Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Acedia and Heap



Things (all things) conspire (harangue and wheedle and menace)
Against the attempt (minor, apostolic, blunt) to live deliberately
(Thoreau): the thin (India paper) pages of the book (anthology, nineteenth
Century, ecumenical), rifled by a gust (zephyr, chinook, sirocco), mount
A momentum and continue turning: the book snaps shut. A perfectly
Idiotic statement, result and casualty of some distant atmospheric un-
Buckling, a cloudlet letting its trousers down. It unleashes a gravid un-
Encumbering breeze, pregnant with moisture and intent. If I walk along
In the cold air of night (with the dog) and long for extend’d periods of
Clarity and focus un-cheesed by one’s own spoilage, by one’s un-
Scour’d tendency to curd and lump up, or sulk off into mannerisms of aim-
Lessness and disarray, green in the spent-green grass, blue in the sun-
Blonde sky, who’s to yell comeuppance against the attenuating strings of
Squalor and breakdown unrebuff’d? That tacky thing that keeps me here,
Rarefying the unsavory, collapsing the gait spasmodic, plow’d and madly un-

And, breezing, desultory, in my continuing unfocus’d (scatter’d) way of reading everything and nothing (call it “traipsing acedia”), I come across Clark Coolidge (Now It’s Jazz) talking about Kerouac and Shakespeare, how (Kerouac says), S. “wrote in an inspired hurry what he immediately heard sound-wise while his steeltrap brain kept shutting down on the exigencies of plot and character in that sea of ravening English that came out of him.” (A writer makes all other writers mimic him.) What grab’d me more, though, is Coolidge’s quoting out of a Kerouac letter to Ginsberg (regarding Howl), the high-mast’d Shakespeare-mimicking line: “the first spout is the only spout, the rest is time’s tired faucet.” (Back to origins of the tidy’d up, market-savvy, diluted “First thought, best thought.”) And of course it’s sexual, the post-release (the written, the flaccid) no longer pure. (Kerouac, at the beginning of a monstrous “full confession of my life” letter written to Cassady, renouncing all “fiction and fear” says: “There is nothing to do but write the truth. There is no other reason to write. I have to write because of the compulsion in me.” And, more to the point, makes of Cassady—talker, letter writer—a saint precisely for refusing anything beyond “first spout”—no harlot he—“From you I expect no such protestations of coy dishonesty; because you never sinned, you never were published and became the great American harlot-writer they all are; pure, you remain in your proper solemn underground, or holy hole, and I join you . . .” (December 28, 1950).

And, Kerouac (back in Visions of Cody) talking about “a way of abstracting the interesting paragraphs of material in all this running consciousness stream that can be used as the progressing lightning chapters of a great essay about the wonders of the world as it continually flashes up in retrospect”—that lightning forking out and down to blaze up everything in a zig-zag of connectedness (“radiant”)—so (long way around the back acre to the well) Coolidge (elsewhere, in a Naropa talk) quoting Zukofsky quoting Spinoza: “The more an image is associated with many other things, the more often it flourishes . . . the more causes there are by which it can be exited.” That putting of things into relation (metaphor) at the heart of writing—and, as Coolidge unbridles that same horse to make it run lightning-swift (he’s quoting Philip Guston, who’s talking about painting):
It cannot be a settled, fixed image. It must of necessity be an image which is unsettled, which has not only not made up its mind where to be but must feel as if it’s been in many places all over this canvas, and indeed there’s no place for it to settle—except momentarily.
Or the juice begins spouting all over—Olson’s c. 1951—“And I think it can be boiled down to one statement (first pounded into my head by Edward Dahlberg): ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION,” and “speed, the nerves” (another entry in the nerve movie lexicon of a few days back) and “one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!” (Is it possible to argue that that is a putting into relation—wobble and succession—of sorts? Where’d Dahlberg do that pounding?) I am arguing for what exactly? Concomitance in a heap? Okay, piecemeal and inchoate the grubbing in the old yards. My sense is one of a hash-slung accompaniment intervening, food fight in the kitchen, pee in the broth. One writes to write through the confusions of writing (amongst other things). “I heard a thousand blended notes” (Wordsworth)—“But I had my own little bangtail ideas and they had nothing to do with the ‘lunatic’ part of all this”—(Kerouac).

Philip Guston, “Back View,” 1977
(San Francisco Museum of Modern Art)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kerouac / Whitman / Stein

Red Bucket


Down I go blackly into my cringe-minimal assayings of the world

Is we to fall to puling and disarray in form of status reports, as if
We is something of stationary noticeable bulk made to be wheel’d
Hither and thither like an oxygen tank, and not a man capable of
All manner of rut and strafe, an autonomous prototype vehicle
bestrewing great Magellanic fields with cubic kiloparsecs of cloudy

That the brother of Theodore Dreiser, a man who made art of a kind
Out of sheer clumsy doggedness, and is likely one of the reasons one
Avoids the word “yet,” a man named Paul Dresser wrote “My Gal
Sal” in 1905—that’s the sort of thing one learns listening to the radio
Sunday morning, peeling an orange. One’s fires smolder, ash’d up
With little coats of ash, each containing a single hard pellet diminish’d
To burn a hotter fury, banal upshot of matter’s essential gaseousness.
Simplicity’s toll exact’d like a lurch into a ditch. All the years of fielding
The hot grounders, making the underhand’d flip to second for the out,
Moves reeking with the irrevocability of limit, the impassive sustenance
Of the binomial, toggle and switch. Drear absorption in mechanicals
That refuse to account for that dime-sized splash of sweat that plummets
Off the pinch hitter’s arm, the way the wind-rill’d jersey throws down
A momentary shape of long-fang’d wolfishness along the searing white
Line. “They called her frivolous Sal, / A peculiar sort of a gal.”
Oh the unsong’d billions of events swallow’d whole by the hog-
Querulous grandiosities of events evident and distinct made by just such
Subsuming (without compunction)—the way a single word stuck in the box
Of a sentence engineers the thing up along the ridges of high canny
Excellence with nothing beyond faith and folderol and a sturdy tendresse
In its delivery “system,” and how dirt in that system makes it go unnoted

Donc, the whole of my weekend “output” pitoyable. The straits of demands various and seasonal.

Kerouac, slipping into tensile Whitman viscosity of the stretchable universe, says (Visions of Cody): “I am here in the same moodway as Cody, fast, talk to everybody, no ‘dignity,’ speed, kicks (I only know, that is, I strictly know what I know and that’s why sketching is not for my secret thoughts—my own complete life, an endless contemplation, is so interesting, I love it so, it is vast, goes everywhere—).” Is it simply result of reading Whitman (a little, of late) that he floods every other particular I see, Kerouac, too? See “Fish-Shape Paumanok”—
Starting from fish-shape Paumanok where I was born,
Well-begotten, and rais’d by a perfect mother—
O to go back to the place where I was born,
To hear the birds sing once more,
To ramble about the house and barn and over the fields once more,
And through the orchard and along the old lanes once more.
. . .
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.
I too Paumanok,
I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and been wash’d on your shores,
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island.
“Once more” and “I too” and “perfect mother”—isn’t something like the whole boyish history of American letters copped by all that? See Leslie Fiedler’s Love and Death in the American Novel—and throw in Twain’s “lighting out for the territory” motif (here: “a trail of drift and debris”). See, too, jazz structures (reprise, chorus), bop (blues) longings for re-integration and return. Kerouac, soon’s the next page:
I’m going to talk about these things with guys but the main thing I suppose will be this lifelong monologue which is begun in my mind—lifelong complete contemplation—what else on earth do I really know unless I’m depriving myself of kinds of knowledge that would bring out those qualities in me which are most valuable to others; not me, although I keep thinking what’s good for me is equally good for any of my intelligent friends—Last night in the West End Bar was mad, (I can’t think fast enough) (do need a recorder, will buy one at once when the Adams hits New York next March then I could keep the most complete record in the world which in itself could be divided into twenty massive and pretty interesting volumes of tapes describing activities everywhere and excitements and thoughts of mad valuable me and it would really have a shape but a crazy big shape yet just as logical as a novel by Proust because I do keep harking back though I might be nervous on the mike and even tell too much.)
That epithet “mad valuable me,” the recorder—pure Whitmanic mania. (To note: Kerouac’s grandiosity is in deference to a possibility, the secular beatific blessed vision of a whole, “the most complete record in the world.” There is no mere size-queen giganticism to it; he is not “working on a project,” he is not out to make something noticeably (self-satisfy’dly) “big.”)

