Monday, August 31, 2009

Deep Gossip Breakdown

“Pagan Love Song”


Flawless late summer yellows, the indifference of the wheat in the field
          bending to the lanky insect-
Like combine, mechanical and joint’d, red. Clarice Lispector is writing
“A language that resembles an orgasm”—“adapiu quereba
          sulutria kalusia,”
she notes,
And “tilibica samvico esfolerico mazuba! I am the water of
          a lovely cistern.” Unstinting
The reveries of a purely sonic intelligibility, rudimentary dog-talk, lanky
          insect-talk, sense
Bent to the fripperies of the mouth’s invidious opulence, its
          seminal jawing. Flawless
Yellow light steamroll’d into wet asphalt, “Batuba jantiram lecoli?”
          She call’d the dog Ulisses, “Vicissitude.”

Suck of a menthol to the late afternoon breeze, spotlighting, Kool.
          Plebian night pitching its tarp
Earlier each day. The heart’s scintilla of feeling up under that implacable
Vanity-shirt, duplicitous and camouflaged, a wad of pink chewing
          gum stuck in the plumes
Of a shako. Recurrent bouts of composure ruining the wildness
          of the manuscript, its gaseous
Persistence, its refusal to fucking take charge. “Mind
          if I smoke?” No, go right ahead.”
That kind of immense tenderness unlordly under great red oaks that’ve
          stood by uncomplaining through
Every kind of inconsiderate and ostentatious moron’s bolt of
          regal whining, bit manoeuvres vulgar.

Ugh. Weekend too chock’d up with the details of ordinary life. Hardly a mote-sized page read under the sun-shafts, and that listlessly, the other motes in a stir. I did unearth a tiny cache of Tabucchi near Chicago. I did walk solitary and pure in six a.m. pre-dawn light with the dog and vainly bend one ear at the ongoing late summer insect revels. Do you suppose Allen Ginsberg knew the Ford Madox Ford line about gossip out of The March of Literature (below) when he laud’d Frank O’Hara’s “common ear / for our deep gossip”? I don’t.

Of Note

Hugh Kenner, out of Gnomon: Essays on Contemporary Literature (1958), the chapter call’d “Remember That I Have Remembered”:
As Mr. Pound has been telling us for forty years, Stendhal’s repudiation of “poetry with its fustian à la Louis XIV” was a crucial event in the history of letters. “At that moment the serious art of writing went over to prose, and for some time the important developments of language as means of expression were the developments of prose. And a man cannot clearly understand or justly judge the value of verse, modern verse, any verse, unless he have grasped this.” Again, “No man can now write really good verse unless he knows Stendhal and Flaubert.”
Which makes one consider the fustian of one’s own “era”—or a kind of fipple-dribble anti-fustian, that dominant mode of hint and feint vagary and vagueness, chop’d fragments wholly without menace or sense beyond a kind of adequate greyness—I’m thinking (with nothing in front of me) of my sense of recent work by, say, Donald Revell, Cole Swensen, Brenda Hillman, Bin Ramke, maybe Michael Palmer—narrative snub’d; full, boisterous sentence-ry canned; it’s the equivalent of good old epiphanic “invisible” plain-style of the ’seventies except cloudier, the connectives gummed out, holds less purchaseable. And the offspring: “elliptical” or “new thang’d”—both derivative of the broken-field running of the Language boys, with no sense of pizzazz, no (gulp) “joy” or astonishment in the possibility of lingual cruising. Is it now one must needs turn “back” to prose to revivify the poetry? (I am thinking of an addition to a model that see speech and writing in routine vacillating competition—one history says the writerly binge of the New Critical yo-yo’s got disrupt’d by the speech of the Beat / New American gang, writing (its artifice, it’s mockery of the “natural”; “I HATE SPEECH”) subsequently recover’d by the L-boys. We is in a slough now of terminal broken-down speechlessness, post L-boy mystificatory style-mongering (“an overriding concept of”), and must needs pluck down some (prosaic) rhetorical might off the sky-dog and yell a bit. Kenner points to Ford Madox Ford:
. . . from the time of his collaboration with Conrad at about the turn of the century until the emergence of the Pound-Eliot-Lewis “Vortex” in 1914 he was virtually alone in his tireless insistence on (1) the adequation of language to the thing perceived or the sensation undergone rather than to an overriding concept of “style”; (2) the importance of making every episode, sentence and phrase function—carry forward the total effect (“progression d’effet”); and (3) the principle of juxtaposition without copula of chapter with chapter, incident with incident, character with character, word with word, as the mainspring of poetic effect.
Or rhetorical outburst with rhetorical outburst. Kenner points to the ideogrammatickal Mr. Flaubert:
The quality of Bouvard and Pécuchet’s rapture at their inheritance is both rendered and placed in twelve words by just one collocation of enthusiasms:“Nous ferons tout ce qui nous plaira! nous laisserons pousser notre barbe!” [“We’ll do whatever pleases us! we’ll let our beards grow!”] In the technique of that sentence lies all modern letters in embryo: the exact words, the thematically relevant detail, the hokku-like juxtaposition of imperial felicity and an unchecked beard. It has nothing to do with the unconscious or private associations . . . And it was Ford who discerned and propagated that technique.
With a footnote:
In The March of Literature (1939) Ford traces the principle of juxtaposition to, for contemporary purposes, Stendhal or perhaps Jane Austen. “The point,” he adds, “cannot be sufficiently laboured, since the whole fabric of modern art depends on it.” A page or two later he adds, “Nothing in the way of incident or character sticks far out of the story, but the effect of ordinariness set against ordinariness in a slightly different plane gives precisely the effect of not ill-natured gossip, which to the average intelligent mind is the most engrossing thing in the world, and of slight surprise which is the prime quality of art.” . . . The term “gossip” should be noted. Ford’s unobtrusive good manners made it necessary for him to efface these principles by washes of casual verisimilitude. He got no further than a sophisticated impressionism, but as the English novel stood (and largely stands) it was a major innovation to get so far.
Maybe that’s what I find so limiting in Revell, Swensen, & Cie.—the “unobtrusive good manners” of it all, the “sophisticated impressionism.” No sense of actual paint on the canvas, no sense of any obsessive need to fling that paint.

Ford Madox Ford, 1873-1939

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another Life (Alan Halsey)

Some Clouds (Sturgeon Bay, Michigan)

Alan Halsey kindly reply’d to my note about the excellent Lives of the Poets, and clarify’d some of my conjectural hawing:
Actually the work didn’t begin as a collaborative romp, although it’s fine by me to see it that way. I was reading a then recent (2000) hefty biography of Byron & thinking that interesting as it was B’s life as a poet, in the poetry, was sidelined & that this increasingly happens as poets’ biographies accumulate more & more particulars—precisely the opposite of the way poetry works! So I played around with stripping the material back to B’s own vocabulary and phrasing & then tried the same with a few other poets—I saw it as a modest sequence at that time. Then I showed what I’d done to Martin & he joined in & that was when we had the collaborative romp. Eventually Martin got involved with other things & I carried on—or perhaps it was that I’d begun to see it as also a tracking of English as a language for poetry & that was more my bag than his. The potential endlessness of it is a bit dizzying, I’ll probably never really be done with it . . .
And attach’d a new piece, heretofore unpublish’d, about the Jesuit priest, poet, and Catholic martyr Robert Southwell (c. 1561-1595), he of the lovely line “My mind to me an empire is,” interrogated by the Queen’s notorious priest-hunter and torturer Richard Topcliffe, put into a hole called Limbo at Newgate, hung, bowell’d, quarter’d:

if yowe would be unremoved setting-out for Rome
a straunger an outlaw a beggar straightened in our Inglish Colledge
from deathes ante-room I was invited to another place
Having written this Epistle of Comfort where I lay in perills
we have martyr-quellers nowe to make Saints enough
to weep alone for this raging of catchpolls in our Island
to Mr. Cottons in Fleet Street one Mr. Southwell
Chief dealer for the Papists loth Goliath to inforce
apparelled in black rash of right ghostly Fathers
for the apprehension of this penner that laied a few course thridds
so weightye a man hanging ten tymes by the hands
whatsoever bee said to trouble and distemper
drawn uppon an hurdle How great a preferment

                                                                        —Alan Halsey

Robert Southwell

That Halsey’s Lives of the Poet continues in its “potential endlessness” I ought to’ve suspect’d; even in the book’s edition statement there’s mention of “26 signed & lettered A-Z with an additional Life (Chidiock Tichborne) in the author’s hand.” (Tichborne, too, interrogated over possession of “popish relics,” executed for conspiracy to murder the Queen.) Is it instructive to see Halsey’s “Lord Byron” in the light of “stripping the material back to B’s own vocabulary and phrasing”? Yes.
not Mrs Gray whose bed tricks May but cousin Margaret made of rainbow
dead when bitches are boys with passions for always violent
while you My Dearest Sister the nearest I have
before John he called Jenny he called mother stona
my Poetics I am about to give an entire new form
japanned and gilt and scarlet draperies supported by eagles
the Cadiz belles being the Lancashire witches of their land
and Socratic so serious pleasures of the Vizier that Lord B laughed
I plume myself on this pass’d Hellespont
sure of nothing so little as my own intentions
I am writing I know not what rhymes I never read to visitors
I would not be my hero for all the Susans of my bed tricks but
***L with half her body thrust into the carriage as if not less
now than then you give us both up no ties can bind but more than ever
disordered me till almost quite obliged to make love
myself hunted with hysterics while this snake of a poem
whether me or not my unpronounceable demon or my ***** his sister
I am whatever you please to make me
in gloom and Moon defiance just the spot for a hell
shut up ferocious in a craving dark London void
guilty of everything but flashes up sometimes in his shattered fortunes
servant to an antelope whose merit is finding out his
my delinquencies dangerous to look at
blighted fidgetting and branded I have given up Concubinage
by a red-hot head frittered down in fiasco
’Mericani call me capo meaning leader of the Mob
my departure can only lead to a greater evil
my removal impossible and perhaps death
That “sure of nothing so little as my own intentions / I am writing I know not what rhymes” read now in a Halsey’d light, and isn’t there a Halsey collection—is it Marginalien?—dedicated to one “Lancashire witch”?

