Wednesday, April 30, 2008




Asterisk of the sun-
Struck aerial pageantry, a
Single stationary helicopter dropping
A ladder descend’d by

A man in black
Tights with a knife.
Now he hangs like
A pupa, mouth clamp’d

To blade, turning lazily
Through a series of
Tiny manœuvres that diminish
Slowly and incompletely, a

Lack of finish being
One of the standard
Chores of art’s moment,
Prelude to a carnival

Of late succumbing humbuggery,
The way a fly
Inject’d with the paralytic
‘Spit’ of a minor

Arachnid contorts for all
It’s worth, seeking to
Attract a second dose,
Implacable revision, and gloss.

Cacaphonous bahs all around. It’s a lovely pure cold day, hoar-grimed and desultory, and I am with Emerson: “What a blessed world of snivelling nobodies we live in! There is no benefit like a war or a plague. The poor-smell has overpowered the rose & the aromatic fern. Oil of vitriol must be applied.” I, who’d like to stride out through the high pressure bulge in the hills and woods where the maples got they pale green catkins adangle, nothing to think about beyond thinking itself, that sliding unfixity (Emerson: “Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day.”) Something other, outside the lax sour regions of the quotidian with its slogs and clogs. It isn’t boredom, it is ras le bolism, a species of terminal grinching fed-uppery with no particular target beyond the fripperies of the human race.

Robert Hooke’s Ant, or Pismire, c. 1665

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dos Passos Notes, &c.

Near Vero Beach


Uncanny the way
The way is
Cadged by whatever

Trot (a text)
Or horse (riderless)
Marks it out

(Befouls its precincts)
With snort or
Verbiage (or dung),

Whatever raw bundle
Cacophonous is made,
Bereft of prior

Arrangement. So one
Parcels out or
Divvies up a

Squander lot of
Sequences, adjudging each
With tongue sparring

With teeth, ravelling
Sound portend’d syllables
Out of plash

Ratios, sough’d hinge-
Workings, fits of
Sibilants. Noise itself

Gearing down any
Too impalpable ratiocinatory
Rev, batting away

The barrel of
The gun-shy
Reach of concomitant

Significance in order
To adopt fracas
And brouhaha, moves

Echoing and associational
In which the
Free sounding of

Each is condition
For the free
Sounding of all.

Finish’d reading Dos Passos’s 1919 and moved into The Big Money. Just to nail it down, a couple of planks pull’d off the ramshackle shed of the thing. My squib earlier about the biographical sketches mention’d Paul Bunyan. Turns out Dos Passos is using the legendary lumberjack (a wholesome pancake-eating lug) to point at a wholly different logger, one Wesley Everest, a man near-completely bury’d by history. Ex-WWI soldier, “crack shot,” and member of the Industrial Workers of the World, Everest got lynch’d in Centralia, Washington, by members of the American Legion after shooting in self-defense when the Legionnaires (lackeys of the lumber kings) attack’d the I.W.W. Union Hall. Dos Passos pulls no punches. A deft swatch of statistical brunt and catalogue juxtaposed to define the terms of the struggle:
      (Since the days of the homesteaders the western promoters and the politicians and lobbyists in Washington had been busy with the rainy giant forests of the Pacific slope with the result that:

      ten monopoly groups aggregating only one thousand eight hundred and two holders, monopolized one thousand two hundred and eight billion, eight hundred million,
[1,208, 800,000,000]
      square feet of standing timber, . . . enough standing timber . . . to yield the planks necessary [over and above the manufacturing wastage] to make a floating bridge more than two feet thick and more than five miles wide from New York to Liverpool;—

      wood for scaffolding , wood for jerrybuilding residential suburbs, billboards, wood for shacks and ships and shantytowns, pulp for tabloids, yellow journals, editorial pages, advertizing copy, mailorder catalogues, filingcards, army paperwork, handbills, flimsy.)
Against that is put a political Paul Bunyan who’s not a cartoon:
. . . the I.W.W. put the idea of industrial democracy in Paul Bunyan’s head; wobbly organizers said the forests ought to belong to the whole people, said Paul Bunyan ought to be paid in real money instead of in company scrip, ought to have a decent place to dry his clothes, wet from the sweat of a day’s work in zero weather and snow, an eight hour day, clean bunkhouses, wholesome grub; when Paul Bunyan came back from making Europe safe for the democracy of the Big Four, he joined the lumberjack’s local to help make the Pacific slope safe for the workingstiffs. The wobblies were reds. . . .
      The timber owners, the sawmill and shinglekings were patriots; they’d won the war (in the course of which the price of lumber had gone up from $16 a thousand feet to $116; there are even cases where the government paid as high as $1200 a thousand for spruce); they set out to clean the reds out of the logging camps . . .
The bloody details belong not to Paul Bunyan, but the man Wesley Everest, and are nearly unendurable:
They took him off in a limousine to the Chehalis River bridge. As Wesley Everest lay stunned in the bottom of the car a Centralia business man cut his penis and testicles off with a razor. Wesley Everest gave a great scream of pain. Somebody has remembered that after a while he whispered, “For God’s sake, men, shoot me . . . don’t let me suffer like this.” Then they hanged him from the bridge in the glare of the headlights.

      The coroner at his inquest thought it was a great joke.
      He reported that Wesley Everest had broken out of jail and run to the Chehalis River bridge and tied a rope around his neck and jumped off, finding the rope too short he’d climbed back and fastened on a longer one, had jumped off again, broke his neck and shot himself full of holes.

John Dos Passos, 1896-1970

Wesley Everest, 1890-1919

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dos Passos Notes, &c.

City Flowers


Another notch along the trail to summer’s here and here
I am still stuffing piles of leaves off the monstrous oak into tall bags to put
Out by the curb. Kerb is the British spelling, just as they talk of turf where we’d
Use lawn. Kerb recalls kern, a lovely word
Referring to any part of a letter that projects out beyond the block of type itself, the way
The tail of a capital Q does in some fonts, occasionally reaching out to fit
Under the u that generally accompanies it. Except in Qatar.
That’s a conversational duffer, who knows anything about Qatar? I recall
Out of my skinniest-ape days of middling philately—isn’t collecting tantamount to a failure
Of use?—that Qatar issued an inordinate number of stamps, triangular, emboss’d, shiny.
And some years back I inhabit’d a house with a number of other “young people,”
One of whom, a standoffish woman who seem’d to eat nothing except radishes, had a boyfriend
Working in Qatar. After she depart’d to join him, a Qatar blue aerogramme letter arrived address’d
To her. Out of malice no doubt for the way she’d refused to participate in the house’s
Recklessnesses, somebody steam’d it open: it contain’d a long testimony to the man in Qatar’s
Sexual insufficiency and made its readers bray (outwardly) whilst the needles of the individual
Conscience-galvanometers flick’d all the way into the red region
Mark’d shitty. Though nobody would’ve put it exactly so.
If morning comes around with its saucy airs a good thirty years later and one’s
Pickled by worries about car repair—isn’t that apt to derail whatever charge one seem’d
To be building? Out by the state college with its white trim and brick they’re tearing
Down the temporary grandstands, the boat-
Show of graduation day is done for another year, another bunch’s completed
Another of the tasks assign’d it, though who’s doing the assigning’s never said. I never
Want’d anything so stability-provoking as a career, and to the extent possible empty’d myself out
Of the ranks of those in pursuit of one, found my druthers in sideline mockery and catcalls,
Gadabout and gadfly to the earnest minions to the idea of success. Career out of
The French carrière meaning racecourse amongst other things, the way
Language chases its own tail, turning back to look itself up and see the thing that it is following
Is following it. That’d be one career, something publicly conspicuous, bouncing off the spry notion
Of advancement whilst remaining in a turning tangle of fur and fury, incisor and tail.
Everything comes to mean its opposite (careen, that species of dervish and instability,
Coming out of carena, an Italian word for keel, that evening
Stripe of a ship). The temple-sneerers enter the temple so long accustom’d
To sneering at the temple they continue to sneer within it, a mawkish sight (a mawk
Is a grub). Oh one goes along like a billowy white cloud, all puffery and adept, one little semi-
Circle of moisture-heavy air overlapping another the way the tumbler of bourbon used
To make intricate rings au zinc, the material the French used to surface bars with,
The “bastard” element according to Paracelsus, suspecting its impurity. I’d like
To find an etymological root merging purity and poverty, arguing for extraneity
And outness, or a bagged-up wealth of leaves and dirt.

Am I akimbo with that? I don’t know. I am in cahoots with the “idea” of it, though I suspect it must needs go along up a longer hill. Long enough to diminish the effect of its particulars and makes its ongoingness the thing. Obviously Schuylerist in tendency. Schuyler renews me every spring.