When the recorder itself (“the matcheen, the machine”)’s rev’d and running, the concern (in the mouth of Cody Pomeroy, the Neal Cassady maquette) becomes less one of “the compleat”—Cody’s mostly obsess’d with the authentic (versus the “skeletonized thing” of rehash). (Is the source of Ginsberg’s “first thought, best thought”—express’d where exactly “first,” and when—why do I think it’s writ somewhere as a dictum of a mid-’seventies July 4th?—is its source right here in Cody?) Out of Visions of Cody, Cody yakking (about retelling a story about a bed):
So I have to tell him, I’m just sayin, those words, remember certain things led me to think of all this, here, which wasn’t anywhere, as I said, it’s just like even now, as I told in the story about the bed . . . I didn’t really feel it was anywhere but it wasn’t any-thing. In fact it was—what it actually was, was a recalling right now on my part, a recalling of me having either told about or thought about the bed concretely before, see, so therefore I, all I did now was re—go back to that memory and bring up a little rehash of, ah, pertinent things, as far as I can remember, in little structure line, a skeletonized thing of the—what I thought earlier, and that’s what one does you know, you know when you go back and remember about a thing that you clearly thought out and went around before, you know what I’m sayin, the second or third or fourth time you tell about it or say anything like that why it comes out different and it becomes more and more modified until it becomes any little thing that you say. . .
And isn’t that—the modulations of Cody, reiterative and insistent—a trigger to Gertrude Stein’s “Composition as Explanation”? (“The composition is the thing seen by every one living in the living they are doing, they are the composing of the composition that at the time they are living in the composition of the time in which they are living.”) Stein, who, too, is the ever-embarker on voyages to regain and retrieve all what’s gone. (“Continuous present is one thing and beginning again and again is another thing. These are both things. And then there is using everything.”) Avast.

Neal Cassady, San Francisco, 1965
(Photograph by Larry Keenan)

Friday, March 27, 2009




Of course I probably ought to cut it down to nil. To nigh

Vue du Nil
(Out of a New York Public Library collection of photographs of Egypt and Nubia by, amongst others, brothers Felice and Antonio Beato, who sign’d photographs “Felice A. Beato” or “Felice Antonio Beato,” late nineteenth century. Other reports call Felice A. Beato (c. 1825–1908), a naturalized English subject born in Venice, “the most-celebrated of 19th century photographers in Japan.” One insists that “beginning in 1850, he worked with brother-in-law James Robertson in the Mediterranean—Constantinople, Athens, Malta, Cairo, and Palestine.”)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Kerouac / Beckett

Cleveland Museum of Art


Phrase level fittings. Giancarlo running through the Mendelssohn for
The umpteenth. And if I were sitting against a lordly tree with a notebook
Reverencing the masterwork—“though it hung off the gallows pole”—
Like that nappy gap-tooth man who stab’d a cocksucker for shouting
“I am the tempest!” and “providing onerous unnecessaries.” Ah, the human
Ungodly beast, bulwark and effacer of us all. Final curtain tragedian.
Coming to the point. A whittler’s discourse. Noncommittal nodding.
And if I were elbow-prop’d and moony against a wisteria’d balustrade
Overlooking a grand oceanic quay where Senegalese boys routinely out-
Manœuvre’d the douaniers. Night’s brisk commerce. Sass-inflect’d way of
Snapping a butt into the street. Dog pawings of sleep. What to construe
In the ruck of scuff’d particulars, what opposing armies to exalt, all of
Us tagalongs, spur tracks, orphans. There’s a story Melville only
Browsed through a book of Emerson’s “in Putnam’s store,” though
Mardi is all plenitude and lack, bold scribbles of trash-
wrack’d genius, holy-loathsome pull’d down out of the Zeitgeist.
And if I were pound numbly. Portuguese concierge. Hôtel Résidence sur la

Lining things up.
Saturday night is when those things that haunt us beyond our speech and the formations of our thoughts suddenly wear a sad aspect that is crying to be seen and noticed all around and we can’t do anything about it and neither could Cody; and to this day he, older and after all this time, goes now haunted in the streets of Saturday night in the American city with his eyes torn out like Oedipus who sees all and sees nothing from the agony of having lived and lived and lived and still not knowing how to conjure from the pitiful world and the folks around some word of praise for something that makes him grateful and makes him cry but remains invisible, aloof, delinquent, complacent, not unkind but just dumb, the street themselves, the things themselves of life and of American life, and the faces and hopes and attempts of the people themselves who with him in gnashing map of earth pronounce vowels and consonants around a nothing, they bite the air, there’s nothing to say because you can’t say what you know, it’s a void, a Demosthenes pebble would have to drop way long down to hit that kind of bottom. [Kerouac’s Visions of Cody, composed c. 1951-52]
And even should his start off, his heart that is, on its waltz, in his ear, tralatralay pom pom, again, tralatralay pom pom, re mi re do bang bang, who could reprehend him? Unfortunately we must stick to the facts, for what else is there, to stick to, to cling to, when all founders, but the facts, when there are any, still floating, within reach of the heart, happy expression that, of the heart crying out, The facts are there, the facts are there, and then more calmly, when the danger is past, the continuation, namely, in the case before us, Here there is no wood, nor any stone, or if there is, the facts are there, it’s as if there wasn’t, the facts are there, no vegetables, no minerals, only Worm, kingdom unknown, Worm is there, as it were, as it were. But not too fast, it’s too soon, to return, to where I am, empty-handed, in triumph, to where I’m waiting, calm, passably calm, knowing, thinking I know, that nothing has befallen me, nothing will befall me, nothing good, nothing bad, nothing to be the death of me, nothing to be the life of me, it would be premature. [Beckett’s The Unnamable, 1958 in the Grove Press edition]
34     Then with balls swoled up one hung low leaving the action snake no biggern at, Oi, the lone woe of Lee Lucky his basketa pittykats earthquaking peoples balls outa sight & leaving nothing but tremble-under-the-bed, the grace in Orlando turned out to be a gentle wee heatwave & a little shit (O shut up and say it!)

35     Sor god denoder pie your pinging lief bring Ida Graymeadow Wolf babe ooo brooding in the is-ness seastand grayog magog bedonigle bedart ooo the day Odin meeteth the Loup Gris, yag, ack, the day ooo dies—The day the gray wolf oatses Odin for his long slackjaw slaver, asurp—When Ida Meadows her long gown camp the Persian disencamps & dusts—When the vision fades from the rough surface of Snorri & Sturla—When Eric Bloodaxe and Harold Fairhair battle for the final blonde on the last Iceland prick rock—When Rodedodo grows Chrysanthemums by the door—When Eugene Bonedown burps—When Hair Redknife snaps the band—When Callicott Cobcorny crashes in motherlip—When Orristander boos—When Whitlip barks—The dog days of Egypt, bow wow wow—When Espinal gives the bull his final ass—When visions of the sea go 152—When Prick Neon’s nailed to me! When Carrie Methodical Divine and the nomad Patzinak steppe bedazzlers (azzle dazzle muffed my gazzle!) the Napoleon fire rings, the slavers of the lip of Richelieu, Mazarin, Colbert, Lisieux, Ourmantelle, Archanciel and Pas D’Enfant kisses my ogly roar go-down seafeet on Oregon Beachie, when trappist divine speaking whistling the window roar borovates to the endless machine hum of endless infinitesimal worldspace oogloomosanical tarpidalisaclna multivantarn go-l-ta pian par music!—grag-ashash!—when burt me-davey-grave hung mine down poles the final lot across the rivie of Buddhas and last Potilic losts flint in the Old Sar, ah me Marva, a flesh carney, ah river a day, ah strikeout, that’s when I’ll bring my lesson to thee, saith window to Me—And I cried “Window, what you mean?” Said window “O listen to the spherical booding moan star music the midnight study the Faust man divel harp in hand, O hum O moan O”

