Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Notebook (Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, &c.)

Jack Kerouac, c. 1960
(Photograph by James Oliver Mitchell)

Yellow forsythia rocketing out its stray and unkempt festoonery and here I am pinched with chores. Jack Kerouac, out of a 27 December 1949 letter to Charles Sampas (Selected Letters, 1940-1956):
. . . Lowell, like Winesburg Ohio or Asheville North Carolina or Fresno California or Hawthorne’s Salem, is always the place where the darkness of the trees by the river, on a starry night, gives hint of that inscrutable future Americans are always longing and longing for. And when they find that future, not till then they begin looking back with sorrows, and an understanding of how man haunts the earth, pacing, prowling, circling in the shades, and the intelligence of the compass, pointing to nothing in sight save starry passion . . . strange, is strange, how we be-dot infinity with our thoughts and poor rooftops, and hometown, then go away forever.
Recalling F. Scott Fitzgerald’s finale to The Great Gatsby (1925):
      And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
      Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther . . . And one fine morning—
      So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
The alignment seemingly making Fitzgerald’s “orgastic future” and “dark fields of the republic [rolling] on under the night” sound Kerouacian avant la lettre. (Kerouac makes one small mention of Fitzgerald in a letter writ one year later to Neal Cassady, plumping Cassady’s prose style (its “muscular rush”): “It can’t possibly be sparse & halting, like Hemingway, because it hides nothing; the material is painfully necessary . . . the material of Scott Fitz was so sweetly unnecessary.” Though, too, in a 1962 Life magazine tribute to former Horace Mann classmate Eddie Gilbert, Kerouac makes the oddly salient remark: “Nobody’ll ever know America completely because nobody ever knew Gatsby, I guess.”)

And merely to record—why I persist with the “Notebook” title—a pertinent entry out of Søren Kierkegaard’s Diary:
It is quite true what Philosophy says: that Life must be understood backwards. But that makes one forget the other saying: that it must be lived—forwards. The more one ponders this, the more it comes to mean that life in the temporal existence never becomes quite intelligible, precisely because at no moment can I find complete quiet to take the backward-looking position.
Dated 1843. My thanks to W. C. Bamberger for alerting me to that, its vicinity to Walter Benjamin’s lines regarding the angel whose “face is turned towards the past” out of “On the Concept of History” (1940): “. . . a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky.”

Monday, April 29, 2013

Notebook (Jack Kerouac, Clark Coolidge, &c.)

Jack Kerouac, 1922-1969

Jack Kerouac, out of a 24 June 1949 letter to John Clellon Holmes, recalling a childhood stunt of promoting “a six-fight boxing card in the yard of a parochial school” (starring one “Iddyboy”—“a huge moronic French-Canadian built like a bull”) with “Lowell boyhood buddy George Apostolos”—the lines coming hard after Kerouac’s defiant emphatic against writing’s usual explanatory lockdown, “I chose the Rattling Trucks, where I don’t have to explain anything, and where nothing is explained, only real. REAL REAL, see? Shee?”:
Iddyboy was in the main bout. Geo. and I went through many crazy preparations to be his “seconds” in the ring, that is, we got striped polo-shirts, cigars, derby hats, pails, sponges, blackjacks, everything to look the part as we had seen it in B-movie boxing pictures. We were going to really give him the works in his corner; splash water, puff on cigars, jam the mouthpiece in his teeth, swagger, lurk, dart in and out of the ropes, count money. George (to show you his utter and complete wonderful madness) was even going to imitate the sound of the warning buzzer ten minutes before the round. You’ve heard those on the radio. “B-a-a-a-a-a-a-!” Only George used to make this buzzer sound last twenty seconds. “Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-!" even until the round started.
      Iddyboy knocked out his adversary in .21 seconds of the first round and there we were, no chance to perform before a screaming mass of children. I remember this with amazement. Why did we want to do this? What is meant by “Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!?” Why does Ginsberg refer to Blake’s “Visions of Beulah” [sic] as “Beulaaaaaaah”? What is Rabelais talking about in his Crazy-Book? And the Decameron? What got into Céline when he wrote the first chapter of “Installment” which ends with him lifting his mother’s skirts and roaring with rage? What is Shakespeare talking about when he has those mad servants singing crazy little jingles? Or Lear’s fool?
      You shee, there’s something to it.
      All my serious passages in “On the Road” (and in Town & City), as I re-examine them, turn out to have this crazy “Ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-” sound—
Allowing the upsurge of the essential babble, the usual explanatory cranks ceasing to turn, ratiocinatory tumblers stuck, the various indefatigable high keen and hump of pure sonic whine revved and baa-ing in furious unleashed scorn and dignity, the “hone buzz / hum of Vibratos Man- / hattoes in Million / blowers humming in / the Void Wait Time . . .” “Just letting it go on”: what Clark Coolidge so brilliantly calls “fresh solids of the just heard”:
Pressure off words so and collide in and he hears them in mind as if spoken by another. Words, then, are fresh solids of the just heard. And a line by Kerouac: “infantile pile-up of scatological buildup.” lncreasing density turns the mind-ear away from impulse of remembered image toward sound as material for the making. Then Kerouac says, in Old Angel Midnight: “The total turning about & deep revival of world robe-flowing literature till it shd be something a man’d put his eyes on & continually read for the sake of reading & for the sake of the Tongue & not just these insipid stories writ in insipid aridities & paranoias bloomin & why yet the image—let’s hear the Sound of the Universe, son.”
Out of Coolidge’s Now It’s Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & The Sounds (1999). Pertinent, too: Kerouac’s late (1967) mulling the “pretty strange old news” of spontaneous “babble” in “The First Word,” wherein he quotes Mark 13:11—“Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” And adds: “Mozart and Blake Mozart and Blake often felt they weren’t pushing their own pens it was the ‘Muse’ singing and pushing.” And:
. . . I’d gone so far to the edges of language where the babble of the subconscious begins, because words “come from the Holy Ghost” first in the form of a babble which suddenly by its sound indicates the word truly intended (in describing the stormy sea in Desolation Angels I heard the sound “Peligroso” for “Peligroso Roar” without knowing what it meant, wrote it down involuntarily, later found out it means “dangerous” in Spanish)—I began to rely too much on babble in my nervous race away from cantish cliches, chased the proton too close with my microscope, ended up ravingly enslaved to sounds, became unclear and dull as in my ultimate lit’ry experiment “Old Angel Midnight” . . . There’s a delicate balancing point between bombast and babble.
With that, not exactly recanting a thing. Coolidge, quoting out of Old Angel Midnight:
So, here’s a sample of Kerouac’s babbleflow:
“Aw rust rust rust rust die die die pipe pipe ash ash die die ding dong ding ding ding rust cob die pipe ass rust die words—I’d as rather be permiganted in Rusty’s moonlight Rork as be perdirated in this bile arta panataler where ack the orshy rosh crowshes my tired idiot hand O Lawd I is coming to you’s soon’s you’s ready’s as can readies be Mazatlan heroes point out Mexicos & all ye rhythmic bay fishermen don’t hang fiish eye soppy in my Ramadam givecigarette Sop of Arab Squat—the Berber types that hang fardels on their woman back wd as lief Erick some son with blady matter l guess as whup a mule in singsong pathetic mulejump field by quiet fluff smoke North Carolina (near Weldon) (Railroad Bridge) Roanoke Millionaire High-Ridge hi-party Hi-Fi milliondollar findriver skinfish Rod Tong Apple Finder John Sun Ford goodby Paw mule America Song—” I guess you either hear the music of that or you don’t.
Oddly now recalling my own babble-tilt in writing the longish “Fragging” (Rubbing Torsos) circa 1972, language undergoing a strange sort of parturiency, turning against the continuum of its own desires, seemingly of its of its own accord:
. . . A sequel of puns, an ordinary run, a dashing stomach ache, a fart, a fault, an earthquake, a diamond cutter, ice rink, ringworm, a furloughed wench, a wurzy finch, potatoes degroined without liability, cardinal wantonessness, fear, worth whrrrs, trunneled wisteria, hysteria sprinting through an underbrush of slobs, a glacial molaine, arcs like glands, arrows ridding whalestems under tundered absolvancies of treacled soap, fish treadfare voltive, seriffing tangible sauce, rail strubel, megaphone sumstra, a morphic cyst, tremelos of wust, “fiction,” “troughs,” “sloe,” “trusk,” “ear,” “clemency.”
Did that come out of Kerouac? I’d certainly read On the Road, though not, I think, much of anything more. One other possibility: the O’Hara of “Easter,” of “Second Avenue.” Some inchoate sense of longing to make language break into pieces, that something other—whole, shining, different, “new, naked, total”—might emerge . . .

Friday, April 26, 2013

Notebook (Jack Kerouac, Jack Spicer, &c.)