Errand-city weekend interrupt’d by smatters of Dos Passos. It’s entirely likely that I am over-enthused by such romantic revolutionist’s sentiments as character Richard Ellsworth Savage’s, here:
      All the time he was packing his books and other junk in his dufflebag and carrying it on his back up the quais to the Gare d’Orleans, Swinburne’s Song in Time of Order kept going through his head:
While three men hold together
The kingdoms are less by three.
      By gum, he must write some verse: hat people needed was stirring poems to nerve them for revolt against their cannibal governments. Sitting in the secondclass compartment he was so busy building a daydream of himself living in a sunscorched Spanish town, sending out flaming poems and manifestoes, calling young men to revolt against their butchers, poems that would be published by secret presses all over the world, that he hardly saw the suburbs of Paris or the bluegreen summer farmlands sliding by.
Let our flag run out straight in the wind
    The old red shall be floated again
When the ranks that are thin shall be thinned
    When the names that were twenty are ten
(The Gare d’Orleans becomes the Gare d’Austerlitz—state naming’s constant sop to imperialism—and Savage becomes one of the hangers-on around Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.) Is Thomas Pynchon one of the few inheritors of Dos Passos’s ambition? Character put second to historical scale, one’s ideological alliances up front.

Fairfield Porter, “Iced Coffee,” 1966

Friday, April 25, 2008

Shapes in the Dirt

Two Trees

What’s Ben Jonson going off about here where he says (in “A Fragment of Petronius Arbiter”—a name I rather like, rather like Son House’s John the Revelator, though I see some arbiter of things Petronius-esque notes that said Jonson’d fragment is “Not in fact by Petronius,” sort of like my inchoate piece titled “Poem Beginning with a Line by John Latta” that begins “The academy of the future is opening its doors,” the kind of talk ’at’ll land a knuckle sandwich smack in the kisser where I do my daily post-travail dipso-fret)—where, that is, he says: “Doing a filthy pleasure is, and short”? Is “filthy” a noun? Doing a filthy is pleasurable, “and short”? Or is “doing” one “member” of the tautology, “pleasure” the other? “Doing is a filthy pleasure” (as in “I did your mother.”) “And short.” Here’s the whole thing:
Doing a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport;
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and the heat decay.
But thus, thus, keeping endless holiday,
Let us together closely lie, and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
The hath pleased, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.
One’d make pleasant unrepent’d sport out of making proof that what’s here is an early argument for the lolling processual mode, writing as a species of continual foreplay. That is, if one weren’t so wholly distract’d by the way Frank O’Hara’s “Song (Is it dirty)” so wholly partakes of the Jonson to reiterate the omni-chronological (“hath,” “doth,” “long will”) shifter’s “stance” (more dance than stance) of “beginning ever.” Here’s the O’Hara:
Is it dirty
does it look dirty
that’s what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty
that’s what you think of in the city
you don’t refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character
he seems attractive. is he really. yes. very
he’s attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes

that’s what you think of in the city
run your finger along your no-moss mind
that’s not a thought that’s soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don’t refuse to breathe do you
Of course, one’d avoid the error-prone infidelity of thinking O’Hara “short,” or “done,” too, simply by cataloging the ongoing “events” of “breathing” in the poems (“all thoughts disappear in a strange quiet excitement / I am sure of nothing but this, intensified by breathing”). Where Jonson puts the heavenly processual scripture down to a constant dalliance, O’Hara (“Love is not gentle, / like the dust of a room; / love is a thing that happens / in a room, and becomes dust. / I breathe it in. Is that poetry?”) greatly simplifies the matter—for the vale of love-making, he substitutes the “dirty” respiratory pump itself. (It may be the two “vehicles” are indistinguishable: see “Poem (Tempestuous breaths! we watch a girl)” with its “One breath, / heavier than the rest, is penetrating / the folds where her cool limbs join each other”), though, considering the “That’s / not like Frank!” nature of the lines—“cool limbs join”?—I suspect the piece is just another late intercollocation to the Collected by the dapper and dement’d Kenneth Koch.) (Corollary note to breathing = process, and obvious as a hot air balloon tied off and loft’d, um, “aloft”: closure = death, “The Day Lady Died,” “everyone and I stopped breathing”). As I look this over, it seems quite a batty way to give information about the poem . . .


That magnolia hymns its ‘gawdyes’
So whitely, its slender tapers
Incandescing against night’s black
Backdrop, some splaying out with
Little slovenly reaches of fealty
To its own waxy light,
Or getting scrunts and scruples
Of rust in creases where
Its petals flop ungainly—tonal-
Loss an uncladding, the ground
About cover’d with mealy de-
Nudings—did a celestial flap
Open to deposit such a
Lewd and impudent thing here?
Publius Terentius, that’s stupid stuff,
The shapeliness of a tree
Is no Geschichte-monstrance to
Use to prod forth unintelligibles
About the via negativa or
Its feeder roads, that capillary
System that pulls ideas out
Of any execrable line-up
Of semi-porous words roster’d!
Up in Prout’s Neck, Maine
Winslow Homer is sandpapering off
A little of the pale
Gray wash he’d cover’d one-
Half of a sheet of
Arches with, a way of
Making light itself obtrude out
Of the fogbank, jarringly enough
A gallery-goer a century
Or so later’ll catch himself
Mid-gasp at the lascive
Plash of it, and troubled
By seeing, go plodding the
Hop-yards for a beer.

Uh, the kind of thing that emerges if one murderously squelches the noises coming through, trying to put the words into storage for the nonce, &c. A thicket, a jumble, a mad scrabble to out. I keep looking at magnolia trees largely because Christopher Brayshaw keeps making photographs of magnolia trees. I like Brayshaw’s photographs. I try to make a photograph of a magnolia tree and see the clutter and baggage of the ordinary surround: everything except the tree. And I think, what I see (selecting) is a tree’s shapeliness, that’s what I look to grab. What I ought to be looking for is the shapeliness of the photograph, the concise (or vagrant) collisions and overlaps of color and shape. Familiarity itself outstrips that seeing, precludes it. I’d rather pull the magnolia whole out of its nexus. So: the cropped, the backdrop’d. Voilà: mon explication de texte. Tree veil’d by the profuse verbiage of its “setting” (jeweler’s lingo). What obtrudes (what must obtrude) is language, that sexy thing. “All art is about seeing.” Winslow Homer’s light. On commence à baver . . .

Frank O’Hara, “Having a Coke with You”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Chord (With Notes)

Leaves (With Clouds)


Counterpoint, put up against
The supererogatory chordal bleat
Of the continuum: that’s
How the pale yellow
Greens of the first
Notes of the maples
Look, budding out of
A crisscross’d depository of
Grays, hill’d. Shill music,
Like how the shabby
And nondescript titmouse with
Its tuft point’d up
To heaven’s monotonous acres
Drills the available air
With sound the color
Of a sun-shaft
Piercing a radical dank.
Or a “peep-cranny”
(Coleridge) into “the merest
Contingencies in the plastic
Mind of the universe—
The Itch animalcule . . . Flies
That lay eggs uniformly
On the extruded anus
Of Horses, and become
Worms in the Horse’s
Intestines.” In the moot
Smear of being, with
All that is abrupt,
Or counter, or original
Or implacable trammel’d, or
Staved off, or smooth’d
Out, any specimen that
Impedes, or puts out
A commensurate foot (or
A big ass) harries
The unruly horse of
Seeing into a fly
Dependency, a dexterous bit,
A cutter, a brace.

