Thursday, April 28, 2011

C. D. Wright’s One With Others

Bramble in Straw

Rain. Endless rain. Williams: “a flash of juncos in the field of grey locust saplings with a white sun powdery upon them and a large rusty can wedged in the crotch of one of them, for the winter, human fruit, and on the polished straws of the dead grass a scroll of crimson paper—not yet rained on”—being one of three fragments with the date “10 / 28” in “The Descent of Winter.” Why, daffy with sleeplessness, or—conversely—alert, shrewd, impitoyable (“I will make a big, serious portrait of my time”), do I turn so frequently to Williams? “Human fruit” is one answer. I am floor’d by the human fruit in C. D. Wright’s recent One With Others (Copper Canyon, 2010), so full-blown, exuberant and rumbustiously common in its truly unruly human singing (and its heed-dirge accompaniments), it makes the brassier remnants of the Google’d florilegium and art-market crowd look like tripe. A big, serious portrait of one white woman call’d “V”—Wright identifying her in the notes as Margaret Kaelin McHugh: “Our gaggle of unsolicited student acolytes began to call her ‘V” when she was reading Pynchon while our heads were still rooting among the novels she swallowed whole as a solitary child. Everyone should be favored to know one person of courage [at a critical moment] and genius [of accident and design], though that person arrives with all the flaws and fiends that vex the rest of us, sometimes in disproportionate abundance.” Report of V’s participating (“To act, just to act. That is the glorious thing”) in the August 1969 March Against Fear through the Arkansas delta, Memphis to Little Rock. A couple of hints of its delivery, random pages:
      THIS IS ONE OF THE THINGS I HEAR HAPPENED: She has just folded herself over to brush off the brown leaves covering her coleus. She has been stacking wood. She has on the work glove. She is going back inside to clean up; she bends from the waist to make a quick pass at the leaves that she might still enjoy the tart color of on her coleus a bit longer. She feels a quick sting, thinks it’s a wasp or a hornet and goes inside [the light at the sink is better]. As soon as the glove is off and she grabs the baking soda to put on the spot, she notes the rapid swelling in the webbing between her thumb and index [her hands her best feature, better than her legs even], the throb, already throbbing, and steps back outside to check if it was a hornet or wasp and glimpses as she peers into the coleus the dusty reddish thing, the sickening hourglasses along its thick length as it creeps soundlessly into the foliage, and it passes through her mind as her body is passing out that Southerners sympathizing with the North were called Copperheads.

      AND, vacuuming the rag rug, listening to Nina Simone: The record had a catch in it. Always starting over at “Old Jim Crow is dead.” When the phone rang, and she shut off the vacuum cleaner, not the record player, and the caller said Hunter [expletive] Crumb is dead.
      V, deep down, she may have been as sad as a cover band. She might have felt drier than a codld of Arkasa dirt. Lonely lonely lonel, like th hunter green sutiacas that hadn’t been sued since hre honey moon.

      Some honeymoon, she later told Gert, with that off-color smile, she almost had to rape him. She said this near death. As her executive organs were shutting down and she was finishing the NYT crossword, September 2, in ballpoint:

      What is a suffix of book


      Who is a major exporter of coconut oil


      A colorless liquid


      A defeatist’s words

      I [nospace] lose

      The artist of the etching and aquatint, el sueño de la razón produce monstruos.
That final Goya title (out of Los Caprichos) one of several repeat’d phrases in One With Others. A Poundian strategy, the notational detail limn’d subsequent to its dispersal within story, recalling that story’s plenitude:
      Not the sound but the shape of the sound

      Not the clouds rucked up over the clothesline

      The copperhead in the coleus

      Not the air hung with malathion

      . . .

      The world is not ineluctably finished

      though the watchfires have been doused
Williams swerved into Wright (not my “intent”). I am remind’d of Martha Graham’s insisting that movement be “significant” (in a lazy and facile “era” that succumbs with a kind of murderous glee to its facility, terminal irony propping up its ironic legs . . .) Graham, recalling beginning to teach at the Eastman School c. 1923:
The first morning I went into class I thought, I won’t teach anything I know. I was through with character dancing. I wanted to begin, not with characters, or ideas, but with movement. So I started with the simplest—walking, running, skipping, leaping—and went on from there. By correcting what looked false, I soon began creating. I wanted significant movement. I did not want it to be beautiful or fluid. I wanted it to be fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge. I wanted to lose the facile quality . . .
(V, living in Hell’s Kitchen, writing—next to the dates for Cheops and Hesiod and Herodotus, amongst others—“It’s handy. It settles a lot of arguments . . .”—on the wall “in soft pencil, next to the sill overlooking the scraggly barren pear”: “Unless a proposition is necessary it is meaningless with meaning approaching zero.”) And Graham again:
The puritanical concept of life has always ignored the fact that the nervous system and the body as well as the mind are always involved in experience . . . In life, heightened nerve sensitivity produces that concentration on the instant which is true living . . . Perhaps what we have always called intuition is merely a nervous system organized by training to perceive.
One thing underlying One With Others: the morality of the body’s demands. Against foot-dragging razón. Wright:
      Langston’s word was fester.

      King’s was thingification. The thingification of our humanity.

      What the King called nobodiness.

      Festina lente, with all deliberate speed, make haste slowly. Voluntary gradualism, glacial time.
And (V’s reply):
      To feel in conjunction with the changes

      of my time. The most alive I’ve ever been.

      My body lifted itself from the chair

      it walked to where I saw a silent crowd.

      To act, just to act. That is the glorious thing.
(“You have your life // until you use it. You forfeit the only life you know // or go to your grave with the song curdled inside you.”) Amen.

C. D. Wright

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Clark Coolidge’s This Time We Are Both

A Wall

Rain. Bicycle tire flat. “Genial denial.” Clark Coolidge: “So must have it that / the art hang in dirt strips / a black sulfur liner nightmare at the lost steps . . .” One thinks vaguely of a morning without. Walking in the downpour: only the drench’d starlings continue the twees. And a chipping sparrow, its dry trill. Coolidge: “Stub he / it’s gone / and the air is marked with a question point . . .” Bags of peat moss and topsoil under tarps in the parking lot at Jack’s, is it Jack’s? Next to the sushi joint. Where the gas station-turn’d pizza delivery shack tacks down the acute angle made by the forking street, bi-approachability a plus. Coolidge:
Horse clops should come with these trolley joint torques
a viable leaning in the morning tin is to wait by it, not for it
jump across tunnels in the darkening air, the steel of a sort of
clam it seems, I look under arm to catch what swings . . .
I like how pliably apropos Coolidge’s phrasals be, in the grand re-purposing. How, like any “sound” particular, they get under the general sonic backdrop, and bleat impermeably. Indelible noise: the definition of “voice.” (What Pound says in “A Retrospect”: “There is . . . in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hearer and acts more or less as an organ-base.”) I am just browsing through This Time We Are Both (Ugly Duckling, 2010), notes and sequences made following “the itinerary of the Rova Saxophone Quartet tour of November 1989: Leningrad, Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, Tartu, and Moscow.” Epigraph’d (below the Marker and the Lautréamont) by Ashbery (“The Preludes”): “Over near somewhere else there is the problem of the difficulty.” A line that manages the same sort of vacillating signal that Rimbaud’s Je est un autre clangs out into the languorous instability: here direct’d into the distance where difficulty “lies.” Coolidge:
Just do
one pair of the many thing
or end up let to
the further place where pulse and choice do go
the openers put their own limits
then if you can get beyond
fine, the materials go

I’d love to get beyond fine
to frame all this in its zone of force free
these the Impedimenta of Protected Scratch . . .
Rimbaud’s “Too bad for the wood that finds itself a violin” is probably pertinent. Getting beyond the openers (that “put their own limits”—the constantly narrowing syntactical trap of sentence-ry): even the obligatory jump-cut bouleversement and cabriole that lands one “off” never suffices for long . . . Coolidge’s repeat’d attempts to dodge the knowing that cannot “stop being here”: “We go, so it’s not here / we left much of an else to the road, going / up to this it goes off with us . . .” Or:
I know the lines
I just can’t sign to this ceiling
a tin vintner and rubber syrups, miraculous
how much blowing can stop, I signed myself out
the way of the rusted soups, the marriage of whole fields
to a can of beans, for example needed trial
then siphoned camphor into a glare, but do I know
enough to stop being here?
The answer of music (“blowing”). The answer of naming (the vaguely Eliotic incursion of “Streets, these that lose to dazedly open space? / made up however to someone else’s measure . . .”), that perennial demiurge, reliably prevaricate. So one learns of “Liar Farm” and “the Centrifugal Ball of the Fire Berries,” of a place call’d “Doubt in Full” and one call’d “The Silicone and Graphite Hotel,” of “the Sound of Ragout Reveal” and “Uncle Ink” and “Parenthesis Vodka.” Here, to end, a fleet Kerouack’d bop prosodic beginning with a sort of eked out Buddhist correspondence (with its “linchpin severity” of gull and stocking), going through the utopic jazz nod (what concord’s unison begat), and outing with some possibly “misunderapprehended / Time Was” (an Emily Post ostranenie moment):
Gull drawn in
red wheels
dawn beyond
hung stockings