Jack Kerouac, 1922-1969

Clark Coolidge, out of “Visions of Cody Notes” (in Now It’s Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & The Sounds):
Sketching, portraiture, itch scratch, focus, edging, musant, one-on-one in place, the repeating moment dashed, strata detail, cut-offs, the short form, flap pocket, eye direct wordage, accumulative compulsants, choruses, eye liners, memory opposition, real time dashing, split notes, posts, data shelving, dots, “that window paper,” wells . . .
Being Coolidge’s own “accumulative compulsants” list of Kerouacisms. “That window paper” snagged out of Old Angel Midnight:
        Wreck the high charch chichipa & get firm juicy thebest thebest no other oil has ever heard such peanut squeeze— On top of which you yold yang midnockitwatter lying there in baid imagining casbah concepts from a highland fling moorish beach by moonlight medallion indicative spidergirls with sand legs waiting for the Non Christian cock, come O World Window Wowf & BARK! BARK! BARK for the girls of Tranatat— because by the time those two Mominuan monks with girls & boys in their matted hair pans sense wind in the flower the golden lord will turn the imbecile himself into slip paper— Or dog paper—or that pipe blend birds never peck because their bills are too hard—that window paper
Kerouac’s “haddalada-babra of babbling world tongues coming in . . . sounds of people yakking and of myself yakking among . . .” Though here, too, a sense of the writer becoming the writing paper itself, the inscriber inscribed. An undated note out of Kerouac’s “Forest of Arden Journal” (roughly summer of 1948):
Writing, you can do no better than surrender, with humble understanding and perhaps chagrin, and the purging joy of that, the communicative relief of that, to the most personal secrets of yourself with the laborious purposeful hammer of work, into stanzas and stories that draw the universal humanlike irredeemable understanding to them, in the way that grace and beauty always attract in nature—the pool unmuddled by any self-dishonesty either stupid or highly conscious, or by cant, or by comprehension of others made in fear and misunderstanding.
To surrender to the “purging joy” of the “hammer of work.” No little correspondence here to Kerouac’s “breakthrough” note about sketching in the 18 May 1952 letter to Ginsberg: “Sketching (Ed White casually mentioned it in 124th Chinese restaurant near Columbia, ‘Why don’t you just sketch in the streets like a painter but with words’) which I did . . . everything activates in front of you in myriad profusion, you just have to purify your mind and let it pour the words (which effortless angels of the vision fly when you stand in front of reality) and write with 100% personal honesty both psychic & social etc. and slap it all down shameless, willynilly, rapidly until sometimes I got so inspired I lost consciousness I was writing . . .” (Words thus arriving—“effortless angels of the vision fly when you stand in front of reality” resemble somewhat Jack Spicer’s radio delivery—“I think poems are delivered very much like a message that’s delivered over a radio and the poet is the radio. I don’t think the poems come from the inside at all. Or at least the good ones don’t. You get all sorts of static from the radio, the bad transistors and all of that. But I think fundamentally a poem comes from the Outside. I have no idea where, I have no theological or any other kind of notion of it. Green Martians was the thing I used before. It’s obviously not Martians. But I do think poems are delivered, when they’re good, from the Outside . . .” Recall, too, against Kerouac’s “babbling world tongues coming in,” Spicer’s “Blabbermouth Night” at The Place. Whereat one attempted to sound forth a kind of unrehearsed glossolalic spontaneity.) In the letter to Ginsberg, Kerouac offers up the exemplary “greatest line in On the Road”:
“The charging restless mute unvoiced road keening in a seizure of tarpaulin power . . .” This is obviously something I had to say in spite of myself . . . tarpaulin, too, don’t be frightened, is obviously the key . . . man, that’s a road. It will take 50 years for people to realize that that’s a road. In fact I distinctly remember hovering over the word “tarpaulin” (even thought of writing tarpolon or anything) but something told me that “tarpaulin” was what I’d thought, “tarpaulin” was what it is . . . Do you understand Blake? Dickinson? and Shakespeare when he wants to mouth the general sound of doom, “peaked, like John a Dreams” . . . simply does what he hears . . . “greasy Joan doth keel the pot (and birds sit brooding in the snow) . . .”
“To mouth . . . simply . . . what he hears . . .” (Though in a later—circa 15 April 1955—letter to Neal Cassady, Kerouac writes: “when I wrote On the Road in 1951 . . . I’d not yet learned looseness of talking-speed and was imitating a kind of anxious Dashiell Hammett of Wm. Lee—by the time I had made the great discovery of Sketching, writing fast without thought of words, in that same Fall I’d lost my contact with speech-styles and begun writing in what I write now, a kind of special stylized Proust-like but American private monotone, modern Proust indeed.”) Out of The Book of Sketches: 1952-1957:
            Cast out the
    devils, & be pure,

—add no lines to the
finished line. Draw
no horizons beyond &
underneath the real
horizon. Blat in yr
brain the bleet sheep
bone—falsify not
the cluckings, the
    cluck-tures, in yr.
    drooly brain, brain
    child & Babe of
      Sweat & Folly. This
        your final body, final
        shame, last vanity,
    greatest indulgence,
greatest farmiture,
      & boon to Man,
            kind literature.
      At the end of a
meaning is a tangent
    of brain noises,
      avoid them &
        finish where you

The brain noises belong
only in the paragraph
    of brain noises

          Canuck, dont pile
          up reasons for yr
Surrendering to the purity of what Coolidge calls “itch scratch.” (See, too, Spicer’s proximity of “A noise. / It annoys . . .” in “The Book of the Death of Arthur.”)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Clark Coolidge’s 88 Sonnets (Stray Notes)

Clark Coolidge’s 88 Sonnets, 2012
(Design by Brandon Downing)

Wholly unfocused, a blotto morn. Caught up by a piece of lingual dross, tangential, beseeching, gustatory, rude. I write: “A theory of dud / recklessness, a portable imprecision / gathered against a more / fortuitous immensity, the way / a Bacchant might, roistering, / slurp at the wine / too noisily for credibility, / or feebly lunge at / the pinecone-tipped thyrsus / with a pretense of / delirium rumpling up a / face made makeshift by / the obvious cunning of / its momentary rebuttal of / desire.” Or I write: “Desire is an ointment / smearing the retractable lens / of the man who’s / burning for a photograph / of the weekend anarchist / who’s energetically gesticulating accompaniment / to a soapbox standard— / it renders the sallow / grease of need agreeable / as a vignette.” Or I write: “Fugue of the disaster / realm, remote particulates of / verve. Suppose I wanted / an ordinary sandwich, would / an ordinary sandwich be / there?” There. Enough of that. Enough writing.

So I read a poem out of Clark Coolidge’s 88 Sonnets (Fence Book, 2012):
Revolving Glands and Huge Blond Eyes

A rebate with every Glynis Johns album
for which there is no box         a mauve man in a white suit
limps along a river railing this will not do
these are lightbulb glass imitations of daylight
to us superiors those spheres make no odds         is this the
cabinet for Cargyle Heavy Liquids?         car leaves
tunnel like never         it’s a sports girl barefoot in makeup
you see her wind her way without         she’s winning though
been taking body lessons but come in         we feature
many varieties of darkness         depths of chest
in one         her car runs on divorce settlements
at which she toils like a sister         nice pointy little
paintings but there’s no floor beneath this one
goodbye         why?         your name suits you like a suit
I read another:
Worst News Possible

Haven’t got a feel for much anymore not even
tugs at my straps         lumps in the substance
Marge Underhand there tagged my shorts
witless but fundamental we were
grilled by the Great Dead in their time
the show everybody called The Widest Licks in Town
let’s talk         they found a horizontal hexagon
right here in Butter City behind the stationer’s
we went all blubbery         care for a summary?
the braille’s gone cold         give me five
you no longer appeal         the monster’s gone grey
summers from their tins?         there are suggestions
caterpillars gone to seed         an Acropolis dust
this bus emerged from behind Sacramento
Out of Wordsworth’s “Observations Prefixed to Lyrical Ballads” (1800):
The principal object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain coloring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature: chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement.
Pertinent to Coolidge’s various and democratic and turbulent speech-vehemences here. I recall, too, Whitman’s “I permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature without check with original energy.” Speed and audacity and ricochet (see, for example, in “Worst News Possible,” the sonic rocketing between “Butter City” and “blubbery” and “summary” and “summers”). Lines proceed without lag, without presumptuousness. Coolidge’s ear out for speech and its collisions, its unmanageable inevitabilities accommodated (“your name suits you like a suit”). Pieces of wild demotic speechifying bits, of talk’s goofy detritus assembled with canny fondness (see, for example, in “Where’s My Honey?”: “get right down on the floor of the machine to see for yourself / and who did I find sitting in my chambers?         Lord / Coldmouth         Allardyce to you ducks” or in “Juke Farm”: “hello         you qualify for the Life Lodge / no great shakes but you should expect / a life-size photo of Goofy in extremis”). A difference to note: the paucity of “writing” (I am thinking of “unspeakable” lines like—“What morning in what witness and the dialing of the cold. / In wheat we live and the leaving is left over. / The sole Van Velde. The alba. The night when / unknowingly twenty things. The door is a rate. / Whole morning later a date. Whole night . . .” Out of “For Bram Van Velde,” Sound as Thought: Poems 1982-1984). “Let’s talk” indeed. Coolidge’s “Sur Le Route” (with its hellbent misspelled nod at Kerouac) begins with the big voicing of “Orotund for certain” and ends with a fit offhand jocularity:
                                                        bring shovel
ladder and peppermint dipstick you know
drama bolt set on morning tension
this writing implement has run its course
may have to move my house

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Notebook (Clark Coolidge, Ron Silliman, &c.)