A disappointment to find Walt Whitman, in Specimen Days, reiterating that thing A. R. Ammons liked to drawl out (with the kind of exaggeratedly emphatic indolence some Southerners long hawl’d north like to affect) about how a writer ought to keep himself “a little bit stupid”:
You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness—perhaps ignorance, credulity—helps your enjoyment of these things, and of the sentiment of feather’d, wooded, river or marine Nature generally. I repeat it—don’t want to know too exactly, or the reasons why. My own notes have been written off-hand in the latitude of middle New Jersey. Though they describe what I saw—what appear’d to me—I dare say the expert ornithologist, botanist, or entomologist will detect more than one slip in them.
I do recall an argument with G. who maintain’d one ruin’d the whole smear of things by naming. We stood in blackest night near a pond of spring peepers and my insistent nomenclature-mongering put the kibosh on any purest merger the landscape itself ’d intend’d—no sopping up possible. I found the Whitman in Campbell McGrath’s Seven Notebooks, a thing I keep bothering with out of my continuing search for formal means of making “a bag into which anything . . . dumped . . . ends up belonging.” McGrath says “I know the commonplace but hot the exotics” and, in prose descriptings suffers a kind of overkill of something like “precision without names.” So, of a sun coming up to color the eastern sky, he writes of “a low horizon of volcanic red shading to rose then a pencil mustache of backlit clouds, bark gray, then peach-flesh whitening through lemon candy to the now blue dome—barest, night-heaviest blue, weighty and necessary, like a cardiac surgeon donning a robe as she enters the operating theater” and the only seeable thing is that celestial quack, all the color-coordinating’s complete mud. I do note that McGrath scribbles into the Notebooks a supply of hokku. Here’s one, call’d “Dawn”:
5 a.m.: the frogs
ask what is it, what is it?
It is what it is.
Apt in its lack of specificity. What I find so—what? discouraging? unpropitious?—about hokku is the overwhelming earnestness that adheres there, a preciosity of earnestness. How refreshing to find (rarely) something like Bashō’s
How pleasant—
just once not to see
Fuji through mist.
That elbow-nudges the whole history of the form. Makes Bashō into a kind of puckish John Cage (recalling the story out of A Year from Monday that goes: “When I got the letter from Jack Arends / asking me to lecture at the Teachers / College, I wrote back and said I’d / be glad to, / that all he had to / do was let me know the date. / He did. / I then said to David Tudor, / ‘The lecture is so soon that I / don’t think I’ll be able to get all / ninety stories written, / in which case / now and then, / I’ll just keep my / trap shut.’ / He said, / ‘That’ll be a relief.’”)

Matsuo Bashō, 1644-1694

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Twa Trauriges Hurries

Target and Ramp


Coleridge’s “ague fit of Love”’s
A kind of carnal palsy,
The body’s meat unstringing itself
With a high desperado whine
Chronicled nowhere, unordain’d by measure.
The Child Ballad line “In
Argument I chanced to hear
A Carnal and a Crane”
Is put into the brain’s
Rack and its joints slowly
Ratchet’d into dislocation: that’s a
Different carnal, a folk bastard
Meaning crow. See corneille, French
For crow. See, too, corbeau
For the bigger and gruffer
Raven, “an Unkindness of Ravens.”
The Twa Corbies is another
(Scottish) variant of a Child
Ballad, with the refrain “Where
Sall we gang and dine
To-day,” precisely what the body’s
Meat wants, done with shuddering.

Sign of what the tired body in its o’erreaching dawn-sport, um, reaches. (“Falstaff: Have I laid my brain in the sun and dried it, that it wants matter to prevent so gross o’erreaching as this? Am I ridden with a Welsh goat too? shall I have a coxcomb of frieze? ’Tis time I were choked with a piece of toasted cheese.”) Yesterday, sitting in the sun, bench’d, read another hundred or so pages of 1919. It gallops. Two killdeer flying aimlessly and shrieking in the setting sun, Dopplering one another. Dos Passos’s word traurig. (Sie hat ein trauriges Gesicht.) Thinking how I didn’t know precisely what “freesia” is, or looks like. Choked with a piece of toast’d freesia, ’tis time, HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.

Arthur Rackham, “The Twa Corbies,” c. 1919

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Culling Losses

A Red Cap


That moon’s just a smudge-
Pot in its lower wane-
Regions, all porcine bloat unmarred
Up top. I think it
Looks like Truman Capote, just
To toss out a fat
Monicker, an irredeemable social utterance
That goes wholly against my
Begrudging solitary “nature.” A soupçon
Of yellow tints that moon,
A urine-stain pouring down
To wash the world, rinsing
The wild forsythia shoots, speckling
The helmet of the white-
Throat’d sparrow that is irritably
Ransacking the oak leaf litter
With both feet, looking for
Insects. Is my wont to
Swerve unendingly through the ruck
Of combustibles erring? That is,
To see a fiery crow
Turning to cinder sailing down
Out of the sky, flames
Skirling out behind it like
The flourish of a paraph
Append’d to a signature against
Its inevitable counterfeiting, or forgery?
To ache after the real
And ignore the feral contorts
Of the calling—that is
Discordancy of form, a hampering,
And a douse. That moon’s
Snout noses into the garbage
Of the horizon’s edge where
Houses and trees lack any
Backing of earth and its
Inebriates, a furlong away, a
Walk down a wobbly furrow
The length of the commons.

A doubtful thing. Is every poem “about” its own waywardness, its own caustic lye-in-the-face careening? Or is it a measure of the distractions withstood, the way it wobbles here and there, and not a “function” of its own “desire” at all? “I” “don’t” “really” “know.”

Dos Passos in the biographical sketch of John Reed (Ten Days That Shook the World) puts down a rhythm against which the “factoids” of Reed’s trajectory (made heroic-lyrical) get play’d: “Reed was a westerner and words meant what they said.” Calling up Ed Dorn, amongst others. The heroic-lyrical:
      The Metropolitan Magazine sent him to Mexico to write up Pancho Villa.
      Pancho Villa taught him to write and the skeleton mountains and the tall organ cactus and the armored trains and the bands playing in little plazas full of dark girls in blue scarfs
      and the bloody dust and the ping of rifleshots
      in the enormous night of the desert, and the brown quietvoiced peons dying starving killing for liberty
      for land for water for schools.
      Mexico taught him to write.
Against which, out of the recesses (call them “holes”) in my brainbox, I cull a remark report’d somewhere of Marjorie Perloff saying “I like to pick winners.” Which excresces an annoying amount of gall—at her own self-satisfy’d high self-regard as a canon-maker, among other things. Which seems wholly antithetical to a robust critical temper that aligns itself with the underdog, the outcast, the throwaway, positions “assumed” by the historical avant-garde. Sort of like saying “I am a Republican,” or “I root for the Yankees.” If the “new avant-garde” (or the post-perp, or howsoever one labels it) is busy preening itself amongst the “winners,” count me unabashedly out.

John Reed, 1887-1920

Monday, April 21, 2008

For the Journals

Palm and Wires



Candidly feculent
Hole abrupt dig watt
Razor mute fern.
Perp knack licorice knell
Taw ref rosin prep
Cull’d serf gin did.


Glancingly if fluvial cup protuberous conic plat
Oceanic rev puckish tab nag butter uvular nick
Constant brow salve paler wan tub against verst.



The gangly Ape—conspicuous
So wrenchingly attuned—
Unvex’d by myriad Attempts
To gussy up its run—

Is devious in Congruity—
Shines back—a feral Gaze
To poke one’s Plexus—soulfully—
And back out of the Maze.


A Mannerist in tendency—
Ironist by Degrees—
I keep mes Faiblesses gaud’d up—
Impenetrably free.

My Weakness is my Fealty—
Armor’d with Iron duds—
Amours I cancel willingly
To random with the Rudes.


The Rumble in my Brainbox—is
Ordnance well forgot—
Ammo for a Gaillard’s Air
When Musick’s gone to pot.

I keep a Biretta handy—
A Derringer or two—
To plug a Hole—unhasp a lid—
Sheer Noisiness unloose.



The impertinent constabulary. Sores on the tongue.
A phoneme is a rock. The gull cuts the air
Of the wharf, mis-
By human vocabulary. You bastard gull.
A phoneme is a rock thrown at the ocean and is
Swallowed up. Oceanic is the heart’s surge. It is
As scarring as syntax. A scorned impertinence,
And syntax. Of.
Long grasses in the canyon, long grasses
Against the sheer rock of the canyon.
Sheer, un-


Stingy singing, mother-
Fucker. A string up into the air that hangs there.
One string for Orpheus the
Mover, lover.
Three in a measurable zone of concomitants.
Red Rover, Red Rover, send
Marcel Duchamp right over.
A string is a natural and covers
Any curve.
Coloratura break-

Doinking around all weekend, with only little red worms left in the bait tin, no lunkers land’d, none hook’d. So, Mr. Vonnegut used to say, it goes. Snatch’d off a few lines, minor conjuncts, imitants. Who’d I write to lately, noting how I’d now entirely stopped (apparemmant) all the glee and grue trappings of the literary life, the sending pieces “out,” that unstoppable round (musical) of submit and accept, re-submit the duds elsewhere, or can the duds, a lot of postal hubbub (what I liked most: getting back the self-address’d, stamp’d envelopes—I made a point of adhering the finer commemoratives to the corner, the dumping of said envelopes in a corrugated cardboard box a way of collecting, philately without the compleatist’s fuss, or book)? The prim goddess Electronica’s put a stop to all that (lovely) ritual, and the ease of the ways of the bonny natives here on Dumpster Island—they welcome my juiciest whims, well: why bother with the busy-work of all that? (The affable crank Bill Knott got there first, PDF’ing up an oeuvre monstreux, sundering ties with that fleet strong-arm maestro Nostalgia, bennie-stuff’d non-stop talker-upper of the book “trade.”) Isn’t, though, there still something insubstantial and niggling about a poem (say, note how coy that “say” is!) existing only as pixels configurable, even if at command ready, even if at command ready, that is, of the least viable Hoosier, or the most rapacious Connecticutter? Is it for that—nous sommes tous les Objectivists—that one still lifts plonk for a book? Something to hoist up against the blue vault to blot the sun, recumbent under the apple tree, a lacewing alighting in the russet sheen of one’s hair? Oh, maybe, though to rush into that, to make that an end in itself may be the very buckboard against which one finds oneself thrown, and stop’d, when one’s out for full-throttle inadmissibles aroaring out along the apple tree studded country roads, in the Bearcat, gin-flask in hand. William Carlos Williams: “I let the imagination have its own way to see if it could save itself” and “(If an error is noted here pay no attention to it.)”