Seize you in hours, thigh zone gauze complete
street about the car start, a dense trance Baluga
or a Moriarty extent committing
something something expendable
this nodule boot bucket chance of barest Russia

What you had been thinking about a whistle blew shrilly
where the western hem line is a lettuce signal
got a trade without a sample
mule jumped on veins in your screening permit
signed, Thorstein Veblen
signed, Henry Threadgill

There is no space, there is nothing
old stone towers, spacings of windows in walls
dug samples of harm on the average, horn in
thoughts to buy
at Braxton’s Thump, where I thought the red line jumped back
where I thought of the union of throttle union and throttle unison
sat in his room and thought about his trees
up above his thoughts bebop, salt
and what could have been the thought lesson for this grace?
before the attitudes came down, before the paper town lasting
thoughts that know not but the joy of case
bummers in strings that his ace travels well
in case in keeping
these thoughts I hoped
I hadn’t misunderapprehended
Time Was

Some tables
prepared to look away
from all angles, some tables
prepared to listen to
themselves then yell, no doubt
some mostly don’t, these tables tasks
for a supper prepared as if on Mars
I love that “thoughts that know not but the joy of case / . . . / in case in keeping . . .” The dub impossibility of inflect’d lingual blowing (against the sweet vagaries of the uninflect’d earth). So blow one must.

Clark Coolidge

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Early Faunal Stage


Williams (“The Wind Increases”) calling a poet “a man / whose words will / bite / their way / home—being actual / having the form / of motion . . .” A horse biting itself is likely suffering a form of stereotypy (“a repeat’d and perseverant act by an animal, serving no obvious purpose”) call’d “flank-biting.” So poets go. So the fog cloaks the sopping earth, so the deep carboniferous beds release a cloacal fish scent, out-sourcing. One plows through the puddles, spokes a-hum, repeating the “faunal stages” of the early Pennsylvanian period: Kinderscoutian, Marsdenian, Yeadonian, Cheremshanskian, Langsettian, Melekesskian, Duckmantian . . . Half-rabid flank-biting behavior. Butting at what lists. Ben Jonson (quoting Plutarch’s De Garrulitate) says that to guard against a “licentious and wandering” tongue, “a wall, or parapet of teeth” is “set in our mouth to restrain the petulancy of our words.” And Williams: “We batter at our / unsatisfactory / brilliance— // There is no end / to desire—” Reading through, of late, Pound’s Literary Essays, I am struck by Pound’s repeat’d call for “efficiency”—a Taylorist for the high moderns. In “How to Read” (1928) saying how it’s “as important for the purpose of thought to keep language efficient as it is in surgery to keep tetanus bacilli out of one’s bandage.” Worrying in “The Serious Artist” (1913) how “desire often overshoots the power of efficient presentation” and calling for “something like ‘maximum efficiency of expression.’” In “Date Line” (1934) calling language the “most efficient registering material” for “knowledge of the human consciousness.” The repeat’d insistence that such-and-such “saved me a great deal of time.” Pound: “Language is not a mere cabinet curio or museum exhibit.” Though, reading Lissa Wolsak’s terrific Squeezed Light: Collected Poems 1994-2005 (Station Hill, 2010) some months back, I did begin to think just that, with its array’d vocables, goodly odd-stuffs to peer at:
and after,

istle, finnochio, ixia

“rich in apples”

they,   for   emissive

lips   cooled forth

chilled persimmon sheathes,

disinterest in the speech of

ill-lit,     rigor-like

ink   flows on top of   milk

untroubled and smiling an

Engai   cuts the tail

from a living lion

humectant       dusk

orchid-orange   wasp       swimmy...

gate and pear

by trading subtly

mores for mores

a mound-owner

stoops to dig a root

halve for me

the wind-beads

halve for me

my space-grasp
That out of Wolsak’s “Pen Chants, or nth or 12 Spirit-like Impermanences.” So that, encumber’d by the syntactical tightness of my own lines, a moment for the rehearsals of sprawl and flocculence did arrive. I intend’d a piece call’d “The Ten Thousand Things”—leaning up against Thomas Sprat’s reverie of a perfectly efficient lingual Arcadia: “a constant Resolution to reject all Amplifications, Digressions, and Swellings of Style; to return back to the primitive Purity and Shortness, when Men deliver’d so many Things, almost in an equal Number of Words.” That, and Cecil—not Frederick—Taylor’s audaciously seeing in “each note . . . a continent, a world in itself.” Abandon’d after roughly twelve hundred or so words / things. Here’s two:

            a fork’d succulent                     progg’d by the cesspool

      Crane’s pie pantry         primitivist’s eye             at widdershins

    wrench’d out of obligado           scop             a refuge, a confinement

  inventory of the portable self             each containment’s hundred

savage candor           “peeled bits of straw”           glean’d the beyond

circumflect’d sun gone watery               Leslie’s road grisaille walk’d

the humdrum                     John Clare                     “the cowslip pips”

getting out to pee     Volvo in the turnabout         the Epping grimoire

  wobbles                                               /                                             warbles

          sable lettering brush             extrapictorial naming refus’d

            “serv’d no prenticeship”             the fens               canny spells

              dip of the goldfinch     the Chinese call’d it “ink play”

                    A bowing           of / to           the horizontal

          milk’d reveries of         a Camberwell youth

                  “big as the bowels of Vesuvius”

      Campo Santo             “signifies and is”

