Friday, September 28, 2012

Notebook (James Schuyler, Frank O'Hara, &c.)

Fairfield Porter, “James Schuyler,” 1955

End of the week energy sap and paucity of means. No wonder some of the formerly robust joints hereabouts end by endlessly putting up old movies on their drab marquees, or ransacking the death notices willy-nilly. (Why do I recall, Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival c. 1973, the emcee’s ire at the presumably honor-inflected applause garnered by a string of announcements of musicians lately deceased: “Don’t clap for them after they’re dead. Support them while they’re living!”) The daily collop and caterwaul never gets any easier: hauling up some mean fleshy particulars out of the brain bucket with the brain bucket. (I think of a line out of Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers that James Schuyler epigraph’d “The Home Book” with: “It seemed insensibly to grow lighter as the night shut in, and a distant and solitary farm-house was revealed, which before lurked in the shadows of the noon.”)

I keep rereading, out of The Home Book (1977), some prose poems unfound in Schuyler’s Collected Poems. One, called “Father or Son,” is included, lineated, in Schuyler’s Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems (2010) under the title “Love’s Photograph (or Father and Son).” Here’s one, initially riffing off King Richard’s riffing lines in Shakespeare’s Richard II (“Down, down I come like glistering Phaethon* / Wanting the manage of unruly jades / In the base court—base court, where kings grow base / To come at traitors’ calls and do them grace. / In the base court. Come down—down court, down King, / For night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing . . .”):

Down, like glistering Phaeton reaching our town the day the cops initiated no-knock. You are yourself, you are of land of unreaped corn, unpicked prunes, cherries, farm fruit. The wish you wished a kindergarten day ago (stained cut out paper tulips, in paper pots, loving your face) came true sophisticated abed morning, whose Negro friends, fraternizes with Jews, artists. One way to see what you ate is to vomit. Regret, depression, fear, the Moerae girls, harmonize, you cannot not live. The telegram you called back Western Union to cancel: I forgive you; or was it on Easter eggs (green the green crack on vegetable-dyed greenish white)? Drunkard, paper claws up the floor; burn it up. Fierce relaxations. Afraid. Of—poverty? Lovers wait your letters, your kisses, posthumous works wait other lovers. Password: loathing for what was envied for.
Schuyler’s “down” wonderfully ambiguous, syntactically adept. Both a noun, something in the air (fluff off a cottonwood tree, aimless plumage), something come of the “land of unreaped corn” (sheer gone potential of every childhood seeping in to fire regret). And a clipped adjectival descriptor, self-addressed, a pep-talk inaugural “down” meaning “you are down”—though indubitably “yourself” (see wry joke made about the cops’ new no-knock policy congruent to such an ordinary malaise). Density and repetition (“green the green crack on vegetable-dyed greenish white”): sense of an indefatigable and abrupt will to precision. (Not unlike “Fierce relaxations.”) Eliding whose effect is not speed (“came true sophisticated abed morning, whose Negro friends, fraternizes with Jews, artists”) and adjectival pile-ups (“stained cut out paper tulips”). (Schuyler’s “Father or Son” begins: “Detected little things: a peach pit basket watch chain charm, an ivory cross wound with ivory ivy . . .” and, too, pictures a boy “ever on ice skates on ice-skate-scratched ice, an enlarged scratched snapshot”—the subtle poise of the stacked-up details a measure of the intensity of Schuyler’s attending (and of the demands of our own).) Is it the final “key” phrase (“Password: loathing for what was envied for”) that points back to O’Hara’s poem of exhaustion and regret? (And whose tone, like Schuyler’s here, is somewhat ambiguous.) I am thinking of “A Young Poet” with its ending—
                  Where is the castle he should inhabit on a promontory
            his elegies are dictated to him by the divine prosecutor?
                                                                                                                        It is
a bank on 14th Street.
                                            While we are seeing The Curse of Frankenstein he
sits in
            the 42nd Street Library, reading about the Sumerians.
                                                                                                                        The threats
of inferiors are frightening
                                                    if you are are a Negro choosing your own High School,
or a painter too drunk
                                            to fight off a mugging,
                                                                                        or a poet exhausted by
the insight which comes as a kiss
                                                                and follows as a curse.
(Schuyler’s “the day the cops initiated no-knock” akin to O’Hara’s “police who follow him, as he should be followed, but not by them . . .”)

Another (or two) of the Schuyler Home Book prose poems, sans commentaire:
Two Meditations

Gladioli slant in the border as though stuck not growing there and around the square white wood beehive the bees drone like the layers of a bulb at the center of which is a viscous shoot. Small green apples hang from the small trees and under the skinny boughs ducks a skinny boy in wool swim trunks steering a lawn mower. Damp blades of chopped off grass and clover leaves stick to his shins. The mower ceases, the bees whirl their routes higher and he drinks from the nozzle of a hose. The gravel spurts under the wheels of a car, which, coming from between the lilac hedges, discloses itself as a laundry truck.

Out of the gray bay gray rocks, close spaced and each a little black green north tree forest. This became denser until it was the color of a hole. The trawler anchored and they scrambled ashore in an inlet closed by a little white sand beach like a Negro’s very white palm, the guide experienced and dignified last in laced boots with moccasin bottoms. The clarity of the water relicted a dead tree while he boiled great lake trout in a galvanized bucket on a resinous fire. A green flame. Everyone planned to change his “way of life” until he tasted the fish, which was tasteless. Scales on the dull sand like garbage, or rain. It began raining, a drop at a time, big as cod liver oil capsules. The two boys’ knees lichened and their shrills faded high and out into the falls of shot grouse curving into a November wet matchstick field. Burrs, unfinished houses.
That lovely noun-made verb: relicted.
* Phaethon—meaning “shining” in Greek—being the mythical son of Apollo, the sun-god, he who borrowed Apollo’s sun-chariot and—inexpert, brash, and weak—nearly slammed it into the earth, prevented only by Zeus’s killing thunderbolt.

James Schuyler, “Woods”
(So designated, and found among the Fairfield Porter papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Dated “between 1950 and 1991.”)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Notebook (Joe Brainard, Ron Padgett, &c.)

Joe Brainard, 1941–1994
(Photograph by Robert Giard)

Out of “An Interview with Joe Brainard,” found in the Ted Berrigan / Ron Padgett / Joe Brainard collaboratory Bean Spasms:
J:     Yes, it’s hard to just sit down and do a “cover design.” My most successful things are those I’ve just done and then made into a cover design.
A:     How about the cover that says “COVER DESIGN BY JOE BRAINARD”?
J:     Yes, I liked the idea so I did it. But I rarely work that way. I almost never have an idea and then I do it.
A:     This may sound funny, and I think I already know the answer, but how do you go about doing a picture or a construction?
J:     How do you go about doing a construction?
A:     Yes.
J:     Well, in the first place I always have lots of things around that I like. Lots and lots of things I like. Like today I started something because a man came up to fix the stove and he took out a piece of grillwork which immediately inspired me to do a little box inside it. But I had to have a box to go around it so I looked through all my boxes and I found one and so now it’s going to be a giant collage. I just started putting things together that I have. It’ll probably change completely by the time it’s built. It’s usually one thing that starts and then things just build naturally.
A:     Depending a lot on what you have around.
J:     Very much.
A:     Do you think that the changes in your constructions over the past few years are due to a change of style or just a change of what you have around, the availability of materials?
J:     Well, it’s not really availability, it’s selectivity. There’s a lot available. It’s what I select, and I select different things. Things I would have used a year ago I wouldn’t use now. . . .
(In the Constance M. Lewallen-edited Joe Brainard: A Retrospective (2001), interviewer “A” is identified as Ron Padgett.) Idea versus impetus (or impetuousness). The obvious, so rarely “put” in talk of constructivist doings: how the piecemeal sort must needs be finessed by intelligent discernment of the materials. Which is to say: content counts. Compare that with something like Barrett Watten, caught in a formalist sludge, talking, in The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (2003), of Jean Day’s poem “The Fluidity of Attributes” (“The reminder of triangles is no knowledge / at all / but radicals set free in a book, promiscuous geometry you / might say, and reading it / decide there’s no limit . . .”*) and how
it seeks to discover an ethics of formal dissociation and combination in which the incompletion of the lyric poem “just is” a politics of everyday life. It is important that the acuteness of the poem’s negativity—the radical demand it makes on the reader for integration, which at the same time it refuses to allow—is made to seem identical to the dissociative finesse that renders its materials available for construction. Seeing both materials and form as equally fragmentary and incomplete allows the poet to locate her poetics of negativity precisely where such a construction is needed in the first place: everyday life . . .
“Integration, which at the same time it refuses to allow”—that sense that the objects at play might be any, discernment and selectivity being of no account to the vague vacillatory forces, “triangles” might be “squares,” or “duds.” How different is, say, Padgett’s “Early Triangles” with its canny particulars placed into the “vast & wonderful” swell:
Can you feel the swell—
or is there one?—
of something vast & wonderful
coming over America?
Or is that just the glow
of lights from Montpelier?
I stood out in the wood
and spoke to the trees with their leaves,
and they answered back. They said,
“Jerome, Jerome,
return to your village.”
I did so, and began
to lick postage stamps.
Red ones and green ones, some
with pink and yellow,
delicate triangle in the afternoon.
See Brainard, in the interview, rejecting a comparison with the assemblages of Niki de Saint Phalle:
J:     I don’t think she respects the objects she uses in the same way I do. I place an object in a collage with a beautiful surrounding.
A:     You mean you sort of put the spotlight on the things you use?
J:     Yes.

