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