  scoria array’d                 dud     beetles in the weeds

      beyond scurrility           prayer busts         septic & flush’d

wan sober meat of hickory           art-dub           hello, actually

      pokeweed in the reticent field of     mole-color’d gauze

            a fit exegesis / digesteth yron                   uncanny / tyranny

                    up out of the diurnal fever like an asterisk

        August / angst                 some brackish tannin’d spillway

la Saltpêtrière     black jelly adherent             glib

      seethe of meniscus                 gulp of dying

      “their dusky backs upheav’d”        boon to descant

  dumb hour         hard quotidian snip         a throw-

                      down song

Lissa Wolsak

Monday, April 25, 2011

Gérard Gavarry’s Hoppla! 1 2 3

A Wall

Out and about, scissoring off a stretch of high orchards, rolling between Paw Paw, Michigan and Hammond, Indiana, with repeat’d intermittent wheelings. Sandhill cranes flying. A redtail in a scrubby elm, Dutch’d to a stick. Collect’d debris of the road pull’d like hosiery up and across the bumps and knots of the weekend, sheer, to fit. Like a nail bang’d into an ice-block: making a potable by mere insistence. Read: Gérard Gavarry’s Hoppla! 1 2 3 (Dalkey Archive, 2009), translated by Jane Kuntz. One story repeat’d thrice under three titles, besmatter’d each with a pertinent lingo: “The Coconut Palm,” “The Cargo Ship,” “The Centaur.” Story of one Ti-Jus—son of African immigrants, inhabitant of a housing project in Ris-Orangis, south of Paris, mother (Bessie) cashier in a big-box supermarché, father (Celestin) stunned by melancholy or wholly cancel’d out and unmanned by destiny—who murders one Madame Fenerolo, manager of the SUMABA supermarket. I think briefly of Meursault shooting the Arab under the unbearable sun that day. Gavarry’s title’s out of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera:
In that noonday heat there’ll be a hush round the harbour
As they ask which has got to die.
And you’ll hear me as I softly answer: the lot!
And as the first head rolls I’ll say: hoppla!
Polly Peachum singing the song of “Pirate Jenny” with its threat of vengeance against all constraint. (As Frank O’Hara puts it: “Those / were intricate days.”) The heart-stopping restraint of Gavarry’s prose, its way of gathering up a billowy white cumulus against threat. Here, out of the middle of “The Cargo Ship”:
      Paris, like the suburbs, had experienced its moment of hail. Right from the first few seconds, it sounded as though icy machine-gun pellets were going to shoot through car hoods, shatter windshields and glass canopies, rip through awnings. Cars all came to a halt, and when unable to find haven in the scant space of some bus shelter, or else take refuge in the metro, pedestrians huddled under porch canopies and cornices, as stunned by the sudden strangeness of the urban landscape around them as they were by the frenetic humming of the hailstones.
      The sky having changed back to a less solid state, traffic resumed. Shelters emptied out. Once again, the city resounded with its usual driving, walking, rush hour garrulousness. One street, however, or a section of street, in the Quinze-Vingts neighborhood, was slow to return to normal. No vehicles were crowding the road, except for the ones that were parallel parked; no engines were revving up for departure . . . Nevertheless, from anonymous bystander to anonymous bystander, there soon manifested a desire for contact. Looks were exchanged, signifying “So you noticed it, too?” . . . Smiles of denied anxiety began to show through their worried looks: a fleeting phenomenon, as though the usual inertia slowing all urban hustle and bustle to an irritable crawl had now solidified entirely, bringing people to a complete halt . . . The question “What’s going on?” was now displayed on every face, made manifest by every body. Left unanswered, the question evolved into “Is there something brewing?,” then “Will it be something serious?,” and then “Where will it come from?” They watched the skies, as though fearful it might rain down acid or salt, corrupting the waters of the earth. Ears pricked up in expectation of the unlikeliest sounds from neighboring streets: weeping and wailing, mooing, crying and croaking, all of which would reach a pitch testifying to the most unspeakable agonies, or even an overall regression of the species itself . . . Chirring clouds of locust, then blue-black bolts of venomous bluebottle flies, and anopheles mosquitoes, were all going to pour out of the darkening sky, invading everything, devouring everything, poisoning everything; or perhaps, out of sight, millions of killer bacteria were already at work on people’s flesh . . . No one moved.
The arrival, so pointedly prepared, is of Ti-Jus and three friends: “They took up the entire breadth of the street.” Impeccable sense of how racially alarming the European “street” itself finds the physical ease of the boys. And the odd impenetrable lingo, here render’d in “cargo ship” terminology: “They shortened boatswain into bosun or into simply bos . . . They spoke of lining the windlass, of stowing and slackening the hawser. . . . ‘All scuppers open! . . .’” (So, too, in “The Coconut Palm,” the boys interject with words like Nucifera and spadices and “the coir of a drupe”—coconut argot, botanically inflect’d. A way of “making strange.”) There’s a terrific paragraph or so wherein Gavarry connects the rampant physical, the animal, with the hoppla! blurt and jactancy of language-making. Here:
      We hear it, we alone, a muffled stirring in the body’s prison, an utterance anxious for release from our flesh, but that we retain, captive, for although we’d like to believe it belongs to us, or is part of ourselves, we suspect it to have been implanted deep within us by some malign force—a force that has always reigned there, supreme, or else, via some ruse, which has insinuated itself gradually, and now rules incognito. Should this utterance happen to escape, suddenly inhabiting the open air, resounding in our own voice, we would fail to recognize it, would grow afraid, feel ashamed, as though we had forgotten how to use language; or else, if we were able to puzzle out the meaning of those sounds, we would find that we had been reproducing the very same words that reveal us to be rough beasts, compounding our shame—and the fear that would soon moisten our skin and make our hair sticky would indeed bring out our most animal odors.
      This is why we keep quiet, why we endure the visceral dilations and constrictions, the spasms, the feelings of stifling, and, in general, all the varied frustrations occasioned by suppressed speech; why we identify not with the animals that speak, but rather with our own muteness, as well as with certain sensations and sounds: the blowing of the wind around our male bodies, the sharp, hurried hammering of our steps beneath us, the eruption of our urine, its drumming against the metallic flooring or doormats.
One recalls Artaud’s uninhibit’d theater of animal noises, grunts, yells, rough vocalics assuming the fail’d place of language. One recalls the way one is tempt’d, writing, to burst into sheer noise—think of Williams’s “Wheeeeee / clacka tacka tacka / tacka tacka / wha ha ha ha ha / ha ha ha” in “The Trees” or Eliot’s twit twit jug jug tereu bandying. Urge to roar and slur against the tongue’s own finicky.

Gérard Gavarry’s Hoppla! 1 2 3

Gérard Gavarry

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Defects Inherent”

A Wall

Meteoric shoots of forsythia suckering up into the reaches whilst the groundling daffodils dodge the cut-purses, and ooh and ahh predictably, one-penny marks. “Nothing in that drawer.” Pound’s “Man is an over-complicated organism. If he is doomed to extinction he will die out for want of simplicity.” (That—out of Guide to Kulchur—coming hard behind Pound’s note concerning “the defects or disadvantages of my Cantos.” Being only: “the defects inherent in a record of struggle.” So that “defect” becomes a kind of cupidity, unremitting.) Isn’t that the thing lacking in the constructivist messes? All that seamlessness of making—or seaminess—all sutures, rough-join’d, in plain sight à la New Sentence-ry with its pre-planned aporias, the somnolent regularity of its sentence by sentence deferrals. Fix’d in its niggling, it “inheres” to no man, no particular man. The contending (if it exists) is merely between particulars: no longer is it—Pound’s model—between maker and emergent form. A pertinence (out of the new issue* of Paul Vangelisti’s OR), a terrific piece by Martha Ronk:
The Factual Nature

After a while so much has happened there are no more words
or it’s hard to force them or the mismatch more entirely obvious as
off in the distance someone is ringing the doorbell and ought to be let in
or the furnace switches on as the nights grow cold as slippery water
slips in its pipes and what this is taken together, which is how it comes,
lacks the sort of organizational lexicon necessary to the faint at heart.
The lists Homer made of trees, the catalog of ships, seem crucibles
in which the factual nature of things burns us and more and more
it makes sense to make lists of battles and their dates,
to memorize the names of those gone, each photographed with a cigarette,
staring off into the dust and the queer yellow light reflected off it
so that the term “unreal” becomes a necessary ploy
to dull the shocks that flesh is heir to.
The “ploy” of a “term” or the “organizational lexicon” of the “list”—devices thrown up as barricades against the world’s onslaught and drubbing. Better to work under the signs of “ex tempore” and “pro re nata” undaunt’d, untrammel’d by the pre-regulatory lean of a method beyond the dodge one of the winsomely fleet. Pound points to technique’s being “the test of a man’s sincerity” and calls for “the trampling down of every convention that impedes or obscures the determination of the law, or the precise rendering of the impulse.” I’d argue that includes one’s own predetermined sortie. Isn’t that O’Hara’s oomph in “Biotherm”? “I am guarding it from mess and measure”—balancing a tightrope between the “how it comes” and (here) Williams’s sense of “measure”—particularly that at the end of Paterson, Book Five:
The measure intervenes, to measure is all we know,
                        a choice among the measures   .   .
                                            the measured dance
“unless the scent of a rose
                        startle us anew”
.   .   .

          Yo ho! ta ho!
We know nothing and can know nothing   .
the dance, to dance to a measure
          Satyrically, the tragic foot.
It is that ending (with its ellipsis’d out midriff—quoted thus by Hugh Kenner at the end of a review of Williams’s Paterson, Book Five and I Wanted to Write a Poem in the May 1959 Poetry that I suspect O’Hara’s mocking with the later “Biotherm” lines:
“measure shmeasure know shknew
unless the material rattle us around
pretty rose preserved in biotherm
and yet the y bothers us when we dance
                                                                  the pussy pout”
O’Hara’s poem for Bill Berkson is dated “August 26, 1961-January 23, 1962.” The May 1959 Poetry includes, too, Kenneth Koch’s “Thank You” and “You Were Wearing.”
*OR #6: Work by George Albon, Vincente Aleixandre, Luigi Ballerini, Art Beck, Guy Bennett, Kevin Casey, Rebecca Chamlee, Neeli Cherkovski, Ray DiPalma, Johanna Drucker (reviewing Alan Loney’s The Books to Come), Mark DuCharme, Gilad Elbom, Courtney Gregg, Dale Herd, Ernst Jandl, John King, John Latta, Eugenia Matt, Douglas Messerli, Jude Luciano Mezetta, Bill Mohr (reviewing books by Gail Wronsky, Maggie Nelson and Stephen Ratcliffe), Béatrice Mousli, Christopher Mulrooney, C. Natale Peditto, Dennis Phillips, Antonio Porta, Francis Raven, Andrea Rexilius, Gianluca Rizzo, Martha Ronk, Alice Rose, Donna Sprujit-Metz, Sarah Suzor, Paul Vangelisti, Emilio Villa, and Silas Zobal.