Of Note

Out of Geoffrey Grigson’s variously anecdotal and aphoristic The Private Art: A Poetry Notebook (Allison and Busby, 1982):
      I suppose that the Fish Crow was the crow liked by Edwin Arlington Robinson, most discouraged, most quietly persistent of American poets, in his seclusion in Gardiner, Maine, where his family lived by trading in river ice.
      From Gardiner, 21 April 1897, Robinson to Edith Brower: “I don’t know very much about birds, but I think my favorite is the crow. His song isn’t very valuable but his plumage—to say nothing of his personality—is most fascinating and satisfactory. And then there are swallows.” But the swallows are an after-thought. Did Robinson ever enlarge on that liking for the crow, that solitary of the frozen shore, in black iridescent feathers?
      Robinson, to the same correspondent, two years later, in April, aged twenty-nine: “I don’t have trances, furors or ecstasies. My poetic spells are of the most prosaic sort. I just sit down and grind it out and use a trifle more tobacco than is good for me.”
      He liked Crabbe, this excellent poet from the ice river; but so did Tennyson.

Every poetic revolution is necessary, every poetic revolution becomes ludicrous.
Relevancies: that Hopkins fixed a sea-anemone along his forehead; that Hopkins climbed down from the jaunting-car and ploughed a furrow; that Eliot slipped off to Early Celebration in a bowler hat; that Baudelaire’s Jeanne Duval was a mulatto; that Pope filled a grotto with minerals; that Cowper watched the leaves falling over Buckinghamshire and wanted to live for ever and ever; that John Crowe Ransom went out to Arnold’s Bagley Wood to listen for nightingales; that Wyndham Lewis liked crême de menthe for its colour; that Auden was spelled by limestone formations; that young Akhmatova ran in a wild way in a torn dress without underclothes along the hard edges of the Black Sea.

Irrelevancies: that Milton, for his fairness (and what else?) was nicknamed the Lady of Christ’s College; that Mathew Arnold wore lavender kid gloves; that Eliot’s throat ran with catarrh, that Louis MacNeice’s finger-nails were black; that Auden of the clear and spare poems drank too much rye and shuffled in bedroom slippers.
Mallarmé’s cat

Of stories about Mallarmé or record of his conversation, I love the remark he made to the poet Georges Docquois, who had Mallarmé’s cat Lilith—a black cat—on his knees. Docquois was praising Lilith’s armorial air, when Lilith stood up, turned her tail end to Docquois and gently swished the tip of his nose with her tail. Mallarmé then said there was only one thing wrong with this delicious creature: “C’est cette tonsure qu’elle nous montre impudiquement, ce coin nu de sa bestialité . . . j’ai souvent songé à dorer cela.” I prefer that to Eliot and his comic cuts of cats—Mallarmé’s Lilith lifting her black tail and revealing a little round tonsure of gold-leaf.
Why isn’t
The gookoo over white weäv’d seas
Do come to zing in thy green trees
(from Barnes’s poem Maÿ [William Barnes, named—with Thomas Campion—by Auden as one he prefer’d to all others]) one of the classic admired couplets in our poetry? Because of the conceit of learning; because of the dialect; because the learned have been able to dismiss a poet who lived obscurely, away from the centres of education, as naive and provincial. If so few critics have spoken well of Barnes, it is for lack of taste and courage; and lack of authorization—authorization from other poets, by whom critics are cued. Barnes seemed good to Coventry Patmore, they didn’t care for Patmore. Tennyson approved him, they turned against Tennyson. Hopkins praised him, but Hopkins is a recent authority. Hardy spoke up for Barnes, but critics have only lately accepted Hardy as a poet. Now Auden. I think Auden and a few others will do the trick.
Trying to make your poems lick the arse of posterity is as bad as making them lick the arse of your own time. Either way you twist their truth to yourself—unless hindquarters are your natural habitat.
Variable, crotchety, wrong and right.

Geoffrey Grigson
(Photograph by George Wright)


A sextant lying in the dirt, point’d to measure the height of
          the gods. Isn’t there a story of John
Keats coating tongue and throat with burning cayenne pepper so’s
To apprehend, nay, seize the righteous cold glory of claret? So Hopkins
          consider’d it “strikingly graceful etc.” to diadem himself
With a sea anemone. Naturally it stung the Jesuit “with its—base, you call it?”
          and deposit’d “a large red scar.”
Buss-sloppy mark of something or other: he tout’d any epithet.
          Something in the flux-gunk’d polyp-
Squeeze to engineer any carking kind of ingest, that tentacular suck—
          isn’t that precisely
Desire and its discontents? Furious soldiery fastidious against raw
          wordy exuberance.

The aching arch of night sky speck’d, meal’d-with-yellow stars, grease-
          spatter’d against the crucible-
Hard lid and we burning in the cauldron, the cauldron. Crow-foot’d
          bunglers, ape-arm’d, beak’d
Like jungle parrots. The discipline requires it. Dung-fork’d and slop-
Pail’d we march in regimens of sanctity, making something or other of
          wordy hellishness. In 1883 Hopkins writes
Letters to Nature detailing the color complexities of numerous
          Krakatoa-taint’d (and stupendously tinged) sun-
Departures, mauve of wild mallow, damson plum, anvil-spark’d yellow.
          Odd tufts and thin-textured
And plump, he notes, and something like the eggs in an opened ant-hill.
          Clouds, he means, or men, Lord-scorny praise-pinching men.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Critical Chops (Cutting Off the Crab’s Feelers)

Photograph of a Photograph


Radical unconnectedness in South Bend, delirium tremens in Port
          Huron, a deluge of hymnody
Up and down the Susquehanna, rudimentary anger at Cape May Point.
Vigorous vying amongst the other delinquents to divvy up the dump’d horn
          of cold remedy capsules and NoDoz
At the boy’s training school near Whitmore Lake. Inexorable sonority of
          wild baying scorn unform’d by the usual
Terrestrial grunt work trials. Now visibility fogs the voice, that thousand-
          foot lumberjack in the story’d distance
Is hunkering down into scruff conspiracy with all of nature, serenely
          stuffing a cabbage with bacon.
Chiasmic double-blade ax slung up shoulder. Nobody’s cover’d that song.
          Nobody knows that song.

Babylon in a syringe pitch’d out a speeding Mustang into the fug night’s
          one effulgence, that plaza near Baltimore
With the one-arm’d pumps. Malaise in the bunker, tinned octopus and cream’d
Corn. Incipit vita nuova is what I carv’d in the bunk-
          bed slat. Nobody believed it.
Nobody believed shit. A moon stray’d up into the sky, dirty paper plate.
Primordial limitlessness and satiety in Baton Rouge. Ennui and lamb chops
          in Raleigh, police in Beaufort. Adherent scarcity
And recklessness in Chattanooga and Ooltewah. Doctrinal waverings
          where the tarmac end’d. Penetralia
And crevice in the cedar swamp adjacent to Half Moon Lake. Unwork’d
          and ungull’d piracies, remorseless pioneering eschewals.

Ah, fidgetings. Hearty clappings in the penitential fires whilst my arms burn up and drop off. Dog days? Insobriety? (No thanks.) No fire to that Pynchon book, I dog through it and my cache mounts. I see in the “Foreword” to Kenner’s Gnomon: “In a long historical perspective, the Vortex [Kenner’s name for the “seminal poetry and prose” of the first half of the twentieth century, what he later call’d “The Pound Era”] is the third of a series of concerted attempts to deal with certain problems of perception and action which were present by the Renaissance and which came to a focus in the early eighteenth century; my forthcoming book The Night World will elucidate this statement.” And, flailing about, long to see Box 18, Folder 15, “The Night World [unpublished]—holograph and typescript fragments, n.d.” stuck amidst Kenner’s papers in Austin, and know the story thereto.

