Thursday, April 10, 2008

Duncan / Levertov Notes

A Wall (Helmet and Badge)


Je commençais d’écrire une Ode à la Police
et une Apothéose du couperet.
                          —Albert Camus, La Chute

Control presumes a list deviance
Off of makes one just
Liable to be declared clubbable
In a muddy fit of
Ligature gone to the dogs
That, train’d to attack by
Means of a fat quilt
Of raw material, a protective
Sleeve for the arm, launch
Fur and fury forth, all
Teeth, against whosoever dodges or
Dogs it, or declines with
Mock-amble smart-ass slouch
And smirk the bark’d hurry
Up, motherfucker
of the officer
Who’d like to nudge that
Rubber baton that fits a
Fist used to fitting, up
Straight into the prevaricator’s nuts,
Hard, exaltingly, like an ode.

Back into the Duncan / Levertov letters with intensity undiminish’d. Duncan proves often a canny, petulant character, impulsive, capable of a tantrum. Mid-letter insert: “[[At which point I became so frustrated with this new misbehaving Parker pen that I hitchhiked into San Francisco to have it adjusted. And am sitting here at the Parker office to give the new adjustment its test.]]” (He’s in idyllic-sounding Stinson Beach with Jess Collins, getting by with who knows what money—though there is ample talk between the writers regarding what magazines pay, what presses offer what royalties, and, later, Duncan seeming goes with “slimy Rosset” of Grove Press for The Opening of the Field (1960) at least partly for a higher percent therein.) (Is there something rather puritanical about Levertov’s and Duncan’s continual complaint and admonishment of the direction of Rosset’s Evergreen and Grove? How it is “definitely aimed, with pornography and sensationalism, at a special public, with the idea of making money”?) The story of the Parker: another technology (most of the letters of both Duncan and Levertov hand-scrawl’d, the typewriter kept for the copying of poems). Struck by the energy and commitment of the letters: in a word to Levertov who’s become angry at, suspicious of Creeley (“When one reads Creeley’s letter to all & sundry one feels they are like form letters”), Duncan suggests: “If you could write him about why you haven’t been writing, would that at least restore the communication? The only important thing for us is our correspondence—and that becomes empty if it [does] not carry disappointment, anger, outrage as well as our appointments and joy.”

Duncan’s percipient art criticism, a terrific exposition of how la mode (the mob) recuperates any striking “original impetus.” Here, about Clyfford Still:
He is personally hostile and paints against the history of painting (and more distressing, paints against previous beauties in the art). . . . As a man, Still seems to do everything to prevent one’s arriving at this state of rapt satisfaction—of being “charmed,” and . . . he would himself hate this state, this end as charm or composed contemplation. & wants his paintings to be acts in themselves.
Duncan’s reception (after first seeing Still’s paintings in 1950) seems a miniature version of a general reception of the new (in spite of its self-critical perception of that in the letter):
It was not to be until five years later that I ever saw a canvas of Still’s as an instance of the beautiful [and these in painting are rare enuf], but what was clear then was that this was authentic, a command within the spiritual history of art that involved more than painting—as uncharming, as hedious in strength as revolt is; it had or I gave it authority. Not to be like it, but to take my place in a world where such painting must be a definition of the real.
      Withal I no longer think of that iconoclastic expressionism as the crux of the matter these days. All we have left here are modish derivatives, and the betrayal of the original impetus is the more striking in that the direction had been angry and all but stultified in its opposition to mode. There might be an irony in the fact that striking against the Beautiful—an artist is in danger of securing the chic. Even where his art is beautiful, Still’s work is grandiose, megalomaniac: he is incapable of the intimate. And the force of his egotism makes it impossible for me to think of him as heroic. Heroism for me has something to do with the engagement with and for the Beautiful.
A complex and possibly somewhat contradictory “set.” (Considering the letter Duncan jamming.) Nowadays, of course, there is no “opposition to mode”; there is only the ubiquitous rabid mêlée aim’d precisely at “securing the chic.” Blame a general herd mentality, fault of increased “communication.” Blame an unwholesome lack of independence, integrity, the fie in defiance. Duncan notes (talking against “programmatic sensationalism”): “W.C.W. said ‘Nothing is beyond poetry’ but in the same note warns that: ‘every school which seeks to seclude itself and build up a glamour of scholarship or whatever it be, a mist, that is. . . .’”—and quits. I’d like to retrieve the remains of that sentence.

Tomorrow: “Apotheosis of the Blade”

Clyfford Still, “1947-J,” 1947

Clyfford Still, “1947-R-No. 1,” 1947