Martha Ronk


Puttering, I put things
off with a semi-
valiant intent to do
what needs doing with-
out delay, practical, vett’d,
sober. Or I pull
a “big umbrella” rain
hat off the rack,
march with the square-
jaw’d constructivists, pulling no
necessary punches, withholding no
cry against the hazards
of a state security
apparatus newly equip’d with
mambo Darth Vader trappings,
insane riot-adducing gear
for the routine crowd
control, domestic, of post-
fútbol Saturday night barrio
toots, or the hotel
workers local’s measly picket
line with its hand-
letter’d signs and nigh
unintelligibly bullhorn’d chorus of
demands. A regular pawn-
shop hero I am,
all illegitimacy and hope
pared down to despair.
I think of Kierkegaard
who says, “The doubter
is like a lash’d
top. He remains upright
only whilst the throttling
continues, and is unable
to stand erect without
it.” Or the enormous
fib of Kafka: that
necessity for “a goal
one makes one’s way
towards by undergoing every
kind of unhappiness.” Anxiety
lies in the hock
shop retrieval, itching among
heap’d up arrangements of
hockey skates and Nancy
Drew books, the piety-
inflict’d owner yakking it
up about Agamemnon, presumably
the cat who’s extending
one lazy orange paw
out of the nether
regions of a hutch. Who
snatches it back at
the noise of my
sneeze. Anxious, out of
angere, to choke. I
am choking, I am
choking off all gum-
shoe affability and making
for the border south
where rage isn’t just
another uneasy commodity when
the pinch is in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The H.D. Book Notes 6

A Wall

Continuing aimlessness and lethargy, pie-eyed with the skinflint angels at dawn. Cloud-idle under the usurper sun. “The vowels are physical corridors . . .” They are not angels. All that “O Apollo” and “O Demeter” horse manure, that contralto chorus of “bright Mnemosyne”—avoiding the soil’d linens, the shabby untuck’d shirts, the unwash’d snot rags . . . Whence the pervasive sealants of the real? Pound (out of “Cavalcanti,” rail’d at—in The H. D. Book—by Duncan): “Unless a term is left meaning one particular thing, and unless all attempt to unify different things, however small the difference, is clearly abandoned, all metaphysical thought degenerates into a soup. A soft terminology is merely an endless series of indefinite middles.” Against the duplicity (or complicity) of the (Duncan-favor’d) pun. Against the muddling effect of the metaphorickal throwdown. Against, seemingly, Pound’s own emergent “ply over ply”—“Life a fish-scale roof, / Like the church roof in Poictiers” he writes in Canto IV—conglomeratory method ideogrammaticks. Hugh Kenner (in the 1951 The Poetry of Ezra Pound) puts it clearly, Pound’s allegiance to the distinct, the tangible: “art as the process of compelling out of otherwise mute particulars, by their electric juxtaposition, traces, intelligible patterns, of an intense, clear, luminous intellective world.” He, too, turns to “Cavalcanti”—print’d in Make It New, and dated 1910-1931—pointing to Pound’s mediaevalist call for
‘harmony in the sentience’ or harmony of the sentient, where the thought has its demarcation, the substance its virtù, where stupid men have not reduced all ‘energy’ to unbounded undistinguished abstraction . . .
Virtù: “the defining quality of a thing.” Pound says (Canto LXXIV): “In the light of light is the virtù.” Pound’s complaint: “For the modern scientist energy has no borders, it is a shapeless ‘mass’ of force; even his capacity to differentiate it to a degree never dreamed by the ancients has not led him to think of its shape or even its loci.” And: “We appear to have lost the radiant world where one thought cuts through another with a clean edge, a world of moving energies, ‘mezzo oscuro rade’, ‘risplende in sè perpetuale effecto’, magnetisms that take form, that are seen, or that border the visible . . .” So, the petals of ripples cut by “white petals”: “Ply over ply, thin glitter of water; / Brook film bearing white petals.” The clean short i sound (“thin,” “glitter,” “film”), the lack of articles: the lines sheer, fleet, and deft. Cauterized, seal’d off. Against what Pound calls “lumping” (“Loss of values is due usually to lumping and to lack of dissociation.”) Duncan notes Pound’s fussy rejecting of (disgust at) muddle, “filth,” “slush,” the supposèd unclean: “He is naturally repelled when in Rubens he sees the flesh portrayed as meat. He rages like a Puritan bigot faced with the Whore of Babylon at the adulterous—latinizing—syntax of Milton . . .” Quotes Pound, writing of D. H. Lawrence’s poetry, how he finds “the middling-sensual erotic verses in this collection . . . a sort of pre-raphaelitish slush, disgusting or very nearly so. . .” Pound’s commonly-noted hysteria confront’d by any (“feminine”) carnal yield, or softness. Too, Duncan points to Dewey’s similar “bias in aesthetic” in Art as Experience (1934):
If the perception is then eked out by reminiscence or by sentimental associations derived from literature—as is usually the case in paintings popularly regarded as poetic—a simulated aesthetic experience occurs.
      Paintings that seem dead in whole or part are those in which intervals merely arrest, instead of also carrying forward. They are “holes,” blanks. What we call dead spots are, from the side of the percipient, the things that enforce a partial or frustrated organization of outgoing energy. There are works of art that merely excite, in which activity is aroused without the composure of satisfaction, without fulfillment within the terms of the medium. Energy is left without organization. Dramas are then melodramatic; paintings of nudes are pornographic; the fiction that is read leaves us discontented with the world in which we are, alas, compelled to live without the opportunity for the romantic adventure and high heroism suggested by the story-book. In those novels, in which characters are the puppets of their authors, our revulsion comes from the fact that life is pretended, not enacted. The simulation of life by a show of animation and vivacity leaves us with the same irritation of incompletion that follows continued idle chatter.
Dewey’s cues unmistakable: it’s the “feminine” —“idle chatter,” “vivacity”—“holes” that fail as art. Back to my pie-eyed, art-fail’d wiles.

John Dewey, 1859-1952

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

“Resort to sports . . .”


Some intermittent Faustian gibberish, unmalign’d. “Crazy weather.” The allure of manic vocables, rough stertorous snuffling or wee reeking iactantia intempestiva (meaning: untemper’d jactancy), all that high-blood’d song, it’s chutzpah and oomph. Wind shear in the galactic disc, my singular star approaching the sun’s velocity, trammel’d by Oort’s constant, or Oort’s limit: any constant is a limit. (Trying to cut through the usual “game”—making the wilderness of borrow’d voices drop its ordinary regimen and travail: one way of “gearing up.”) Edmund Wilson—in Axel’s Castle (1931)—quotes Valéry saying that literature’s become “an art which is based on the abuse of language—that is, it is based on language as a creator of illusions, and not on language as a means of transmitting realities. Everything which makes a language more precise, everything which emphasizes its practical character, all the changes which it undergoes in the interests of a more rapid transmission and an easier diffusion, are contrary to its function as a poetic instrument.” Wilson, paraphrasing: “Just as the development of mechanical devices has compelled us to resort to sports in order to exercise our muscles, so literature will survive as a game as a series of specialized experiments in the domain of “symbolic expression and imaginative values attained through the free combination of the elements of language.” Dull enough. Wilson a reader of Wittgenstein? Nein. Philosophical Investigations, wherein Wittgenstein talks of the “language-game” (Sprachspiel): print’d in 1953. Valéry’s remarks recall Williams, in a piece call’d “Preface to a Book of Poems by Harold Rosenberg”—intend’d for Rosenberg’s 1942 volume of poetry, Trance Above the Streets, and un-used, “possibly because Williams could find so little favorable to say”—out of Something to Say. Williams makes distinct “the line” and “the sense, the didactic, expository sense”: “The meaning is the total poem, it is not directly dependent on what the poem says.” And, aiming, per usual, a dexterous inoculatory against the influenza of the not-so-feverish Brits:
Where the formal make-up is too heavily ridden by what is said we are likely to get into bad habits of thought. The line becomes an implement merely for stressing the explanatory statements and we fall inevitably into the error, so recently popularized by the English exiles to America, especially Auden, when he says that all writing is an instrument, an appliance. As a matter of fact no first-rate work of art can be described as an appliance. Man is the instrument; the poem, the whole poem—when it is “realized”—subordinates man and becomes “the word.”
Lapse into narcissism, a regular Kinbote. What’s the matter with capital’s what’s the matter with “me.” Meaning, “us” of la poesía norteamericana, fœtidly “free” to make each a “singular” mess. (Throwing down dice against my own truculent inheritance.) What is “style”? Robert Duncan, one of the late entries in The H. D. Book:
Style is an effort to exorcise or to control the magic or glamour of sound in music, stone in sculpture or evocation in words. The effort in style is to increase an awareness of the rationale of the works. Thinking now of the lure of women’s hair and dress, we see that in periods of style women cut their hair or keep it most in place, and that style in dress means the effortful projection of effect—all aims at increasing our awareness of what is there as a thing in itself. . . . Lure is the opposite of style; the sentence and thought must wander to distraction before the reader becomes hopelessly involved. And hopeless involvement is the underlying psychic need of the magician. Had magic intended power over all things it could have found power, but the deep desire the magician hides from himself is the bewilderment he seeks. Lucifer does not betray, he brings to light our secret wishes to be undone.
Hence the gibbering.


