Scrubbed-down skies and cold, what slid in behind yesterday’s rain. Stuck, walking the dog, with Wallace Stevens’s line “the pleasures of merely circulating”—“that things go round and again go round / Has rather a classical sound.” And with the poignant way Denise Riley so pertinently (and casually) allows rock ’n’ roll detritus into a poem, material deposits of lyric vocables simply put down. The poem a lightning rod, grounding stray bits of lingo, the straggling common signifiers of one’s “era.” Thinking particularly of “Rayon”—out of Riley’s the Selected Poems (2000):
The day is nervous buff—the shakiness, is it inside the day or me?Riley’s note: “‘Rayon’ ends with the line sung by Neil Sedaka.” (For me, what wells up out of that final line of deadpan lyric-speak—half-scorn, half-glad—is the Rolling Stones, off some nameless bootleg . . .)
Perhaps the passions that we feel don’t quite belong to anyone
but hang outside us in the light like hoverflies, aping wasps and swiveling
and lashing up one storm of stripes. In tiny cones of air.
Yet you enact that feeling, as you usually bzzzzzzzzz get to do it, while I,
I do this. If it takes me all night and day. Oh Carol.
Louis Zukofsky, out of Bottom: On Shakespeare (1963), quoting James Russell Lowell out of a piece called “White’s Shakspeare” in the Atlantic Monthly in 1859:
‘So soon as a language has become literary . . . so far as poetry is concerned . . . (as in writing Latin verses) . . . a mind in itself essentially original becomes in the use of such a medium of utterance unconsciously reminiscential and reflective, lunar and not solar . . .And Zukofsky points to both William Carlos Williams’s “The Botticellian Trees” (“The alphabet of / the trees // is fading in the / song of the leaves”), the vigors of speech (“song”) being thwart and witness to the seeping-in of bookish inconsequentialities, Latinate sediments. Zukofsky’s argument (put succinctly here: “in Shakespeare, seeing is pleasure: for wisdom sees”) tends to make tongue secondary to eye, whose pleasure (Zukofsky quotes Aristotle out of Nicomachean Ethics: ‘For an activity is intensified by its proper pleasure, since each class of things is better judged of and brought to precision by those who engage in the activity with pleasure . . .’) and sight he determines to suffice. Zukofsky:
‘Shakespeare . . . found a language . . . not yet fetlocked by dictionary and grammar mongers, a versification . . . which had not yet exhausted all its modulations, nor been set in the stocks by critics who deal judgment on refractory feet that will dance to Orphean measures of which their judges are insensible . . . poetry had not been aliened . . . by the establishment of an Upper House of vocables . . . the living tongue resembled that tree which Father Huc saw in Tartary, whose leaves were languaged—and every hidden root of thought, every subtilest fibre of feeling, was mated by new shoots and leafage of expression . . .’
Free-born reason freed from Aristotelian demonstration shut its eyes on the Philosopher’s ‘sure’ sense of sight . . . and like the seventeenth century ode became increasingly tongue: grew men who are part poets by virtue of their ‘chop-logic’ . . .(Wordsworth, he of “the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure” is quoted in Zukofsky’s Bottom precisely once: “‘And often eyes’.”) Comparing Zukofsky’s Lowell excerpts with their originals,* one notes how much of Lowell’s essentially Wordsworthian emphasis—lamenting any “gap between the speech of books and that of life”—is stripped out. Here, Zukofsky’s famous integral “Lower limit speech / Upper limit music” is substituted by the Zukofskyan proportion “love is to reason as the eyes are to the mind”—a formula that leaves the tongue lolling, wordless. Zukofsky senses the inertia of the proportion (“logic always asserts identity or says something like the theological carol: ‘One is one and all alone.’ To avoid circuity is to say instead: No tongue! all eyes! be silent. But no artist in words dares act the six words of this command, unless he desires not to exist.”) Quoting Prospero in The Tempest. So: “things go round and again go round . . .” Oh Carol.