Of Note

Out of Hugh Kenner’s Gnomon: Essays on Contemporary Literature (McDowell, Obolensky, 1958)—the epigraph reads “. . . study with the mind of a grandson / and watch the time like a hawk” (out of Pound’s Canto LXXXV, chinoiserie soonest stir’d up in the batter with with techne, τέχνη):
Dr. Williams, infinitely sympathetic with the purposefulness of earnest coteries, is our champion contributor to the least-known magazines, into which he empties his mind of its current obsessions. Since he hasn’t been all these years painfully developing a system (which means trimming one’s later ideas to fit the earlier ones: “order that cuts off the crab’s feelers to make it fit into the box”): hasn’t feared to risk in his fifties and sixties the kinds of false starts that don’t matter in one’s twenties; and has kept his mind at the moment of writing fixed on some object or other that looms as oppressively as the cat’s head in the primitive painting (“a cat with a bird in his mouth—a cat with a terrifying enormous head, enough to frighten birds”)—for all these reasons random samples of his fugitive writings, gleaned from such copies of equally fugitive magazines as come one’s way, are apt to prove unfortunate. Hence the impression (on what has been to date necessarily imperfect acquaintance) of a bush-league avant-gardist, one foot still in the1920s, apt to be sent gaga by the latest surrealist. His tone isn't soothing; he is himself the archetypal six-foot cat’s head; even when he makes an appearance among the statuary of more securely capitalized publications, virtually put on his honor not to frighten the birds, commissioned for instance to review Shapiro’s Essay on Rime, he is apt to throw his overcoat onto the grand piano (“I hadn’t prepared a damn thing” [Kenner’s quoting out of WCW’s report, in the Autobiography, of a 1950 lecture at UCLA]) and begin—
Suppose all women were delightful, the ugly, the short, the fat, the intellectual, the stupid, the old—and making a virtue of their qualities . . . made themselves available to men, some man, any man, without greed! . . . Take for instance the fat: if she were not too self-conscious, did not regret that she were not lissome and quick afoot, but gave herself, full belly, to the sport! What a game it would make! . . .
The man who jammed a notion like that into the Kenyon Review can be credited with having extended our notions of the possible, but hardly with an Eliotic platform manner. It is no wonder that he isn’t known as a major critic, especially since he doesn’t specialize in putting into hierarchies an array of poems closed off forty years ago . . . but concentrates on the nature of writing, especially the writing that somebody ought to be doing right now. No critic senses more urgently the immediate relevance of his subject to this year’s necessary activities.
Admittedly, one is tempt’d—is it Williams’s coat toss’d so unseeingly, so negligently onto that grand piano as if it were an ordinary ottoman, or worse, a “dining room table” (try talking to one sometime)? or is it that lovely gruesomeness defining wrong-head’d categorical imperatives—“order that cuts off the crab’s feelers to make it fit into the box”?—the enticement is there, to make Kenner’s lines allegory to the current “era” with its one-foot-in-the-door systematizers and dogmatists and turf-defenders, its toy statisticians and rankers, its near-sight’d lumpers and splitters, its gainsayers for lineages freak, its taste-testers of some no-account imaginary sociological stew. For Williams, the critical “feat” is akin to the writerly one—gut intuiting, perfect timing, Zen suspension, a good eye and a twenty-two (none of that double-barrel’d shotgun haphazardry):
      The trick is delay; to involve the mind in discussions likely to last a lifetime and so withdraw the active agent from performance. The answer is, an eye to judge.—When the deer is running between the birches one doesn’t get out a sextant but a gun—a flash of insight with proof by performance—and let discussion follow. If the result is a work of art the effect is permanent.
Kenner, who’s reviewing Williams’s Selected Essays (publish’d 1954) (WCW is a couple years beyond seventy at the point of the gathering) in a piece call’d “Dr. Williams Shaping His Axe” (originally print’d in the Hudson Review in 1955) identifies perfectly the temperament of the iconoclast:
Amid boulders his shots often ricochet; this wouldn’t happen if he were pelting his quarry with grapes, but it has condemned a good deal of his prose to mere eccentricity. In retrospect, fortunately, Williams can be trusted to identify his solid critical achievements, though unlike Pound and Eliot he hasn’t up to now troubled to keep them pruned and in circulation. His Selected Essays—a collection of pieces that should have been widely known years ago (the gist of the book lurks in passages written before 1939, and the contents date from 1920) ought to scatter a good many pigeons. Its advent is nicely timed to disturb the afternoon peace of a bureaucracy that has lately been supposing all the major criticism of the present time to be well known and sifted, the orthodoxies established, the hammocks slung, the returns in, and nothing to do but execute philosophical doodles . . .
Williams, so late to the hustings: no use preening and consolidating, too much work to do. How different the crafty sociologues of the current crop and consortium: they who routinely run “think pieces” that verify and provide summary disbursements of, mostly, their own already thought.

William Carlos Williams, c. 1954
(Photograph by Lisa Larsen)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Alan Halsey & Martin Corless-Smith’s Lives of the Poets

Some Clouds (Sturgeon Bay, Michigan)

Out of the marvelous Lives of the Poets (Five Seasons Press, 2009) by Alan Halsey, “with eighteen by Martin Corless-Smith”:
Gavin Douglas

to haf na intromitting with this roustie rurall rebaldrie
the Prowest of Sanct Geylys Kyrk Postulat off Arbrotht
I beseyk you traist not to myche in your diuers writingis
Gawing the Paipe hath elect throw our Ladie and other gud friendis
Bischeip of Dunkeld and violat the statutis
quharfor thai wnderstand at my derrest uncle was in preson
Dowglass a reuerend fader gangand to Rome for his lauchfull defence
sumpart accrasyt at Lundone considdering the Bishopryc vacand
all sik lytill materis beand saddilie rememberyt
frind of Vergil so full of sorowe and vehement ennoye
my sa haymlye wryting kepand na Sodroun bot oure awin langage
Whiffs of the life, the style, the “engend’ring poetique,” all wrap’d in the torn muslin cloth of unsettled orthographickal conventions, what a ride! What materiality! Reminders of how language begins with (and is so rarely and “saddilie rememberyt” by) whole clutches of humus-rich dirt, membra disjecta and nary a single polish’d stone shiny falling out of “our” mouths, there in the dawning, letters there for the arranging. Provender in the radical turf of “our awin langage”—a way of continuing the devilishness of Finnegans Wake. Language without slack. Here’s “Sir Thomas Wyatt”:
to mark and remember nerawhyt erryng
and to make into our englysshe
Wiat que la dame Anne Bulleyn
avait este trouvee au delit avec
my thinges so rawlye goyng to nowght afore mine Ies
I restles rest in suspect
for better poursuyte the tyme to seke
wich way my jeperdie may come to knollege
quarelles ynowgh in euery mans mowgh
as tho the thinges passid had bene but dremis
in stynke and close ayer as God iuge
an evident syngne I am clere of thought
I am wonte some tyme to rappe owte
Sir Thomas with a typewriter. And “quarelles ynowgh in euery mans mowgh”: such language requires the big grainy abrasives of speech (in order to hear it) precisely by calling the eye (“mine Ies”) to examine it so intently. (Or: such language calls to all the senses—that “stynke and close ayer” appendix to the fuddy “englysshe.” Out of that “jeperdie”—“knollege.”) Here’s one of the Corless-Smith “eighteen”:
John Keats

Everything is dead (poor human) posthumous mask
Swell loudly swelling up to dying proudly
walking hospitals his airy citadels—collapse
(Tom has spit a leetle blood this afternoon)
sleeping in the vale of health—the Battery
a rainless shower [I] begin to fix my eye on an horizon
[The] little mercury I have or sparrow were before
my window Devonshire a mental cottage
golden head upon a thing of clay
a sense of being drowned and rotten like a grain of wheat
there is something real in the world
water parted from the Sea   My Dear Rice, My Dear Brown
Exiled in an awkward bow I have more to say
Blood from my mouth I know the colour of that blood
Why do I suspect [wrongly, it turns out] the book to’ve found its origins in some aimless collaborative romp and amusement, a sketchy reply to Michael Schmidt’s colossal Lives of the Poets? (Or, distantly, Samuel Johnson’s Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, to the Works of the English Poets, commonly call’d ditto.) And then, collaborators “beset upon” by the collaboration itself—the way any good writing, like a high-spirit’d quarterhorse, ’ll up and run off, whim-pretty and unpredictable—turn’d (a little) serious. The poets run a gamut, Chaucer (“toold tales of vanitees and ribaudye / the which pray foryeve me or elles I dye”) to Lionel Johnson (“whose silence has beak and claw”), with seemingly none of the period—five hundred years!—unaccount’d for. So one peruses George Gascoigne (“I neuer receyued one pennie for these Posies / . . . remember to place every worde in his natural sound”), Barnabe Googe (“this Author lothe yet not vnknowen to a greate nombre / in gyuynge lyght to thefe vnpolyshed nombred heapes”), Robert Greene (“conny-catching malcontent with makeshift queane / that could not make verses jet upon the stage”), Ben Jonson (“pinching pediculous mouth-stinker Horace the second”), Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (“twisted each letter to make such toys as I invent myself”), John Dryden (“my Virgil finishd I will write on since I find I can”), Aphra Behn (“as many good Comedies as any Man writ in our Age”), John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (“the most fantastical odd man alive that slattern Betty was dear to / must have starv’d if I had not pawn’d my plate”), Erasmus Darwin (“I neglected the Muses but study Vowels and consonants and chemistry so eagerly / a little wild garden unexplored / as the poetic ground of Linnaeus incessantly labour’d at”) and William Blake (“at Felpham more distinctly a fairy procession / an immense Poem I am secretary to / and a very unwarrantable warrant for seditious words”). A perfect contagion of quotables. Uno más:
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Chestnut     Oak     birch     elm Skin’s up very high in
anything you like sunrises sunsets blood-light and lazuli
ash and gentle fellowship it was a hard thing to undo
forbidden talking sins whips sins and stallion fascination
to give up beauty penitent waiting found the law of oak leaves
verses I resolved [instress] wd. interfere [inscape] with my vocation
the true eye and ace poor chaste and obedient I felt
an instress of Wales and in any inscape of sky or sea thought of Scotus
but never say the poem on the Deutschland is mine
and don’t you (dearest Bridges) say my lines don’t scan
my alleged singularities so harried and gallied up and down
or at standstill go gone at a temporary Junction
no farther inspiration unbidden impulse against my will
some sonnets ready for hanging on the line E V E N   N O W
The book itself is ravishingly design’d in severest blues, blacks and grays. Blue boards and titling. With a dozen or so reprint’d engravings of the poets (out of Portraits of The British Poets publish’d by W. Walker, 1820-1824).