36     The little tit tat tadpole honey tweak of kitty lips on my toosy two toes make me think of dwiddle tingle springs of ditties of childerhood—sang—commanded Eyrdeadan showaps to crail before my fire ping! OOlamona! call the sails, the frog croak eave drip never-rains-but-sweats Florida screenwindow with Avaloki tes var star twarping in my woondow—And did you ever say the wee that nack saw all farding blle on par ton take sick grick clap cat mat cack Mother? No that was a halting burgle—purr—eat & purr be holy kittypee pool in sand of red eyed bat bird insewecties pirking tig toont to Ma tier free curé the school—A long unlearned heavy school noises of piano legs in the smile paradise bed? [Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight, c. 1956]
Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labors left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard it is established beyond all doubt all other doubt than that which clings to the labors of men that as a result of the labors unfinished of Testew and Cunnard it is established as hereinafter but not so fast for reasons unknown that as a result of the public works of Puncher and Wattmann it is established beyond all doubt that in view of the labors of Fartov and Belcher left unfinished for reasons unknown of Testew and Cunard left unfinished it is established what many deny that man in Possy of Testew and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the strides of alimentation and defecation wastes and pines wastes and pines and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicillin and succedanea in a word I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell fades away I resume Fulham Clapham in a word the dead loss per head since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per head approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet in Connemara in a word for reasons unknown no matter what matter the facts are there and considering what is more much more grave that in the light of the labors lost of Steinweg and Peterman it appears what is more much more grave that in the light the light the light of the labors lost of Steinweg and Peterman that in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and then the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas in the year of their Lord six hundred and something the air the earth the sea the earth abode of stones in the great deeps the great cold on sea on land and in the air I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull fading fading fading and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labors abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard [Lucky’s speech, Waiting for Godot, 1954 in the Grove Press edition]
Sliding around (typing around—there’s an enormous amount to be learn’d about writing by the simplest acts of transcription) a hunch. In the index to Kerouac’s letters, two mentions of Beckett: one (June 7, 1957, to Ginsberg and cohort) refers to “that dumb Rexroth article . . . in New World Writing no. 11 where I’m ‘in his small way’ peer of Céline and Beckett”; the other (September 1960, to Ferlinghetti) postscripts “I’m enjoying Beckett’s books.” I’d consider’d (intend’d) to pull down some flashes of Clark Coolidge, too (particularly out of The Crystal Text for Beckett-echoes), and, uh, didn’t. Et puis, one’d look vainly for evidence of Beckett’s reading Kerouac? I’d put down money he didn’t. And why?

Jean Martin (Lucky) and Albert Rémy (Pozzo) in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” 1956

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Coolidge, Again



“The sun is a locked door.” That’s Lyn Hejinian again. One’d do
Well to collect all the receptacles of the heavenly bodies. Soleil
Cou coupé.
Self-ignited pyre. Benzene rinsings. Is it Stephen
Crane who hangs the red sun up in the sky like a wafer in undeflect’d
Tint of canny Christian minstrelsy? One’d say bronze grommet, bolus,
Buckler. One’d say chicken. Funny how I listen’d today with casual intensity
To a soup of “content” supply’d by the usual denizens of the scriptorium—
The one with the pale blue boots, the tall one (he sound’d tall), the one
With a girlish voice (whose proposals seem’d to get quash’d pre-
Anticipatorily by dint of mere delivery—that and, it’s likely, the sexual
Pecking order, the recording made thirty years back when the cultural
Capital of the participants ran fluid and uncongeal’d, opposed to the no
Doubt temporary but somewhat “stiffen’d” positions of the present
Moment wherein the girlish voice’s accrued it capitally, by the bundle)—
And the whole savage parade tuck’d me down into the dander’d realms of
Glib impertinence. To say tree in lieu of Paulownia (with its tall
Upright panicles of mauve or white flowers, a tree named for Russian princess
Anna Paulovna (1795-1865), queen of the Netherlands) makes the rope of
Seeing slap loosely along its pulley, hauls nothing (or everything) forth.
The two goons of Horace, dulce et utile nowhere in that constraint-
Free and meaning-constructing tree. Oh perennially woody tree of the palpably
Inert, earth-nuzzling tree bury’d in swamp-plumbing impiety, post-
Radiant sinecure of the soulless rut, Mr. Nowhere Tree. “The sun is a

Just being dumb. Clark Coolidge says (Talking Poetry):
Part of Pound’s logopoeia was that some words lead you to expect certain words following others, and so you should as a poet try to disrupt that habit.
      I don’t try to write paraphrasable poetry, but what good poetry is paraphrasable? Something like Beckett’s Unnamable is the most unparaphrasable book I can imagine, and that’s its great worth and beauty. It actually is those words, and it can’t be other words. You can talk endlessly around it, but that’s not what it is. You can say that it’s about a guy who isn’t sure that he’s got anything more than a mind. He makes up a few stories and they don’t quite work out, and he ends up saying, “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” That’s the plot. Unless you want to talk very elaborately about the way the pronoun shifts work, that’s about as close to a paraphrase as you can get.
(And where’s that Robin Blaser line: “The whole thing: just trying to be at home. That’s the plot”? Is that in The Holy Forest? It’s a terribly fine shrug-seizure of domestic clarity presence and acceptance, ungodly placid, I love its seeming admission of a tiny aspiratory route—that is decidedly enormous, the “whole thing.”) (I am jamming: looking for a stitch to drop. If I sully the early evening hours with the number’d categorical sass of “A Year” and plop down into Kerouac’s Visions of Cody with two freshly-brew’d cups of coffee and go at that for some hours and tumble out at five-thirty into nowhere rainy-buffalo’d morning: means no clear cut meadow to pitch a tent in.) I did (Coolidge, again) study a little “at” The Rova Improvisations (Sun & Moon, 1994). The genuinely taciturn (a “sense”) Coolidge remarks:
These writings were begun in the process of preparing to compose the liner notes for ROVA’s album, The Crowd. They exist as two parallel surges of improvisation. The first written while listening to all the tracks of ROVA’s albums in the order of their recording. The second while reading through those initial writings. One written in the hollows of the music. The other in the silence of the words.
I say “at”—meaning two things. One is to notice how nearly all the writings of the second order expand, as if there were more elbow-room to seeing (words on page) than to listening (ROVA music leaving little word-debris in the “hollows.” The other is to try to decide if Coolidge compleat’d the initial “surge” before turning to the second. And did he keep the page of the first present (a reference iconic) during the second bout? Mechanics, yes. The desire is to see (in the pieces) glacial marks (scrapings, deposits) of the compositional strategy. Look, here’s one call’d “The Removal of Secrecy” in its two (tempt’d, Beckett-head’d, to say, “fizzles”):
                  Shrills penciling
            then the hums of such animalia bumped
a line of code light
                         then they are people
                  the one in which he finally meets
                                                                          Spiny Norman
words sprouted, caked
                                          up from roars of the tube
            waves peace of the reason
                                                              that no lights truly match
                                        the difference is the human
One’s hesitant to clad any of that in attempt’d paraphrase. What moves I note (meaning source-to-target manumittings I “follow”—how one phrase releases another in its unbound trajectory): some combo of “penciling” and “animalia” outs the cartoonery of “Spiny Norman,” and the mutual small shifts of the final lines—“then they are people” and “the difference is the human”—that’s (to me) more Coolidge responding to (imitating) the logic of the first version (in similar vernacular), a different kind of bump. (None of what I say considers the relation between original music and first surge, or trace-memories of original music in second surge, obviously. Yesterday I did plow around to uncover some ROVA pieces and listen’d in—shrills, hums, bumped, a line—inevitably writing to music falls into its easy-grace sonambule vocab, of course. The other “danger” is the onomatopoeic, that Coolidge avoids.) One hits the wall of words: “sprouted” (out of animated Norman); “tube” out of (for me) “code light” (cathode rays illuminating some recess in my 1950-60s childhood, the TV picture collapsing into a sentient all-seeing dot slowly dying); “peace of the reason” with no counterpart, thinking rational temerity “don’t rock the boat,” thinking imaginary typo (embraced) for “season” . . . (One’d do something if he took a piece of writing and wrote “off” (“in the silence of the words”) it in innumerable successive waves, devotional and transformational, I mean hundreds of “one-offs” all beginning with a single (ancestral) piece.)

Now: what if I’d start’d writing (my sheepish nothingnesses) here today, how’d that’ve gone? Nabokov to Edmund Wilson (about Wilson’s Memoirs of Hecate County):
I have read your book d’un trait. There are lots of wonderful things in it (by the way, you often use the word “wonderful,” as you do in real life). You have given your “I”’s copulation-mates such formidable defences—leather and steel, gonorrhea, horse-gums—that the reader (or at least one reader, for I would have been absolutely impotent in your singular little harem) derives no kick from the hero’s love-making. I should have as soon tried to open a sardine can with my penis. The result is remarkably chaste, despite the frankness.
Ouch, on several levels.