Finish’d The 42nd Parallel, volume the first of U.S.A. and took out in a sweat after volume the twoth, 1919. Dos Passos in one of the parts call’d “The Camera Eye,” aboard the Espagne mid-WWI en route to Bordeaux—for a sense of the fierce and savagely point’d humor:
everybody was very brave except for Colonel and Mrs. Knowlton of the American Red Cross who had waterproof coldproof submarineproof suits like eskimosuits and they wore them and they sat up on deck with the suits all blown up and only their faces showing and there were firstaid kits in the pockets and in the belt there was a waterproof container with milkchocolate and crackers and maltedmilk tablets
      and in the morning you’d walk round the deck and there would be Mr. Knowlton blowing up Mrs. Knowlton
      or Mrs. Knowlton blowing up Mr. Knowlton
      the Roosevelt boys were very brave in stiff visored new American army caps and sharpshooter medals in the khaki whipcord and they talked all day about We must come in We must come in
      as if the war were a swimming pool . . .
And talking about Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, one of “the little group of willful men expressing no opinion but their own.”

William Carlos Williams, c. 1955

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dos Passos Notes

Lamp-post and Palm


The moment, pre-sun-
Up, when the under-
Belly of clouds is
Umber’d and the scurvy-
Color of the marsh
Reminds one of Mark
Catesby hoisting a flint-
Lock to bring down
A limpkin lifting smartly
Out of the saw-
Grass, hummock’d and sere.
An ought clumsy way
Of writing, one bulbous
With rain, or lop-
Sided like a crab
Reaching out with one
Big claw, the other
Vestigial, mock, exercising dumbly
In faultless air. A
Menu in a cafeteria
Lists John Marzetti, green
Beans, canned Bartlett pears
In syrup, and milk.
A poster for BAREFOOT
With burnt sienna hills
Pinned up against a
Citified domain of yellow,
The cardstock itself, making
Urban the norm against
Which the natural’s imposed.
And the moment’s fat
Coagulant pull busts up
Under its own glom
Kleptography, writing it down
To snatch it in,
Benignly thieving time’s constant
Off-loading, asks itself
Who’s John Marzetti? recalls
A viably nondescript casserole,
Pre-dominant in mid-
Western grade schools, named
For a janitor, named
For a moment sack’d.

Continuing curiosity about John Dos Passos, who sign’d letters “Jack,” who near Verdun in 1917, in a war he calls “utter damn nonsense,” writes in a diary about using a garden for a makeshift dugout against German shells:
It is just the sort of garden a pensive little French boy with large brown eyes & premature scepticisms should play in, a garden full of such plaisance with its white roses and its fat-juiced pears and its white blotches of phlox-flowers among evergreens that it makes one hate still more all the foolishnesses with which men try to disturb the rich ease of life—The soul of it is in the faint breath of box, musty with generations of tranquil closes, shutting out the turbid asininity of life about of us, or of death & dullness.
      Death, that should come tranquilly, like the dropping of an over ripe pear, brimming with sweetness, why should it come in the evil shriek of a shell? And what’s it for, what’s it for? Governments are only makeshifts—like patent toothpaste—less important perhaps—and who would die for toothpaste, or kill for it.
      The gas waves of stupidity!
The clumsy blurt and dash of it—that’s some of what keeps reminding me of William Carlos Williams. (See remarks on “style” in a 1918 letter to Rumsey Marvin, pure WCW: “About style—I think that reading people in order to get ‘style’ from them is rather soft-headed. Your style is like the color of your hair or the cut of your pants—half-accident, half act of God—to take thought to change or improve it results usually in rank affectation.” O’Hara’s blithe “common sense” of pants “tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you” is a step away from Dos Passos’s equally blithe—and funny—“half act of God.”)

Dos Passos, immediately following the ditty quoted, makes an odd complaint considering the bold romp of the farrago preceding—the longing to “write verses”: “I cant concentrate my mind enough on any one rhythm or mood—My ideas come in little hesitant showers, like flower petals when a wind blows after rain.” (Predicting exactly the farouche splash and change-up to come in U.S.A., most wildly “poetic” of novels, intersplicing newsreel headlines and semi-garbled (that is, in a helter-skelter present, unfilter’d by retrospect’s sort and meaning-assignment) historical narratives with biographical sketches (Eugene V. Debs, Randolph Bourne, “The House of Morgan,” Paul Bunyan) with individual character-trajectory (aimless, interwove, inconclusive as any life) with parts call’d “The Camera Eye” wherein Dos Passos deposits in Joycean running (smeary) ruminant patches all “the subjective” impulses, vaguely tracing and recording a life of pure sensation, all, according to Dos Passos, a planned means of keeping such a contaminant (the self) out of the remainder of the novel.

(Reading some early prose to comrades Dos Passos reports: “their sum of criticism was that things are too jerky, not elaborated enough and that too much is left unsaid, so that the unfortunate reader wallows desperately in a slough of constant misunderstandings. My retort was that happenings meant nothing in themselves, anyway—and that I tried to give that impression, by the recurrence of words & phrases etc—”) And everywhere the argument for the free life of the individual (“our natural American easygoingness”), the rejection of the instituted and organized (“Organization kills” and “The world as it is at present hardening into organization seems to be a worse place for humanity than it has almost ever been before”), coupled with a recognition and lament for the stupid inadequacy of such a stance, how it allows power (any power) its viciousness, it cudgel, offers itself as prey (“How damnable is the vast complacency of people about the world” and “I suppose one should do something conspicuous if possible—I hate conspicuousness—We have so much to do—it will take generations to leaven the great stupid mass of America . . .”)

Too, one finds in the young Dos Passos a kind of gusto and ferocity gone out the precincts of so much of the present’s fat conformity, the self-satisfy’d cultural consumers, phlegmy consumptives of the one keyboard stroke global zupping. To Rumsey Marvin (1918):
Like you I believe in frugal living, unwasteful—Like you I abhor the puppyish lying about of college life, the basking in the sun with a full belly. Life is too gorgeous to waste a second of it in drabness or open-mouthed stupidity. One must work and riot and throw oneself into the whirl. Boredom and denseness are the two unforgivable sins. We’ll have plenty of time to be bored when the little white worms crawl about our bones in the crescent putrifying earth. While we live we must make the torch burn ever brighter until it flares out in the socket. Let’s have no smelly smouldering.
O’Hara’s admonition and exhortation clatters forth in agreement: “Don’t be bored, don’t be lazy, don’t be trivial, and don’t be proud. The slightest loss of attention leads to death.”

John Dos Passos, “Still Life with Plants and Apples in a Basket,” c. 1964

John Dos Passos, 1896-1970

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Minimal (Compleat) Maximum

One Man Working

Watch’d with some prevaricant itchiness Ron Silliman’s self-orchestrated hoopla—here and here and here and apparently to be continued in a sort of Horatio Alger dime novel of poetic adversity’s makeover into opportunity—(compleat with self-justificatory nods to becloud the irony of ’s participating in one of “Official Verse Culture”’s own most cherish’d and empty annual ceremonies) in advance of the Poetry Society of America’s granting of the Silliman-select’d William Carlos Williams Award to Aram Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems (Ugly Duckling, 2007). And subsequently read with some astonishment the Silliman-script’d “citation” for the book with its fraught lineage constructs and misappropriations of history:
The world was not ready when William Carlos Williams first published Kora in Hell in 1920 and the complete version of Spring & All three years later. Those books had a profound impact on American writing, even though they languished out of print for decades until they were brought back by City Lights in 1957 and Frontier Press in 1970. Aram Saroyan’s minimal poems were even more of a scandal when they first appeared in the 1960s, foretelling not one, but several of the directions that American poetry would take in their wake . . .
A “scandal”? Aram Saroyan’s first book, titled Aram Saroyan, released by Random House, a major New York trade outfit, in 1968, a “scandal”? Maybe (to those canny responsibles) a novelty item—hardly a scandal. Follow’d immediately the next year (1969)—cashing in, milking whatever stir—though it’s hard to figure who exactly bought the thing—I recall reading it in its meagre entirety upstairs in the old Marshall’s bookstore in Ann Arbor, standing next to its rows of semi-lurid paperbacks (made lurid probably more by the rumor that the gray-paint’d brick building with its creaking wooden sag floors ’d housed a brothel in some bygone, presumably simpler, year)—by Saroyan’s Pages. The books just the sort of thing semi-“literary” high school kids of the “era”—potheads, smart, terminally bored, fetching about for anything with a whiff of nosethumbing the “establishment” to it—’d glom to. I recall how, in a Pioneer High literary magazine call’d Overtones, that year I print’d a piece that went something like:
A man stands
On his head.

