in cedar spring


Hobo sauntering by the mother-river
with a pebble in his shoe
small stone, toe-to-toe
just for you, forever & ever.

It’s the mystery of history, he says
the authority of the source
headwaters, of course
Veritas caput.  & so his voice

goes modulated with the flow from there
as the sound wave of a whale
goes through a wave, to hell
& back – using echolocation (your

submarine eye, Osiris-sailor).
As the cathedral-builder
put her name in the floor
at the center of the maze, Jair –

that’s where you’ll find her grey-
winged agate (like minnow
in Rio del Espiritu Santo)
making the sign of a spiral J;

like a whisper out of the heart of silence
or out of Ocean River
circling round you forever
with those winking lights, intelligence

of love... because what was human & personal
is as close as your shadow
& adores creation – El Shaddai
in cedar spring (simple, loving, powerful)



the American dreamwork


The American dreamwork seems to grow
of itself, like a vagrant
acorn’s buried descendant
branches roots into veins of air, so –

leaving yourself behind, then
as in a park playground
at dusk, all around
echoing shouts of kids having fun

within the green lamps of those trees
& the circle of daydreaming
grownups, their evening
rest emerging at last – the iron wheeze

of the swing-set beginning to mesmerize
with its creaky metronome –
& you have a premonition of home,
like a matryoshka doll of paradise

or a houseboat nested in a boathouse.
American as they don’t get?
Anonymous as a planet
without name, yet – Isis, Osiris...

A figure stands at the dream door.
They put the body there?
Now it’s not anywhere.
He gone, she gone (to tell them more).

Hobo Ulysses glides toward New Orleans,
St.-Jeanne of the Delta,
Jonah.  Coracle fella,
acorn Cap.  Nave restoration’s what it means.



Down the Mrs. Nile


The slow green river is historian as well, 
moving with time from here
to there, yet always here
same as ever, with detritus of fossil

shells – eroding palimpsest
subject to misquotation,
willful erasure, mistaken
readings...  Observe that anxious,

fretful archivist – thin railing Ez
with his fistful of heroes
impaled on total loss
(a maze of smoking Flanders trenches).

Like a Minotaur in the bughouse
with his Schifanoia grid –
hierarchical, to put a lid
on greed, by force (his Musci-Louse).

What then’s this chaos of bad dreams?
Life’s horror-show?  Not so,
not so.  PAX.  What thou
lovest well...  After the steamboat schemes

Latrobe still floats his capitol design.
Cornstalks, tobacco flowers...
Virgo, with Isis-powers,
on the adamant of time, will shine –

black marble out of Nile (West Branch).
Not abstract or Pythagorean,
but human, Galilean –
shepherd in Ravenna – beaming avalanche.



articulated bagpipes


Last night, in the final French class
Charles explained to us
that intricate forest
of thousands of skeletal pieces

under the armor of the vast organ
of Notre Dame, somehow
surviving the late inferno –
a delicate spider of sound, within

the cathedral’s gray cicada shell
of feathery stone light.
Now, in my monkish hideout
of twisted cedar, a mid-May swell

of emerald sheen beyond the doorway
stretches toward Iona
or maybe Compostela
or Jerusalem... & scrawny face of Henry

lined like wood by age & foolishness
lifts to spring brightness
one wee dram of hopefulness,
mayhap – someone’s vernal Inverness.

It is the ordinary light of day
flashing through our human
imago, her chaste design –
what we might be, beyond dismay

in the conjunction of clear consciences
set toward a restoration
of the common good.  One
amid many – octave’s consonance.



unusual poem


Providence, a meeting-house of rivers.
Moshassuck, Woonasquatucket...
Narragansett alphabet.
Key into the Language (Roger’s

hopeful idiom).  Green valley space
for some invisible Seeker-
church – plain Shaker
chair for Eli, or Henry (grace

supplementing human nature
like a mild blessing
before Thanksgiving).
Can we do this, Roger?  Sure.

