Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Geoffrey Chaucer, c. 1343-1400
(Ellesmere Manuscript)

Off tomorrow, for points east, for a week or so. Why do I identify the doings herein of late with the poor stomach in the opening of Iain Sinclair’s novel White Chapell, Scarlet Tracings (1987)?
There is an interesting condition of the stomach where ulcers build like coral, fibrous tissue replacing musculature, cicatrix dividing that shady receptacle into two zones, with communications by means of a narrow isthmus: a condition spoken of, with some awe, by the connoisseurs of pathology as “hour glass stomach.”
Sense of an ending, of doings constricted, automatic, rote. Scar tissue in lieu of “musculature.” Sense of a breather needed. Or a change. Ought I “turn” to the comedic no-heft of the one-liner medium, and tweet away my remaining days? See the ascent of poetry’s fatuous (and remarkably ubiquitous, conjoining “left” and “right” “members” of the “industry”) assumed identity with the stand-up art—is it concurrent with the emergence of “the poetry reading”? A prose fragment of Dickinson reads: “Consummation is the hurry of fools (exhilaration of fools), but Expectation the Elixir of the Gods.” Hilarity, its flub breathlessness and sprawl, at the root of hurry; elixir, par contre, all poise and possibility. Elixir out of the Arabic al-iksīr, an alchemical term, akin to “the philosopher’s stone” (Chaucer, in the “Chanouns Yemannes Tale”: “the philosophre stoon, Elixir clept, we sechen fast echoon”). All looking. That ineluctable longing for a means of changing one’s ordinary quotidian mettle into a malleable and ductile gold. On y va. Off we go.

Monday, April 23, 2012

“Defects inherent . . .”

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, c. 1824
(Portrait by Nathan Cooper Branwhite)

Robert Duncan points it out, twice, in The H. D. Book—Pound’s rappel à l’ordre concerning “the defects inherent in a record of struggle”:
      Knowledge is NOT culture. The domain of culture begins when one HAS “forgotten-what-book”.
      Boccherini Op. 8 N.5 (as played by the New Hungarian Four) is an example of culture. Bartok’s Fifth Quartet under same conditions (March 5th, 1937, Rapallo) is the record of a personal struggle, possible only to a man born in the 1880s.
      It has the defects or disadvantages of my Cantos. It has the defects and disadvantages of Beethoven’s music, or of as much of Beethoven’s music as I can remember. Or perhaps I shd. qualify that: the defects inherent in a record of struggle.
(In a 1956 review of Rock-Drill Hugh Kenner quotes Pound’s “We think because we do not know”—commenting, “all is paraphernalia that does not at length float easily in the mind; the mind at length having en-compassed without strain what is necessary may dream of coming to ‘that High City’”—and points, too, to Pound’s reminder in Cando XCI “that the sea-nymph made Odysseus cast off the garments Calypso had given him: ‘get rid of paraphernalia.’”) Recalling Williams’s note in Paterson: “Knowledge, the contaminant.” Isn’t it music itself that—in the absence of knowledge, informs errant energies? Duncan talks of uncovering—in the vanities and vagaries of mere “taste”—“intimations of the formal demand the spirit would make to shape all matter to its energies, to tune the world about it to the mode of an imagined music.” And points Pound’s reading of Cavalcanti: “The conception of the body as perfected instrument of an increasing intelligence pervades.” And to H.D.’s Trilogy lines (out of Tribute to the Angels XXII):
                                O, what I meant
by music when I said music, was—

music sets up ladders,
it makes us invisible,

it sets us apart,
it lets us escape;

but from the visible
there is no escape;

there is no escape from the spear
that pierces the heart.
So, sliding along within the grease of fatigue, my own consensus is tumbled, bereft of sense, a con and a conjunct, padded out—“defects inherent in a record of struggle.” One of Thomas Lovell Beddoes leavings, a fragment—out of the Alan Halsey-edited The Ivory Gate: Later Poems & Fragments (Reality Street / ReScript, 2011)—reads simply: “For ever wandering, yet ne’er astray—” (certainty found in the compulsory dérive, its corporeal music). On that “single leaf of MS” is writ, too (square brackets cornering text “traced in ink over pencilling by a different hand”):
I am bewildered—utterly astray
Within the doubt-brakes of obscurest Thought,
Whereunto at the last I have been brought
Thro’ all diversity of time & way
Not blindfold, unaware [& in dismay
Up from my used haunts suddenly caught
By some strange Doubt, pledgling of Chance & —]
To work, undismayed in the doubt-brakes . . .

Friday, April 20, 2012

César Aira’s Varamo

César Aira

The opening lines of César Aira’s Varamo (New Directions, 2012), translated by Chris Andrews:
One day in 1923, in the city of Colón (Panama), a third-class clerk, having finished work, and, since it was payday, passed by the cashier’s desk to collect his monthly salary, left the Ministry in which he was employed. In the interval between that moment and the dawn of the following day, ten or twelve hours later, he completed the composition of a long poem, from the initial decision to write it up to the final period, after which there were no further additions or corrections. The self-contained nature of the interval emerges more clearly still if we take into account the fact that never, in all his fifty years, had he written or felt any inclination to write a single line of poetry, and nor would he ever again. It was a bubble in time, in his biography, an exception without precedent or sequel. The action contained the inspiration, and vice versa, each nourishing and consuming the other, so that nothing was left over.
I love that. Writing as a singularity, how utterly refreshing. (Is my fervor a sign of the doggedness of repeated entries here?) Aira notes how the resultant piece, “origin and apogee of the most daring and experimental avant-garde movement in the language,” a piece with the unlikely title of The Song of the Virgin Child, poses “insurmountable contextual problems . . . for critics and literary historians.”

What to do with a thunderbolt struck “out of nowhere”? Turns out “there is an explanation for everything in the world”—and its form is narrative. Aira: “To find the explanation in this case, we must remember that just as the episode had an end (the poem itself), so it had a beginning, and the two points correspond symmetrically, as an effect corresponds to its cause, or vice versa.” The beginning (and I suspect Aira is registering a kind of sly contempt for the “radical arbitrariness” of origin and upshot): that “monthly salary” Varamo collects is rendered in the form of two counterfeit bills. What follows is a Rube Goldberg machine of a plot, ad hoc and improvisatory. Among its workings: a car crash caused by a vehicle in a “regularity rally” (“the aim is to maintain a predetermined speed, and the winner is not the first to arrive, but whoever deviates the least from that speed between the start and the finish”), two mysterious sisters—the Góngoras—one with a prosthetic leg, who smuggle golf clubs into Panama (“the safest way . . . was to board a ship docked in Colón and disembark again soon afterward, walking with the aid of a ‘stick,’ which was, in fact, a golf club”), and a trio of publishers of pirated books, “paperback editions with garish, vulgar cover illustrations, printed on the cheapest paper and flimsily made,” who urge Varamo, an amateur embalmer, to write a book to be called How to Embalm Small Mutant Animals (“instructions were the way of the future, a poetry of instructions freed from the tyranny of results”). The farfetched and extemporaneous nature of the doings seems designed to hint at something like literature’s sempiternal exhaustion when confronted by its own inexhaustibility. Aira:
. . . one thing happened and it led on to the other; and the two were linked by a perfectly reasonable chain of causes and effects. There was, however, no reason for the beginning, or the end: their radical arbitrariness sealed off the sequence of events and set it apart, reinforcing its internal casual links with a cast-iron logic. Furthermore, the disparate nature of the two extremities (what relation could there be between a pair of counterfeit bills and a literary masterpiece?) led to an uncontrollable proliferation of intermediate steps. So the sequence was dense with meaning, but threatened from within by the infinite.
The other choice (I think of Ashbery’s succinctly-tendered two ways of proceeding: to “put it all down” or “to leave all out”) is restraint, cunning (of the faux billets: “their illegal status called implicitly for silence and discretion”). What Aira’s novella—open, careening, gathering its material as it goes—admits with ease, integral to its certain aimlessness: literary criticism of a high order. Talking of the purported “landmark of Latin American avant-garde writing in the first decades of the twentieth century”—Varamo’s poem written in a single night (Aira, coyly, at the end of Varamo provides its date of composition, a single day: “December 15, 1999”), he writes:
The poem’s capacity to integrate all the circumstantial details associated with its genesis is a feature that situates it historically. It doesn’t possess that capacity by virtue of being an avant-garde work; in fact, it’s the other way around: it’s avant-garde because it makes the deductions possible. It can be said that any art is avant-garde if it permits the reconstruction of the real-life circumstances from which it emerged. While the conventional work of art thematizes cause and effect and thereby gives the hallucinatory impression of sealing itself off, the avant-garde work remains open to the conditions of its existence. And the more accomplished it is, the more confident the critic can be in restoring the antecedent events and thoughts.
Or there’s the riff concerning improvising (a matter of feigning innocence, that is, proceeding “without intent”) and its impossibility:
. . . there was another, more fundamental problem: how to feign innocence. As well as being insurmountable, this difficulty was unfathomable. The idea was to simulate naturalness, in other words, to make it up as he went along. That might have seemed the easiest thing in the world, the paragon of easiness, but in fact there was nothing more difficult; intending to be natural was, in itself, contradictory and self-defeating. In his case, it was condemned to failure from the outset, because if he intended to improvise his course of action, he would have to act as if he were really improvising, and at the same time he would, also, really be improvising, which was no more feasible than moving in two opposite directions at the same time. Irrespective of intentions, each act (or gesture or attempt or instant) had to be followed by another, by any one of all the others. The improviser had a make a superhuman choice among all the possibilities, which, by definition, were so numerous that a lifetime would not suffice to count them or even to contemplate there range. And improvising meant, by definition again, that he didn’t have a lifetime at his disposal, or even a fragment of a life, but only an atom, a vanishing of time. Decisions, that is, choices and intentions, were nourished by time, but the premises of improvisation swallowed up all the available time, before the improvising could even begin. And appearances were against him, because whatever account he gave of his day, that story would presuppose time, and no one would believe that time had been annulled.
One is returned into that infinite proliferatory “within” found between any two events, what Aira calls “the same teeming, variegated nothing . . .” A vertiginous and exhilarating space.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sorrentino in The Floating Bear

