Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Ronald Johnson, Giuseppe Ungaretti

Shed and Tank


In the hush’d
auditorium of morning,
two birds penny-
whoop the light
up, up where
the tree’s tines
black the brackish
ongoing wash of
oh, yonder. A
kind of wet-
in-wet paint-
handling is what
the lower clouds
attempt to mimic,
Constable toss-offs.
I woke with
the word flange
collaring my attention,
misalign’d. “The Minneola
tangelo, a cross
between a Duncan
grapefruit and a
Dancy tangerine, is
dated 1931.” Two,
meaning inherently different
and complementary. A
series of like
forms used to
distribute variables in
relation. Call’d, too,
pummelo, jabong, shaddock,
“in sizes up
to the diameter
of a basketball.”
Stove-in by
the rear’d up
hoof and industry
of such slash
integral memoranda, I
snip off its
demonic tail, bow
to the public-
spirit’d, and rise.

Begorrah. Fetch me some wattles into my “bee-loud glade,” I am apt any moment to become William Butler Yeats. “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree . . .” An evening “out”—unlike me—and a too early morn. I find myself Johnny empty-hand’d and scurry to put the morning’s “floater” words to use. The words (for all you keeping impeccably mark’d scorecards at home): “tangelo,” “brack infinitude,” “flange / fletch,” “auditorium of morn.” I admit I rumbled around notions of a tiny series of echoing juxtapositions (“sound analyses”) derived out of Ronald Johnson and Peter O’Leary’s “Gildings of the Buddha”:
3rd Gilding of the Buddha


(That one’s Johnson’s.) My “problem”: if the restless “I” slips in, narrative (with its bulldozer) is close behind. Hence, “and rise”—dopiest ending of all. Johnson must’ve had Giuseppe Ungaretti’s tiny untranslatable 1917 poem of the morning in the vicinity for that “Gilding,” no?

One wag puts down “I flood myself / with light of the immense” for that, and calls it “Morning.” (I note it originally got call’d “Cielo e Mare” (“Sky and Sea”), a title that makes of it a washy indiscernible horizon line of a poem. I yakked about the thing—Ted Berrigan’s version, Charles Wright’s version—previously here.) Is Johnson’s an anti-“Mattina,” a poem of immensity shutting down, dusk-slung? Maybe. It’s clearly riding out the dark cooing dove sounds of its long u’s to fine effect. (Though, saying that is maybe to mistake one of Johnson’s “teachings”—that is, “how the eye makes things.”—my “sound analyses” ought to say “ear and eye analyses.” After the completion of the “Gildings” with O’Leary, Johnson writes to offer a remarkably concise summary of the activity of making the tiny pieces (and, as O’Leary notes “a syllabus”):
With these passages you’ve learned how the eye makes things, that less can be more. Now is time to reach to music. Put 2 & 2 together after 1 against 1. Pluck lyre. Study Zuk, of course, the Master. But go back to simple couplings viz WCW, Creeley, Olson, even Eigner—though, as spastic, he’s a special physical case.—But then I think, Creeley is monocular, Olson was a giant. WCW had an amazing ear, first for talk, then how to wag the tail of the world as it passed. (I seem to remember “jocund day” do I, correctly? Where the metrics, because of percussion become subtly other.) Anyways anyone with ear close to the syllables where, in inescapable sway they peel away things to specifics and eternities, as eye did in the Gildings.
Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet: “Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day / stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.” Wordsworth in that daffodil thing: “A poet could not but be gay, / In such a jocund company.” WCW, at the end of “All That Is Perfect in Woman” (c. 1949):
Oh Lorca, Lorca—
shining singer if you
could have been
alive for this!

At five in the afternoon.

—fecund and jocund
are familiar to the sea
and what dangles, lacerant,
under the belly of
the Portuguese Man O’War is also
familiar to the sea, familiar
to the sea, the sea.
Apparently Williams’s only use of the word. I love Johnson’s unembarrass’d insistence on the body’s role here in the works (Olson the giant, one-eyed Creeley, &c.) Of a piece with the Orphic “lean.” That and the “specifics and eternities,” that entirely casual jump in scale. Which is another version of “M’illumino / d’immenso.”

A stray unpublish’d piece of “The Everyday” (with several of my photographs) is up at Triple Canopy.

Ronald Johnson, 1935–1998