Out of the Brainard interview:
A:     Who do you think was the single biggest influence on your work?
J:     Well, I suppose d I’d say Ted Berrigan, especially in Tulsa and my first year in New York.
A:     How about after that?
J:     Not any one person. New York, mostly.
In the joke-befogged context of Bean Spasms—see, say, the infamous Berrigan-foisted-off interview with John Cage (who says things like “When I hear the word ‘Happening’ I spew wildly into my lunch” and “Many dirty hands have fondled beauty, made it their banner; I’d like to chop off those hands, because I do believe in that banner . . .”)—one might suspect Brainard, too, of a bit of obfuscatory guff. Albeit in the 1977 Tim Dlugos-conducted interview with Brainard that is reprinted (out of Little Caesar) in The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (Library of America, 2012), one reads of the period when “Ted came to New York, and I lived with him . . . in a storefront, on Sixth Street right next to a meat factory”:
TD:     Did you have a lot of influence on you, on your work, do you think? On your sensibility, your way of looking at life . . .
JB:     Yeah, he had an enormous influence. In fact, I don’t think I’d be in New York . . . because he had this thing where—he’s a teacher, that’s the thing, but at the time he was terrific for somebody who was a little weak, in terms of just doing whatever you want to do and fuck what people think. So that was sort of his message, which I’d never learned. I had the instinct for it, but I didn’t really have the guts.
Of note, too: how Brainard initially met Berrigan in Tulsa while “working in a snack bar at a country club, outdoors by the swimming pool”: “he tried to get me to give him a free hamburger.”
* Out of The Literal World (1998):

The reminder of triangles is no knowledge
                                                                        at all
but radicals set free in a book, promiscuous geometry you
might say, and reading it
decide there’s no limit
to the places and people of the family we repeat
by shape and speech, whose fronts have backs
                                                                              that linger
“Nothing out of nothing” is the first resemblance
we admit, in the leisure of cells’ calculation, longing to arrive
at true north only to fine it bitterly makeshift—
a spot on which a tenuous man
                                                        fingers parallelograms
reminiscent of triangles with hats on
Watten subsequently refers to Padgett’s “parody of constructivism, Triangles in the Afternoon,” claiming that here in Day’s poem (as, Watten insists, in Padgett) “there is a feint toward the rigor of geometric forms (“triangles,” “parallelograms” ) that aspires to the condition of free radicals in their promiscuous ethics of combination.” But there’s nothing “promiscuous” about the assorted details of “Early Triangles”; those postage stamps do not “feint toward the rigor of geometric forms”—they are postage stamps, triangular, slightly exotic. Any “feint” here is toward O’Hara’s “Memoir of Sergei O. . . .” (beginning “My feet have never been comfortable / since I pulled them out of the Black Sea / and came to your foul country . . .” and ending “it is not new to do this it is terribly / democratic and ordinary and tired”).

Niki de Saint Phalle, “My Heart Belongs to Marcel Duchamp,” 1963

Joe Brainard, “Madonna with Flowers IV,” 1966

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Notebook (Ted Berrigan, Bob Perelman, &c.)

Ted Berrigan, 1934-1983
(Photograph by Mark Hillringhouse)

Balmy, and damp. Morning’s own salve to my sleeplessness. “What”—Ted Berrigan writes to Ron Padgett (17 September 1964)—“is a ‘boke’?” Reading the Berrigan / Padgett / Brainard collaboratory Bean Spasms (Granary Books, 2012)—“originally published by Kulchur Press in 1967.” Out of “Boils”:

Tub   tropper   heart   bubbles   fingo   shucks   gabbing   too   snakey   levi’s   Aw   gimmee some   poop   latest   flush   flush   redness   gasp   woman   never   nerviness   coffee pillsome   love   flett   trim   loins   strangle   our   sax   fonk   plunk   music   ah   leave   me alone   I   like   you   sweet   potato   delight   we   came   for   to   sing   I’ll   never   tell threw   thro   thru   thugh   danes   itch   funkiness   plance   take   your   foot   off   my foot you   mugger-hugger   flanked

How the prevalence of stumpy monosyllabics and neologic flak (“tropper” “flett,” “fonk,” “plance”) recalls the experiments of the Language boys, in particular, the endlessly discussed line “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts.” Bob Perelman’s history (out of the 1996 The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History):
      “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts.” This line is the epigraph to In the American Tree. In a canonical literary history, one addressed to a judging reader, such a phrase would make quite a limited aesthetic object. But as I am interested in non-canonical or anti-canonical sets of literary narratives where literary history is created by writers, I’ll give the circumstances of the birth of this line.
      Kit Robinson, Steve Benson and I began a writing project almost as soon as we met in San Francisco in 1976. One of us would read from whatever books were handy and two of us would type. These roles would rotate; occasionally, there would be two readers reading simultaneously to one typist. The reader would switch books whenever he felt like it, and jump around within whatever book was open at the time. Truman Capote’s slam at Kerouac’s work—that this was typing, not writing—would have been even truer here, though none of us could type as fast as Kerouac, who apparently was a terrific typist, an ability which undoubtedly helped give his writing its enviable fluidity.
      This was not automatic writing, automatic listening would be more like it. There was no question of keeping up with the stream of spoken words; one could attempt to attend to them or not. If I felt no spark of imagination I would type at or toward the next batch of them I heard . . .
      I don’t want to make claims for this process as representative of language writing; no published work that I know of has been written using this method. But I want the extremity of this process, where reading and writing, hearing and producing words were so jammed together, to emblematize an important collaborative element of the beginnings of the language movement.
The (subsequent) intensity of the earnestness (note that “writing project”) for what must’ve been mere boyish writerly hijinks is insuperable. Note, too, the anxiety inherent in the repeated nods toward precedent (“Capote’s slam at Kerouac’s work,” “automatic writing,” “no published work that I know of”): betraying an ardor for the sort of literary historical accounting that marks the grasping academic. Compare Ted Berrigan’s “Notes” to the writings he did with Padgett:
      A lot of the longer poems we wrote while waiting for our wives to make us dinner. Usually it was in Ron’s apartment on West 88th, a very busy and exciting place, and while we were writing friends were dropping in and leaving, the baby (mine) was scooting around doing hideous things such as breaking up Joe’s collages and our wives, Sandy and Pat, were having unbelievable dialogues about dinner, much of which went straight into the poems. BOILS was written in this setting, as were THE PASTOR, KODAK, and others. There was, naturally, no thought of having thoughts, we usually wrote as fast as we could; in fact sometimes there were two typewriters and we worked on two poems simultaneously. Sometimes friends who came by would write a few lines: Peter Orlovsky & Gerry Malanga wrote parts of BOILS.
      Most of the time we made up rules but sometimes we didn’t. In BOILS, as I remember, the idea was to go as long as you wanted, and to make uniform length stanzas, but above all never to stop typing. Part of the time Ron read to me from different books while I wrote, so that I wouldn’t run out of things to say, and I returned the favor. I think the phonograph was playing too, or the radio.
Berrigan ends (after noting a “fill-in-the-blanks operation, in which one of us would type up a paragraph or more from some source, leaving out words and substituting blanks for the other to fill in”—and how there exist “two or three sets of works like this, all with the same basic ‘plot,’ but with different ‘details,’ filled in by us, and by Aram Saroyan, Bill Burroughs, Dick Gallup, Tom Veitch, Barbara Guest, Kenward Elmslie, Edwin Denby, Tony Towle, Kenneth Koch, Johnny Stanton, etc.”—detritus, dispersed, of the “era,” its “working papers,” its toys . . .):
      Most of the other works can be figured out as to how they were done. There are no tricks. It was New York City and friends, and most of our friends were writers or painters, and when we got together (the writers not being able to afford to “Cedar Bar”) we wrote. That is, we collaborated. The poets wrote at each other on the page, and wrote on works of the painters, and the painters, (Joe Brainard and George Schneeman to name two,) painted out the words leaving space for more.
      It wasn’t the new thing, we didn’t even invent the idea, and we didn’t think we were being revolutionary. It was just what was happening and fact, still is.
That “echoing without intent” O’Hara’s “[Statement for The New American Poetry]” (“What is happening to me, allowing for lies and exaggerations which I try to avoid, goes into my poems. I don’t think my experiences are clarified or made beautiful for myself or anyone else, they are just there in whatever form I can find them . . .”) One senses Berrigan’s rare unpretentiousness and heart.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Mark Catesby, “Noddy Tern,” c. 1729-47

John James Audubon, “Noddy Tern,” c. 1840-44

Walking, I recite the hard
explosive names of birds:
egret, killdeer, bittern, tern.
Dull in the wind and early morning light,
the striped shadows of the cattails
twitch like nerves.