Providence, a circling campfire
of Renaissance persons.
Like a Rembrandt summons
to be humble (as St. Matthew’s ear

to voice of dark-haired angel).
Listen, proud Ferrara –
not to glose of Schifanoia,
but shade-garden of Bassani-spell.

The meekness of a soft goldfinch
will be memorial
for what was already eternal,
always.  As our Redemption is a cinch

for flighty heartbeat (underneath
the chain-link).  Grail-canoe
or eye-in-hand – you
fled into thin air, through Olmec teeth.



Mussolini shoals


Long way from stones of Notre Dame.
We haven’t that feudal allegiance
to a field beyond France.
Bright poppies blister over Belgium

where conundrum of Isis in Iowa
came from.  She is, and was
mysterium of Osiris
on the Mississip – Ezra’s mirror-delta;

hard marble fact planted at West Branch
in Herbert Hoover’s memory
(who would not have taken kindly
to any meat-locker Muss avalanche).

Ezra yodeling the alpine Swiss serene
of his muse Circe Clementine
Vichy (& all the swine
she mesmerized, so spotless clean)

erasing all that history of filthy usury
& black boys handing Bibles
through the bars... Abel’s
your bro, Ez – cain’t you see?

Ah... the shudder of absurdity.
Knife-stab in Marlowe’s eye
over the Jew of Malta,
of all things!  It cannot be.

It is.  Villon grins in your face,
King Flibberty-Gibbet.
Grimace may be safety net
for every reprobate.  O prodigal race...




golden lanterns of Osiris


May Day.  The ancient wheel of the earth
lifted on a pole of flowers
by a ring of skipping circlers
wearing flower-circlets.  Distant mirth-

song, childhood in Mendelssohn.
Light primordial.
From before the murky Nile-
punts, beneath waves of Heracleion;

older than those golden lanterns
of Osiris, Ezra
beaming from the deep your
imperial star-bar patterns.

Yet the axial pivot is not a dazzling pillar
but an imperturbable muddy
river, rolled into clay
by palms of your servant, Hathor;

into a ring or a bowl of Providence,
a lowly bread-boat
for carrying each soul-mote
out of its nightmare toward deliverance.

The soul is humbled by redemption
undeserved.  Not light
of brazen copper, but of heart
that passeth understanding, O my son.

Light from before all things, who smiles
into blue depths of rosmarine;
who leaps to Galilean
shore, sings out, & hoists the sails.



speaking the poetry of dense & difficult


In the late afternoon, old Emperor
Henry the Ghoul lies abed
beneath the wallpaper’s red
roses (spread by his late father

for his mother).  The sun is not a god
nor is his Uncle Ez,
despite the pitchmen on the rez.
Frayed tribes will not succumb; Benito’s rod

is not benign, nor ever shall be.
The motorized dream, from
vortex of survivor-shame
after the panoramic slaughter-sea

of Ypres, Somme, & Meuse-Argonne –
like a neoplatonic fantasy
of utopian autocracy,
with phantom Isis Medusa-icon

wailing like siren out of Empyrean
over the shattered spectacle
of your culture-chronicle,
Ezra – so who shall have the succession?

The special providence of a sparrow...
the goldfinch aptitude
for simple gratitude.
& when the Eternal comes, you will know,

Osip (along the axis of the earth).
The covenant of love
donated from above
for good – so we might share it forth.



just a particle of grit in the poetry gears


At the Arboretum today, the lightest
waves of pale green &
pink float over the barren
hills.  Pasque flowers make their violet

& furry nest.  Soft spring.  Far west
the Golden Gate flings waves
of steel over sea-caves.
A safety net shall be our rest –

all-purpose, drifting down from heaven.
From the Mother of Lights, from
Abba-Zero – coral hum
of Orizaba requiem (all the lost men

the sea shall render up again).
Ezra in the bughouse eyes
his Alexandrian apotheosis.
Spews hate & spite – riptorn

Osirian comedian, on glitter-stand;
& Henry has his Memphis
milkman : buried blackface
Pip-Pip (colonial ampersand).

