Friday, September 10, 2010

Berrigan’s Reading

Some Clouds

Sense, preternatural, premonitory, that today’s writing’ll turn out all wash. A morning cold and uncrow’d. Minuscule black flowers of mold lining the coffee cup. Ted Berrigan (Dear Sandy, Hello): “The purity and loveliness of language is one of the few things that is not for sale these days.” (He’s just quoted Stevens: “This somnolence and rattapallax / Seemed to suckle themselves on his arid being, / As the swine-like rivers suckled themselves / While they went seaward to the sea mouths.”) (Whence cometh “rattapallax”? I suspect Stevens reach’d that grinch’d irrepressible half-glossolalick’d joy-state of the pure grunting vocable, lieu beyond lingo—see, too, the poet in “Mozart, 1935” “seated at the piano” with Stevens’s commanding : “Play the present, its hoo-hoo-hoo, / Its shoo-shoo-shoo, its ric-a-nic, / Its envious cachinnation.”) I keep trying to find evidence (in Berrigan’s Collected Poems) of some of the pieces he writes about. One—O’Hara, to whom Berrigan sent it along with four others, refers to it approvingly in the return postcard—ends up in The Sonnets:
Poem in the Traditional Manner

Whenever Richard Gallup is dissevered,
Fathers and teachers, and daemons down under the sea,
Audenesque Epithalamiums! She
Sends her driver home and she stays with me.

Match-Game etcetera! Bootleggers
Barrel-assing chevrolets grow bold. I summon
To myself sad silent thoughts,
Opulent, sinister, and cold.

Shall it be male or female in the tub?
And grawk go under, and grackle disappear,
And high upon the Brooklyn Bridge alone,
An ugly ogre masturbates by ear:

Of my darling, my darling, my pipe and my slippers,
Something there is is benzedrine in bed:
And so, so Asiatic, Richard Gallup
Goes home, and gets his gat, and plugs his dad.
A poem Berrigan mentions sending to Ashbery & Cie.’s Locus Solus in Paris (who evidently declined it). Whacks evident at Edwin Arlington Robinson (“Richard Corey”) and Robert Frost (“Mending Wall”), though I’d argue Stevens as the presiding king of the ghosts here. (A companion piece—“Poem in the Modern Manner”—ends with the cachinnatory: “Bring me red demented rooms, / warm and delicate words! Swollen as if new-out-of-bed / Huitzilopochtli goes his dithyrambic way, / quick-shot, resuscitate, all roar!”)

Somewhere in Talking in Tranquility: Interviews with Ted Berrigan, Berrigan’s quoted as saying: “I like to know all the groups, because that way is the most fun, and the most interesting.” Large-heart’d, that kind of stance against (today’s seemingly mandatory pincers of) side-choosing and parochialism. Early in the letters Berrigan reports that “at the library” he’s “checked out Imitations by Robert Lowell” (along with “a long philosophical poem called The Dragon and the Unicorn by Kenneth Rexroth”). Imitations seems key. A couple of weeks along, Berrigan’s sending Sandy a copy of a draft call’d “The Lament”:
It is not an attempt to write Garcia Lorca’s poem in American. It is an attempt to write a poem like Lorca’s, in American, using whatever of his that fits, in the voice of Ted Berrigan. With credit to Lorca for whatever taken. What is most important is that it is an attempt to write in Lorca’s tone of voice with me as the speaker. The poem is meant to stand by itself without reference to Lorca’s poem. Wherever the literal meaning differs from Lorca’s, I know it, it is deliberate. Etc. Etc. Etc.


I am closing my widow.
I don’t want to hear the weeping.
But from out of the shadowy darkness
nothing may be heard but the weeping.

I hear no angels singing
and no dogs crying.
The sound of violins
may never find me.

For the weeping is a terrible animal
and the weeping is a terrible angel
and the weeping is a terrible sound

Tears silence the wind

Nothing is heard but the weeping.

after Garcia Lorca / 7 Apr 62
Compare Lowell’s introductory note in Imitations: “Boris Pasternak has said that the usual reliable translator gets the literal meaning but misses the tone, and that in poetry tone is of course everything. I have been reckless with literal meaning, and labored hard to get the tone. Most often this has been a tone, for the tone is something that will always more or less escape transference to another language and cultural moment. I have tried to write alive English and to do what my authors might have done if they were writing their poems now and in America.” And, referring to the Rimbaud poem Berrigan’ll shortly tackle: “About a third of ‘The Drunken Boat’ has been left out.” A licensing. (One, of course, that Pound’d earlier point’d at—stripping “The Seafarer” of lines he consider’d later—Christian—addenda, &c.) García Lorca’s original:
Casida del Llanto

He cerrado mi balcón
porque no quiero oír el llanto
pero por detrás de los grises muros
no se oye otra cosa que el llanto.
Hay muy pocos ángeles que canten,
hay muy pocos perros que ladren,
mil violines caben en la palma de la mano.

Pero el llanto es un perro inmenso,
el llanto es un ángel inmenso,
el llanto es un violín inmenso,
las lágrimas amordazan al viento,
no se oye otra cosa que el llanto.
I suspect Berrigan’s cribbing off Steven Spender and J. L. Gili’s version of the poem found in the Selected Poems, edit’d by Francisco García Lorca and Donald M. Allen and publish’d by New Directions in 1955 (paperback, 1962). Reading:
Casida of the Lament

I have shut my balcony
because I do not want to hear the weeping,
but from behind the grey walls,
nothing else is heard but the weeping.
There are very few angels that sing,
there are very few dogs that bark,
a thousand violins fit into the palm of my hand.

But the weeping is an immense dog,
the weeping is an immense angel,
the weeping is an immense violin,
the tears muzzle the wind,
nothing else is heard but the weeping.
Casida = qasida, originally an Arabic form, torque’d here by the Andalusian. I admire Berrigan’s untruckled persistence, a kind of glee’d voraciousness about writing (particularly amidst troublesomeness, and hurt):
Shall I quote Henry Miller? To write is to love again. Or William Saroyan. Art will not help, but if it seems like a good idea to look at things carefully, then do so. . . .
      I write because I feel like it. It makes me feel—no not “good” or “bad” but—alive. It make me feel as I feel when I see the sun in the morning, or hit a home run, or something. It does not take away pain nor give pain. W. H. Auden says “Poetry makes nothing happen. It survives, a way of happening, a mouth, / it survives in the valley of its saying where executives would never want to tamper / it flows south from ranches of isolation and the busy griefs / Raw towns that we believe and die in. /”
      I like to talk. I write to talk, to you, to whomever my poem is addressed to, to anyone who wants to listen, mostly I suppose to myself. Nothing changes from this, except that I grow. And there are so many et ceteras to add here.
Getting the Auden a little topsy-turvy, revving memory for a run, nervy and going all out. Not for sale.

Ted Berrigan, 1934-1983