A field of the mad-blight’d
dogs of intelligibility, sturdy couriers
of what not to expect.
Behind the story’s “thrust” is
a man thinking about yellow
acacias, or how the sun
looks like a silk blouse
just out of the wash.
Fuck that. A story’s a
palm’d orb, a fiery-color’d
globular sac pitch’d with intent,
an ornery cuss blood’d with
capillary networks that fan out
against the albumin light, making
spending global and coagulatory. Like
capital. Here in the city,
convergences of eulalias grab sex
arcanas off the instructor’s clip-
board, husbandry is for money.
Like that. Fuck capital. Inconsistency
is rolling into Lubbock, Texas
with a dapper canary. Blithe
merch, accessible as a swarm.
The bread in the grocer’s
tubs is angelic and white:
heaven itself is heaving out
its broke-down chronic fiat
against clampdown, bullying, and dystopia.
No use. The mad chirren
go madder, an unheard-of
rose. That century’s gone, sweet-
meat, my cheat, today’s story
is how implacably the poor
bait and sucker the poor.

Edmund Wilson, 1895–1972

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Unobstruct’d

In a Garden

Snow in April. Knifing down, slicing into the yellow daffodils, into the hyacinths. A long weekend of spotty accruals, reading pages here and there, deferring the rare engines of making. (Ben Jonson says: “There be some men are born only to suck out the poison of books: Habent venenum pro victu; imô, pro deliciis [They hold poison to be a victual; indeed, a delicacy]. And such are they that only relish the obscene and foul things in poets, which makes the profession taxed.”) Tax’d, yea, tax’d. Callimachus says Apollo recommends the poet “follow trails unrutted by wagons” and “keep to the back roads though the going is narrow”:
“We are the poets for those who love
        the cricket’s high chirping, not the noise of the jackass.”
Out of a fragment of the prologue to the Aetia (meaning “cause” or “origin”), “an elegiac poem in four books . . . made up of a series of loosely connected explanations of legends,” &c. Translated by Stanley Lombardo. One lovely fragment reads:
[. . .]
        when the Muses settled like a swarm of bees
near Hesiod, out on the hill with his sheep,
        by the fiery horse’s hoofprint
                                generation out of Chaos

                        water from the hoof

“hurt another and hurt yourself most”

                        to live worthily
                                all things you accomplish

[. . .]
I think of Barbara Guest’s line (in “Composition”): “Writing, narrow and sparse, pungent as the lemon tree.” Or Gustaf Sobin (in “A Portrait of the Self as Instrument of Its Syllables”) nodding to:
                                        what brought me then,
over the low
ledges.     brought that I
bring: impelled that I urge, herd, drive the
words into

luminous salvage.     and stand, there, in those
linked shadows, thus
“Luminous salvage.” Later: “luminous debris.” Vestigial discourse: canny assemblages of previous marks, the footprints of mania’d runners going to and fro, vestigia. Think of the fine fretting (two senses) of accomplishment. Accomplishment against the nod and against the nod out. An urge against the “herd” (see “jackass, the noise of the”). What is lovely is how Williams (in a 3 March 1950 letter to Creeley, print’d in Origin) calls poetry one of “the unobstructed arts” (“a means is at least present . . . where a man can go on living”). Here’s the whole (Williams doing a spotty Pound burlesque):
      My own (moral) program can be chiefly stated. I send it for what it may be worth to you: To write badly is an offence to the state since the government can never be more than the government of the words.
      If the language is distorted crime flourishes. It is well that in the unobstructed arts (because they can at favorable times escape the perversions that flourish elsewhere) a means is at least presented to the mind where a man can go on living.
      For there is in each age a specific criterion which is the objective for the artist in that age. Not to attack that objective is morally reprehensible—as evil as it is awkward to excuse.
      Bad art is then that which does not serve in the continual service of cleansing the language upon all fixations upon dead, stinking dead, usages of the past. Sanitation and hygiene or sanitation that we may have hygienic writing.
The kind of thing an ideologue (and there be plenty afoot in any “era”) might intercept and run with. Veering “off” track provides one with one means of continuance, skittish, untrellis’d, prestidigitatory, fleet. Against the noisy ycleptick of the present. Jonson: “The multitude commend writers as they do fencers or wrestlers, who if they come in robustiously and put for it with a deal of violence are received for the braver fellows; when many times their own rudeness is a cause of their disgrace, and a slight touch of their adversary gives all that boisterous force the foil. But in these things the unskilful are naturally deceived, and judging wholly by the bulk, think rude things greater than polished, and scattered more numerous than composed . . .”

Gustaf Sobin, 1935-2005

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Field of Action Painting

Queen Anne’s Lace (Last Year’s Model)

Fatigue or addle-patedness, some kind of deleteriousness’s clean’d out the cranny: I am bum-foozled (literally: ass-drag’d) by a morning’s jaunt in search of any “subsequence” to an untitled Spicer poem found in the Spicer / Duncan An Ode and Arcadia (Ark Press, 1974)—
Come watch the love-balloon, that great
Inflated tautology of angel-wings.
(They say it floats somewhere but I have seen
Its stupid flutter like the great-sea birds
Who stumble through the city in a storm.)
Its cord goes downwards, watch the dangling men
Upon its draw-strings, watch a sudden wind
Give them a shaking; tangle, change, and bind.
Each wind is fatal. Nothing knows its place.
Beneath that high-flown floater love is like a race
Between the horse and crouching rider; no one wins,
And neither stops till someone wins—or falls.