Alan Halsey

Martin Corless-Smith

Thomas Carew
(Cover of
Lives of the Poets)


Unsung the primal minutiae of the Nekyia, oh down derry derry down,
          that unremitting final dowse
Spelunk tiresias jaunt unreport’d. Think of the way the brusque twentieth-
          century’s inventing of the aeroplane
Allow’d a reading of the colossal earth-etch’d Nazca lines of southern
          Peru, a previous
Geometry unperceiv’d, made by gods or humans mete in grim harmony.
High in the red oak a cicada begins its audacious drilling, keening
          for whatever yawn-gaping soul it
Deposit’d in the husk it shed, ungarner’d mestizo, hook-claw’d replica,
          green-martyr’d tree-prawn.
Self-sufficiency and finesse is a New World syntax, is align’d with
          cruelty meandering, under the white castrato sun.

Bold idylls and cumbersome ruts. Twenty summers of sphinxlike drinking
          unutterable, preparedness for the pounce.
I wash the ostentatious violets out of my hair and my soul, little knee-
Hugging manikin of the barstools, nearly throws a chub. It’s that blonde
          with the Red Detachment of
Women bangs and the mortal while slice of incisors, ut moveat, ut
meticulous as a ditty.
Poor John Luck, the world needs changing and the ordinary gods so
          inviolate in a perfecting rout
Doubt it not, walking like enormous white bulls up hind-leggedly, swaggering
          like boxers undefeat’d or
Cruelly meandering, punch-drunk under the white castrato sun.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Edward Dahlberg to Jonathan Williams

Bust and Newel


Supper of the bitter Gallic salts of dying Europa, while dogs howl out
          hominid perturbings, adamant and circling, flea-
Bit and ghostly. Like lingerie hung off the clerestory uprights the night
          billows out fronting
A breeze doused with the scent of fennel seeds firing up in the grill’d
          sausage, a fork popping little tine-
Provoked geysers, the odor of radiant pep and its clammy disavowals
          ritually loft’d.
I so imperfectly recall the somewhat complex story about the Confederacy,
          the cost of the soul, chimney
Dampers and increasingly moist underclothes, I dare not attempt a re-
Telling, boozy and decrepit though the audience be.

Getting shut of the vacant phraseology, the doge roger anemia of the
          ordinary eruct, “that’s one way.”
The other is caboose in the cabbage patch, shim-whittling for a hobby
And nobody’s horse-thievery without skimming off a goat or a hen,
          too. What’s Pound’s dictum,
To refuse to rustle a word “apart from its neighbours”—one way of hog-
          tying the conventional whilst
Slowly ripping pages out of the Webster’s, immensity feeding itself
          against the inadequacy of
Mere licentious redoubt and its ratifying “kin.” Snatch-rhythm break-
          through operaticks, yes.
Alors, répétez: poniard, potboy, pout. Sisyphean, Skeltonic,
          skeptical, skew . . .

Some remedial snarling vacancy in the breadbox I balance between my shoulders in lieu of a head. The suck of late summer, its scissoring nightly insect choruses, its porch beers, its accelerant smudge. Barely a red mite scurrying up a half-collapsed stone wall, c’est moi. I read a little “at” that new Pynchon, mrrmff. Maybe I’ll try Steve Erickson’s Zeroville next “for to compare”—movie-addled hero in the same post-Charles Manson L.A. dope-testimonial “era.” Or maybe opt off “elsewhere,” Andrew Lytle, Ross Lockridge, Jr. Restlessness of the damn’d.

Of Note

Out of the Paul Carroll-edit’d Edward Dahlberg Reader (New Directions, 1967), a letter to the twenty-nine year old Jonathan Williams (dated September 23, 1958):
. . . I believe you are a brave and talented man; give, if you don’t think I am a pedagogue, enough time to season you own pulse with good, wise books. Try as best you can to link the past with today; otherwise you have all the raging buffoonery of Dada, which some call surrealism, existentialism or what the vulgarians now call the “beat generation.” Everybody is defeated from the moment he quits his mother’s womb. Soon as you are in the world, and granting that some centuries are worse than others, and we are at the bottom of the pit of Acheron, the struggle commences. What is important then is to find examples that will nourish other people and not kill them. Let Nature do that, and the task will be accomplished soon enough.
      Of course it is wonderful of you to encourage so many people who would not have a chance with venal publishers. But must you encourage everybody?
      I like you very much, and also Joel Oppenheimer, and if you will heed me, since I have no creed to offer you, but a long humiliating experience, a thousand Golgothas, I may be of some use to you as a person and a writer. I am not looking for disciples. Jesus did not even know what to do with the apostles, and they had such dull auditory nerves that they could not hear what came from his soul. It is easier to walk on water as Peter did than it is to listen to another man.
      It is better to save your money and to print what is best in the land than to do many miscellaneous chapbooks which are pleasant enough but with not enough meaning to nurture and guide the lost, and we are all lost. I am absolutely nowhere in America at the age of 58. I have been in exile in this land since I was a boy. But it is the only country I know, and homeless here I somehow or other touch the ground, a threshold, and a few people who are my kindred even if they don’t recognize it. . . . .
      I would, if my suggestions do not irk you, because you know how to print and bind a book with great taste, and I don’t know anything about either, bring out books that do not simper or are not eccentric. When one is a poet he does not have to try to look like one. The enemy recognizes him even in the gray, deathlike double-breasted suit. All a poet nowadays has to do is to open his mouth to sow dragon’s teeth, and so it is not essential that he dress like one, or that you clothe a book with upside-down photographs. Let us try to be as simple and plain as we can about what we feel. Were you a parcel of that beat generation you would not immolate your person and pocketbook in an impossibilist’s effort to bring to others books. I would not go on writing either; ask yourself, what do you write for? ask yourself all the questions that press down upon your identity so that you won’t do more stupid things than I did when I was your age. We are born fools and die wretches, and there is no necessity to be more clownish or miserable than we already are.
      It is good to publish those who cannot find some one to do it. You also have another task, even more significant, to print the works of those who will be of use to purblind souls. We are all Cimmerians, living in some subterranean bog in our souls, and when I glance through a volume, I don’t want to know whether this author cannot otherwise find someone like yourself to bring him out. What is most important is that, whatever age he is, he can be the viaticum for my own nature, and give me enough food so that my own spirit can soar for an afternoon or at least until dusk. In other words, despite the fact that it is very hard for young people, and also the older ones, to get somebody to place their sighs and constellations between boards, what is of imperial worth is what they can do for others. Otherwise, you are bringing out books by Narcissus. There is already too much self-love in the world. Don’t encourage a man to love himself more than he already does. Do what you can to impress upon him the necessity of caring for somebody else. Every page is either a vision or Circe’s sty. Somehow or other most of us can gather the acorns and the masts, and we in this respect are as agile as the sea pigs around the Pillars. What everybody requires, you and I, is a book to take us back to Isis and Osiris so that we can understand this smallest of periods we attach so much importance to, our lives. If a book is not the most acute moiety of a man’s valorous pursuit for ends, then it is the devil of Gadarene.
      I hope I have not been too lengthy. What I want to impress upon your own nature is that my situation is no different from yours. Maybe you think I am a successful writer. I can tell you that I loathe the word success. My dear, good friend, Josephine Herbst, is inveighing against fame when she asserts that Bartram searched for the source of streams, gathered seeds, walked through unknown fens, scrutinized the leaves of the alder and the scrub oak, not to be renowned, but because he had an overpowering love within himself which he wanted to give to others. Is a volume a seedling which may grow into an aspen, a plane tree or a birch within you? If nothing grows after you have read a book then you have had a baleful and dismembering experience. Do we have to go to books to be assassinated? How much loam, ordinary dirt, foliage, moss, and even the dead carcasses of birds that once were jubilant is in a book. Whole islands that are composed of the dead are today the loam and ground of the living. Does a book awaken you? Will it bring you closer to another lorn person? You and I know the tragedy of separation, which we won’t dissolve by palaver and beer at the Cedar Bar. It is a great purgative experience to be together provided that our purpose is mirthful or earnest or both and not just to be more sodden and inert.
Cent cons m’enterrent.

