Friday, February 22, 2013

Notebook (George Bowering, Charles Olson, &c.)

George Bowering, c. 1970
(Photograph by Sheldon Grimson)

Gritty snow flailing down, liable, they say, to “turn” to rain. Reading in lurches, writing some God-awful truck (“There’s a kind of automatism / That relegates casuistry to a side- / Pocket, dumps the eight ball in / With no posturing, no gait of / The soldat making a method of / The body’s own taut hindrance, its / Poise. You’re barely a speck now, / Moving across the plain with no / Visible evidence pertaining to the engine / Of your going. Like a lunatic / Marinating a jawbone in a soup, / Like a semi-detached rearview mirror, / Like a stiff pollen-made honey / Gucking up the cake batter, like / A pertinacity of finches thieving sun- / Flower seeds . . .”) A little pocket of things slung loose, as is my late wont, of the harness of thinking . . .

Out of chief contrarian George Bowering’s Words, Words, Words: Essays and Memoirs (New Star, 2012), the wily onslaught of a piece called “On First Opening Nichol’s Chaucer”:
      Canterbury Tales, it’s a long poem that incorporates—that’s a good word, with the gross corp, the body in it, the fart wheel, the big peckers and pants full of shit or a lusty woman with a gap between her front teeth, the church on one horse, the bawd on another—and I remember that Anselm Hollo in 1966, a year before bp started on his lifetime’s epic, wrote naughty words in the gleaming pigeon poop on a bridge in Hyde Park, poetry gone contrary on the whited sepulchre.
      So also does Charles Olson’s own pilgrimage, celebrating or detailing a Massachusetts fishing town older than USAmerican history—lately filled with Italians instead of Adamses—make the most recent great Amerk poem, out of the narrative of a giant smoking man’s breath, necessarily oppositional, a form of love that “is form, and cannot be without / important substance,” one substance being the “gurry of it” that the speaker, so we have been taught to call him, is covered with, so that this big human mammal boasts the holes in his clothes, “my fly / gaping, me out / at the elbows”—the funniest misdirection in midcentury poetry, but is it really misdirecting? Someone he purports to be quoting says that in the face of sweetness a poet should
and go
thus going “contrary.”

Olson, out of “The Songs of Maximus”:
Song 1

                colored pictures
of all things to eat: dirty
                    And words, words, words
all over everything
                                        No eyes or ears left
to do their own doings (all

invaded, appropriated, outraged, all senses

including the mind, that worker on what is
                                                                                    And that other sense
made to give even the most wretched, or any of us, wretched,
that consolation (greased
even the street-cars


Song 2

              And I am asked—ask myself (I, too, covered
with the gurry of it) where
shall we go from here, what can we do
when even the public conveyances
            how can we go anywhere,
even cross-town
                                  how get out of anywhere (the bodies
all buried
in shallow graves?
And (out of Song 3):
              “In the midst of plenty, walk
                as close to
                          In the face of sweetness,
                            In the time of goodness,
                go side, go
                smashing, beat them, go as
                (as near as you can


                In the land of plenty, have
                nothing to do with it
                                                          take the way of
                the lowest,
                your legs, go
                contrary, go


Out of “Poetry Summer,” Bowering’s diary notes made during the period of Olson’s teaching (“Big man reaching down to shake my hand. Impossible to register . . .”) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1963:
Monday, August 5, 1963, 3:53 p.m.
      Today for the first time I went to Olson’s seminar, and I got one specific (and there seems to be a dearth of them). The reason he goes to the root of a word becomes clear when you know that root is not a historical (fake) thing from which the word evolved; but rather the ROOT that is still there, feeding the branches we eat. That is, in 2100 AD we speak the same organic language(s) we spoke in 2100 BC, and there is no reason to fix that false historical date on it . . .

Out of Clark Coolidge’s “Notes Taken in Classes Conducted by Charles Olson at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, August 1963” (Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, No. 4 / 1975):
[August 12, 1963]

“no need to go to school anymore
          the literacy lies in Indo-European language”
                                                                              2100 B.C.
                                            that has come down to us recently
                                                                opened up
                                                      thru Hesiod (Greek)
                                                              & Homer

see 85th Canto
      “Ez hit it there
            best thrust”
      “a conception applied to a poem
                              a mantra”
      “85th strings itself in a planar vertical”
        experiential (of ideogram)

“what is called ‘The Wisdom of The East’ is just something
      which was in the Indo-European 2100 B.C. language
                                                                      to begin with”
“we’re not interested any longer in what a poem is
                                              but what it can do!”

      mouth is organ of creation (heart & tongue)
      language is heritage & invention of man
                                                        (not science)
                        “before 2100 B.C. you were not allowed
                                      to speak, if the word sounds
                                      were not used in sacred sense

                        tongue (word sound) first found in Pleistocene
                                    (Whalen’s sense of “Interglacial Age”?)

                “tongue has been attacked & driven out—the mutes
                                                                                                are now
                        (SCIENCE = SILENCE)                             upon the earth”
“write the words you know”
                                                    “there’s a moment when you feel
                                                            oh man, I did
                                                                            get hold
                                                                            of a word”

Peter Auxier: “language is something you have to get into
                            rather than something that’s in you, to be got out”

                “self expression is not enough”

David Tudor—“greatest living pianist”
                Tudor told O: “just read the words

        “take the meanest little possibility
                                                                rather than
                                                                      the grandest”

“don’t grab too quickly”

                “Duncan’s shaping the word with the hand—there is something
                                                                                                                in that”

“don’t say schizophrenia—but name it as this
                                                                                    & this
                                                                                          & this
                                                                                                & this
                                                                              like a continuous ribbon”

“get soused in language—strictly without any attitude from
                                                                    “no help at all”
      Duncan says: the language comes in & gets you

                  Olson: “you’ll never hear me use the word ‘magic’

The apt Poundian brief, one of the “functions” of criticism limned in “Date Line”:
      Theoretically it tries to forerun composition, to serve as gun-sight, though there is, I believe, no recorded instance of the foresight having EVER been of the slightest use save to actual composers. I mean the man who formulates any forward reach of co-ordinating principle is the man who produces the demonstration.
      The others who use the principle learn usually from the example, and in most cases merely dim and dilute it.
      I think it will usually be found that the work outruns the formulated or at any rate the published equation, or at most they proceed as two feet of one biped . . .
The way it refutes its own formula, denying saying’s intent beyond the unprompted occasion of its saying.