The gravity-slide into darkness
is not so unavoidable.
Non spatio, sed sapientia
Anselm whispered; heaven’s kiss

is like a speech balloon, or Nile airship.
The kingdom’s for my child,
not for the Emperor, wild
Mary piped (basilica pavement slip).



you seek your inner Notre Dame


This April sunset behind the trees,
like a rose & phosphorescent
robin’s egg.  Fundament
of natural radiance; architectural breeze.

On Île-de-France, in the river Seine
a throng of men & women
flung boulders toward heaven –
to celebrate the feast of their communion

& the miraculous feat of that
lumbering flight.  The chill
granite yawn in the hill
where the dead man lay (requiescat)

like a counterweight to their primordial
joy – its hollow barrow
(familiar dank & narrow
room) will serve as reconciling grail

when we have gathered for the wedding
in the flowery vale of Cana,
& amid the hubbub-haha
Mary murmurs – Now, my son, bring

out the wine...  We will not build
another Notre Dame.
& yet our rivers are the same.
The Rio del Espiritu Santo is filled

with rosmarine passion of light –
invisible, unchanging,
radiant, enlightening
fiery indomitable apex bright.



Good Friday poem


The oak we put into the ground
last fall is budding now.
& on the third day... how?
On this I muse like Uncas Pound

here in my octagonal hut
of scrawny cedar. 8’s
for Easter, numerates
relate – Creation’s è finit;

when the dark goggles of infinity
stood upright (a snowman
merging into green
spring cloverleaf).  Might be.

They say they saved the high windows
in Paris.  Where simple light
grows warm, exfoliate
around the Lady of the burning Rose.

Wheels, wheels... the suffering peoples.
Is Providence intangible?
Life but a negligible
haze, wisping stark silo-steeples?

These sprinklings of amber glass
are darkened with maroon
shadows.  Limbs of someone
hovering so close... a beaming face.

Then I shall know, even as I
am known.  Even as
this acorn opens, grows...
sturdy communion of a melting sigh.



egalitarian cathedral


In this rough wooden octagon
in the backyard, wrapped
in frayed mosquito nets,
in mid-April, Henry will try again.

The anniversary of Abe Lincoln
rhymes with a shock in Paris.
Notre Dame no longer is
bedecked with lilies for communion.

Entourée de flammes ferventes
Apollinaire, at Chartres
peeks through his bandages
back toward her... makes his lament.

This humble cedar hideaway.
Chaste April light.
The massive stone takes flight
from every heart, with equal sway.

Like a fool in a mystery play,
a cloddish egalitarian
circus, is the Son of Man.
Anti-king, anti-autocracy,

he rides the shoulders of a donkey
(Henry’s stubborn mule
from Berryman misrule
locale) on Muddy journey to the sea;

he’s Jonah, prophet of humility
and poverty, flung to America
to give the motherland a caw
lift a palladium for Lady Liberty.



Providence ca. 1980


Somewhere in the archives of the sea
the salt preserves a memory
of miniature incestuous Providence
beneath gray dandruff caverns of asbestos

mingling with cigarette puff-clouds
where caffeinated VISTA crowds
light up the Brown & Sharpe building
to hash out next year’s organizing

plot.  The State House marble sepulcher
will grudge them their rotunda for another
Machiavellian tear-jerker, or mystery play.
Castaways will show.  Henry will have his day

– Shelton, that is (St. Francis of the street).
O sea-rose waif, that rock and sky make sweet!
Dream swells your impulse for the public good
and flings a grace note (orbic neighborhood).


Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these



This poem was first published in the journal West Branch.

