Friday, November 30, 2012

Notebook (Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, &c.)

Gaston Lachaise, “Marianne Moore,” 1924

Dogged end to a dogged week, pent up by vaguer commitments. (The short rush and exorbitant boom of a crow-dispersal device.) I love how Marianne Moore—in a piece called “Conjuries That Endure” (in Predilections, a redoing of a 1937 review in Poetry titled “Unanimity and Fortitude”*)—lends a sly extravagance to talk of Wallace Stevens’s expert “bravura”: “Upon the general marine volume of statement is set a parachute-spinnaker of verbiage which looms out like half a cantaloupe and gives the body of the theme the air of a fabled argosy advancing.” And Moore’s audacity (and accuracy) at putting Stevens squarely under the tutelage of “the universal parent, Shakespeare”:
      Not infrequently Wallace Stevens’ “noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms” point to the universal parent, Shakespeare. A novice of texts, if required to name author or century of the line, “These choirs of welcome choir for me farewell,” might pay Wallace Stevens a high compliment; and the continuing of a word through several lines, as where we see the leaves
Turning in the wind,
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
is cousin to the pun of Elizabethan drama.
The perfectly selected “choirs” line out of “Le Monocle de Mon Oncle” (the “turning” out of “Domination of Black”). To see how Moore’s indefatigable rewriting extended even to occasional prose. In Poetry the lines read:
      A harmonist need not be proud of dominating us illusorily, by causing a flower in bloom to appear where a moment before there was none; and not infrequently Wallace Stevens’ “noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms” point to the universal parent, Shakespeare. A novice of verse, required in an examination to attribute to author or century the line, “These choirs of welcome choir for me farewell” might pay Wallace Stevens a high compliment.
Remember how the crickets came
Out of their mother grass, like little kin,
has perfectly Shakespeare’s miniature effect of innocent sadness, and the consciously pertinaciously following of a word through several lines, as where we see the leaves
Turning in the wind,
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
are cousin to the pun of Elizabethan drama.
The loss of the “crickets” line (“Le Monocle de Mon Oncle”) of little consequence, it being the least convincing of the mustered Stevens Shakespearesqueries. Regarding the loss of the brashly-conjoint adverbials “consciously pertinaciously”: sober clarity is rarely the fun of dash and defiance (Recalling randomly and tout à coup a line out of a letter, Pound to Zukofsky: “AND my doin muzik is vurry elephant climbing tree/.”) As Moore herself declares in the review: “We are able here, to see the salutary effect of insisting that a piece of writing please the writer himself before it pleases anyone else; and how a poet may be a wall of incorruptibleness against any concessive violating of the essential aura of contributory vagueness.” (In Predilections, all talk of concession vamooses: “a wall of incorruptibleness against violating the essential aura of contributory vagueness.”) The idea of an “essential aura of contributory vagueness” akin in my reading to Keats’s “remaining content with half-knowledge”—with the next sentence referring to “such heights of the romantic.” Or, see Moore’s line out of a 12 November 1944 letter to William Carlos Williams:
      Wallace Stevens is beyond fathoming, he is so strange; it is as if he had a morbid secret he would rather perish than disclose e and just as he tells it out in his sleep, he changes into an uncontradictable judiciary with a gown and a gavel and you are embarrassed to have heard anything.
Or, see Moore’s remarks (27 August 1943) to Hildegarde Watson concerning Stevens’s recent lecture at Mount Holyoke
He spoke on “The Poet and his Art” . . . his way of launching innuendoes in an innocent manner—with a kind of delayed-action fuse—as if some other topic were now in order, so that everybody was inadvertently capsized . . . The sad part was he is so natural and dislikes loudness so much, that about three fourths of his doctrine and innuendo were lost. He said, “If we are sceptical of rational ideas it is because they do not satisfy reason. If the philosopher comes to nothing because he fails, the poet comes to nothing because he succeeds.” With regard to spoiling things by dissecting out every mystery, he quoted someone’s statement: “He that has only clear ideas is surely a fool.” And said, “Honors can only be for cretins, rogues and rascals.”
I suspect the source of Stevens’s line regarding “clear ideas” is Ximénès Doudan (1800–1872), as quoted in W. C. Brownell’s 1889 French Traits: An Essay in Comparative Criticism, a book reprinted by C. Scribner as late as 1930, and likely the sort of thing the Francophile Stevens would read. Brownell, who’s just referred to Wordsworth’s “Blank misgivings of a creature / Moving about in worlds not realized”:
      Let us not take Burke or Wordsworth as witness of the insufficiency of the human intelligence, however. Let us take the clairvoyant Frenchman himself, and let us select two such wholly different witnesses as the late Ximénès Doudan and M. Taine—the sympathetic and the scientific critic, the esprit délicat and the incisive and erudite scholar. They are quite in accord. “We cannot get along without vague ideas, and an able man who has only clear ideas is a fool who will never discover anything,” says M. Doudan. “When the Frenchman conceives an object,” says M. Taine, “he conceives it quickly and distinctly, but he does not perceive it as it really is, complex and entire. He sees portions of it only, and his perception of it is discursive and superficial.”
I think of the 1942 Parts of a World. And of Stevens’s lovely late lines out of “July Mountain”: “We live in a constellation / Of patches and of pitches, / Not in a single world . . . Thinkers without final thoughts / In an always incipient cosmos . . .” (The boom and dispersal done with, the sun long up.)
* The “fortitude” in Moore’s title seemingly derived out of a note dated 29 October 1936 contemporaneously sent to Stevens:
Dear Mr. Stevens,
      Owl’s Clover received from you this morning I had been reading, having been sent the pages by Poetry—I would not say for review, no review of such precipitates and beauties being possible—but for comment; and it made me hope for you that in giving to the world one gives to oneself. The world probably is not owl enough to thank you for troubling about it; but an unkilled and tough-lived fortitude is a great help to us, conveyed as it is by your disguises, and may I say as the tenantry say to still persisting members of an aristocracy, “long life to it,” to this hero which you exemplify.
                                                                                          Sincerely yours, Marianne Moore
A dexterous form of deference, with that “us” pivoting between the owlish (wise and befuddled, see “The owlish eye of critic dunce”) “tenantry” and a claim of common footing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Paul Klee, “Error on Green,” 1939
(Klee: “Genius is an error in the system.”)

                But the beauty is not the madness
Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.
And I am not a demigod,
I cannot make it cohere.
If love be not in the house there is nothing.

        —Ezra Pound, out of “Canto CXVI” (Drafts and Fragments: Cantos CX-CXVII, 1968)

The jumping error pins hate on the blossoms of baffles,
densely foraging covered hero-Nero of Maltese, of Moor,
leap, oh leap! against the fame that’s in the noose . . .

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Invincibility” (Meditations in an Emergency, 1957)

Today the sun is as wide as a blue car register, but the cat tray in the basement still smells of a recent movement. No matter the writing erratic long as it stays down. Made an error right in my face. Later the long cards were brought in ready for my filching, I mean my signature.

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

All borders between men were closed.
Now all is different without having changed
As though one were to pass through the same street at different times
And nothing that is old can prefer the new.
An enormous merit has been placed on the head of all things
Which, bowing down, arrive near the region of their feet
So that the earth-stone has stared at them in memory at the approach of an error.

        —John Ashbery, out of “A Last World” (The Tennis Court Oath, 1957)

C.O. Milford Pa. 1904.
The way bleak north
presents itself here
as Heraclitean error
driving and driving
thought and austerity
nearer to lyricism
Often as black ice

        —Susan Howe, out of “The Leisure of the Theory Class” (Pierce-Arrow, 1999)

The coral benches and tables are empty
The rooftops were painted a useless red
We collected the letters in perfect error
and hurried to unlearn them

        —Michael Palmer, out of “Dear M” (Codes Appearing: Poems 1979-1988, 1988)

                                          Bedizened or stark
            naked, man, the self, the being we call human, writing-
master to this world, griffons a dark
    “Like does not like like that is obnoxious”; and writes error with four
r’s. Among animals, one has a sense of humor.

        —Marianne Moore, out of “The Pangolin” (What Are Years, 1941)

Can nature form a rule ruling nature
out, a line differential to the point
materiality loses its fuzzy-fine edges

describing it: not the knots, balances,
compensations, quandaries, divisions,
paradoxes, not those big centralities

that leave a little somewhere to go
when going uses itself up, but (everything
settled, believe me) tiny errors of

curvature, shades of misfitting, leftover
hues the colors didn’t take—there
attention flares up like a rabbit


        —A. R. Ammons, out of “Capabilities” (Brink Road, 1996)

The pearl. It’s baroque. Regular-irregular. A bad dialectic.
Nature. Will not do. A bump is better than mere error
of round. We grow, and act, away from
the mother, turn as well east as south to catch
concupiscence in our pants . . .

