Thursday, January 22, 2009

Charles North’s Complete Lineups

Some Crows

Two things. One: Vladimir Nabokov’s particular synæsthesia (Greek: syn-, together, + æsthesis, a perceiving) asserting itself in the form of audition colorée (color’d hearing—though, Nabokov labels “hearing” an inaccuracy, “since the color sensation seems to be produced by the very act of my orally forming a given letter while I imagine its outline”), the involuntary attributing of colors to the sounds of letters. So that, in the marvelous autobiography Speak, Memory one reads:
The long a of the English alphabet . . . has for me the tint of weathered wood, but a French a evokes polished ebony. This black group also includes hard g (vulcanized rubber) and r (a sooty bag being ripped). Oatmeal n, noodle-limp l, and the ivory-backed hand mirror of o take care of the whites.
And so through the alphabet, upstaging Rimbaud’s voyelles (“A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu”) with usual undiminshable Nabokovian glee. Two: Robert Morgan (Ithaca, my scuffling days) insist’d that poetry’s proper kinship be with mathematics—its order, clarity, number, proportion, &c. That (I conjecture) the mammoth shaggy beast of the novel had little in common with the poem, less than, say, the Pythagorean theorem, the complementary angle, the tangent, &c.

That’s just some of what bubbles up reading Charles North’s sturdily delightful Complete Lineups (Hanging Loose, 2009). It comes in a pocket format, chock’d full of finely lined ink drawings (some reminiscent of Joe Brainard, though more restrain’d, more delicate) and washes, watercolors and oils, all by Paula North. (There are some close-up postcards done for William Corbett’s Pressed Wafer press—one a baseball become all red seam-stitchery with only the letters us c out of Plotinus c visible, just damnably nice.) And Corbett himself provides a fine introduction, witty and deft, even providing a quick interpretive paragraph for the “non-fan” (and noting—rightly—that “for those who love baseball North’s book is bliss.”) Here’s North’s first lineup (Corbett labels it “Cities”) written in 1972:
San Francisco     ss
Munich     cf
Paris     lf
Rome     c
Madrid     3b
London     rf
Athens     1b
Istanbul     2b
New York     p
And what Corbett writes:
The first lineup, “Cities,” has Rome catching and batting cleanup. Yes! Catcher is the position to which all roads lead. San Francisco, the Baghdad by the Bay, leads off, surely a thief on the bases, and plays shortstop. Istanbul batting eighth and playing second, is just right for the “exotic” position played by Hall of Famers as worlds apart as light hitting Nellie Fox and the power-hitters Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg. New York pitches for this lineup, a potential 20 game winner, with high heat, total command of all his pitches, and the confidence to throw his change-up on a 3-2 count.
(Is it permissible to note London stuck out in right field—little action there, where the distract’d ball-shy get put? Not so with Left Bank Paris, batting third, in left field where everybody hits.) Corbett nails it: “The ‘players’ in these lineups set off the associations and echoes we expect from real poetry.” And later, after noting how the lineups could’ve been left as mere “amusements” (the early Lineups (1972) was North’s first publish’d book): “He could have stopped there, but he took the form seriously, and it is a form—the lineup is a batting order. That’s only the half of it. Each player in that order takes the field so that he must have the requisite skills, metaphorically, for his defensive position.” So one gets, in a lineup of “British Poets” (for Walter Levy):
Pope     ss
Keats     2b
Shakespeare     cf
Milton     1b
Spenser     rf
Chaucer     3b
Jonson     lf
Yeats     c
Donne     p
The pokey Edmund “Slow Eddie” Spenser, writing in archaic Chaucerisms a couple hundred years too late, fittingly, in right field. And Milton, “‘Big John’ Milton” as Corbett calls him, right there in the slugger’s spot. In a piece append’d titled “Lineups II Commentary” (North work’d up a second batch of lineups in 1988) is a tiny history of the form:
I wrote the first baseball lineup poem more than twenty years ago for a friend who was struggling with a doctoral dissertation in English. By arranging major British poets into a batting order, complete with field positions, I was presenting him with a “dissertation” ready-made. Scrappy Alexander Pope was clearly a lead-off man; Milton played first and batted cleanup; Donne pitched (and won 30 games four times).
Too, North calls attention to “the real inspiration” ’s being Rimbaud’s “Voyelles”—“which both deranged and rearranged things, was outrageous as well as beautiful, and made no bones about any of it. I wanted my own de-arrangements to be somehow systematic, the idea being that the entire world could theoretically be located on metaphorical coordinates of batting order and position.” North’s not only invent’d a form, he’s invent’d a form capable of containing the whole ballgame. One late (1997) lineup titled “A Midwinter Lineup” and construct’d of quotations—some lengthy—is convincing enough on that score. Catching, and batting eighth, is Gertrude Stein’s “I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.” Perfect! And at third base, batting sixth, is Arthur Cravan’s “To think that, given that we exist, we do not laugh continuously.” (Which is delightful exactly the way North’s Complete Lineups is.)