“El Anatsui” : prominent Ghanaian sculptor, born 1944

“Anansi” : West African folktale character with Trickster qualities; often takes form of spider

“weaves diaphanous / Byzantium veils” : some of El Anatsui’s works are large wall hangings that shimmer with luminous colors, produced by threads, thin wires, bits of scrap metal and other materials

Something greater than fin-de-siecle Vienna...” : shimmering gold of wall-hangings calls to mind “Golden Phase” of Viennese artist Gustav Klimt.  Comparison framed in terms echoing Gospel text contrasting Jesus with other kings and prophets

“sinuous, sooth- // siring Solomon” : King Solomon, credited for wisdom.  Bible claims he authored thousands of poems.  The serpentine phrasing foreshadows allusions to Hart Crane in following stanzas

Makossa, Ebeano, Dark Sailor...” : evocative names of African beers whose bottle caps adorn the wall-hangings

“forlorn cells of Africa” : see Crane’s poem “Black Tambourine”

“amiable fellowship... diamond cobra” : fellowship of people of good will is source of the culminating “diamond cobra” (“wise as serpents”) of both human solidarity and beautiful art works

Solomon in all his glory...” : Jesus’ assertion that the beauty of wildflowers is greater than that of Solomon.  Glories of art returned to their source in nature and the earth

“field lilies, Flanders / epitaphs” : and the earth is also a grave.  Here motif of World War I first appears in R.D.

“Grandfather’s / brass shell, after St. Mihiel” : poet’s grandfather, Edward S. Gould, served as artillery captain in the AE.F.

“Copper wire, / steel helmets” : war contrasted to art, and El Anatsui’s use of these metals

“greater mettle” : pun on metal.  Creative art in a struggle with violence


Ravenna Diagram Reading Guide #8



“Hole-in-the-Day” : prominent Ojibwe chieftain who tried to rally tribal support for the 1862 Dakota uprising in Minnesota.  He was assassinated in 1868 near the Crow Wing Agency by a group of Ojibwe men.  Here, the raven is represented as a kind of “hole in the day”.

“left the ark” : Noah, on the ark, sent out ravens to look for signs of dry land

“Furnace... against azure” : raven in sky imaged as “anti-matter X-factor”, a metaphysical sign

“Oil-power” : pun on oeuil (French for “eye”).  Replays metaphorical changes on the “third eye” etc. of previous poems

“fodder for wretched // prophet” : the prophet Elijah was fed by ravens sent by YHWH

“Hovers / outside” : the spiritual otherness signaled by the raven

“Night’s black... one sphere’s damaged / grey” : the uncanny raven-otherness seems to return to earth through the back door

“One Rahab-hair” : the Biblical Rahab opened the “back door” allowing Joshua to capture Jericho

“In the theater” : poet sees muse-like figure or Dantean “old flame” in the Avon Cinema (Providence)

“Geraldine Fitzgerald” : lead actress in bio-pic (Woodrow) Wilson, and other films.  The “circularity” of her name, and its echoes of Ireland and JFK, are marked here

The hour draws nigh...” : by means of some alchemical movie magic, the cosmopolitan spirit of the film, and the actual presence of “Geraldine” in the theater, evoke this hopeful (Elijah-like) prophecy


Oh say can you see / by the Topsfield town line

& so the grand explication rolls on...



This poem clearly a rejoinder to the conflicted cul-de-sac of previous poem (“Black Peak”).  The aim seems to be clarification, but the murk only grows darker.

“Topsfield” : suburb of Boston, next door to Salem, Massachusetts

“Shaker plate / of light” : simplicity, clarity.  Memory of lakeside Shaker settlement near Lewiston, Maine

“one steady statute / of a dauntless ghost” : refers to “our W”, one of the poem’s heroes, Roger Williams (R.W.)