Vladimir Nabokov, 1899-1977

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Movie Nerves

Two Trees (Cleveland)


Dumbly: the plod whiteness of the clamshell vault of sky. The
Chemical vault. Green nub shoots, the cankerous arrivistes
Of spring. To heck with floody dam manœuvers, steering muddy run-
Off into ditch-canals, to hell with splashing after pollywogs and peepers.
Out with gooey kid remorse and goon-squad stories: the skunks rout out
The grubs, we see the evidence, torn roots, the spindly monocotyledons
Of a dying republic, and every ass is toxic. All the bank’s assets mount
Up to nothing but a kind of pig’s dignity and there’s no recourse
For loss: except to re-run the same grainy loop of counterfeit film
(Slo-mo stutter-stop up to the moment of the soundlessly ripping fireball
And the “scooter man with the bandanna” peeling off down the rue Obligado)
And to the leave it to the public trust (or some appoint’d rep, some stony-
Robed figure of Justice, chest pierced by a broken-blade sword blind-
Fold slipping down to expose one bale-deadly piratickal eye) to shout
“There he is again!” and call it the makings of a new fucking common-

Oh I don’t know. Seemingly caught in a steady downpour of furtive diminishing time, constant scrambling, misused moments, sack’d hopes. Concert offering of Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring last night, its way of working by the phrase, scattering the phrases around the instruments, sense of frenetic doodling and enforced abeyance (something sexual about the waiting) and only in a few late measures of whole loud orchestra togetherness and abandonment into the Shaker Joseph Brackett’s 1848 “Simple Gifts” melody, a momentary cohesion and drifting off to part-playing, lulling, somnolence. Home, I tender’d my remaining minutes over to Kerouac (again, more or less), scruffing through some few pages of Visions of Cody (I did wake briefly at the sound of it hitting the floor, and decided to snick off the light). Earlier, I’d dabbled around in Victor-Levy Beaulieu’s Jack Kerouac: a chicken-essay (Coach House, 1975). And Beaulieu’s reading Visions of Gerard (and falling asleep): “(that tremendous reader’s fatigue hammers away as I read steadily on, because how can you sleep when Gerard is dying in his father’s old house? How can you sleep when white phantoms leap on you to take away the little bit of life that’s left you?)—so this was the sentence that stayed in my eyes: ‘None of it is even there, it’s a mind-movie’) and then the book fell out of my hands, I went to sleep. . .” And I think of Kerouac-comrade Philip Whalen’s “A continuous fabric (nerve movie?) Exactly as wide as these lines…” and New American Poetry note that “This poetry is a picture or graph of a mind moving, which is a body being here and now which is history . . .” and I think of O’Hara’s “You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, ‘Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep’” (which is another way of “a body being here and now”) and I think: isn’t that the dialectical crux of the whole smear of phenomenon (and writing)? That whiz-bang (alternating current jumps) skittering that goes up (popping sparky wires where the trolley car’s tenders—whatever the stretch’d up steel-frame “paws” are call’d—bounce along the guy lines) as the body itself flashes between presence and the movie it’s making. Volatility of immediate tangible present slipping away versus the steadying wreck of the intangible moving in (replacing the real). It is all action.

(The other thing one notes, reading Beaulieu (or oneself), is just how ravagingly strong Kerouac’s prose is, its natural tendency to gobble everything around it up into its maw so that one’s own words become Kerouack’d, he shellacks any nearby style to match the sheen and hue of what he puts down. Nous sommes tous des Kerouacs.) (I keep trying to figure dates of composition for Kerouac, like where / where / how did that movie metaphor rear up? and somehow it seems Kerouac wrote everything in one bash of simultaneity, no sequence, no “developing.” Ann Charters in a note append’d to Old Angel Midnight (that distillate of Kerouac, and the wildest) says “By April 1, 1956, the first date in the [Midnight] notebooks, he had been writing spontaneous prose for five years and was in possession of a highly flexible, original prose style.” And a month later Kerouac’s saying to John Clellon Holmes of Midnight: “I don’t know what to write any more, I’ve been finally doodling with an endless automatic writing piece which raves on and on with no direction and no story and surely that wont do tho I’ll finish it anyway while doing other things . . .”) Funny to see, thumbing (I am all thumbing impressionistic scoops today), a start-stop bad pun interjection of Kerouac’s—the kind of the some of the Language boys absolutely riddle they “texts” with. It goes:
48     Mona Leisure
And Kerouac’s got sense enough not to make a tic of it.

Philip Whalen, 1923-2002

Monday, March 23, 2009

Robert Cushman Murphy’s Logbook for Grace



Or the sun, yellow yolk of an egg, slides up into the pan of
The sky. Crocuses open in a single day, perform local musters
And manœuvres. A day of general yard work is declared. We
Pull down the dry pea vines, collect the winter-down’d limbs
In twine-awkward bundles, rake leaf-debris out of the beds.
The present tense, we go over it again and again, using a different
Verb. A small black dog with a snaggle-tooth (it pokes out like
Cigarette butt) goes by, by the name of Ranger. Possibility of what
The organism perceived itself being being annihilated led directly
To its sense-rendering lexical inventions with compensatory stifling
Of usual song. We turn the worm-clench’d compost up, scoop
Muck (with odd oak seedling unfurling) out of the gutters. Car radio
Strains of Eddie Harris plowing that reedy tenor down under
Les McCann’s long-legged piano lope, “Shorty Rides Again.” And up
In the hundred year old oak with its constantly furrow’d brow, red-belly

Impertinence of Monday morning, the weekend shot, the day unseasonably cold, though clear, liquid ball of sun with the deep orange—blood orange tint of the egg too “gone” to consume—of expect’d afternoon finery. Unh. What a weekend is good for: a veering. Uncover’d a terrific book about whaling (amongst other things): Logbook for Grace, by Robert Cushman Murphy. Murphy, just out of Dartmouth, aged twenty-five, in 1912 ships out on the U. S. whaling brig Daisy (dying days of the industry under sail). He collects roughly 400,000 words of notes (he’s collecting specimens, observations, and data for the American Museum of Natural History and he’s writing a log for new wife (they’d marry’d a few months before departure) Grace Emeline Barstow: out of the notes’ll come the unsurpass’d two-volume work, Oceanic Birds of the South America (1936), countless articles, and, in 1947, the Logbook. The voyage lasts a year, the Daisy beginning at the Caribbean island of Dominica, working its way north through the Sargasso Sea to roughly the latitude of Charleston, South Carolina, east across the Atlantic, south to the Cape Verde Islands, back across the Atlantic and down along the coast of South America to South Georgia Island, and back north mid-ocean. Here’s what Murphy calls the “motley assemblage” of books he brought along:
Cambridge Natural History, the volumes on fishes, birds, and mammals
Parker and Haswell, Zoology
Howell, Physiology
Flower and Lydekker, Mammals Living and Extinct
Beddard, Book of Whales
Gregory, The Orders of Mammals
True, Review of the Delphinidae (porpoises)
Melville, Moby Dick
Tower, History of the American Whale Fishery
Starbuck, History of the American Whale Fishery
Weddell, A Voyage towards the South Pole
Catalogue of Birds of the British Museum, the volume on albatrosses, petrels, gulls and terns
Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks during Captain Cook’s First Voyage on HMS “Endeavour”
Ridgway, Nomenclature of Colors
Lönnberg, Notes on the Vertebrates of South Georgia
Darwin, Voyage of the “Beagle”
Moseley, “Challenger” Narrative
New Testament
Dante, Divina Commedia
Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
Horace, Carmina
Oxford Book of English Verse
The Oxford Shakespeare
Typewritten and bound summaries and translations of information about South Georgia from the writings of Guyot, Cook, Forster, Sparrman, Bellingshausen, Klutschak, Szielasko, von den Steinen and others
What I find stunning is the breadth of Murphy’s knowledge and interests. (In the dragging listless hot days of going north (in order, apparently, to catch good winds and weather to go south) through the Sargasso Sea, he reads (and assesses) a good number of Shakespeare plays (and a number of books of the Bible), he quotes Dante, he recalls some verses of Latin. (The Ridgway Nomenclature (nothing I recall seeing word of): Murphy reports examining the skin color changes of a dying dolphin: “The mouth and the side fins were heavily edged with Antwerp blue,” and adds (rather jocularly): “These hues are not figments of imagination, but might better be called “pigments of precision”! I noted them by direct comparison with the plates in Ridgway’s Nomenclature of Colors.) Some large part of the book’s appeal lies in Murphy’s palpable delight in and observations of natural history (though match’d by details of crew behavior, and whaling “technique”). So one learns of the Dominican Hercules beetles (call’d the “spin-saw insect” by the locals): the name out of an island legend that the beetles “clamp their long jaws on the bough of a tree and fly around it like a whirligig until they saw it off.” Or reads of the behavior of terns call’d brown noddies foraging over a shoal of porpoises, how the birds rarely “plunge into the water but merely stoop toward the surface and, with inconceivably swift coordination, seize in midair the tiny fishes that leap out to escape their submarine enemies”:
The porpoises were after big fish, the latter after little ones, some of which the noddies caught on the bounce. Among them were also twenty-three man-o’-war birds, equally on the lookout for anybody’s disadvantage. Thus does a fierce competition in the water and the air above work toward a kind of cooperation. No wonder that sailors imagine a sort of league between porpoises and birds, because they play both ends against the middle.
Is it Pound’s injunction to “look” (the “Minute Particular,” the “Luminous Detail”) that one sees in reading Murphy? Recall the story of Louis Agassiz’s insistence on describing (not naming) as a way toward knowledge—in Pound’s ABC of Reading:
The proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one “slide” or specimen with another.