        —Charles Olson, out of “What’s Wrong with Pindar”
        (The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding the Maximus Poems, 1987)

        Some will die
Among books and I’m tired
Of the school of errors.

        —Lisa Robertson, out of The Men (2006)

There are no abstract truths—no Mass Man, no proletariat. There is only Man. When the Pulse has been nailed upon the crossbeams, lo, Reason gives up its viable breath and becomes a wandering ghostly Error. Truth and folly are ever about to expire, so that we, like our beloved Sancho Panza kneeling at the death-bed of Don Quixote, must always be ready to go out to receive the holy communion of cudgels and distaffs for the rebirth of the Pulse.

        —Edward Dahlberg, out of Do These Bones Live? (1941)

“. . . Am I the golden-mouthed St. John Chrysostom, the Greek who said it with the other cheek? No, I’m a fart in a gale of wind, an humble violet under a cow pad. But . . . even the evil in us comes to an end, errors may make you immortal—one woman went down the ages for sitting through Parsifal up to the point where the swan got his death, whereupon she screamed out, ‘Godamercy, they have shot the Holy Grail!’—but not everyone is as good as that . . .”

        —Djuna Barnes, out of Nightwood (1937)

But however we linger against exactness,
Enlarging the page by so much error
From the necessities of chance survived,
We cannot long mistake ourselves,
Being quit now of those gestures
Which made the world a tale elastic,
Of no held resemblance to our purpose.

        —Laura (Riding) Jackson, out of “When Love Becomes Words” (Collected Poems, 1938)

O hateful error, melancholy’s child!
Why do’st thou shew to the apt thoughts of men
The things that are not? O error! soon conceiv’d,
Thou never com’st unto a happy birth,
But kill’s the mother than engender’d thee.

        —William Shakespeare, out of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (c. 1599)

What mean square error. Remorse is a pathology of
syntax, the expanded time-display depletes the
input of “blame” which patters like scar tissue.
First intentions are cleanest: no paint on the nail
cancels the flux link. Then the sun comes out
(top right) and local numbness starts to spread, still
he is “excited” because in part shadow.Not will
but chance
the plants claim but tremble, “a
detecting mechanism must integrate across that
population”; it makes sense right at the contre-coup.

        —J. H. Prynne, out of “Of Movement Towards a Natural Place” (Wound Response, 1974)

Had we known the Ton she bore
We had helped the terror
But she straighter walked for Freight
So be her’s the error—

        —Emily Dickinson, “1124” (The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1960)

I overlook the hopeless spectacle
with pity & love & almost       perfect admiration,
I feel your terror.
I wish I didn’t. Go, but not to hell
but you have disqualified yourself for this nation
of attempts & trial-&-error.

        —John Berryman, “Dream Song 262” (His Toy, His Dream, His Rest, 1968)

      The sooner there is jerking, the sooner freshness is tender, the sooner the round it is not round the sooner it is withdrawn in cutting, the sooner the measure means service, the sooner there is chinking, the sooner there is sadder than salad, the sooner there is none do her, the sooner there is no choice, the sooner there is a gloom freer, the same sooner and more sooner, this is no error in hurry and in pressure and in opposition to consideration.

        —Gertrude Stein, out of “Roast Beef” (Tender Buttons, 1914)

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them—

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius—

all to no end save beauty . . .

        —William Carlos Williams, out of Spring and All (1923)

The lean cats of the arches of the churches
Bask in the sun in which they feel transparent,
As if designed by X, the per-noble master.
They have a sense of their design and savor
The sunlight. They bear brightly the little beyond
Themselves, the slightly unjust drawing that is
Their genius: the exquisite errors of time.

        —Wallace Stevens, out of “Extracts from Addresses to the Academy of Fine Ideas”
        (The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954)

Off the top of my head
seed, honeycomb, vine curl
shells, snake on branch

mind in orderly array—
forms molded trial & error
living out suitcase

the tide and toll of time
plus pull of space,
snowstorms by starlight

a landscape of Simulars,
were shape sort inked shape

old as the hills . . .

        —Ronald Johnson, out of “ARK 91, Arches XXV” (ARK, 1996)

Sing, song,
mind’s form

broken water’s
forms, love’s
in water.

        —Robert Creeley, out of “Water” (Words, 1967)

                                                                                  Not this day
Shall my pale apple dreams know my dream “English
        muffins, broken arm”
Nor my dream where the George Gordon gauge reads, “a
Syntactical error, Try Again!” Gosh, I gulp to be here
In my skin, writing, The Dwarf of Ticonderoga. Icy girls
finger thighs bellies apples in my dream the big gunfire
For the Jay Kenneth Koch movie, Phooey! I recall
My Aunt Annie and begin.

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Notebook (Louis Zukofsky, John Wieners, &c.)

John Wieners, 1934-2002

Fat moon thumbtacked to the sky. Raw sleight-of-hand light in the east, raddle, cloudbank, propinquity. A morning agape, with no “moot thuggery of preparedness.” A lease to the eager. Did I doze off to Robert Hass arguing (in “Zukofsky at the Outset”) that the initial one-word line “Immemorial” of Zukofsky’s 1925 “Memory of V. I Ulianov”—
is Tennyson’s word, a Victorian word, drenched in a particular idea of eloquence, and in idealism and, perhaps, sublimity. Perhaps it carries in it, as Tennyson sometimes does, a sort of sensuous Keatsian swoon. Tennyson came to own the word in 1847 when he wrote in The Princess a line that must have been in any undergraduate English major’s ear in 1925:
The moan of doves in immemorial elms.
I did. And, doing so, avoided thinking how, yesterday morning with my Cheerios and coffee, reading haphazardly “at” John Ashbery’s “Of Dreams and Dreaming” in an old issue of Grand Street—a poem beginning “Tell me more about that long street. Actually we’re overextended . . .”—I’d had a similar moot reflex: isn’t Ashbery’s “cocksucker” therein (“It was night over a mountain that seemed to be there, readily / and so useful we threw ourselves on the ground dank with animal / emotions and choked-out expletives: December first! The cocksucker / hasn’t been around lately we see through gaps in the dead / or is it dormant vegetation.”) indubitably Wieners’s own (out of “A Poem for Cocksuckers”: “The gifts do not desert us, / fountains do not dry / up there are rivers running, / there are mountains / swelling for spring to cascade.”)? Maybe. To own a word: what freight.

John Wieners, in a 7 August 1964 letter to Charles Olson (out of the Michael Seth Stewart-edited Lost & Found pamphlet “the sea under the house”: The Selected Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson):
. . . the real doesn’t involve me, it’s what exhausts me. It’s the dreams* that nurture me, yet that isn’t true, because they don’t exist. It’s the possibility of them coming true, and what does that give me, but pleasure. It’s not enough: delight in the senses, lazily hazing the scene. It leads to agony; and the only real satisfaction is the scene: BY THAT, I MEAN WORK, I mean really, that’s the only pleasure, being able to give oneself to the scene, and by scene I mean the reality around in one in the terms of oneself giving himself to work. Which is simply this (typing,) this activity of mind, which involves the muscles, and senses, contracts the forehead.
The constancy of the deferrals (“BY THAT, I MEAN”) and the note of indefatigable persistence (see, too, remarks to Michael Rumaker included in the letter: “if one stops working, they return, and sinks one into bitterness: sour the heart, and who wants that? I’m not living for that . . . ‘Make it last’ a man said to me once.”) recalling, oddly enough, Marianne Moore’s “The catnip that art is, or ignis fatuus, or drop on the cactus, does seem worth the martyrdom of pursuit . . .” (in a 26 January 1934 letter to William Carlos Williams). Too, there’s Moore’s remark (in an 18 January 1934 letter to T. S. Eliot shrugging off a book offer: “I am sure it is true there is not money in poetry for anybody and to say that I dislike the thought of being a loss to a publisher is far more than a mere understatement. . . . The writing in itself pays one or something is wrong with it . . .”) that “verse is the work I like best.” (See, too, the perfectly sly surety of “a dearth of backers emphasizes the magnanimity of the fearless”—I am reminded somewhat of Frank O’Hara’s late lines in a notebook, under the title “Oedipus Rex”: “He falls; but even in falling he is higher than those who fly into the ordinary sun.”—and the cuff at the ever-panicking ambitious of the make poetry matter crowd: “An array of appreciators is so unessential if one is valued by five or even two, that I cannot see why Ezra Pound exhausts himself trying to engender intelligence in the whole world.”)