“O say // can you see / By the Topsfield / town line / Where Endicott / ripped / the King’s cross out / barehanded...” : national anthem transposed onto colonial Bay Colony.  The future Governor Endicott of Massachusetts was (at that time, anyway) an enthusiastic disciple of Roger Williams.  One day (in the 1630s) the excitable Endicott, inspired by Williams’ objections to King Charles I’s reinforcement of the Tudor “establishment” of a state-sponsored church, tore the cross out of his own militia’s Union Jack.  This was an early (and emotional)  expression of Roger Williams’ influential theory of the separation of church and state.  Very remotely echoed by Dante in his De Monarchia – the medieval version of a doctrine stipulating the separation of Pope and Emperor.  (Endicott, a resident of Topsfield, was next-door neighbor to Zaccheus Gould, the poet’s great++grandfather).

“Friend” : Quaker, Shaker

Twain’ll meet / Nought, around the bend” : some kind of prophetic cancelling of violent rivalries and conflicts (with a prefiguration of Mark Twain and the river)

Wauontam.  Let’s eat.” : a Narragansett welcome, to feasting (experienced by exiled Roger Williams)

“Tempestuous word... stirs up... chartered Concorde” : a lot packed into this stanza.  Let’s say the tempestuous and threatening prophetic word of someone like Roger Williams, in the 17th century, eventually grew and flourished into the “self-evident endowments” of the 18th century – the U.S. Bill of Rights – in some kind of constitutional alliance with France (“chartered Concorde”).

“Hip-hop’s // Charlie horse” : ambiguous image of a limping monarch (Charlie horse”)

“rocking, racking... icing on a cake of Peking / take-out orders” : the political concept of human liberty, originating in America with Williams, results in a challenge to the autocratic, lawless brutality of “Putin’s generic icing” and “Peking’s take-out orders”

“Aerial checkmate thing” : poetry’s inherent opposition to soul-tyranny.  Echoes of  Biblical Ariel (the Psalmist’s hope); and Nabokov, Montale (“checkmate thing”)


Ravenna Diagram Reading Note #6

Ravenna Diagram guide for the Perplexed continues, page-by-page.  This poem appeared a few years ago in the journal West Branch.



This poem has a nightmarish, abortive quality.  So many indecipherable personal references that one could make the argument it fails as a work of art.  But perhaps it stands as a kind of boundary marker, a warning of some real difficulties which lie ahead.  This poem was published in the journal West Branch.

“crows” and “oaks” : recurrent images

“Woods-Gerry” : the Woods-Gerry Mansion on Prospect St., in Providence, a couple blocks from the Brown University Library.  Imposing Victorian mansion on the crest of the hill, now housing offices and galleries of the RI School of Design.

“Persephone’s bee-day” : bee-day, birthday.  Bees of Persephone an image drawn from poems by Mandelstam

“Italianate” : we are back in the sphere of Ravenna

“archivo-kisses” : Orphic librarian-poet, with backward glance (fateful for Eurydice/Persephone)

“Marshland...” etc. : Ravenna pine-swamps

Porta Aurea” : ancient ruins in both Ravenna and Constantinople – translates as “Golden Gate”

“twin black / brows” : a kind of montage of beloved faces sharing this feature of black eyebrows, mirrored/merging in a guilt-ridden occhio terzo (third eye)

sliver-orecchio : odd image of “sliver-ear” (wooden ear? moral deafness?)

“black omelet” : the eyebrows and the third eye merge in this apocalyptic sign of the “black sun”, with pun on OM – Osip Mandelstam, who wrote a poem alluding to the Pushkinian “black sun” of Russian (and Jewish) history.

“ghost of a memory” : the kiss in the Italianate mansion has multiple emotional strata for poet (ex-husband of an Italian-American, one dimension of many)

“who lifts / twin wings” : are we back to the redemptive owl-flight of Minerva/Sophia?  or something else?  “six, eight” wings signals a “seraph” (also a recurrent image in Mandelstam)


Ravenna Diagram Reading Guide #5

Again, check previous blog entry here for more info.



Not much to say about this poem.  There is a sense that, from the opening poem of the book (“Potter’s Whorl”), the clay wheel is spinning in centrifugal fashion, sending feelers or tentacles outward toward themes and elements that will see further development.