No man is equipped for modern thinking until he has understood the anecdote of Agassiz and the fish:

A post-graduate student equipped with honors and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-Graduate Student: ‘That’s only a sunfish.’

Agassiz: ‘I know that. Write a description of it.’

After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

By this method science has arisen, not on the narrow edge of medieval logic suspended in a vacuum.
Here’s Murphy’s description of what he calls “an unearthly little fish, the size of your thumb”—the mousefish, or sargasso fish—that hides in the weeds of the Sargasso Sea:
I found two of these mousefish or sargasso fish, strange little composites of mouth, belly, and excrescences. They are painted with facsimiles, and fringed and pimpled with reproductions, of various parts of the weed. Two tasseled fish poles on the head are probably used as bait to lure prey toward the gulping mouth. They have both arm fins (the pectorals) and foot fins (the pelvics), and the latter stick forward under the belly like spread feet perpetually ready to hit bottom. The arm fins work like hands, bending at a wrist and folding ten long finger rays around anything of which they wish to lay hold. As they clamber around in a clump of sargasso weed, like lizards in a thicket, it is no wonder that they are difficult to see because the pattern of brown, orange, gold, and white resembles both the vegetation and its other animal inhabitants and, moreover, the fish can change the basic hue of the skin to match the general tone of the background and can even imitate the detailed pattern of the weed.
(The Sargasso Sea “forms an area as big as the United States, all enclosed within the currents of the North Atlantic.” Murphy says the water there is “clearer than any pool or spring on earth,” “no mouldering fleets of galleons caught in the tangles; neither are there twigs or straws afloat, nor silt suspended in the water.”)

Robert Cushman Murphy, 1959
(Photograph by Jerry Cooke)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kerouac, Again

Along the Tracks


Delirium and tristezza (sock’d in with madness
And disaster, the cock-eyed stars), isn’t that sort of
What everybody longs for, more than, say, a Sachertorte?
I am “between books,” I am a book myself bookend’d by
The book I just finish’d and the book I am about
To begin. Reading is apt to sublimate onslaughts of incipient
Sadness (or anger) whilst the act of reading allows for
The shyer subliminal benefits to cohere, a lively bunch,
If inframince (though liable to replace whatever it
Is one is reading, particularly in the event, common enough, of
Some sudden misapprehension, a confusing word, say, or
A character one’s encounter’d only once, and that a hundred
Or so pages ago)—the whooshing sound of a large car or truck
Going down the street, interrupt’d by the speed bump;
The smell of a buttery omelet being swept up and put down
In the next booth (gratifying thunk of white and thick-
Lipped institutional china) by a waiter with greenly tattoo’d arms
The color of a South American beetle, its carapace; the way
One’s own tongue, roving aimlessly, keeps finding a sweet
Deposit of toast jammed up between two teeth. All the while
One keeps reading—“A turnip, I know roughly what a turnip
Is like, a carrot too, particularly the Flakkee, or Colmar Red”—
Though of course you haven’t the faintest and the idea of “turnips
In gravy” is making the mouth water in that hot sluice way pre-

Giddy, one assumes, with prospects illimitable. I henceforth spent an hour or so reeling amongst possibles—I think I read the opening pages of Pamuk’s Istanbul, of Nicholl’s The Lodger, of James’s The Ambassadors, nothing ringing out changes necessary, painting in sufficient dominions—and end’d up where I’d intend’d to go to begin with: with Kerouac’s Visions of Cody, “furry and familiar”: “The glumness goes as soon as someone says something and they head for the door—laughing they fling back echoes to the scene of their human disaster—they go off down the street in the new air provided by the world.” Here’s (because my brainbox is shabby, inert, tumbledown shack in a clearing, it being a turn’d-back Friday of twenty-two degrees and an indifferent wind blowing up (or down) my shirt-collar during the bicycle ride in) John Clellon Holmes talking about reading Kerouac’s The Town and the City (“essentially idealistic chronicle of many people living furiously, despite the sorrow that tinged its end”—and now I recall Pamuk’s insisting that “melancholy longing” (Turkish hüzün) of the imperium (Ottoman) in default and desuetude defined the East-West city, a thing I noted in fiercely sad Portugal that mopery-fill’d summer of 1988, fado, fado, fado, and Bellini’s Norma, too). Holmes (out of the 1985 Gone in October: Last Reflections on Jack Kerouac):
      Amazed by the energy of the book, I was also secretly relieved to discover . . . that it wasn’t really contemporary in the fashionable sense of that term—not soured, anxious, existential, or Europeanized, and thus “posed no threat” to the bleakly allegorical novels the rest of us were trying to write. This foolishness was, of course, mainly a sop to my sophomoric preconceptions of the time, which, once thrown, freed me to the excitement that flowed out of the book like rainwater from a spout. . . .
      But more than the work, it was the man who attracted me. He was sympathetic, changeable, unsophisticated, quixotic, canny, and madly imaginative. Whenever we were together we always seemed to end up at dawn on a street corner somewhere, still talking.
And mad catalogues of the “preconceptions of ‘our’ time”—soured, terminally ironic, pinch’d off anxiety in lieu of blurt’d human joy-sorrow, lazy and myopic, studiously ept and apt, no bounding allow’d—Holmes gets at Kerouac’s “work journals”:
I responded instinctively to the Kerouac I encountered there: the Kerouac who noted down each day’s hoard of completed words, and then figured up his overall batting average; who zealously recorded his slumps along with his streaks, and just as zealously pep-talked or remonstrated with himself; the Kerouac, dizzied by the odors of the spring but chained in solitude by the mad endeavor that is the writing of a novel, who actually tried, with frustrated defiance, to screw the earth one night, to simply thumb-hole into the loam, and mate with it, so that he could get on with the task; the Kerouac who wanted to blow a lot of Spenglerian wind into the sails of a book that already under full canvas on its own; who, in those doldrums of midpassage, those horse latitudes that one reaches in the second half of a long exhausting project, wondered pensively whether his book was “intellectually substantial,” after all . . .
(Is it in Michel Tournier’s Friday that who, Robinson? copulates with the earth?) And who keeps score like that? Hemingway? I am remind’d of Clark Coolidge—I’ve learn’d to keep Coolidge nearby in thinking about Kerouac—talking about daily writing (here, about the number of Nameways poems):
I haven’t counted them. It got up around two thousand and I stopped counting. The number of them is kind of unimportant in a way, I mean it’s just daily work. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing a tremendous amount of work, but didn’t Gertrude Stein say something about how if you write a couple of hours a day, it’s amazing how many pages you pile up? It’s true! It’s almost like that activity isn’t quite according to chronological time anyway. In fact I don’t think it is, but that’s a whole other metaphysic or whatever.
(And where is the note that Coolidge wrote a thousand pages of prose around the “era” of The Cave.) Wildly sliding (here and there) and thinking how Holmes says Kerouac’s admonition / mantra’s “Reality is details” (combine that with the amassing of “a daily heap of words” and one’s nigh there if there is something like Ron Silliman’s formula for The Alphabet though of course what Kerouac wants most is something like “simultaneity” (Holmes calls it “a single, Gargantuan gulp”)—complaining (of the “novelistic”) that “It’s all an overlay. . . . It’s added on afterwards. That isn’t the truth. . . . I want deep form, poetic form—the way the consciousness really digs everything that happens.”) Holmes reporting, too, Kerouac’s perplexing dissatisfactions with the whelm of prose: “He wrote long, intricate, Melvillean sentences that unwound adroitly through a dense maze of clauses; astonishing sentence that were obsessed with simultaneously depicting the crumb on the plate, the plate on the table, the table in the house, and the house in the world, but which (to him) always got stalled in the traffic jam of their own rhetoric.” So the boundaries go: sucking down the world whole in a fever’d smoosh and rhetorical trounce-Byzantine (versus) clarity and sequential incipience: a pile of rocks.