Clark Coolidge

Level of the word, level of the sentence. Clark Coolidge, quoting Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” (out of the 1977 lecture “Arrangement”):
The conditions of the sentience [I think that’s the correct word, though in my edition it said “sentence” which is somehow more appropriate] had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones [he’s talking about the house, which is about to fall]—in the order of their arrangement, as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around—above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn.
A sentence being precisely whatever is “fulfilled in the method of collocation” of its words—“in the order of their arrangement.” Whatever sentience, particular or loose. Completed in the making itself: a processual and improvident assembling. And: the sentence is “reduplicated” by the landscape itself (in lieu of mimicking its surround). Recalling the Williamsesquerie of “perfection of new forms as additions to nature . . .”

There’s a curious niggling apropos Coolidge’s own sentence-ry in Ron Silliman’s “The New Sentence” (1977). Silliman quotes a probably not-so-randomly* selected “paragraph from section XVIII of Coolidge’s ‘Weathers’”—
At most a book the porch. Flames that are at all rails of snow. Flower down winter to vanish. Mite hand stroking flint to a card. Names that it blue. Wheel locked to pyramid through stocking the metal realms. Hit leaves. Participle.
—and proceeds to reject its “New Sentence” pedigree seemingly because its phrasal units work “primarily below the level of the sentence.” Silliman:
In other contexts, any of these could become a new sentence, in the sense that any sentence properly posed and staged could. Each focuses attention at the level of the language in front of the reader. But seldom at the level of the sentence. Mostly at the levels of phrase and clause. “Flower down winter to vanish” can be a grammatical sentence in the traditional sense if flower is taken as a verb and the sentence as a command. But “Names that it blue” resists even that much integrating energy.** Coolidge refuses to carve connotative domains from words. They are still largely decontextualized—save for the physical-acoustic elements—readymades.
      This is not an example of the new sentence because it works primarily below the level of the sentence. However, there is another important element here as a result: the length of sentences and the use of the period are now wholly rhythmic. Grammar has become, to recall Barthes’ words, prosody . . .

Coolidge, remarks concerning sentences. Out of Mine: The One That Enters the Stories (1982):
A sentence is the apt to find comforts of a closure.
. . . the sentence never ends . . .
A sentence grows to a point.
The sentence marks its own error.
Sentences of description tend to loss of kilter.
Out of Now It’s Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & The Sounds (1999):
Tension of sequence as a sentence structure.
Out of Sound as Thought: Poems 1982-1984 (1990):
Sentences are shortness of breath.
The vista lay in a sentence gap.
Sentences protect us from the storms at their margins.
A smattering, a collect. Everywhere the sense of the sentence’s limit, how it cannot attend to the whelm and largesse of what? the world? the brainpan’s own unstoppable extending? The upshot: frontiers and boundaries. “A case of banded beets on story avenue.”
* Compare, for example, that paragraph with another (out of the initial section of “Weathers”—found in Coolidge’s A Book Beginning What and Ending Away):
So light a cloud from beneath. It’s like writing on weather is like writing on nothing. Then he said at the desk it’s like everything. Seem it was Thoreau had no weathers the better to write of. Like of a thing, necessarily secondary, James Dickey. In the center of nothing, but in the center of the hole a singularity, revoking laws. The edge of this state of the universe ends with the sky. Thought it was of all portal and no sash.
No proceeding “Mostly at the level of phrase and clause” there. No “wholly rhythmic” sentence-length and periodicity either. The “rhythmic” in Coolidge’s work is summoned invariably—what if he didn’t play the drums? Charles Bernstein, too—in “Artifice of Absorption” (1987)—opposes Coolidge’s “imploded-sentence” works (“in prose / formats, whose syntax spirals / outward in an open- / ended way”) in Weathers against “the serial / ordering (juxta- / position) of more / syntactically orderly, / ‘tightly’ structured sentences / in so-called ‘new sentence’ / writing”:
Clark Coolidge’s improvisatory extensions
of the line refuse the closure of the subject / verb / object
sentence; refuse, that is, the syntactic ideality
of the complete sentence, in which each part
of speech operates in its definable place so that
a grammatic paradigm is superimposed on the actual
unfolding of the semantic strings. In “imploded-
sentence” poetry, meaning flows durationally—
horizontally—by means of the linear continuousness
of the sweeping, syncopated rhythms. While in
the complete / closed sentence, attention is deflected
to an abstracted, or accompanying, “meaning”
that is being “conveyed”, in the imploded sentence
the reader stays plugged in to the wave-like
pulse of the writing . . .
Limited, partisan, wrong. One recalls Coolidge’s lines out of “Days of Time and Twine” (Sound as Thought: Poems 1982-1984):
The days that will carry you, they told, but neglected to
      include the word forward, carry the words forward.
The style of these environs is to disappear from time to time.
I lived in the back, narrowing my vision, lifting hands
      from the act of placing one on top of other.
The room for all of anything you could ask
      grew green. Are some of the colors shorter?
Is your mind measurable of its contents as a flask?
Will a sentence always have to await its ending to
      give itself question?
There are never enough stars in the sky, even at its
      height, even when you look slightly apart.
I took the opportunity to rest when the city upped and flew.
A case of banded beets on story avenue.
** There’s no difficulty though in making “Names that it blue” “a grammatical sentence in the traditional sense”—if that’s what Silliman’s complaint is. In a context of naming words (recall Coolidge’s query in The Crystal Text—“What is / a word’s name?”) or coloring words, so-and-so is providing the word “it” with the name “blue” (just as, in another context, one might assign “sentence” the name “readymade.”)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Notebook (Clark Coolidge, Philip Guston, &c.)

Philip Guston, “Untitled (Book),” 1968

Clark Coolidge’s early statement of intent (out of Paul Carroll’s 1968 anthology The Young American Poets):
As Stein has most clearly & accurately indicated, Words have a universe of qualities other than those of descriptive relation: Hardness, Density, Sound-Shape, Vector-Force, & Degrees of Transparency / Opacity. I am attempting to peer through the lines into this possible WordArt Landscape, work within it & return with Wordscapes, WordObjects to light & refresh the mind so currently overloaded with centuries of medial Language-Tape.
I think of Coolidge’s seemingly offhanded remark somewhere in The Crystal Text (1986): “What is / a word’s name?” The too rarely bruited about namelessness of the namer. See, too, Coolidge’s remarks to Philip Guston (out of the 1972 “Conversation with Clark Coolidge”) in the Coolidge-edited Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations (2011):
There’s the recognition of naming with words, which has become so facile that it’s the shrug. I mean, we’re in an information age. What we want from words is the information. To me, the word is magic. If you say book and then you keep looking at the word, or sounding the word in your mind, your realize that the word has a lot of qualities that aren’t just a matter of a simple exchange . . . In early times, we’re told that there were only certain men who were allowed to speak certain words, because those words were absolutely evocations of something that only existed at that moment. They had this magic quality. And that’s what I want to get.
And, in a reprise of the “peer through” motif:
The words themselves are masks . . . The word book, let’s just say that What has that got to do with the real book really? . . . It’s booooook. Like in Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, he takes the spool of tape and he says, “spoooooool,” and he says it over and over again, so it’s like an incantation . . .*
Guston says: “You’re talking about the space between the thing and the word, which we have invented.” And a marvelous exchange proceeds, only to conclude that it’s out of that gap, that resistance to making thing and word adhere that art arrives:
CC:   Yeah. When we’re naming something we’re really masking it, in a sense . . . Because we’re using this word which doesn’t relate to it, except by acceptance of a meaning. But this thing, this mask, what is it? . . .

PG:   Well, then would you say art is a mask?

CC:   Yeah.

PG:   Art is a mask. . . . And furthermore, to confound this more, frustration is a very crucial ingredient here. The frustration of not being able to make them identical. That is to say, the word book is not the book, because you can feel the book and tear it or cut it, squash it or crumple it. But book is a word. And so my painting of an object has to do with the frustration of not being able to paint the object, either.

CC:   Which, to further confound it, isn’t what you want to do anyway.

PG:   Of course not. I know it. But I would say that the frustration is a crucial ingredient here.

CC:   Absolutely. That’s the resistance.

PG:   It’s the resistance. It’s the frustration of the desire to not paint altogether. That is to say, art is the frustration of the desire not to make art . . .
Coolidge, in Mine: The One That Enters the Stories: “Writing is impossible, the words are all there. Attention to a word and it veers you off any thought.” And: “The words advance to a thoughtlessness velocity void. I wish I could dirty them as one can paint.” Or words animated, vociferous, negligent, crass. (Somewhere in Own Face, the line: “I look at the smell of the word.”) Out of Mine: The One That Enters the Stories:
Foghorn wants in here, and in addition wants the word versimilitude attached. But something scratches me, same root as verse?, so I check in the dictionary. Turns out it’s verisimilitude, very. At home with the wrong root, all these years. Or one of those words that hang around, you even use without knowing the meaning of, having always been meaning to look up, and when you do. Wonderful when they turn out the opposite of all thought. As if love shared its birth with loaf.
Or the cartoonery and mock Platonism of—
When I can not think of the words, the words do not avail themselves of me. I look out of the window and see a windward tree. I sometimes think the words are beings who absent themselves, as why should they not have puzzles of their own to trace. Then am I locked in a mine and the words are leagues beyond that wall-face, or banister, Roger Bannister tiny in the distance and running away . . .
Words jittery, Protean shape-changers, refusing any designatory stump beyond the momentary contextual, very. “All the words make sense.”
* Out of Krapp’s Last Tape:
Nothing to say, not a squeak. What’s a year now? The sour cud and the iron stool. [Pause.] Revelled in the word spool [With relish.] Spoool! Happiest moment of the past half million. [Pause.] . . .