Nearly enough. Maybe a small nod at Michael O’Brien’s Avenue (Flood Editions, 2012) in the form of two succeeding pieces, morning-work pertinent, its routines and rhythms:
Tabula rasa, light
sifting through cloud,
foam at wave-lip,
torn, scattered, and it
all keeps coming though
sight move on.
Habit of dawn
clockwork and vesture

what we traced with our fingers
legible again as the

constellations go out.
* Wieners’s asterisk. Later in the letter: “* By dreams, I think I mean wishes, fantasy (not as you use it) wish-fulfillment, day-dreaming, you call it: which makes a man turn sour.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Notebook (Franz Kafka, William Corbett, &c.)

Michael Gizzi, 1949-2010

Morning sleeplessness, its antic (pestering) variations in the skull’s loud echo-chamber: “the thuggery of preparedness” or “the thuggery of pre-preparedness”? Piecemeal idiocies, sirenic. Or poking about in a newish book by Peter Sloterdijk, I find piths and gists of Kafka’s fragment “On Suspended Animation”:
Anyone who has once been in a state of suspended animation can tell terrible stories about it, but he cannot say what it is like after death, he has been actually no nearer to death than anyone else, fundamentally he has only “lived” through an extraordinary experience, and not-extraordinary, everyday life has become more valuable to him as a result. It is similar with everyone who has experienced something extraordinary. For instance Moses certainly experienced something extraordinary on Mount Sinai, but instead of submitting to this extraordinary experience, like someone in a state of suspended animation, not answering and remaining quiet in his coffin, he fled down the mountain and, of course, had valuable things to tell, and loved, even more than before, the people to whom he had fled and then sacrificed his life for them, one might say: in gratitude. From both, however, from those who have returned from a state of suspended animation and from Moses, who returned, one can learn a great deal, but the decisive thing cannot be discovered from them, for they themselves have not discovered (it). If they had discovered it, they would not have come back at all. But we do not even want to discover it. This can be shown by the fact that we may occasionally, for instance, have the wish to experience the experience of the man in a state of suspended animation, or Moses’ experience, so long as the return is guaranteed, to undergo it as it were with a “safe-conduct,” indeed, we may even wish death for ourselves, but not even in our thoughts should we wish to be alive and in the coffin without any chance of return, or to remain on Mount Sinai.
Isn’t that a kind of fable of the high sway of receipt accruing to writing’s liminal hum—or insomnia’s dissolute and demanding particulars—how one “enters into” a species (a “made place,” think of Duncan’s “place of first permission, everlasting omen of what is”) of temporary stasis, a harbor, a purchase wherein one dwells vaguely diffuse and content—“And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him”—in the knowledge of return (and re-return, a kind of pre-preparedness). I think, too, of Ashbery’s sense of writing as a “condition”: “I’ve conditioned myself to write at almost any time. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but on the whole I feel that poetry is going on all the time inside, an underground stream. One can let down one’s bucket and bring the poem back up.” Of “. . . the decisive thing cannot be discovered from them, for they themselves have not discovered (it). If they had discovered it, they would not have come back at all . . .”: noting the processual germ, the writing itself its own continual reward.

Noted with pleasure: a couple of pieces out of William Corbett’s Elegies for Michael Gizzi (Kat Ran Press, 2012), a lovely book with oddly amoebic (or fungal) drawings by Natalia Afentoulidou. Pieces homely and joshing, with smatters of anger and defiance (“The ruder lines will survive”), a terrific barrage of elegy tender and particular. Here’s one:
Dubrovnik and Split

“When I dance, I dance. When I sleep, I sleep.”

I’ll be Alan Hale
To your Errol Flynn

Pineapple to your ham
Bonkers to your apeshit

I’ll be Vic Damone
You Jerry Vale

I’ll be Easter bunnies
To your jackalopes

Goulash to your stew

Twenty-five words or less
To your terza rima

The map of Hungary
To your Roman nose

Söjwell to your Wahlöö
Benn and Eich to your new address

Bronco Nagurski to your Galloping Ghost

Staying put to your departing
Shazam! to Wham Bam, Thank You Ma’am

You’ll be my coffee milk
I’ll be your second banana

      After Gottfried Benn*

Not being alive
When you know a new
Lee Child is about to appear.

Seeing your grandson
Run nakedly down the beach
But you can’t open your arms to him.

Having one word speak to another
But you are silent.

Very bad: listening to various parties
Argue why you didn’t have to die
And you can’t send them to time out.

And worst of all
Dying in late September
When days grow short
And earth begins to resist the spade.
* The Gottfried Benn piece, translated by Michael Hofmann:
What’s Bad

Not reading English,
and hearing about a new English thriller
that hasn’t been translated.

Seeing a cold beer when it’s hot out,
and not being able to afford it.

Having an idea
that you can’t encapsulate in a line of Hölderlin,
the way the professors do.

Hearing the waves beat against the shore on holiday at night,
and telling yourself it’s what they always do.

Very bad: being invited out,
when your own room at home is quieter,
the coffee is better,
and you don’t have to make small talk.

And worst of all:
not to die in summer,
when the days are long
and the earth yields easily to the spade.

William Corbett’s Elegies for Michael Gizzi, with drawings by Natalia Afentoulidou
(Kat Ran Press, 2012)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Notebook (Michael Rumaker, Robert Creeley, &c.)

Michael Rumaker

Slightly drubbed by the lethargy of the long weekend, cold with a skiff or two of snow and bouts of somewhat aimless reading. Michael Rumaker’s Black Mountain Days (2003). “A book of volubility and repetitions.” Michael Rumaker, in a letter of 3 August 1964, writing a mock-biography to Donald M. Allen (out of the Megan Paslawski-edited Lost & Found pamphlet “like a great armful of wild & wonderful flowers”: Selected Letters of Michael Rumaker):
. . . was born in the fields of Southern New Jersey on July 12 or 13—my mother doesn’t remember the year, but she does recall that shortly after giving birth to me she placed me under the shade of a cotton plant and went back to her chopping (that is, cotton). (See my first novel, “Down on the Farm.”) I grew up in a little log cabin with my 19 brothers and one sister, a halfwit, who later became prominent in Republican circles “up north.” I rode a mule 15 miles, one way, to school each day for a total of 30 miles, and once returned an overdue book to the school library during a blizzard, the mule freezing to death under me. After this incident my father almost flayed me alive. (See my next novel, “Father Was Hung.”) I attended the State University on a track scholarship (for my athletic experiences, see my semi-autobiographical, “Jaques Strop, or Fleet of Foot”) and there met and married Chet “Butch” Menky, captain of the college football team, and later, a struggling young lawyer. We struggled along together for several years, my parents strongly disapproving of the match since Chet wasn’t a Catholic. (For this period of my life read, “Backdoor Love.”) I divorced Chet (the marriage, for publicity purposes, was “unconsummated”) and married Eva Nimp, a society woman with tons of money, (see my latest novel, “The Bearded Clam, or Breakfast at the Federal Reserve”). Eva and I live at Old Lime, Conn., with our assortment of dogs, horses, and houseboys.
Against such sheer good fun, Rumaker’s astounding pertinacity and relentlessness (“staggering behind the potential of saying things,” a lovely phrase Rumaker assigns to Creeley), foreseen here in a 5 March 1953 letter (Rumaker b. 5 March 1932) to Merrill Gillespie:
I constantly feel time breathing down my neck and it is probably the reason why I am so busy—writing and living at every moment—because I fear that time will soon catch up with me; it is like some invisible monster that is tracking me down and I am constantly running away from it, yet always hearing its footsteps racing behind me, feeling its wrath on my neck, sensing its horrible onrush . . . my stories and poems are like hastily made tacks which I fling over my shoulder to impede the progress of the pursuit of time. So they are half-told pieces almost swift denunciations at the rapidity of life, the evanescence of it, that nothing lasts, all is fleeting, and it is my knowing this which causes to endlessly flow out, like a river without course or banks or like endless piss, as Olson called it, words upon words without shape or smoothness and it is all because I feel that I will not have time to become a craftsman, that I must slash out raw material before this invisible monster catches up to me.
“Hastily made tacks” and “half-told pieces”—and, in a 17 November 1955 letter to Gillespie—“Like my stories, things gather in me to such a pitch and thickness that I become other in the face of it, and burst and do as it directs, willessly . . . The intellect alone cannot bear fruit, nor form, because intellect is secondary to feeling because prime spontaneous feeling is the only way to form, and it is the first egress to art.” Contra (out of Rumaker’s essay “The Use of the Unconscious in Writing”—initially printed in John Wieners’s 1958 Measure #2) a call for a kind of objectivist prose:
      To get the thing there, in the words, with that same swift heightening, that sharp penetration, which strikes meaning from an object. But that the object remain the object, stated as such, with the same spareness and preciseness which is the heart of intuition. That the object be allowed or made to yield its meaning but not be despoiled. That is, not used simply for self-expression.
      Not so simple. Too often the temptation is to imbue the object with personal meanings and effusions which force the object to be mouthpiece for the expression of the writer’s reminiscences, ideas, private bellyaches, etc.—the qualities and characteristics of the object set aside, the object itself disturbed, taken out of its context to serve the writer merely as an instrument to express himself. Whereas the writer must act upon the object in such a way that it gets said, and the other, under meaning, without its being tampered with. The object must remain in its own context, as you, the writer, must also.