Gilbert Sorrentino, 1929-2006
(Photograph by Arthur W. Wang)

Time-stymied, a bollixed up morning. Here’s a few deft and pointed (refreshingly so) portrayals and assessments out of the pages of The Floating Bear 30 (1964). Gilbert Sorrentino’s brash high speed critical rifling, out of a piece called “Prose of Our Time”:
Kerouac:     Enormously talented, no conception of “philosophy,” when he tries to think in his prose you are redfaced. Sloppy, no working out visible, whole passages suffer enormously because of this breakneck method. Narrative gift best since Defoe, but no better than Defoe. A reaching back 250 years to this technique, no apparent connection with the masters of the 18th century novel, the great innovators and perfecters of the 19th. As if he merely forgot that Flaubert existed, a shallow pickup on Joyce, an ignoring of Ford, Lewis, etc. When the perception as artist matches the energy expended we have him at his best, a lucid, hard prose capable of the most minute detail, a narrative unmatched in our time. When the energy is greater than the perceptions, we have slop, v. Subterraneans. Best piece he ever wrote, October in the Railroad Earth. Worst, Old Angel Midnight, see that for don’ts.

Burroughs:     Clue here is that he is not a writer, he merely writes. Doesn’t care about the overall pattern, if he enjoys writing it, in it goes, Naked Lunch the most dazzling prose of this decade (and last), but not great writing. Thinking shallow and amoral, magnificent construction of comic characters, greatest “funny names” since Rabelais. Style is reminiscent of Nashe, though not consistent, I mean, he can bore the hell out of you. Power is often misdirected, because his greatest hatred, his full venom falls usually into scenes in which the characters are not people. Irritates because he has the arrogance of the addict, viz., “you poor dopes.” Best things in Lunch are Clem and Jody, episode about Bradley the Buyer, the fantasy land near the end of book. If he could cut out and edit, in terms of the work, and not what he likes, he’d be a good writer. Latest “cut up” method merely amusing, old stuff from the transition days, a bore and a fake. In the current Futurism show in town, we find the same sort of thing done as collage, ca. 1915. It didn’t work then, either.

. . .

Jones:     Thinks too fast for the words, too many typographical tricks, too many ocular distractions, parentheses, the words speed on, the thought struggles to catch up. Needs a lot of cruel editing, great intelligence, incredible “moving” power, but you don’t want to re-read it. Too much junk in shape of side remarks, off the cuff comments on what has taken place in the narrative placed in the narrative itself. Too many short sentences. A feeling that you’re being, somehow, tricked. Lots of fancy stepping, a great dancer, you feel ungrateful to want to analyze, but he makes you need to. However, a pro, should be fine if he gets tight, and cuts out what is prettiest.

Creeley:     Let your mind slip off the words for a moment and you’re lost. He demands your attention, not so that you can “enjoy” what is happening, but because you must be all there, completely with him to get the story. Every word needed, it doesn’t seem casual, the work that goes into it comes out of it. The greatest master of thorny, pruned syntax ever seen by me. No clichés at all, very few adjectives, metaphors cut to the bone, those that are used really work, not decoration at all. Story of the cat in Three Fate Tales his best, Mister Blue hard behind it. Prose as good as the verse, which is in itself a unique accomplishment. A real writer, an artist of the very highest rank.

Olson:     Solid, declamatory prose, though he, like Pound, expects you to know his subject as well as he does. Many times like notes to himself, you are infuriated that you don’t know what he’s talking about because you didn’t read a certain book. Mayan Letters an incredible record of a brilliant amateur who “sees” more than the professionals in their own field. A great grasp of life, he will not be bought, the Call Me Ishmael a great scholarly mind shot through with intuition rising splendidly to a splendid subject. Every thought in the words as perfect as fingers in a kid glove.

Dawson     No critical eye for his work. Drenched with adjectives and metaphors, to the extent that some stories would cease to exist if the metaphors and adjectives were blue-penciled out, all exists on the surface, things that more him should move you as reader, but fail to, either because he doesn’t know exactly what he wants to say, or he says what he wants to say abstractly. An actor, he wants you to know how he feels via the medium of the story, he doesn’t want the story to let you know anything. Very, very pretty, very accomplished, his great gift is a relentless pursuit of reality, made hyper-real* to the point that it becomes real fiction, unreality. Must learn to edit out the whipped cream.

. . .

Dorn:     A great visual writer, a searing anger, a tenderness. His Ed Dorn in Santa Fe the most remarkable “news letter” I have ever read. What I See in the Maximus Poems a great off-beat appraisal of a great poem. The section on what it is to be a Western man clear and uncompromising. What makes the prose so compelling is the casual off-hand air it maintains. Good prose by a good poet, full of intelligence.
Others: John Fles, Seymour Krim, Diane di Prima, Michael Rumaker, Joel Oppenheimer, Hubert Selby, Jr., John Rechy (“Next to Selby it’s like reading The Bobbsey Twins”), Douglas Woolf.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alphadelphia, &c.

Clipping out of the Signal of Liberty, 16 December 1844

A small geographical and historical excursion* under the obvious tutelage of Metcalf, triggered by Poe’s outburst.

Out of Poe’s Marginalia (Democratic Review 1846):
“The Alphadelphia Tocsin!”—(Phœbus, what a name to fill the sounding trump of future fame!)—is the title of a new journal published at Alphadelphia, Michigan, and “devoted to the interests of the laboring classes!”—by which, I presume, are intended the classes who have to pronounce, every morning, the great appellation of the paper itself. Such a work should not want editors, and accordingly we are informed that it has eight. What on earth is the meaning of Alphadelphia? Is the “Alphadelphia Tocsin” the tocsin of the city of double A’s?—if so, the idea is too easily slipped into A double S.
Out of the Signal of Liberty, an abolitionist newspaper launched in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1841 by Theodore Foster and the Reverend Guy Beckley, the number dated 8 April 1844:

      We learn from the Marshall Statesman that this Association is about commencing operations, notwithstanding a charter was denied them by the Legislature. The first annual meeting lasted five days. More than one thousand persons were received as members. The subscriptions for stock amounted to over $120,000—partly in cash, and partly in live stock, farming utensils, improved real estate, &c. The Association is to operate at present under the limited Partnership Law. The Board of Directors will immediately appraise the domain, which consists of nine square miles, being the south-east quarter of Comstock, Kalamazoo County. One hundred and fifty to two hundred members intend to enter on the Domain immediately. A Fourier paper is to be published soon. Rents are not to exceed the cost of the building, and ten per cent added. Board is to be at its actual cost. Eight hours labor is to be considered a day’s work, and all accounts to be settled at the end of the year.
Out of an early committee report dated 27 December 1843, after a visit to Galesburg in search of land for a domain:
      The Kalamazoo River is a large and beautiful stream, nine rods wide and five feet deep in the middle, flowing at the rate of about four miles per hour, and with eight feet fall which can be obtained by digging a race. This will propel a hundred run of millstones in the dryest season.
      The mansion and manufactories will stand on a beautiful plain, always dry, from fifty to sixty rods wide, being skirted on the south by a range of hillocks about twenty feet and running parallel with the river. The plain above the hillocks extends for miles, being covered with the most thrifty timber your committee ever beheld, consisting of Whitewood, ash, oak, beech, elm and maple. The hard maple being two to three and a half feet in diameter and some of the black walnut are fourteen feet in diameter.
      There is a large spring of purest water about a half a mile distant from the place where our mansion will stand, furnishing water sufficient for drinking and culinary purposes, in all our manufactories and the mansion and supplying, besides, our dairy with fresh water.
      Cobblestones are found in sufficient quantity for foundations and building a dam, easily accessible. Beds of clay and sand exist where excellent brick have been made. There are indications of iron ore on the domain and in its vicinity but no investigation has been made. In fact everything that an association can want is found here except gold beds, sandstone and limestone. Nature seems to have destined this precise spot for such an association as we are about to form.
Out of the Kalamazoo Gazette (18 October 1925):
Farm Society Sought Utopia in 1844; Lasted Four Years
Alphadelphians Attracted Much Attention Through Their Colony Founded in Comstock Township

      The theory of holding property in common through the operation of a domestic and industrial domain, was tried out in Kalamazoo county following organization of the Alphadelphia Association at Clark’s lake in Jackson county on Dec. 14, 1843. It crumbled after four years . . .
      . . . Dr. H. R. Schetterly was the controlling spirit. He was a German–a small, slender man with dark hair and eyes. He won his way into the confidence of the Comstock pioneers. The settlers were interested in the new method of living that he pictured and many were anxious to join . . .
      . . . property, though not held in common, caused no envy and created no distinctions. They helped each other not only at raisings, but at clearing off their lands, husking corn and through all their troubles and over all difficulties. Thus when Dr. Schetterly came to the community he found them already “Alphadelphian” . . .
      Organization was soon perfected. The Comstock members lived in their own houses and those who came from other points were sheltered in such homes as they could get until a long shanty was built on the north side of the river which was occupied as a general “tabernacle” by the new members until the mansion was erected in the fall of 1844. This building was originally 26 by 200 feet and two stories high.
      The first school was taught by James Allen Knight in a log building on the south side of the river. The pupils crossed the river by boat. Philander H. Bowman of Jackson was the physician; James Hoxle, Bellevue, the leading carpenter; Leonard Liscomb was the tailor; G. O. Ball and John Wetherbee, shoemaker. The colony’s paper was called the “Alphadelphian Tocsin,” and was edited by H. R. Shetterly and Rev. Richard Thornton.
Out of the Signal of Liberty, the number dated 16 December 1844:
      The “Alphadelphia Tocsin” is the title of a paper just commenced at Galesburgh, Kalamazoo, which advocates the Fourier scheme of reforming society. It is issued by the Alphadelphia Association at that place, and presents a good appearance. The price is $1,50 a year. It has adopted the right motto. “Our Evils are Social and Political.” As this paper professes to have in view the special benefit of the laboring classes, we presume that its discussions will scarcely fail of tending to their ultimate welfare.
And out of the 3 February 1845 issue:

      Most of our readers are aware that a Fourier Association under this name has been commenced at Galesburg, in this State. The Alphadelphia Tocsin, which is issued by the Association, has a statement of the affairs of the community. The Domain is situated on the Kalamazoo river, and is bounded on the north by the Central Railroad. The water power is represented as valuable, (there being nine feet head and fall) and sufficient to propel a large amount of machinery.
      A temporary building has been commenced 591 feet in length. The Association has contained 190 persons, resident on the ground.—But owing to the inconveniences consequent on the want of suitable dwellings, the want of employment for some of the members, the sickness of others, &c. a minority were disposed to turn out the obnoxious families, and we are told that the division of opinion and action on this subject kept the members “in a continual turmoil the whole summer, and several of the principal stockholders predicted a dissolution.” The difficulties have been removed by the withdrawal of the obnoxious families. A few more resident families can be received in the Spring, provided they bring some cash with them. The future prospects of the Association are favorably represented.
A poem, unsigned, out of the same issue:

Two or three girls, and two or three boys,
Dirty and ragged and making a noise;
Some calling for this and others for that;
One punching the dog—another the cat;
And Bill, the sly rogue, with a sorrowful phiz,
Bawled out that ‘Sam’s bread had more butter than his!’
And then the sly urchin, all covered with grease,
Sitting down on the hearth to examine each piece!
And if one is the widest, or thickest, or longest,
Let him that’s the weakest, beware of the strongest;
A battle ensues, and a terrible clatter;
The mother cries out, what the mischief’s the matter!
Each tells his own story and tries to defend it:
“It won’t do, you young rogue, a boxed ear must end it!”
Baudelaire, in “New Notes on Edgar Poe: 1857”:
It is he who said about socialism at a time when the latter did not yet have a name, or when, at least, this name was not completely popularized: “The world is infested, just now, by a new sect of philosophers, who have not yet suspected themselves of forming a sect, and who, consequently, have adopted no name. They are the Believers in everything Odd. Their High Priest, in the East, is Charles Fourier—in the West, Horace Greeley, and high priests they are to some purpose. The only common bond among the sect, is Credulity:—let us call it Insanity at once, and be done with it. Ask any one of them why he believes this or that, and, if he be conscientious, (ignorant people usually are,) he will make you very much such a reply as Talleyrand made when asked why he believed in the Bible. ‘I believe in it first,’ said he, ‘because I am Bishop of Autun; and, secondly, because I know nothing about it at all.’ What these philosophers call ‘argument,’ is a way they have ‘de nier ce qui est et d’expliquer ce qui n’est pas.’”
. . . more important than anything else: we shall see that this author, product of a century infatuated with itself, child of a nation more infatuated with itself than all others, has clearly seen, has imperturbably affirmed the natural wickedness of man. There is in man, he says, a mysterious force which modern philosophy does not wish to take into consideration; nevertheless, without this nameless force, without this primordial bent, a host of human actions will remain unexplained, inexplicable. These actions are attractive because they are bad, dangerous; they possess the fascination of the abyss. This primitive, irresistible force is natural Perversity, which makes man constantly and simultaneously a murderer and a suicide, an assassin and a hangman.
Out of the “Introduction” to Baudelaire on Poe: Critical Papers, translated and edited by Lois and Francis E. Hyslop, Jr. (1952):
      Translations of individual stories by Poe began to appear in France almost immediately after the publication of the Wiley and Putnam edition of his work in 1845. The Gold Bug appeared that same year in the Revue Britannique, a magazine which drew most of its rather varied material from British and American sources. Baudelaire's interest was first stimulated by several translations which Mme. Isabelle Meunier, an English girl and the wife of Victor Meunier, published in the socialist paper Démocratie Pacifique. The Black Cat, published January 27, 1847, was the first in this series.
      It is interesting to note that Victor Meunier, a disciple of the socialist philosopher Fourier, was instrumental in having his wife’s translations were influential in persuading Baudelaire to renounce his socialist ideas and to adopt an anti-democratic attitude . . .”
Out of Poe’s Marginalia (Democratic Review 1844):
      We appreciate time by events alone. For this reason we define time (somewhat improperly) as the succession of events; but the fact itself—that events are our sole means of appreciating time—tends to the engendering of the erroneous idea that events are time—that the more numerous the events, the longer the time; and the converse. This erroneous idea there can be no doubt that we should absolutely entertain in all cases, but for our practical means of correcting the impression—such as clocks, and the movements of the heavenly bodies—whose revolutions, after all, we only assume to be regular.
      Space is precisely analogous with time. By objects alone we estimate space; and we might as rationally define it “the succession of objects,” as time “the succession of events.” But, as before.—The fact, that we have no other means of estimating space than objects afford us—tends to the false idea that objects are space—that the more numerous the objects the greater the space; and the converse; and this erroneous impression we should receive in all cases, but for our practical means of correcting it—such as yard measures, and other conventional measures, which resolve themselves, ultimately, into certain natural standards, such as barley-corns, which, after all, we only assume to be regular.
A newspaper called “The Primitive Expounder” was also published at Alphadelphia for a period. Of the “Alphadelphia Tocsin,” apparently a single copy exists—in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan—a number dated 6 December 1844.
Or, better, raw material for a small geographical and historical excursion, &c. Assembled as is, the thing proceeds somewhat sluggishly (“events are our sole means of appreciating time”) . . .

