Thursday, June 05, 2008

Madeira and Toast

Empty Crates

Result of yesterday’s “note”: a comic plethora of late (“recent”) claimants, loud-mouth’d, for attention. Monday, accompany’d by a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years, a painter in an extend’d lull against painting (there’s some writers ought to try that, a diminuendo against the tendency to gust and bloviate), I drift’d about the town, end’d up dipping into used book emporiums, St. Vincent de Paul shops of the dogtooth’d pants, vinyl holdouts, here and there. The aimless looking that is good company to talk, particularly talk of the “catching up” kind. (It used to be the trappings of full-bore drinking that corner’d such conversational “bouts”—I recall a montage of late ’eighties inextricable tableaux of such—events intertwined in the dim corridors of Drinkland, traceable to Ithaca, to New York City, to a farmhouse in northern Pennsylvania, to somewhere unpinpoint’d and tree’d adjacent to—hardly narrowing it—the Chesapeake Bay. One whole evening devoted to defining “postmodernism”—such sterling confidence had we that such a thing exist’d!) Drift’d, we drift’d and talk’d. (Nobody macerated the words “Guy Debord”—nous les flaneurs need not no stinkin’ ideological pooh. We’d long ago settled on the square-head’d lumberer Apollinaire—St. Guillaume—for a guide, he who wrote Rien n’est mort que ce qui n’existe pas encore—“Nothing’s perish’d except that that’s still arriving”— feinting double interlocutor of the gone and to come, thy holy name is now. Thus, one begins a conversation interrupt’d nearly twenty years back, with nary a drop’d stitch.) And, stop’d for books, or a razor with heft, tired of disposables. One resultant find:

Madeira & Toasts for Basil Bunting’s 75th Birthday, edited by Jonathan Williams (The Jargon Society, 1977)

Being Jargon 66, sign’d by Clayton Eshleman. Full of lovely things. A Tim Reynolds “Epigram, in Dejection”:
The lynching and the pogrom
Were practiced in my own lifetime,
The fragging and nukeing introduced.
What’s the fucking use?
Omar S. Pound translating out of the Persian of Abú Tálib Kalím (d. 1651/2):
Half my life spent attaching my heart
                            to this and that;
                   the rest, detaching it again.
Cover by Kitaj (left side portrait of Bunting daub’d sparsely on rough weave and warp evident canvas), and a heap’d bushel of notables offering up squibs. Eric Mottram, Philip Whalen, Tim Longville, Roy Fisher, tom Phillips, John Matthias, Charles Reznikoff, Tom Raworth, Christopher Middleton, &c. One odd man out: Richard Eberhart. Hugh MacDiarmid weighs in with a Scottish Gaelic “Slainte Curumath!”—twig’d for us barbarians as “a very important toast”: “May the skin of your bottom never cover a banjo.” Is August Kleinzahler missing, or simply overlook’d in my perusal? William Corbett quotes a phrase of Thoreau I’d love to find (“meter making argument”) and recalls hearing early of Bunting: “Friend of Pound—sailor—music critic—Persia—a book published in Galveston, Texas!—a master silent for decades.” The poetry: “handmade like a stonewall or stones placed to cross a book. Just so. Not an ounce of fat left on the bone.” (The “book” likely a typo for “brook”—an “accidental” sullying the economy to make it richer.) Guy Davenport—“peysing each sillable”—writes a poem call’d “For Basil Bunting”:
Northumbrian master
of number and pitch

honor far sent, a gift
of words only but meant

to be Greek as a curl
on a flat cheek

the coil of white
the Ismene lily

spirals, hound’s tail
when his nose is down

snail shell, paper nautilus
wavetop scroll

ear, weather, world
this shape of turning

for light through matter
makes it spin

and all is round, rounding,
atom, sound, space

though the curves, orbits
of Pluto, are long, long

old wheat of Turkistan
stone age zea

Pumpelly found
in the clay of an Anau pot

when we had thought
Demeter of Enna

took it from Etna
fire alive in fields, to eat

and gave it to any
who listened with grief

when she asked at doors
had they seen her daughter?

Pumpelly of the golden beard
last of the real Americans

kept waiting in Japan
until the Shogun learned his rank

“Smokes a seegar,” his man said,
“with Ulysses S. Grant”

so they placed a rose and poem
before him and bowed flat

learned Russian at seventy
to find the cultivation of wheat

in Turkistan. Crossed China
quoting Confucius for his needs

Great men have been among us
a few are with us still.
Skidding forth a series of relations (curves, spirals, men—limning the story of Raphael Pumpelly, American geologist and surveyor of parts of Japan and China and the Gobi desert, colleague / descendent of Agassiz), Davenport putting Bunting in a lineage, a company. And Hugh Kenner exclaiming “What a pervasive weather Basil is!”
Basil describing the descent of a WWII plane over Italy, the fabric peeling, the stanchions coming unglued, and the numerous passengers with whitened fists literally holding the contraption together—a parable, if you want—till it bounced on the earth and there rested.

Basil affirming that Wordsworth composed his poems “by shouting them aloud,” and not in Lunnon throwaway cadence but in stark Northern eruption of consonantal outcroppings (by him demonstrated, and confirmed by audible assonances the genteel intonation erases).

Basil on the Documenatry vs. the Aesthetic tradition: Crabbe, Wordsworth, Ford, as against Coleridge, Tennyson, Swinburne. There you have the redemption of the 19th century.

And Basil’s tale—maybe as fanciful as many of Ford’s, or maybe not—of the young Fordie being coached in his Sunday School lesson by his elder relative (so alleged) the young Kipling. And Kipling describing heaven, the clouds, the haloes, the harps, while Ford’s face grew longer and longer. “And that, Fordie,” said Kipling, “is where you will go if you are good. But if you are bad . . . you will go to a much worse place.”
Und so weiter. Is there a sense of the mealy-mouth’d pulchritude of most of “our” seniors—still playing they interminable boyish games of who’s got the firecracker now? There is.

Began, in a moment of inattention, a recent reprint of Geoffrey Household’s 1939 Rogue Male. A sort of stretch’d out version of Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” all that sort of chase and psychological flibbertigibbet I don’t even know why I bother with. The epigram (likely invent’d, no citation provided) amused me though:
‘The behaviour of a rogue may fairly be described as individual, separation from its fellows appearing to increase both cunning and ferocity. These solitary beasts, exasperated by chronic pain or widowerhood, are occasionally found among all the larger carnivores and graminivores, and are generally male, though, in the case of hippopotami, the wanton viciousness of old cows is not to be disregarded.’

Basil Bunting, 1900-1985

Raphael Pumpelly, 1837-1923