Michael Rumaker, Black Mountain College, c. 1955

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks (Hors Série)

Richard Lindner, “Thank You,” 1971

thanks to French Impressionism
                                                              we do not pretend to know more
than can be known
                                     how many sheets have you stained with your semen

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Answer to Voznesensky & Evtushenko” (19 January 1963)
        (The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, 1971)

thanks anyway, Frank
you’re not without con brio
n’es ca’fe?

        —Ted Berrigan, out of “Tambourine Life” (Many Happy Returns, 1967)

      Sentiment is not to the point. A dead letter is there because it has no longer real addresses.

      If President Buchanan sent a letter to Cordell Hull (also dead) it would remain there. No thanks to the spirit of things. A dead letter is exactly as if someone received it.

        —Jack Spicer, out of “A Fake Novel About the Life of Arthur Rimbaud”
        (Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, 1962)

And some believe this is merely a detail. And they may be right. And we may be the whole of which all that truly happens is only peelings and shreds of bark. Not that we are too much more than these. Remember they don’t have to thank you for it either.

        —John Ashbery, out of “Haibun 3” (A Wave, 1984)

That from the gates of death,
        that from the gates of death: Whitman or Lovelace
                found on the jo-house seat at that
in a cheap edition! [and thanks to Professor Speare]
hast’ou swum in a sea of air strip
        through an aeon of nothingness,
when the raft broke and the waters went over me . . .

        —Ezra Pound, out of “Canto LXXX” (The Pisan Cantos, 1948)

I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking the touch of me . . . . I know that it is good for you to do so.

        —Walt Whitman, out of Leaves of Grass (1855)

There! You shed a ray
      of whimsicality on a mask of profundity so
            terrific that I have been dumbfounded by
it oftener than I care to say.
                  The book? Titles are chaff.

      brief and full of energy, you contribute to your father’s
            legibility and are sufficiently
synthetic. Thank you for showing me
                  your father’s autograph.

        —Marianne Moore, “‘He Wrote the History Book,’ It Said” (Poems, 1921)

                                                                                                      Persia, we
Have much to thank you for, besides the word lapis lazuli.

        —James Schuyler, “Hymn to Life” (Hymn to Life, 1974)

I never used the word rink in my work nor
tosh as in turgid tosh nor slipup, backswing, tocsin,
discinct, skin-flint, razzmatazz:
thank the Lord:

if the world wears out, there are still shenanigans left in
the lingo . . .

        —A. R. Ammons, out of Sphere: The Form of a Motion (1974)

Did you say thank you? Who are you?

        —Ron Silliman, out of “Sunset Debris” (The Age of Huts (compleat), 2007)

There’s a library not far away
Also brick but under vines with slick blueblack poison berries
A mansard roof thanks to Mr. Carnegie

      Mama said: “You don’t HAVE to believe EVERYTHING they
                              tell you in school—think for yourself a little bit!”

        —Philip Whalen, out of “Self-Portrait Sad 22:ix:58” (On Bear’s Head, 1969)

tremendous unwinding on the can
activity of honks & threadage
cancels & ribs blur
murky rod sang & (“thanks but can’t . . .”) the cabbages

        —Clark Coolidge, out of “Immobile Drops” (Space, 1970)

you who went to some pains
to leave hands off me
in the formative stages,—
(I thank you most for that

        —William Carlos Williams, out of “Invitation” (Al Que Quiere!, 1917)

Fire escape slashes feet dude
But thanks for the intro to nudie
Mags & staying all day sitting

To be pointed in the direction
Of acid nail-biting and told to go
& to go, sad, away from the repeating

Myth straight to someone else’s
Typewriter commanding you to get
It together and type up your hundreds

Of poems, argh. . . .

        —Anselm Berrigan, out of “Jim Brodey” (Coconut #2, 2005)

“Whammo Ammo, the ammo of choice
for professional revolutionaries”

no thanks I’m on my motley crusade
to reach cells’ dwelling (montage universe)

to praise proud trance, not witless boom
but drift & flicker
      in on beam of noble sorrow’s
      anchored overture as heaven sleeps

“come close back once you held me when”
“name no longer on mail box”

        —Anselm Hollo, out of “And What’s Your Derivational Profile?”
        (Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence: Selected
        Poems 1965-2000,

small shipments of white arms


some think it’s to do with the line


no thank you
i don’t play with watches

        —Tom Raworth, out of “Perpetual Motion” (Collected Poems, 2003)

. . . The writer hereof does require that your inferences be removed from his sight. The junkyard in the sun, the milky haze, the standing water, for their work is threefold. And it affects me more than anyone. And I will speak for you without compensation. And together we will pathetically enumerate. And homage to the great red dragon. And thanks to our partners in Attrition Management. And take this bloodstained broadsheet. And do I smell bacon? For the sun makes everything crystal-clear. For covetousness is all.

        —William Fuller, out of “Ode (at Work)” (Watchword, 2006)

One place leads directly to another, thank the dancing deities. There are familiar places; remembered places, burnished as driftwood; imagined places; glimpsed, passerine places rootless as petrels; places we can never find again. There are places like stone and places like oil. There are sacred places rising from the sea level, more one-and-only than all the others. There is the birthplace and the homeplace, certifiable by the olfactory, and the final restingplace, and all the in-betweens of dovetailed scenery and sweet locus pocus.

        —Merrill Gilfillan, out of “Locus Pocus (Bighorns to the West)”
        (Chokecherry Places: Essays from the High Plains, 1998)

And the idea that a room corresponds to a musical note
and thus “resonates” when sung to—the idea that even this bridge
might correspond to a B-flat that, when “sung” by the wind,
causes it to oscillate and utterly collapse—there are photographs—
suggests despite the belief that “we are satisfied only
when we fancy ourselves surrounded by objects and laws
independent of our nature,” music is material, but “the material”
isn’t wholly material. Speaking of which, construction materials
are way up this year thanks to the hurricane damage in the Gulf.

        —Ange Mlinko, out of “Discretion” (Shoulder Season, 2010)

The future seemed to lie in this forest of letters, theories, and forgotten actualities. I had a sense of the parallel between our always fragmentary knowledge and the continual progress toward perfect understanding that never withers away. I felt a harmony beyond the confinement of our being merely dross or tin; something chemical almost mystical hat thanks to architectural artifice, these grey and tan steel shelves in their neo-Gothic tower commemorate in semi-darkness, according to Library of Congress classification.

          tub     epoch     too     fum     alter     rude     recess     emblem     sixty     key

        —Susan Howe, out of “Personal Narrative” (Souls of the Labadie Tract, 2007)

Strained hotel morning. Enjoyment of balcony,
clouds. Descend to garden. Decision to take
trolley to grave of Joyce. Return by trolley.
Downhill trip by taxi to Zurich. Lengthy promenade
of Strasse. Decision to make first Türler timepiece

(Will enact same motions for purchase of second watch,
deleting trip to graveyard. Insert instead taxi ride
to gallery. Lack money to pay taxi. Search for bank
which is located immediately thanks to monetary geography of Zurich.)

        —Barbara Guest, out of The Türler Losses (1979)

Not to thank dogwood nor
the wind that sifts
petals are these words,
nor for a record,

but, as notes sung and received
still the air,
these are controlled by
yesterday evening,
a peal after
the bells have rested.

        —Basil Bunting, out of “To Anne de Silver” (Complete Poems, 2000)

Dearest gadget, to him I
wrote, thank you for skinning
rabbit food and for Mayo

Clinic. Oldest implement,
I continued, but no longer
did he attend. Rusted and cheery

he was now, knew of some
Ology. He’ll to the Mousse Home
go. And seaside, old pot.

        —Caroline Knox, “To Celeriack Skinner” (Sleepers Wake, 1994)

If Aristotle stood for options well
                            brick upon brick . . .
a skin head with a leadpipe
in the conservatory,
                            brick upon broken
neck, thanks to my skin
it only happens
in my shipwrecked sleep.

What are these wingèd words
that have escaped the barrier
of my teeth?

