Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Grand Piano Notes

Two Trucks


Six a.m. January
sixth in Ann
Arbor a meteor

the length of
a human arm
scat through Canis

A late
Quadrantid, a slash-
mark, virgule of

the night’s prehistoric
alphabet. Scored in
every direction with

shining tracks and
majestic fireballs
Agnes Clerke put

it in Boston
during a 1833
Leonid blaze with

claims of ten
thousand radiating per
hour. In radio

astronomy, one attempts
to receive signals—
abrupt, loud, distant,

clear—bounced off
the ionized tail
of a meteor.

Amateurs Moh’d Alawneh,
Moh’d Odeh, and
Tareq Katbeh of

the Jordanian Astronomical
Society managed it
in the Al-

Azraq desert. Delight /
Beyond our faint
Conjecture— / Our dizzy

is how
Emily Dickinson put
it, and Too

scant the nights,

and I and
earth, auxiliaries, corroborate.

One supposes, heaving a blue sigh, one ought to continue with the reading of The Grand Piano, seeing’s the latest (numéro sept) arrived seemingly months back and is, I think, the heftiest of the lot. I work piecemeal in the frangible districts of the thing, pre-broken into ten “voicings” (along with, here, a “Chronology” append’d: “Timeline of Book Publications Significant for The Grand Piano, 1965-1985,” the five years under the lens (1975-80) now disconcertingly stretch’d to twenty. . .) Meaning, I read an individual’s entry, and poke at it immediately before continuing. One prefatory note: the seventh volume carries the odd epigraph by Arnold Schoenberg: “There is still plenty of good music to be written in C major.” One considers that C, and thinks Confessionalist? What could such an ordinary admission of the limits of the “new” possibly mean, gracing The Grand Piano? Is it a sign that “we” need to return to the (now, presumably, “Classic,” as they say about soft drinks and sports cars) methods and means of originary Language writing? One supposes, heaving a blue sigh, that, having witness’d the Language boys’ market-saturated emergence, growth, and (lately, here) self-canonization, one ought to be prepared for a pre-rehearsed retro act of “recovery” in concert with select’d sycophants. Recovery as in reupholster.

Kit Robinson. Robinson initially worries the question of one’s (identifiable) “style” or “voice”—trying mightily to avoid admitting that such a thing might inevitably exist, or, if it does, that it might represent anything like a “self,” inchoate or lyric or whatnot. He begins with the story of Ted Berrigan’s finding in O’Hara “somebody who wrote the way I talked” (surely a misperception, “Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas”) and suggests that, “what began as a sense of natural language in O’Hara quickly became a kind of patented style with Berrigan, as his many characteristic ways of saying things were essentially branded through repeated use.” Okay, fine. The trouble begins with the next paragraph:
Then there was the whole idea of “finding your voice,” a platitude of the creative writing workshop approach. Rod [sic] Padgett has a poem making fun of that idea. I don’t know if they still talk like that; I suspect not. It was certainly not something I aspired to even early on. Still, one wanted, and I did want, to distinguish myself.
Later, Robinson notes how a friend, reading new poems, reports that Robinson “seemed to have developed a ‘method.’” And I think: shorthand abounds, and one defines oneself by the shorthand one extends. Isn’t a “patented style,” “branded”-ness, “voice,” “distinguish”-ing oneself, and having a “method,” all part of a single not-so-troublesome bundle of quasi-identifiable markers “we” all, after a rather short period of practice, exhibit? So why’s “voice” a “platitude” “they” talk; and “method” or “style” an acceptable misnomer for it? I once wrote (in a piece call’d “My Voice”):
                                          It is
Not perseverance codified, a jumble
Wee and fitly took to.
And meant exactly the opposite. Keep up with the perfervid nonsense of helplessly putting words next each other on the page long enough and any jerk with opticks’ll be able to see it’s you (and nobody not you) putting words just like that. Robinson’s “method” sounds ordinary enough:
The method of my madness had something to do with phrasing (syntax) and diction (semantics). Phrasing would be driven by a rhythm heard in the head, potentially influenced by the sound of poets I read and admired . . . but more often just my own way of saying things, established over two decades of walking and talking.
“They” wouldn’t say it any different. Robinson talks mostly of the strategies he used to write The Dolch Stanzas, arranging words select’d solely out of a “list, compiled by Dr. Edward Dolch in the 40s” containing “220 of the most frequently used words in English.” A sort of early version of magnetic poetry is how it sounds. (How customary it’s become, confront’d with constraints, to think of Tom Clark’s little poem: “I was born with this body / So I use it.” Meaning, why suddenly deny oneself the language accumulated over “two decades of walking and talking.” Though, admittedly, if one considers literary work akin to a scientific investigation, the method of controlling one variable (diction) in order to look how it may or may not inhibit the activity of another (syntax) seems viable.) Robinson’s conclusion (interpretation of the results), though, is highly suspect. He says, rereading The Dolch Stanzas:
I found several threads—some pointing back to myself at the time—youthful exuberance, cheeky insolence, playful arbitrariness, but also earnest sincerity, philosophical inquisitiveness, passionate iconoclasm. It seems to me now to be the work of someone who is trying to make sense of the world on his own terms and also in terms that are available to others by way of the community constituted by our common parlance, where our extends to everyone with a basic handle on the English language. In other words, I read The Dolch Stanzas as expressing a deeply democratic impulse.
What’ s democratic about pre-select’d austerity? Or about egregious dumbing down? (I must admit: just now, curious about Dolch’s high-frequency words, I look’d up a list:
a, about, after, again, all, always, am, an, and, any, are, around, as, ask, at, ate, away, be, because, been, before, best, better, big, black, blue, both, bring, brown, but, buy, by, call, came, can, carry, clean, cold, come, could, cut, did, do, does, don’t, done, down, draw, drink, eat, eight, every, fall, far, fast, find, first, five, fly, for, found, four, from, full, funny, gave, get, give, go, goes, going, good, got, green, grow, had, has, have, he, help, her, here, him, his, hold, hot, how, hurt, I, if, in, into, is, it, its, jump, just, keep, kind, know, laugh, let, light, like, little, live, long, look, made, make, many, may, me, much, must, my, myself, never, new, no, not, now, of, off, old, on, once, one, only, open, or, our, out, over, own, pick, play, please, pretty, pull, put, ran, read, red, ride, right, round, run, said, saw, say, see, seven, shall, she, sing, sit, six, sleep, slow, small, so, some, soon, start, stop, take, tell, ten, thank, that, the, their, them, then, there, these, they, think, this, those, three, to, today, together, too, try, two, under, up, upon, us, use, very, walk, want, warm, was, wash, we, well, went, were, what, when, where, which, white, who, why, will, wish, with, work, would, write, yellow, yes, you, yours
For the D.I.Y.s. Problem is, nouns, mostly, nowhere it evidence. I look at a couple of Robinson’s stanzas:
she said
that man went
where I was about to get

she said the bus
stops and lets
her little girl off . . .
Where’s “man,” or “bus,” or “girl” in the list? Robinson could’ve writ: “she said the locomotive / stops and lets / her little corgi off,” no?) What, again, is the nature of the “constraint” in The Dolch Stanzas? Dolch words and other “little” (one-syllable) words? (Bonus question: if phrasing is determined by “a rhythm heard in the head,” isn’t it to one’s advantage to use words of various numbers of syllables?)

Locomotive with Corgi