Monday, April 22, 2013

Notebook (Vladimir Nabokov, William Carlos Williams, &c.)

William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963

The morning sky’s celadon tint, a grey-green intercedence. (“Such tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk / . . . something something . . . / A jovial hullabaloo among the spheres.”) The weekend shot by “motoring” here and there. (Britishism fault of reading, in distracted and unsustainable spurts, Nabokov’s King, Queen, Knave: “Weaving his way among the ramparts of sand that surrounded each bather’s ephemeral domain, hurrying to nowhere in order to prove by a great show of haste how much his merchandise was in demand, an itinerant photographer, ignored by the lazy crowd, walked with his camera, yelling into the wind: “The divinely favored, der gottbegnadete artist is coming!” Irony heaped up against irony.) Consequently, browsing a prefatory chapter of The Poetry of Ezra Pound, Hugh Kenner’s lines seem oddly Nabokovian: arch, piercing, capable of deflating with a sentence or two any ruthless artifice ballooned up big and unyielding. “We have not to deal with a tense fellow talking in epigrams. The reader is not subjected to that brow-knotting strain, invariably betraying itself in incompetent rhythms, which in lesser work admonishes him to keep screwed to the sticking-place his awareness of assisting at a hushed rite among the eggshell teacups of poesy.” (Comparing, with blitzkrieg certainty, the “incomparable assurance” of Pound’s verse with the dainty lucubratory stitches of the usual doings.)

Plans without executory means. (“Means” meaning “time,” that forlorn and nugatory “item” in itself.) Plans ambushed by the yack of demanding neighbors. (A study of sentences in the offing.) William Carlos Williams (out of 1932 letter to Kay Boyle, written for Contact):
      But what remains? For myself, I have written little poetry recently. Form, the form has been lacking. Instead I have been watching speech in my own environment from which I continually expect to discover whatever of new is being reflected about the world. I have no interest, as far as observation goes, in the cosmic. I have been actively at work (if such sketchy trials as I employ can be called such) in the flesh, watching how words match the act, especially how they come together. The result has been a few patches of metrical coherence which I don't as yet see how to use — but they seem to run to groups of lines. Occasionally they give me the feel of authenticity. . . .
      I have been working with prose, since I didn’t know what to do with poetry. Perhaps I have been in error. Maybe I should be slaving at verse. But I don’t think so. Prose can be a laboratory for metrics. It is lower in the literary scale. But it throws up jewels which may be cleaned and grouped.
      I don’t think any poetry ever originated in any other way. It must have been inherent in the language, Greek, Latin, Italian, English, French or Chinese.
      And this should blast that occasionally pushing notion that the form of poetry (as that of any art) is social in character. Such an opinion is purest superficiality. The form of poetry is that of language. It is related to all art first, then to certain essential characteristics of language, to words then and finally to everything among all the categories of knowledge among which the social attributes of a time occur. The work of Einstein also merges into it, hardly a social phenomenon. It is not formed “like” the society of any time; it might be formed in a manner opposite to the character of the times, a formal rigidity of line in a period of social looseness . . .
      This is difficult ground. One might sink in it. All that I wish to point [out] is that poetry is related to poetry, not to social statutes. It will, nevertheless, make its form of what it finds. And so does seem to be a social eye. It is nothing of the sort. It remains itself. It remains related only to poetry. Much more could be said about this. I myself can be accused of contradictions. Possibly I have contradicted myself . . .
Storage notes. Notes in reserve. A note put up, or put by, against scarcity. “The line must, as a minimum, have a well-conceived form within which modification may exist. Without this internal play upon the stops, it cannot achieve power . . .” What is a sentence? (Fenollosa, in “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry”: “I wonder how many people have asked themselves why the sentence form exists at all, why it seems so universally necessary in all languages?” And the twin bulwarks against the usual explicatory concomitance: “No sentence is needed to make one’s meaning . . . clear.” “No full sentence really completes a thought.”)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Notebook (Clark Coolidge, John Keats, Gertrude Stein, &c.)

Clark Coolidge, c. 2011
(Photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald)

Morning pulls tight the drawstring around the bag of night, its unending rain. Doughty and perspicacious in my aimlessness, one way of attending. Ongoing’s ongoingness. “There is nothing stable in the world; uproar’s your only music.” (Keats, out of a letter writ 13 January 1818.) And (24 September 1819): “The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing, to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts. Not a select party . . . All the stubborn arguers you meet with are of the same brood— They never begin upon a subject they have not pre-resolved on.” And (9 October 1818): “The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. That which is creative must create itself.” (Recalling something Clark Coolidge says is Cecil Taylor’s: “Improvisation is the capability to talk to oneself.”)

Somewhere in Coolidge’s Now It’s Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & The Sounds (1999), he quotes Maurice Blanchot’s “one can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing.” Out of “The Gaze of Orpheus.” In its context (at the end of the essay), thus:
The leap.

      The act of writing begins with Orpheus’ gaze, and that gaze is the impulse of desire which shatters the song’s destiny and concern, and in that inspired and unconcerned decision reaches the origin, consecrates the song. But Orpheus already needed the power of art in order to descend to that instant. This means: one can only write if one arrives at the instant towards which one can only move through space opened up by the movement of writing. In order to write one must already be writing. The essence of writing, the difficulty of experience and the leap of inspiration also lie within this contradiction.

Out of Clark Coolidge’s c. 1978 piece “Larry Eigner Notes” (beginning “‘Who wants to see himself’ / I see . . .” and calling Eigner, succinctly, “an on-going register”) in the initial number of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E:
each line
its own completion

and every line
its consequence

wholes are only made by motion

      “Sight is the only sense in which continuity is sustained
      by the addition of tiny but integral units: space can be
      constructed only from completed variations.”
                                                                                          —Roland Barthes

      “Part & particle is a noun.”
                                                      —G. Stein, Portrait of Man Ray
The Barthes lines out of the 1954 essay “Objective Literature: Alain Robbe-Grillet”—one finds it prefacing the 1965 Grove Press edition of Robbe-Grillet’s Two Novels (and, too, in a 1958 number of Evergreen Review.) One reads therein, too, of how “Time dislocates space, arranging the object like a series of slices that almost completely cover one another: and it is this spatial ‘almost’ which contains the temporal dimension . . . It is the kind of variation crudely—but recognizably—indicated from frame to frame in old films, or from drawing to drawing in a comic strip.” Recalling (“a series of slices that almost completely cover one another”) rather precisely the repeated antics of Gertrude Stein, juddering the temporal “home” (that space that opens for its ongoing conveyance). Out of “Man Ray” (1924), one of the “Portraits and Figures” found in the Painted Lace volume of the Yale Unpublished Writings:
      If needed has and had had and nearly seize and nearly please and nearly, had and nearly has. Nearly has makes forward, forward and back is a noun. Steady progress. He makes steady progress.
      The next time it is and charity changes, charity changes a home, the next time it is and changes a home, part and particle can also and can also and can be and can also be, part and particle is a noun.
      Include and wherein he differs from he saw wherein he differs from him.
      Include wherein not at all and aid to use. This does make it when and at once and in aid to use. This does make it at once and in aid to use, this does make it when and in aid and at once and in aid to use . . .
Attending’s ongoingness. “There is nothing stable in the world.” Proceeding “by sensation and watchfulness in itself.” One thinks of a thing Hugh Kenner reports (The Poetry of Ezra Pound) regarding something I. A. Richards found in the series of experiments recorded in Practical Criticism
that the effort of continuous attention required by the poet is beyond most readers’ habits. A grape, ten lines of sawdust, another grape, becomes the most comfortable structural norm.
Poems containing “a plangent line or two,” the rest offering but “uninspected reverberation.” What Kenner calls the “expectation of something which demands attention only in snatches, and affords a moony repose in the intervals.” Why Clark Coolidge (or Gertrude Stein) requires a new (“doughty and perspicacious”) reading strategy.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Notebook (Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, &c.)