        —Jennifer Moxley, out of “The Wingèd Words” (Imagination Verses, 1996)

which prompted me to dial NERVOUS first thing today
seeing as my booster clock . . . burnt oasis . . . plastic goo

so much of it this time of—of—
the operator’s voice was laden with irony
irony I have no time to savor
due to the motor disturbance of this end-of-year period

which seems to be hurtling down a sleety dynamo
throbbing with hallucinatory instructions
each syllable of which lasts out a year of its own choosing
thanks to a blessed motor disturbance in the Heavens

        —Kenward Elmslie, out of “Motor Disturbance”
        (Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics 1960-1998, 1998)

Curtains for perky strumpets strutting with mites in the twilight of their origami funkier papoose. Thanks for patting wood at flatland. Thanks for bamboozle flukes at Bama, my seedy medication. Thanks for my name in the yoohoo. Continental camp-out, percolating throughout this whirly-gig on faux saxon flukes. Artless, you dug. Did you re-do?

        —Harryette Mullen, out of “Music for Homemade Instruemnts”
        (Sleeping with the Dictionary, 2002)

Thanks to brass epiphany I’ve been thinking about Dizzy’s ballooning cheeks. As my wording may have already made evident, they strike me as of a piece with the balloons we’ve been visited by, in some oblique, subterranean way related. Dizzy’s trademark cheeks comply with a principle of exertion and exaggeration, factoring inflation and elasticity in as well. Still, them being a visual trademark may well be their signal feature, trademark visuality itself the signal fact worth attending to. Trademark visuality, it seems to me, wants to domesticate or mask an acoustic risk the music otherwise runs, the risk of acousticality itself.

        —Nathaniel Mackey, out of Bass Cathedral (2008)

                —sat through a repetition
of the natcheral confluences

the fact divided finally out of that

self w/ self, self on the surface
of other

not mine, thanks

        —C. S. Giscombe, out of “Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami River” (Here, 1994)

We can’t send this message       no positive way
hallelujah       glory to ya       they call it the hump
day       if you can get over the hump you’ve got it
made       position yourself to hear
somewhere around the 14th verse       we need
an elevator       to help us look in the present
to help us visualize the future       thank you
for your call       can’t you see       not of this
world       who has no way       somebody say . . .

        —C. D. Wright, out of Deepstep Come Shining (1998)

                              To get at the thing
Without gestures is to get at it as
Idea. She floats in the contention, the flux

Between the thing as idea and
The idea as thing. She is half who made her.
This is the final Projection, C.

The arrangement contains the desire of
The artist. But one confides in what has no
Concealed creator. One walks easily

The unpainted shore, accepts the world
As anything but sculpture. Good-bye,
Mrs. Pappadopoulos, and thanks.

        —Wallace Stevens, out of “So-and-So Reclining on Her Couch”
        (The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, 1954)

I write the Rascal Thanks till he & I
With Thanks & Compliments are quite drawn dry

        —William Blake, “On H          the Pick thank”
        (The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake, 1965, 1981)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Notebook (A. R. Ammons, Michael Wigglesworth, &c.)

Chief Joseph, c. 1897

To make a page out of whole cloth. The story, possibly niggling in its particulars, of A. R. Ammons, circa 1971, fetching—by car—a trio of American poets, Robert Bly, James Wright, and Galway Kinnell, Binghamton to Ithaca, for some joint reading. The three arrayed across the back seat, putting Ammons in chauffeur posture. And one, probably Bly, with jocular sting, exhorting Ammons to prudent car-conduct: “You’ve got the whole future of American poetry here in the back.” (The story of Ammons’s ferocious scorn for the perp, how he brooked no condescent.)

Lazy days, ambitiousness (I like the sizzle of that word’s presumptuousness, its heightening in délice foreordained) spelled down by dubiety. No nothing in the offing, and the crows just crows. (Mallarmé: “to discern the immediate character of things, no more, is vulgar.”) (Or Stevens, hotly confounding any day—or crow—so “simplified,” any “complete simplicity”: “There would still remain the never-resting mind, / So that one would want to escape, come back / To what had been so long composed. / The imperfect is our paradise. / Note that, in this bitterness, delight, / Since the imperfect is so hot in us, / Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.”) (Or Marianne Moore, who somewhere slyly talks of how any retreat into simplicity is “likely to be sincerer than is convenient to the reader.”)

Out of Robert Hass’s essay “Edward Taylor: How American Poetry Got Started” (What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World):
The term baroque was introduced into critical discourse about art by the German scholar Heinrich Wölfflin. He used it to describe the difference between what he saw as the harmonies of the high Renaissance and what came after. “The Baroque,” he observed, “never offers us perfection and fulfillment, or the static calm of ‘being,’ only the unrest of change and the tension of transience.”
(And, out of Wölfflin’s 1888 Renaissance and Baroque: “The ideal of tenseness was promoted by forms which were unfulfilled to the point of discomfort . . . the baroque . . . achieved its purpose by means of the irregular and apparently incomplete, the unsettled and impermanent form.”) Hass, seeming to put the baroque at the center of American poetic outlawry:
The Puritans of Boston recognized the baroque style when they saw it. Michael Wigglesworth, the author of New England’s most popular poem, Day of Doom, sternly rebuked a poetry made of “strained metaphors, far-fetch’t allusions, audacious & lofty expressions . . . meer ostentation of learning & empty flashes of a flourishing wit,” declaring that such writers “daub over their speech with rhetorical paintments” and “winding, crocked, periphrasticall circumlocutions & dark Allegoric mysteries.”
Wigglesworth’s remarks occur in “The Prayse of Eloquence”—a piece that nearly swamps the fragile vessel of its own argument by the mighty strain and vehemence of its own eloquence:
Look as a mighty river augmented with excessiue rains or winter snows swelling above its wonted channel bear’s down banks and bridges, overflows feilds and hedges, sweeps away all before it, that might obstruct its passage: so Eloquence overturn’s overturn’s all things that stand in its way, and carrys them down with the irresistible stream of its all controuling power. Wonderful it were to speak of the severall discoverys of the power in severall affections: wonderfull but to think in general, how like a blustering tempest it one while driues before it the raging billow’s of this troubled Ocean: how other whiles (as though it had them in fetters it curb’s and calm’s the fury at a word. And all this without offering violence to the party’s so affected; nay with a secret pleasure and delight it stirs men up to the greatest displeasure and distast. Doth it affect with grief? why to be so grieved is no grievance. doth it kindle coales, nay flames of fiery indignation? why those flames burn not, but rather cherish. doth it draw tears from the eys? why even tears flow with pleasure.
Everybody, the certainty of it occurs to me rather abruptly, providing me with ammo—or blanks, perhaps—uselessly got, uses language for dazzle, camouflage, a “shill elixir.” Rather like Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce— Hinmuuttu-yalatlat’—oughtn’t I then up and declare: “I am tired of writing. . . . Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will write no more forever.” Or not: the legendary mot of surrender later proved writ in the embellishing hand of one poet and lawyer named Charles Erskine Scott Wood, who defended the likes of Emma Goldman, and whose “politics verged on anarchism.” He wrote a book of satires called Heavenly Discourse (1927).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Notebook (Robert Hass, George Oppen, &c.)

Robert Hass

Fog, and the resultant banality of the surround. Quashed particulars. Crows in their customary muster, with its hoarse swells, its regular diminuendos. Renegade appeasements. René Char: “It is right for poetry to be indistinguishable from what is foreseen but not yet formulated.” Or Williams (The Embodiment of Knowledge): “The field of postponement is removed. To know is everywhere, teeming, at once, in anything. And it is all here in any life. Criminal perhaps, but present. Even the jazzy present has this virtue that, low as it is, it is a prediction of a new order of knowing.” “The jazzy present”: here in the wild immediacy, poking out with one’s tiny fists at the dumb carnal void. How to begin. (Or there’s Williams’s plainer Keats: “Man must give himself without complete knowledge in the world—or he will not give himself at all. That is to say he will know—in his body—nothing at all.”)

Dawdled through some of Robert Hass’s What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World (2012). A miscellany, seemingly without the generous bravado of Hass’s 1984 Twentieth Century Pleasures. (Recall something like the opening paragraph to “Listening and Making”:
      I told a friend I was going to try to write something about prosody and he said, “Oh great.” The two-beat phrase is a very American form of terminal irony. A guy in a bar in Charlottesville turned to me once and said, loudly but confidentially, “Ahmo find me a woman and fuck her twenty ways till Sunday.” That’s also a characteristic rhythm: ahmo FIND ME a WOman / and FUCK her TWENty WAYS till SUNday. Three beats and then a more emphatic four. A woman down the bar doubled the two-beat put-down. She said, “Good luck, asshole.” Rhythms and rhythmic play make texture in our lives but they are hard to talk about and besides people don’t like them to be talked about. Another friend wrote to me about an essay of mine in which I commented at some point on a “metrical inversion” in a line from a poem by Robert Lowell. He said he liked the piece well enough, but that one phrase—that finical tic of the educated mind—had filled him with rage. I think I understand why.
The loudness of the unlettered moment quashing the “finical tic” of lettered doubt—allowing Hass to assert the “revolutionary ground” of rhythm itself, “the place where the organic rises to abolish the mechanical and where energy announces the abolition of tradition. New rhythms are new perceptions.” There’s a distrust in Hass of whatever—theoretical navel-gazing in particular—refuses to accede to desire, its immediacy, its “speech.”)