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Coolidge in Joglars

Clark Coolidge
(Photograph by David Highsmith)

Clark Coolidge, in Joglars 3 (1966):
A Little Magazine History

as a slow accumula striped mirror
not so simple. Toon the shoulder
insatiable of light singing
skin-tight for his proud flesh
Forthright.     eating eggs
Read Dante with a vast gap
we tossed coins & fat ox too even
is monument to is that in the West
I said:         each high tide
Heads up to the teaching of
the sky is again mouth to mouth
to die. I turned turning       how to
subtly impish & you would be
he & the other of one color
“What will I do with pressures of
lightning over all cigarette &
Including Turban this last year
My mother saw him the coldness of
when itchy mustache I am a child of
with little black in the corner by
dirtiness L E F T     just that place
jewels innocent haunting the mist
counterfeited in When you’re tired
T H E Y  S A Y         Circa anytime
hunting deer in what doesn’t the
died at his child then at the throat
they do strike on dismemberment even
across in the field tasting its strut
commonplace, as for the enlightened
season out of sin the course of
I’ll slip away be in a green flame
off in Wisconsin thru dark
men in sand wading pay me off, savages
& tongues         A boar might get
hand to hand     2nd the care of
there are bodies   Time to break ear
field of grass, with reverence &
bright descending without image
We eat ourselves limited supply of
Typing, I think rather helplessly (and to no discerned end) of Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”—its “Because I do not hope to turn again . . . Because I do not hope to turn” bubbling ineluctably up out of Coolidge’s “I turned turning . . .” (and henceforth “descending without image”—only the merest tracery of its temporary adhesion left . . .) Or I think of O’Hara’s “Day and Night in 1952”—how it begins “Be not obedient of the excellent, do not prize the silly with an exceptionally pushy person or orphan. The ancient world knew these things and I am unable to convey as well as those poets the simplicity of things, the bland and amused stare of garages and banks . . .” and slides into a series of percussive “of”s:
                                                                                                                    . . . Do you occasionally wonder at the inscrutable nature of visual experiences, an undeniable and far from optometrical
                distance? the bane and bolster of
                my primping prissy heart’s bane of
                anguish! the pressure wheel stone of
                desire. I do not want to be victim of
                the ability to enthuse myself at or of
                . . .
                my thoughts are blue with miles of
                figures and chariots and nudes on paths of
                primrose, going down the drain of
                modern times like a rhymed heroic tragedienne of
                patsies and opening nights and visions of
                the madame who cares and knows not what of.
“The bland and amused stare of garages and banks”: isn’t Coolidge’s attempt that of recording the bland and amused stares of the word garage, of the word bank? Barrett Watten reported somewhere—no doubt in The Grand Piano morass—how he spent some days and weeks making numerous photographs of the bland stares of semi-urban garages (to what end, nobody recalls). Watten, too: tempted by the stares bland and, knowing Watten, unamused of what is “unconcerned with human affairs . . .” (O’Hara). Isn’t—I think, rereading the piece—O’Hara adorning several lines of “A Little Magazine History”? There’s Coolidge’s “when itchy mustache I am a child of / with little black in the corner by / dirtiness” summoning up O’Hara’s “Autobiographia Literaria” (“When I was a child / I played by myself in a / corner of the schoolyard . . .”), though I initially think unreasonably of “I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures” (“Meditations in an Emergency”)—or its precursor “O pastures dotted with excremental discs, wheeling in interplanetary green, your brown eyes stare down our innocence. . .” (“Oranges: 12 Pastorals”)—and of “Song” (“Is it dirty / does it look dirty / that’s what you think of in the city . . .”) Coolidge’s lines “I’ll slip away be in a green flame / off in Wisconsin thru dark / men in sand wading pay me off, savages / & tongues” register a kind of O’Haraesque homage to what’s dark, or wild. (O’Hara, in “Anxiety”: “If I could / get really dark, richly dark, like / being drunk, that’s the best that’s / open as a field.”) I think, too, of O’Hara’s “Indian / sleeping on a scalp . . . just caught sight of the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria . . .” in “In Memory of My Feelings.”

Is Coolidge here in 1966 still stripping off syntax? And syntax’s roistering guilt? Paul Metcalf, writing in a letter to Coolidge (c. 1977): “In many ways, your language is free of guilt. Guilt by association. Association is guilt. Language = meaning = nostalgia = guilt.” And: “I’m suspicious of freedom. And I think you are equally so. The freedoms which you have long since attained, in your vigorous experimenting, are not wholly satisfying, to you (I personally think that what is lost is history—but, call it what you will, something is missing.) And, of perceived (made) structures (“there is nothing casual about your techniques . . . it is a studied piece of workmanship”), Metcalf admits he sees such “distantly”: “Distantly, because I am not drawn in emotionally [. . .] The distance—because you don’t want that closeness? Am I realizing now what a terribly intimate thing is history? (like lying with one’s sister?) You wish words as particles, as counters, washed of associative glue?” Metcalf’s “list of commonly repeated words”: “deign / clad / dial / close / pass / per / single / twin / tend / loom . . . these, plus articles and prepositions—almost all of them are monosyllables—seem to get the strong beat . . . the polysyllables are used as connectors . . . like drums, yes?”

By 1969 Coolidge’s syntax is breaking up (“Time to break ear”). Out of The Floating Bear 36 (1969):
Noun Adder

persiflage fanatical whole keys barrette     white
pint sift left tame
                                      dirigible pant light fuchsia
higher close wents
park on fidget or

was litmus
                              cape cape bath standing
                              belts it rain
muscle fender phosphate trouble
fridge a gas
                              Mouth route pout through
or an red
wry melt nickle
                                        lockheed     hock light seltzer     LOCKHEED
welt pie frowns out
size laughs
                              sounder then
x a mist
                    shack bounce faceless a crab
summer mizzen

so gloat tea in twice
                                        metering YOU
is rip pound?     flamer
                                              toller   walls   of
bout glance a simmer up
time salve makings?     starve
redder than is
                                a molar a
singular bulgur a cloud a clown?     math song it
gout along a rink clamp
sulfur gag on gyms     tie whacks a rung
flounce a whist
flag down b-b nouns
original that
south     more phid south
ad in sheets
                                stemmed truck pith
its wide? machine swelled
rug lobes
                                of red pins fuss
greenery?     load adder in action asp
                    cement all
              along the louds
                                    cement the cement

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Without nails . . .”

Edgar Allan Poe, c. 1848
(Daguerreotype by Marcus Aurelius Root)

An attempt at critical heft provided solely by warp. No dogwood shuttle flying its stow of woof yarn through the shed. To so intuit a fortifying conjunct with no connecting tissue. (Poe: “. . . a whole universe of suggestion—a gay and motley train of rhapsodical and immethodical thought.” —“A Tale of the Ragged Mountain”) A shack made without nails: “pressure holding points,” “junctures of tension.”

Poe: “. . . it is clear that a poem now written will be poetic in the exact ratio of its dispassion. A passionate poem is a contradiction in terms.”

J. H. Prynne, writing to Andrew Crozier (13 September 1966)—out of Certain Prose of The English Intelligencer (Mountain, 2012)—regarding “the pathos of distance” in Crozier’s work: “This gives you a rich vein of sentiment and even those delicious gestures, just the suggestion of a catch in the voice, but at the same time an intensely literary option on whether to pursue it or not, as a figure in one of Puttenham’s counterfait modes. Now pathos and even poverty may truly be one of our present conditions, but the flower on the bush is a glide into poignant suggestion, which is not pathos at all but a kind of court device: ‘Or is it not perchance more requisite our courtly poet do dissemble not onely his countenances & cōceits, but also all his ordinary actions of behauiour, or the most part of thē, whereby the better to winne his purposes & good aduantages, as now & then to haue a iourney or sicknesse in his sleeve?’”

Paul Metcalf, out of the Edgar Allan Poe / John Wilkes Booth book, Both (1982):
“. . . Tellmenow Isitsöornot . . .”

“Most of them [the stories] were intended for half-banter, half-satire—although I might not have fully acknowledged this to be their aim even to myself.”

“The Atlantic has been actually crossed in a Balloon! and this too without difficulty—without any great apparent danger—with thorough control of the machine—and in the inconceivably brief period of seventy-five hours from shore to shore!”

(“Some few persons believe it—but I do not—and don’t you. P. S. ‘The Valdemar Case’ was a hoax, of course.”)

(“Of course, there is not one word of truth in it from beginning to end . . . please do not let out the secret.”)

. . . filled his stories with spurious quotations from foreign languages . . . “makes quotations from the German, but he can’t read a word of the language.”