Charles North

Pondering the question, “Why do poets love baseball?” Marianne Moore. Tom Clark (see Blue with cover drawing of Vida Blue!) Richard Hugo. Jack Spicer. (I try to picture Hugo and Spicer, two alcoholic self-loathers and baseball fanatics, together—if only. They’d have toss’d poetry in the corner, drunk up and talk’d about the pennant race, and the whole contentious history of American poetry would’ve been entirely different.) Donald Hall. George Bowering. Ron Silliman. Surely (tons of) others. Paul Blackburn (“Yanquis, come home.”) I dug out a copy of the Baseball Issue of Io (No. 10, c. 1972?—“a journal exploring myth, geography, origins, and the common source materials of literature, natural history and physical science.” Previous issues: “Alchemy, Doctrine of Signatures, Ethnoastronomy, Oecology, Dreams, and Mars.”) And Baseball? Richard Grossinger, editor, prefacing, is a little at pains to justify the thing (“Why baseball at all?”) He tells a story of how, in Portland, he’d recently “organized an experimental film showing on myth and magic.”
It opened with a short film by Emshwiller, then some Brakhage, followed by Connor’s “A Movie,” two Anger films: “Scorpio Rising” and “Invocation of My Demon Brother,” and then . . . The Mets’ 1969 Film, the souped-up public relations account of their path to the World Series Victory. A lot of people walked out and were very very irritated; their aesthetics, or ethics, had been violated; they had paid to see art. Some were utterly delighted . . . aroused as if by a cool summer breeze, but they considered it nothing more than a fortuitous accident.
Some, too, according to Grossinger, “said that it turned around the showing . . . that suddenly they saw what the other films were about. The whole notion of “experimental” as an aesthetic had seemed dry and mechanical . . . but when the pattern was broken by something as starling as the Met[s] film . . . within the same generative matrix . . . it became new.” Words to clamber up out of one’s narrow little hole by . . .

Anyhow, tussling with the Io (a poem—“Brooklyn August”—by the pre-Stephen King Stephen King—“In Ebbets Field, they come and go / and play their innings, blow by blow”—I kid you not), I found what’s called an “unfinished translation” (baseball connection nil) by Jack Spicer. It’s noted by Robin Blaser as “One of the few unused pieces he prepared for After Lorca. This one ends in the midst of the third stanza of García Lorca’s Romance Sonambulo with the tenth line.” Thus:
Verde, que te quiero verde .
Green wind, green branches
The ship on the sea
And the horse in the hills.
With a shadow at her loins
She dreams about a railing.
Green flesh, green hair
With eyes of cold silver
Verde, que te quiero verde
Under the living moon
Everything sees her
And she sees nothing

Verde, que te quiero verde
Large stars of frost
Swim with the fish of shadow
That follows the road to sunrise.
The fig tree rubs the wind
Like sandpaper, with its branches
And the mountain, a cat that steals
Bristles with sour cactus.
But who will come and from where
She follows the railing,
Green flesh, green hair
Dreaming of a bitter sea.

Friend, I want to trade you
My horse for your house
My saddle for your mirror
my knife for your blanket
Friend, I come bleeding
From ports of the south.
If only I could, child,
This trade would be closed,
But I am no longer I
And my house not my house
The poem is dated 1957. Not included (seemingly) in the Black Sparrow Collected Books, nor in the new collected, My Vocabulary Did This to Me. It is, mostly, “straight” translation (seemingly), though there’s a shift in pronouns in the third stanza, her become your. And truncation à la Pound’s Seafarer. My question: should it’ve been included in the Gizzi and Killian Collected? As a note to the poems of After Lorca? (This is, of course, assuming that it is not in there—I look’d rather hurry’dly.)


Quips and prayers, incomplete fiascos of blank
commitments undone by perfervid decencies, the way
the haymaker that clobbered the studious confrere
milked off all contempt only to leave him writing,
narrowly, a paean to its unadornable meetings. You
tell it so much better. Where the fears trundle off
to is into the blunt oceanic gun-metal chill of being
without a dime in Walloon Lake, or White River Junction,
with a train covered with white roses heaving up, belching.
I think I’d rather be a Negro. The sergeant with the mendacious
prick scolded me for that, inadmissibly leaning into the breeze
coming off the rude interplanetary lusts of the skyscraper we
leaned against. If that’s narrative, you’ll need a ladder to
fetch me down, is how the Polish lady put it, gulping. And
a consort of hoboes rode by, sounds like Bellini driving a stake
into a railroad tie, or a harpsichord. Scrawnily snipping verselets.
Adjacency motoring up with a collapsible scorn, anything
to make fetid a sweet moment. You put a sobering pound note
into the garden box and presto! there’s a beanery worth
traversing the street for. What’s intruding here? the fumaroles
of a long-soured volcanic indecision, a spate of copycat excrescence
like a Doberman with a skink. It mouths it. That and impiety,
that belabored carpentry of the conventionally rank. Hoo. Hoo.
Caught up in the reiterative reel of the Kemo Sabe handjob,
Morandi taupe-colors daubing up the celluloid, the swank
toothlessness of a dud belletrist of sass and canny in a fez, a
Huddie Ledbetter of the ass and fanny in Marrakech. Dirt in
the outrigger. Gourmand cacophony. Now I am going down
into the sinningest of the Carpocratians and deliver my tirade,
mark my words. “You are forged of a mountain of mash
notes of pure imbecility and doublure (animal skin)
sniffing out a contrail as a mere construction of air.”