        —Robert Hass, out of “Palo Alto: The Marshes” (Field Guide, 1973)

              . . . albatross shit, red-headed woodpecker (nine
inches long) shit, tern shit, hedgehog shit, panda shit,
seahorse shit, and the shit of the wasteful gallinule.

        —A. R. Ammons, out of “Shit List; or, Omnium-gatherum of Diversity into Unity”
        (Worldly Hopes, 1982)

I was not only in need of food, but was hungry for headlands, coves, the sight of a sea hare, the lantern fish, plateaus. I had never seen a widgeon, tern or a booby, but the names helped to fill my empty spirit and belly. People can be content with little; the islanders whom Columbus found at the Antilles were satisfied with a calabash of water and brown earth crumbled into small pieces kneaded with leaves.
      Western man wants everything that is useless. Why not, I speculated, go from door to door selling hiccoughs, yawns, belches, dysentery, colic, impostumes, virility, infidelity, and granulated eyelids? I considered other wares that could be sold: a cask of Reason seasoned with muscadine, hundreds of sour syllogisms, a pleurisy of unkindness, rashers of apathy . . .

        —Edward Dahlberg, out of The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg (1971)

We wanted something: a nude instance
of gaga, a tern in a sunken hammock,
anecdotes that end with angry pigeons,
pinochle won. Should think profound—

profound was the wrong word.

        —James Tate, out of “Nature Poem: Demanding Stiff Sentences”
        (Riven Doggeries, 1979)

                                      Like a
solitary aimless common tern
I am going hence-
forth to be hero
of all my doings,
kik-kik-kik-ing, with
its bill point’d straight
down into the cloud-
catching pond full of
knife-shaped pike and
the detritus of heaven.

        —John Latta, out of “A Year CCLXXXI” (2009)

can you be otherwise than
a metaphor
                        than as fabulous as to move
except as your own fingers duplicate
a long-nailed god, your eye
to be so trained by night
it goes as slow as weights
(as slow as Shiva's turning toe), as fast—how run
except as he did (as tern flies), how gauge yourself
except as also Cenozoic beast

        —Charles Olson, out of “Concerning Exaggeration, or How, Properly, to Heap Up”
        (The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems, 1987)

I would begin at the beginning, reading straight to the end or skipping only a few passages, and sometimes I would begin at the end, reading straight to the beginning, working from redemption backward, perhaps skipping the same passages, and she would never seem to notice, perhaps because her ears were filled with nothing but the long, receding tides, the wash of the waves upon the shore, the winds and their antiphon reminding me of all who had died. Barn swallows darted out over the long, looping waters. Sometimes there was a strange white bird, an Arctic tern stopping upon the rocks or a long-winged white heron drifting through the clouds. The snow-white seagulls honked, descending through the late or early darkness as if they knew no time of man . . .

        —Marguerite Young, out of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (1965)

The wreck of the Tiger, the early pirate, the blood-clam’s
        ark, the tern’s acute eye, all buried mathematical
                instruments, castaways, pelicans, drowned five-
                        strand pearl necklaces, hopes of livelihood,
                                hopes of grace,
walls of houses, sepia sea-fences, the writhen octopus and
        those tall masts and sails,
marked hulls of ships and last month’s plane, dipping his salute
        to the stone wing of dream,
turbulence, Diamond Shoals, the dark young living people:
“Sing one more song and you are under arrest.”
“Sing another song.”

        —Muriel Rukeyser, out of “The Outer Banks” (Waterlily Fire, 1962)

. . . and a head half-turned to watch
a reeling tern, a sleeve,
a garment’s fold, no word, no whisper,

nor glance even . . . or was it a gull
she watched, a heron or raven
or plover? the eclipsed pillar

with the shadow showing darker,
for the white gleam above,
of sun-lit marble,

a certain sheen of cloth,
a certain ankle,
a strap over a shoulder?

remember these small reliques,
as on a beach, you search
for a pearl, a bead,

a comb, a cup, a bowl
half-filled with sand,
after a wreck.

        —H. D., out of Helen in Egypt (1961)

Gay full story is authentic verve fabulous jay gull stork. And grow when torn is matters on foot died out also crow wren tern. Connect all the life force afloat blank bullet holes. Change one letter in each essential vivacity missing word to spell a times taking place defunct bird’s name.

        —Bernadette Mayer, out of “Gay Full Story” (A Bernadette Mayer Reader, 1992)

Some consider tern to be related to stearn, stern, which occurs in Old English as a bird-name, and, in the form starn, is a name in East Anglia of the Common and the Black Tern; it is mentioned by W. Turner Avium præcipuarum historia, 1544, as ‘nostrati lingua sterna appellata’, whence Linnæus took Sterna as a generic name.

        —Out of the Oxford English Dictionary

Stormas þær stanclifu beotan,         þær him stearn oncwæð,
isigfeþera . . .

[Storms there the stony cliffs beat,         there the tern answered,
icy-feathered . . .]

        —Out of “The Seafarer” (The Exeter Book, c. 960-990)

Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers . . .

        —Ezra Pound, out of “The Seafarer” (Ripostes, 1912)

He who generalizes at random might perhaps be induced to compare the Fishing Hawk to nothing else than a very large and clumsy Tern, for like most birds of that group, it is known to range in a desultory manner over the waters of our bays and estuaries, and along the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It poises itself awhile on spying its prey just beneath the surface of the water, glides or plunges headlong upon it, and thus secures it at once, or experiences the same disappointment that Terns themselves do on many occasions. It is true, however, that the Fishing Hawk does not, Tern-like, secure its finny prey with its bill; but what of that, if it plunges into the deep and seizes its quarry there?

        —John James Audubon, out of The Birds of America (1840)

Three shotgun shots as it gets dark;
two birds.
                              “how come three shots?”
              “one went down on the water
              and started to swim.
              I didn’t want another thing like that duck.”

the bill curved in, and the long neck limp—
a grandmother plumage of cinnamon and brown.
the beak not so long—bars on the head;
                    by the eye.
                    Hudsonian Curlew

                                        and those tern most likely
                                        “Royal Tern”
                                        with forked tail,
                                        that heavy orange bill.

        —Gary Snyder, out of “The Hudsonian Curlew” (Turtle Island, 1974)

Swell fishing now—tarpon starting. Lots of fish still in Gulf Stream. I shot 27 out of 30 clay pigeons thrown hard, holding gun with left hand against right shoulder, right arm by side—raising gun each time. Also two terns with pistol in left hand.

        —Ernest Hemingway, out of a letter to Archibald MacLeish (14 March 1931)

We are cruising, at walking speed, through a sanctuary: bird life is affronted. Herons, with their prehistoric bloodline, are disdainful; badly articulated umbrella-forms wishing us hence. Arctic terns divebomb the pilot, regroup, come again as a second wave.

        —Iain Sinclair, out of Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare’s
        “Journey out of Essex”

                and with this
        I reclaim myself,

        Recover what is
                in the conch,
                the gull and tern,
                the long coastal sky,

        Draw back from horizons,
                from back breeze
                over marsh grass.

        Come up from sand and briers,
        Down from wing of curlew,

        Out of mullet.
                clam shell, and
                frond of palmetto.

        My parts fly back to my limbs.

        —Paul Metcalf, out of Will West (1956)

Clack your beaks you cormorants and kittiwakes,
North on those rock-croppings finger-jutted into the rough Pacific surge;
You migratory terns and pipers who leave but the temporal clawtrack
      written on sandbars there of your presence;
Grebes and pelicans; you comber-picking scoters and you shorelong gulls;
All you keepers of the coastline north of here to the Mendocino beaches;
All you beyond upon the cliff-face thwarting the surf at Hecate Head;
Hovering the under-surge where the cold Columbia grapples at the bar;
North yet to the Sound, whose islands float like a sown flurry of chips
      upon the sea;
Break wide your harsh and salt-encrusted beaks unmade for song
And say a praise up to the Lord.

        —William Everson, out of “A Canticle to the Waterbirds”
        (The Veritable Years 1949-1966, 1978)

In alchemy, the wren who vexed Thoth.
In admixture, the summer terns with segmented wings & the patterned earth.
In sunlight, the ensouling over the forest.
In doctrine, metempsychosis.
In practice, the transmigratory elaborations, the little autochthonomous soul leavings.
In evenings, the firefly’s transmigratory dynamo,
the firefly’s renewed lutrescent fuse,
that little phosphorescent flare of transanimation.
In prayer, the little struggles, the pressing awareness of flaws.
In the world, ongoing wars,
the sadness of foolishness.
In actuality, grace. Life from life—the vital force burst through the body’s feathers.
In flight, birds. Arrowing off the earth.

        —Peter O’Leary, out of The Phosphorescence of Thought (2012)

. . . spent a few moments trying in vain to estimate the width of the Mississippi and watching a family of terns maneuver offshore. I found a pair of catfishermen setting up on the breakwater, fine-tuning their sinkers and their big radio.