Out of a 1985 piece called “George Oppen: His Art” (“delivered as a talk among other talks”), a pertinent parallel, worrying an era wherein “the issue of the noun has become very difficult”:*
The work of the language poets, particularly some of the essays of Ron Silliman, has suggested a profound distrust of the mimetic idea that there is a connection between word and thing; they have suggested, in fact, that the connection between word and thing has become a sort of conspiracy among the writer, the reader, and the merchant to convince themselves that the objects of desire are real. And that the light given off by them is not a property of the mind but a property of their obtainability and that the practice of mimetic art at all is to repeat the lie of capitalist economics. Which is a profound charge, and a very similar charge is made by Robert Pinsky in his Situation of Poetry [1976] which argues that the passion of modernist poetry has turned out to be the passion of Romantic poetry, to possess the particular by using words which are always general, so that language is trying intensely to do what language doesn’t do, and that modernism has failed as a project in the way that Romanticism failed as a project by necessarily producing a body of poetry whose subject is passionate disappointment.
Which is a kind of prose redux of what is proposed in Hass’s widely known (and admired) poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” (c. 1979), with its opening: “All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking. / The idea, for example, that each particular erases / the luminous clarity of a general idea . . .” and its prying at the notion, “that, / because there is in this world no one thing / to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds, / a word is elegy to what it signifies.” Delivered—Hass is essentially an elegist, a connoisseur of regret (see the hunger for its plaint in that “thin wire of grief,” its fining tendency; see the homiletic contentment at loss in lines like “Longing, we say, because desire is full / of endless distances”)—in a tone, precisely, of “passionate disappointment.” Hass quotes the fifth poem in “Of Being Numerous,” claiming that therein one “can actually watch, as the words are laid down on the page, the process from which the perception of the thing gets born into its numinous quality as a word, an abstraction out of the thing”:
The great stone
Above the river
In the pylon of the bridge


Frozen in the moonlight
In the frozen air over the footpath, consciousness

Which has nothing to gain, which awaits nothing,
Which loves itself.
A noun (Hass: “The noun here is ‘1875’”) wholly without desire.
* Hass quotes (with large unmarked elisions) some of Oppen’s 25 April 1968 remarks to L. S. Dembo regarding nouns. In the original (Oppen is referring to the title of the 1934 book Discrete Series: “A discrete series is a series of terms each of which is empirically derived, each one of which is empirically true. And this is the reason for the fragmentary character of those poems. I was attempting to construct a meaning by empirical statements, by imagist statements”):
Q.   Each imagist statement being essentially discrete from the statement that followed or preceded it?
A.   Yes, that meaning is also implicit in the word “discrete.” The poems are a series, yet each is separate, and it’s true that they are discrete in that sense; but I had in mind specifically the meaning to the mathematician—a series of empirically true terms.
Q.   In any case, the “discrete” aspect seems to be reminiscent of the cubist approach, if I’m not being farfetched—hard, sharp fragments of theme or experience joined mosaically rather than integrated organically.
A.   I’m really not sure what troubles the cubists had, but I had trouble with syntax in this undertaking and, as a matter of fact, I still have trouble with verbs. It’s not exactly trouble; I just didn’t want to put it too pretentiously. I’m really concerned with the substantive, with the subject of the sentence, with what we are talking about, and not rushing over the subject-matter in order to make a comment about it. It is still a principle with me, of more than poetry, to notice, to state, to lay down the substantive for its own sake. I don’t know whether that’s clear.
Q.   Please go on.
A.   A statement can be made in which the subject plays a very little part, except for argumentation; one hangs a predicate on it that is one’s comment about it. This is an approximate quotation from Hegel, who added (I like the quote very much): “Disagreement marks where the subject-matter ends. It is what the subject-matter is not.” The important thing is that if we are talking about the nature of reality, then we are not really talking about our comment about it; we are talking about the apprehension of some thing, whether it is or not, whether one can make a thing of it or not. Of Being Numerous asks the question whether or not we can deal with humanity as something which actually does exist.
      I realize the possibility of attacking many of the things I’m saying and I say them as a sort of act of faith. The little words that I like so much, like “tree,” “hill,” and so on, are I suppose just as much a taxonomy as the more elaborate words; they’re categories, classes, concepts, things we invent for ourselves. Nevertheless, there are certain ones without which we really are unable to exist, including the concept of humanity.
      I’m trying to describe how the test of images can be a test of whether one’s thought is valid, whether one can establish in a series of images, of experiences . . . whether or not one will consider the concept of humanity to be valid, something that is, or else have to regard it as being simply a word.
(What Hass used is in italics.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Notebook (Robert Duncan, Stéphane Mallarmé, &c.)

Robert Duncan, 1919-1988

Robert Duncan to Charles Olson (Bañalbufar, Mallorca, 14 August 1955), admitting that it’s “Stevens and back of him the shadowy Mallarmé that seems to haunt my work, Keres from his world scuttering in to attend the séance of each poem.” And: “The poem anyway being not only made but heard, so that one is listening, the line comes to one, as much as one is inventing.” Scutter: To go hastily with much fuss and bustle, as from excitement or timidity. Keres: Tenebrae, the death-inflected daughters of Erebus (or Erebos, Greek Ἔρεβος, “deep darkness, shadow”) and Nyx. Duncan: out of the end of “An Owl Is an Only Bird of Poetry” (1955):
                                    The joy
is a great scuttering of feathers words
                                    a whirl
up words into an airy sentence where
by reader accepts his mixd whether
                                    of love
face by face in his poem’s crackt mirror.

This is an owl as he flies out of himself
into the heart that reflects all owl.

Who gives his hoot of joy as he flies.

In a letter to Ellen and Warren Tallman (21 March 1961), Duncan talks (of the “Structure of Rime” series) as being composed “in the shamanistic genre, of psychic double-talk (hence, as in Egyptian texts—the importance of puns)—an art of dreaming.” And: “my medium has to be not the astral light but the languages—to let the language speak thru me) (send myself out into the language).” (See: “accepts his mixd.”) And, listing some source material: “Charles Henri Ford’s Little Anthology of the Poem in Prose, items p. 338 Mallarmé’s Demon of Analogy . . . The Mallarmé . . . most crucial.” Out of the Ford anthology (found in the 1953 New Directions in Prose & Poetry #14), the Mallarmé (with its deft positing of languge as a kind of “god-step at the margins of thought”—“Des paroles inconnues chanterent-elles sur vos levres, lambeaux maudits d’une phrase absurde?”), translated by Wallace Fowlie:
The Demon of Analogy

      Have your lips sung unknown words, plaguing bits of a ridiculous sentence?
      I left my apartment with the precise sensation of a wing gliding over the strings of an instrument, slowly moving and light, which was replaced by a voice speaking in descending tones the words “The Penultimate is dead,” in such a manner that
                                                                                                                                            The Penultimate
ended the line and
                                      Is dead
                                                      was detached most uselessly from the prophetic suspension in the void of meaning. I walked a few steps in the street and recognized in the sound nul the taut string of the musical instrument, which was forgotten and which glorious memory had beyond doubt just visited with its wing or with a palm, and touching the artfulness of mystery, I smiled and implored a different speculation from intellectual prayer. The phrase returned, powerful, released from a former fall of feather or branch, henceforth through the heard voice, until at last it was spoken alone, alive, in its own personality. (No longer satisfied with a perception), I continued reading it as the end of a line, and once, as a test, adapting it to my speech; soon pronouncing it with a silence after “Penultimate” in which I found a painful pleasure: “The Penultimate” then the string of the instrument, so taut in the oblivion over the sound nul, broke doubtless and I added in form of a prayer: “Is dead.” I didn’t cease continuing to attempt a return to favorite thoughts, alleging, for my peace of mind, that certainly penultimate is the dictionary term meaning next-to-the-last syllable of a word, and its apparition, the ill-relinquished remainder of a linguistic labor by which my noble poetic faculty daily sobs at being interrupted: the very sound and air of mendacity assumed by the haste of facile affirmation were a cause of torment. Harassed, I determined to allow words of a melancholy state to wander by themselves over my mouth, and I continued murmuring with tender intonation of sympathy: “The Penultimate is dead, is dead, is really dead, the despairing Penultimate,” believing therewith to satisfy my worry, and not without the secret hope of submerging it in the steady increase of my chant when, O terror!—with an easily deducible and nervous magic—I felt that I had, with my hand, reflected in a shop window, making the gesture of a caress descending over something, the voice itself (the first which had undoubtedly been one voice).
      But where the undeniable intervention of the supernatural is established, and the beginning of the anguish which tortures my mind, once a lord, is when I saw, raising my eyes, in the street of antiquarians where I walked instinctively, that I was in front of the shop of a lute maker, seller of old instruments hanging on the wall, and, on the floor, yellow palms and wings of ancient birds buried in the dark. I fled, a strange figure condemned probably to wear the mourning garb of the inexplicable Penultimate.
Isn’t there something to be aligned between something like Duncan’s resolve (“The Truth and Life of Myth”)—“Often I must force myself to remain responsible to the error that sticks in pride’s craw; not to erase it, but to bring it forward, to work with it, even if this flaw mar a hoped for success . . .” and Mallarmé’s determining “to allow words of a melancholy state to wander by themselves over my mouth”? Inchoate notes.