Then he sits down.

All different.
That’s how I recall it. I did a little India ink sketch, man standing, man sitting, to accompany it. Submit’d, if I recall rightly, by Ken Burns’s older brother, the red-head. When we’d accept’d it, he’d ask’d that we print it under the name of Dharma Juhdi, or Dharma Jhudi. Too late I read the Saroyan version:
a man stands
on his
head one

then he
down all
We print’d another little story by Dharma Juhdi (or Dharma Jhudi) in the issue, something about a man trying to bury an elephant in the backyard. That one turn’d out to’ve migrated whole out of Richard Brautigan’s Revenge of the Lawn. The scandalous Mr. Brautigan.

What Silliman attempts to argue by making the re-publication of Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems akin to that of Williams’s Kora in Hell and Spring & All is that each of the works define a kind of “originary moment” (a funny thing for a partisan of the “social text” to admit), each, Silliman says, is “foretelling.” I’ve made the argument before—ironically, then, using Saroyan’s work—amongst others—to put the kibosh to Silliman’s overly extravagant claims for ’s pal Robert Grenier’s work (“great works that would eventually make up Sentences . . . one of the crowning achievements of 20th century poetry”). Opportune extravagances and exaggerations—or, as princely Steve Katz says (another 1968 book), “exagggerations”—or why do I suddenly recall Silliman’s self-mythologizing story of reading all of Ketjak in Hallidie Plaza in 1978? Because the “tint” of the current tale is similar—heroic (“I spend the next several weeks reading, reading, reading”), interminable (“I dragged another small bookcase down to my office and shelved the books from the other two stacks there (with the exception of those where I already owned copies, which I put instead into a separate pile from which I donate periodically to Kelly Writers House)”), full of nudge-provocations (“the Poetry Society of America has not lived up to the stewardship of this award”), marvelously full of the torchbearer’s high import, the apostle’s impartiality (“two or three of the books represented a kind of poetry that I’m not certain William Carlos Williams would have approved of, were he still alive”).


I went off
by myself and
so did she.


Cadged a
smoke off
a codger
run amok.


Odd do for a ralpher.


Implacable ticket scalper’s rad tech kit offer.


High William’s skivvies in the gaillardias.


Rent. Rent.


Senility’s lens unleash


Door bang-
ing in
wind, rude.

One Man Working
(Ron Silliman Reading “Ketjak,” Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, September 16, 1978)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chord to Plunge

Tree, Michigan


And so one long’d for
A tragedy-stain’d youth, smudge
Sullying its raw patina, the
Way a coronal splash of
Red wine, a greasy thumb-
Print, the billowing umber cloud
Of five centuries of insouciant
Handling, the cachet stamp of
Some cabinet de curiosités or
Ambrosia-odor’d biblioteca or cloister
Ripe with the sour renegade
Sweat of abstemious monks, or
The way dirt rubbed slowly
Into creases now uncreased marks
The sketchbook page detached by
The unscrupulous dealer in art’s
Ephemera and effluvia, sludge drawn
Down the unprovenanced river of Old
Masters, the drawings of three
Overlapping human parts, two muscular
Thighs, one hand cupping a
Poppy, wilt’d. That thigh, the
Pristine placard indicates, study for
That of the larger work
Depicting the minor goddess that
Comes next, the one with
The haywire mammaries uphanging, or
Cock’d sideways like curious birds,
Result more of the tradition
That allow’d only young men
To model than of any
Shallow or vacillant failure of
The august hand to see
Rightly what’s so palpably there.

Return’d up out of palm and balm (and lateral jut to New York for Anne Sophie Mutter at Carnegie Hall) with a slack sack (“nothing in the hopper”), and restless. Read Dos Passos in the various “terminals,” slung the camera around to point and bestill. “No nouns in nature.” Probably a little huff-puffery and gab-garrulity in the intervening, whilst my fingers flop about seeking a chord to plunge into.

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564)
Bust of a Woman, Head of an Old Man and Bust of a Child

Friday, April 11, 2008

Architect and Loop

Willow and Pond

Nothing in the hopper, “pretty vacant,” foul play suspect’d with my good intent. That kind of morning, and wet. Vague accetta uprisings in the brainstem region. (That’s Italian for hatchet, or for urp up. Some kind of unsettlement catapulting forth all kinds of untenables.) I read, I think, not four words last night, squib’d fewer.

John Dos Passos, in a fierce introductory brief for a 1932 Modern Library edition of Three Soldiers, after having pinch’d off the false buds of many a reason to write (“A novel is a commodity that fulfills a certain need; people need to buy daydreams like they need to buy icecream or aspirin or gin”), most succinctly with “Writing for money is as silly as writing for selfexpression”:
I think there is such a thing as straight writing. A cabinet maker enjoys cutting a dovetail because he’s a cabinet maker, every type of work has its own vigor inherent in it. The mind of a generation is its speech. A writer makes aspects of that speech enduring by putting them in print. He whittles at the words and phrases of today and makes of them forms to set the mind of tomorrow’s generation. That’s history. A writer who writes straight is the architect of history.
Considering, did William Carlos Williams read Dos Passos? (Another reason to read novelists: possibility that the vigorous beasts’d arrive at things in advance of some of us poor trepidatious and fey poet-types with our comminuted bits of high-preciosity?) Dos Passos continues:
What I’m trying to get out is the difference in kind between the work of James Joyce, say, and that of any current dispenser of daydreams. It’s not that Joyce produces for the highbrow and the other for the lowbrow trade, it’s that Joyce is working with speech straight and so dominating the machine of production, while the daydream artist is merely feeding the machine, like a girl in a sausage factory shoving hunks of meat into the hopper. Whoever can run the machine runs it for all of us. Working with speech straight is vigorous absorbing devastating hopeless work, work that no man need be ashamed of.
Which’s got all the “manly” trademarks of the era, and with trace of Marxist theory. Against accusations of Joyce’s tendency to draw “literary snobs,” and how the work’s “a luxury product like limited editions, without influence on the mass of ordinary newspaper readers,” Dos Passos says, “The power of writing is more likely to be exercised vertically through a century than horizontally over a year’s sales.” And, in a move that may predict the late swing to rabid conservatism of Dos Passos’s late (post U.S.A.) writing, he notes the twin racehorses, Current Chaos and Classic Verities and hints at that prime right-wing-trigger the fear of loss of control (“years of confusion, when everything has to be relabeled and catchwords lose their meaning from week to week”):
None of this would need saying if we didn’t happen to belong to a country and an epoch of peculiar confusion, when the average man’s susceptibility to print has been first enflamed by the misty sentimentality of school and college English teachers who substitute “good modern books” for the classics, and then atrophied by the bawling of publishers’ barkers over every new piece of rubbish dished up between boards. We write today for the first American generation not brought up on the Bible, and nothing as yet has taken its place as a literary discipline.
Insert to-be-assembled speculations and innuendoes (based on examinations of control needs as evidenced by public doings and statements) as to what writers of the current “crop” ’ll age badly à la Dos Passos, drifting ever right.

A line stumbled on in a Campbell McGrath poem about “tourists with digital camcorders / pre-editing their memories.” Choosing in advance what’ll be recall’d: why do I find that terribly spooky, viscerally so?


Je commençais d’écrire une Ode à la Police
et une Apothéose du couperet.
                          —Albert Camus, La Chute

The way the chopper descends
With initial hesitant vibratory rattle
Mimicks imperfectly the tousle of
Sand accelerating into a liquid
Stream out of its particulate
Solid insusceptibility and inertia to
Rush down through the narrows
Of the hourglass: that is one
Beauty of the blade hoist’d
Up high above the hole
Wherein one’s head is stuff’d
Brusquely as a cabbage, and
Kept still with a yoke,
Final burden, leaving one free
To listen for the rattle
And, inevitably, the rancid thump
(Moldy worm-infest’d wheel of
Cheese) of that head, hearing
Itself hit the basket provided.