        —Merrill Gilfillan, out of “The Mississippi to Hannibal” (Rivers and Birds, 2003)

There were now fourteen notches on the loom of the Skyeman’s oar:—So many days since we had pushed from the fore-chains of the Arcturion. But as yet, no floating bough, no tern, noddy, nor reef-bird, to denote our proximity to land. In that long calm, whither might not the currents have swept us?

        —Herman Melville, out of Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849)

Remote from New York, on north dunes
Remote as a child’s vacant lot
Looming of oceanic noons
Gamma-ray spears of Northern Lights
Tern, rose and rabbit, their sand shared
I have the view, they reproduce
Scoot and swoop and bloom fluctuform
Wind, beast or sea, nocturnal cries
Vacationist trailers, cars, jeeps
Outboard motors, planes, helicopter
Tough as beetles, the toys of peace
Distract me more than they ought’er
By lamplight, hearing ocean roar
Drink rye, read, an interloper

        —Edwin Denby, out of “Later Sonnets” (Collected Poems, 1975)

Courses, wonder a white as no, be given, run
Who cranberries, yes, in backwoods blue
Till sigh, their challenge. Go, slim blockade,
Oats-dairy! We’re not all back
Engining black, engines London, kiss, night,
Endow. Forthright is the sheeplike elbow
And the bins of a tern’s resolution!

        —Kenneth Koch, out of When the Sun Tries to Go On (1969)

joy in their male coloring is yours
                    and the neck reach

                    the colonial language
                    of tern sibilancy

        —Barbara Guest, out of “Colonial Hours” (The Blue Stairs, 1968)

      . . . today Sputnik over London says too-too-too
Over Paris ditto
Over Washington hah! hah! hah!
And Polaris says Whoobsk:
Dear whilom friend champing with the bad teeth of Rudaki
His laugh for the terns and the gulls fogdog
On The Hoe, Plymouth, England mimicked
The seadog with the two-year old—
‘Tommy, what does Mr. Brown say?’
‘Mr. Brown he says, Boogar.’
‘And Tommy what does Mr. Ferris say?’
‘Mr. Ferris he says, Fook.’

        —Louis Zukofsky, out of “A”-13 (“A” 13-21, 1969)

The spinning air lifts up your curls,
Jeune homme. The burning sea tinders
Your eyes and flakes off terns midair.
Could a moldy ave and jeremiad,
A midrash honey from this pulvered strength
Stutter of ancient violence, you and I
Need not struggle with tales of Poppadeius.
To say thalatta, the sea, said the Greeks,
Is to say mother. Poppadeius was a bastard.

        —Guy Davenport, out of Flowers and Leaves: Poema vel Sonata:
        Carmina Autumni Primaeque Veris Transformationum,

Zebra finches like their males with red legs and females with black legs, and are repelled by males with green legs or females with blue legs. A female Australian brush turkey is attracted to the male who builds her the largest nest, and is quite demanding: the nests can run to two tons. An Archbold bowerbird is especially smitten by a male capable of procuring rare King of Saxony bird of paradise blue feathers to feather the bower. A female tern prefers the male who presents her with the most fish; an emphid fly takes the one who produces the prettiest hollow silk balloons.

        —Eliot Weinberger, out of “Sex Objects” ( Karmic Traces, 2000)

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Clipping

Clipping out of The Ithaca Journal, 14 February 1976

Because, incorrigibly, I am, au fond, an unabashed Fitzgeraldean romantic egotist (comme tout le monde), a sentimental sop for, particularly, my own skinny former self (here, aetat. 22).

Because my brother found the clipping (out of The Ithaca Journal, dated 14 February 1976, under the quaint and erstwhile rubric “The Poetry Corner”) amongst some of my father’s papers and sent it to me (along with an approbatory “Hah!”).

Because I see herein my incipient poetics, inchoate and antithetical (“superfluous and absolute as a flock of crossbills in the backyard shrubbery”—a thing of pure anticipatory fancy, a whole cloth pitch gainsaid by no tangible).

Because I suspect I would, in a pinch, hew precisely again to such a nonce-explanatory adherence (inserting “twenty or so evening grosbeaks” for “crossbills” or “an osprey raking a largemouth up off pewter-colored chop of Lake Winnewanna” or some like dummy for the whole phenomenal smear, a metaphorical gasp) and, perhaps, have.

Because I’d like to correct “Lake Michigan” to read “Burt Lake” or “Mullet Lake,” one or the other of two sizeable lakes of Cheboygan County, for though the story’d remain defiantly “in flux,” to be one lake nearer the truth is a strange and tolerable wonder.

Because I sheepishly recall my justificatory rap concerning “Love Poem”—how I’d “dared myself” to end with such colossal sententiousness, inert commonplace, a throwaway, a jitney.

Because the reading itself occurred downtown by dint and patronage of the Ithaca Community Poets, a downtown cohort (mostly) of those unaffiliated with various hill-ensconced university types (though I do recall a counter-movement, later, against the stuffiness of that “formation” in a brief flurry of alcohol-fueled readings at the “uptown” Cabbagetown Café, where I occasionally worked the Sunday brunch rush and routinely lobbied to change the standard “Hearty Vegetable” soup-moniker to “Inevitable Vegetable” and was heartily ignored . . .)

Because a certain style of the biographical guff that pervaded “the era” (somewhere between Philip Levine’s perennial “After a succession of stupid jobs he left the city for good” and Peter Orlovsky’s “Did weight lifting with bus stops . . . Enjoy mopping floors, cleaning up cat vommit”) is alarmingly evident herein . . .

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Hans Memling, “Portrait of a Man with an Arrow,” 1478-80

And the shuttle carrying the woof I find
        was skutill       “harpoon”       —a dart, an arrow,
                or a little ship,

            navicula                 weberschiff,

crossing and recrossing from shore to shore—

      prehistoric       *skutil       *skut-
            “a bolt, a bar, as of a door"
        “a flood-gate”

        —Robert Duncan, out of “At the Loom (Passages 2)” (Bending the Bow, 1968)

I was aghast, lost forty pounds at the gaming tables of the
Channel Islands, ’sblood I said. So I set fire to my bow, poised my arrow,
and shot amongst them. I broke seventeen ribs on one side,
and twenty-one and a half on the other; but my arrow passed clean through
without ever touching it, and the worst was I lost my arrow;

however I found it again in the hollow of a tree. I felt it; it felt
clammy. I smelt it; it smelt honey.

        —John Ashbery, out of “Sir Gammer Vans” (Chinese Whispers, 2002)

Homage Vajracarya

Now that Samurai bow & arrow, Sumi brush, teacup
& Emperor’s fan are balanced in the hand
—What about a glass of water?
Holding my cock to pee, the Atlantic gushes out.
Sitting to eat, the Sun & the Moon fill my plate.
                                                                                July 8, 1981

        —Allen Ginsberg, out of White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 (1986)

Outside St. Louis

Route 66 curves
West—an arrow piercing the
Bleeding eye of God

        —Etheridge Knight, out of Belly Song and Other Poems (1973)

      Thou shalt not bee afraid for the terrour by night: nor for the arrow that flieth by day:
      Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darknes: nor for the destruction, that wasteth at noone-day.

        —Psalm 91:5,6, out of the King James Bible (1611)

I went to my first movie
and the hero got his legs
cut off by a steam engine
in a freightyard, in my second

Karen Morley got shot
in the back by an arrow
I think she was an heiress
it came through her bathroom door

there was nobody there
there never was anybody
there at any time
in sweet-smelling summer

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Ode to Michael Goldberg (’s Birth and Other Births)”
        (The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, 1971)

Shot small arrows through a blow-gun very straight at an apple a rod off, lodging them all in it. The gun was of elder with the pith out, about six feet long; the arrows, quite slender, of hard wood, with a large and dense cylindrical mass of thistle-down at what is commonly the feathered end.

        —Henry David Thoreau, out of the Journal (5 March 1858)

      We drove to St. Remy. As we approached it the hills ‘fledged’ with larches which hung in them shaft after shaft like green-feathered arrows.
      Noticed also the cornfields below us laid by the rain in curls like a lion’s mane . . .

        —Gerard Manley Hopkins, out of a journal (28 July 1868)

There is little doubt that Giotto himself dreamed that an angel lifted up a portion of his house, if not the whole rest of the town, judging from the tilted tower in the distance. And that he slept from that time in a perfectly curved condition, pointing then like the arrow that once launched circles to kill you, plunging through your back in the years to come. Figure one, a use for the mirror. I sometimes feel that poems stay like tobacco juice in the universe, of no use to men but of the highest importance to all the rest. Tuba with sidecar. The man’s firing mechanism jams and he seems to come apart before the eyes of the henchmen.

        —Clark Coolidge, out of Mine: The One That Enters the Stories (1982)

Names who are strangers out of bounds of the bound margin: I thought one way to write about a loved author would be to follow what trails he follows through words of others: what if these penciled single double and triple scorings arrows short phrases angry outbursts crosses cryptic ciphers sudden enthusiasms mysterious erasures have come to find you too, here again, now.