John Clellon Holmes
(Photograph by Christopher Felver)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sontag / Debord

Green Arrow


Susan Sontag in a journal: “The leakage of talk.” As if the self
Were an overheat’d balloon maintain’d by the testy public
Equilibrium of chatter, scuttling its ballast by dropping bags of
Vocables concurrent with the moment of its highest soaring.
(Or is the self a boat being slowly fill’d by the output of rampant
Camaraderie, the social sea encroaching by incremental inches, no
Bailing can in the “kit,” bound to “offer up” a rinse, a ducking
Ablutionary.) I begin to see the unacceptability of the sudden
Storm of my making, the muttering woodcarver working up a model,
Knifing off tiny sweet-smelling curls of excess, paring it down.
Someone is sure to note somewhere (a little grudgingly, though with
A palpable excess of flattery), “Simply the best we have,” and
I’ll need to explain (slosh’d with humility), “My ‘I’ is puny,
Cautious, too sane.” The spring is coming along “nicely” though,
Though the Japanese maple still looks like a dead thing, reddish-
Bark’d and unbudded. The temperature is variable, plunging nights
And buoying one’s fierce vagaries days, exactly the way I like it.
Who am I to worry, stuck indoors with a book? It leaches out
(The book) by a process of percolating up through the brain’s
Spongiform “matter” and bits of it become available, tapped like
Sap by the spigot of the voice. “A lead is a channel of open water
Cutting through ice,” that sort of thing. Walking I note what I suspect’d:
That the guy with the nicotine-stain’d mustache who lived in the corner
House is no longer there, realtor’s signs sprung up in the empty

Up too early. Slog’d off too early after (barely) completing Doctor Sax. That enormous bird with a wingspan of ten or fifteen miles. The neighborhood Lowell sepia realm oddities, men standing around orange flaming barrels burning (or cooking) in the distance (one is pack’d into a Greyhound speeding through the wintry night)—I like all that kind of thing better: the comic book / radio knockoffs slog.

So here’s something. I poked around in (nigh-simultaneously) Susan Sontag’s Reborn: Journals and Notebooks 1947-1963 and Guy Debord’s Correspondence: The Foundation of the Situationist International (June 1957-August 1960), neither of the two looking particularly “readable” (though, at the point—now—that I open the Sontag looking for some semi-inanity to illustrate that, I find myself reading nevertheless.) (McKenzie Wark, in a note to the Debord, points out that “Deadlines, delays, and debts. There are the three inevitable topics around which Debord’s letters circle. Of all the roles he chose for himself, not to mention those assigned to him by posterity, the one that receives the least attention it that of secretary. Late in life he was to say: ‘I have been a good professional—but of what?’ While the question was meant to be rhetorical, one not entirely implausible answer would be, ‘secretary.’”) Indeed, plans and control (of confederates), lots of “yes, that pleased the king” rhetoric (or its counter). What if one were to put Sontag’s 1964 “Notes on ‘Camp’” up against Debord’s 1967 “Society of the Spectacle”? Sontag:
1. To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.

2. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized—or at least apolitical.

3. Not only is there a Camp vision, a Camp way of looking at things. Camp is as well a quality discoverable in objects and the behavior of persons. There are “campy” movies, clothes, furniture, popular songs, novels, people, buildings. . . . This distinction is important. True, the Camp eye has the power to transform experience. But not everything can be seen as Camp. It’s not all in the eye of the beholder.
1. In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

2. The images detached from every aspect of life fuse in a common stream in which the unity of this life can no longer be reestablished. Reality considered partially unfolds, in its own general unity, as a pseudo-world apart, an object of mere contemplation. The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living.

3. The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.
Is it the difference between the “liar . . . lied to himself” and the liar chose to lie to himself? Certainly there’s a parallel between “seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon” and how “all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.” If, though, “the Camp eye has the power to transform experience,” the spectacle is its counterpoint, “the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness.” (Camp’s theatricality simply dismisses the dull plodding idea of false consciousness; it travesties deceit itself, that is, dresses it up, converts it. If consciousness is false, better to put it into “a dress of made of three million feathers.”)

Is it Debord’s fourth point (“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images”) that unglues the joinery? (Is Camp, according to Sontag, an inevitably individual “work”?) What of “the history of Camp taste is part of the history of snob taste,” and Sontag’s answer to the question of who’s drawn to Camp: “an improvised self-elected class, mainly homosexuals, who constitute themselves as aristocrats of taste”? One’d note that of all Sontag’s theses concerning Camp, none is more pertinent to Debord’s “society” than the insistence on Camp’s being a by-product of a boredom unleash’d by “the psychopathology of affluence” (“The relation between boredom and Camp taste cannot be overestimated. Camp taste is by its nature possible only in affluent societies, in societies or circles capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence.”) (In that, Camp is probably comparable to twenty-first century posturing amongst the Flarf-Conceptualist elite . . . plus ça change . . . See, too: “the connoisseur of Camp sniffs the stink and prides himself on his strong nerves.”) Debord, too, points to rampant production’s affluence triggering a kind of internal distancing (boredom, alienation) countermand’d by makeshift self-constituted amusements, increasingly, alarmingly banal structures tottering distantly and unwieldy above the world: “Separated from his product, man himself produces all the details of his world with ever increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more separated from his world. The more his life is now his product, the more lie is separated from his life.” And: “The spectacle is capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image.”

I page the Sontag Journals aimlessly. How self-center’d she is! (“It is a journal, dummy.”) (I continue to think of Sontag’s moral force, Regarding the Pain of Others, that extraordinary clear-headed (and brave) note in The New Yorker in the patriotic hysteria aftermath of 9 / 11: “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?” (Some of “our own” were calling, I recall, for “us” to go after the “vermin,” or generally concurring with the drum-beating. Others droop’d into lame irony about the clarity of the light that day.) In Sontag’s journal for 12 / 3 / 61:
The writer must be four people:
1) The nut, the obsédé
2) The moron
3) The stylist
4) The critic
1 supplies the material; 2 lets it come out; 3 is taste; 4 is intelligence.

A great writer has all 4—but you can still be a good writer with only 1 and 2; they’re most important.

Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Some Notes on Lyn Hejinian’s “The Distance”

The River at Delhi


The fields completely denuded now, and the fresher green
Isn’t in evidence much, a pentimento of green under the rough
Straw-color’d coarser grasses that’ll slough off with the push.
Denuded of snow I mean. Push of green. Cecilia
Bartoli is barking out a series of high-pitch’d notes, an implacable
Stairway of notes descending into some lower ruminant region
Where the oboe signals for the tenor’s story about the wolves of
Gubbio, something like that. Home, I flopped down to read about Grace
Hartigan’s Pallas Athena portraits (classical temper’d air the result of
The tutelage of Barbara Guest). It’s possible that getting overly caught
Up in thinking about that (and how the sky’s shiny whiteness look’d
Like the belly of a smallmouth bass) made me fall to sleep briefly
Enough that, waking, I recall’d the gruff-impeded voice (with a hint of
Slobbery looseness that probably got mistook for mere
Lasciviousness rather than a shy man’s radical impetuosity) of James
Schuyler reading “Hymn to Life.” Particularly where he says something
About “spring hints and wintry arrears” or compares the sizes of
Monuments, or, with a nomenclature born out of love of the world’s
Smaller inhabitants, the furry and the succulent, mute onlookers to crazy
Human doings, refers to the “mouse-eared chickweed,” a hardy returning

10. One’d do well (I suspect) to trace and record (thinking of the lumbering dinosaur “concordances” assembled in pre-computer-rife days) all the references to music in Lyn Hejinian’s “The Distance” (in Saga / Circus). Though I don’t immediately assign Hejinian to the highest ranks of “writers with an ‘ear’” (I think her complicated rhythms occlude any too splendid tonality—she’s a drummer, polyrhythmic, off-beat, jagged with hard salients and plush with sibilants by turns), I think she attends to music’s possibility for sheer meaning-registration to a T. (Yeah.) She puts it more clearly (part XXIV):
                                  It leaps
From under a sheet and mumbles a sound that might have been a word—
It was probably not. It is late
Afternoon before it hesitates. It says something
Inseparable from what it doesn’t say
But of course that would be the case—we’re talking about music.
A buzzer goes off.
That saying of “something / Inseparable from what it doesn’t say” is a kind of saying of the all, isn’t it, a fine-tuned nigh-invisible dialectical spin? (I see I fall into a visual perception / interpretation of the phrase: I am picturing a card turn’d rapidly, spun between two strings. On one side of the card a basket; on the other a ball. The way the spinning puts the ball in the basket.) Elsewhere (part XII) Hejinian speaks of “the sound in the sounds” and notes (part XVIII) how “the distance . . . / Presses against the distance / With the force of music—loud with drums—nothing / Interrupts us—we are in an interruption” and parallels that state to “clarity / Which is perfect and perfectly refuses / Dialectic.”

