Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kent Johnson’s “Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century”

Frances Sargent Osgood, c. 1850

Ah, the “brain-scattering” ejaculatory O!’s of the nineteenth century. Ah, the thrice-named titans of humor, the gloaming belle-lettrists of the pitiable conceit, the dashing ornery grammarians! Augustus Baldwin Longstreet! Roderick Impey Murchison! Letitia Elizabeth Landon! Anna Peyre Dinnies! Sumner Lincoln Fairfield! Ah, the poets, all driveling their revelatory abrupts across the deathless page, all with all the sticky ubiquity of the common arachnidae (the amblypygids, the schizomids, the acarinae)—isn’t it precisely there that the nineteenth century meets “our” “own”? There in the “nonpareil” (meaning, I suppose, “candy-assed”) shamelessness of the endless mercurial “through-put”? What the bent sigillum of Alexander Pope hurled forth in the eighteenth century mounts up in cruel accrual and sigmoid glut, alarum of “things to come”:
Who shames a scribbler? Break one cobweb through,
He spins the slight, self-pleasing thread anew:
Destroy his fib, or sophistry: in vain!
The creature’s at his dirty work again,
Throned in the centre of his thin designs,
Proud of a vast extent of flimsy lines . . .
(A twenty-first century version reads: “You have plenty of time is what everybody says, the stupidest / Thing I’ve ever heard // I don’t even fucking / Have time to write this right now.”) Hellbent toward the unaccoutered morass of the oubliette, that hole where memory goeth “off” so prettily only to droop in the remove, evanesce in the wash . . .

We shall, O! I trust it is not too impetuous (or impolitic) to say, all die and thereat be forgot, scrubbed “out” by the nonchalant commandoes of the new, the rankest of our ranks made dumb by the honest temporal sludge of the incipient. And just as something like Ariana Reines’s lines (out of Mercury)—
I don’t know what I need
Until you have given it to me
To make me know I needed it

O stone of all I’m not. O gem of all things
Making me lick your gorgon eye
& touch myself eternally
—just may refer the contemporary hypocrite lecteur back to the sinuous insinuatory overtures of something like Mrs. Frances Sargent Osgood’s “The Dying Rosebud’s Lament”—I quote—
Ah me! ah! wo is me!
      That I should perish now,
With the dear sunlight just let in,
      Upon my balmy brow!

My leaves, instinct with glowing life,
      Were quivering to unclose!
My happy heart with love was rife;—
      I was almost a rose!
—that reader, too, is certain of the ever-contingent expungement of such vanity, casual, unappeased, unredressed. Such a dire irremediable outlook (death, disappearance) is, one suspects, fons et origo of those impetuous O!’s, and may, too, provide a way of reckoning with those moot trinitarian monikers, a leading of names gabbling up for clout against ruin, time’s genial reprisal . . .

That—full-throated spuriousness and all—by way of making a pact (“Nineteenth century— / I have detested you long enough”)—now that one is beyond the officious, throttling reach of the “pig-headed father” of the twentieth century—and admitting how the nineteenth century is like our “brain-scattering” own. The line of thinking is all Kent Johnson’s fault and honor: for he, in a fit of approbatory kindness, sent along an undunned copy, fresh out of the Johnson scrivenery, of “Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century,” a piece of excavatory goodwill, nigh pious in its delight, scintillose in its wit, partial to its supposed principals. For these are our brethren—and Pound’s lines (out of Canto LXXIV) waft up like dimity—
To study with the white wings of time passing
                        is not that our delight
to have friends come from far countries
                        is not that pleasure
nor to care that we are untrumpeted?
                        filial, fraternal affection is the root of humaneness
                        the root of the process . . .
“Where memory liveth” is precisely where we be.

Forgotten American Poets of the 19th Century

                                            —for John Bradley, in the 21st

Absalom William Moore is a poet who thought poetry was an anchor in the drift of the world.

Adelaide Mary Brown is a poet who inspired strong feelings among the bachelors of her town.

Bartholomew Derrick Taylor is a poet who spoke to us intimately, from an almost suffocating nearness.

Obedience Sophie Walker is a poet who believed there’s another world where we will read to each other high on a mountain in the wind.

Cuthbert Eli Morgan is a poet who always seemed to connect with the choir.

Abiah Charlotte Sanders is a poet who spun her gold down through the moving deep laurel shade all day.

Chauncey Thaddeus Powell is a poet who believed that there are no grounds for belief.

Lucretia Florence Jenkins is a poet who believed they will have to believe it as we believed it.

Cornelius August Parker is a poet who thought he was lit up like morning glories and was showered by the rain of his symbols.

Cyrus Wiley Butler is a poet who believed long poems are “much closer to a whole reality” than shorter poems, but too late.

Fredonia Anna Ross is a poet who believed she had spent the afternoon blowing soap bubbles.

Obediah Virgil Foster is a poet who believed the day was gloves.

Hester Wilma Campbell is a poet who was suddenly covered at the party by the wasps of the doorsill.

Ebenezer Charles Freeman is a poet whose last words were “The pool is covered in slime.”

Permelia Margaret Holmes is a poet who believed that when a screen door banged in the wind it made one of her hinges come loose.

Epaphroditus Benjamin Warren is a poet who didn’t and doesn’t really care where poetry is now.

Prudence Alice Grant is a poet who rode a mule until the mule had to be carried.

Phineas Derrick Knight is a poet who thought of himself highly, believing the nature of what is personal imitates oblivion.

Temperance Clarissa Hamilton is a poet who wrote poems in French with the design that they be translated into the English of the Queen.

Hiram Josiah Hunt is a poet who dragged a rotten log from the bottom of a stagnant pond.

Jedediah Louis Mason is a poet who nested at the end of a tunnel, where he was discovered beneath a bank.

Elijah Aquilla Burns is a poet who loved Rochester, and who flows northward like two joined sewers.

Zachariah Thomas Hayes is a poet who believed we go back to poems as to a wife, leaving the boyfriend we desire.

Malvina Penelope Smith is a poet who shouted primitive slogans and shot symbolic smoke out her gills.

Olive Martha Weaver is a poet who believed she could simply choose to “wander away” from an optional apocalypse.

Nathaniel Edward East is a poet who wondered how the singing of the housefinch rings in finchskull, which wondering made him mad.

Electa Joan McCoy is a poet who believed it was a misunderstanding, mud sliding from the side where the thing was let in.

Mabel Ellen Greene is a poet who believed the whole brilliant mass comes spattering down.

Hezekiah Zander Fox is a poet whose two stalks pushed from the brain, through a series of miraculous infoldings to form optic cups.

Kesiah Relief Riley is a poet whose hair was black, and whose eyes were black, and from whose long fingers the spirits were conjured.

Newton Duncan Stone is a poet who believed Orpheus liked the glad personal quality of the things beneath the sky, which on that strange day began to rain frogs.

Isaac Davis Gibson is a poet who had a cow’s head on his shoulders and candles sprouting from his back.

Abigail Isabel Hicks is a poet who has disappeared into libraries, into microfilm.

Jeremiah Cross Shaw is a poet who went mad and had relations with Longfellow, his steed.

Tryphosia Sybrina Chapman is a poet who believed our jousting ends in music, like saplings do, after a typhoon.

Loretta Judith Porter is a poet who liked it when it was snowing in Paris, a city which does not exist.

Priscilla Elinamifia Woods is a poet who wrapped you in the burnoose of memories against the dark temptations of the flesh.

Francis Quiet Bryant is a poet who entered the forest, followed a path, and was eaten by The Bear, or The Witch.

Judah Robert Daniels is a poet who discovered a way to translate Eastern texts so that Western men could read Orientally, down at the beach of agates.

Lafayette Blessed Strongly is a poet who thought he was ahead of his time, but now he is regarded as apocryphal.

Pleasant Reunion Washington is a poet whose last line was “I don’t think the leeches are sucking anymore.”

Jackson Auction Black is a poet whose classical meters were all blasted to ruins in defense of Charleston.

Henrietta Troy Mills is a poet who was stolen by the Apache and became an Apache, it is rumored.

Edward Azariah Cole is a poet who knew he would show them, those who had laughed and mocked him, but alas.

Anne Liza Bishop is a poet who insisted on signing Anonymous and so forever does.

Martha Damaris Tucker is a poet who did not doubt that her hands or her whole body were hers, as the grain of sand to the haboob or the shrimp to the tsunami.

Winifred Fullest Hart is a poet who, like Thomas Jefferson, saw grass enough for myriads of oxen to grind between their teeth.

Kenward Linwood Johnson is a poet who at one end of his line had a knot, and at the other end a hook, and he sat fishing for a camel until he was called to come back.

Experience April Weaver is a poet whose sorrow was so wide you couldn’t see across it, if sorrow could be seen.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Notebook (Lyric Moments: Hejinian, Creeley, Robertson, Arendt, &c.)

Lisa Robertson

Lyn Hejinian (out of The Book of a Thousand Eyes):
I’m in a natural solitude—a spread—and I’m pleased
I’ve enjoyed social hauling and communal singing
Now I’m glad to withdraw from sound
“Now” is that withdrawal
Cloistral moment of the present. The present is cloistral, all interiority, unsmudged by anything “out,” what’s gone before, what comes after. Thus the “lyric moment”—how it combats the usual extendedness, the hither and thither “hauling” of the social beast. Recall Creeley (interviewed for “The Art of Poetry” series of the Paris Review, c. 1968):
Poetry seems to be written momently—that is, it occupies a moment of time. There is, curiously, no time in writing a poem. I seem to be given to work in some intense moment of whatever possibility, and if I manage to gain the articulation necessary in that moment, then happily there is the poem. Whereas in prose there’s a coming and going. Much more of a gathering process that’s evident in the writing.
Versus New Sentence-ry’s prose: its routine pragmatic debunking of “that withdrawal” into “natural solitude” (that is the “Now”); its “coming and going” a refusal to occupy itself with the self in its (“own,” “blessèd”) moment; its “communal” charge, each sentence compelled into relation with each preceding, each succeeding; a machined turnstile of exteriority, the “personal” flung willy-nilly into the “social.” Lisa Robertson, out of “Time in the Codex” (Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, the Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias), opening the codex (meaning, “book”) whereat “with a skirty murmur, commodiousness arrives”*—reading, like writing, making the moment big:
. . . Reading shows the wrongness of the habitual reification of “the social” and “the personal” in a binary system of values. It submits this binary to a ruinous foundering. And so, an erotics.