Off into hinterlands south, east, a vagary big loop. Jusqu’à mercredi, mes potes.

Tina Modotti, “John Dos Passos,” 1926

“Dos Passos traveled to Mexico in late 1926 to research articles for the radical magazine,
New Masses, which espoused political and social views Modotti ardently shared. It was sometime during this visit that she took this snapshot, later identifying Dos Passos by name on the front of the photograph.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Duncan / Levertov Notes

A Wall (Helmet and Badge)


Je commençais d’écrire une Ode à la Police
et une Apothéose du couperet.
                          —Albert Camus, La Chute

Control presumes a list deviance
Off of makes one just
Liable to be declared clubbable
In a muddy fit of
Ligature gone to the dogs
That, train’d to attack by
Means of a fat quilt
Of raw material, a protective
Sleeve for the arm, launch
Fur and fury forth, all
Teeth, against whosoever dodges or
Dogs it, or declines with
Mock-amble smart-ass slouch
And smirk the bark’d hurry
Up, motherfucker
of the officer
Who’d like to nudge that
Rubber baton that fits a
Fist used to fitting, up
Straight into the prevaricator’s nuts,
Hard, exaltingly, like an ode.

Back into the Duncan / Levertov letters with intensity undiminish’d. Duncan proves often a canny, petulant character, impulsive, capable of a tantrum. Mid-letter insert: “[[At which point I became so frustrated with this new misbehaving Parker pen that I hitchhiked into San Francisco to have it adjusted. And am sitting here at the Parker office to give the new adjustment its test.]]” (He’s in idyllic-sounding Stinson Beach with Jess Collins, getting by with who knows what money—though there is ample talk between the writers regarding what magazines pay, what presses offer what royalties, and, later, Duncan seeming goes with “slimy Rosset” of Grove Press for The Opening of the Field (1960) at least partly for a higher percent therein.) (Is there something rather puritanical about Levertov’s and Duncan’s continual complaint and admonishment of the direction of Rosset’s Evergreen and Grove? How it is “definitely aimed, with pornography and sensationalism, at a special public, with the idea of making money”?) The story of the Parker: another technology (most of the letters of both Duncan and Levertov hand-scrawl’d, the typewriter kept for the copying of poems). Struck by the energy and commitment of the letters: in a word to Levertov who’s become angry at, suspicious of Creeley (“When one reads Creeley’s letter to all & sundry one feels they are like form letters”), Duncan suggests: “If you could write him about why you haven’t been writing, would that at least restore the communication? The only important thing for us is our correspondence—and that becomes empty if it [does] not carry disappointment, anger, outrage as well as our appointments and joy.”

Duncan’s percipient art criticism, a terrific exposition of how la mode (the mob) recuperates any striking “original impetus.” Here, about Clyfford Still:
He is personally hostile and paints against the history of painting (and more distressing, paints against previous beauties in the art). . . . As a man, Still seems to do everything to prevent one’s arriving at this state of rapt satisfaction—of being “charmed,” and . . . he would himself hate this state, this end as charm or composed contemplation. & wants his paintings to be acts in themselves.
Duncan’s reception (after first seeing Still’s paintings in 1950) seems a miniature version of a general reception of the new (in spite of its self-critical perception of that in the letter):
It was not to be until five years later that I ever saw a canvas of Still’s as an instance of the beautiful [and these in painting are rare enuf], but what was clear then was that this was authentic, a command within the spiritual history of art that involved more than painting—as uncharming, as hedious in strength as revolt is; it had or I gave it authority. Not to be like it, but to take my place in a world where such painting must be a definition of the real.
      Withal I no longer think of that iconoclastic expressionism as the crux of the matter these days. All we have left here are modish derivatives, and the betrayal of the original impetus is the more striking in that the direction had been angry and all but stultified in its opposition to mode. There might be an irony in the fact that striking against the Beautiful—an artist is in danger of securing the chic. Even where his art is beautiful, Still’s work is grandiose, megalomaniac: he is incapable of the intimate. And the force of his egotism makes it impossible for me to think of him as heroic. Heroism for me has something to do with the engagement with and for the Beautiful.
A complex and possibly somewhat contradictory “set.” (Considering the letter Duncan jamming.) Nowadays, of course, there is no “opposition to mode”; there is only the ubiquitous rabid mêlée aim’d precisely at “securing the chic.” Blame a general herd mentality, fault of increased “communication.” Blame an unwholesome lack of independence, integrity, the fie in defiance. Duncan notes (talking against “programmatic sensationalism”): “W.C.W. said ‘Nothing is beyond poetry’ but in the same note warns that: ‘every school which seeks to seclude itself and build up a glamour of scholarship or whatever it be, a mist, that is. . . .’”—and quits. I’d like to retrieve the remains of that sentence.

Tomorrow: “Apotheosis of the Blade”

Clyfford Still, “1947-J,” 1947

Clyfford Still, “1947-R-No. 1,” 1947

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Spleen and Idea

Arrangement with Straw

In an unending period of torn attention and shoddy goods slapped together out of perishables, a period of shot memory, the cake dunk’d in tepid coffee “with slightly sour cream” only to dissolve completely, any act of attending, the murtherous slow mechanical seeing of something bestuck in all its surround is consolatory, dunning the age itself, an ethos. The Cooper’s hawk kek-kek-ing in the oak canopy, hid. The dog’s uneasy 4:30 a.m. pawing, distant ten-pin thunder, brief white room lightning, onrush and scurry of rain running up into position, the biggest drops first. Out under the “single gory punctum” of Venus and a Maxfield Parrish sky, tromping the spatter’d dropcloth of earth.


Out under the “single gory punctum”
Of Venus and a Maxfield Parrish

Sky, tromping the spatter’d dropcloth of
Earth. The Cooper’s hawk kek-kek-

Kek in the oak canopy, hid.
The dog’s uneasy 4:30 a.m. pawing,

Distant ten-pin thunder, brief white
Room lightning, onrush and scurry of

Rain running up into position, biggest
Drops first. In an unending period

Of torn attention and shoddy goods
Slapped together out of perishables, a

Period of shot memory, the cake
Dunk’d in tepid coffee “with slightly

Sour cream” only to dissolve completely,
Any act of attending, the murtherous

Slow mechanical seeing of a thing
Bestuck in all its surround is

Consolatory, dunning of the age itself.

Lazy morning, unsustainable. Out of nowhere it occurs that O’Hara’s line “At last you are tired of being single” echoes Apollinaire’s “Zone”-buckler: À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancien, how obvious and predatory, sheer concubinage! Doubt-bitten shrieks that do not befit the day. Nose in a book:
      Whenever he read about anything he went down cellar and tried it out.
      When he was twelve he needed money to buy books and chemicals; he got a concession as newsbutcher on the daily train from Detroit to Port Huron. In Detroit there was a public library and he read it.
      He rigged up a laboratory on the train and whenever he read about anything he tried it out. He rigged up a printing press and printed a paper called The Herald, when the Civil War broke out he organized a newsservice and cashed in on the big battles. Then he dropped a stick of phosphorus and set the car on fire and was thrown off the train.
      By that time he had considerable fame in the country as the boy editor of the first newspaper to be published on a moving train. The London Times wrote him up.
That’s Edison in John Dos Passos’s The 42nd Parallel, a thing I scoop’d up recently thinking: what about Dos Passos? I don’t know if anybody reads Dos Passos these days or not. Somehow the speed of delivery here elided with the slight pitch of hysteria and slapstick reminds me of something like Daniil Kharms, or, later, and less so, the prose poems of Russell Edson. I’d think, browsing, one’d read Dos Passos for formal (“stylistic”) reasons just as much as Big Historical ones.

In the light of the bad historical innuendoes of some “spokespersons” here and there, that—on the one hand (mark’d “one of the tenets of my imagination”), “all famous writers already knew one another, must secretly hang out together, having fabulous gabfests, the ‘deep gossip’ we associate with poetry,” and on the other (general suspicious whipping post quietudinous shit), there exist’d distinct warring camps separate and unequal—it is instructive to note Levertov and Duncan’s discussing Robert Bly, Duncan writing to Bly, &c. One assigns those who construct history to meet such tawdry delimiting territorial needs to the dustbin, eventually, no? “Fabulous gabfests”? Is that David Bowie talk?

(My weekly spleen.)

Carcinology is the study of crabs.
Cinereous, grey tinged with black, “the color of ashes.”