11. Is (musical) sounding itself—beyond aural décor, beyond ornament—an investigatory “tool,” a means of thinking? It is, in “The Distance,” associated both with the sea and with the distance. Here (part XIX):
                      The sea
Is never silent—it subjects one to sound—the at the only name I know
For the distance. It has noisy spans.
They rumble and splash as the ropes pong
Against the stanchions, the decks roar
With cold. I know these words.
My thoughts are dead without them.
And, in a lovely stretch (part VIII): “It’s not quick / Thinking that will save us. The constant commentary of the sea is so slow / The simplest remark can take it years / To utter.” I begin to commingle the tropes (I think it’s right to perceive the turns and turnabouts so): the sea, sound, the distance (and the vessel call’d The Distance), thinking, writing—all truculent undertows ongoing, white noise out of which things emerge, get examined, plunge back. Another example (the tenor of the metaphorical vehicle cut loose):
          She is called the Distance and we go where she goes and arrive
Willy-nilly at times and places of whose existence we’d known nothing before
And which therefore, though we come upon them inevitably, we reach
Involuntarily. There
Is always somewhere and always in or at it
Something—whether material or musical—
Metaphorical thinking. (I persist in sensing some upheaval of Hejinian’s means here. In a seemingly autobiographical sketch, recalling an aunt who call’d champagne “sham pine,” Hejinian, labelling the aunt’s airs (and flights?) those of “a mock soldier and a real fool,” claims: “I took things literally; I equated the literal with the authentic.” No longer?)

12. What to do with the lines that gender metaphor-making? “We are used to being reviled as makers of metaphors / And feared. Men have accused us / Of witchery. . .” (Part XI).

13. It’s hard not to read some parts of “The Distance” as simply (simply?) enumerating the ups and downs of Lyn Hejinian’s writing life. So often there’s the buoyant “sense of well-being, excitement, and resignation—all of these / At once but separately”—that rakes at one’s familiar. Or, there’s a kind of (wryly humorous) assessment (of a career? Of a troublesome period of doubt?):
                    Whited-out, I despair
Of getting myself right and if that’s not the despair
Of the vain I don’t know what is.
Humorlessly the humorless cook has been trying
To force me into explanations. I communicate
Nothing. It could be I’m lazy,
But no one has said as much. I have a stack of pages to my credit, after all.
I’ve drawn elevations, projected horizons, balanced rocks
On waves, and I can declare that in both there is as much past as future. But what
Of the present? I’m projecting horizons I can’t see. I might as well be writing
Novels, it being the point of fiction as of science to enable us to perceive
How others live, how other things are.
They exist like us, alone.
“They exist like us, alone.” How to read that? With a tone of, what, dismissive reassurance?

14. I thrash and reiterate. Cannot quell the swoll’d up wave-lashings of the piece, cannot make it into anything pocketable. No need for that. Still. I did not explore the way history loops through “The Distance,” or a war is somewhere out there, or all the places where a thing is wrapped around by itself (“Doubt grasps / At the very thing / It doubts”) or the sentences that one puzzles together (or dissects) like a tangram (“Life can’t be studied / As if it were the nonlife of something / Lived by someone studying.”) I like this (amidst much else, it should be obvious, I can’t stop quoting for the pleasure of putting the words down, letting words heap up vociferous and sightly). I like it largely for its sense of balance (rocks on waves, life and “onslaught of / Meaningfulness”) (Is there a pun in that first sentence, “my life” and My Life, the way the writ inevitably inflows into (torques, diseases) the writing and the life?):
                    The first element
To impose its influence on me was my life. But life cannot stem
The onslaught
Of meaningfulness. I’ve committed
That to paper, ‘that of which one cannot speak,’ ‘I’
Registering a boundary. That’s sentimental
Which is what all ruptures generate
And all gaps demarcate
And there’s no ‘and so’ nor ‘but’ nor ‘meanwhile’
That can limit the irony. Irony is the limit.

Lyn Hejinian
(Photograph by Alan Bernheimer)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Notes on Lyn Hejinian’s “The Distance”



High maudlin hincty,
that’s one way
to put it.

Grief pull’d down
like a peek-
a-boo thing,

a veil, a
“never heard the
likes of that.

Impresario with cheroot,
with cravat, with
a direct line

to ignominy’s kitchen
(dishing out hash-
browns and reds).

“Girl, you work
that Facebook” is
one thing I

recall. And Pound’s
making a work-
table, “furniture registers

a habit of
mind.” He puts
no board flat

against another & achieves
an uncommon rigidity,
support’d by nails.

1. In the opening lines (in the first number’d section) of “The Distance”—in Lyn Hejinian’s two-poem book Saga / Circus (Omnidawn, 2008)—is an implicit nod to William Carlos Williams’s “no ideas but in things” follow’d by an emphatic (and rather uncharacteristically petulant (a foot-stomp for Hejinian)) dismissal of the powers of metaphor:
Knowledge grows
But it has to be connected to things.
That connection is usually best achieved
So they say
Through perceiving similarities. No way!
Why, then, is the poem chock’d full of figure? Nigh immediately one encounters “forbidding clouds of hemlock and pine, a forest that was / Like a terrestrial sky.” If the story is a particularly gender’d one of a woman “Banned from ships as if I were fate / Herself”—note the personification in the opening lines—for whom “it came about / That the ban to my surprise was lifted / Suddenly one fall / And I went to sea after all,” is something being suggest’d regarding the gendering of perception? And what exactly is it?

2. I start’d with “The Distance.” (I’d read—and heard Hejinian read—some parts of “Lola”—the “Circus” part of Saga / Circus in the Belladonna-print’d chapbook of that title. It—the look of it—is Williamsesque, too: the Williams of the jumbled chapters of the experimental prose works, Spring and All or Kora in Hell or The Great American Novel.)

3. Is it “merely accidental” that “The Distance” comprised thirty-seven number’d sections? Hejinian’s My Life in its first (Burning Deck) version contain’d thirty-seven chapters (each of thirty-seven sentences).

4. Hejinian makes it plain in “The Distance”’s second part that if—in the new found world of the ship (the ship, too, named The Distance)—things seem knowable with a kind of animated immediacy (“The planet seems young—raucous, ravenous, quick, and wet. The planet exists / With gusto. Things fall to it and sink, things are rooted in it / And rise,” it is the emotions (“Obscure emotions”) that remain beyond the epistemological horizon, veil’d, undefinable. Hejinian:
                It’s impossible
To clear the way and come within
Sight of my subject. Obscure
Emotions cling to it—obscuring emotions. The analytical imagination
Naturally undertakes analysis of the imagination
While the emotional imagination does what, emote? I’ve tried to give emotions
The slip
By attributing them to other people
Named Felix, Sasha, Nils, Miroire, and when a new one
Rises I will call it Sam
Or Angelique, an iffy strategy
At best.
5. Is the problem one of knowing one’s emotions, or of knowing oneself (and the world) without the emotions interceding, without the emotional “pull” that deflects (and contorts) the knowing?

6. Late in the poem—in the thirty-sixth section—there’s a rather disturbing reply to the “iffy strategy” of naming (and mustn’t it, too, “apply” to metaphorical larking, knowing things by similarity?) Emotion, in Hejinian’s terms, comes to seem a void:
There’s only an inside to an emotion, there’s nothing
On it to grasp, nothing
To be seen of it, it’s nothing
But a structure without a form, a structure incapable of producing
A form, I feel all that I feel but there’s nothing
There, nothing
Could be there: an emotion is held
In an absence together only
With the strength of an interior—anterior—presence.
I hear Cordelia / Lear in the repeat’d “nothing”—both Lear’s “Nothing will come of nothing” and Cordelia’s “I cannot heave / My heart into my mouth.” There is, too, something of the same thrilling integrity to Hejinian’s lines (here and elsewhere), thrilling in a poetry world of Gonerils and Regans.