. . .

The inchoate state I crave dissolves and reshapes itself in the codex; reading feels like a discontinuous yet infinite rhythmic dispersal that generates singularities. It isn’t knowledge at all. It’s a timely dallying and surge among a cluster of minute identifications. I prefer to become foreign and unknowable to myself in accordance with reading’s audacity.

It is the most commodious sensation I can imagine, this being lost. I don’t want to leave this charitable structure that permits my detailed dissipation. Its excess of surface is available only ever in measured increments. I might define thinking this way: The partial access, in a sequence, to an infinite and inconspicuous surface complexity which is not my own.
(Robertson’s modus operandi might be called “the vacillatory steadfast”—excess measured, bounteous loss, surge of minutia, discontinuity’s singularity, a kind of gussied up e pluribus unum “both/and” underlying the sentence-ry.) Footnoting numéro 8, Robertson writes:
When constructing a description of thinking in The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt asks where it is that we go when we think, rather that asking what thinking is—the customary philosophical inquiry. She shifts the emphasis of the ancient question from ontological query to spatial trajectory. For Arendt, thinking resembles tracking, a kind of place “beaten by the activity of thought,” which turns to ploddingly follow a course towards a pause. It is “the small inconspicuous track of non-time . . . beaten between an infinite past and an infinite future by accepting past and future as directed, aimed, as it were, at themselves—as their predecessors and successors, their past and their future—thus establishing a present for themselves,” a space that is neither inherited nor received from tradition, but which is made from what is touched in passing: “the ruin of historical and biographical time.”
(Isn’t that exactly what Frank O’Hara’s talking about in that fragment that reads:
Suddenly that body appears: in my smoke
while someone’s heavily describing Greece,
that famous monotonous line feels white
against the tensile gloom of life
and I seem intimate with what I merely touch.
Too, Creeley’s “intense moment of whatever possibility” with resultant “happily there is the poem” distantly recalls O’Hara’s sassy inevitability and cheek regarding thinking (writing) in “Personism”—“They’re just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I’ve stopped thinking and that’s when refreshment arrives.”)

In a subsequent essay (“Lastingness: Réage, Lucrèce, Arendt”), Robertson identifies in Arendt—in a lovely phrase—“the necessary inconspicuousness of the person who thinks” (Hejinian again: “Now I’m glad to withdraw from sound”). Lovely lines out of a section called “Invisibility and withdrawal” in Arendt’s “Thinking” volume of The Life of the Mind, suggesting the lyric need to mark limits to the hubbub of the socius:
Thinking as such . . . that does not serve knowledge and is not guided by practical needs and aims, is, as Heidegger once observed, “out of order” . . . It interrupts any doing, any ordinary activities, no matter what they happen to be. All thinking demands a stop-and-think. . . . And since whatever prevents thinking belongs to the world of appearances and to those common-sense experiences I have in company with my fellow-men and that automatically guarantee my sense of the realness of my own being, it is indeed as though thinking paralyzed me in much the same way as an excess of consciousness may paralyze the automatism of my bodily functions, “l’accomplissement d’un acte qui doit être réflexe ou ne peut être,” as Valéry phrases it. Identifying the state of consciousness with the state of thinking, he added: “on en pourrait tirer toute une philosophie que je résumerais ainsi: Tantôt je pense et tantôt je suis” (“At times I think, and at times I am”).
* Uncanny how Robertson is willing—against such deft lyricism—to weight the prose, too, with such abstruse and tedium-inflected verbiage as, say (out of “Untitled Essay”):
The time of the body is generative, commingled, gestural, enacted; in a temporal interpretation of the domestic, power innovates itself as an improvised co-embodiment. In this sense ecology rather than economics might provide the circulatory model of a mutually embodied and temporally vulnerable power-in-relationship, as long as one considers ecology in terms of complex processes of disequilibrium and emergence instead of a harmonized closure . . .
Glug-glug. A kind of prosody of nilling itself.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Notebook (Karl Kraus, Rae Armantrout, &c.)

Rae Armantrout
(Photograph by Rosanne Olson)

A two-day haul out east (southern tier New York) and back, interrupted by a few thunderstorm-battered hours of attempted sleep, the human animal the sweat-tossed flotsam of the too-stuffed couch. (Fatigue butters everything up. Or clogs. Karl Kraus, in Die Fackel, calling for “a drainage system for the broad marshes of phraseology”—is that what’s needed?) “Decay with imprecision . . . / Will not stay still.” Thus the senselessness of the body’s discrepancy in its unalloyed mad hurtle through the disfigured landscape, pitched against its own rhythms. Highway vertigo, cavernous maw of the road, it exorbitant and beastly draw. Hugo von Hofmannsthal, out of “The Letter of Lord Chandos” (1902):
My case, in short, is this: I have lost completely the ability to think or to speak of anything coherently. . . . As once, through a magnifying glass, I had seen a piece of skin on my little finger look like a field full of holes and furrows, so I now perceived human beings and their actions. I no longer succeeded in comprehending them with the simplifying eye of habit. For me, everything disintegrated into parts, those parts again into parts; no longer would anything let itself be encompassed by a single idea. Single words floated around me; they congealed into eyes which stared at me and into which I was forced to stare back—whirlpools which gave me vertigo and, reeling incessantly, led me into the void.
Found, “partially” found, in Frank Field’s 1967 book about the satirist Karl Kraus’s Vienna, The Last Days of Mankind. Kraus is quoted therein saying: “My business is to pin down the Age between quotation marks.” Which remark adduces a thumbing of Poe’s Flaubertian (c. 1846, thus “avant la lettre”) opus “The Literati of New York City” (with prefatory onslaught “Some Honest Opinions at Random Respecting Their Autorial Merits, with Occasional Words of Personality”). Poe (who is “pointing out the distinction between the popular ‘opinion’ of the merits of contemporary authors and that held and expressed of them in private literary society”):
The former species of ‘opinion’ can be called ‘opinion’ only by courtesy. It is the public’s own, just as we consider a book our own when we have bought it.
(A posture ferocious enough in its “attitudinal” seepage to match Flaubert’s own. See, say, out of the Dictionnaire des idées recues, the entry under “Authors”: “One should ‘know a few,’ never mind their names.”) One reads Poe’s “Literati” remarks as if “toujours déjà” pinned down “entre guillemets”*—Poe seemingly certain of an eventually rosy satiric bouquet burgeoning up out of the dry twigs of the day’s obliviousness genially arranged:
The name of Halleck is at least as well established in the poetical world as that of any American. Our principal poets are, perhaps, most frequently named in this order —Bryant, Halleck, Dana, Sprague, Longfellow, Willis, and so on—Halleck coming second in the series, but holding, in fact, a rank in the public opinion quite equal to that of Bryant. The accuracy of the arrangement as above made may, indeed, be questioned. For my own part, I should have it thus—Longfellow, Bryant, Halleck, Willis, Sprague, Dana; and, estimating rather the poetic capacity than the poems actually accomplished, there are three or four comparatively unknown writers whom I would place in the series between Bryant and Halleck, while there are about a dozen whom I should assign a position between Willis and Sprague. Two dozen at least might find room between Sprague and Dana . . .
Ranking deployed against itself, going undeniably farcical, with all the calm “reasonableness” of a madman. (Note the effect of maintaining such a doughty procedural under pressure, how it fires a metamorphosis, provoking a kind of refugee mirth: “There is something, too, in the bonhommie of certain of his compositions—something altogether distinct from poetic merit—which has aided to establish him; and much, also, must be admitted on the score of his personal popularity, which is deservedly great. With all these allowances, however, there will still be found a large amount of poetical fame to which he is fairly entitled.”) Pertinent: Rae Armantrout’s “Real Article” (out of Money Shot):
Everything I know
is something I’ve repeated.

Lazy horn solo
tries to wander off,
but can’t,

or does,
and we don’t notice.

Veterans Day flags
lap idly
at their poles.