David Bowie

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oppen’s Daybooks

Earth’s Debris and Nourriture


Like a piece of congoleum beginning to curl up in the nigh-
Tropical heat of the Keys, something a boy with a cowlick’d
Like to pry up off the plywood with a kitchen knife and use
For a pretend Hindustani sleigh ride over the palmetto grass,

I am thinking of you in Brazil, standing in a port dump with
A terribly dark beard, clotted up with a motherfucker bunch of
Barely form’d ideas, trying to keep the binomials straight, the
Different fishes of the saltwater estuary that’s long as the whole

State of Connecticut. There’s the hill upstate named Connecticut,
Some professorial rambler claim’d a cloudless day’d allow one to see
The state itself if one climb’d it. I love the nineteenth century walkers
Putting the nomenclature down in neat manly scripts in leather-

Cover’d notebooks. The money’d story’d is what I say. Mid-
Twentieth century I spent one whole morning tramping Connecticut
Hill trying to locate a black-throated blue, a peevish flitting thing just
Out of reach in the scrap deciduous understory. A bird with

A rich cream-color’d lozenge stuck like a label to its wing. Or
A bookmark. There’s a man without money who hides during the day
In the library to sleep, who carries a stout bent walking cane he’s
Cover’d the end of with layer after layer of shiny duct tape

So that it’s the size of a boot. To beat off attacks by blackguards
Or spooks. He’s got a fine white beard he washes daily
In the public lavatory, keeping the cane nearby. He writes
A circular monotonous script that completely covers scraps of paper,

None of it decipherable for all its rhythmic preciosity. And James,
Wholly bewilder’d by tropical profusion and the “erratic drift” of the world,
Writes to Henry (dateline Original Seat of Garden of Eden) he’s capable
Only of “savage inarticulate cries to express the loveliness”: Houp la la!

How difficult it seems—thumbing, skimming—to enter into Oppen’s Daybooks. (In the Stephen Cope edited George Oppen: Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers (University of California Press, 2007)). Too few the particulars. Too obvious the leanings up against the big statement: “A totally objective art, an art of caprice which means to say nothing of oneself or one’s situation, an art of pure construction.” Or:
The fact is, we are hopelessly caught in phenomena.
The mind’s inherent sense of logic is a phenomenon.
I keep looking for a miss’d smudge of humor, some sloppy tomfoolery. Assuaged only a little by the merest hint of a world, some physical thing: “fields of the mock-sage” or even “the big dumb form of the moon” What’s odd it how one argument Oppen makes for the poem is that it point, that it be nothing more that instructions to look:
The poem (narrative) depends for its “argument” on vividness—One might regard it as incoherent in the way that a man may seem incoherent whose argument consists finally in repeating—“But look, But look—!”

      incoherent in the manner of a man who repeats “but look, but look”—coherent and convincing enuf to those who will or can look—
Or, later, points to “images” themselves as “small narratives with the poem.” Which reminds me—thinking of the use of images—of an admission Duncan makes to Levertov (c. 1959) after receiving Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems from a Floating World, saying: “I did think the insistence on image a healthy one. Especially since my work right now seems to be getting more and more didactive ‘opinionated’—” Is there another variable function to put into play besides speech / music, namely sensual (imaged) / ratiocinatory (declared)? (Is there another integral between “brutality” and “preciousness”? See Oppen’s: “Brutality is a beginning: preciousness in an end.” Which is precious enough to my ear.)

(Is it totally accidental that I keep coming across what seem like thinly-veil’d admonitions to the young? Who’d lend sympathy—or buoyant goodwill—to someone who’d write: “you men may wish ‘to write poetry’ At 55, my desires are more specific”?) Though one’s mounting blank indifference is ruffled up somewhat by learning of Oppen’s “Pipe-Stem Daybook,” being “papers bound by Oppen into a small makeshift book by means of pipe-stem cleaners (ca. 1966).” Or one is intrigued by a note appended to the word “prosody”:
The line of poetry appears as a single foot which
centers around some point in the line”
The poem made of lines fitted one into another like gather’d stones uncut, the task being the finding of the “set” of each line, its heft and weight and bulge.

Admittedly, a wholly mischievous way to read, bouncing around, like chasing after the mucker’s truck (celery farm), stooping for gleanings, meaning whatever’s tumbled off. Is there a continual tug in Oppen between demanding the poem be a “process of thought” and longing for a “systematic aesthetics,” a stilling point? Everywhere signs of it: “The final look of things” and “form       the completed act of the intellect” versus say, “OBJECT in the poem: its function is to burst” or “Perhaps it has no form, we move thru it / ‘An indeterminate medium . . . / Empty of value’”

Noting how, regardless the lessons of Pound and Williams—“a breaking of conventional forms, a releasing of speech”—the young’ll turn “eventually to a reappraisal of Stevens and Eliot of the Quartets”: “For Pound and Williams are without intellectual interest” Confirming a swift-running thoughtlet that raced briefly around the brainbox, how Oppen’s tiny remarks remind’d one most of Wallace Stevens’s Adagia, the kind of vaporous niggles like “Poetry has to be something more than a conception of the mind. It has to be a revelation of nature. Conceptions are artificial. Perceptions are essential” that one drifts erratically away out of reach of, trusting the old codger’ll not notice the audience gone. Too, there’s Oppen’s rejection of the poseur—“I dislike most of all the theatrical ethic, the ethics of posture. The English gentleman, the fiery Latin, the Boulevardier or the hermit”—missing the surly aphorist. As if perception might declare itself unshaped by any maker, he warns against even “grace”—oddly enough in words, judging by the strikethroughs, that clearly didn’t spring full-bust’d out of some Zeusify’d brow:
Williams is wrong, merely wrong, wheren he destroys or does not achieve the form of thought the form of language, of perception, and ^for^ the sake of grace, of manner.

George Oppen, 1908-1984

Monday, April 07, 2008

Hob and Burner

Grasses, Uncover’d


A lob is a bumpkin
Reeling under the sun’s haw
Unharnass’d. Hath not the tongue.
A yob is urban-knuckled
And tattoo’d, brassy with defiance
Rude. Thus asymptotically a language’s
Rout’d out unwaveringly, and one’s
Preciosity gets ratchet’d down though
Never to expire finally, ô
Beau Geste!
Something rather ta-
Ta, governor
about the smell
Of carbolic soap in passageways,
About the jodhpur shape of
The hedges outside the rectory.
Only the American robin working
The massive grounds for earthworms,
Cock’d head and scurry, says
Buddy, we ain’t in Bristol.
A taw is a shooter
The thumb fires off a
Crook’d index finger to knock
A foe’s—Is foe short
For foreign?
—marble out, down
Crouch, bent knee, short pants.

The sun rambunct’d, the tree buds bulged fat, the cussèd crocuses popped forth, the dog snuffled up interminable inter-fraught traceries of smells. I lick’d the pencil’s lead and apply’d it to 1040s, punching veritable holes in the newsprint with my splendid industry. A model citizen, vowing to withhold it all if the bastards sortie’d out to bomb the Fertile Crescent. Tigris and Euphrates, Mesopotamia, words of my tender emphatic youth. Do not fat rolls of stark color lithography’d maps hang in history classrooms any longer? Do not teachers hoist they britches-slipping trousers and unclot they phlegmy-vocal tubes in the process of slapping a pointer (satisfying muffle-thudagainst an orange-color’d wedge): “Mesopotamia, call’d the Cradle of Civilization.” And one’d likely thrill a little to the way it echo’d Potowatomi, the local Indian monicker, so that one’d make always an untoward connection, peopling the beech and oak and maple forests of southeastern Michigan with ur-Iranians, Persians in moccasins.