        —Susan Howe, out of “Melville’s Marginalia” (The Nonconformist's Memorial, 1993)

as wise as an (earwig, owl, eel).
as sober as a (knight, minstrel, judge).
as crafty as a (fox, cuckoo, kitten).
as bright as a (button, bicycle, bucket).
as smooth as (sandpaper, velvet, wood).
as slippery as an (accident, eel, engine).
as straight as an (angle, angel, arrow).

        —Susan Howe, out of “Ireland” (The Western Borders, 1976)

Is this the creature of whom it was once so triumphantly said—“Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears? The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear, the dart, nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw; the arrow cannot make him flee; darts are counted as stubble; he laugheth at the shaking of a spear!” This the creature? this he? Oh! that unfulfilments should follow the prophets.

        —Herman Melville, out of Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851)

                But shoot! shoot straight,
they say. The arrow flies! the barb
is driven home and . . . strength
thrust upon weakness, the convulsive ecstasy

achieved, in the moment of impact
we are left deafened and blinded, blind to
the sun and moon, the brilliant
moonlight leaves, to fish and fowl:

bird in white above the swimming bird
and from the depths of the wood
the song that is the bird, unseen.

        —William Carlos Williams, out of “To All Gentleness” (The Wedge, 1944)

A woodpecker
Drums and echoes
Across the still meadow

One man draws, and releases             an arrow
Humming, flat,
Misses a gray stump, and splitting
A smooth red twisty manzanita bough.

Manzanita             the tips in fruit,
Clusters of hard green berries
The longer you look
The bigger they seem,

                        “little apples”

        —Gary Snyder, out of “Manzanita” (Turtle Island, 1974)

The word, he said,
drawn like an arrow,
so fits
into the body of the bird it hits.

        —Robin Blaser, out of “Cups” (The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser, 2006)

For you I would build a whole new universe but you obviously
        find it cheaper to rent one. Eurydice did too. She went back
        to hell unsure of what kind of other house Orpheus would
        build. “I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.” Shot
In the back by an arrow, President Kennedy seemed to stiffen
        for a moment before he assumed his place in history. Eros
Do that.
I gave you my imaginary hand and you give me your imaginary
        hand and we walk together (in imagination) over the earthly

        —Jack Spicer, out of “Love Poems”
        (My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer, 2008)

                                                        Sprout, horn!
Spark, tooth! Medicine-man, relent, restore—
Lie to us,—dance us back the tribal morn!

Spears and assemblies: black drums thrusting on—
O yelling battlements,—I, too, was liege
To rainbows currying each pulsant bone:
Surpassed the circumstance, danced out the siege!

And buzzard-circleted, screamed from the stake;
I could not pick the arrows from my side.

        —Hart Crane, out of “The Dance” (The Bridge, 1930)

              On what a river; wide twinkling like a chopped sea under some
of the finest shipping in the

world: the square-rigged four-master, the liner, the battleship, like the two-
thirds submerged section of an iceberg; the tug strong moving thing,
dipping and pushing, the bell striking as it comes; the steam yacht, lying
like a new made arrow on the

stream . . .

        —Marianne Moore, out of “Dock Rats” (Poems, 1921)

Everybody brought you souvenirs in those days, steel arrows that pierced horses’ heads, pieces of shell, ink-wells made out of pieces of shell, helmets, some one even offered us a piece of a Zeppelin or an aeroplane, I forget which, but we declined. It was a strange winter and nothing and everything happened.

        —Gertrude Stein, out of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933)

The broad-leaved Arrow-head
grows vivid and strong
in my book, says: underneath
the surface of the stream the leaves
are narrow, long.
I don’t investigate,
mark the page . . . I suppose
if I sat down beside a frost
and had no printed sign
I’d be lost. Well, up
from lying double in a book,
go long like a tree
and broad as the library.

        —Lorine Niedecker, out of New Goose (2002)

                This month winter ruleth.
The sun is in archer’s shoulder
                in crow’s head at sunrise
Ice thickens. Earth cracks. And the tigers now move to mating.
Cut trees at solstice, and arrow shafts of bamboo.
Third month, wild geese go north,
                magpie starts building,
Pheasant lifteth his voice to the Spirit of Mountains
                The fishing season is open,
rivers and lakes frozen deep
Put now ice in your ice-house,
                the great concert of winds
Call things by the names.

        —Ezra Pound, out of “Canto LII” (Cantos LII–LXXI, 1940)

“Woach! Woach! Ha! Ha! Hach! Woach!" Their arrows
came flying amongst us.

        —Charles Olson, out of “The Encounter”
        (The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems, 1987)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reading Notes (Gerald L. Bruns’s What Are Poets For?)

John Ashbery
(Photograph by Bill Yoscary)

Cold. The usual four a.m. noise of cadaveriety easing up the shutters, sweeping off the commercial frontage, turning the sign around to OPEN. I briefly toss and relent, sneering at sleep’s minions, up and out. Zip through the night-blackened streets, lit. Ashbery (Flow Chart): “When they said, Does it buzz? / he replied, yes it does.”

Out of Gerald L. Bruns’s What Are Poets For? An Anthropology of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics (University of Iowa Press, 2012):
For if there is no one thing that can be called poetry—if it is made of anomalies (a one-word poem, for example, or a collage of letters or letterlike scribbles)—then one’s study must proceed, like an anthropologist’s progress through an alien culture, at ground level, from one local practice or artifact to another, without subsuming things into a system. Of course, at ground level pitfalls and double binds are waiting at every turn: remember the sculptor Donald Judd’s famous remark: “If someone calls it art, it’s art.” Anything goes, even if not everything is possible at every moment: hardly an intellectually defensible theses . . . As a dodge I take recourse to Wittgenstein’s idea that things (games, for example, but also philosophy itself) have a history rather than an essence, and that history is made of family resemblances, so that as one proceeds along the ground one finds connections in which different forms of words and things shed their light on one another. In this event the simple juxtaposition of citations often proves more fruitful than lengthy exegeses of behalf of some unified field theory.
Bruns quotes, too, Walter Benjamin’s dictum out of the fragmentary 1929 or 1930 brief “Program for Literary Criticism”:
Good criticism is composed of at most two elements: the critical gloss and the quotation. Very good criticism can be made from both glosses and quotations. What must be avoided like the plague is rehearsing the summary of the contents. In contrast, a criticism consisting entirely of quotations should be developed.
Excellent. A sense of art (writing, poetry) pursued without category or portfolio, no baggage declared in advance, all borders scrubbed off the maps. Each entry assembling its meaning precisely out of what it aligns next to it, where it connects, or “fits,” in a continuum that is as meaningless in itself as it is all pervading. One recalls Zukofsky’s claim (out of “A Statement for Poetry”) for poetry’s own “fineness of immediate logic”, how “A scientist may envy its [meaning poetry’s] bottomless perception of relations which, for all its intricacies, keeps a world of things tangible and whole.” Or there’s Henry James, in the Preface to the New York edition of Roderick Hudson, saying:
Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so. He is in the perpetual predicament that the continuity of things is the whole matter, for him, of comedy and tragedy; that this continuity is never, by the space of an instant or an inch, broken, and that, to do anything at all, he has at once intensely to consult and intensely to ignore it.
So the critic, too, according to Bruns. To seek meaning in the “akin to” realm, the buzz of contiguity. (Ashbery, out of Flow Chart again: “slippery harmonies abound. In fact, I can’t be sure I’m not addressing myself / to one or within one right now, but that’s no matter.”) Isn’t Bruns thus putting the lie to the routines of self-appointed hegemon slayers (or, now, I suppose, “playas”) like Ron “School of Quietude” Silliman or Charles “Official Verse Culture” Bernstein, whose outmoded essentialism goes unremarked in the tenacity and noise of their either / or ruckus? Both seem to make a monolithic (and “monstrous”) system out of what is merely a series of lineages and histories not their own.