. . . codes, ciphers, and anagrams . . . acrostics, hieroglyphics, the kabbala . .

“I believe that demons take advantage of the night to mislead the unwary—although you know, I don’t believe in them.”

“. . . Tellmenow Isitsöornot . . .”
Beckett: “Watt had watched people smile and thought he understood how it was done. And it was true that Watt’s smile, when he smiled, resembled more a smile than a sneer, for example, or a yawn. But there was something wanting to Watt’s smile, some little thing was lacking, and people who saw it for the first time, and most people who saw it saw it for the first time, were sometimes in doubt as to what expression exactly was intended. To many it seemed a simple sucking of the teeth.”

Poe: “‘Steal, dear Endymion,’ I used to say to him—‘for very well do I know you can’t help it; and the more you put in your book that is not your own, why the better your book will be:—but be cautious and steal with an air. In regard to myself—you need give yourself no trouble about me. I shall always feel honored in being of use to you; and provided you purloin my poetry in a reputable manner, you are quite welcome to just as much of it as you (who are a very weak little man) can conveniently carry away.’”

Keston Sutherland, out of “What is called ‘Bathos’?” (Stupefaction: A Radical Anatomy of Phantoms): “. . . excellently not quite quasi-satirical . . .”

Wordsworth (Appendix, “by what is usually called Poetic Diction,”1802): “The earliest poets of all nations generally wrote from passion excited by real events; they wrote naturally, and as men: feeling powerfully as they did, their language was daring, and figurative. In succeeding times, Poets, and Men ambitious of the fame of Poets, perceiving the influence of such language, and desirous of producing the same effect without being animated by the same passion, set themselves to a mechanical adoption of these figures of speech, and made use of them, sometimes with propriety, but much more frequently applied them to feelings and thoughts with which they had no natural connection whatsoever. A language was thus insensibly produced, differing materially from the real language of men in any situation.”

Prynne (letter to Crozier): “I might even refer to a continuing hint of derision towards the subject—the very exposure of it a kind of priggish incitement to the reader. If a set of language is to need and deserve confidence it must keep its own kind of fidelity: it must be true to its purpose. And what is I sit alone at my window. True to an occasion, you try not to be at all artificial, but nowhere true to any degree of purpose. My argument is in some kind of vice here, because the purpose is of course the retrospective formalism of the occasion. Your nostalgia is very artful, the reader is left carrying about the abandoned tones of this world.”

Metcalf (Both):
“Pure gold can be made at will, and very readily from lead in connection with certain other substances . . .”

John Sartain: “I asked him how he came to be in Moyamensing Prison, and he said he has been suspected of trying to pass a fifty-dollar counterfeit note . . .

*     *     *

“. . . Tellmenow Isitsöornot . . .”

. . . to banish uncertainty, to interfuse, to blend . . .

. . . to marry one’s cousin, to tell tales of incest . . .

. . . at various times gave his date of birth as 1809, 1811, 1813 . . . at 37, called himself 33 . . .

. . . enlisted in the army as Edgar A. Perry, at other times became Henri le Rennet, Edward S. T. Grey, E. S. T. Grey Esqre., and Thaddeus K. Peasley . . .
Emily Dickinson, to Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1862): “When I state myself, as the Representative of the Verse—it does not mean—me—but a supposed person. You spoke about the ‘perfection.’ To-day makes Yesterday mean.”

Metcalf, out of “Manacle Your Icicle” (From Quarry Road: Uncollected Essays and Reviews of Paul Metcalf):
Sewell suggests that there were probably as many Emily Dickinsons as there are biographers. Her Father’s grounds were her stage, on which she played many a role. Look at some of the signatures she used for her letters: Emily, E. Dickinson, Dickinson, Your Scholar, Your Stranger, Emilie, Your “Rascal,” Brother Emily, Your Pupil, Sister, Your Dickinson, Nameless friend, Butterfly, your mad Emilie, Your Gnome, Barabbas, America, Emilie—I believe, and Selah.

One of her stagiest performances was her first meeting with Higginson, in which her brother Austin, who knew her well, said she “posed.” Higginson said, afterward, “I am glad not to live near her.”

"Ned tells that the Clock purrs and the Kitten ticks. He inherits his Uncle Emily’s ardor for the lie.”
Prynne (letter to Crozier): “ . . . our ambiguities now are quite different, and have little connection with the authentic. The scales have been repeatedly forced. I don’t know how the true case would sound, but we can’t go back to hurt as a refinement of nonchalance, with all the elisions of sweetness put against an impartial notion of the public art. Your language is no more than arch inasmuch as it invokes those assumptions—that’s no longer a rack on which anyone is stretched . . .”

Poe: “With the passions of mankind—although [a poem] may modify them greatly—although it may exalt, or inflame, or purify, or control them—it would require little ingenuity to prove that it has no inevitable, and indeed no necessary co-existence.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paul Metcalf (Stray Notes)

Paul Metcalf, c. 1970
(Photograph by Jonathan Williams)

Friday, the duffer’s day. Out of the “Cocoanut Indians” part of Apalache (1976), the splice of renderings of the Great Swamp Fight of King Philip’s War (wherein, in late 1675, Josiah Winslow led a force of a thousand or so colonists against Narragansetts holed up in a swamp-bound fort) with contemporary reports of Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire of 28 November 1942—nothing so taut, its tempo so impeccably wrought, in all of Metcalf’s work:
“It ſeems that there was but one Entrance into the Fort, though the Enemy found many Ways to come out; but neither the Engliſh nor their Guide well knew on which Side the Entrance lay, nor was it eaſie to have made another; wherefore the good Providence of Almighty God is the more to be acknowledged, who as he led Iſrael ſometime by the Pillar of Fire, and the Cloud of his Preſence a right Way through the Wilderneſs; ſo did he now direct our Forces upon that Side of the Fort, into which the Indians that firſt fired upon them betook themſelves.”

13 steps to the head of the stairs, 12 feet to the right, and 28 feet through the Foyer to the revolving door: smoke puffed and eddied around the corners, followed by a dart of flame followed by a rush of flames and fugitives
                                                                              two men reached the door, landed in the same wedge, jammed it

“The Place where the Indians uſed ordinarily to enter themſelves, was over a long Tree, upon a Place of Water, where but one Man could enter at a time, and which was ſo waylaid that they would have been cut off that had ventured there”

at the head of the stairs was another door, a panic door, opening to Piedmont Street—welded shut against a possible exodus of deadbeats

“But at one corner there was a Gap made up only with a long Tree, about four or five feet from the Ground, over which Men might eaſily paſs”

the revolving door didn’t revolve, the crowd surged, one man smashed the glass, another tried vainly to free his arms to put out the fire in his hair

“But they had placed a Kind of Block-houſe right over againſt the ſaid Tree, from whence they ſorely galled our Men that firſt entred; ſome going ſhot dead upon the Tree, as Capt. Johnson, and ſome as ſoon as they entred, as was Capt. Davenport

the cables snapped, the door spun fugitives, cut, bleeding and burned, to the sidewalk

“ſo as they that firſt entred were forced preſently to retire and fall upon their Bellies till the Fury of the Enemies ſhot was pretty well ſpent, which ſome Companies that did not diſcern the Danger, not observing, left ſundry of their Men”

a Grove employee threw up his arms: “Nobody gets out of here till he pays the check!”