The day is warm.
Whatever’s not a “pinned down” repeatable goes unnoticed, is somehow unknown, thus “unreal.” A jazz strain going “off” and failing to return, war-commemoratory flags flagging in a war-mongering republic, lax and lost without the breeze’s repetitious measure, become mere public “scenery” comparable to the throwaway (rather insipid, small-talkish) line “The day is warm.” Dilemma: if the tension in the piece is between the repeated and the stray (“solo”)—the two “modes” somehow aligned with ways of knowing (or not knowing), I find the ending (a joke, a pun—here’s a “real article”: “The”) simply a means of dissolving that tension (without resolving it—what is the knowing of the “Lazy horn”? what is that of the common weather utterance? why is Veterans Day, a repetition, a routine, a yearly quotation, here so inert?) I am reminded of James Tate’s “A Radical Departure,” a piece beginning: “Bye! // I’m going to a place so thoroughly remote / you’ll never hear from me again.” A piece constructed in order to exhibit a pun. Tate, by so recklessly firing off the pun “ab ovo,” leaves “A Radical Departure” nowhere to go, and ends it, after some “fairly” inconsequential meanderings: “Well, I guess this is it / we’ll see ourselves to the door // Where are we . . .?”
* Or everything begins to look as if it is congealing into spoof and cliché, the beleaguered commonplace Flaubert-style. See Flaubert’s own lines out of a letter to Louise Colet (21-22 August 1853):
Art is vast enough to take complete possession of a man. To divert anything from it is almost a crime; it is a sin against the Idea, a dereliction of duty. But we are weak, the flesh is soft, and the heart, like a branch heavy with rain, trembles at the slightest tremor of the earth. We pant for air like a prisoner, an infinite weakness comes over us, we feel that we are dying. Wisdom consists in jettisoning the smallest possible part of the cargo, that the vessel may keep safely afloat. . . .
Recall the Flaubert of the Dictionnaire: “Artists: All charlatans. . . . What artists do cannot be called work.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Notebook (Carlo Emilio Gadda, Frank O’Hara)

Carlo Emilio Gadda, 1893-1973

Out of Carlo Emilio Gadda’s That Awful Mess on Via Merulana (1957), two turds, each seemingly deposited in “reply” to arrival of carabinieri:
. . . there peered in, then hopped onto the chill tile floor, here and there, with certain cluck-clucks of hers, among two piles of sweaters, a surly and half-featherless hen, lacking one eye, with her right leg bound by a string, all knots and splices, which wouldn’t stop coming out, coming up: such, as from the ocean, the endless line of the sounding where the windlass of the poop summons it back aboard and yet a fringe of beard decks it out, from time to time: a mucid, green seaweed from the depths. After having hazarded, this way and that, more than one lifting of the foot, with the air, each time, of knowing quite well were she meant to go, but of being hindered by the contradictory prohibitions of fate, the pattering one-eyed fowl then changed her mind completely. She unstuck her wings from her body (and she seemed to expose the ribs for a more generous intake of air), while a badly restrained anger already gurgled in the gullet: a catarrhous commination. Her windpipe envenomed, she began a cadenza in falsetto: she pecked wildly at the top of that mountain of rags, whence she sprayed the phenomena of the universe with the supreme cockledoodledoo, as if she had laid an egg up there. But she fluttered down without any waste of time, landing on the tiles with renewed paroxysms of high notes, a glide of the most successful sort, a record: still dragging the string after her. Parallel to the string and its chain of knots and gnarls, a thread of gray wool had caught on one leg: and the thread this time seemed to be unwoven from a rhubarb-colored scarf, beneath the dyed rags. Once on the ground, and after yet another cluck-cluck expressing either a wrath beyond cure or restored peace and friendship, she planted herself on steady legs before the shoes of the horrified corporal, turning to him the highly unbersagliere-like plume* of her tail: she lifted the root of the same, revealed the Pope’s nose in all its beauty: diaphragmed to the minimum, the full extent of the aperture, the pink rose-window of her sphincter, and, plop, promptly took a shit: not out of contempt, no, probably indeed to honor, following hennish etiquette, the brave noncom, and with all the nonchalance in the world: a green chocolate drop twisted à la Borromini like the lumps of colloid sulfur in the Abule water: and on the very tip-top a little spit of calcium, also in the colloidal state, a very white cream, the pallor of pasteurized milk, which was already on the market in those days.
The old woman, decrepit though she was, must have understood at once that this unwanted olive drab-and-black visit . . . looked for all the world as if it were aiming at her house! so she sewed up, without parting them again, the two bloodless rims of her lips, the two curly hairs embellishing here and there the jawing of her chin, and left to them, to the Brothers Grim, the initiative of paying their respects, to the older and higher in rank of the two. In the meanwhile, without giving any outward sign nevertheless, she made an effort to swallow the event, this, of the three arrivals, which she most feared and abhorred in the torment of her viscera: by hastily recommending herself in prayer to Sant’Antonio di Padova loving miracle-worker for all of us, and also, however, in another plea to the good offices (automatic in her former days) of the plexus haemorroidalis medii. She arrived, in fact, at the deliberate constriction of the more celebrated rectal rings, extenuated though they were by advanced age: not entirely inoperative, though more and more crumbling with the years, were the so-called Houston valves, chiefly the super-valve of Kohlrausch, nor the semilunars of Morgagni. The desperate attempt to block the ampulla, whose constricted extreme ahi ahi ahi already the olive drab—black—silver trauma was affecting, in concomitance with the shrill whistle ahi ahi of the arriving engine, achieved nothing more that the release of a few drops, rather phobic, plonk, on the platform of Casal Bruciato: free on board, yes, F.O.B. Casal Bruciato, though some may say and, however, write C.I.F. (cost insurance free) and some P.L.O.P. The providential lack, under the crotch of the old woman, of that pair of tubular correctives of nakedness which our most exquisite reporters today habitually call “intimate garments,” allowed the event to fall out on to the pavement, unobserved by the Grims.
Gadda’s book tails off into uncertainty, without determining a culprit, odd for what is, in nuce, a murder mystery. Pertinent (maybe), Gadda’s lines at the end of a topically related scene wherein another of the “olive-drab” carabinieri, in bending to retrieve a piece of inutile evidence, “freed for public view his posterior rotundities, properly covered with cloth of the same color”:
The incredible fullness was about to burst—so it appeared—the median rear seam of the trousers: which seemed, instead, only to loosen, in the taut zigzag of a line of reluctant thread, of a blue-green color, darker than the green of the cloth. The seam being pressed beyond its capacity, the breaking point was not reached. A sharp shot re-echoed in the room instead. No: it wasn’t a revolver’s bullet. . . . The humble duty had expressed itself: that was all: certain postures favor certain nomenclatures, as if eliciting the sound from the very sources of the same.
“Certain postures favor certain nomenclatures.”** Something Beckettian in the fatalist shrug (with wry guffaw) there. Rhetorical amusements, flatulences of the word, à la Joyce.
* Note by translator William Weaver: “The soldiers of the bersaglieri (sharpshooters) regiments wear hats with special plumes of cock tail-feathers.”

** Weaver, in a Paris Review interview conducted by Willard Spiegelman (no talk of Gadda) adds a wholly different (theatrical) note to such a “stance.” Recalling Frank O’Hara in the early ’fifties:
      He was a great opera lover, and he was a musician. We went to the opera quite a lot and to movies, of course, even more. At the City Center in those days, the opera, the ballet and the brief theater season were all inexpensive. During the ballet season we would go almost every night. Life became a performance when you were with Frank. Once we were walking home from the City Opera, along Fifty-seventh Street, where in those days there were antique shops, and a lot of the windows were set up as little drawing rooms and sitting rooms, and so on. We made up this game that they were our rooms, and we were inviting people in. Frank would say, Come in, Tab, and have a seat! And I would say, Sugar Ray, I’m so glad you could make it! And so we would invent little skits suited to the rooms we saw in the windows. We would play this game, changing with each window along Fifty-seventh Street. With Frank, you never knew when what you were doing and what you were talking about was going to become a kind of shared game and, really, a performance.
R-r-r-rhetoric! The body’s rhetorical propensity never-unstilled, all feint, fuss, foible, all eructation, conniption, slurp . . . Or, quoting O’Hara (“Heroic Sculpture”) in another “posture”:
We join the animals
not when we fuck
                  or shit
not when tear falls

but when
                    staring into light
                    we think

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Notebook (Lissa Wolsak, Hart Crane)

Hart Crane, 1899-1932
(Photograph by Walker Evans)

Lissa Wolsak, out of “An Heuristic Prolusion” (1999), reprinted in Squeezed Light: Collected Poems, 1994-2005 (Station Hill, 2010):
To defect from the sobering circuit of .. in a re-creation of subjective states, via scintilla.

. . .

A fractious climb up over the atmosphere.
Hart Crane, out of “General Aims and Theories” (1937):
. . . the speed and tense altitude of an aeroplane are much better suggested by the idea of “nimble blue plateaus”—implying the aeroplane and its speed against a contrast of stationary elevated earth. Although the statement is pseudo in relation to formal logic—it is completely logical in relation to the truth of the imagination, and there is expressed a concept of speed and space that could not be handled so well in other terms.
Crane (“For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen”):
We know, eternal gunman, our flesh remembers
The tensile boughs, the nimble blue plateaus,
The mounted, yielding cities of the air!

That saddled sky that shook down vertical
Repeated play of fire—no hypogeum
Of wave or rock was good against one hour.
Wolsak (“An Heuristic Prolusion”):
~ I delimit my world through interoceptive (a receptor of the viscera responding to stimuli originating from within the body), proprioceptive techniques, assembling, phrasing multiplicities where the containment of all the possible meanings moves beyond its own oscillation, toward a relation to some or all of those juxtaposed but shifting magnitudes. Atomic reflection, in beyondsense.

I work with my own sense of speed and light, immanence, imminence, in the impossibility of self-prediction.
Crane (“General Aims and Theories”):
      In manipulating the more imponderable phenomena of psychic motives, pure emotional crystallizations, etc., I have had to rely even more on these dynamics of inferential mention, and I am doubtless still very unconscious of having committed myself to what seems nothing but obscurities to some minds. A poem like “Possessions”* really cannot be technically explained. It must rely (even to a large extent with myself) on its organic impact on the imagination to successfully imply its meaning.
Wolsak (“An Heuristic Prolusion”):
~ By reading the disparate signs from the total phenomena in view, there is continual withdrawal from closed repetitive space and forms of social capture.

Stricto sensu—opening circulations between high and low culture, disorder and exuberance, to escape its frame of even utopian longing and flights to idyllic pasts.