“Three-Breasted Woman”

“Nude on Partridge”

“Drowning Man”

Drawings by Ben Shahn (1898-1969) for Edward Dahlberg’s
The Sorrows of Priapus (New Directions,1957)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Frank and a Minim



Morning finds a mouse ransacking a bag of sunflower seeds and turns
          to the radio, Jack Teagarden blowing
Something call’d “Love Lies.” He want’d to fill Bixby Canyon
With one hundred trombonists, to make Beiderbecke’s “In a Mist”
          ricochet and swing at midnight all
Up and down it like a bombastic black crow interminably
          harass’d by a starling, or
Abhor’d Pluto wheedling Persephone with the red pulpy seeds of
          the rind-cover’d Punica.
That is to say: morning needs its Ganesha, it eight-arm’d Remover
          of Obstacles, and all that’s expect’d is high
Humidity and a fizzle of rain coming up off the lee
          of Bill, a hurricane.

It’s architectural work that keeps out the turgid wind of pomp
          and stridency, screws a swivel latch
To the banging hen-house door. Louis H. Sullivan, in limning out
          with a pencil a florid door-
Ornament impromptu, made it upright enough to warrant a block-
          print’d note
Regarding the stability of vertical forms and add’d, One is now
          in the domain of Virtuosity, Romance
And the Symbolic,
as if to hint that when, as it must, the big
River of forms (with apparatchik and analyst alike unditch’d)
          washes itself wholly down into the emptying gulf
With its Aeolian airs and seizures, a muddy pine wood plank
          stuck flat against the earth’s least likely to fly.

Friday jaunt to Chicago to, among other things, poke around in a couple of used book emporia, ah, whim and serendipity. The Kenner item (below) one result. Trajectory makes for a short weekend, and a somewhat squinty Monday morning viddy look at things. I like (of late) to think of myself kin to “Frank, the uninspired poet”—one of a motley outfit found in Charles Portis’s Gringos:
Frank didn’t write anything, or at least he didn’t publish anything. Beth claimed he burned with a nonluminous flame, and all the hotter for that. Perhaps. A nonflowering plant. He soon drifted away. The Olmecs didn’t like to show their art around either. They buried it twenty-five feet deep in the earth and came back with spades to check up on it every ten years or so, to make sure it was still there, unviolated. Then they covered it up again.
(Another Portis character, one “Minim” is “a retired bowler and sports poet”: “he maintained that bowling was held in even lower esteem than poetry, though it was a close call. He had made more money with his short sports poems, he said, than he had ever made on the bowling circuit, though not much more.”) So (“So”?), as Tennessee Williams says somewhere: “Intentions are sometimes delusions, but they are as necessary as breath. / So en avant, meaning right on.” I seem suddenly obsess’d with long-wind’d sonneteering of a sort, mid-hinged (or un-hinged). A fool’s errand all of it, is how I’m seeing it . . .

Tennessee Williams, 1911-1983

Of Note

Out of Hugh Kenner’s textbook (“Note to the Teacher”: “The aim . . . is to get a useful terminology into circulation with the minimum of fuss. It contains a good many twentieth-century poems, mainly to postpone the complication presented by period styles” and “Much of the commentary has been kept sufficiently gnomic not to impede the teacher who wants to modify or dissent from it”) (“Note to the Student”: “A conscientious effort has been made to include in this book nothing that seems likely to waste your time. Nevertheless, you aren’t expected to admire everything you find here. The book contains numerous imperfect poems, some period pieces, and a few specimens with which something has gone badly wrong” and “The editor’s opinions are fallible. So are yours and so are your teacher’s”), The Art of Poetry (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1959), out of the chapter titled “The Image: What the Words Actually Name”:
        The novelist who isn’t trying very hard will tell you that his hero is, for instance, “a gentleman of independent mind.” You register the fact that nothing has been said against the fellow, and pass on, hoping, perhaps, that the villain will be more interesting. Whole pages, even, filled with phrases of this kind are simply thrown away. As likely as not, the reader skips, and with reason. Nothing whatever lays hold of his mind to compensate for the fatigue of shuttling his eye across the page. But if he came upon these words of Confucius, they would perhaps bring him up short:
The proper man is not a dish.
        This is a factual statement. It isn’t an “as if.”
        But it is not the sort of factual statement on which the dictionary gives much help: “A vessel, as a platter, used for serving food at the table,” etc. Mediating on the two halves of the sentence, we think of the dish as an implement, something used (the “proper man” isn’t used by anybody); as an object into which you put things (the proper man doesn’t passively submit to being “filled up”), as distinguished from, say, a spring or a well; but an object into which you can’t put very much, as distinguished from a pot or a barrel (note the popular phrase about so-and-so being “deep”).
        “Dish” in this sentence is an extremely rich term; richer that any of the usual attributes of propriety . . . It derives this richness of implication not from the dictionary but from being juxtaposed with “The proper man.”
        When words are skillfully put together (juxtaposed, literally put together, placed in contact) they generate potentials of this kind; exactly as, when you touch electric terminals together, you get a spark.
        “Dish,” in this example, may be called an image: a thing the writer names and introduces because its presence in the piece of writing will release and clarify meaning.
        When it is placed in contact with “is not a dish,” the phrase “the proper man” is illuminated. It exhibits more meaning and more definite meaning, than it did before. This is the normal function of images.
(Quick graphing “at” the page without perusal, is it possible to mistake Confucius’s line momentarily for something out of Stein’s Tender Buttons?) Under “Useful Books” (neither “prescription nor an exhaustive catalogue”) Kenner lists Pound’s ABC of Reading (“Very high concentration of horse sense per page”); Richards’s Practical Criticism (“this analysis of the ways in which naïve but opinionated readers make fools of themselves has saved many students from the tempting supposition that poetry can be absorbed like Coca-cola”); Brooks’s The Well-Wrought Urn; Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (“This extremely uneven book pursues with resolute informality the method of teasing out strands of meaning in deceptively simple passages. Dangerous for the suggestible”); Leavis’s Revaluation (“The genealogy of ‘wit’ . . . The discussion never wanders from the specific examples under scrutiny”); Kenner’s own Gnomon; Davie’s Purity of Diction in English Verse (“The first critic to do anything useful with the concept of ‘diction’”); Eliot’s Selected Essays; and WCW’s Selected Essays (“The three essays on Pound in this book, and the earlier of the two on Marianne Moore, illuminate far more than their ostensible subjects. So do the aphorisms that turn up on every page”).

And, final word, Kenner, just to keep a big rock or two holding down the lid on the pot of critical “import,” quotes Samuel Johnson on criticism:
The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us for passing trifles, will wonder that on trifles so much labour is expended, with such importance of debate, and such solemnity of diction. To these I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an art which they do not understand; yet cannot much reproach them with their ignorance, nor promise that they would become in general, by learning criticism , more useful, happier or wiser.
Ah, for a pedagogy that admits up front its subject is a fool’s errand . . .

Hugh Kenner, 1923-2003

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kleinzahler and Maddin

“The Purs’d Lips of Posterity”


Up here crouch’d against the green brink of nothingness, attempting
          to lance the plenum, bust up the polarity,
Though hardly succeeding. Moon swoll’d up scab-red like a tick burrowing
          into the brindled hound of night. The corpus of
The damn’d lies deep in its violet-cover’d refuge, its solitary mound,
Spurn’d and querulous, muttering whilst it reviews the contents of its Cratylus,
          awl and shuttle and name and is the instrument of language
Reliably arbitrary, or piercingly natural, you prick, you prick, you prick! Lucre
          of the nervous. The corporate body lies
Under the fleur-de-lys’d garden “plots” with prevailing reveries
          of the glut
Of cheap labor any mechanization supplies, all the D.I.Y. scanners in grocery

And dry goods department checkout counters, “serviceable” by a single smiling
Continuity girl, a plump brunette with a history of self-esteem “issues” who’s
          “there” to call out plaintively rhapsodic “advice and instruction” to all
And sundry, Sundays off. She’s replacement for the continuously goosed—and worse—
          nineteenth c. Irish maid and housekeeper the plutocracy
Routinely saw to suicide. Scullion and wench and name, is language instrumental? I
          recall one morphine addict
With “misdirect’d anger” asking Gus the grocer to pour molasses in a hat. Which Gus
          did, and immediately got it
Plant’d—splat!—full in that impudent countenance he wore to work
          in, blinding him
Utterly. The thug sporadic scoop’d the till.