Marianne Moore’s quoting of Kenneth Burke (out of the 1931 Counter-Statement)—“a work may be said to have form in so far as one part leads a reader to anticipate another part and be gratified by the result”—against Charles Olson’s “projective or field composition” seems somewhat counter to Olson’s own words in “Projective Verse.” (The original remark differs slightly in Burke, and is decapitated by Moore: “Form in literature is an arousing and fulfilment of desires. A work has form in so far as one part leads a reader to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence.”) Isn’t it precisely that anticipatory sense that Olson is calling “a whole series of new recognitions”? Olson: “From the moment he ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION—puts himself in the open—he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined.” Or, see, too, Duncan (out of the c. 1971 “Iconographical Extensions: On Jess”), its sense of agglutinant interactings, of active gratifactory moments sustained and released:
A rhyme is a member in whose force of identity we remark—remember or anticipate—the presence of another member. In composition by field, a color does not glow in itself or grow dim, but has its glow by rhyme—a resonance that arises in the total field of the painting as it comes into that totality. The “completion” of the painting is the realization of its elements as “puns” or “rhymes.” The painter works not to conclude the elements of the painting but to set them into motion, not to bind the colors but to free them, to release the force of their interrelationships.
Inchoate notes bis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Notebook (John Wieners, Marianne Moore, &c.)

John Wieners, c. 1997
(Photograph by Jim Dunn)

“No sign, albeit” nothing. Yesterday’s impertinence regarding John Wieners’s note to Marianne Moore (“a striving after pitch”) regarding Measure, and Moore’s apparent failure to reply—I needed only to read along a little in “the sea under the house”: The Selected Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson. Wieners to Olson (27 August 1957):
Then came home & there was a letter from Marianne More: & I quote
from it for you.
                                    “I really benefit by:
                                    I have no longer any excuse       (Charles Olson)
                                    for envy. My life

                                    has been given its orders; the seasons

                                    the soul and the body and make mock
                                    of any dispersed effort.
also:   Spring: we salute you
            season of no bungling* (without capitals at the first of the line.”

        (she goes on)
“A (moral) sea-roll in the gait is better for seamen than for poets but I
like:   “Put crumbs on the outside of the window
                     Let them
(Jack Spicer)           come outside.”

In any case, I enclose a dollar for a copy of the next issue.”


(Then Ps)
      “I think (I think
        spring bungles more than any other season; but the concept is
(The stray asterisk in the note, admittedly harried by its transcribing, apparently pertains to naught, is unattached.) Moore is pointing to Olson’s “Variations Done for Gerald Van De Wiele” with its lovely lines (out of the second part, titled “The Charge”):
With spring one knows today to see
that in the morning each thing

is separate but by noon
they have melted into each other

and by night only crazy things
like the full moon and the whippoorwill

and us, are busy. We are busy
if we can get by that whiskered bird,

that nightjar, and get across, the moon
is our conversation, she will say

what soul
isn’t in default?

can you afford not to make
the magical study

which happiness is? do you hear
the cock when he crows? do you know the charge,

that you shall have no envy, that your life
has its orders, that the seasons

seize you too, that no body and soul are one
if they are not wrought

in this retort? that otherwise efforts
are efforts? And that the hour of your flight

will be the hour of your death?
(Is Moore’s seemingly tautly lineated and precise version a paraphrase—or is the piece thusly printed in Measure?) The “season of no bungling” is out of the third part (“Spring”), at the end of the piece: “In the roar of spring, / transmutations. Envy // drags herself off. The fault of the body and the soul / —that they are not one— // the matutinal cock clangs / and singleness: we salute you // season of no bungling.” The Jack Spicer lines Moore selects out of the lengthy “Song for Bird and Myself” (beginning “I am dissatisfied with my poetry. / I am dissatisfied with my sex life. / I am dissatisfied with the angels I believe in. / Neo-classical like Bird, / Distrusting the reality / Of every note.”):
Neo-classical like Bird.
Once two birds got into the Rare Book Room.
Miss Swift said,
Call a custodian
Put crumbs on the outside of the window
Let them
Come outside.”
The soft line strains
Not to be neo-classical.
But Miss Swift went to lunch. They
Called a custodian.
Four came.
Armed like Myrmidons, they
Killed the birds.
Miss Munsterberg
Who was the first American translator of Rilke
“Suppose one of them
Had been the Holy Ghost.”
Miss Swift,
Who was back from lunch,
One notes the “bird-witted”-ness of each of Moore’s choices. And one recalls, too, Moore’s subsequent review—mostly avoiding the prevalent hysteria that greeted the book, though she did, toward the end, talk rather shudderingly of the anthology’s “content”—“Good content, as Samuel Butler said, is usually matched by good treatment, and poets specializing in ‘organs and feelings’—severed from culture and literature, dogged by redundance and stench—have a stiff task. By comparison with the vocabularies of science, which are creative, in fact enthralling, exhibitionistic content—invaded by the diction of drug-vendors and victims, sex addicts and civic parasites—becomes poetically inoperative . . .”—of The New American Poetry: 1945-1960. Of Spicer, Moore writes: “not indifferent to T. S. Eliot and . . . not hackneyed.” Of Olson’s “projective or field composition”: “Inherited non-projective form can be projective, I would say, and projective form may be weedy and colorless like suckers from an un-sunned tuber.” And quotes Kenneth Burke (Counter-Statement): “a work may be said to have form in so far as one part leads a reader to anticipate another part and be gratified by the result.” Of Wieners: nothing.

(As Wieners says at one point in the letter: “Well, enough quote job.”)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Notebook (John Wieners, Charles Olson, &c.)

John Wieners, 1934-2002

Cold air loosely damping down the fatidic earth in its clot and unexpelled disclosure, like the stabbing abscess of a pleurisy under the bent ribs of the sky. (Shakespeare, out of Hamlet: “For goodnes growing to a plurisie, / Dies in his owne too much.”) Thus the remedy of cloud-riffling incoherency, shouting out a wholly indifferent morning song in order to charge the day with some kind of writerly velocity, words without inventory, un-parceled, inimical, aloof. (Somewhere Poe writes, justly punning: “The dogmatic bow-wow of this man is the most amusing thing imaginable. I do believe that out of every ten matters which he gives to the public as fact, eight, at least, are downright lies, while the other two may be classed either as ‘doubtful’ or ‘rigmarole.’”)

A pertinent letter, plaintive and defiant by turns, John Wieners to Charles Olson, out of the Michael Seth Stewart-edited Lost & Found pamphlet “the sea under the house”: The Selected Correspondence of John Wieners and Charles Olson. Wieners recalling Black Mountain days, and gearing up to edit Measure (initially intended to be titled “BOSTON: a blast from — etc., the contributors listed below that. ‘The opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect those of the city.’”--Measure itself dug out of William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell”: “All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap. / Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth . . .”):
                                                                                                                                May 16 [1957]
Dear Charles:

      Just wanted to get this off to you. How this whole ‘culture’ wears on one (me). If I did not have the knowledge of me at BM, could entertain the fantasy of shoving it all and going off to ‘the fabulous island’ (Tiamat?)* For even that sheepdip (BM’s) cant do it. We come soiled & needy, from our mothers the white living rooms and it is piled on before our eyes /
                                                                                                        are open, turned into consumers, customers at a bad bargain basement. And of course, Measure means a kind of personal whip at it and me. Now this sds. guilt-ridden etc. but not so—its that
                                                                                                                                  when the talisman comes under the hand / then one see the past filth of things of full ears & ‘entertainment’. Too much lying back in the silk cushions. And only when one is shook to see the struggle / just what’s up and how most of the time we aint up at it. Spend the day in a frenzy of waste. [. . .]