Beneath psy-chic, displacing social automaticity; servo-mechanisms of production and power ..
New conditions of life germinate new forms of spiritual articulation. And while I feel that my work includes a more consistent extension of traditional elements than many contemporary poets are capable of appraising, I realize that I am utilizing the gifts of the past as instruments principally, and that the voice of the present, if it is to be known, must be caught at the risk of speaking in idioms sometimes shocking to scholars and historians of logic. Language has built towers and bridges, but itself is inevitably as fluid as always.
~ I wish to question the vincula (connections) between grace and the abyss; Being in duplicity; apparency; things in their oppositeness; not only as beneficence in a well of meaning, but as all that is falling: anomie .. accidie, elengenesse.
~ I take occasions of experience to be related to quantum events…sudden and significant. Mind arises as an infinite expression, pan-experiential and permeated by proto-experiences. I want to work within or near, consciousness-collapsing events.
A rather silly way to proceed, juxtaposing thus. George Quasha (with Charles Stein), in prefatory remarks (“Squeezed Coherence”) to Wolsak’s book, rightly calls the work “at home in its own elusiveness.” With a Spicerean nod: “so much is happening from moment to moment, so much is coming through, one hardly knows where to stand.” (Quoting, too, without dubbing any of the Hopkins I ascertain, Wolsak’s lovely credo “I insculpt / the gasp of individual perception.”) They note, too, Wolsak’s “I speak as one silenced” and how she cites Michel de Certeau’s “Why write, if not in the name of impossible speech?” Of her quoting (“An Heuristic Prolusion”) of Maimonides’s “the prophets use in their speeches, equivocal words and words that are not intended to mean what they indicate, according to their first signification,” Quasha and Stein write:
This connects her with the practice of apophasis—what is usually called “negative saying” (as in “negative theology”) . . . unsaying . . . the apophatic points away from fixed indication of meaning and toward a further saying. The energizing state of discourse, beyond fixation, is to be speaking further than the last thing said or thought.
Putting Wolsak in the Olson camp of “one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!” Crane nowhere found. (Here’s Crane to Allen Tate, 16 May 1922:
The poetry of negation is beautiful—alas, too dangerously so for one of my mind. But I am trying to break away from it. Perhaps this is useless, perhaps it is silly—but one does have joys. The vocabulary of damnations and prostrations has been developed at the expense of these other moods, however, so that it is hard to dance in proper measure. Let us invent an idiom for the proper transposition of jazz into words! Something clean, sparkling, elusive!
Pertinent, too, is Crane’s summary claim (in a letter to Waldo Frank, 21 April 1924—Crane’s “quite dumb with something for which ‘happiness’ must be too mild a term”—“I have seen the Word made Flesh. I mean nothing less, and I know now that there is such a thing as indestructibility . . . where flesh became transformed through intensity of response to counter-response, where sex was beaten out, where a purity of joy was reached that included tears”—not referring avant la lettre to Olson’s “get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts”—Crane’s simply in love) of synæsthesiant recipricocity: “And my eyes have been kissed with a speech that is beyond words entirely.”)

A Wolsak piece, “Figmental”:
Let this put me         another way . . .

as a way   of   waking

an unwavering race appeared

through each other

wolf milk

various freezes,

faunal collections,       each fascicle

perfunctory       theological       quicksand,

talking privileges.

Understanding was provided       by falling

weights or spacey-futurism

with which parts are joined


used abstractly


There rose a repugnance

within swimming


By examination of its shadows

I came to love yet

the pressure of beauty

agonies we are the cage of

are more beneficial than victories

and pass equally well

through the air


Women were held       individually..

refreshing all your epochs

what law before me sought distraction?

I was not myself speaking

but questioned the charm

and stood naked       in the hill-rhythm


We are . . .       as doves blunted

the tenacity of the links

laid down to grass

sex and the sacred

tusked ground

there was not

some one

from eternity

What is “provided by falling”—“perfunctory theological quicksand” indeed. One is precisely “put . . . another way.”
* The Crane piece:

Witness now this trust! the rain
That steals softly direction
And the key, ready to hand—sifting
One moment in sacrifice (the direst)
Through a thousand nights the flesh
Assaults outright for bolts that linger
Hidden,—O undirected as the sky
That through its black foam has no eyes
For this fixed stone of lust . . .

Accumulate such moments to an hour:
Account the total of this trembling tabulation.
I know the screen, the distant flying taps
And stabbing medley that sways—
And the mercy, feminine, that stays
As though prepared.

And I, entering, take up the stone
As quiet as you can make a man . . .
In Bleecker Street, still trenchant in a void,
Wounded by apprehensions out of speech,
I hold it up against a disk of light—
I, turning, turning on smoked forking spires,
The city's stubborn lives, desires.

Tossed on these horns, who bleeding dies,
Lacks all but piteous admissions to be spilt
Upon the page whose blind sum finally burns
Record of rage and partial appetites.
The pure possession, the inclusive cloud
Whose heart is fire shall come,—the white wind rase
All but bright stones wherein our smiling plays.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Notebook (Carlo Emilio Gadda, &c.)

Carlo Emilio Gadda, 1893-1973

Lazy couple of days. Reading Carlo Emilio Gadda’s That Awful Mess on Via Merulana (1957), what the Italians call Il pasticciaccio. Lovely careening prose done into “supple and all-containing” English by William Weaver. The grumpy integrity of homicide detective Francesco Ingravallo (“Of medium height, rather rotund as to physique, or perhaps a bit squat, with black hair, thick and curly, which sprang forth from his forehead at the halfway point, as if to shelter his two metaphysical knobs from the fine Italian sun, he had a somnolent look, a heavy, lumbering walk, a slightly dull manner, like a person fighting a laborious digestion; dressed as well as his slender government salary allowed him to dress, with one or two little stains of olive oil on his lapel, almost imperceptible however, like a souvenir of the hills of his Molise . . .”) Gadda:
He sustained, among other things, that unforeseen catastrophes are never the consequence or the effect, if you prefer, of a single motive, of a cause singular; but they are rather like a whirlpool, a cyclonic point of depression in the consciousness of the world, towards which a whole multitude of converging causes have contributed. He also used words like knot or tangle, or muddle, or gnommero, which in Roman dialect means skein. But the legal term, “the motive, the motives,” escaped his lips by preference, though as if against his will. The opinion that we must “reform within ourselves the meaning of the category of cause,” as handed down by the philosophers from Aristotle to Immanuel Kant, and replace cause with causes was for him a central, persistent opinion, almost a fixation . . .
Gadda’s ferocity (largely directed against Mussolini—known, too, as the Turd—and the rising Fascisti dupes and henchmen; the novel is set in 1927) combined with the wayward ineluctable prose recalls Edward Dahlberg, if only Dahlberg had had such a distinct and easily discerned mark to pitch himself against. The prose, too, recalling—in Weaver’s hand—Joyce. Here, Gadda’s contempt, in a book that rejoices in dialect, for the signally singular regimen a campaign by the Milanese engineer Luigi Vittorio Bertarelli, President of the Italian Touring Club, to erect standard Italian road signs throughout the country would produce, rejecting:
. . . the peremptory assertions: Dangerous curve! Railroad crossing! Bumpy road! or of their symbols, imported from Milan. The Milanese, Luigi Vittorio, had sown Italy with the rare seed of their warning, of their “road signs.” Their outstanding signalism, one fine day, made, of the old boot, a new signal. To warn the people, to inculcate in the velocipederasts respect for disciplined ways, and, at the same time, for their own necks: to teach one’s neighbor how to live in this world: erect iron stakes in all of Italy, hoist on to them road signs enameled, through public oblation, that desire made them water at the mouth: taking as pretexts the most innocuous, the most sleepy crossings, every curve, every fork, every bump, or, as they say, every dip. The technical memento of Bertarelli, of Vitori, of Luis, in those years: then, on reblanched walls at the entrance to every hamlet, the totalitario-politico signs of the Turd: (“it is the plow that makes the furrow, but it is the sword that defends it . . . in a pig’s ass”) . . .