Come watch the love-balloon, that great
Inflated tautology of angel-wings.
(They say it floats somewhere but I have seen
Its stupid flutter like the great-sea birds
Who stumble through the city in a storm.)
Its cord goes downwards, watch the dangling men
Upon its draw-strings, watch a sudden wind
Give them a shaking; tangle, change, and bind.
Each wind is fatal. Nothing knows its place.
Beneath that high-flown floater love is like a race
Between the horse and crouching rider; no one wins,
And neither stops till someone wins—or falls.
Jack Spicer meets Saul Bellow. How oddly refreshing, that demand that one read it twice. (I think of a recording of Williams reading at Harvard in 1951, affably insisting he read “This Is Just to Say” twice: “Modern American poetry is . . . like a man without a head. We got the whole body of English literature right there, all that it need is a head, that’s all.”) In Duncan’s The H.D. Book, mention of Williams’s 1948 lecture at the University of Washington, “The Poem as a Field of Action”: “anticipating Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ with its proposition of composition by field.” (Variously, by Olson in 1950, saying a poet, “the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION—puts himself in the open—he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined . . .”) The “field”—Duncan spalling off Olson’s thinking in “the opening of”—okay. Whence “action”? What is the sequence whereby Harold Rosenberg’s naming of “action painting” comes about (in “The American Action Painters” in 1952)? Did Rosenberg read / know of Williams? Did Olson? (Though it seems “The Poem as a Field of Action” is finally print’d only in the 1954 Selected Essays.) Williams’s talk is contrarian, ranging, profuse: he complains both of American poems being “not subtly enough made” and that “the structure, the staid manner of the poem cannot let our feelings through”). The feelings: big, unfinish’d, conglomatory, a welter:
      We seek profusion, the Mass—heterogeneous—ill-assorted—quiet breathless—grasping at all kinds of things—as if—like Audubon shooting some little bird, really only to look at it the better.
      If any one man’s work lacks the distinction to be expected from the finished artist, we might well think of the profusion of a Rabelais—as against a limited output. It is as though for the moment we should be profuse, we Americans; we need to build up a mass, a conglomerate maybe, containing few gems but bits of them—Brazilian brilliants—that shine of themselves, uncut as they are.
It’s the unrefined, the unfound (two senses) Williams sees confounding the narrow, unfixing the prosodic “laws.” He writes how “we as loose, disassociated (linguistically), yawping speakers of a new language . . . [disturb] the metrical table of values” and compares it to the way “unknown elements . . . disturb Mendelyeev’s table of the periodicity of atomic weights and so lead to discoveries.” (How Dr. Williams’d jump to the existence of the “super-heavy” element Rutherfordium (detect’d in 1966), “not found in nature” and of no use.) Rosenberg’s “The American Action Painters”: Is there a tenable relation between a remark like: “At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event” and Williams’s point that one can “put it down as a general rule that when a poet . . . begins to devote himself to the subject matter of his poems, genre, he has come to an end of his poetic means”? Williams says, too, that “a new way of writing” ’s most apt to be found where there’s “instability in the language where innovation would be at home.” Instability: Rosenberg’s “ there is no point to an act if you already know what it contains.” Or:
A sketch can have the function of a skirmish.
The apples weren’t brushed off the table in order to make room for perfect relations of space and color. They had to go so that nothing would get in the way of the act of painting. In this gesturing with materials the aesthetic, too, has been subordinated. Form, color, composition, drawing, are auxiliaries, any one of which—or practically all, as has been attempted logically, with unpainted canvases—can be dispensed with. What matters always is the revelation contained in the act. It is to be taken for granted that in the final effect, the image, whatever be or be not in it, will be a tension.
“Tension” is akin to Williams’s “structure” (gesture akin to speech). Williams’s canvas / field is act’d on by “the mouths of the living”—“the dialect is the mobile phase, the changing phase, the productive phase . . . It is there, in the mouths of the living, that the language is changing and giving new means for expanded possibilities in literary expression and, I add, basic structure—the most important of all.”

Rosenberg makes no notice of Williams in the essay, though he sutures in an odd line of Stevens: “The American will is easily satisfied in its efforts to realize itself in knowing itself.” (Just under the terrific Apollinaire line, story of the American artist / poet: “J’ai fait des gestes blancs parmi les solitudes.”) The Stevens quote seems to signal distrust. Rosenberg’s concern is “seriousness”—a way, one supposes, of making experience “authentic”:
      The test of any of the new paintings is its seriousness—and the test of its seriousness is the degree to which the act on the canvas is an extension of the artist’s total effort to make over his experience.
      A good painting in this mode leaves no doubt concerning its reality as an action and its relation to a transforming process in the artist. The canvas has “talked back” to the artist not to quiet him with Sibylline murmurs nor to stun him with Dionysian outcries but to provoke him into a dramatic dialogue. Each stroke had to be a decision and was answered by a new question. By its very nature, action painting is painting in the medium of difficulties.
Here the moral jones of American art outs. Difficulty makes genuine (an attitude rather lacking in Dr. Williams). A footnote Rosenberg here append’d to the essay in The Tradition of the New (1959) reads in part: “In a word, Action Painting is the abstraction of the moral element in art; its mark is moral tension in detachment from moral or esthetic uncertainties; and it judges itself morally in declaring that picture to be worthless which is not the incorporation of a genuine struggle . . .” Contra:
      Weak mysticism, the “Christian Science” side of the new movement, tends in the opposite direction, toward easy painting—never so many unearned masterpieces! Works of this sort lack the dialectical tension of a genuine act, associated with risk and will. When a tube of paint is squeezed by the Absolute, the result can only be a Success. The painter need keep himself on hand solely to collect the benefits of an endless series of strokes of luck. His gesture completes itself without arousing either an opposing movement within itself nor the desire in the artist to make the act more fully his own. Satisfied with wonders that remain safely inside the canvas, the artist accepts the permanence of the commonplace and decorates it with his own daily annihilation. The result is an apocalyptic wallpaper.
Which—my own jonesing for a stance beyond the flip complacency of the current careering hordes—sounds a little like Flarf & Cie’s watery slumgullion to me.

Elaine de Kooning, “Harold Rosenberg #1,” 1967

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The H.D. Book Notes 5

Some Grasses

Reading, I jot down page numbers, tout seul, or accompany’d by one word notes. Returning to a page means retrieving a nexus of momentary particulars, some probable spur, or goad. Or not. Some moments coalesce to naught beyond a movement, some peremptory “en train de” took by the reading’s onslaught and continuance. One fails at the recovery, the fluidity of context siphon’d off. Here, retrievals sans cesse, denatured, of what limit’d use? Glints in the slurry that is The H. D. Book. A poetics is “the study of work to be done”:
      That one image may recall another, finding depth in the resounding, is the secret of rhyme and measure. The time of a poem is felt as a recognition of return in vowel tone and in consonant formations, of pattern in the sequence of syllables, in stress and in pitch of a melody, of images and meanings. It resembles the time of a dream, for it is highly organized along lines of association and impulses of contrast towards the structure of the whole. The impulse of dream or poem is to provide a ground for some form beyond what we know, for feeling “greater than Reality.”
Duncan’s talk of “knots of meaning that refused any easy use”—gleanings of the Theosophic world and its “quest for meanings” become “a vital need in life that one recognized in romance where the hero must learn the language of birds, overhear the conversation of trees . . .” How it imbue’d a poetics, a sought thing. How I stand with Olson, the Olson of that Duncan-chiding in “Against Wisdom as Such”:
I fall back on a difference I am certain the poet at least has to be fierce about: that he is not free to be a part of, or to be any, sect; that there are no symbols for him, there are only his own composed forms, and each one solely the issue of the time of the moment of its creation, not any ultimate except what he in his heat and that instant in its solidity yield. That the poet cannot afford to traffick in any other “sign” than this one, his self, the man or woman he is. Otherwise God does rush in. And art is washed away, turned into that second force, religion.
Disturbingly, out of the hermetic roots, an accompanying sense of being one of the elect, the chosen. Duncan’s heroes (“company”), a bande à part:
We must move throughout the history of man to find many of our own kin, for here and now those who think and feel in the terms we seek are few indeed. But from each of these the cry goes up—to whom other than us, their spiritual kin—from an intense solitude. Not only Freud’s “There are very few who understand this,” but Stein’s “Do you know because I tell I you so, or do you know, do you know. (Silence) My long life, my long life,” or Joyce’s “Thinking always if I go all goes. A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me? One in a thousand of years of the nights?” or Pound’s plea from Canto CXVI:
I have brought the great ball of crystal,
                                who can lift it?
Can you enter the great acorn of light?
Or, there’s the sense of the lock’d box, “the wisdom of ‘what words conceal’”—Duncan even attempts to enlist Williams’s forthright “no ideas but in things” in the magisterial hoo-hah, suggesting that it, too, “must” find its resonance in “the dreams of the race.” Duncan:
The very heightened sense of the relatedness of everything set poets apart. The very secret of the impulse in poetry is the troubled awareness the poet has of meanings in the common language everywhere that those about him do not see or do not consider so important. “We,” H. D. writes in The Walls Do Not Fall, “bearers of the secret wisdom,” and then:
but if you do not even understand what words say

how can you expect to pass judgment
on what words conceal?
Though: the riotous and conceal’d “relatedness” is got at—recall’d or gain’d—by a musically-attenuated and severe seeing. I suspect Duncan’s right about the import of the eye (“Vision itself may be the spear; the eye being struck, the necessary vulnerable spot, where reality can get at the hero-poet”) in H. D.’s work, though the lingo of restraint in the telling seems oddly “counter”:
H. D.’s intensity of image arises in her stricture of the eye to see in the clear, to penetrate the elf-skin or shimmer of excited vision and to locate the object. She holds a limit in poetry against the riot of the imagination, for she seeks a conscious recognition of what is going on. The very tenseness of her line is an attention that functions to hold back from the potency poetry has to produce its own luxe of the unreal, the world seen thru a glass darkly, the shadow of the dome of pleasure, the strange thunders from the potency of song, and the magic casements that open upon fairy seas. This reverie or “escape” in ascent or descent beyond the scale of the consciously analyzed is the medium of what she calls music that she resists.
Tellingly: “she does not dream or day-dream but strives to render an exact account of what she has seen.” Whence, then, one wonders, the correspondences, the hid, the necessary undivulg’d occult?

