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”