Found: affiche dated c. 1700 called “A Full and True Account of a Terrible & Bloody Fight Between Tom. Brown, the Poet, and a Bookseller”:
      On Tueſday laſt Tom Brown’s paſſive Valour being rais’d above its ordinary pitch by a large Doſs of Brandy, and meditating a dire and bloody Revenge againſt a Bookſellor that had ſpoke a few Words to his diſadvantage: In all haſt he runs to a Cane-ſhop for an Oakenplant, but for want of Two-pence to purchaſe that dead-doing Weapon, or ſo much Credit as to be truſted for it, for he was forced to leave it behind him. Non habit quo Reſtim emat ad Suſpendium. However this diſappointment of a Weapon was no abatement to his Fury. He immadiately marches to the Bookſeller’s Shop. Charges him with ſlandering and diſſhonouring a Perſon of his Quality, and Swagers about the Shop like a Bully in a Brandy-Cellar. The Bookſeller juſtifies himſelf; ſays, ’twas no Injury to call a Spade, a Spade, nor Tom. Brown a Rake-hell, that had Trickt him of Three Guineas, in palming a falſe Copy upon him for a true one. Theſe bitter Words put Brown, and the Bookſeller to Logger-heads helter-skelter. To Brown’s immortal praiſe be it ſpoken, he gave the firſt Blow, and ſtrated back with ſo much Celerity and Conduct, that the Bookſeller, who was immur’d behind the Counter, was not able to reach him a Rowland for his Oliver. Whilſt daring Tom. made uſe of this Stratagem, and fought at a diſtance, the Fate of War enclin’d to the Poet’s ſide; but at the beſt form’d Deſigns are liable to Accidents and Mutabilities, ſo the Bookſeller by ſurprize, catching hold on the Poet’s Sleeve with one hand, ſo Batter’d his Chops with the other, that quite turn’d the Scales, and ’twas Whether for a Groat which would have the Victory. A Gentleman in the Shop taking away the Poet’s Sword, gave the Bookſeller the advantage of leaping over the Counter; which amaz’d the Poet perceiving, he Scours off into the Back-ſhop, in hopes of a Reinforcement. The Enemy with all ſpeed purſues him, and renews the Engagement. Brown, like a Gib-Cat, fighting upon his back, and the Itch, or his Fears, rendring him unable to clinch his Fiſts, he faught open-handed, and claw’d and ſcratch’d the Bookſeller’s Face, till the Blood run down his Fingers, and forc’d our Poet to wink hard, or he had Sounded at the Fight thereof.
      This, with the Loſs of a Old Cravat, was all the damage the Bookſeller ſuſtain’d in a bloody Rencounter, that laſted thirteen Minuits, and twenty Seconds. Tom. Brown, of the two, was the greater Sufferer; for wanting Eyes to ward off the Blows, the Bookſeller ſo unmercifully belabour’d the Poet’s Lockram Jaws, that put his Phiz quite out of Countenance, and his Face was ſo ſwell’d and begrim’d with a mixture of Blood, Sweat, Snot, and Tears, that wou’d have pierc’d a Heart of Stone, to ſee what a frightful Figure he troop’d off in.
      This is inſerted in Vindication of Tom. Brown’s Honour, and to prove, tho’ he is not fond of Fighting without great Advantage, he can Claw and Scratch like a Tyger upon occaſion; tho’ ſome have been ſo bold to affirm, he does neither.
Marked with the usual permit: “Licenſed according to Order.” Hard to determine where fluid orthography cedes the field to indifferent type-setting. Note the “Lockram Jaws.” Lockram (Locram, locqueram, locerom, locorum, lockarum, &c. after the French Locronan, literally, “cell of St. Ronan,” the name of the village in Brittany where the fabric originated): “A linen fabric of various quality for wearing apparel and household use.” And (lockum, lockrum): “A pack of gibberish.” A Thomas Brown of the period wrote a “satyrical fable” called “The Weesils” (“But in the Lion’s Court was proſperous long, / An Awful Bard, and reverenc’d was his Song; / Of Stature tall, and of right Weeſil Size”), apparently an attack on one William Sherlock, who directly retorted—“on reading the famed piece of Banter (for I can’t call it a Poem)”—with “The Anti-Weesils.” Whose “charge allegorickal” puts me (directly) to “Staring like a weasel” (Leigh Hunt) . . .

Friday, July 20, 2012

Notebook (Robert Creeley, Margaret Fuller, &c.)

Margaret Fuller, c. 1846

Breezy, the endless heat scuttled out through a hole in the morning’s rain. Chimes somewhere doing their three-note haphazard-ry, rhythmically indifferent, episodic, balked. Postmeridian light scoured now by a hard rinse of pre-thundershower yellow. Pressure drop leaves, all dangly in one compartment, slack in the adjoining. Unflappable here. Undone over there. One gears up for a resolution, a word meaning both fixity and dispersal.

Robert Creeley, quoting the physicist P. W. Bridgman talking about “various conceptual senses of time” and saying: “The present is that which resolves all other possibilities.” In Creeley’s reworking (talking with William V. Spanos about “that sense of being given to write poems as opposed to casting about for various possible themes or subjects, the sense of Olson’s, of life as being unrelieved”):
The present is where it comes to be. And that for me, of course, would be the crucial moment. I’d have at times senses like Samuel Beckett’s: that instant is so fragilely apparent and so often diffuse in its manifestations consciously . . . that one very often has the feeling such as “if I had only known” or, you know, things of that order . . .
Apparent and diffuse, a moment suddenly devoid of its conscious manifest: isn’t that sense of “a poetry which derives out of its occasion” skirting that bugbear and crux of the lyric, the epiphanic flash? (Maybe.) (Vocab in common a coterie makes; a change in poetics requires something beyond mere lingual “torque” . . .)

Out of Edith Sitwell’s English Eccentrics (1957):
      The inability to interrupt seems to have been a great problem in literary circles, in the year 1846. For Miss Martineau, immediately before Miss Fuller’s meeting with Wordsworth, which took place a month or so before her inability to interrupt Carlyle, warned her that ‘He does all the talking, and never knows the name of the person he is addressing. He talks mostly about his poems and he is pretty sure to take the visitor to see the terrace where he has composed so many.’ But then Miss Martineau did not entirely approve of her neighbours. She could, and did, give Margaret other and equally important information about the author of the Ode on the Intimations of Immortality. In the winter he wore a long cloak, a Scotch bonnet and great goggles. Usually a score of children ran along after him, coaxing him to cut switches out of the hedge for them. A curious combination of economy and generosity he was. If you dropped in to tea you were likely not to have enough cream to put into it, and yet Wordsworth gave away all the milk the household did not want to cottagers perfectly well able to buy their own. If you dropped in for any other meal, you were greeted with ‘You are very well welcome to have a cup of tea with us, but if you want any meat you must pay for it.’

“Her inability to interrupt Carlyle”—see The New York Times for Sunday, 13 March 1881, a piece titled “Carlyle in 1846”:
His talk is an amazement and a splendor scarcely to be faced with steady eyes. He does not converse, only harangues. It is the usual misfortune of such marked men that they cannot allow other minds room to breathe and show themselves in their atmosphere, and thus miss the refreshment and instruction which the greatest never cease to need from the experience of the humblest. Carlyle allows no one a chance, but bears down all opposition, not only by his wit and onset of words, resistless in their sharpness as so many bayonets, but by actual physical superiority, raising his voice, and rushing on his opponent with a torrent of sounds. This is not in the least from unwillingness to allow freedom to others. On the contrary, no man would more enjoy a manly resistance to his thought. But it is the nature of a mind accustomed to follow out its own impulse as the hawk its prey, and which knows not how to stop in the chase. Carlyle, indeed, is arrogant and overbearing; but in his arrogance there is no littleness, no self-love. It is the heroic arrogance of some old Scandinavian conqueror; it is his nature, and the untamable impulse that has given him power to crush the dragons. You do not love him, perhaps, nor revere; and perhaps, also, he would only laugh at you if you did; but you like him heartily, and like to see him the powerful Smith, the Siegfried, melting all the old iron in his furnace till it glows to a sunset red, and burns you if you senselessly go too near. He seems to me quite isolated, lonely as the desert, yet never was a man more fitted to prize a man, could he find one to match his mood. He finds them, but only in the past. He sings rather than talks. He pours upon you a kind of satirical, heroical, critical poem, with regular cadences, and generally catching up, near the beginning, some singular epithet, which serves as a refrain when his song is full. He sometimes stops a minute to laugh at himself, then begins anew with fresh vigor; for all the spirits he is driving before him seem to him as Fata Morganas, ugly masks, in fact, if he can but make them turn about; but he laughs that they seem to others such dainty Ariels.
Signed, Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Out of Fuller’s Memoirs (1852). Oddly enough, the Times omits a few lines (directly after “which serves as a refrain when his song is full”): “or with which, as with a knitting needle, he catches up the stitches, if he has chanced, now and then, to let fall a row. For the higher kinds of poetry he has no sense, and his talk on that subject is delightfully and gorgeously absurd.” A lovely “feminine” metaphor inapplicable to “the powerful Smith”? (Vocab in common a gender makes . . .)

A column or two to the left of Fuller’s piece, one reads:
ORDINARINESS.—As a rule, literature is thoroughly impatient of ordinary people. Clever people, who are not people of genius, are always trying to redeem their books from the discredit, as they think it, of ordinariness, and to make them what they call “original,” by inventing incidents or combinations of character at once unnatural and impressive. They do not see that literature, like life, should really aim rather at making interestingness more ordinary—or to put it in a stull truer way, at making ordinariness more interesting—than at extraordinary invention . . .
Unsigned pedant.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Notebook (Robert Ryman, &c.)

Robert Ryman

Jean Frémon, out of “The Absolute Paradox” (The Paradoxes of Robert Ryman):
      The idea and the thing. The idea can be represented without loss, not the thing; it must stay itself, unrepresentable. Or represented only by the idea which presided over its construction.
      Black and white photography, like the diagram, preserves the idea and says that the thing is elsewhere.

One idea of Robert Ryman:
      A young man leaves Nashville, taking with him only his saxophone, his intention being to settle in New York to study jazz. In search of a job in order to survive, he finds himself a guard at MoMA. Ryman is already Ryman, no theory, not even an anecdote; he is simply there, museum guard, which is to say fully immersed, between Malevich and Barnett Newman.
      One day he decides to buy paint and spread it onto a surface, is intrigued by the result that he achieves. Voluntarily reclusive in the most humble, craftsman’s manner, he renews this gesture for thirty years, always astonished by what he discovers under his paintbrush. It’s quite true that no one has repudiated and summarized two centuries of painting like he has. No one has more radically broken free from his predecessors and no one has spun the most legitimate concerns out more than he.

Out of Frémon’s “This Is Not a White Square” (1984):
      According to Littré, white signifies “that which is the color of milk, of snow, and the petals of the daisy.” Has anyone ever compared milk to snow, daisy petals to milk? Does it make sense to say that a certain white is lighter or darker than a certain other white? What is the standard? Milk minus milk, snow minus snow, daisy petals minus daisy petals, what would there be in common to these three mental operations?
      Wittgenstein says that according to Lichtenberg very few people have ever seen pure white. So do most people use the wrong word, then? He adds And how did he learn the correct usage? —He constructed an ideal use from an ordinary one. And that is not to say a better one, but one that has been refined along certain lines and in the process something has been carried to extremes.

Ryman (out of Frémon’s “Leibniz and the Parrot”):
When I arrived in New York in 1952, one of the first books I bought was Finnegans Wake. Of course, I didn’t really read it, well, I read parts. I liked above all to read it aloud because it’s beautiful that way even if you don’t understand everything. It was such an abstraction of language. I read Beckett in the same way, the rhythm, the tone.
I never met Beckett . . . I would have liked to know him, we would probably have had nothing to say to each other, but even so I would very much have liked to know him.