Retard Spoilage

Animalcules heave their tackling,
ladders of polysaccharides,
onto meatmilkshimp&creamy emulsions,

sticking like putrefactive Velcro.
The refrigerator switches on in the darkness,
a murmuring, perfervid sadhu close at hand.

Turbidity, gasses, a silky clouding over—
gray slime spreads across hot dog casings,
a sour reechiness transpires below.

However much by day we shore up our defenses,
darling, over time they find their way back
to slowly assail our dwindling larder.

Liquefaction, spoilage and rot—
mephitic flora breed apace,
leaving behind them a ropiness, butyric off-odors.

Ludamilla’s prize-winning kraut goes pink.
Fetor of broken proteins—
the drumstick fluoresces, alight with Pseudomonads.

There has to be a music to it all,
I’m certain, if only one could hear it:
a Lilliputian string ensemble’s low humming,

an almost inaudible cicada surge,
earwax hissing in peroxide solution,
sausage frying in a distant room.

Good, patient Leeuwenhoek of Delft,
having “partook of hot smoked beef, that was a bit fat,
or ham,” of which he was most fond,

suffered a grave ruction below
and so put to work his celebrated lens
that he might better examine his troubled stool

and found there an animalcule, nay many,
but one especially, in the figure of an eel
that “bent its body serpent-wise,”

“a-moving prettily,” he made thorough note
in a letter to his estimable coequal, Robert Hooke,
and “as quick as a pike through water.”

Sleep, my angel, sleep,
though everywhere out there they are among us,
within, as well, wriggling deep,

they prosper into our dark complement, and by us dwell
in perfect equipoise: your inviolate sweetness
amidst that which is vile&writhing&smells.
August Kleinzahler, out of Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (FSG, 2008). Sadhu’s a beggarly ascetic, a Hindu mutterer. Reechiness is, seemingly, neologism or nonce, leech, leach’d out (soil), retching, all that in its vicinity (Kleinzahler proceeding—manoeuvering the poetic craft—by sonic lights alone): lovely; butyric referring to butter, particularly its chemical constitution (butyric acid a fatty acid, one of the butyls, gone “off”—smelling rancid, vinegary; Pseudomonads: bacterial agents of food spoilage. (Positively Horatian how “instructing” the piece is . . .)

I look’d into Sleeping It Off in Rapid City out of Ron Silliman’s cha-cha about Joel Lewis, “the quintessential New Jersey poet of our time,” wondering both “is there such a beast, or animalcule?” and “what about August Kleinzahler?” Is Alfred Starr Hamilton a New Jersey poet? Is Amiri Baraka a New Jersey poet? Is Theodore Weiss? (I knew a man name of Rob Patton once wrote a poem call’d “Jerking Off in Jersey City”—though I suspect the intent of de-shodding a certain clubby Connecticuter (or Connecticutian) behind it—or is Stevens a “quintessential” Pennsylvanian poet?) (And how was Amiri Baraka, say, or, gulp, David Shapiro, once in the indefinable past, each, the quintessential New Jersey poet of “theirs”? I’m running into all sorts of “era interference” or something, chronological lapsuses (or lapsae)—when is one’s time no longer one’s own again?) Ne fait rien: I like the Joel Lewis lines Silliman holds up for inspection—
Rogue meteorologists call it a “radium sunset” but the air
always shouts out someone’s Christian name, the braying voice
of Saint Springsteen drifts from the swirl
of tactile local daydreams.

I negotiate a Hot Texas Weiner at Libby’s—just north
of the Great Falls of the Passaic River.
“Talk as if you love truck noise,” sez the douchebag
to my left. So I fart propel myself off this tan

counter stool . . . &c.
and they put me to the Kleinzahler (whom Silliman never mentions). The “milieu” and, particularly, the sonic chewables, that gobbledygook noise, “specificity & clatter.” See Kleinzahler’s “sticking like putrefactive Velcro,” say. Kleinzahler’s noise (and figure), though, is nigh-Elizabethan (ain’t talking about no Elizabeth, N. J. neither)—look how he keeps finding perfect iambics—“mephitic flora breed apace,”; “or ham,’ of which he was most fond,” &c. Look to the lingo of “they prosper into our dark complement, and by us dwell,” or to the sudden ruction of rhymes at the end(“sleep” / “deep”; “dwell” / “smells”). Look to the way the poem works through the senses and turns to the beloved, the “dark complement.” Isn’t Kleinzahler’s piece in direct line with something like Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXXX with its sensory checklist and final “groundedness”?
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,—
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
          And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
          As any she belied with false compare.
Shakespeare, quintessential New Jersey poet.

(Query: What is the meaning of Silliman’s “Lewis doesn’t pretend that these poems will change the future of verse & their modesty fits perfectly the specificity not just of location, but of sound & meaning. It’s a very Jersey book.”?

          a)     New Jersey is a very modest state.
          b)     Joel Lewis, for all his “great eye & ear” and exceptional subtlety and terrific poems, is modest to a fault.
          c)     To “change the future of verse” is something New Jerseyites (or New Jerseyans)’d be foolish to even think of.
          d)     Ron Silliman’s antagonism towards the New York School’s slopped over into one of its bordering states.
          e)     All, or none, or all.)

Of Note

Out of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (Coach House Books, 2009):
What is heard in the film here beneath the narration is a tiny sample of the oneiric, torpid hours of sound sculpture my late brother Cameron made as a teen with his beloved reel-to-reel tape recorder and vacuum-tubed radio. He would slowly dial across all the frequencies available to us on crystal-clear Kennedy-era nights, layering one station upon another, and record these audio strata as they drifted their broadcast opacities on top of sudden and inexplicable clarities. Cameron’s mashed-up recordings were, typically, dreamy and terrifying overlappings of Cold War newscasts, talk-radio speculations about Air Force UFO sightings, commercials broadcast live from far-flung furniture stores and car dealerships in Detroit, Chicago or Houston—the whole sculpture held together by the tinny staccato beat of all the pop music played in America during the years leading up to the British invasion, so that, without warning, a bolt of musty doo-wop could unfurl itself like an immense frat sweater pulled down over the entire soundscape.
The E Gang! In the 1980s, Winnipeg trembled beneath the thumb of the E Gang, an elusive group of nocturnal criminals whose sole crime, repeated endlessly and always with impunity, for the identity of its members was never ascertained by the police, was stealing the letter E from every piece of signage in the city. Our city became even more elliptical that decade: The Winnip g Ar na; &npsp; arl Gr y and Gr   nway schools;   atons; Th   Paddl wh   l; The W   vil Caf ; K-T l Int rnational; even Lil’s B auty Shop. We realized this was a letter we could easily live without, that even in its absence it was really still there. One exciting night, perhaps because I expressed so much public support for these mischievous gangsters, I was blindfolded and taken to their lair to behold the booty of their long exertions. What I saw mounded there, or hung about the place as queer trophies, was nothing less than gorgeous. The letter E in every possible font, in all sizes, fashioned from every conceivable material—moulded plaster, carved wood, cursive driftwood, neon tubing, tin, cast iron, punched zinc and incandescent clusters of glass! A garden of Eeeeden!
In a conversation with Michael Ondaatje:
I couldn’t get Fellini’s I Vitelloni out of my head, either, because I guess the period of Winnipeg of which I’m the fondest dates from my twenties when I had some I Vitelloni-type friends—charismatic but useless guys really wasting their time stylishly—and we used to be able to enchant the city by making rituals out of anything: out of trips to the cheese shop, or to the carwash on Man’s Day. There was a carwash that had a Man’s Day every Thursday, so we decided, being men, we would go every Thursday and get our cars washed. One year, International Women’s Day coincided with Ladies’ Day at the same car wash. We decided to go down to the car wash and try to pick up some girls. We never did, but that wasn’t the real point anyway, or so we told ourselves. Stuff like that.
. . .
      Having thought of all these various things, I knew I couldn’t just put them all in a blender and make the movie. I was living with my girlfriend at the time, and we had a dog, Spanky, that I would take for walks—there’s something about walking that’s better than driving, better than sitting in front of a word processor, even, for digging up ideas. And during these innumerable frosty dog walks, my thoughts always become somewhat melancholic; they always become backward glancing. And I realized while walking—I guess the walking put me in mind of Sebald—and I realized that that was maybe my best bet. I could never be the artist Sebald was, but maybe to make a movie that, even though there’s very little walking in it is at heart a walking reverie . . .

MO:     Well, your film has a lot of walking in it.

GM:     Yes, there is some—and sleepwalking and dog walking. I ended up adding a train element later because I’ve always loved trains and they enchant as well. I keep using the word enchant because, to go back to the moment I was commissioned to make the project, when Michael Burns assigned the project to me he said, ‘And don’t show me the frozen hellhole everyone knows Winnipeg is. Enchant me. Enchant me.’ So it was to be kind of a propaganda piece right from the beginning. But he’d been to Winnipeg only twice and he’d been enchanted both times. Once was to ride, as the sole passenger working as a production assistant, the train used in Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven from Winnipeg to Alberta, and the other time was to visit the set of my collaboration with Isabella Rossellini, My Dad Is 100 Years Old. For this latter visit he just dropped in on this blasted-out, very postwar-Italian-looking dark movie theatre where we were shooting—an unheated movie theatre—and I think Isabella went over to him for maybe just twenty minutes and poured Italianate warm whispers into his ear for a while, and enchanted him of course, and then he had to catch a plane out of town after this briefest of visits. So he was enchanted both times—who wouldn’t be after such charming samples? It was he who charged me with the job of enchanting the viewer, or attempting to. And then it was Sebald who pushed me out the door and said, ‘Think of this as a walking adventure . . .’