Robert Duncan, c. 1962
(Photograph by LaVerne Harrell Clark)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The H.D. Book Notes 4

Buckthorn and Cut

Of H. D.’s spare, cut, wrung out “Hellenism,” the “Greek perfection” style. Edward Sapir, reviewing Collected Poems in 1926, notes its “voluptuous harshness.” And suggests: “Such violent restraint, such a passionate pleasure in the beauty of the denuded scene and the cutting thrust, themselves but inverse symbols of caress, could only develop in a culture that hungers for what it despises.” A curious remark: one suspects Sapir of unknowingly making a gender’d appraisal. (Try applying the remark to Pound’s restrain’d work circa Ripostes &c.) Though: one is bemused by the minor contretemps between H. D. and Williams regarding something like “purity of style.” H. D. in The Egoist in 1915, talking about translating Euripides:
While the sense of the Greek has been strictly kept, it is necessary to point out that the repetition of useless ornamental adjectives is a heavy strain on a translator’s ingenuity. This is only one instance from many where the Homeric Epithet degenerates into what the French call a remplissage—an expression to fill up a line. Such phrases have been paraphrased or omitted.
To find a style by cutting fat off the Greek. And in remarks concerning Euripides’s Ion in 1937, H. D. says: “The broken, exclamatory or evocative vers-libre which I have chosen to translate the two-line dialogue, throughout the play, is the exact antithesis of the original.” Williams himself, in the 1918 “Prologue” to Kora in Hell: Improvisations quotes H. D.’s letter of 14 August 1916 regarding Williams’s long poem “March”:
      I trust you will not hate me for wanting to delete from your poem all the flippancies. The reason I want to do this is that the beautiful lines are so very beautiful—so in the tone and spirit of your Postlude (which to me stands, a Nike, supreme among your poems). I think there is real beauty—and real beauty is a rare and sacred thing in this generation—in all the pyramid, Ashur-ban-i-pal bits and in the Fiesole and in the wind at the very last.
      I don’t know what you think but I consider this business of writing a very sacred thing!—I think you have the “spark”—am sure of it, and when you speak direct are a poet. I feel in the hey-ding-ding touch running through your poem a derivative tendency which, to me, is not you—not your very self. It is as if you were ashamed of your Spirit, ashamed of your inspiration!—as if you mocked at your own song. It’s very well to mock at yourself—it is a spiritual sin to mock at your inspiration—
Williams’s ferocious reply in the “Prologue” (Duncan suggesting “the words rankled”):
There is nothing sacred about literature, it is damned from one end to the other. There is nothing in literature but change and change is mockery. I’ll write whatever I damn please, whenever I damn please and as I damn please and it’ll be good if the authentic spirit of change is on it.
And: “We look for deliverance . . . from the desolation of a flat Hellenic perfection of style.” According to Williams, the excess is the improv: “The hey-ding-ding touch was derivative, but it filled a gap that I did not know how better to fill at the time. It might be said that that touch is the prototype of the improvisations.”

One looks at Williams’s “Postlude” for a sign of what H. D. sought. In the 1914 Des Imagistes version (facing Amy Lowell’s “In a Garden”—“Gushing from the mouths of stone men / To spread at ease under the sky / In granite-lipped basins / Where irises dabble their feet . . .” oh my . . .):
Now that I have cooled to you
Let there be gold of tarnished masonry,
Temples soothed by the sun to ruin
That sleep utterly.
Give me hand for the dances,
Ripples at Philae, in and out,
And lips, my Lesbian,
Wall flowers that once were flame.

Your hair is my Carthage
And my arms the bow
And our words arrows
To shoot the stars,
Who from that misty sea
Swarm to destroy us.
But you’re there beside me—
Oh, how shall I defy you
Who wound me in the night
With breasts shining
Like Venus and like Mars?
The night that is shouting Jason
When the loud eaves rattle
As with waves above me
Blue at the prow of my desire!
O prayers in the dark!
O incense to Poseidon!
Calm in Atlantis.
(“With breasts . . . Like Venus and like Mars” deserves its heave of a disgrunt’d “oh my . . .” too.) “March” begins with nigh-sedentary conversing, staunchly refusing the lyric outburst: “Winter is long in this climate / and spring—a matter of a few days / only,—a flower or two picked / from mud or from among wet leaves / or at best against treacherous / bitterness of wind, and sky shining / teasingly, then closing in black / and sudden, with fierce jaws . . .” Ambling talk—“a matter of,” “at best”—hardly mocking, hardly “hey-ding-ding.” Its third part begins—
the archer king, on horse-back,
in blue and yellow enamel!
with drawn bow—facing lions
standing on their hind legs,
fangs bared! his shafts
bristling in their necks!

Sacred bulls—dragons
in embossed brickwork
marching—in four tiers—
along the sacred way to
Nebuchadnezzar’s throne hall!
They shine in the sun,
they that have been marching—
marching under the dust of
ten thousand dirt years.

they are coming into bloom again!
See them!
marching still, bared by
the storms from my calendar
—winds that blow back the sand!
winds that enfilade dirt!
winds that by strange craft
have whipt up a black army
that by pick and shovel
bare a procession to
                                      the god, Marduk!
One thinks of Pound’s “The Return”—“See, they return; ah, see the tentative / Movements, and the slow feet, / The trouble in the pace and the uncertain / Wavering!” Duncan quotes H. D. (out of Tribute to the Angels) saying, “Every hour, every moment, has its specific attendant Spirit.” One thinks H. D.’s “spark” is concern’d as much with such supposed genii as with speaking “direct.” It is, certes, what Duncan finds in H. D. Though Duncan sees, too, how the makeshift and gaps and flaws of any weaving become “qualities of the whole, of the real.” In a rather confusingly work’d out metaphor of “netting”—“History is a close-weave. Fishing for the event,” and “The dragon is created in the creation of the net . . . the imagination is flung out to come into its figures”—Duncan attempts to keep both Williams’s improvisatory and “excessive” “hey-ding-ding” and H. D.’s rejecting of it:
      When we first come into the attraction of words in poetry, it is the craft of the net, the novelty of usage, the knot effect, often, that strikes us. We mistake the effect for the art. Style and signature most valuable, and the direct, uncharacterized speech, uninteresting. The “flippancy,” the up-to-dateness or regular guy voice of Williams’s language—the risk of those knots, the craft, the thing posed—appears interesting in itself. To be original. To challenge the communal thing. . . .
      To tie fancy knots and to contrive a greater show of our abilities. But all these original knottings are mistaken, are “hey-ding-ding”—“lead nowhere” the common sense is—if they are all novelty, things of 1920, not lasting forces. The knots that are flames are not originalities, but origins.
Prestidigitatory feint and recovery: “not originalities, but origins.”

William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jeffrey Yang’s Birds, Beasts, and Seas