A disappointment. Into the thickets of What Are Poets For?—expecting something other, something beyond the usual exegetical romp, one finds just that. Romp, exegetical. A reading of Ashbery’s “Crazy Weather”* begins:
Weather is a major preoccupation of chaos theory, which celebrates the rationality of turbulence, as does Ashbery’s poem, whose first line answers (at least formally) a request for a reason: What is causing this anomaly? The poem itself is an anomaly-machine, producing things of which we do not know what they are. “Falling forward” and “lying down,” for example, are a bit like “It is raining,” where “it” is a phantom subject, a purely functional occupant of what upscale grammarians call the “middle voice.” And then there is the problem of “nameless flowers” (what would Louis Zukofsky have said of such things?). Meanwhile you can make a “garment” out of the weather by talking about it, as people do in the absence of anything else to say—recall ancient rhetoric in which words are the “clothes” and “colors” of things, although “white” is a shifty or anomalous word, especially when “Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning,” thus producing a name given to moonshine and rock bands. Interestingly, “anonymous crossroads,” besides echoing “nameless flowers,” are where suicides used to be buried, ideally against a gothic background of lightning and thunder. The indifferent earth is their shield against a vengeful heaven. Speaking of garments: rumpled pajamas will right themselves when you get to your feet; but if they are (still) a garment of words, well then, “You are wearing a text.”
Whew. If the poem is an “anomaly-machine” churning out “things of which we do not know what they are,” why the overreaching antics to make its irregularities and unevenesses adhere to a “reading,” meaning a “fit.” I don’t think “falling forward” and “lying down” are a bit like “It is raining”—though I do recall (perhaps unwarrantably, I admit) the line beginning Frank O’Hara’s “Dido”: “Suppose you really do, toward the end, fall away into a sunset which is your own self-ignited pyre? is it any the less a sunset just because you stopped carrying the torch?” That, and Emerson’s saying: “The walking of man and all animals is a falling forward.” Bruns’s quoting of Ashbery’s lines** about the cumuli to be found in Marianne Moore’s poems—
What can we do about those stacks of National Geographics, leaflets from the Bell Telephone Company, the Illustrated London News, the New York Times Magazine, business letters, overheard remarks, and also the habits of jungle flora and fauna, which we shall probably never see and which in any case can never concern us? Well, live with them is Miss Moore’s answer, recognizing them as part of the rhythm of growth, as details of life possibly helpful in deducing the whole, in any case important, in any case important as details.
—goes completely unheeded in the wayward attempt to “deduce the whole.” Ashbery, out of Flow Chart again:
                                                                                                                                    But a funny
thing happened, none of us were around to count, all incommensurate with our
duties as we should forever be, and not wanting much training. The dark
was like nectar that evening, rising in the mouth; you thought you had never heard
so pretty a sound. Then, of course, quietism was again broached
and that soon, and quite soon the pink of the salmon ignited the whey
of the plover’s egg and the black of old, scarred metal; then, how it
feels relaxes one like a warm, numbing bath, and her argument, and yours,
and all of theirs—why, why not just consider, or better yet, just
hold, hold on to them?
That final line “hold, hold on to them” reiterating precisely the “live with them” (meaning the details—salmon, plover, metal, bath—“in any case important, in any case important as details”) of the Moore review.
* Out of Houseboat Days (1977):

It’s this crazy weather we’ve been having:
Falling forward one minute, lying down the next
Among the loose grasses and soft, white, nameless flowers.
People have been making a garment out of it,
Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning
At some anonymous crossroads. The sky calls
To the deaf earth. The proverbial disarray
Of morning corrects itself as you stand up.
You are wearing a text. The lines
Droop to your shoelaces and I shall never want or need
Any other literature than this poetry of mud
And ambitious reminiscences of times when it came easily
Through the then woods and ploughed fields and had
A simple unconscious dignity we can never hope to
Approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody
Will inspect where some late sample of the rare,
Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots, for
      all we know.
** Out of a review titled “Jerboas, Pelicans, and Peewee Reese” of Moore’s Tell Me, Tell Me: Granite , Steel, and Other Topics (1964).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Notebook (Marianne Moore, Guy Debord, &c.)

Guy Debord, 1931–1994

Blustery with a hint of rain. A skunk, largely white, rooting out grubs. Dog entirely indifferent. Disjecta out of the idiot kingdom of half-sleep trailing dropsically along into day. To tether one’s buoyancy to water. Marianne Moore, talking about Pound’s phanopoeia, recalls, with the seeming immediacy of the perennially word-solvent, “the statement by Dante that Beatrice walked above herself—come una crana.” And, succeeding:
Confucius says the fish moves on winglike foot; and Prior, in his life of Edmund Burke, says Burke “had a peculiarity in his gait that made him look as if he had two left legs.” Affirming Coleridge’s statement that “Our admiration of a great poet is for a continuous undercurrent of feeling everywhere present, but seldom anywhere a separate excitement,” Mr. Pound says Dante “has gone living through Hell and the words of his lament sob as branches beaten by the wind.”
An extraordinary charge unleashed, a potent cocktail of quotables. Moore’s next sentence, innocence feigned for effect, is: “What is poetry?” I think of the story of Coleridge who, under the feigned name of “Silas Tomkyn Comberbache,” enlisted in a cavalry regiment in order to cure himself of a “violent antipathy to soldiers and horses.” I think, too, of the story of Coleridge going down the Strand pretending to be Leander swimming across the Hellespont. One thrust-out hand inadvertently connecting “with a gentleman’s pocket” he is roundly accused of being a pickpocket. I think of William Carlos Williams’s note to “Howl”: “Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell” and “Poets are damned but they are not blind, they see with the eyes of the angels.”

Pickpocketry (out of “The Notch at the Flume of the Gorge,” in Bernadette Mayer’s The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters):
A good course in American writing study would be Hawthorne, Whitman, Kerouac and Stein, see how much each did for the sentence and the line, what queer attitudes to sex they all had, Hawthorne the stiff-backed fantasizing Puritan who had such sensuous lips, who walked and had a neurasthenic wife, two religious daughters and one dutiful son, who said after his third child was born, no we will certainly have no more of that but he didn’t say how; Whitman the man autoerotic who was nearly perfect, the wanderer, the fucking mountain, Kerouac the crazed, a retroactive family man who wanted work; and Stein the expatriate lesbian who loved her country and a big fat woman Donald Sutherland the critic said you trembled with sexiness when you shook her hand, another talker, food lover, I wonder what Hawthorne’s and Whitman’s voices sounded like, you can imagine, family life. I like these guys better than those half-English dolts Joyce and Pound who made such a tight-assed mystery of their love and the horrible head-heart problem, I shouldn’t say that, my love is unsettling. I hope I’m like Whitman, exempt. Oh and I forgot William Carlos Williams warning us about all the bastards, he and Hawthorne and Stein had devoted wives, in fact everybody has a female but Whitman so I can think of him as a woman like me, and Emily Dickinson who had it with every. Thing, what is a woman’s experiment with memory, tell me.
A kind of anti-Moorish gush. “Continuous undercurrent.” (I think of O’Hara’s line: “I want to be at least as alive as the vulgar.”) Against the scintillant, hard blaze of particulars poised and impinging one against another, each a “separate excitement.” (Moore ends the Pound essay— “‘Teach, Stir the Mind, Afford Enjoyment’”—by quoting Pound’s “Salvationists”: “Come, my songs, let us speak of perfection— / We shall get ourselves rather disliked.” And concluding: “We shall get ourselves disliked and very much liked, because the zest for perfection communicates its excitement to others.”) Noel Black, in a piece called “Remembrance of the Amnesiac” in the newish and terrific Uselysses (Ugly Duckling, 2011) puts it succinctly, borrowing off / mashing up Proust and Sam Taylor’s The Amnesiac*:
He had brought to such a horror of vulgarity the fine art of concealment
      of aesthetically precious personal allusion in a wealth of ingenious

The missing part of his heart still only a fragment he wrote down in his
      black notebook at the border of remembrance.

Sometimes a spell would rise inscribed with an immensity of visionary
      longings—ashamed & wretched as though torn from his own head

weather in the memory—the autumn grayness, stale vestiges of a limbo
      between chapters in other words, dazzling black box . . .

Out of Guy Debord’s Panegyric (Verso, 2004), skeptically perused in the dullard hours of night:
      I will have to make rather extensive use of quotations. Never, I believe, to lend authority to a particular argument, but only to show fully of what stuff this adventure and I are made. Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance or obscurantist beliefs. Allusions, without quotation marks, to other texts that one knows to be very famous, as in classical Chinese poetry, Shakespeare, or Lautréamont, should be reserved for times richer in minds capable of recognizing the original phrase and the distance its new application has introduced. Today, when irony itself is not always understood, there is the risk of the phrase being confidently attributed to oneself and, moreover, being hastily and incorrectly reproduced. The antique ponderousness of exact quotations will be compensated for, I hope, by the quality of the selections . . .
      Those who wish to write quickly a piece about nothing that no one will read through even once, whether in a newspaper or a book, confidently extol the style of the spoken language, because they find it much easier, more modern, and direct. They themselves do not know how to speak. Neither do their readers, the language actually spoken under modern conditions of life being socially reduced to its indirect representation of itself, as endorsed by the media, and comprising some six or eight constantly repeated turns of phrase and fewer than two hundred terms, most of them neologisms, with a turnover of a third of them every six months. All this favours a certain hasty solidarity. In contrast, I for my part am going to write without affectation or fatigue, as the most natural and easiest thing in the world, the language I have learned and, in most circumstances, spoken. It’s not up to me to change it. The Gypsies rightly contend that one is never obliged to speak the truth except in one’s own language; in the enemy’s language the lie must reign.