Beckett, out of “Lessness” (1970):
Face to calm eye touch close all calm all white all gone from mind. Never but imagined the blue in a wild imagining the blue celeste of poesy. Little void mighty light four square all white blank planes all gone from mind. [. . .] Little void mighty light four square all white blank planes all gone from mind.

Joyce (Finnegans Wake):
This is hiena hinnessy laughing alout at the Willingdone. This is lipsyg dooley krieging the funk from the hinnessy. This is the hinndoo Shimar Shin between the dooley boy and the hinnessy. Tip. This is the wixy old Willingdone picket up the half of the threefoiled hat of lipoleums fromoud of the bluddle filth. This is the hinndoo waxing ranjymad for a bombshoob. This is the Willingdone hanking the half of the hat of lipoleums up the tail on the buckside of his big white harse. Tip. That was the last joke of Willingdone. Hit, hit, hit! This is the same white harse of the Willingdone.

Out of an interview (Ryman):
I came from music. And I think that the type of music I was involved with—jazz, bebop—had an influence on my approach to painting. We played tunes. No one uses the term anymore. It’s all songs now, telling stories—very similar to representational painting, where you tell a story with paint and symbols. But bebop is swing, a more advanced development of swing. It’s like Bach. You have a chord structure, and you can develop that in many ways. You can play written compositions and improvise off of those. So, you learn your instrument, and then you play within a structure. It seemed logical to begin painting that way. I wasn’t interested in painting a narrative or telling a story with a painting. Right from the beginning, I felt that I could do that if I wanted to, but that it wouldn’t be of much interest to me. Music is an abstract medium, and I thought painting should also just be what it’s about and not about other things—not about stories or symbolism.

You don’t think of meaning?

There is a lot of meaning, but not what we usually think of as meaning. It’s similar to the meaning of listening to a symphony. You don’t know the meaning, and you can’t explain it to anyone else who didn’t hear it. The painting has to be seen. But there is no meaning outside of what it is.

Jean Frémon, out of “Codicil on Whiteness”:
      One, and not the least significant, of the paradoxes of Robert Ryman’s practice lies in the use—not exclusive in the early years, but already widely predominant—that he makes of the color white. A well-known virtue of white is that it enhances other colors, and in a Ryman painting white causes everything that is not painted and which displays only its natural coloring to appear as color: beige, bistre, ecru, silvery, milky. . . .Words fail here since it is not a matter of hues taken from a tube bearing a name, but of things possessing the color of the substances which compose them: canvas, metal, fiberglass, paper. A color whose role is not to give the illusion of the thing. A color which is the very color of the thing itself. White is much more than a foil; it is in itself the most paradoxical of colors: seeming at first sight neutral and quiet, it is nevertheless ornamented with greater wonders.

Beckett, out of “Dante. . . Bruno. Vico. . Joyce” apropos Finnegans Wake:
Here form is content, content is form. You complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read—or rather it is not only to be read. It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something; it is that something itself.

Frémon (out of “Leibniz and the Parrot”):
“Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu,”* Beckett had in the 1930s picked up this phrase in Leibniz. Nihil in intellectu, more than twenty years later, is what Polly, Jackson’s gray and red parrot, says in Malone Dies.** Robert Ryman also has a parrot, it isn’t called Polly, but, more prosaically, Parrot or The Bird. I don’t know if Ryman’s parrot watches its owner as he works, but the idea of a Latin citation from Leibniz copied out by Beckett and transmitting itself from parrot to parrot to form the only serious commentary on a work of art delights me.
* Or: Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu. Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses. Seemingly out of Liebniz putting John Locke’s “There appear not to be any ideas in the mind before the senses have conveyed any in” into Latin in order to refute it: Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu, excipe: nisi ipse intellectus, that is, “except the intellect itself.”

** Beckett (Malone Dies): “Now that I have no further use for him I may as well give his name, Jackson. I was sorry he had not a cat, or a young dog, or better still an old dog. But all he had to offer in the way of dumb companions was a pink and grey parrot. He used to try and teach it to say, Nihil in intellectu, etc. These first three words the bird managed well enough, but the celebrated restriction was too much for it, all you heard was a series of squawks . . .”

Robert Ryman, “A painting of twelve strokes, measuring 11 1/4" x 11 1/4" signed at the bottom right corner,” 1961

Robert Ryman, “Surface Veil,” 1970-1

Robert Ryman, “Series #23 (White),” 2004

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lyn Hejinian’s My Life in the Nineties

Lyn Hejinian
(Photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald)

Re-read: Lyn Hejinian’s My Life in the Nineties (2003). Compared to My Life, a less wayward assemblage, less turbulent, less various, less flighty. Damped down by methodical surety (inquiry at a stasis—is that the effect of return to a presumably ongoing text?) Up out of what becomes a kind of habitual matter-of-fact (I long to invent a French idiom: la voix grise, a monotonous voice like a colloquy of pins stuck into a map, flagging a benign and routine series of maneuvers, push and retreat—), what ascends is the factoid quotable, fine-tuning into palpability its immediate surround:
“What we term a long poem is, in fact, merely a succession of brief ones,” Poe says. Little puffs of dust pop out from under the feet, emitting the odor of chamomile.
Come morning the wind in the sunlight is the color of spilling milk. But the hills are charred, houses lost, and the city stretches out, named for Bishop George Berkeley, in honor of his line, “Westward the course of empire takes its way.”
A hint of Hejinian’s own seeing of the general paucity of outcrop, the flat map, the exerted prose: “Today’s brightest spots are void, and indeed it seems as if I have to will all of all these days into memory, as if memory, which had a will of its own during childhood, was now reluctant to attend to the day, or as if the light accumulated by time was overpowering the details around us, the way sunlight blazing on a page obliterates the type.” (The metaphor itself blazing up to light up the dilemma, thus rescuing that page.) Is it the intellect tying down the body’s hatches? The sensual hamstrung by the cerebral? Hejinian:
Where as a child I used to be afraid of lockjaw with its resemblance to stubbornness, later I feared the madness that filled the gap between what I meant to say and what I did say as it widened.
Compare that to lines out of My Life under the rubric “The settling-in / that we’re / describing is a / preliminary to / being blown up”:
Sway is built into skyscrapers, since it is natural to trees. It is completely straightforward. On occasion I’ve transferred my restlessness, the sense of necessity, to the vehicle itself.
(Admittedly, as if predicting, the next sentence reads: “And if I feel like a book, a person on paper, I will continue.” Contre Mallarmé’s Le monde est fait pour aboutir à un beau livre—“Every person inevitably ends up a book.”) The extolled and diffuse “restlessness” of My Life is reduced to a single item in My Life in the Nineties—:
Perhaps one records one’s moods (“June 26: gloomy, irritable—as if grieving” or “July 5: excited, restless—distracted by potential happiness (but perhaps happiness and potentiality are the same thing?)”) not out of narcissism but in the hope that they may prove a register, indicative not only of the state of one’s psyche but also of the state of the world . . .
—a sentence undoubtedly betraying something of a narcissist bent (“state of one’s psyche” = “state of the world”?) in mid-denial. For all its seeming invariance and implacability (compared, that is, to the tense bounce of My Life, its “love to be astonished” credo and rip), some sentences in My Life in the Nineties do offer, in lieu of romp, writerly precept, the curt key: “Creating meaningfulness for the meanings this conveys is its meaningfulness.” Or: “We perceive nothing but relationships—perception itself is that.” Or (borrowed, quotable):
“Sentences must stir in a book like leaves in a forest,” said Flaubert, “each distinct from each despite their resemblance.”*
Followed by “Our borders provide us with a theater for exaggeration”—a sentence I read, in its context, to refer to the borders implicit in sentence-making itself—“each distinct from each”—and the uncontrollable comedies of sentence placement (“everyone is out of place in a comedy”).
* The Flaubert remark, in context (out of a letter to Louise Colet, 7 April 1854):
Il faudrait tout connaître pour écrire. Tous tant que nous sommes, écrivassiers, nous avons une ignorance monstrueuse, et pourtant comme tout cela fournirait des idées, des comparaisons! La moelle nous manque généralement! Les livres d’où ont découlé les littératures entières, comme Homère, Rabelais, sont des encyclopédies de leur époque. Ils savaient tout, ces bonnes gens-là; et nous, nous ne savons rien. Il y a dans la poétique de Ronsard un curieux précepte: il recommande au poète de s’instruire dans les arts et métiers, forgerons, orfèvres, serruriers, etc. pour y puiser des métaphores. C’est là ce qui vous fait, en effet, une langue riche et variée. Il faut que les phrases s’agitent dans un livre comme les feuilles dans une forêt, toutes dissemblables en leur ressemblance.
To write, we should know everything. Scribblers that we are, we are monstrously ignorant, but what ideas and comparisons such knowing would provide! We generally lack any backbone. The books whereof whole literatures flow, like Homer, Rabelais, are encyclopedias of their epochs. They knew everything, those fellows, and we, we know nothing. In the poetics of Ronsard there’s a curious precept: that the poet be instructed in arts and crafts, blacksmithing, goldsmithing, locksmithing, &c. in order to draw up metaphors thereof. That’s what makes for a rich and various language. Sentences ought to stir in a book like the leaves in a forest, all dissimilar in their similarity.
Thus Bouvard et Pécuchet and Flaubert’s thousands of pages of preparatory notes. And, with it, nineteenth century certainty dashed. Hejinian (out of “Preface to Writing Is an Aid to Memory”):
I am pressed with questions as if posed and feverish with a peculiar greed. Incessant knowledge and the natural sciences of difficulty, brilliance, complexity, and generosity, to please an entire face, where sorrow by the fact is not of true greatness. Work is retarded by such desire, which is anticipation of its certainty, and hence a desire impossible of satisfaction, in the future despite the grand decision to pull it present. It is that interest as lapse of time, that wanting to put too much in, is forgetting, or the forgotten calling attention. The whole has been given away and looking out is a forgetting sent without to end all the commoner.
Or (out of My Life in the Nineties): “It is the task of art to preserve disappearance.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Notebook (“further than this no more than need be . . .”)