7. Too, I hear John Ashbery (particularly the Ashbery of “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”). Think of lines like these:
                                and the thoughts
That peel off and fly away at breathless speeds
Like the last stubborn leaves ripped
From wet branches? I see in this only the chaos
Of your round mirror which organizes everything
Around the polestar of your eyes which are empty,
Know nothing, dream but reveal nothing.
I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
Put that next to, say, these lines of Hejinian (out of section XXIV):
We are a tilted species
Dipping and lunging forward, swinging our baskets
Of eggs, stuck to our shadows
Which gravity in turn sticks to life
Throughout the long days that night disarrays.
The fog is taking shape, it is forming
Gulls and longshoremen, dolphins and cities
It sweeps from a sliding circle
Whose circumference lies beyond the edges of the field
Of vision by which we are engulfed. It leaps
From under a sheet and mumbles a sound that might have been a word—
It was probably not.
8. Hejinian’s working a terrific line, one that’s willing to go “out” to magnificent ends, or stop short, break off, entirely, blissfully flexible. I want to call it a glacial line—it picks up everything in its path (and’s capable of eventually depositing it anywhere). Never compell’d before to attend to the line-breaks: here, the highly enjamb’d lines work up ambiguity, irony, wonder, by turns. “But I am throwing off conviction, bound / To regard the sea.”

9. Troubling, still, the workings of metaphor. If Hejinian (presumably attempting to plumb an emotional state, or identify with it) writes—in a whole slew of quick-outing “feelings” (disbelief, ambivalence, scorn) in section X—of:
               thinking of the hateful
Regret rescued from a log somewhere
Off Tierra del Fuego three years ago and now
Confined to a stinking cage
Which she (Jane thinks she’s female) filthies (she even shits
In her water dish) and into which I stare
Without being able to discover any grounds at all
For affinity.
And it continues, later—“we are stuck / With Regret”—and I want to ask how that’s any different from, say, John Bunyan’s Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress with Hypocrisy (companion of Formalist) or Timorous (companion of Mistrust) or Pliable trying to avoid the Slough of Despond?

Continuing (likely).

Lyn Hejinian
(Photograph by Carolyn Andrews)

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Is Form?

Grid (On the Road)


I like how
the logic-steep’d
Francis Bacon nevertheless

connects form with
“the freeing of
a direction,” thus

hijacking the categorical
hither and off
whilst revving up

a process incomplete,
unending, a morph-
motor’d conduct, with

motility itself erring
into torch-lit
envoy, the see-

here sent. Inimical,
phantasmagorick’d, the sudden
off-track jump

out of some
“ruin’d piece of
nature,” the world’s

own unexpect’d sibylline
bark, its involuntary
surge cranial music.

(The Mud Boys
in the cathedral-
enormous beak of

a bird with
scant womanish bare
brown dugs medievally

sketch’d. Mud Boys
in lemony sun-
down light up

under the leathery
bat-wing struts
of the vault.

Siren-skipper’d Mud
Boys, paregorick’d, addled,
descending to sleep

in reliquary’d rows
inside the bird-
woman’s vagina, ink-

moisty and black.)
Hoi polloi temerity,
a story’s construal

out of letters.
Against the skin
of the Mediterranean

a xebec with
three white sails
cuts a gash—

a cursive unkern’d
typography of meander’s
pitiably unmeant song.

Weekend dog’d by wheeling the Vibe here and there, “lead pencil in the shaky desk,” physiognomy tilt’d roseate and grim to the heavens and horrific snores emerging, “ruin’d piece of nature,” indeed. Caught by a notion uncover’d in Sewell’s The Orphic Voice (and likely misinterpret’d, though isn’t that the source of all thinking? a loud misappropriating fuzz-out certitude? “ooo the day Odin meeteth the Loup Gris, yag, ack, the day ooo dies—The day the gray wolf oatses Odin for his long slack-jaw slaver, asurp—” (Kerouac, Old Angel Midnight), it’s a morning of fly abutments, grabbing what’s to hand . . .) The notion (script’d into number seventy-five) that Francis Bacon, who attempt’d without success (he left that to Shakespeare) to move beyond logical thinking (a language of markers) into a dynamic (a language of circuitry and exchange, subject subject to languaging by language itself) (to put it stupidly, in a kind of shorthand for a process one only sees in aftermath of being “took”): so I lit up with “form” being “the freeing of a direction”—and try’d mightily to get a look at I know not what. The line (out of Guy Davenport, though isn’t it originally another of the graced simplicities of the Shaker Ann Lee?) “every force evolves a form” come just a-wailing “up” and—in perusal of Davenport’s essays seeking—I fell into a quoted sentence by Henry James (The Awkward Age):
The truth is that what a happy thought has to give depends immensely on the general turn of the mind capable of it, and on the fact that its loyal entertainer, cultivating fondly its possible relations and extensions, the bright efflorescence latent in it, but having to take other things in their order too, is terribly at the mercy of his mind.
Fond (and loyal) exchange. The cultivator of the lingual seed (“efflorescence latent in it”)—même chose, non? (And how much looser, c’est-à-dire, more “democratic,” is James’s version when align’d against Olson’s Projective Verse constraint—the one overlook’d in the parenthetic to the “R. Creeley” phrase: “it makes sense to me,” says Olson, “with this possible corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of the content under hand.”) Of course the other proponent of such mercilessly exfoliant form unhinder’d and improper is Kerouac himself—“Wait’ll the music starts, little flicks of miilionfold billionminded fleet stars thronging all for a chance to live try sentience come swamming down your hard vale, whyfor hardvale boy?”—with the famous lines to John Clellon Holmes about “wild form”:
What I’m beginning to discover now is something beyond the novel and beyond the arbitrary confines of the story . . . into realms of revealed Picture . . . wild form, man, wild form. Wild form’s the only form holds what I have to say—my mind is exploding to say something about every image and every memory . . . I have an irrational lust to set down everything I know.
(Written in 1952 whilst in Mexico City writing Doctor Sax.) Sidetrack’d (that kind of morning) into reading a blast to Ginsberg (October 8, 1952): “You’re all a bunch of insignificant literary egos . . . you can’t even leave New York you’re so stultified . . . My whole record in NY is one long almost humorous chronicle of a real dumb lil abner getting taken in by fat pigjaws . . .” that ends with the pronouncement that “the time has come for all you frivolous fools to realize what the subject of poetry is . . . death . . . so die . . . and die like men . . . and shut up . . . and above all . . . leave me alone . . . & don’t ever darken me again.” (Clearing space with a vengeance, one supposes.) Clark Coolidge (I keep rotating The Orphic Voice and Now It’s Jazz and gulps of Doctor Sax) worrying the bone of form quotes a snip of Arnold Schoenberg replying to a question—“What is the first thing you get in your mind when you start to write a composition?”—and Schoenberg answers, “an unnameable sense of a sounding & moving space, of a form with characteristic relationships; of moving masses whose space is unnameable & not amenable to comparison.” (Does the “not amenable to comparison” rhyme with Olson’s “only and exclusively possible” “right form”? Maybe. Mostly I am attuned to Schoenberg’s sense of working without language, that is, blindly, being “in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason,” &c. That, and the sense of form as “moving,” dropping its deposits as it goes.) One other connection (out of Coolidge). He quotes something terrific out of Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope:
I imagine that for a poet auditory hallucinations are something in the nature of an occupational disease. As many poets have said—Akhmatova (in Poem Without a Hero) and Mandelstam among them—a poem begins with a musical phrase ringing insistently in the ears; at first inchoate, it later takes on a precise form, though still without words. I sometimes saw Mandelstam trying to get rid of this kind of “hum,” to brush it off and escape from it. He would toss his head as though it could be shaken out like a drop of water that gets into your ear while bathing. But it was always louder than any noise, radio or conversation in the same room.
Morning of echoes and reverbs: isn’t that akin to Jeff Hilson’s admitting the opening lines of Stretchers a repository of just such afflicting impertinences, pertinacious and wild? (“They ‘bothered’ me as a ‘bewilderment of noise,’ a phrase turned over and over in my head. The writing down of the opening line momentarily stilled the noise.”) As Kerouac says (Doctor Sax):
Nobody knows how mad I was—Tommy Dorsey’s I Got a Note was out that year, 1936, just at the time the Flood mounted in Lowell—so I went around the shores of the roaring river in the joyous-no-school mornings that came with the flood’s peak, and sang “I got a nose, you got a nose—(half octave higher:)—I got a nose, you got a nose,” I thought that’s what the song was: it also occurred to me how strange the songwriter’s meaning must have been (if I thought of songwriters at all, it seemed to me people just got together and sang over the microphone)—it was a funny song, at the end it had that 1930’s lilt so hysterical Scott Fitzgerald . . .
“Just got together and sang”—so the “teletype” of On the Road, so the “Recording Angel” making tapes (eventual Visions of Cody sprowf) with Neal Cassady.

Tommy Dorsey, c. 1938
(Photograph by Rex Hardy, Jr.)