And, because I seem bound to jig the firmament of how to write, proposing nothing and concluding less, in a salient (silent) wash of un-recapturable memory-tithings and -decimates, the sort of thing the word “mimsy” was just made for—, there’s Edmund White writing in 1979 “On James Merrill” (out of The Burning Library):
He believes that words do convey messages, that a line is a mix-and-match ensemble pieced together out of reliable signifiers. Other poets, perhaps fed up with the aural racket of our country, the booming emission of television, the press and advertising, have come to distrust (perhaps despise) discursive language. They prefer to hover like entranced oracles over the intoxicating fumes of the unconscious and to jot down its spare, suggestive but elusive utterances, to trace in the dust the faint outlines of their nether selves. Still others, more advanced, seem to be more interested in the syntax of thought than in the content of a thought. The speaker in John Ashbery’s work, for instance, tells us nothing paraphrasable. His is not a sociable voice, he’s at home neither with language—nor with us. Rather, Ashbery manipulates, in always less predictable ways, our verbal expectations—which he invariably frustrates. After I have finished reading a poem by Ashbery (who I intensely admire), I have the feeling that Dr. Penfield has run an electrode over various cells of the exposed cortex and that flickers of old memories, submerged sights and sounds, have been lit up in odd combinations.
* See, say, in the Lydia Davis translation of Swann’s Way, the lines: “they in their horror of vulgarity had made such a fine art of concealing a personal allusion beneath ingenious circumlocutions that it often went unnoticed even by the person to whom it was addressed.” And, in the Taylor book:
The ‘missing’ song. In any case, the bridge between verse and chorus was now echoing in his memory. Four chords and seven words:
Part of my heart
Will always beat . . .
It was still only a fragment, but he felt so relieved.
Not unlike Moore’s Dante pushed up contra Confucius pushed up contra Prior’s Burke . . .

Monday, September 17, 2012


Francisco Goya, “La cometa (The Kite),” 1778

The heart in its physical sense is not sufficient for a kite’s dinner; yet the whole world is not sufficient for it.

        —Samuel Taylor Coleridge, off the back of a letter
        (Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge, 1836)

. . . the stars jostled and arced across the firmament and died beyond the inkblack mountains. They came to know the nightskies well. Western eyes that read more geometric constructions than those names given by the ancients. Tethered to the polestar they rode the Dipper round while Orion rose in the southwest like a great electric kite.

        —Cormac McCarthy, out of Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West (1985)

                                                                                      . . . he say uh Miss Adeline
could me and this boy have some yo ice tea
go head on and get sis baby to po it fur ya des fish is giving me a time
we went inside there was a sweetback man playing some of them old Jax records
he was high as a coolie’s kite him with that juice rolling out the side of his
mouf like a buick man the sister had a pot of snap beans in her lap

        —Frank Stanford, out of The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (1977)

Nobody had to remind the boy
to hang up his shoes that day, he was already in them,
hobbling off to the cobbler’s to buy some new laces
of the kind worn in the port city of his birth, but never
noticed until this hour, of the flying kite, and the spitball
hanging down, trying to unlatch the year.

        —John Ashbery, out of A Worldly Country (2007)

. . . There is a biology of machines. Wed the bicycle to the kite and you have Bleriot’s aeroplane, but not without the bionic principle of the dragonfly. Even the locomotive retains the gallop of the horse.
      A table is a quadruped.

        —Guy Davenport, out of “Tatlin!” (Tatlin!: Six Stories, 1974)

Go fly a kite he writes
Who cannot escape his own blue hair
who storms to the big earth and is not absent-minded
& Who dumbly begs a key . . .

        —Ted Berrigan, out of The Sonnets XXII (c. 1963)

                                                                        My plight

Is insignificant but you, surely you saw my light
burning for you alone, the night I sliced the slight-
ly lengthy tail from the scraggly poet’s kite?

        —Ted Berrigan, out of “What are you thinking . . .”
        (The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, 2005)

Daffy idylls.
Books of poetry lie on the table. Osip Mandelstam. James Schuyler. Li Po and Tu Fu. Magnets for my awe and envy. Hard acts to follow. Deft idols. The urge to write well I take for granted, but the urge to write at all seems strange.
I have put a kite up into the wind: 500 feet! A dark eagle design with blue and yellow streamers, plastic but at a distance beautiful. Earlier Brooke and I tried to fly a wonderful Japanese paper kite, indigo with peacocks, a wedding gift. The wind wrecked it instantly. Our new kite is tethered to a bench, soaring in the milky blue sky.

        —Peter Schjeldahl, out of “From a Honeymoon Journal”
        (Since 1964: New and Selected Poems, 1978)

      “Before you go,” said Mr. Kelly, “you might hand me the tail of my kite. Some tassels have come adrift.”
      Celia went to the cupboard where he kept his kite, took out the tail and loose tassels and brought them over to the bed.
      “As you say,” said Mr. Kelly, “hark to the wind. I shall fly her out of sight tomorrow.”
      He fumbled vaguely at the coils of the tail. Already he was in position, straining his eyes for the speck that was he, digging in his heels against the immense pull skyward . . .

        —Samuel Beckett, out of Murphy (1938)

By the time to return
no head sees. O to have my breast see in
tawdry, my breast
seen in the simplest
        life around             The complicated
              ah me or ma
shushed in the leaden band of a look
        Shame can never go
with kites, the will light opening
        opens beyond you

Mouth lined in masses

        —Joseph Ceravolo, out of “Sea Level” (The Green Lake Is Awake: Selected Poems, 1994)

Tracings of a cirrus kite. The glow came out so hard around it that we could no longer fit around it. Aromatic gulls. Lights of the terminal. Goners.

The ship came down and I watched it apparently. Forgive all my failures, favors. Land on a mine. Only a nickel’s worth of exhaust . . .

        —Clark Coolidge, out of Alien Tatters (2000)

On a dirt road
a resuscitative walk.
                  The kite hits
            the copperhead. Cicadas
halt. The air blanks.
            And strangers crane up
            from whatever they are doing
to meet your gaze as you go past,
            thinking, I am with you, I am

        —Forrest Gander, out of “Prologue to a Bidding” (Lynchburg, 1993)

A kite in the shape
of a map floats
over the land it depicts,

but at night no one sees
its roads at the end
of which a child feels

his hand tugged upward,
in salutations.

        —Bill Knott, “Poem,” out of The Unsubscriber (2004)

The kite was frantic through the battering wind, but, once above, it soared effortlessly, a single big-enough wing. The pre-precious stone is serpentine. A river in green.

        —Lyn Hejinian, out of My Life (1980 / 1987)
        “At a moment of / trotting on only / one foot in so / much snow”

                                                a loblolly pining because love is
Chancy and wondrous and bleats! Today its occasion
Is this blade of grass thumbing its little nose
Against the craft that pins it. Stepping out
Now arm in arm with a stitch meeting a parasolipsism . . .

Gee! A pollen air, quick! where’s the dissecting index?
Or where’s this glance lancing off a postcard sullenly
Eulogizing the Florida swayback
Kite and its nesting habits? O what is
Essential isn’t this heliotropism, it’s the continental self.

        —John Latta, out of “Acrostic 1” (Rubbing Torsos, 1979)

      Combines work the Monday fields around Meade. A pair of Mississippi kites hangs over the edge of town. The Dalton hideout house on the south side has six American flags and one mulberry tree in front. We peek down the secret escape tunnel from house to barn. The house was owned by the Dalton sister. “Then she moved back down to Kingfisher, Oklahoma.”
      At the Meade Sonic Drive-In I eat a foot-long coney, ponder the “pickle-o’s” on the menu (dill pickle slices dipped in chicken-fried steak batter and deep fried), wipe the chili sauce from my sunglasses, and go on.

        —Merrill Gilfillan, out of Magpie Rising (1988)

Once Pop made a big kite, five feet tall maybe, with the horses’ heads in the middle and it flew and I couldn’t hold it without help. They fastened it to a post of the back porch at nightfall, real rope they had on it, and in the morning it was still there.

        —William Carlos Williams, out of The Descent of Winter (1928)

And the idiot boy by the road, with carbonated eyes, laughing or extending a phallus through the grating,—talking to a kite high in the afternoon, or in the twilight scanning pebbles among cinders in the road through a twice-opened tomato can.

        —Hart Crane, out of “Lenses” (Complete Poems and Selected Letters, 2006)

The hair pulled back
at the nape of the neck

into a four inch [plait]
[search for the accurate Chinese term]

Incandescent aquamarine
a lion kite tracing the tide-line

(It’s a queue from the Latin cauda)
Perfect fragments hexahedrons and dodecahedrons . . .

        —Ray DiPalma, out of “Annotations Tropes and Lacunae of the Itoku Master”
        (Mock Fandango, 1991)

that little hill, rubbed bald
by galling winds, the fossil-hill
nigh the Hades Hole.

We’ll stitch chords to their ribs
and fly them like kites. We’ll
chorus our dead to the music
of the humming strings.

[Gnawed away. Impossible to know if the poem ends here.]

        —Kent Johnson, out of “Revenge” (Homage to the Last Avant-Garde, 2008)
        “Phillipos. Fragment discovered at Montazah.”

. . . they are ready to pull out one another’s throats; and for commodity “to squeeze blood,” saith Hierom, “out of their brother’s heart,” defame, lie, disgrace, backbite, rail, bear false witness, swear, forswear, fight and wrangle, spend their goods, lives, fortunes, friends, undo one another, to enrich an harpy advocate, that preys upon them both, and cries Eia Socrates, Eia Xantippe; or some corrupt Judge, that like the Kite in Aesop, while the mouse and frog fought, carried both away.