“but at the laſt, two Companies being brought up besides the four that firſt marched up, they animated one another to make another Aſſault, one of the Commanders crying out, They run, they run; which did ſo encourage the Soldiers, that they preſently entred amain”

half-burned gases arched into the vaulted Foyer, sucked forward by a fan over the Caricature Bar, and into the spaces of the Dining Room
                                                                                                      a waiter shouted “Fire!” and the word was heard as “Fight!”—a busboy on the Terrace saw a flash of light, thought gangsters were shooting up the joint
                                                                    black smoke, a rosy tongue along the ceiling, a blast, a ball of flame
                        a group in the Villa made for the double doors opening to Shawmut Street—found them bolted
                                   the lights went out, many fell to the floor and slept, breathing the sweet noxious gases
                          others hurled tables, chairs

“After a conſiderable Number were well entred, they preſently beat the Enemy out of a Flanker on the left Hand, which did a little ſhelter our Men from the Enemies Shot till more Company came up, and ſo by degrees made up higher, firſt into the Middle, and then into the upper End of the Fort, till at laſt they made the Enemy all retire from their Sconces and fortified Places, leaving Multitudes of their dead Bodies upon the Place.”

the headwaiter slumped, tuxedo ablaze

“And by this time the English people in the fort had begun to set fire to wigwams and houses in the fort, which Mr. Church laboured hard to prevent. They told him that they had orders from the General to burn them. He begged them to forbear until he had discourse with the General. And hastening to him, he begged to spare the wigwams, &c., in the fort from fire. And told him that the wigwams were musket proof, being all lined with baskets and tubs of grain, and other provisions, sufficient to supply the whole army until the spring of the year, and every wounded man might have a good warm house to lodge in, who otherwise would necessarily perish with the storms and cold; and moreover that the army had no other provisions to trust unto or depend upon; that he knew that the Plymouth forces had not so much as one biscake left, for he had seen their last dealt out, &c.”
                                      but the wigwams were fired
                                                                                              “in the which men, women and Children (no man knoweth how many hundreds of them) were burnt to death”
                                                                                                                                                          “by the firing of at least five or ſix hundred of thofe smoaky Cells”

from the point of origin to the top of the stairway, 43 feet, the fire spread in two to four minutes; down the 40-foot Foyer in seconds, and from the stairway to the New Lounge doorway on Broadway, 225 feet, five minutes at most
                                                                                                      “within two to five minutes of the first appearance of the fire most of the possible exits, including all exits normally open to the public, were useless. Pouring fire through such exits made it impossible for humans to pass simultaneously through these exits safely. In the course of such pouring, the mass of burning gaseous material appears to have been depressed from its high elevation within the premises in order to pass through the exits. The finding of bodies piled up at many of the exits is attributable to this fact.”

“the shrieks and cries of the women and children, the yelling of the warriors, exhibited a most horrible and appalling scene, so that it greatly moved some of the soldiers.They were in much doubt and they afterwards seriously inquired whether burning their enemies alive could be consistent with humanity and the benevolent principle of the gospel”

smoke reached the New Lounge door on Broadway, and striking cold air, exploded
(A lovely story Metcalf tells about the original printing of Apalache by Bob Callahan of Turtle Island, who’d got Clifford Burke to do the typesetting: “. . . and there began a marvelous transcontinental correspondence—between Bob and me, me and Cliff Burke, the printer—as the book slowly came into existence. Before setting type, Cliff demanded that I make a tape recording of the entire book, so that he could gather my intentions as to layout from the way I spoke it.”)

Out of a Metcalf piece called “In This Corner: Charles Olson” in The Floating Bear (1962):
All of us, it seems to me, are fighting Time. A few win. Melville poured and swept around her, beat her at her own game. Thoreau withdrew to Walden, refused to win the goddamn clock. Wright Morris (read THE HUGE SEASON) lined her up on two levels and let go with both barrels (pretty sneaky, but it works). George Catlin walked her to death (Space, that American dimension of Time). And so on.

Kid Paret already had the Cadillac Eldorado and the Thunderbird, had planned to retire after just one more fight. But the capillaries in the brain case burst . . .

Down in Gloucester, Charles may have watched the fight. Probably not.
                  a man can’t eat
sleep walk move go
apart from his own dwelling
the remnant, holed up.
Isn’t the duffer’s work just that: a refusal “to win the goddamn clock”?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Paul Metcalf (Stray Notes)

Paul Metcalf, 1917–1999
(Photograph by Jonathan Williams)

Paul Metcalf, regarding Michel Butor’s 1963 Mobile, A Study for a Representation of the United States, with its dedication to Jackson Pollock:
. . . it is the first full-length prose work I know in which—as in Pound, Williams, Olson—the meanings are stripped of all literary trappings, lying (as pigments) nakedly side by side, the shock of juxtaposition unmitigated.

has Butor read our poets, or did he get it from the painters? In any case, this is a re-emergence of an old tradition of franco-american interchange, one that involved Jefferson, Franklin, Crevecoeur and de Tocqueville . . . it is also in the tradition of that secondary European greed, not the landgrabbers, but those who gathered, at second hand, the land’s natural life: as, Coleridge mining the Bartrams—here, Butor makes a feast of Audubon, picking the birds clean.
And, countering “Jonathan Williams, in a letter,” who’d complained the book “is merely grist,” Metcalf quotes Wright Morris’s The Territory Ahead (1963):
“Walt Whitman . . . is the forerunner of those anonymous classics the Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues. The poetry of things. The poetry of the sheer weight and number of things. The uses, abuses, and value of things, the appearance, description, and nature of things, the name and number of things, with their price, place, and listing in the great plan. . .

“The mystic meaning proper to objects themselves is the poetry in Whitman. The mere sight of things, a listing of their uses, excites in the American a rudimentary aesthetic. It is not uniquely American, but as Americans we rely on it almost uniquely. After all, what else is there?”
Metcalf adds: “we see this reappearing in PATERSON, the geological analysis of the Passaic riverbed, listing of the sediments, and in MAXIMUS Olson’s fondness for lists of maritime provisions. Here in MOBILE, there is the incessant listing of place names, small and large, from all over our map . . .” Out of the Robert Buckeye-edited From Quarry Road: Uncollected Essays and Reviews of Paul Metcalf (Amandla, 2002). (Metcalf’s own 1979 Zip Odes is “composed entirely of place names, as they appear, state by state, in the U. S. Postal Service Zip Code Directory . . . nothing has been added—there are no ‘filler’ words, or ‘combining’ words.”)

Metcalf’s “Johnny Appleseed” with its making distinct the sedentary (“those who stand within”) and the walker. Buckeye suggests that the piece appeared in “Correction Two, 1968”—though under the title “Johnny Appleseed: 1966” I located it in Clark Coolidge’s Joglars 3:
Everything in this country is so new, by almost any terms, that it is only through history that one gets a fix
                                                  and our history—post-columbian—is recent, by comparison with those of antiquity . . . the hailstones on the roof rattle in our ears, for all the insulation and acoustical tile: traditions re-surface . . .

That favorite old fork in the road, the division of melville and whitman, is still apt and dramatic:
                    an idle guessing game can be played on the question of whether the two ever met: it can be no more than a guessing game, for if they did meet they surely had nothing to say to each other
                                                      melville, the last forty years of his life, was a gentleman, meaning that he dissembled (in the one book, moby-dick, he gave the lie to the pose)
                                                                                                                                                      whitman was never a gentleman: he walked his whole life fly open

But there are earlier roots:
                                                    it was after the revolution that the dispossessed, displaced soldier-farmers, paid off in worthless scrip, struck out: shay’s rebellion
                                                                                                                                        and earlier, there were troubles in massachusetts with uprooted citizens after king philip’s war (1675)
                                                                                                                                                                 and, too (still earlier), there is roger williams and his difficulties with the authorities in massachusetts bay: and this is important because he walked, repeat walked from massachusetts to rhode island, and this is the special dignifying, characteristic activity of the rebel, the liberal, the beatnik, the naturalist, conservationist and indian-lover: he walks
            (still earlier: cabeza de vaca and david ingram)

Perhaps whitman never got beyond his brooklyn ferries but in leaves of grass he strides—in this sense, he was the publicist, front man for a tradition already established:
                                                                                                                                                                 john chapman, johnny appleseed, whitman’s authentic original: bearded, dedicated, footloose, perhaps a little daft but in cagey defiance of society and its virtues—the original singlehearted beatnik, clearly whitman’s antecedent
                                                                                                                      chapman, whitman, and in the line of descent, vachel lindsay, joseph smith, george catlin, the two bartrams, and jonathan williams (who walked the appalachian trail . . .

Against these, the conservatives: those who stand within: melville, pound (a line of descent here would please pound not at all, but it can be found) and pound’s satellite eliot; modernly, olson and creeley—pound and olson are perhaps bohemian, but they are nonetheless conservative; the bohemian and the beatnik are different creatures, the former a transatlantic tradition, the latter chapman-whitman resurfacing

History is the measure: ours being the transplantation of foreign seed—appleseed!—in virgin soil: to the conservatives (conservors of value) the emphasis is on the growth and exfoliation of the seed, the culture; to the beat, it is the soil itself that matters; the loss and flourishing of the altogether altered seed becomes secondary—so that the soil, the land, ultimately outweighs the crop in value . . .
                                                                                              it is through the liberal-beatnik that nature comes in: our passion for land and conservation (see roosevelt—ccc, soil conservation, national parks, etc.)—the conservatives are concerned with land and culture, and find nature uninteresting—see olson on nature, as such—and pound on roosevelt
                  the liberal-beatnik lets in all, there can be no exclusion: god, jew, negro, nature (jonathan williams: “all orifices, orpheus”)—eliot, on the other side, slammed the door on the mississippi, as pound on the jew, olson on extra-newengland (or post-hesiod) u.s.—as melville on all 20th century life (see clarel).