“Camelot” : always in background is memory of JFK, especially his Irish and Newport connections.  And general issue of violence and sacrifice in human history (and American history).

“8-pt. symmetry” : has implications relative to Pound’s question about future epic poetry : “can you enter the great acorn of light?”

“cemetery, by the river” : Swan Point Cemetery, Providence

Ephphatha” : “be opened” : phrase used by Jesus in the Gospels as he puts a bit of clay over blind man’s eyes and restores his sight

saya-y-manta” : Spanish women’s robe which reveals only the face.  Mentioned in Melville’s tale Benito Cereno

“brave’s game (a furnace dance)” : again, a fusion of Native American and Biblical motifs (Dakota sundance ceremony; Shadrach, Mesach & Abednego in the fiery furnace)

“Tracks in the snow (redcap, lance)” : image drawn from Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s version of the Grail story

Ravenna Diagram Reading Guide #4

This be the next entry in Ravenna Diagram reading notes for Susan Brown.  Inquire here for more info....



Poem full of obscurities.  Stanzas 1 & 2 : we are back in northern MN winter landscape.  Raven/Ravenna.  Shakespeare’s “treble-dated crow” (Phoenix & Turtle) – which, according to legend,  engenders offspring by breathing – is flying back and forth.

“scrawny schemer.... Signature / of Cain-torn soil”  :  slight mingling of Biblical and Native American legends.  Raven, along with Bluejay, appears in some Trickster stories.

“something resolute... smoke-dispute” : a basic philosophical debate – what is Death?  What is Life?

“dissipating ghost-limb, drifting / wake” : allusion to parallels between 19th-cent. Ghost Dance movement and Christian doctrines of Resurrection

“morse code... remorse” : sound echo with Latin mors, death

“chancy chancery... So choose” : the actuality of death, its duel or chess game with life, motivates the moral conscience – what shall I choose to do, how shall I live, in the face of mortality?

Only way / is up, replies the smoke” : affinity between ghost, or spirit, and smoke – the “morse code” of Native Am. smoke-signals (& peace pipes)

“raven-laughter (hoarse / sneers)” : the suggestion behind this poem’s folktale dialectic is of something beyond cynicism or fatalism


Reply to a question re : Ezra Pound, Hart Crane

Susan Brown, my gentle interlocutor in this ongoing explication of Ravenna Diagram conundra, emailed to ask for more detail on what I meant (in the "Preliminaries") by my statement that in this epic poem (that is, in Ravenna Diagram) I was mounting a challenge to Pound's presentation of history (in his Cantos, his "poem including history"), with help from Hart Crane.  This was my response :

Quick reply, Susan : my sense is that Pound, despite all his Dantesque and Provencal medievalism, his knowledge of medieval scholastic theology, tends to deride and downplay the "Hebraic" dimension of Western culture-history.  There is a strong occultist dimension - the Eleusinian mysteries, Neo-platonism, etc.  Also the very marked Fascist tendencies, the Nietzschean(?) disdain for Jewish and Christian compassion.  Pound is not consistent : my "argument" with him is not very fair.  But it's there.  Pound's "poem including history", in my view, pretty much eviscerates the basic Jewish-Christian foundations of (at least) the Western dimensions of world history.

Another aspect of all this concerns Crane.  Pound (like Eliot in some ways) was a nostalgic expatriate living in Europe.  He was a political authoritarian, a reactionary.  Hart Crane, despite his Platonic-visionary leanings, was devoted to Whitman and the tradition of a mythical, futuristic America (Crane's "Atlantis"), rooted in democratic values.  This is, I know, a great simplification and idealization of Crane.  Crane has a special symbolic place in Ravenna Diagram and in my writing in general, which I won't get into now.  But the STYLE of R.D. owes at least as much to Crane as to Pound.  For I long time I sensed a kind of sonic stylistic affinity between Crane's idiom (his imagery and sound) and Mandelstam's approach to imagery, metaphor & sound.  Which (sort of) became my own approach to imagery & sound.