MO:     This is with his book The Rings of Saturn . . .

GM:     Yes, with the structure a walking book suggests, you can have digression upon digression and always still be going somewhere.

Guy Maddin, Out of “Key Hole: A Film Treatment in Collage”
(The Sienese Shredder)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Basil Bunting (Encomia, No Slag)



“A gadfly to the dead horse of capital” is what one sees, a wondrous
          phrase to be so
Aptly caught up out of the sieve constantly raking through language,
          all language. Neck peeling, the scratch’d bug-
Bites scabbing up, my whole “system” beginning to make its pact with Dogged
Regularity, dodging its feints and bravado with a somewhat dire nap-
          insistence, a way of putting some slack
And rebuttal in the line, the one design’d to draw the panier of ghost
          petunias up through the morning’s splintery light, or pour
Out the tumbler of orange juice and coax the trio of chickadee comedians
          into the pine woods for acrobatic bantamweight ruckus
Manoeuvres, epochal achievements with seed extracting, with ancillary probes
          aim’d at crevasses in the bark of the ant-infest’d sugar

Maple directly blocking the sun. The territory of skepticism shrugs like a ray—
          two protuberant eye-knobs in an acre of sand—and uncovers only
Itself. Only to dash off with alarming pulchritude abetted by personal
Testiness—“But hath a part of being, and a sense / Of that which is of all
          Creator and defense.” (Byron, who want’d a hero.) I suspect beauty lies
In most meagre assent, in the rude deplorable aftermaths of the tentative, its
          torn and bleeding insurrect. Here, some authentic publicity posters, suitable
For hanging. Some flowers coming through the door just now. “Spotted knapweed, alien
          of the glacier-scraped plains, meet horse-nettle of the creek banks.
Yellow foxglove, meet sow-thistle.” All reticence is particular and all sentences local.
          Next to the pyramidal stacks of polyvinyl chloride piping, the upcoming light
Throws the monument’s letters—rudely incised with a Bowie knife—into
          matutinal relief.

Processual note. If I begin (post-travail) with the daily ruckus of A Year-making—that “entry”—and turn next, fatigue’d, to something “Of Note”—thinking of dropping a couple of items in a shallowly dug pit—and find myself caught, rather, in a veritable formicary, ants, the red and biting kind, traversing my extremities, burrowing into my navel, pincering my unstately pubis angelicus, “&c.”—so that I run down like a clock, throw myself into the tangled sheets with Inherent Vice (“meh”), and am still “at it” come morning light mousing up the distant mural of a room stripped of its papier peint, then I tend to allow morning my minion-labor “of noting” to “do” (in some kind of buffle-head’d “In order to arrive at what you are not / You must go through the way in which you are not” hogwash), and get stuck here, like today, with two fat pieces of bread, agreeably enough, though, obviously, no meat in the sandwich.

Of Note

Seems I perennially stumble into Basil Bunting chrestomathy. Recently, for a buck, the Jonathan Williams-edit’d raft of encomia in one of the early (1985) Conjunctions. Here’s Kenneth Irby (I like the ceremonial vatic mode, its big voice, half Christopher Smart, half Gerard Manley Hopkins):
[Sophrosyne Spring muse overhang • Memorial Day]
Basil Bunting in memoriam

lift the ragged peony skirts, the rain soak dry to mind, and then that mind to
          vastness shown by its own mind

the then the story all so obvious it’s eluded me, and every day to have to tell,
          so certain and so central is it, and so certain that it walks the tops of
          flowers open

just time enough to run out after music in the air to take, the poets’ overhair
          and rates remaking, and pay for back the blood and sacrifice

and still so obvious it keeps on eluding, the morning of the poem is not the
          poem then, the then that vastness only to another recreation beaten, the
          afternoon of the hearthonk almost wakes

decoration evening, whatever wreath for memory, at least the meat loaf make!

to share to celebrate, and with the wasp that walks the balcony head down into
          the South, minutely prospecting magnitude

honor the skald who lays the common solid vulgar stones that yield, to hardwon
          heart, cut song anew, kick buggerall, king over self and banner petals
          flying, into the great intensity

for the Craft, for something like the Glory of God
Capsule in that “minutely prospecting magnitude” (the balcony’d wasp) whilst the maker’s out there high-stepping it flower by flower “into the great intensity.” That is to say, the necessary combo of vulgar pointedness methodically labor’d and heavenly excess flung out in wonder, Irby’s piece toes that line by leaping some celestial miles above it, “petals flying.” What Irby comprehends is what some of the chisel-minimalist epigones of Bunting refuse in their routine small-making to see: how large and boisterous and pealing the man’s ambition (for the poem, and damn the dopes who’d subpoena any other evidentiary proceedings, or prosecute claims for “the life,” all the while meaning “the career”) is. That “vastness only to another recreation beaten”—writing as a mere (I cannot say it with enough contempt) sport (and not a duty and a call)—there’s the ignoble rub . . .

Though, some of the tiniest contributions (tributes, tributaries) gong out resoundingly. Gael Turnbull (who makes an visual echo chamber loud with speech’s lack):
A Last Poem

What was merely unspoken

is now beyond utterance.
Or the marvelous critic Kenneth Cox, who, “refuses to be roused on this occasion, but since Bunting thought him the most astute and insightful of English critics, it seems appropriate to reprint a line printed first in Madeira & Toasts for Basil Bunting’s 75th Birthday (Jargon Society 66, 1977) . . .”:
I praise the man for what he did not do.
Or Alan Halsey’s highly pressurized sonic boomlet, pack’d with reverb and pun:
An Epitaph

fells’ scant
return, to descend
in descant.
Too, there’s artist and print-maker John Furnival’s perfectly poised collage:
Basil Leaves

1   “Il est originaire de l‘Iran et de ‘l’Afghanistan et appartient à un genre tropical d’environ 150 espèces.

Varron, dont on a dit qu’il était le plus savant des Romains, a préconisé le Basilic contre l’épilepsie. Pline signalait son action calmante.”

“Les Bienfaits Des Plantes,” René-Pierre Audras, Michel Guedes.

2   “. . . for cheering the spirit and restoring the humours that compose the blood . . . for clearing the brain . . . the qualities of Basil are allies of the body . . .”

3   “. . . now of little or no importance . . .”
—Ministry of Agriculture pamphlet

4   “. . . if a sprig of pounded Basil be left under a stone, it will turn into a scorpion . . .”

5   Among the Fang tribes, the ‘speakers’ chew Basil leaves before playing their role in the ‘palavers,’ to gain inspiration and assurance: for them too it is a ‘tranquillizer.’
And, though clearly an “occasional” piece (meaning, here, rather negligible), because I cannot recall seeing it reprint’d, Ronald Johnson’s “A Flag for Bunting”:
If you study to become a poet, study to be a Basil
Bunting: heckler of the vernacular (to no pay), last
real troubadour along any road you name—knocking
the door, a man of nations. Of all the Moderns he
was the only to wrestle Keats to the mat, nightingale
and all. If Briggflatts seems now keen to us as The
Waste Land
and his Chomei at Toyama illustrated by
Hokusai, he would shrug that off as small potatoes,
a ruse of time. If we stayed heir, year by year, to
such lines as “I am agog for foam. Tumultuous come
/ with teeming sweetness to the bitter shore” . . .
no more. Study to be printed a ghost, those who hear
the Muses’ Siren song. There, Basil walks the wave.
Seeing that “keen” in the Johnson trigger’d how somebody (in another poem) mortar’d-in a quoted “Keen brevity”—a lovely phrase, and apt—so I fiddle about trying to find its source. And though one George Payne Rainsford James used it (“After asking several questions, to which the boy replied with the keen brevity which he had learned in scenes of haste and danger, and with a degree of irreverent boldness, to which Lord Masterton was not very much accustomed, my father demanded, ‘Well, little Ball-o’-fire, are you of gentle birth?’”) in the 1832 Henry Masterton; or, The Adventures of a Young Cavalier, and Charles Reade, too, in Griffith Gaunt; Jealousy (1866), rather fittingly—“She had found out how badly people plead their own causes, and had noticed the reasons; one of which is that they say too much, and stray from the point. The line she took, with one exception, was keen brevity”—there’s, curiously, no hint of Bunting’s scooping it up off the stony path for use. Nor of any of Bunting’s criticules.