But as surely as the door is slammed, some nut, daft in the head, skips out the window, pocket full of seed, and starts walking—the tradition surfaces and moves anew . . .
(The Roger Williams lines and those regarding the soil’s outweighing the crop appear in “Whitman and Melville” in Where Do You Put the Horse? Too, I note that the final “and moves” is particular to the Joglars version, and lacking in the Buckeye.) The walkers versus the stuck. Marvelous.

Buckeye sporadically quotes bits of Metcalf’s letters. One learns of exchanges with Guy Davenport* (“I’ve not met Davenport, although he writes rich and witty letters, and we correspond joyously. Have you seen his new book, TATLIN!? The Baltimore Sun wrote a review, in which they dismissed him as a sex maniac. I told him not to let such flattery go to his head”), and of Metcalf’s “latest passion: Charles Reznikoff, about whom I intend to write” (“I never realized how close he and I are—see Testimony and Holocaust.”) And there’s this:
      I guess what bothers me most about what [the Language poets] do is not what they do, but all that’s left out. Passion, emotion, history, place, human relations, geographical realities, etc. It’s all one electronic abstraction.
      Shit, man, no erections.
* Shouldn’t the assembling and putting into print of Davenport’s letters—by all evidence, necessary for an honest measure of the man’s literary work—be one of the pressing demands of the moment?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jennifer Moxley’s Evacuations

Jennifer Moxley
(Photograph by John Sarsgard)

John Keats, writing to John Taylor (27 February 1818):
I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by Singularity; it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance. Second, its touches of Beauty should never be half way, thereby making the reader breathless instead of content. The rise, the progress, the setting of imagery should like the Sun come natural to him, shine over him and set soberly, although in magnificence, leaving him in the Luxury of twilight. But it is easier to think what Poetry should be than to write it, and this leads me on to another axiom. That if Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.
Jennifer Moxley, out of Evacuations (Least Weasel, 2011):
I have decided to give up on memory It is too exhausting
and you cannot keep up with it. Besides, people hate
complexity. Memory is complicated. Honoring “reality”
is also complex. People hate it. They prefer “ideology.”
It is the poet’s job to show the “active” reader that
he or she is a dupe of ideology, this lesson is supposed
to feel good, like it feels to get out of prison,
even if you’ve been in a long time and have no idea
how to rent an apartment or get a job. All these things
are necessities and as such are not supposed to be
fulfilling. But they can be, if you have the right attitude
about the present. Like I do. Did you notice that in
my illustration of how poets who write new sentences
self-quote my own self-quote was a misquote?
The present, no longer resistance, became enthusiasm.
Apparently it is easy to change the habit of relying
on maudlin, complicated memory and compulsive quoting
when writing. It is a question of syntax and grammar.
The body’s problems are not so easily remedied.
Samuel Johnson, out of The Dictionary of the English Language (1755):

A vain belief of private revelation; a vain confidence of divine favour or communication.

Enthusiasm is founded neither on reason nor divine revelation, but rises from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain.
Keats, to J. H. Reynolds (19 February 1818):
Memory should not be called knowledge. Many have original Minds who do not think it; they are led away by Custom. Now it appears to me that almost any Man may like the Spider spin from his own inwards his own airy Citadel. The points of leaves and twigs on which the Spider begins her work are few and she fills the Air with a beautiful circuiting.
Moxley, in conversation—out of Talking Poetics: Dialogues in Innovative Poetry (Shearsman, 2011):
Like many people, Marx’s critique of capital was my first structuralist revelation, the first time I thought, oh my, structure, it’s controlling everything! But of course nuance is key here. You know how gloomy you get when you first realize you are determined? Whether you feel determined by patriarchy or capitalism or whatever, a gloom overtakes you. You ask: how will I live, what can I do?! Sometimes it seems that what then goes wrong is that you start to feel at war, even in peacetime. You get this kind of extreme, martyr, war-like response to it, even if you are privileged, educated, writing poetry, etc. It can be a self-indulgent trap. You start failing to experience what you’re experiencing because you’re seeing everything through an ideology that’s supposedly critiquing ideology, so it’s just a trap, a maze.
        I feel, again as an artist, to embrace one ideology and just use it as a kind of crib sheet on how to respond to situations is a disaster. I mean, we know it’s a disaster, because state-controlled art is horrible. It loses individuality, which is the only thing that we’ve gained in all these years of so-called “progress.” The free life of the mind, the true individual, is always at risk, so to just throw it out the window because you’ve figured out that some things are determined seems to me a mistake. I still believe that the individual can be self-determined at some level within the structures. At the same time, when it comes to language, all this goes out the window . . .
Keats, to B. R. Haydon (8 April 1818):
I have ever been too sensible of the labyrinthian path to eminence in Art (judging from Poetry) ever to think I understood the emphasis of Painting, the innumerable compositions and decompositions which take place between the intellect and its thousand materials before it arrives at that trembling delicate and snail-horn perception of Beauty. I know not your many havens of intenseness, nor ever can know them, but for this I hope nought you atchieve is lost upon me: for when a Schoolboy the abstract Idea I had of an heroic painting was what I cannot describe. I saw it somewhat sideways, large, prominent, round and colour’d with magnificence . . .
Moxley, the end of Evacuations:
                                                            I’ve been tricked
by the past, making it out to be a really great time
with good values. You would think that for artists
who think about “structure,” and mock artists
who think about “feeling,” the word “conform,”
from the French meaning “together” and “form”
would be a positive word. But it isn’t. It means
being like other things, which is always interpreted
as not having your own mind, even by people
who are against the idea of having your own mind
because it is self-indulgent. It is a Romantic construct
that is completely beholden to the free market
and therefore exploits working people who are too busy
making ends meet in the present to think about
Perrier, filet mignon, poetry, patterns, and so on.
In fact, if I were an industrial worker
and not a poet and I read this “experiment” I would
think to myself, that poet has too much money,
she has lost touch with working people who
don’t care about poetry. It is a vicious cycle.
Bladders and feet, however, are everyone’s concern,
culture, education, and class aside. In the present
they press on and pain us. They make me think:
this has got to stop.
Keats, to Benjamin Bailey (21 & 25 May 1818):
My intellect must be in a degenerating state; it must be, for when I should be writing about god knows what I am troubling you with Moods of my own Mind, or rather body, for Mind there is none. I am in that temper that if I were under Water I would scarcely kick to come to the top. I know very well ’tis all nonsense.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Flush Unpreparedness