Ravenna Diagram Reading Guide #3

Notes for the long poem, continued.  Please refer to previous post for clarification on this project.


“UP NORTH” (p.5)

Change of scene.  In stanzas 1-3, description of wilderness lake (Vermilion) in northern Minnesota.  “Mnemosyne Point” : poet’s mother (Mary Ravlin Gould) christened family camping area after keynote word from Nabokov.

“Time’s wooden (4th
grade) ruler.  Not to break.” :  obscure reference to the history-pattern of the poem (contra Pound) outlined in the “preliminaries” section of these notes.  Pun on “wooden... ruler” : the metaphysical “ruler” (“King of Kings”) rules from “fleet of ragged little cedars” – or from the Cross.  Establishing hegemonic chronology (B.C.-A.D.) of western culture.

Also : the simple childhood memory (mnemosyne).  The wooden 4th-grade school ruler.

“Placeness of quiet places” : in this stanza the northern MN landscape is merged with the imagined landscape around Ravenna (cedar, pine swamps near ocean).

“One saturnine pedestrian” : Dante, also Mandelstam (who wrote about Dante’s “long walks”)

“snowbound wedding band” : Dante’s Commedia correlates, interrelates human and divine Love – the Orphic “wedding” with Beatrice (& divinity) in the Paradisal afterlife.

“stream’s bright ford” : the poetic “stream” is the passage between the two realms.

Ravenna Diagram Reading Guide : #2

Here are notes to the Ravenna Diagram poem "Lunar Corona" (p.4).  This poem also is not posted to the blog.  (See previous post for a link to the physical book.)



Poet seems to be confronting enigma of the poem itself, his own work-in-progress.  City of Ravenna, for long a remote, neglected backwater, is presented here as mirror-image of poet’s own solitary endeavor.

“Brown leaf... my neck of the sea.”  : poet worked for decades at Brown Univ. Library in Providence, RI – his “neck of the sea”.

“picture a forlorn cathedral...” : many such for many centuries in Ravenna

“Rothko Chapel” : first of many references to visual art in RD.

“gray memory... wheel of silence” : see Jasper Johns’ works in particular

“Osip’s selva os” : linking Dante with Mandelstam.  “selva os” : dark wood (see opening of Divina Commedia).  Os – short for Osip – mouth or gate to his own inward wilderness.

“Consul’s barranca : the ravine in Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano

“My one and only... speechless trumpeter” : Chet Baker (another suicidal artist)

“Remote... (sans crown).” : Dante, buried in Ravenna, lacks the public bestowal of a laurel crown from his native city (Florence)

“flies / who?” : haunted Ravenna visited by owl of Minerva/Beatrice (wisdom)

“shady rainbow” : a transmutation of the purely subjective (“blind”) colors of the “personal Rothko Chapel”


Reading Guide to Ravenna Diagram - #1

This week my friend Susan Brown, scholar, translator and Fernando Pessoa specialist, asked if I might supply some reading aids for Ravenna Diagram, that infinitely long and equally obscure poem I am writing.  Her request was timely, as I'm approaching the final segment of that opus, and have taken a pause to re-evaluate and collect myself.  So responding to her request will actually help me do that.

I've decided to post whatever I come up with in the way of a reader's guide here on the blog.  Most of the poem has appeared on HG Poetics day-by-day, so if possible I will provide a link to the page in question.  Otherwise, the actual book is available from Small Press Distribution, or possibly you'll find it in a nearby library.

So here we go.  I start with some brief preliminaries, and then some notes for the third poem of RD, titled "Shady Banquet" (which unfortunately is not posted here on the blog; but maybe my notes will encourage some of you to seek it out).



RD is a long poem.  It is cumulative, made up of short poems which are added to the whole as they are written, and dated.

The long poem is a sub-genre of American poetry, with its own genealogy.  All kinds of poets have written them, since before the American Revolution, from Longfellow to H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) to James Merrill and beyond.