        —Robert Burton, out of The Anatomy of Melancholy (1652)

That beautiful Blake who is like four feathers of a raven caught down in a chasm of which we’re just later birds, but like, oh, he’s like a frozen four-winged raven, shrieking for the light—not frozen, but ahead of us. Like a box kite. We’re all moving, movie, moving, move.

        —Charles Olson, talking with Gerard Malanga
        (“The Art of Poetry,” The Paris Review, 1970)

        . . . the swiming clouds Pass low and lowery o’er the green
The swopping kite peelews aloud And sparrows in the stubbs are seen
Mid hawkweed flowers on Sunday’s hours I lye by Besseys side . . .

        —John Clare, out of “Oh! Bonny Is the Country”
        (The Later Poems of John Clare: 1837-1864, 1984)

And this, on a piecy flat . . .

cut-off kisses,

serpents attempt to

jump a wall,

savage kite-flying, the

same soup she severed

from the poor,

uniting hell he

said in slang

to his pistol

        —Lissa Wolsak, out of “A Defence of Being” (Squeezed Light, 2010)

We broke, we ran, we scattered upward on the face of our favorite hill like birds or like children, and because I was last in line, lowest figure in that bright pattern, and was holding back as usual (tail of the kite, conscience and consciousness of our little group), I found myself generalizing the visceral experience of the moment itself, found myself thinking that our days were idyls, our nights dreams, our mornings slow-starting songs of love.

        —John Hawkes, out of The Blood Oranges (1971)

With no resistance, a kite staggers and falls; whereas if it catches the right current of air it can rise, darting and soaring as it pulls and fights the wind.

        —Marianne Moore, out of “Profit Is a Dead Weight” (Tell Me, Tell Me, 1966)

A clown kite, my
self rustles
to any gust:
warps & whucks
the wind: O
my blustering orange
and striped green

        —A. R. Ammons, out of “Up” (Briefings, 1971)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Notebook (Swinburne, Moore, Bök, &c.)

Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1837–1909

Bicycled in to work thrashed by a cold rain, water sopping in under the shiny ripstop gear. “Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop . . .” Completely random query: who—of John Ashbery and James Schuyler—do you suppose recently had been reading T. S. Eliot’s “Swinburne as Poet” at the onset of The Nest of Ninnies, Chapter Six:
      “‘Snowdrops,’” Mrs. Bridgewater said in a clear voice, “‘that come before the swallow dares.’” Dr. Bridgewater, anxiously watching Victor get the car out of the garage, held his peace.
Mrs. Bridgewater, apparently to the minor unsettlement of Dr. Bridgewater, butchering a line out Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale wherein Perdita talks of “daffadils, / That come before the swallow dares, and take / The winds of march with beauty . . .” Eliot, arguing that, for Swinburne “the word . . . gives him the thrill, not the object”:
When you take to pieces any verse of Swinburne, you find always that the object was not there—only the word. Compare
Snowdrops that plead for pardon
And pine for fright
with the daffodils that come before the swallow dares. The snowdrop of Swinburne disappears, the daffodil of Shakespeare remains.
(The pining snowdrops line out of Swinburne’s “Before the Mirror” (“Soft snows that hard winds harden / Till each flake bite . . .”)

Thumbing through Marianne Moore’s “Idiosyncrasy and Technique” I spotted her quoting “Rolfe Humphries, in his little treatise entitled ‘Writing the Lyric’”:
“Take the letter s,” he says, “one of the most insidious sounds in the language, one which will creep in, in a sibilant reptilian fashion like the original serpent in the garden, and if you are not careful, not only drive you out of Paradise, but hiss you off the stage; . . . see if you cannot write a quatrain without using it at all.”
(Moore’s clipped—and somewhat enigmatic—reply: “Pondering my ‘Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scoffer,’ I could only say that another’s expertise might save one considerable awkwardness.”) Humphries’s enjoinder, though, points obliquely at the lipogram, minor darling of the Greeks resurrected by members of l’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle. William T. Dobson, out of Literary Frivolities, Fancies, Follies and Frolics (1880):
Lipogram is the name applied to a species of verse in which a certain letter, either vowel or consonant, is altogether omitted——that is to say, the author in what he writes will avoid the use of one letter in particular; a kind of literary work involving an amount of labour and ingenuity altogether inadequate to the result achieved . . .
Dobson reports that “the Greek poet Lasus (538 B.C.) . . . wrote an ode upon the Centaurs and a hymn to Ceres without inserting the letter s in the composition” and that “the works of Pindar also contain an ode in which the letter s does not appear,” adding glumly: “if this kind of literary folly has little beauty, it has at least the sanction of antiquity.” Joseph Addison, in The Spectator (No. 62, 11 May 1711), sees in the lipogram the result of “false Wit”:
As true Wit generally consists in this Resemblance and Congruity of Ideas, false Wit chiefly consists in the Resemblance and Congruity sometimes of single Letters, as in Anagrams, Chronograms, Lipograms, and Acrosticks: Sometimes of Syllables, as in Ecchos and Doggerel Rhymes: Sometimes of Words, as in Punns and Quibbles; and sometimes of whole Sentences or Poems, cast into the Figures of Eggs, Axes, or Altars: Nay some carry the Notion of Wit so far, as to ascribe it even to external Mimickry; and to look upon a Man as an ingenious Person, that can resemble the Tone, Posture, or Face of another.
Damning equally George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” (1633), Apollinaire’s Calligrammes (1918) and Charles Bernstein’s inaner mimickries (ongoing). Dobson’s book includes examples of what he (rather pertly) calls “univocalic trifling” (“the resolute adoption of only one vowel throughout”):
No monk too good to rob, or cog, or plot,
No fool so gross to bolt Scotch collops hot.
From Donjon tops no Oronooko rolls.
Logwood, not Lotos, floods Oporto’s bowls.
Troops of old tosspots oft, to sot, consort.
Box tops, not bottoms, schoolboys, flog for sport.
No cool monsoons blow soft on Oxford dons,
Orthodox, jog-trot, book-worm Solomons!
Bold Ostrogoths of ghosts no horror show.
On London shop-fronts no hop-blossoms grow.
To crocks of gold no dodo looks for food.
On soft cloth footstools no old fox doth brood.
Long-storm-tost sloops forlorn work on to port.
Rooks do not roost on spoons, nor woodcocks snort.
Nor dog on snowdrop or on coltsfoot rolls,
Nor common frog concocts long protocols.
Dobson lists the source thus: “an ingenious writer in Notes and Queries some years ago.” The lines here, differing in a few particulars, appear in No. 209, 29 October 1853, with the note: “Although I am the veritable K. I. P. B. T. of the former Notes, I sign myself now, in accordance with more recent custom. Harry Leroy Temple.” Oddly enough, Dobson apparently saw fit to bowdlerize the line “Box tops, not bottoms, schoolboys, flog for sport”; he replaces it, ineptly, with the non-“univocalic” (and awkward) “Box tops our schoolboys, too, do flog for sport.” Humorlessness and prudery. Completely random query: did Christian Bök paw idly through Dobson’s Literary Frivolities prior to Eunoia? Another vowel in the column reads:
War harms all ranks, all arts, all crafts appal:
At Mars’ harsh blast arch, rampart, altar fall!
Ah! hard as adamant, a braggart Czar
Arms vassal-swarms, and fans a fatal war!
Rampant at that bad call, a Vandal band
Harass, and harm, and ransack Wallach-land.
A Tartar phalanx Balkan’s scarp hath past.
And Allah’s standard falls, alas! at last.

“The veritable K. I. P. B. T.” Not an abbreviation as I’d suspected. Merely a pseudonym. In the “former Notes” in question, I find the following:
      “Or wily Cyppus that can wink and snort,
      While his wife dallies on Mæcenas’ skort.”
            —Hall, Satires, Book iv. Sat. 1. (Whittingham’s edition, 1824.)

      Of course the general meaning of these two verses is obvious enough. But how is the latter to be read? Are we to read “dallies on,” as one word, i.e. keeps dallying, and “skort” (as a mere abbreviation of the Latin “scortum”) as nominative in apposition with “wife?” If so, the verse is intelligible, though harsh enough even for Hall.
      If not, the word “skort” must have some other meaning which I am unacquainted with. I cannot find it at all in Halliwell, the only authority I have at hand to refer to.
                                                                                                                                    K. I. P. B. T.
Into the etymological morass (“the Latin ‘scortum’” meaning both “skin, hide” and “prostitute, male prostitute”). “Snowdrops . . . that come before the swallow dares” or “Dull, humdrum murmurs lull, but hubbub stuns. / Lucullus snuffs up musk, mundungus shuns. / Puss purrs, buds burst, bucks butt, luck turns up trumps; / But full cups, hurtful, spur up unjust thumps.” Bök, too, ’s got some mundungus (“offal, refuse,” or “low-grade tobacco, particularly bad-smelling tobacco”): “Ubu burns unburnt mundungus.”

I think my clothes are dry now.