John Furnival with Jonathan Williams, “Wallpaper for a Classical Passion-Pit Atop Mount Parnassus”

John Furnival, “Woful Dane Bottom,” c. 1994
The lines, slightly alter’d out of
Finnegans Wake, read:
—This stow on the wold, is it Woful Dane Bottom?
It is woful in need whatever about anything or allselse under
the grianblachk sun of gan greyne Eireann.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jack Collom and Lyn Hejinian’s Situations, Sings

Some Clouds (Sturgeon Bay, Michigan)

Out of Situations, Sings (Adventures in Poetry, 2008), a book of collaborations by Jack Collom and Lyn Hejinian, a book I “turn to” constantly, something of its rambunctious clarity (“not merely zany”) and purpose (it means to find, and finds means to that end) goads me gently well. Here, lines pluck’d out of “Revival” (done up in, according to the “Postface,” a form “loose, even casual . . . unfolding without any other goal than that of discovering (or generating) the surprises contingent on unfolding itself”):
The point was, it put the fire out. We breathed again, looked about. Nothing
          but blue / blue
Depths were mirrored in the blue / blue heights. The driven plenitude
Reminding me of a waterfall laid on edge, nodding off perhaps, but still
          radiant of its very definition. Soon
—As “soonness”—the waters, having fallen, (will) flow, defining “down”
According to strict laws that are nevertheless so tiny dawn throws its hands up
          in surprise
As if declaring independence so as to take its own view of things as they
          dispose themselves constantly along the stream or on its banks anew
Slowly, in such a slowness, in fact, that the generative point in the heart of
          action’s initiation is calm, is as calm as a pebble of granite underground
In contrast to which a drop of moisture in a cloud seems wild
As fire. But it’s winter. The excitement of cold is like that of marriage, in the
That propels the wind that animates the tree that, just as Lin-yi says, in
          achieving nothing achieves everything
At once. The shade alone’s worth all the light that borders it, sometimes more
Tree than shadow of tree and at night neither. As for me, I’m in no particular
To achieve the general. My split personality only guarantees embrace
Of ambiguity and ambivalence both coming or going through the always-
          open windows that at night admit breezes so cold that as I write this
          I wear a knitted nightcap
Because it’s too thick to drink. Oh well, I have the feeling house and land are
          sliding at a good rate
Back from reality, where events come to pass that were long predicted and
          can be regarded in retrospect as having been inevitable, though that’s
          not to say that they were destined to happen. Or is it
Not vanity to say that Destiny, like Cleopatra, presents a “poop of beaten gold,”
          in contrast to the thick steel plates of inevitability
That reflect the light of the setting sun and bar us from entering
The enlisted mess of “The Golden Vanity” before repetition swallows
          distinctions and substitutes metamorphoses for them? Who
Knows (i.e., who cares)? The opaque clouds veiling the sun above seem like
          emblems of a state of
Declare passed through a condition of stage, basically a white seed
Of optimism sprouting in the soil of uncertainty.
Which’s got all the marvels of le style Ashbery (particularly of Flow Chart?), languors and hoops made of its own verbiage it then inserts the needle of its going into. (—And isn’t that “Destiny” with its “poop of beaten gold” the name of Hejinian’s ship in “The Distance,” being the “saga” half of Saga / Circus? —No, compadre, the ship’s call’d “The Distance,” too.) In the “Postface” Collom and Hejinian mention how they “opted to communicate by ‘snail-mail’ rather than use a faster technology,” in part “to preserve the unhurried pace of the more traditional, contemplative epistolary space.” (Long unrecord’d ruminant churnings about loss of chances / realms / vehicles for spates of unstint’d mulling, the meek contemplative discharges . . .) One thing I find curious about the pieces in Situations, Sings: how seamlessly meld’d they seem. There is little of that back-chatter that usually occurs in one’s own greasy brainbox at the reading of the majority of collaborations: the talk that says, “Oh, that’s Hejinian there, that’s a Hejinian sentence.” Though, parcel’d out here and there (or drop’d in): jokey half-refs to the duality of the thing (see “My split personality” above). The final lines of “Shims”—the final lines of the book—point there precisely:
Two aphorisms never meet
because structure intervenes
—truth’s contradictory
Mr. Keats: “Hedge crickets sing.” Any naturalist knows how the hedgerow, the buffer-zone, the borderline where things try to “meet” is rife—that’s where the count erupts, diversity of species, habitat overlap, a place of possibility and doubt, hedging of bets—song sparrow or Ipswich—truth is contradictory. My other prefer’d song in the book is “Wicker”: “The material in the left hand column of “Wicker” consists of quotations from famous, unknown, or purely imaginary, people. Many of the quotations are correctly attributed; some are not.” Reading, then, down, sequentially (though beginning rather randomly):
Here is a sketch of eye-
glasses—two circles joined
by a crossbar—so it must
be a bicycle or maybe two
buckets on a yoke.
(A. R. Luria)

Because there is Friction be-
tween the balls, a cueball
with left-hand spin will
grip the object ball for an
instant and throw it off-line
to the right.
(Robert Byrne)

I burst into tears and
stretching my hands appealed
to the humanity of the
audience; but no one would
raise even a finger to help me.

“my own end?” “But the
yellow eyes multiplied,”
“became so numerous” “that
the blackness was covered
over” “by them”
(Alice Notley)

The gigantic eye of Tolstoy
opens and closes many times
and at many doors—a kind
of primitive wooden flicker.
(Barrett Watten)

Other names: Yellow-shafted
Woodpecker; Golden-winged
Woodpecker; Clape; Yellow-
hammer; High-hole; Yarrup;
Wake-up; Wood-pigeon; Heigh-
ho; Wick-up; Hairy Wicket;
Yawker-bird; Walk-up.
(Birds of America, T. Gilbert
Pearson, ed.)

I see a woodpecker and then
know that my body’s a piece
of wood. I’m stroking the
dog and then I know that this
dog’s gonna bite my feet.
(Dave Van Ronk)
Is it the uncertainty of attribution, or the de-contextual piecework (more accurately, “re-contextual”—there’s obviously a fine mite of selecting and arranging here—how Apuleius’s distress triggers Notley’s “end” amidst the yellow-eyed, witness’d by Watten’s Tolstoian eye banging like a wooden shutter, “flicker” pick’d up—my bet here’s on Collom, who knows birds, doing the detective work, and isn’t “Heigh-ho” as a bastardy of “High-hole” a terrific bird name?—for a lovely raft of vernacular, and the Dave “Stomping Through the Swamp” Van Ronk coming out of who knows where?)—what is it that makes the sequence so live-wired, throwing off sparks? Parallel to it, in a second column (with its own set of “rules”—a 2, 3, 4, 5, 3 number of words per line and an repetition compulsion—“the last line of each stanza is repeated as the second line of the next—setting up an interlinkage that is intentionally tricky”):
reflections moving
to touch at
themselves, so we went
wading in a river with
clear optical echoes

see? see?
clear optical echoes
that’s really just one of
them, one of

us, imitating
them, one of
them having turned into
a bird; but it’s turning
out of it

and into
“out of it”
itself—the century lays
an egg; Coyote Chronos cracks,
sucks it up

wonders who
sucks it up,
self-consciousness not being his
impediment to act or age
as it’s ours

and hours
as it’s ours
and years to suck
a Middle-Ages donjon rampart made
of crushed labels

and labors
of crushed labels
we domesticate as walls
that suggest art to literary
or scientific intellectuals
I find that rather thin, a little extraneous to the main “play” of the piece. Or maybe the rules too obvious, and too constraining. (The same time: I wouldn’t leave it “out” for a minute. It is the brash rectitude of inclusion that I like in both Hejinian’s and Collom’s work, singly and doubly.) What I long for: the publication of the Collom / Hejinian “Interview” (a big chunk show’d up in the first volume of the Zoland Poetry annual). In the “Postface” again:
      Beginning with the exchange of free-verse lines that (some 300 mailings later) became Sunflower (originally published by The Figures in 2000), we gradually multiplied and diversified our projects. Soon, a typical exchange would include ten or so formally different works.
      Only one of these works, called “Interview,” is not included in this volume; we anticipate that it will appear as an independent book, a companion (though not a necessary companion) to this one.
      Apart from “Interview,” all the poems we’ve composed together to date are collected here. There are eleven of them.

Jack Collom
Lyn Hejinian
(Photograph by Paul Kiparsky)


“A series of blind grabs”
is one way, abuttings sans
jointure. That base Hoosier predilect
for the monstrous penny-pegged
to the genealogical. A zillion-
leaf’d tree of rain, my
darling, my paulownia, my figwort.
Assiduous chums, perfect nuts, migratory
souls hunker’d for a spell
along the Wabash. Isn’t walking
a structure of itself, omni-
contiguous and moving? It digresses
the too plausible march, makes
pulling a tendon a pathological
Dietrich. I pull my hat
down low, kerchief up—“a
penurious cinema of thinking, Abu.”
I hurry up the negligee-
bunch’d urine-puddlers, adding naught
to the fat tomes of
hurry, or of story. Beyond
the ectoplasmic slouch of my
benign hoofery through a chaos
of rents, I see something
airy and incapable of tomfoolery.
It is an adjutant, adjutant.