Thursday, July 31, 2008

Merging Traffic



Beached, and the sun’s light lay out across the sound like a plank, burning, ferric and white, beyond whence inhuman shouts delivered with apostolic fervor sounded, pitiable and minatory. Ambience collided with style, style absconded with narrative “thrust,” Fanny Brown wrapped a derby chocolate (shaped like a horse) in cellophane, the Ngs would be by to return the violin later. Merchants, armed with magnetized “cards” for ready “access,” scold the secondary “playas”—Homeric be the evasions of men lit by the wedges of light pouring out of Frigidaires—advertisement become warning, warning something a competitor might kite against a momentary indifference, pull down a ruckus about one’s ankles, such is the fear. Quintana Roo.
So prose is made particular
                        by miserly rhythmic hooting,
                                                desists telling completely,
weeds out its specificities
                        in accordance with (a merger)
                                                a series of undeliverable
oughts, looting the dipthongs
                        of the circus shouters, moving
                                                off daily, away and out
of reach of the recording
                        angels who track a quotidian
                                                itch to its source
in loveliness: the “accidental skin”
                        of majolica hindering,
                                                hindering rescinding. Prose utile,
c’est ça.
So one clobbers
                        it for its restraint, barks its
                                                shins against its possibles.
And the sun go “hang,” as Ezra Pound liked to say, damaged goods. Everybody’s out looking for a pot big enough to keep all the stuff, galoshes and goulashes, they end up encumber’d with, not that a pile makes a perusable landscape. The British say “tip” and the French say “tas” and the British say “ta” and the French say “ciao” like a large-proportioned catalogue ceasing to stimulate the sense of anything bursting forth beyond a series of comeuppances, listless, end-directed, and proctological, I mean, eschatological, where getting somewhere is a skittish attainment only scoffed at for its least human aspect, that of stopping on a dot. The white-
haired neighbor’s out nozzling shrubbery
with kinetic forbearance, I’m waiting
for rain itself to tumble
down precipitant and catch the
lawn with its sunsuit off
I suspect Doctor Williams got
caught up in categories—“The
inundation of the intelligence by
masses of complicated fact is
not knowledge”—and sought fluidity
in dependency itself, the way
a droplet must hang together
and gather all of itself
up into a plummeting sphere
even in order to plummet,
the visible means of its differentiation (stuck to a twig, or bent blade of grass) a tensile thing lost in the brooking. It falls, and so one falls with it, sod-hearty, unclogged, in a pastoral myopia of green. There’s a devilment to the seasons, the cyclical bushings of which buffer loss as regainable, intermittent, dormant the way music is: venting its entire history with each successive note. Or summer just lies in a heap of itself, unencroaching and sour, no emergency freighted enough to make it pull the collateral of a bond out of its hat (or mitten), or reproach another for leaving. Its boundlessness ticks, its tumblers fall endlessly into place in a rut cacophony, brusque and indifferent and unaligned.
The animal urge of
                        autumn spits its cat-
                                                noises against the officiating
trousers of the men
                        who move through the worldly
                                                smear and continuum
culling particulars, charting
                        and dividing. Meagre
                                                the need placental, to pocket
something that it remain
                        identifiably one’s own meagreness
                                                and not of the continual of-
ness unslakeable.
                        Or morning bounds down off the limb where it stretched itself out, sleeplessly hurdling z’s put up in the “higher branches”—a tenuous array like an alphabet. We dawdle with the material, its elasticity, its condensary, its sweats. Draw figures in the mirrors of our own indifference, combinatory padlocks rusted by spit.

Aucune, one wants to claim, idée, though it is never so easy. One’s not wholly certain what Ron Silliman’s harrumphing about in yesterday’s beef (or cow, “unslaughter’d and untrimmed”) about the 1970 Frontier Press Spring and All. It, Silliman’s stock in hand, versus the New Directions Imaginations, a book that “crams together” five of Williams’s prose pieces into “a more or less unreadable crowd.” Silliman’s habit of gross overstatement (“tactical,” he’d say) fills up the obvious holes in the argument, which reaches closure before there is anything to close: “That collection is so poorly done as to constitute an act of vandalism.” (Ignored in the tantrum: the Spring and All with notes that graces the pages of the 1986 A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan-edited first volume of The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, covering the years 1909-1939. Shouldn’t a poem—any piece of writing—be completely “platform independent” (a phrase I seem to recall Silliman bandying about re: recorded readings deliver’d up electronically)? Why make the Frontier Press printing into a fetish-object? A rehash of Silliman’s own plangent history follows—I like “all the great books of that hinge moment in American poetry” in particular—something Walter Cronkite’d intone solemnly, voice-over to The Ron Silliman Story—except, it all reads like copy for a rare book catalogue. Then there’s the Sillimaniac excursion into the notoriously viperous backwaters of current copyright law: he, though, casually—“the nature of the law”—’s got it all figured out.

It did, I admit, point me back into the Williams. And I worry’d the implications of these sentences:
The only realism in art is of the imagination. It is only thus that the work escapes plagiarism after nature and becomes a creation

Invention of new forms to embody this reality of art, he only thing which art is, must occupy all serious minds concerned
(Note the echo of Pound’s “serious character” there.) It’s nearly flopping over into aestheticism, that stance. How compare it to Meyer Schapiro’s claim in “Nature of Abstract Art” (1937)?
There is no passive, “photographic” representation . . . All renderings of objects, no matter how exact they seem, even photographs, proceed from values, methods and viewpoints which somehow shape the image and often determine its contents. On the other hand, there is no “pure art,” unconditioned by experience; all fantasy and formal construction, even the random scribbling of the hand, are shaped by experience and by nonaesthetic concerns.
Experience itself dooming the invention of “new forms”; the scorn’d “plagiarism after nature” an impossibility. It’s the meshing together of stances inextricable that thrills me—prose and poetry. Williams says “The fixed categories into which life is divided must always hold. These things are normal—essential to every activity. But they exist—but not as dead dissections.” That, precisely after XXII, the piece that’s come to be call’d “The Red Wheelbarrow” with its singular cohesion inextricable, fraught with precisely a lack of category. It is Williams’s followers (nous sommes tous des pendatifs de Williams) who seem struck by (stuck in) categorical imperatives (“dead dissections”), new and old, invention and rehearsal, fit and fixity, construction and mimesis.

And that makes me bereft.

William Carlos Williams, c. 1940
(Photograph: The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library)