William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, c. 1958
(Photograph by Richard Avedon)

Up at four a.m. By six the occasional solitary spigot-turn of bird-song’s gone washy and general, a “lavish magniloquence” replete and aerated with incidentals, though with a single high-perched cardinal’s whoit-whoit dominant. A couple of chipping sparrows competing left and right, ratcheting up the overlap. Burr-y robins in the “yonder” oak reaches. By seven, I am fettered by the impertinent lassoings of rapacious fatigue, no capacity left for making “a raid on the inarticulate / With shabby equipment always deteriorating / In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, / Undisciplined squads of emotion . . .” Und so weiter. The tendency is to fub the whole birdy archipelago with an unsluiced superfluity of words, unregulated, miasmic, smothery sop. Pound (Gaudier-Brzeska):
And in the midst of these awakenings Italy went to rot, destroyed by rhetoric, destroyed by the periodic sentence and by the flowing paragraph, as the Roman Empire had been destroyed before her. For when words cease to cling close to things, kingdoms fall, empires wane and diminish. Rome went because it was no longer the fashion to hit the nail on the head. They desired orators . . .
      Quintilian “did for” the direct sentence. And the Greek language was made an excuse for more adjectives . . .
Usual repeated complaint against the slurry of “rhetoric and rhetorical thinking” (what Pound calls “a habit of defining things always ‘in terms of something else’,” and “the art of dressing up some unimportant matter so as to fool the audience for the time being”). Rampant the exemplary timber, unchecked the iteratory chore. In a lengthy letter to Iris Barry (27 July 1916), Pound chases off any hint of the aimless nugacious:
      The whole art is divided into:
      a. concision, or style, or saying what you mean in the fewest and clearest words.
      b. the actual necessity for creating, or constructing something; of presenting an image, or enough images of concrete things arranged, to stir the reader.
      Beyond these concrete objects named, one can make simple emotional statements of fact, such as “I am tired,” or simple credos like “After death there comes no other calamity.”
      I think there must be more, predominantly more, objects than statements and conclusions which latter are purely optional, not essential, often superfluous, and therefore bad.
      Also one must have emotion or one’s cadence and rhythms will be vapid and without any interest.
      It is as simple as the sculptor’s direction: “Take a chisel and cut away all the stone you don’t want.”
(Narrowing down—in “Cavalcanti”—to a precise terminology, no tremor, no fugacity, no wobble. No “schoocheon of armes wrowght on payste.” Pound: “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.”) How square any of that, its finicky jut of portent and surety, with the current Doxa of the writerly (Barthes’s scriptable) text? How square Pound in the lineage that leads to L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E? Barthes (S / Z):
The writerly text is a perpetual present, upon which no consequent language (which would inevitably make it past) can be superimposed; the writerly text is ourselves writing, before the infinite play of the world (the world as function) is traversed, intersected, stopped, plasticized by some singular system (Ideology, Genus, Criticism) which reduces the plurality of entrances, the opening of networks, the infinity of languages. The writerly is the novelistic without the novel, poetry without the poem, the essay without the dissertation, writing without style, production without product, structuration without structure.*
If there’s a handy rejoinder to Pound’s harrumphing certainty (“saying what you mean in the fewest and clearest words”), it’s William Carlos Williams’s writerly feint and acknowledgment in one of the notes found in The Embodiment of Knowledge:
      “Realism” has one inevitable catch in it: it is not susceptible to writing, to being written as a transcription of events or even facts (a thing philosophy has never dared envisage under penalty of eschewing writing altogether). To transcribe the real creates, by the same act, an unreality, something besides the real which is its transcription, since the writing is one thing, what it transcribes another, the writing a fiction, necessarily and always so.
      The only real in writing is writing itself . . .
Sun up fully. Bird-churn at its sun-daubed end.
* Hugh Kenner, in The Poetry of Ezra Pound (1951), detailing a Renaissance split between Senecan and Ciceronian stances toward rhetorical artifice (“The Senecan utilized rather the aphorism than the periodic sentence, and so exalted the sage rather than the orator . . . It is this tradition that opposes the Jonsonian spareness, his witty flexibility of tone rather than trope, to the lavish magniloquence of Marlowe. It is in this tradition that Bacon eschews the appearance of system in the delivery of knowledge, since aphorisms encourage men to enquire further . . .”), offers some lines regarding the merits of “writing in aphorisms” (opposed to “writing in method”) out of Bacon’s Advancement of Learning that sound rather akin to the claims of Barthes’s “writerly text.” Kenner (quoting Bacon):
For first it trieth a writer whether he be superficial or solid: for aphorisms, except they should be ridiculous, cannot be made but of the pith and heart of sciences: for discourse of illustration is cut off; recitals of examples are cut off; discourse of connexion and order is cut off; descriptions of practice are cut off; so there remaineth nothing to fill the aphorisms but some good quantity of observation. . . . Secondly, methods are more fit to win consent or belief, but less fit to point to action; for they carry a kind of demonstration in orb or circle, one part illuminating another, and therefore satisfy. But particulars being dispersed do best agree with dispersed directions. And lastly, aphorisms, representing a knowledge broken, do invite men to inquire further; whereas methods, carrying the show of a total, do secure men, as if they were at farthest.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Notebook (Clark Coolidge, Morton Feldman, &c.)

Morton Feldman, 1926-1987

Clark Coolidge—in “Arrangement” (1977)—quoting the Robert Smithson-quoted (out of the 1968 “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”) Heraclitus “Fragment 124”:
The most beautiful world is like a heap of rubble tossed down in confusion.*
(And one thinks of the Nennius line—quoted by David Jones in the Preface to The Anathemata—out of the ninth century Historia Brittonum: “coacervavi omne quod inveni”: “I have made a heap of all that I could find.”) Guy Davenport’s “The unseen design of things is more harmonious that the seen” is a sleeker rendering of the Heraclitan fragment. And a scholarly (interminably hedging, and rather cluttered) translation by T. M. Robinson reads:
The most beautiful order (in the universe?) (or: ‘the (this?) most beautiful universe’), [says Heraclitus,] is a heap of sweepings, piled up at random.
(Robinson warns, too, that the text of the fragment is “too doubtful” to be reliable—he “accepts” the Greek word meaning “sweepings” in lieu of a similar Greek word meaning “flesh”—and concludes that interpretory maneuvers ought thus be approached “with more than the usual dose of skepticism.”)

To note: Coolidge’s flinch against the “random.” At the end of “Arrangement,” Coolidges’s reply to a query assuming an outpour of words “coming out spontaneously and supposedly just random”:
I hope you didn’t understand that I mean “random.” I don’t mean “random.” I don’t think that’s possible. They’re coming from a place where you are working in your mind. Does anyone know Anton Ehrenzweig’s book, The Hidden Order of Art? He’s got a term that’s a ten-dollar word: “dedifferentiation.” What it means is that a young child or an artist has a place in their mind where they can hold many many elements, many diverse elements, ready to be put into something they’re making. I mean, many more than you’re conscious of. I feel that apparatus—I didn’t want to call it subconscious, let’s make it a little more sharp—I think that goes on, and that there is a selection process. That, rather than random. In isn’t like “give me another one. I’ll use it.”
Random itself being an uncommon word in the Coolidge oeuvre.** If Coolidge quotes Morton Feldman (out of “Give My Regards to Eighth Street”) in “Arrangement”—
What was great about the fifties is that for one brief moment—maybe, say, six weeks—nobody understood art . . . That’s why in all happened.
—what he leaves out is the impertinence of profane idiosyncrasy (what Coolidge’s work itself so aptly exemplifies)—no perennial groupuscular hubbub, no abject summoning of lineage, none of its cynical use as “proof” (or reproof) . . . Feldman:
      My quarrel with the term “Action Painting” is that it gave rise to the erroneous idea that the painter, now being “free,” could do “anything he liked.” Actually, it is the academician who has the alternatives. Freedom is best understood by someone like Rothko, who was free to do only one thing—to make a Rothko—and do so over and over again.
      It is not freedom of choice that is the meaning of the fifties, but the freedom of people to be themselves. This type of freedom creates a problem for us, because we are not free to imitate it. In every other era, the Messianic aspect of art has always been sought for in some organizing principle, since this principle is, and always has been what saves us in art. What is hard to understand about the fifties is that these men did not want to be saved in art. That is why, in terms of influence (and who thinks in any other terms?), they have not made what is sometimes called an “artistic contribution.” What they did was to make the whole notion of artistic contribution a lesser thing in art.
Against contributory grace, against the supposed trajectory and advance, against the narrowness of received zealotry—the heap.
* Coolidge re-quotes the Heraclitus in one of the poems “for Philip Guston”:
Painting, Smoking, Eating

Painting smoking eating together the choices gathered
as much. The finger that moves and is one of them.
Matter felt itself as possible strings.
Eye can see as it’s seen neighboring.
Come to the edge of it slides, among an abutment.
Smoke, eating, paint, let us see.
Pot taken to its shoe guises.
Inside edge on the hard things.
Rest in held midst, awake to things up.
            “The most beautiful world is like a heap
            of rubble tossed down in confusion.”
Keep an eye, cigarette, finger across the lot.
Suspense is the hold of chaos.
That “Rest in held midst” and the suspended moment of “the hold of chaos”—the ephemeral stay, the elemental momentary heap.