Anthology—old story—out of the Greek, flower gathering, fr. anthos flower + logia collecting, fr. legein to gather, see LEGEND. (Anthophagous refers to one who feeds off flowers.) I do recall a period, early, of feeding off anthologies: Paul Carroll’s 1968 The Young American Poets (Diane Wakoski aiming a gun, hirsute Berrigan’s zipping “Tambourine Life”—“FUCK COMMUNISM”), Padgett and Shapiro’s 1970 An Anthology of New York Poets (likely skip’d Clark Coolidge’s “prune acrylic whose / dives / marls pays loops watts / lock mix deem / white apart / sass” for Ed Sanders’s “Elm Fuck Poem”—“in to the oily crotch / place dick / [. . .] / . . . suck the pulse of the / Hamadryad”—not, then, noticing how each be, one to the other), Anne Waldman’s 1969 The World Anthology (repeatedly drug off the library shelves—where I work’d—never own’d, is it there I first encounter’d the unimpeachable possibilities of syntax in Berrigan’s “My god is immense, and lonely / but uncowed. I trust my sanity, and I am proud. If / I sometimes grow weary, and seem still, nevertheless // my heart still loves, will break”? without ever seeing the O’Hara in it? and read with crazy belly-laugh glee Joel Sloman’s body measurements?), Donald Hall’s 1962 Contemporary American Poetry (wherein, undoubtedly, I initially read both “drive, he sd, for / christ’s sake, look / out where yr going” and “. . . if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom” and refuse—under tutelage to O’Hara’s “I cannot bring myself to prefer / Johnny Weissmuller to Lex Barker, I cannot!”—to reject either), thus obliging—probably without reading—Hall’s “We do not want to merely substitute one orthodoxy for another . . . The trouble with orthodoxy is that it prescribes the thinkable limits of variation” in the introduction). The Allen anthology arrived late. (New Poets of England and America not at all.) To say: the years of my “emergence” coincided with a brief pre-Language writing détente in la poesía norteamericana. Another preface hardly scan’d (youth wants its poem untrammel’d by contextual verbiage, no?), Padgett and Shapiro’s:
It would be facile as well as misleading to see these poets as forming a “School,” to pass them off as a literary movement. Fortunately, most poets of any interest these days are so enlightened that they automatically reject in their lives and work, the unhealthy idea of being part of a literary movement. Like water off a ducks’ back, such abstractions roll back into nothingness.
With, too, its slightly ga-ga romp through the surrounding flowers, sheer unceremonious heel-kicking, refusing the earnest at all cost:
Are New York poets new realists, or dissociated from any sympathy for the wretched of the earth? Are they drifting into a penumbra? Or do their sleek attractive surfaces glide by in the light? Have they freshened up the diatribe? Have any of their collaborations produced beautiful corpses? Are New York poets a diploma elite that buries its children? Are they merely tasting the ripest apple on the table, in the air? Is it a dérèglement de tous les sens? Or has it become, peculiarly Americanized, only a “leaving-out business,” a taking-away process? Have they generated a whole vocabulary of forms, a new sestina, new collages, cut-ups? Is it “deep gossip”? Why have the old copula been expunged?
All that ruminant jawing arriving along with a look into a new anthology, the Jeffrey Yang-edit’d Birds, Beasts, and Seas (New Directions, 2011). Subtitled: “Nature Poems from New Directions,” a dandy fitting pocketbook-sized number (its heft and look recall the Hall anthology cover’d with something like tiny semaphore flags, signals of distress, with a severe print’d “plate” center’d against it—here the background’s made of lozenges with bird, or bear, or lone canoeist, a book for carrying . . .) New Directions is seventy-five years old: reason enough to draw up a celebratory bouquet out of the archives. (Yang writes: “Birds, Beasts, and Seas draws from the whole of ND’s long-tailed library.”) A cynic’d say “repackaging”—I see a culling of particulars along lines of cleavage, point’d similars arranged in new constellatory patterns. What an anthology comes to be for. So that one, pawing rather randomly around, reads the fifth century B.C. Greek of Herakleitos, translated by Guy Davenport:
The Logos is eternal
but men have not heard it
and men have heard it and not understood.

Through the Logos all things are understood
yet men do not understand
as you shall see when you put acts and words to the test
I am going to propose:

One must talk about everything according to its nature,
how it comes to be and how it grows.
Men have talked about the world without paying attention
to the world or to their own minds,
as if they were asleep or absent-minded.
And a number of pages along, William Bronk’s “Aspects of the World Like Coral Reefs”:
In the spring woods, how good it is to see
again the trees, old company,
how they have withstood the winter, their girth.

By gradual actions, how the gross earth
gathers around us and grows real, is there,
as though it were really there, and is good.

Certain stars, of stupendous size, are said
to be such and such distances away,—
oh, farther than the eyes alone would ever see.

Thus magnified, the whole evidence
of our senses is belied. For it is not
possible for miles to add miles to miles

forever, not even if expressed as the speed of light.
The fault lies partly in the idea of miles.
It is absurd to describe the world in sensible terms.

How good that even so, aspects of the world
that are real, or seem to be real, should rise like reefs
whose rough agglomerate smashes the sea.
And each is dislodged by the other, out of the humdrum place one’s put it, and a rhyme is made. Look how suddenly lines out of Hugh MacDiarmid’s “On a Raised Beach”—
All is lithogenesis—or lochia,
Carpolite fruit of the forbidden tree,
Stones blacker than any in the Caaba,
Cream-coloured caen-stone, chatoyant pieces,
Celadon and corbeau, bistre and beige,
Glaucous, hoar, enfouldered, cyathiform,
Making mere faculae of the sun and moon,
I study you glout and gloss, but have
No cadrans to adjust you with, and turn again
From optik to haptik and like a blind man run
My fingers over you, arris by arris, burr by burr,
Slickensides, truité, rugas, foveoles,
Bringing my aesthesis in vain to bear,
An angle-titch to all your corrugations and coigns,
Hatched foraminous cavo-rilievo of the world,
Deictic, fiducial stones. Chiliad by chiliad
What bricole piled you here, stupendous cairn?
What artist poses the Earth écorché thus,
Pillar of creation engouled in me?
What eburnation augments you with men’s bones,
Every energumen an Endymion yet?
All the other stones are in this haecceity it seems,
But where is the Christophanic rock that moved?
What Cabirian song from this catasta comes?
—make echo with lines out of Eliot Weinberger’s “Dreams from the Holohurians”:
Atlantis! In the dark the holothurians eat and excrete and move on and eat, inching forward, thinking, sending out their mental flares in the hope that someone, something, anything will drop by and relieve the tedium of their biological fate, down there, at the bottom of the sea, with the calcified sponges, magnesium nodules, the crushed spines of sea urchins, the ghosts of coelenterates, unexploded torpedoes, skeletons of bathypterids and halosaurs, the hieroglyphic tracks of sea pens and ophiuroids, fecal coils, the waving arms of a burrowed brittle-star, manganese-encrusted dolphin teeth, the remains of a jettisoned crate of manilla-envelope clasps, zeolite crystals, pillows of basalt, calcareous shells of pteropods, the sinister egg-casings of skates, the broken anti-matter locks from a crashed spaceship, the short-crested ripples of sand, and the scour moats forming in the globigerina ooze.
The lowly sea cucumber surround’d by its own glorious haecceity. Yang stretches out magnificently what some’d call the limits of the “nature poem.” Out of Yang’s preface:
A century after Emerson, the poet Paul Valéry observes, “Whenever we run across something we do not know how to make but that appears to be made, we say that nature produced it.” Japanese philosopher Kojin Karatani extends Valéry’s thought in our times when he writes, “Nature, therefore, is not restricted to ostensibly natural objects such as the seashell; it also includes things that are made by man but whose structure—how they are made—is not immediately discernible. Such things are called natural language because their making is not apparent.” Nature here is provisional, and inseparable from our own thinking and perceptions—it circumscribes the limits of our own making as what nature makes is a part of what humans make.
The works in Birds, Beasts, and Seas range widely (one measure of New Directions’ refusal of the parochial, or the narrow): verses out of the c. 1000 B.C. Book of Odes (translated by Ezra Pound) begin the book, lines by the Albanian Luljeta Lleshanaku (b. 1968) end it: “Here the elemental world of cold metals begins— / here identity, weight, gravitational forces end, / where I can no longer be I.” In between: lines out of Euripides by H. D., Medea by Robinson Jeffers, Lucretius by Basil Bunting, Ovid by Christopher Marlowe, Gerard de Nerval by Robert Duncan, Blaise Cendrars by John Dos Passos, Saint-John Perse by Eliot, Pessoa by Thomas Merton, Silvina Ocampo by William Carlos Williams, René Char by Samuel Beckett, plus a slew of others, the Goliard Poet to Anne Carson, Christopher Smart to Forrest Gander. For any who’d complain that the “natural world” ’s become the last unabash’d resort of the “dewy piety” squad, or that “we” need “get beyond” its call—that used up “thing” over there: I like Yang’s two epigraphs:

                                                                                      “Will I ever reach the aim that I’ve so long pursued and searched for?

                                                                                    “I am still working from nature and feel I am making a little progress.”

                                                                                                        —Paul Cézanne, September 1906, a few weeks before his death

. . . duce ac magistra natura


No clouds mar the indistinct
whitishness of the sky. Hay-
color’d hummocks of saw grass
pinch off the new-mill’d
planks thrown down haphazard out
to where the boat is
being winch’d up. Leak’d motor
oil making iridescent the black
water. In the distant cattails
a wren burbles incommodiously, hid.
Belongings of the incessant world,
its immeasurable hurdy-gurdy, its itch.
No human property, its anthracite-
black liquid pours out of
a seam between two mountains.
It owns any wee physical
man unexpect’d who’d dare eschew
it, or tamper with its
green demesne, its unlit fuses.
One slices an uncanny red
orange, import’d out of Halicarnassus
or new Bodrum, shrugs off
the presumptuous banality of marketing
a thing made by sun-
light and soil, ineffable combo,
plethora of what circularity achieves.

Birds, Beasts, and Seas
(Cover by Rodrigo Corral Design)