              And the law you’re under / or were maybe gone now per Blaser’s letter. Only I think often of where you can go and as you do, others take their lead. Let that be stated. I take the lead from footprints. Now anyways. That is why what you do this year will be a lead for many—what a burden you don’t want but such it is—MEASURE, a true wedge for us all to beat our space on- hobnail boots. Well, we do go on. And that’s the wonder that each month seems to be greener, a new bush, than the last.
Olson’s reply both wary of being defined and amiably shrugging off the mentoring (“Please write instantly what you mean by / ‘And the law you’re under / or were maybe some how per Blaser’s letter’ / please expatiate. Wld like very much (wld help) to / know what you think I was on, & the other statement ‘where you can go’ ?? WOW. Tell me. I’m—lookin’!”) Wieners’s “instant reply” humors the obvious (“SO DAD, take it as you will”), and explains:
. . . Blaser showed me your letter (there was no one else to) and one has to share that kind, no? He even photo’d it to keep the pink paper in the house. Per it, I knew thou to be free. No more chain on the chain on the eagleleg. This is what I meant. And where shall he roost?
          And the statement: ‘where you can go’     really a question. For it has been with me, this where?—I entertain daydreams. nightdreams. Gloucester in the hand to give you! Last night, you in a gray silk suit, sitting, very long legs, and someone on my right (smiling, encourage, Duncan?) as I climbed onto your knee Danny Boy. Now that is the most embarrassing six words I have ever had to write . . .
A kind of reckless joy in sheer dispersal and otherness evident, bonds forged in refusal of the post-WWII consumerist glut and imperium. Wieners, in the excitement of deciding to do Measure (“300 copies . . . for $163”) is brash and pure and “wide open, and that don’t mean ‘deviated’!” (letter of 8 February 1957): “I have no reputation to lose, nor none to make. And I am ignorant which is good.” And: “I fit here, this use of energy, and feel behind me all the little creeps who sat down and decided they would publish a little magazine. No matter what, I have their strengths.” Uncommonly refreshing that stance, in an era of rampant opportunism and routinely made measurements of potential cultural capital. Among the “kinds of excitements potential” Wieners is witnessed in a letter dated “August 19 [1957]” planning for Measure III—“a striving after pitch” (what I’d call “reach”):
Start off with a city ‘survey’
                                                          From Kyoto, from Fairbanks, from Mexico city, from seattle, San Fran, Boston (me & marshall who I kept out of Two for this reason) Toronto (souster?) London (Turnbull) NY? more than the pansy voice, I want.
                    Namely a striving after pitch, I even wrote M Moore this AM asking if she’d write a walk back from Grocery Store, for her pitch, I am hooked that bad . . .
Astounding. No sign, albeit, of Marianne Moore’s reply (nothing in the 1997 Selected Letters).

A poem, seemingly uncollected, Wieners sent to Olson in the 8 February 1957 letter, subsequently (with minor changes) printed in The Floating Bear #10, a number filled with Wieners’s early poems. (Di Prima says she gathered the work “from manuscripts that he had left around at different people’s houses where he had stayed at one time or another. The really early stuff, from his Black Mountain days and right after, he had left at Frank O’Hara’s house years and years ago. Frank just laid the manuscript on me. John also stayed at LeRoi’s and left stuff there, and when I came out to the West Coast, I was given poems that he had left at Wallace Berman’s pad when he’d been living with him on Scott Street in San Francisco (period of The Hotel Wentley Poems). There’s a huge stack of unpublished John Wieners floating around somewhere . . .”):
On January 20th the Snows Began to Melt

I saw a woman stagger on the train
With orange flowers in her hand
And I could not make up my mind
To be the woman or: orange flowers

carried underground on this
                suddenly before me a boy
came on
                and he held in one hand
a bed,
                my mother
                would say,
of red
a blur of carnations and yellow

A color to soak the black off death
& I knew
                dying or dead
                women who receive these
blinds slashed,

like me in the tunnel under Charles St.
hot as a bee is, seized on their smell.
* Stewart’s footnote reads: “Tiamat was the primordial dragon of chaos of Sumerian mythology, slain by Marduk, the god of order, in the creation myth laid out in the Enûma Eliš.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Notebook (Harriet Monroe, Kent Johnson, &c.)

Harriet Monroe, c. 1906
(“Dressed in costume for the Streets of Paris performance at the Coliseum”)

Drenching rain, crows meager and complaining, the blood drive signs dehiscing off the kiosk. The weekend: a black man in Chicago satisfactorily announcing to nobody in particular: “got that Romney bullshit done with.” The usual chores and interrupts. John Ashbery, preparatory (c. 1973) to remarks concerning John Wheelwright and A. R. Ammons:
The pure products of America don’t always go crazy: Dr. Williams himself is a demonstration of this. But the effort of remaining both pure and American can make them seem odd and harassed—a lopsided look characteristic of much major American poetry, whose fructifying mainstream sometimes seems to be peopled mostly by cranks (Emerson, Whitman, Pound, Stevens), while certified major poets (Frost, Eliot) somehow end up on the sidelines.
Warning to all of you—rampant, teeming and tangible—who would seek certificatory ease, that friable temporal certainty, by bowing to the various sacramental smuts (legion and irreproachable in “our” careering unholy era). (Under the plus ça change allotment, recall Wheelwright’s succinct mot regarding the 1916 visit of “Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, A Magazine of Verse,” to a meeting of the New England Poetry Club—how she “instructed us in our poetic duties,” after which “few found courage to read verses.”) (Recall, too, Ammons’s sting and piquancy in guise of a shrug: “one with no / community has / only the world”.)

Kent Johnson’s talk, in A Question Mark Above the Sun: Documents on the Mystery Surrounding a Famous Poem “by” Frank O’Hara, of David Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology turned my perennially glaucous (“like the ‘bloom’ on a grape”) eye toward Lawrence Weschler’s excellent little book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder (1995). Momentary clarity of intent: isn’t “wonder” itself, with its the tautly splaying light of contingent and the rescissory, its capacity for welcoming doubt unblemished (James Gleick “nailing down” Richard Feynman’s credo: “he believed in the primacy of doubt, not as a blemish upon our ability to know but as the essence of knowing”) at the rosy heart of Johnson’s conjectural dalliance with O’Hara’s poem “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island”? Weschler, with high etymological pertinence:
Those earliest museums, the ur-collections back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were sometimes called Wunderkammern, wonder-cabinets, and it occurs to me that the Museum of Jurassic Technology truly is their worthy heir in as much as wonder, broadly conceived, is its unifying theme. (“Part of the assigned task,” David once told me, “is to reintegrate people to wonder.”) But it’s a special kind of wonder, and it’s metastable. The visitor to the Museum of Jurassic Technology continually finds himself shimmering between wondering at (the marvels of nature) and wondering whether (any of this could possibly be true). And it’s that very shimmer, the capacity for such delicious confusion, Wilson sometimes seems to suggest, that may constitute the most blessedly wonderful thing about being human.
Or see Weschler’s summary of art critic Ralph Rugoff’s assessment of the Museum:
. . . it deploys all the traditional signs of a museum’s institutional authority—meticulous presentation, exhaustive captions, hushed lighting, and state-of-the-art technical armature—all to subvert the very notion of the authoritative as it applies not only to itself but to any museum. The Jurassic infects its visitor with doubts—little curlicues of misgiving—that proceed to infest all his other dealings with the Culturally Sacrosanct.
A way, of course, to critique and extol the cultural finery and bosh both. (And I do recall—thinking of curlicues and their swarms—how “during one period in the late ’nineties I suspected a whole slew of rather ordinary people of being somehow ‘projections’ of Kent Johnson—Kazim Ali, Patrick McManus, Paul Murphy, Ron Silliman, Jacques Debrot, Jeffrey Jullich, Jordan Davis, Geoffrey Gatza, Millie Niss, Eliza McGrand, Mikhail Epstein, and innumerable fleeting ‘others’ . . .”) To keep the dull purveyors of any detached and suppliant method (as opposed to “mess and message”—or “mess and measure”) at bay, one wields to excess their own canny accoutrements. Weschler quotes Stephen Greenblatt—out of Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (1991)—calling wonder “the central figure in the initial European response to the New World”:
Nil admirari, the ancient maxim taught. But, in the presence of the New World, the classical model of mature, balanced detachment seemed at once inappropriate and impossible.
Nil admirari. To be excited by nothing whatsoever. Equanimity’s drab sinecure. It is the current moment’s “maxim taught” too. We hie to no marvel, no prodigy, no portent or divinatory bent. Perhaps it is that subvertiginous (why not?) capacity to dazzle and provoke a wonderment of doubt that makes Johnson’s Question Mark shimmer so. As shimmer it doth.