** One of Coolidge’s uses of the word “random” (out of the 1990 book Sound as Thought: Poems 1982-1984):
What Iron Is Flat

Going under the snowed ledge, the antepenult
of angle under drift cloud, sun
in a patch, a stunt, a leave
it all alone to scarved accumulates
we see
and then dim behind the scout tree

I have here windows and then I see the cat
he rooves then sifts over the pole and down off
trim cast of flake shape, wile of the random perfect
lowers loose and scowls during
the pianoman fixed in the hunt
the reverse of peeling
the sky is back

Is not black, is diurnal sure
has arm like cloth, a flashlight shell
and any same with brain coincident
to the thought if snow, if a little bit
the negative swap of night will edge
in over and across, the ledges purse there
the cover under

I taste a love for the covered, the under what
Isn’t that “a leave / it all alone to scarved accumulates / we see” (and, too, that “love for the covered, the under what”) akin to the Heraclitan “heap”—or Davenport’s harmonious “unseen design of things”? “Wile of the random perfect” is a (perfectly) cunning line: perfecting itself held in some balance between (wily) art and (random) impetuosity. (That cat is undoubtedly a descendent of Dr. Williams’s “jamcloset” cat—the impeccable pacing of “rooves then sifts over the pole and down off / trim cast of flake shape” harkening to Williams’s “the right / forefoot // carefully / then the hind / stepped down // into the pit of the empty . . .”)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Notebook (Clark Coolidge, Wallace Stevens, &c.)

Clark Coolidge
Slate-colored rain bouncing off the streets, flung back off the bicycle’s wheels. In the yellow slicker, its rustle and pop. Spieling forth under the onslaught. Spieling: slang, originally, for gambling. Sign of how a glib volubility portends a propping up of effusory chance. “A happier aporian one could / not knock up.” (Clark Coolidge, “A Residue”). Or, earlier in the piece:
The book to be a heart or open sphere, closed
at any saying of words as posits. I am only
that it of the precise instant. Nothing.
“Words as posits.” That tenuous inveterate bounce, unmaintainable. I think of Coolidge, in “Arrangement,” quoting out of Lewis Padgett’s 1943 story “Mimsy Were the Borogroves”:
      Scott kept bringing gadgets to Emma for her approval. Usually she’d shake her head. Sometimes she would signify agreement. Then there would be an hour of laborious, crazy scribbling on scraps of note paper, and Scott, after studying the notations, would arrange and rearrange his rocks, bits of machinery, candle ends, and assorted junk. Each day the maid cleaned them away, and each day Scott began again.
      He condescended to explain a little to his puzzled father, who could see no rhyme or reason in the game.
      “But why this pebble right here?”
      “It’s hard and round, Dad. It belongs there.”
      “So is this one hard and round.”
      “Well, that’s got vaseline on it. When you get that far, you can’t see just a hard, round thing.”
      “What comes next? This candle?”
      Scott looked disgusted. “That’s toward the end. The iron ring’s next.”
      It was . . . like a scout trail through the woods, markers in a labyrinth. But here again was the random factor. Logic halted—familiar logic—at Scott’s motives in arranging the junk as he did.
The fierce alogic of merely belonging. That temporal freeze one experiences in the throes of the spiel, its shift and feint and realignment keeping the whole thing out of stasis, in a zone of extended offertory and kinetic doubt. Putting one thing here, putting one thing there, agog and bestilled with the tenuousness of purchase, of commitment. Out of “A Residue”:
                        Altered weights of certain things
to suggest Wallace Stevens’ favorite song,
Did You Ever Lose Something To Say And Keep On
Walking? Realigning terms are a complementary
geometry, a syntax caught in crystal doubt,
the collected gleams of ignorant eyes.
Sense that words are, makes clear, that tempo.
Too much meaning, wave and particle.
And am I finally able to invent a care
without sum, the clock. The resolve, much
as I might want to appear unknown.
Can words be declared, without erasing their names?
Such being poetry, such diminishing solace.
It was bound somewhere, yet everytime
simultaneous . . .
Simultaneity, balance “without sum,” discharge and seizure and maintenance tout à la fois: the latticed entrapment of ongoing uncertainty (“crystal doubt”) is where the striving goes. A pliably yielding stubbornness. Out of Coolidge’s Code of Signals piece, “From Notebooks (1976-1982)”:
Perhaps art is merely the translation
of the external into an obduration
of mind that erodes neither to the
side of memory nor conception.
Unslipping, in the sheer veer of ready placability. Not to recall, nor to conceive, means to be entirely present in the sharp nick of time’s own ponderous traffic . . .* I think of Coolidge’s lines in “A Note on Bop” (Now It’s Jazz: Writings on Kerouac & The Sounds, 1999):
The feel is that time has a precise center. Like tight-roping on a moving pulley clothesline, you’re always trying to keep up midway between the poles. It really gets that sharply physical. As a drummer you’re holding time’s cutting edge in your right hand (ride cymbal), a simultaneity of holding and shaping. You occupy the center of the sonic sphere, the world, and ride it and bear it, inviolable (why heroin is Bop’s perfect chemical). And everything that happens there happens once and at once. Once and Ounce, Groove and Chord, Wave and Particle: the Complementarity of Bop.
Too, I think of Stevens’s lines out of “The Well Dressed Man with a Beard”:
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket’s horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house . . .

It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.

To note. Consider the similarities between Coolidge’s lines here (out of the Code of Signals entries)—
Perhaps the point at which I know nothing will be
the place wherein I am finally able.
The use of words posits a sphere in which all impulse
routes may describe themselves freely but always on walls
of thought. Therefore I find that I can only write certain
things. The verbal dimension is never a blank. The room of
the poem is a charged and loaded space. Anyone who has ever
written a poem has somewhat altered the weights and trajectories.
It is as if each succeeding poet will be obliged to invent
his own physics of sense and motion. The resultant scope is
endlessly additional without sum.
—and “A Residue” (out of the 1990 book Sound as Thought: Poems 1982-1984)—
Perhaps the next thought at which I know nothing
will be a project closed for the time.
The book to be a heart or open sphere, closed
at any saying of words as posits. I am only
that it of the precise instant. Nothing.
Beckett. Altered weights of certain things
to suggest Wallace Stevens’ favorite song,
Did You Ever Lose Something To Say And Keep On
Walking? Realigning terms are a complementary
geometry, a syntax caught in crystal doubt,
the collected gleams of ignorant eyes.
Sense that words are, makes clear, that tempo.
Too much meaning, wave and particle.
And am I finally able to invent a care
without sum, the clock. The resolve, much
as I might want to appear unknown.
Can words be declared, without erasing their names?
Such being poetry, such diminishing solace.
It was bound somewhere, yet everytime
Simultaneous. A happier aporian one could
not knock up. Hints about the brought to all
this, perhaps with integers to handle the sphere.
I must stay with taken form? I must face
motion and add the words?
Surely writ contiguously. Or in the heave of time’s slippery (and unendurable) succession . . .
* Another entry out of Coolidge’s Code of Signals piece:
At the same time there is the plethora,
proliferation of all forms, making a muck
unforeseen previously. Beckett’s statement (1961):
“To find a form that accommodates the mess, that
is the task of the artist now.” seems pointed
exactly at our condition.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Notebook (Vladimir Nabokov, Jonathan Swift, &c.)

Vladimir Nabokov, 1899-1977

Dogged Monday. Two dribs of quasi-writerly concern (Despight the Reverend Dr. Swift’s admonitory fillip: “Do not, I pray thee, paper stain / With rhymes retail’d in dribbs.”) Out of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941), an attempt to master (metaphorically) the common mystery of the naked—unclothed, untongued—pensée. The form / content struggle asserted, with the maddening insouciance of its small victories. Nabokov’s worrying the novelist Knight’s routine labors to say a thing, any thing:
. . . the bridging of the abyss lying between expression and thought; the maddening feeling that the right words, the only words are awaiting you on the opposite bank in the misty distance, and the shudderings of the still unclothed thought clamouring for them on this side of the abyss. He had no use for ready-made phrases because the things he wanted to say were of an exceptional build and he knew moreover that no real idea can be said to exist without the words made to measure. So that (to use a closer simile) the thought which only seemed naked was but pleading for the clothes it wore to become visible, while the words lurking afar were not empty shells as they seemed, but were only waiting for the thought they already concealed to set them aflame and in motion. At times he felt like a child given a farrago of wires and ordered to produce the wonder of light. And he did produce it; and sometimes he would not be conscious at all of the way he succeeded in doing so, and at other times he would be worrying the wires for hours in what seemed the most rational way—and achieve nothing.
There’s that, and Nabokov’s lovely rendering of the matérialité de la langue (only to deride the particular material here—the word “sex”—as rather mean and void of sense—I cannot think of Nabokov’s lauding of the materiality of the word without recalling the pencil sharpener in Pnin (1957)—“that highly satisfying, highly philosophical implement that goes ticonderoga-ticonderoga, feeding on the yellow finish and sweet wood, and ends up in a kind of soundlessly spinning ethereal void as we all must”—the object with its pencil manufactory name consuming itself the way language, too, “must,” and does . . .) Nabokov:
Naturally, I cannot touch upon the intimate side of their relationship, firstly, because it would be ridiculous to discuss what no one can definitely assert, and secondly because the very sound of the word “sex” with its hissing vulgarity and the “ks, ks” catcall at the end, seems so inane to me that I cannot help doubting whether there is any real idea behind the word. Indeed, I believe that granting “sex” a special situation when tackling a human problem, or worse still, letting the “sexual idea,” if such a thing exists, pervade and “explain” all the rest is a grave error of reasoning. “The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea, from its moon to its serpent; but a pool in the cup of a rock and the diamond-rippled road to Cathay are both water.” (The Back of the Moon.)
Quoting out of one of Sebastian Knight’s supposed novels. The lingual feint and marvel, how language offers up what it withholds, how it provides only to deride. To suspect there is no certainty beyond the momentary chewable measure and joy of its saying behind any word . . .