Eastern Wood Pewee (Contopus virens)

Finicking, impatient, opposed to listless. Dipping into book after book. Looking (unsuccessfully) for lines to anchor a flight. Or trigger a spell. A springboard. A palpably dumb way of proceeding. For two days examining a flycatcher—an Eastern Wood Pewee—out in the back, diving repeatedly out into its abrupt circuits off a slender upright stump. Today, though, absent. And, here: Beckett writing to Barney Rosset (11 February 1954):
. . . of trying again in English, but it’s only evading the issue like everything else I try. If there was a head and a rock I’d rather beat that against this than start the old fake stravaguing again in another proxy. It’s hard to go on with everything loathed and repudiated as soon as formulated, and in the act of formulation, and before formulation. [. . .] At the moment I have a “man” crawling along a corridor in the rock in the dark, but he’s due to vanish any day now. Of course there’s no reason why it would start now or ever for that matter. I’m horribly tired and stupefied, but not yet tired and stupefied enough. To write is impossible but not yet impossible enough. That’s how I cod myself these days.
Stravaig, to ramble. Related to extravage, to talk wildly, to ramble. (“To vaig is in common use, as well as stravaig.”) Proxy and cod. (See, too, codswallop.) Oddly, like the flycatcher’s dash and return: I repeat myself. Drawn again and again to some same words, a traceable circuitry of my digressing, my medium. No other way home. Susan Howe, out of “Echolalia in Mrs. Piper” (Chicago Review 56:4, 2012):
Birds in the mouth as merry as

any other wayling twig figment

might answer forever forever

‘Before’ has taken the place of

some rare word naked as nail—
And: “In every slip of every tongue / a word for ‘straggler’ echoes . . .” And: “I cannot know if it was / ‘memory’ or felt fact . . .” And: “What I lack is myself . . .” Winnowing down to two crucial “End Notes”:
“Echolalia represents the mind as the complete victim of suggestion or outside ideas. In the early development of her mediumship Mrs. Piper showed indications of this echolalia and its highly developed automatism as a consequence.”
          —William James, “Notes on Echolalia in Mrs. Piper” (1886)

          —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)
Putting the Joyce in context: “. . . all darnels occumule, sittang sambre on his sett, drammen and drommen, usking queasy quizzers of his ruful continence, his childlinen scarf to encourage his obsequies where he’d check their debths in that mormon’s thames, be questing and handsetl, hop, step and a deepend . . .” Where, even amidst the rollick, it (“debths”) loses some of its oomph, its way of maintaining (owing) origin (deep, mysterious) to end itself.

Sense of wry motility and ease of late. Tending toward the blasé recouped whatever. Inconspicuous scribbles in the margins. Refusing the push of statement, the quagmire of the singular noise. A notebook, a notebook! Whatever outs, outs. Early morning re-reading Hejinian’s My Life. Signs of Hejinian’s perennial restlessness (inquiry thwarted, inquiry “stalwart in its ceaselessness”). Her mark. “Perhaps initially, even before one can talk, restlessness is already conventional, establishing the incoherent border with will later separate events from experience.” (The way language—naming—pulls a thing momentarily up out of the phenomenal smear: in My Life language, its “recall,” is itself opposed to time: “Pure duration, a compound plenum in which nothing is repeated.”) And: “Restlessness is a form of doubt as well as a form of curiosity.” Hejinian’s restlessness is “made inevitable by language” (“Preface to Writing Is an Aid to Memory”). Quotes (“The Rejection of Closure”) Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust: “As long as man keeps hearing words / He’s sure that there’s a meaning somewhere.” Attempts to explicate (“Comments for Manuel Brito”) an entirely restless line (“debth”-mired) out of Writing Is an Aid to Memory (Hejinian is making distinct collage and montage, claiming—“collage is a predominantly spatial technique (developed in paintings), whereas montage (deriving from film technique) employs devices that are related to time . . . montage preserves its character as a process”):
        I don’t quite know how to explicate the line “I am impatient to finish in order to begin . . .” with respect to my uneasiness with the inadequacies of collage, except perhaps to say that the line obviously expresses a certain mental state, impatience, or restlessness, an urge not to stand still, while at the same time it assumes that there’s no progressing continuum in which “I” can participate.
Writes (in Happily):
I can always wait sometimes, other times impatience overcomes
      me like a disease effacing the fingerprints of the naked hand
      on my inner nature which chance bothered to put there,
      beauty scratched out, and history answered in the affirmative
There really is something to try over
To the air to draw sentence forms and to hang in suspense no
      further than this no more than need be . . .

Whence the repeated phrase in My Life “As for we who ‘love to be astonished’”? There’s the line, plausibly impertinent, assigned to André Maurois: “In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Notebook (Richard Owens, &c.)

Nathaniel Tarn, c. 1971
(Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Richard Owens, Clutch (Vigilance Society, 2012)

Roughly duodecimo-sized pamphlet. Letterpress-printed cover of dripping brain material scooped up in a hand, fingers manicured to devilish points, porn-sharp. Eight smallish (and syntactically impacted) pieces, each consisting of nine lines, each beginning with the imperative “Engage—”:
Engage—that grinding under
the hood draped over
your head is what they call teeth
masticating colossus
interrupted by spectral singularities
taxidermied into a white
formalist indifference to history
balancing out supper time
with you never mattered anyhow.
Abu Ghraib hood, no other reading for “hood” at present. A sort of American Golem underneath, the “masticating colossus” a shapeless mass of pure imperium, no less lethal for that, being “what we’ve become,” clay-made, ungainly, automatous, wholly indifferent: the vaunted “formalist” meaning “going through the motions.” Dolls stuffed fat, preening (“taxidermied”) for other inhuman dolls. “Supper time” (call it “global zupping”) in one possible reading opposed directly (“balancing out”) against “you never mattered anyhow.” Another:
Engage—all the angels and
saints deign to plead
necessity not need which is an
altogether different in
the eyes those are yours which
her moth is foreign
to me because it speaks so openly
when our people
were permitted only to compete.
Call it “an altogether different in”—the way syntax so brusquely welcomes what’s so usually expelled.

Lautréamont claimed that poetry should be made by all. The world is tough enough to take as many poets as it can muster, so that it is foolishness to deny the value of a poet because he is “academy” or because he is not. The terms are never more than relative at best. Among makers, cross-breeding occurs continually: see Gunn on Snyder for example, in a recent Listener. It is interesting to look for those poets who find themselves, perhaps unwillingly, taken as bridges between contending schools. Is Creeley the most accessible of the Black Mountain poets? Has Lowell, in Life Studies, taken something from the other side? A poet is an ongoing process, a lifetime at work, focused now on one problem, now on another. It is only the commentators whose living is made out of treating a poet as if he were a discrete set of unrelated books; whose vested interest lies in splitting, antagonizing, bringing into conflict, destroying this living entity. The Arena now, should be as wide as it can be and set against the whining ifs-and-buts of the little shepherds.
So Nathaniel Tarn in 1968. Thom Gunn’s note regarding Gary Snyder begins with a poke at critic M. L. Rosenthal who “devoted only one-third of a sentence” to Snyder’s work in The New Poets: “The reason for the near-omission is that he was so interested in grouping poets into schools and movements that he found it difficult to perceive talent existing outside them. The mistake is common, but it is still a shameful one, since most real talent cannot be so classified and thus it gets overlooked.” That, today, it’s the poets themselves that perpetuate the shame of such pigeonholing, ought to be reason for alarm and censure.

Virginia Woolf, out of The Waves (1931):
“Like” and “like” and “like”—but what is the thing that lies beneath the semblance of the thing? . . . There is a square, there is an oblong. The players take the square and place it upon the oblong. They place it very accurately; they make a perfect dwelling-place. Very little is left outside. The structure is now visible; what is inchoate is here stated; we are not so various or so mean; we have made oblongs and stood them upon squares. This is our triumph; this is our consolation.
The meager triumph of reductionism. Regal consolatory diminishments. “We are not so various or so mean” akin to Owens’s “spectral singularities / taxidermied into a white / formalist indifference.”

Per contra (chancing the Pollyannaish, whereof any hint of altruism is seemingly fraught):
There is a beautiful action. It has an operative grace. It is when one, seeing some uneasy sleeper cold and without a cover, goes away, finds and brings a blanket, bends down, and covers the sleeper because the sleeper is a living being and is cold. He then returns to his work, forgetting that he has performed this small act of compassion. He will receive neither praise nor thanks. It does not matter who the sleeper may be. That is a beautiful action which is divine and human in posture and intention and self-forgetfulness.
Ethel Wilson, out of Swamp Angel (1954).

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Riff and a Bleat

Stéphane Mallarmé, c. 1896
(Photograph by Nadar)

A Riff

Half thinking I know what’s up, half knowing I think up what’s up. Fatigue of a sort. The sort in sors (Latin). John Aubrey knew that he “wanted” (meaning, lacked) “patience to go through Knotty Studies.” So he “tumultuarily stitcht up” what all he’d collected. “For I have not leisure to heighten my Stile.” That need to dodder into patience, its sere particularity, its refusal of mere ambient refuse. A need I “want.” The puncturing immediacy of a bird out the window, a blue jay, doing its astringent double-slash call, marks a break in the ongoing slurry of traffic. Call it: “Stanzas Ending with Bird Noise.” Lyn Hejinian (Oxota): “A word is not a point but a spot and prosody is a study of its motion . . .” Verbal presence is a glob. Unmathematical, excessive, inundatory the word, its globular stamp. The smeary word, its stain and capillarity. Michael Faraday’s towel left “hanging over the edge of a half-filled wash basin.” Writing the unintended puddle on the floor the next morning.