I trace my own lineage in this genre through Whitman, to Pound and his emulators (WC Williams, H.D., Charles Olson, Zukofsky).  But my closest affinity is with Hart Crane.  In fact I tend to juxtapose what I see as the stance of Crane against that of Pound.  

Why?  Pound defined the modern epic as a “poem including history”.  He traced his own lineage back to Dante, and further back.  But I’m absorbed by the question of “history” as well.  I base my sense of western and world history on different grounds from those of Pound.  So there’s a dialectic going on, an argument with Pound, with assistance from Crane.  

I am really not able to summarize what I’m doing with this poem in a few words.  It would be a mistake to try : there is so much that remains obscure about it, even to myself.  But there seem to be a few constant and recurring themes :

the emotional attraction of Ravenna – as the place Dante finished the Divina Commedia and the place he is buried; as the site of the Byzantine mosaics (which influenced Dante’s own writing); as the location of Antonioni’s mysterious 60s film, Deserto Rosso (Red Desert) starring Monica Vitti & Richard Harris.

an over-arching Orphic dimension, translated to America.  My cousin Juliet leapt off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971, at age 19.  This psychic trauma seems to thread into all my long poems.  Here it becomes a kind of keynote for a search for spiritual response to suicide and the death-wish in general (including the fate of John Berryman, the poet of the “Henry” Dream Songs, who jumped off a bridge a few blocks from where I live).  Juliet becomes a sort of Eurydice/Persephone/Beatrice sign.  And this leads to further perusal of the archaic “feminine” underside of history and religion, and involves collisions between our American modernity and archaic native American beliefs & practices.

a re-imagining or re-visiting of theological/philosophical impulses shaping the Divina Commedia.  That is, I have my own leanings or conceptions about “transcendental” reality, which I try to address, gradually, incrementally, in this poem.  In that sense it’s a sort of spiritual journey, a “new model” Divine Comedy.



The sun stands still, as if held in the beak of dogwood limbs.  Time halts or pauses.

Northwest Coast Indian mythic image of Raven holding the sun (“the bright sheep-pelt” – golden fleece?) in his beak.

Raven – Cautantowwit – Narragansett main god.  God of the afterlife : carried souls to heaven in the “Southwest”.

Series of images from Macbeth.  Death’s ghastliness.  (A kind of warning to the “Orphic” poet entering these regions.)

“wind sighs through old / pinatas, where a star slips now” : the soul-star is now in the Southwest – land of Mexico, death, pinatas (battered birthday icons).  Southwest throughout poem is linked with annual renewal journey of monarch butterflies to Mexico (and sacred “monarchs” in general).

“So listen; hear” – poet or reader is summoned to continue

“Plummet into yon undertow / of marshland tombs” – the realm of Ravenna itself

image in closing stanzas of an elusive anima/soul/spirit – Juliet?  Beatrice? “skipping / across her melancholy / diamond”.  This introduces a recurring motif drawn from Pound’s lines in Cantos :  “For me nothing / But that the child / walk in peace in her basilica”


eyes of March


I took a little walk today
slipping over the ice.
The earth veiled in sadness
by violence & bigotry –

Christchurch & the world in mourning.
A bird-of-paradise
merging with Maui skies
ricochets low planetary droning.

The Ides of March.  Caesar must die
to instaurate the Empire,
bleeding for the crowd on fire.
Republican conspirators have gone awry.

The throne requires a figurehead.
The bronze serpent is nailed
on Golgotha – is hailed
Messiah, INRI.  The king is dead.

This frozen hollow by the brown river
is full of streaming sound.
Little rivulets, underground
where Berryman left town forever.

An old man’s presentiment of spring
is like a lost heartbeat...
& somewhere nearby, a sweet
selfless affection tunes her string.

We must delve deeper into this
my friend, my limping muse.
Natasha’s temple (Voronezh)
sings with a chaste eye (goldfinch kiss).