Friday, April 12, 2013

Notebook (Vladimir Nabokov, Gertrude Stein, &c.)

Vladimir Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 1941

“As he a heavy A heavy sleeper, Roger Rogerson, old Rogerson bought old Rogers bought, so afraid Being a heavy sleeper, old Rogers was so afraid of missing to-morrows. He was a heavy sleeper. He was mortally afraid of missing to-morrow’s event glory early train glory so what he did was to buy and bring home in a to buy that evening and bring home not one but eight alarm clocks of different sizes and vigour of ticking nine eight eleven alarm clocks of different sizes ticking which alarm clocks nine alarm clocks as a cat has nine which he placed which made his bedroom look rather like a”
Nabokov, out of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (1941). Being exemplary of Sebastian Knight’s “queer way . . . —in the process of writing—of not striking out” words replaced by others. And one thinks of Gertrude Stein’s “portraits” of Matisse and Picasso—originally printed in 1912, in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work—“doing,” Stein says in Lectures in America (1935), “what the cinema was doing, . . . making a continuous succession of the statement of what that person was until I had not many things but one thing . . .” How the movie camera’s process is one, precisely, of “not striking out.” Stein (Lectures in America):
Each time that I said somebody whose portrait I was writing was something that something was just that much different from what I had just said that somebody was and little by little in this way a whole portrait came into being, a portrait that was not description and that was made by each time, and I did a great many times, say it, that somebody was something, each time there was a difference just a difference enough so that it could go on and be a present something.
And, out of Stein’s portrait of Matisse:
      One was quite certain that for a long part of his being one being living he had been trying to be certain that he was wrong in doing what he was doing and then when he could not come to be certain that he had been wrong in doing what he had been doing, when he had completely convinced himself that he would not come to be certain that he had been wrong in doing what he had been doing he was really certain then that he was a great one and he certainly was a great one. Certainly every one could be certain of this thing that this one is a great one . . .
Seemingly a paucity of Nabokov / Stein contingency, or contiguity. Is it pertinent to note that Nabokov’s brother Sergei, in Paris in the ’thirties (Nabokov left Berlin for Paris in 1937), “had entered the social circles of some of Paris’s most prominent artists, including Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev, novelist and rising filmmaker Jean Cocteau, Edith Sitwell, and Gertrude Stein”? That out of Andrea Pitzer’s The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov (2013). Too, there’s Pitzer’s note of Sergei’s stutter. The narrator V. of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is the half-brother of the Russian-born, English novelist Knight, of whom he is writing a biography. Is Nabokov’s portrayal of Sebastian Knight’s Stein-like “continuous succession” method of composition merely a cruel joke about stuttering?

Thursday, April 11, 2013


George Stubbs, “Zebra,” 1763

All afternoon the gramophone
Parl-parled the West-Indian weather.
The zebra leaves, the sea
And it all spoke together.

The many-stanzaed sea, the leaves
And it spoke all together.
But you, you used the word,
Your self its honor.

All afternoon the gramophoon,
All afternoon the gramophoon,
The world as word,
Parl-parled the West-Indian hurricane.

The world lives as you live,
Speaks as you speak, a creature that
Repeats its vital words, yet balances
The syllable of a syllable

        —Wallace Stevens, “The Search for Sound Free from Motion”
        (The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954)

But I haven’t enough ear, I keep circling back to these apparent simplicities. A slip of the pen and you have begun to draw. The feel of the pants to assure they be straightened as loosely as possible. I fear I have merely abandoned all these men at their knocks on different doorways. One enabling clue might be this painting by Picasso of a girl at her morning bath in a pan scaled so oddly it appears she is standing in a beertray on the table. The bed is a mound of pearl butter comforters. The couch is marked in a zebra’s blood. She is someway hooked there and if she can not move nothing else there can.

        —Clark Coolidge, out of Mine: The One That Enters the Stories (1982)

                                                  . . . Speaking of perenniality, Captain Bada thinks

of the day he saw the zebras fucking. “Much more powerful than a Picabia,”
        he thinks, “with that big black piston plunging and exuding from

the distended grin of its loved one’s O,” and blushes at the soldiers who
        are grinning at him because of a certain other baton he has unthinkingly

grabbed before it gets tangled in a nearby tree . . .

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Captain Bada” (The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, 1971)

                                        . . . Just so, Shuffle said,
I don’t want to be around when the gang erupts
into centuries of inviolate privilege, and cisterns tumble down
the side of the slope, and all is gone more or less naturally to hell.
To which Dimples replied, Why not? Why not just give yourself, one time,
to the floods of human resources that are our day?
Because I don’t want to live at an angle to the blokes who micromanage
our territory, that’s all. Oh, who do you mean? Why, the red-trimmed zebras,
Shuffle said, that people thinks is the cutest damn things in town
until the victory bonfire on the square, and then there’s more racing
and chasing than you can shake a banjo-string at . . .

        —John Ashbery, out of Girls on the Run (1999)

      Hooves scattering geese, Dane horns from the bog, wolves baying tenor, and the Young Hordes were at the gates, a troop of children on ponies like a field of tulips to see, dogs and drums to hear. They were dressed in the Manchu colors of Magyar royalty, tangerine dolmans, sulphur boots, chestnut gauntlets.
      The hetman raised his lur and blew the alectorian figure, a military fancy in triple time, and the pelagic notes rose above a stampedo of timbals, whinny of zebras, nicker of quaggas.
      The trumpeter of the catapan answered with a fanfaronade . . .

        —Guy Davenport, out of “The Dawn in Erewhon” (Tatlin!, 1974)

Apeneck Sweeney spreads his knees
Letting his arms hang down to laugh,
The zebra stripes along his jaw
Swelling to maculate giraffe . . .

        —T. S. Eliot, out of “Sweeney Among the Nightingales” (Poems, 1920)

My Apish Cousins

Winked too much and were afraid of snakes. The zebras, supreme in
their abnormality; the elephants with their fog-colored skin
      and strictly practical appendages
            were there, the small cats; and the parakeet—
                  trivial and humdrum on examination . . .

        —Marianne Moore, out of “My Apish Cousins” (Observations, 1924)

If sentences constitute
                                           everything we believe,
Vocabularies retool
Our inability to measure and get it right,
And languages don’t exist.
That’s one theory. Here’s another:
Something weighs on our shoulders
And settles itself like black light
                                                              invisibly in our hair . . .
Pool table. Zebra rug.
                                          Three chairs in a half circle.
Buck horns and Ca’ Paruta.
Gouache of the Clinchfield station in Kingsport, Tennessee.
High tide on the Grand Canal,
                                                           San Zeno in late spring
Taken by “Ponti” back in the nineteenth century.
I see the unknown photographer
                                                 under his dark cloth. Magnesium flash.
Silence. I hear what he has to say.

        —Charles Wright, out of “Reading Rorty and Paul Celan One Morning in Early June”
        (Chickamauga, 1995)

The quality of nothing is not strained,
but saying so’s tense like a cartoon zebra.
“The variability of the world”
—incidental winks of it start to party into view—
absolutely hot & cool, at the moment,
is, & likely to remain so.

        —Jack Collom, out of “Arguing with Something Plato Said”
        (Red Car Goes By: Selected Poems 1955-2000, 2001)

What was the variety of nature—but a construct of the imagination, a public fantasy, a veering, Athena with the face of Mary, Mary with the face of a woman who squatted on the road, as the pod of her body opened? The erection of a conclusive system would probably be forever beyond man’s powers . . . There could be nothing simply and absolutely so—but many possibilities, alluring as bypaths, many visions, deformities, grandeurs, scandals, soldier kingdoms, overladen horses, warped glories, holy cities. The external world, on its entrance to the mind at Harmony, had been ferried from reality to the most fearful unreality—as if the kingdom of God cometh not with observation of nature. Suppose the gulf between the finite and infinite to be itself infinite, however? It would be better to accept the tangible reports of the sensations, wherever possible—parasitic tufts on the maple, a bird in the bush, hooked seeds, the zebra stripes of sunlight on dark grasses, orange trumpet flower, a woman’s breasts. Better to have been a nomadic pioneer, wanderer like nature herself, who leaves her footprints in the marshes . . .

        —Marguerite Young, out of Angel in the Forest: A Fairy Tale of Two Utopias (1945)

Where is the hiss of everyday life
A young painter at the Hermitage was copying Titian’s “Portrait of a Young Painter”
At the Peter-Paul Fortress sunners stood in the sun’s line of fire
Then the young painter pulled a knife
Hillocks, tomatoes, flags, rocks, zebras, a feeling of weakness—the fact itself is at its limit
Nature is only some necessary addition to the city . . .

        —Lyn Hejinian, out of Oxota: A Short Russian Novel (1991)

He placed various objects in turn—an apple, a pencil, a chess pawn, a comb—behind a glass of water and peered through it at each studiously: the red apple became a clear-cut red band bounded by a straight horizon, half a glass of Red Sea, Arabia Felix. The short pencil, if held obliquely, curved like a stylized snake, but if held vertically because monstrously fat—almost pyramidal. The black pawn, if moved to and fro, divided into a couple of black ants. The comb, stood on end, resulted in the glass’s seeming to fill with beautifully striped liquid, a zebra cocktail.