Read most—the Duncan / Levertov letters thrust temporarily to the back “hob”—“A hob is a burner”—of a little book titled The Childhood of Edward Thomas: A Fragment of Autobiography, entirely unfinish’d (though not at all fragment’d as it stands) at Thomas’s death at the battle of Arras in 1917 at the age of 39. Terrifically writ early smudges of memory, of two “avoided” kids in “the lowest class of a large suburban board school”:
One a poor dirty girl without eyelashes who came from an old hovel at the top of one of the poorer and older streets, and has lent a certain disrelish ever since to the name of “Lizzie”; the other was a boy whom I had seen charging at his desk with his head lowered, like a bull.
Which so emphatically introduces out of one of the stage-wings of my brainbox the poorest and foul-smellingest member of my own elementary school class in northern Michigan, I sincerely believe her name to’ve been Wilhelmina, a dirty-blonde waif who wet herself in the middle of some quiet activity, urine pooling yellow under her chair. I think she got call’d “Willie,” though she seem’d to have no friends whatsoever, only those who didn’t pester her versus those who, cruelly, did. Thomas’s piece of autobiography is full of deftly-put ineffables:
A mad dog had run into one of the narrow front garden and lay just inside the railings; a man on the other side with a pickaxe was about to kill the dog; and a small crowd had collected in the roadway. I do not know that I saw the blow struck, but the idea of sharp heavy steel piercing the shaggy hair, flesh and bone of a living creature has remained horrible and ineffaceable ever since.
Et puis, sure sign of a writer, Thomas’s seeing words as particular and chewable as stalks of timothy glean’d in the fields (to use a mundane norteamericano metaphor):
Part of the pleasure of a book was still, I think, the strangeness of words as well as things. Thus I was arrested by the quaintness of Isaak Walton’s spelling, as in ‘pearch’ for perch, of his archaic names, such as ‘luce’ for pike, of unfamiliar personal names like those of the travelers Speke and Grant, as well as by the nasty horror of Africans eating fat torn from a live human body in Sir Samuel Baker’s book.
And accurate regarding the wrong sorts of hoo-hah award’d the classics—here, the Æneid and Shakespeare:
To me they remained prose rendered obscure and tedious, in the one case by foreign language, and in the other by archaisms, inversions, and other unfamiliar and as yet impotent forms. Often there were worse than obscure. The passages that stuck fast in the rut which they wore in our brains were bandied about for their comicality. ‘All became silent’, ‘The strawberry grows beneath the nettle’, ‘By thinking on the frosty Caucasus,’ ‘Tennis balls, my liege,’ and other phrases had to be uttered with a grin and received with a grin. . . . Blank verse I regarded as a form of prose, licentious in construction and divided wantonly into lines as if it were poetry.
Probably the kind of misapprehension that imparts a sly new proficiency, a turn’d diligence and occasions bravado. Thomas wrote something like one hundred and forty poems in barely two years, with a late beginning and untimely end. I love the 1915 lines:
But these things also are Spring’s—
On banks by the roadside the grass
Long-dead that is greyer now
Than all the Winter it was;

The shell of a little snail bleached
In the grass: chip of flint, and mite
Of chalk; and the small birds’ dung
In splashes of purest white:

All the white things a man mistakes
For earliest violets
Who seeks through Winter’s ruins
Something to pay Winter’s debts,

While the North blows, and starling flocks
By chattering on and on
Keep their spirits up in the mist,
And Spring’s here, Winter’s not gone.
Loved largely for its evidence of acquaintance with the tiny, with how everything begins so whitely, and ends so. And of a man who in boyhood wrote “in the worst possible Latin on the flyleaf of my algebra book: ‘I love birds more than books’”—cause of contemptuous smiles. Whose “wrists and hands and arms were always decorated with scratches during the bird-nesting season”—following the turn-of-the-century naturalist mania for egg collecting. Who liked nothing better than a ramble: “Talking, and looking at the earth and the sky, we just walked about until it was dark. Students we were not: nothing was pursued to the uttermost.” To be partisan and devotee to that.

Edward Thomas, 1878-1917

Friday, April 04, 2008

One Night Every Thousand

Woodlot and Field

Coleridge (Notebooks, c. 1801): “A man illiterate but of good parts by constant reading of the Bible will naturally contract a more winning and commanding Rhetoric than those that are learned, the intermixture of Tongues & of artificial phrases debasing their style.” Tending to color the Lyrical Ballads Preface-entreaty for using “a selection of language really used by men” in the wan tints of anti-intellectualism, contra-alterity. Peut-être, one adds, wholly “unwinningly.” In an entry wherein, too, Coleridge notes some valiant meteorological reasoning of Paracelsus: “That the absence of the Sun is not the cause of Night, forasmuch as his light is so great that it may illuminate the earth all over at once; but that Night is brought on by the influence of dark Stars that ray out darkness and obscurity upon the Earth, as the sun does light.—” Though immediately revising the equation: “That Stars are Plants, & that the Lightnings without Thunder are as it were the deciduous flowers of the Æstival Stars—” Recurrent forms and forkings. I’d love to see “dark Stars that ray out darkness,” inhabit a world kin to a photographic negative. (Odd to think how digital photography stymies the negative, eventually it’ll become invisible to common fancy, no? Think of the shuddery thrill of squinting through old C-41 color reversed strips—faded, awry—the greens gone to magenta, the red lips complementarily and crazily cyan’d.) The stars, the stars: for weeks now I keep thinking of Emerson’s revelatory: “If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare.” A way to prime one’s board’d up well-shaft, get the pump-handle moving without that god-awful screech, just to (Preface, again) “Throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way,” meaning look at the present marvels with a little alacrity, bub.

Out across the snow-tamp’d fields, mat’d down grasses all mute yellows, a spurious number of grays, lovable grays, the buckthorn stubble chop’d back, shirt-sleeved. Grackles back north, hocking up the gutturals, dragging they big tails. Red wing’d blackbirds around the pond, reedy deep trills, wary, keeping a distance. Two mallards push off out of beneath the thicket overhang and stream out two trailing V’s to the other side, the dog pretending unconcern. Aimless finicks of sentry crows, off rookery duty. Tangles of red osiers and snow patches in the undergrowth. A flock of robins scouring the bare soil of the community garden plots. I love how Coleridge fills several pages of the Notebook with lists of plants, energies of hand-scripture making memory dents. Sampling:
      Adders Tongue. Alder. Ale-hoof. All-good. All-heal. Allisander. Alkanet. Anise. Agrimony. Archangel. Arrow-grass. Arrow-head. Arsmart. Ash-weed. Asp. Asphodel. Awl-wort.
      Balm. Bane-berries. Bank-cresses. Balm. Basil. Barbery. Barley. Bast. Bastard-Cress. Bastard-parsley. Bastard-pellitory. Bawd-money. Bear-berries. Bears-foot. Bee-flower. Beet. Bell-flower. Bent. Bethlem-star. Betony. Bilberries. Bird’s eye. Bird’s foot. Bird’s nest. Bistort. Bitter-cresses. Bitter-sweet. Black-berried Heath. Black berry. Black thorn. Bladder-Campion. Bladder-nut-tree. Bladders’ snout. Blea-berries. Blinks. Blite. Blood-wort. Blue bottle. Bog-moss. Bog-rush. Borage. Bottle moss. Box. Brakes. Bramble. Branks. Breakstone. Bromegrass. Brook lime. Brook weed. Broom. Broomrape. Bruisewort. Bryony. Buckbean. Bucks horn. Sea buck thorn. Buck-wheat. Buddle. Bugle. . . .
I linger, thinking if names I know correspond at the cusp of eighteenth-nineteenth century Britain to plants pushing forth up out of the woodlots and mown fields of twenty-first century Michigan. Is “Bucks horn” my buckthorn? Or is “Sea buck thorn”? Or, why’s “Bladder-nut-tree”—“constantly amalgamating disparate experience”—make me think of Ashbery’s “Fantasia on ‘The Nut Brown Maid’”—“loops of reading”? Or, why’d the line “the husbandry of blinks” begin a feral dominance of the early morning mid-shower oscultating of the voices “barking” in the brainbox?

Loops of reading. Think of Edward Thomas making natural history “field notes” in 1917 near Arras, France. “Snowdrops at foot of peartrees by Decanville Railway.” “Magpies over No Man’s Land in pairs.” “Larks, partridges, hedge-sparrows, magpies by O. P.” “Chaffinches and partridges, moles working on surface.” All drop’d in hallucinatory interspersal in amongst lines like “Tea at 244 after seeing 2 of our planes down, one on fire with both burnt to death after alighting.” “Fired 100 rounds from 12-1:30.” “Fired 600 rounds and got tired eyes and ears.”


Crazily cyan’d the sky, blue
Minion to the sea below
In a kind of reversal
Whereby accuracy unaccountably flaunts whatever’s
Thrown over it for accounting.
—Henry ain’t here. Henry’s out
Gathering a bouquet of bawd-
someone’d announce and it’d
Bramble up the mystery of
Language’s husbandry of itself. For
It, too, flowers and forks,
Branches up out of loam
Or horizon like lightning, mete
With its own severe mettle.
Never bastard, never brakes, it
Is arse-smart and radical,
Raying out of the earth,
Grackle-black and guttural, launching
Itself up into the high
Reach of willow dragging its
Big boat of a tail.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Mr. Kirkland, c. 1815
(“that there may be sent by the Bearer three ounces of Laudanum—(in the accompanying bottle—or whatever quantity it may hold) half an oz of crude opium (if there be none purified)—& two ounces of the Tincture of Cardomum”)