Lyn Hejinian

In morning’s smeary flush of unpreparedness, denatured, sleepy, one turns to whatever small intervening perusals occasioned an alert. Today, Adorno (Minima Moralia):
Morality and style.—A writer will find that the more precisely, conscientiously, appropriately he expresses himself, the more obscure the literary result is thought, whereas a loose and irresponsible formulation is at once rewarded with certain understanding. It avails nothing ascetically to avoid all technical expressions, all allusions to spheres of culture that no longer exist. Rigour and purity in assembling words, however simple the result, create a vacuum. Shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech is taken as a sign of relevance and contact: people know what they want because they know what other people want. Regard for the object, rather than for communication, is suspect in any expression: anything specific, not taken from pre-existent patterns, appears inconsiderate, a symptom of eccentricity, almost of confusion. The logic of the day, which makes so much of its clarity, has naively adopted this perverted notion of everyday speech. Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case. Rigorous formulation demands unequivocal comprehension, conceptual effort, to which people are deliberately disencouraged, and imposes on them in advance of any content a suspension of all received opinions, and thus an isolation, that they violently resist . . .
(I think, without formulating it fully: “Adorno’s is a sort of Harlem stride piano style prose, its underlying percussive pulse regulating sentence pattern and length, its essential repetitions delivered with ‘right hand’ slide-offs and flourishes, fills and trills . . .”) Avoidance of the unequivocal particular—that “eccentricity”—through ordinary crowd-swelled vagueness, the everyday routines of speech. The centrality of the holy individual “purity.” I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne at Brook Farm, writing (18 October 1841) a letter to fiancée Sophia Peabody, with a warning against mesmerism, its intrusory way of populating a :
. . . belovedest, my spirit is moved to talk with thee to-day about these magnetic miracles, and to beseech thee to take no part in them. I am unwilling that a power should be exercised on thee, of which we know neither the origin nor the consequence, and the phenomena of which seem rather calculated to bewilder us, than to teach us any truths about the present or future state of being. If I possessed such a power over thee, I should not dare to exercise it; nor can I consent to its being exercised by another. Supposing that this power arises from the transfusion of one spirit into another, it seems to me that the sacredness of an individual is violated by it; there would be an intrusion into thy holy of holies . . .
(Admittedly, Hawthorne’s concern that some other “power . . . be exercised on” Peabody is likely the result of misplaced husbandly prerogative . . .) There remains a kind of perceived peril in the way the febrile “crowd” exerts its amnesia, imposes its demon familiar. I think, too, of my randomings in Lyn Hejinian’s “night book” The Book of a Thousand Eyes (Omnidawn, 2012) and how it seems to be “about” both what’s common (crowd-encumbered) and solitary (sleep), and how one must needs constantly negotiate the social hypnotic, its easy diminishment, its replenishing ease. Here’s a piece selected rather abruptly, akin (I make it) to Adorno and Hawthorne:
            Temptations thronging through my hours are strong
and they launch a normal vocabulary
up and down and all around
“galloping, galloping, galloping, galloping”
            Disappointed, exhausted, and thrilled
as Gérard Depardieu playing Cyrano de Bergerac before falling asleep
to perceptual folding and disbelief in the sufficiency
of that—that life is—an utmost
with nothing to perceive
I put on speed, night following
like a flapping black wing
swooping me every minute over the sun and every minute making a day
I see
            Buildings rise and disappear like a puff of mist
as huge trees grow
up, delicate and fair, and fall away like dreams
of a bee sliding down the air
at the speed of an exceptionally languid snail
through which it tumbles into contexts—episodes
as if everything were somehow more
than itself with the sun glaring off
the white stucco wall
as if praise were hard to give
            In cities
as full of people as history smart and telling
my quibble has been so chic of late that any repetition of it will seem
the first time and forever incomplete
as a holiday
but when I repeat
it the others get a look on their face
to indicate that these are a layperson’s recastings of poorly communicated facts
involuted by the pressure of thought and worldview
that’s not readily comprehensible
and easy to blame
taking its wild elaborations back into the dark
Part voyage (with one’s “quibble”) out into the teeming agora of exchange, and subsequent individual withdrawal (“into the dark”). Part solitary reverie-particulars (“bee sliding down the air”) structured—they, too—into “episodes” (Adorno: “anything specific, not taken from pre-existent patterns, appears inconsiderate”)—isn’t it in Wim Wender’s 1976 Im Lauf der Zeit someone talks of the subconscious itself’s being “colonized”? Part recognition of how even one’s own temptings may be socially mediated (“they launch a normal vocabulary”—Adorno’s “a loose and irresponsible formulation is at once rewarded with certain understanding”), and a slight mockery of such quotidian transfusions (the cowed routine of “galloping, galloping”). Is it in the syntactical egregiousness of the lines “falling asleep / to perceptual folding and disbelief in the sufficiency / of that—that life is—an utmost / with nothing to perceive” that one sees the dilemma in its “utmost” purity? Night scenes and percepts inevitably countered (regulated) by the diurnal urge—“that life”—with its formulations ready-provided (“nothing to perceive”). Can I read the stuttery line “of that—that life is—an utmost” as Hejinian’s tiny attempt to enact the vacuum that opens up at the impossible prospect of a percept wholly un-languaged (meaning socially void)? Bah. (“Others get a look on their face . . .”)

Monday, April 09, 2012

“Great haboundaunce . . .”

Lyle Bongé, “Mardi Gras, Saint Peter Street,” 1979

Lyle Bongé,
“Pines in Mist, Car Dump North of Biloxi,” 1977

Sunny, with a persistent breeze. Out to saw up hibernal detritus, brush and deadfall, empty out barrels of rainwater, put air in tires, oil up the bicycle. Puttering in the sun with easy restraint. Fussed away the morning doing arithmetical labors for a government I do not trust. Read a little of Metcalf’s Apalache. Unfathomable the extent of the pre-European “open Countrey,” its “Great haboundaunce,” Metcalf mustering a prodigious untamed tangle of quotes, stitching a motley out of heterogeneous sources:
wild Vines runne naturally / The ground doth naturally bring foorth vines / the wild vines cover all the hills along the rivers / I have seen whole pieces of land where vine stood by vine / and diverse grape vines which though growing without Culture in the very throng of weedes and bushes were yett filled with bunches of grapes to admiracon / Vines in many parts on the Sea Shore, bearing multitude of Grapes, where one would wonder they should get Nourishment / in suche abundance, as where soever a man treads they are ready to embrace his foote / Those Grapes, I say, lying over bushes and brambles / to behold the goodly vines burthening every neighbor bush, and climbing the toppes of highest trees, and those full of clusters of the grapes in their kind, however dreeped and shadowed soever from the sun / Grapes so prodigiously large / Vines, in bigness of a man’s thigh / having the trunke three and foure foote high and as bigge as ones fist in the lower part, the Grapes faire and great / of such greatnes, yet wild / grapes exceedinge good and sweett of to Sorts both red butt the on of them ys a marvellous deepe red / swollen grapes / grape neere as great as a Cherry . . . they bee fatte, and the iuse thicke / black Bunch-Grapes which yield a Crimson juice . . . well knit in the Clusters
Or mimicking it with tongued wild orthography (untameable vocables):
chinklamoose askiminikonson kaskasank across the north and east forks of quemehoning aggamogin rippogenus quinnehtokqut across the nipnet and between the breastshaped hills sisquisie taghkanick wyalusing wyomissing at quabaug six trails converged mobjack coinjock the big bone blue lick trail skunkscut nipsic chipchug scantic from the head of a clinch to the fork of tug nisquitianxet gungywamps scitico woxodawa the licking route sankety unkety nausset the north prong of nickajack scusset
Language that impels a full-throated voicing (a few pages hence, where Metcalf talks of “the gravitic creep of scree // uplift /and / deposition”—one suspects he’s talking of such torn lingual riprap . . .)

Basil Bunting
(Photograph by Jonathan Williams)

Reading, too, Jonathan Williams’s Thomas Meyer-selected-and-edited volume of essays, The Magpie’s Bagpipe (1982). Williams the magpie (one of a tidings of magpies, including Metcalf), indefatigably collecting . . .) How’d I miss Basil Bunting’s (in Williams’s words) “wry five-word autobiography”—“Minor poet, not conspicuously dishonest”? That puts the clout to a whole dissimulation of littler pretenders. Williams: “Bunting abhors ‘criticism’ of poetry, and so do I. no? Out of curiosity I’ve looked up critic in the recent . . . OED . . . I like Thomas Dekker’s warning in Newes from Hell: ‘Take heed of criticks: they bite, like fish, at anything, especially at bookes.’” (Noted, too, Bunting’s reply to Williams’s query Does the intellect have much to do with writing a poem?: “What the hell is the intellect?”) Or there’s the ever-irrepressible Edward Dahlberg saying (in 1953, with the Language boys still in short pants): “A poem or a book that does not make the reader toil for his fate deprives him of energy, which is his most tragical and valiant weapon against the cosmos, and without which man is neither epic nor universal. A book that weakens human will is inartistic, for all writing is heroic feigning, imagining that though everything perish, a book will be perdurable. Knowing that death is always brushing our backs, we write to forget death.” Or Williams talking about the photographer Father Orcenith Lyle Bongé, and revving up into a fine bastard etymology:
Bodacious, surely, is the first adjective that springs to mind when I think of Lyle Bongé. If I were to pursue bodacious to its roots in the manner of Robert Graves instead of H. L. Mencken, I might let my ear hover on the sound of Boadicea, the queen of the Iceni, the Celtic tribe in eastern Britain in the first century A.D. We have Dio Cassius’s portrait of Boudicca (Boadicea in the Latin): “She was huge of frame, terrifying of aspect, and with a harsh voice. A great mass of bright red hair fell to her knees: she wore a great twisted golden torc, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch. Now she grasped a spear, to strike fear into all who watched her.”
(Bongé is, memorably, the origin of the aesthetic quip: “If you can kill a snake with it, it ain’t art!” A report in the Black Mountain College newspaper reports: “He has red hair and sports a ‘French’ mustache. He is noted for wearing a monocle on his left eye. This adds to his distinction greatly. Lyle possesses some strange but amusing hobbies. He collects skulls (from old graveyards) and animal skulls in the woods. To prove his statement that he loves ‘danger as a stimulant,’ he once lived in New York on $1.50 and a bottle of stimulant. He ate only one meal a day and that was with friends. Another hobby is sailing alone in a storm in his boat. Others include travelling, writing prose and poetry and he loves all modern art forms.”)