        —Vladimir Nabokov, out of Pnin (1957)


With prayer-plant eyes annually w inter-leggy
zinnia miracles itself perennial return
blest interim strength lengthening coreopsis’-summers
actual some time whereso near
zebra-fragrant sharpened wave currents tide
new moon to full sunrise
sunset enable ships seaworth slow-rounds
rosette lancers speared-yucca’s white night

        —Louis Zukofsky, out of 80 Flowers (Anew: Complete Shorter Poetry, 1997)

                               . . . stop to answer
the craftiest command of inert man
rolled from the colossal ear. Year
of hell and harmony, spill you a
good sleep, near the zebra’s hoof.

        —James Schuyler, out of “Africa! Africa!” (Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems, 2010)

Thin sheet-ice on Sloan’s lake
“dark white” shine, late February sun

Big red balloon tethered over Cub Food
winterpale shoppers, struggling with the load

like overweight ants dragging their take
away from an abandoned sandwich

A long ghost-white buick idles at the zebra
black glass, chrome gone, white tires

A deal in every aisle, every hour, every day
says a colossal signboard on the vast hanger . . .

        —Edward Dorn, out of “Sketches from Edgewater”
        (Way More West: New and Selected Poems, 2007)

Above the sky-blue gabardine slacks he wore a two-tone leisure jacket which would have been revolting on a zebra.

        —Raymond Chandler, out of a notebook

. . . if art is something, it is everything, which means that it must be self-sufficient, and that there is nothing beyond.
      There’s a famous Russian cartoon in which a hippopotamus, in the bush, points out a zebra to another hippopotamus: “You see,” he says, “now that’s formalism.” The existence of a work of art, its weight, are not at the mercy of interpretive grids which may or may not coincide with its contours. The work of art, like the world, is a living form: it is, it has no need of justification. The zebra is real, to deny it would not be reasonable, though its stripes are doubtless meaningless . . .

        —Alain Robbe-Grillet, out of “On Several Obsolete Notions” (For a New Novel, 1965)

Let Porcupine rattle quill, in a Casseopia of Hollyhock.

Let the whinny of Pigeons’ wings trigger similar strains
          from elm to Triangulum.

Let a score for matter’s staccato to cornstalk be touted to
          stars clustering The Archer’s wrist.

Let the stripes of Zebra be in time with the imaginary
          House of Mozart, on Jupiter.

        —Ronald Johnson, out of “BEAM 6, The Musics” (ARK, 1996)

      Why me, hackberry—
I am your friend. One song
      per season. Throw of
      yucca seeds lacquer black
            comes up

      Cool wonder of
All lives: one song per:
      Zebra swallowtail
            touch down,

        —Merrill Gilfillan, out of “Song: Forks of the Smoky Hill” (Satin Street, 1997)

Letters, postcards, billets-doux, telegrams, whole manuscripts, rough drafts, files, photos, a lock of Byron’s hair, the long pipe that Peter Cushing smoked in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Churchill’s cigar butts, engraved cigarette cases, over-elaborate walking sticks, tried and tested amulets. It wasn’t an unusual walking stick that had aroused his capricious buyer’s impulse during the bidding, but a ring that had belonged to Crowley, Aleister Crowley, he explained benevolently, a mediocre writer and a self-declared madman who called himself “The Great Beast” and “the wickedest man in the world,” all his private possessions had 666 engraved on them, the number of the Beast according to the Apocalypse, nowadays rock groups with demonic pretensions play around with the number, but it’s also to be found hidden in many computers, it’s the joker’s number, the living have no idea how old everything is, remarked Dorta, how hard it is to be new, what do young people know about Crowley, the orgiast and Satanist, he’d probably be considered a harmless, naïve conservative these days, a kindly man at heart who transformed his disciple Victor Neuburg into a zebra for making too many mistakes during an invocation of the Devil in the Sahara, so Dorta told me, and rode on his back all the way to Alexandria, where he sold him to a zoo which looked after the incompetent disciple or, rather, zebra for two years, until Crowley finally allowed him to resume his human form, he was a compassionate man at heart. Neuburg later became a publisher.

        —Javier Marías, out of “Spear Blood” (When I was Mortal, 1999)

Etymological chain: Sade, Sado, Sadone, Sazo, Sauza (village of Saze). Again, lost in this lineage, the evil letter. In attaining the accursed name, brilliantly formulated (it has engendered a common noun), the letter that, as we say in French, zebras, fustigates, the z, has given way to the softest of dentals.

        —Roland Barthes, out of Sade, Fourier, Loyola (1976)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Notebook (Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Spicer, &c.)

Jack Spicer, 1925-1965

I don’t know. (A statement my own emendatory wag cannot pronounce without an “I eschew knowing” bounding up to nip its dragging heels, encumbering the heave of the matutinal sigh with relief and defiance both . . .) Is it enough to be briefly amused by Nabokov’s rather Khlebnikovian / Mayakovskyan “futurist poet Alexis Pan” (The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, 1941)?
He was a noisy robust little man with a gleam of real talent concealed in the messy obscurity of his verse. But because he did his best to shock people with his monstrous mass of otiose words (he was the inventor of the ‘submental grunt’ as he called it), his main output seems now so nugatory, so false, so old-fashioned (super-modern things have a queer knack of dating much faster than others) that his true value is only remembered by a few scholars who admire the magnificent translations of English poems made by him at the very outset of his literary career,—one of these at least being a very miracle of verbal transfusion: his Russian rendering of Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”
Other sentence-ry items: “Now and then, between two poems, Pan would perform a slow dance—a mixture of Javanese wrist-play and his own rhythmic inventions. After recitals he got gloriously soused—” and “later Pan enjoyed a short artificial vogue in Bolshevik surroundings which was due I think to the queer notion (mainly based on a muddle of terms) that there is a natural connection between extreme politics and extreme art. Then, in 1922 or 1923 Alexis Pan committed suicide with the aid of a pair of braces.” That eschewal, that shunning percipience. Emerson liked to quote Plato, out of the Phaedrus:“The man who is his own master knocks in vain at the doors of poetry.” (In Benjamin Jowett’s translation—amid Socrates plumping the nobility of “inspired madness”: “But he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple by the help of art—he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman.”) Is it solace enough to read Emerson’s lines out of “Inspiration”—of the torment and tease of the percept’s “quick ebb of power,—as if life were a thunder-storm wherein you can see by a flash the horizon, and then cannot see your hand”? Emerson:
We cannot make the inspiration consecutive. A glimpse, a point of view that by its brightness excludes the purview is granted, but no panorama. A fuller inspiration should cause the point to flow and become a line, should bend the line and complete the circle. To-day the electric machine will not work, no spark will pass; then presently the world is all a cat’s back, all sparkle and shock. . . . Sometimes the Æolian harp is dumb all day in the window, and again it is garrulous and tells all . . .
. . . where is the Franklin with kite or rod for this fluid?—a Franklin who can draw off electricity from Jove himself, and convey it into the arts of life, inspire men, take them off their feet, withdraw them from the life of trifles and gain and comfort, and make the world transparent . . . What metaphysician has undertaken to enumerate the tonics of the torpid mind, the rules for the recovery of inspiration? That is least within control which is best in them. Of the modus of inspiration we have no knowledge. But in the experience of meditative men there is a certain agreement as to the conditions of reception. Plato, in his seventh Epistle, notes that the perception is only accomplished by long familiarity with the objects of intellect, and a life according to the things themselves. “Then a light, as if leaping from a fire, will on a sudden be enkindled in the soul, and will then itself nourish itself.” He said again, “The man who is his own master knocks in vain at the doors of poetry.” The artists must be sacrificed to their art. Like bees, they must put their lives into the sting they give. What is a man good for without enthusiasm? and what is enthusiasm but this daring of ruin for its object? There are thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls; we are not the less drawn to them. The moth flies into the flame of the lamp . . .
Ardent reveries of ruin in the American Romanticist slough. “The sedge has wither’d from the lake, / And no birds sing.” And if I think of Jack Spicer—who hardly nods at Emerson? (In “Excerpts from Oliver Charming’s Diary”—entry dated “January 21, 1954”—there’s a gentle rebuke of “Robert Duncan, the poet”: “He is too concerned with affirmation, with flying his soul like a kite. . . . He substitutes wit for nonsense, the transcendent for the vicious. It is as if Gertrude Stein and Ralph Waldo Emerson had gone to bed together with Jean Cocteau holding the vaseline.” And, in “Concord Hymn” (out of the series “Homage to Creeley / Explanatory Notes”), one reads a Spicerean rendering of Keats’s dopey ballad, with Emerson (whose fierce Romanticism “hath thee”—and all American poets—“in thrall”) starring as “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” herself. Spicer:
Concord Hymn

Your joke
Is like a lake
That lies there without any thought
And sees
Dead seas
The birds fly
Around there
Bewildered by its blue without any thought of water
Without any thought
Of water.

“Conquered Him” is a poem by Emerson.

The Dead Seas are all in the Holy Land.

If you watch closely you will see that water appears and disappears in the poem.
Allora. Tutto chiaro?