Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Max Jacob / William Carlos Williams

Max Jacob, 1876–1944
(Photograph by Carl Van Vechten)

Spurious sense of repose occasioned by incipient departure. Points east, domani. So I go into a reverie of negligence and lassitude, making a tiny extraneous world without recourse to “the world.” Or I read of Juan Gris working in the studio at 13, rue Ravignan, circa 1907. He is straightfacedly telling Max Jacob, “I only stroke dogs with my left hand so that if I am bitten I shall still have my right hand to paint with.” Jacob is muttering to himself, composing some jocular precipitous ode to the surround, the way the ungainly wooden houses adhering badly to the hill of Montmartre make one ponder what’s ineffable, or what’s not:
La Rue Ravignan

      « On ne se baigne pas deux fois dans le même fleuve », disait le philosophe Héraclite. Pourtant, ce sont toujours les mêmes qui remontent! Aux mêmes heures, ils passent gais ou tristes. Vous tous, passants de la rue Ravignan, je vous ai donné les noms des défunts de l´Histoire! Voici Agamemnon! voici madame Hanska! Ulysse est un laitier! Patrocle est au bas de la rue qu’un Pharaon est près de moi. Castor et Pollux sont les dames du cinquième. Mais toi, vieux chiffonnier, toi, qui, au féerique matin, viens enlever les débris encore vivants quand j’éteins ma bonne grosse lampe, toi que je ne connais pas, mystérieux et pauvre chiffonnier, toi, chiffonnier, je t’ai nommé d’un nom célèbre et noble, je t’ai nommé Dostoïewsky.
Out of Le Cornet à dés (1917). In John Ashbery’s rendering:
The Rue Ravignan

“One does not bathe twice in the same stream,” said the philosopher Heraclitus. Yet it is always the same ones who mount the street! Always at the same time of day they pass by, happy or sad. All of you, passers-by of the Rue Ravignan, I have named you after the illustrious dead. There is Agamemnon! There is Madame Hanska! Ulysses is a milkman! When Patroclus appears at the end of the street a Pharaoh is beside me! Castor and Pollux are the ladies of the fifth floor. But thou, old ragpicker, who come in the enchanted morning to take away the still living rubbish as I am putting out my good big lamp, thou whom I know not, mysterious and impoverished ragpicker, I have given thee a celebrated and noble name, I have named thee Dostoievsky.
Jacob, out of L’Art poétique (1922): « La poésie moderne saute toutes les explications. » (Literally: “Modern poetry leaps over all explanations.”) A welcome defiance. And, out of the “Préface de 1916” in Le Cornet à dés: « Le poeme est un objet construit et non la devanture d’un bijoutier. . . . Une œuvre d’art vaut par elle-même et non par les confrontations qu’on en peut faire avec la réalité. » (In Zack Rogow’s translation, out of the Michael Brownstein-edited The Dice Cup: Selected Prose Poems: “The poem is a constructed object and not a jewelry store window. . . . An art work has value in itself and not because it can be used for confrontations with reality.”) Tout simplement: a work of art exists in its own right and not in relation to reality.

Recalling, again, Williams. Here out of the “Prologue” to Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920):
      XIII. No. 3. A poet witnessing the chicory flower and realizing its virtues of form and color so constructs his praise of it as to borrow no particle from right or left. He gives his poem over to the flower and its plant themselves that they may benefit by those cooling winds of the imagination which thus returned upon them will refresh them at their task of saving the world. But what does it mean, remarked his friends?
“Borrow no particle right or left.” Back in a week or so.