she chuckles out the tale.
We Walbiri live on the ground.  So

dry in California – only
the Bridge keeps orange in
her shroud, Florence (thrown
into fishnet soon, my little tree).

Love is the criterion.
Your only manly mistake
was pride – it is to take
power as entitlement, my son.

E pluribus unum – tears fall
as rain from Manitou,
Black Elk whistles.  You
see the Mandan dancing – Jubilee

a joint venture, people.  American
Dream.  Not to be tarnished
by malice, nor the fish-
mash fables of the shellfish.  Someone

turtles through the brazen image...
flutes across my tables
of thanksgiving.  Seven Gables?
Stephen’s Gate?  Iris, in sage.


Flag on Orange Field, Jasper Johns


Bookends, fireworks

Finished book-length yodel Lanthanum 3 years ago today.  Here is the final entry for that.  4th of July something of a hinge for my poems.  The Coming-Forth-of-Julie.  Explosions in the hinterland.


Dreamsong scrapbook

Drawing near the end of another chapter in Ravenna Diagram.  This is the penultimate entry.  As  usual with my ancient habits of poetry-masonry, when I get near a finishing-point, the occasional, "found" synchronicity aspect seems to come to the fore.  For better & worse, I guess - you will have to be the judge.  (One explanatory note : my grandmother Florence was born on the 4th of July 1900.)


  i.m. Sir Nicholas Winton, 1909-2015

The wonder of such strange & serpentine
inversions – the fugitive figure
of a mote-motif (Apollinaire
in pipesmoke, say) turned adamantine

ground-bass.  Children of Nicholas
trained by tomb-cocoon
back to civilization –
little seedling-waifs to distant witness

stand for a hero’s welcome, basketed
in attic scrapbook (almost
lost).  So inside-out
(a Chaplin’s chaplaincy).  O helmeted

spouse of almond biosphere,
whose pergola or grape-
vine lattice lifted up
one speckled shadow, brazen spear –

sere monarch-leaf... to re-appear!
Wave-shield for life arrested –
lacquered, casketed
sybil of Sibelius, flown clear

in V-formation, still alive...
So Dante’s Florence, my
grand motherland, might be
a molting rhyme, prairie beehive

as forth from Juliet or Maggie’s den
Earth arcs one Saarinen
cat-grin – fireworks begin
to boom at dusk (Frisco, Ravenn).


the late Nicholas Winton, with one of his lambs