Somewhere in The Pound Era Kenner writes of “words ‘hung with pleasing wraiths of former masteries’” and labels it “Williams's phrase”—avers such “qualities the Objectivists sought to avoid.” Williams, out of In the American Grain (1925):
With Poe, words were not hung by usage with associations, the pleasing wraiths of former masteries, this is the sentimental trap-door to beginnings. With Poe words were figures; an old language truly, but one from which he carried over only the most elemental qualities to his new purpose . . . Sometimes he used words so playfully his sentences seem to fly away from sense, the destructive! with the conserving abandon, foreshadowed, of a Gertrude Stein . . .
      This was an impossible conception for the gluey imagination of his day. Constantly he labored to detach SOMETHING from the inchoate mass—That’s it:
      His concern, the apex of his immaculate attack, was to detach a “method” from the smear of common usage . . .
And yet, none go unworded, every human wraith and subjectivity burthened with it, the grease of what thinking (“sentences . . . fly away”). See Williams’s The Great American Novel (1923), Williams’s futile attempt to cut through, or to extract that “SOMETHING”: “The words take up the smell of the car. Petrol. Face powder, arm pits, food-grease in the hair, foul breath, clean musk. Words. Words cannot progress. There cannot be a novel.” I keep thinking of how, yesterday, reading a transcript of Susan Howe’s lecture “The Whispered Rush, Telepathy of Archives,” I got stopped by the marvelous phrase “Death, at the last was, was . . .” A tiny stammer in the reading of a few lines out of Henry James’s 1914 Notes of a Son and Brother:
. . . death, at the last, was dreadful to her; she would have given anything to live—and the image of this, which was to remain long with me, appeared so of the essence of tragedy that I was in the far-off aftertime to seek to lay the ghost by wrapping it, a particular occasion aiding in the beauty and dignity of art.
I read Howe’s “at the last was” as a kind of equivalence to “death,” a place where language itself becomes pure presence, or begins to exist only in the present tense. Is it in that wavering, in hesitance, in trepid gaffe (and in its obverse, intrepid onslaught and tumult and smear) that utterance is renewed, stripped of its slurry? Big claim for what is—“at the last was”—simply put, a “bibelot d’inanité sonore,” one way of translating “slip of the tongue.” Mallarmé, out of “Le Mystère dans les lettres” (1895):
The sentence may seem to stammer at first, hold back in a knot of incidental bits; then it multiplies, takes on order, and rises up in a noble harmony, wavering all the while in its knowing transpositions.
. . .
      Words rise up unaided and in ecstasy; many a facet reveals its infinite rarity and is precious to our minds. For our mind is the center of this hesitancy and oscillation; it sees words not in their usual order, but in projection (like the walls of a cave) so long as that mobility which is their principle lives on, that part of speech which is not spoken. Then quickly, before they die away, they all exchange their brilliancies from afar; or they may touch, and steal a furtive glance.
Or Hejinian again, out of that most furtive book, Oxota: “Experience is only indirectly responsible for words.”

A Bleat

In an era of catatonically modest squeaks and one-liners, of tediously re-retailed video “clips,” of continually burgeoning (apparently—I refuse to “dogfetch” or whatever it’s called, knowing all the while exactly what I “like”) network chatter, of “feeds” tumbling forth a highly selected archive in mimic-succession, I read Kenner (The Pound Era) as warning:
There is no substitute for critical tradition: a continuum of understanding, early commenced. Remy de Gourmont surmised that the Iliad discovered today in the ruins of Herculaneum “would produce only some archaeological sensations,” interesting exactly as is The Song of Roland, illustrative of some vanished civilization. Precisely because William Blake’s contemporaries did not know what to make of him, we do not know either, though critic after critic appeases our sense of obligation to his genius by reinventing him. Something analogous is true of Gerard Hopkins, of whom contemporary taste, except for a few correspondents, had no chance to make anything; consequently, it is more of an effort than it should be for us to make of him what we do. In the 1920’s, on the other hand, something was immediately made of Ulysses and The Waste Land, and our comfort with both works after 50 years, including our ease at allowing for their age, seems derivable from the fact that they have never been ignored.
Writ roughly forty years back. A reminder (to myself, amongst “you others”) to entangle with “the considerable deposits of the now”—howsomever wrongly, or doggedly.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


William Say, “Three Sections of Diseased Kidney,” 1827
(“Coloured mezzotint after Frederick Richard Say for Richard Bright”)

I went down by Cascadilla
Falls this
evening, the
stream below the falls,
and picked up a
handsized stone
kidney shaped, testicular, and

thought all its motions into it,
the 800 mph earth spin,
the 190-million-mile yearly
displacement around the sun,
the overriding
of the galaxy with the 30,000
mph of where
the sun’s going . . .

        —A. R. Ammons, out of “Cascadilla Falls” Uplands (1970)

PETRIFICATION of a Kidney.—When Father Harcourt suffered at Tyburne, and his bowells, etc. throwne into the fire, a butcher’s boy standing by was resolved to have a piece of his Kidney which was broyling in the fire. He burn’t his fingers much, but he got it; and one Roydon, a Brewer in Southwark, bought it, a kind of Presbyterian. The wonder is, ’tis now absolutely petrified. But ’twas not so hard when he first had it. It being alwayes carried in the pocket hardened by degrees, better then by the fire—like an Agate polished. I have seen it. He much values it.

        —John Aubrey, out of “William Harcourt”
        (Aubrey’s Brief Lives, edited by Oliver Lawson Dick, 1949)

. . . mark the sequel, Master Brook: I suffered the pangs of three several deaths; first, an intolerable fright, to be detected with a jealous rotten bell-wether; next, to be compassed, like a good bilbo, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head; and then, to be stopped in, like a strong distillation, with stinking clothes that fretted in their own grease: think of that,i—a man of my kidney,—think of that,—that am as subject to heat as butter; a man of continual dissolution and thaw: it was a miracle to scape suffocation. And in the height of this bath, when I was more than half stewed in grease, like a Dutch dish, to be thrown into the Thames, and cooled, glowing hot, in that surge, like a horse-shoe; think of that,—hissing hot,—think of that, Master Brook.

        —William Shakespeare, out of The Merry Wives of Windsor (1602)

                                                  . . . They found in there,
            in the human heart,
this tiny crucifix, this eye-sized figure
            of tissue and blood.
Here are the penknife, the scissors. Here are the towels
            they soaked the blood

up into, here the three kidney stones, the piece
            of lung in the shape
of a bird, here the story the hurry like so and like
            so, and the singing voices now that it’s noon . . .

        —Jorie Graham, out of “Eschatological Prayer” (The End of Beauty, 1987)

                                                . . . To doubt physics is to be
Self-ironical. Loaded with grace, I “fell through”
The headache system. The only truth is style is what
I was telling her—That feldspar causes fatigue
Like stage directions for a kid with one kidney, crestfallen
Or falsely upbeat, like on divorce weekends
With Out of Africa, the picture of the season . . .

        —Jeni Olin, out of “Meryl Streep”
        (Blue Collar Holiday & A Valentine to Frank O’Hara, 2005)

      Has not some ox closed its great and downy eye, that she might fix an orb of disquietude upon her lover? Some fin, in dark water ceased to wave, that she, with beckoning hand, might take some gallant prisoner?
      What rib could do that for itself which she has done? What kidney ever laid a nation’s dust, as lightly as she will lightly lay that nation’s dust, when that same kidney is relieved of its vain days of miring, by her reprieve?
      Did ever brain of ewe fling a noose of desire beyond the next green leaf, until she raised it to a cast that brought down the stars, or turned a knot or two of it to trickery and treason?

        —Djuna Barnes, out of Ryder (1928)

Oh, God, my kidneys and gall bladder, you’re cooking up stones: bezoar, calculus, calx!

Dear sweet God, let me fight your fire with flowers!

Give me the Torch-Wort, the Great Mullein, give me the Torch-Lilly, Flameflower . . .

. . . the feverfew will drive away fever . . .

        —Paul Metcalf, out of Louis the Torch (1983)

                                        Houille blanche,
Auto-chenille, destroy all bacteria in the kidney,
en-nombre-égal-aux-choses-à-expliquer . . .
      La Science ne peut pas y consister.   “J’ai
Obtenu une brulure” M. Curie, or some other scientist
“Qui m’a coûté six mois de guérison.”
              and continued his experiments.
Tropismes!   “We believe the attraction is chemical.”

        —Ezra Pound, out of “Canto XXIII” (A Draft of XXX Cantos, 1930)

There’s literally no end to it,
to what they can do.
The proprietary virus
is throughout thy body—
Bio-Catalysm is the way to go.
Buy into it, it’s thy only hope.
Thy money will percolate
right into thy foot,
no more worries, no more waiting for thy boat.
No more dreadin’ o’ the Tijuana steroids
because they put screw-worms in thy kidney.

        —Edward Dorn, out of “Proprietary Rights and Patented Germs”
        (Abhorrences, 1990)

. . . To weave Jerusalem a Body repugnant to the Lamb.

Hyle on East Moor, in rocky Derbyshire, rav’d to the Moon
For Gwendolen: she took up in bitter tears his anguishd heart,
That apparent to all in Eternity, glows like the Sun in the breast:
She hid it in his ribs & back: she hid his tongue with teeth
In terrible convulsions pitying & gratified drunk with pity,
Glowing with loveliness before him, becoming apparent
According to his changes: she roll’d his kidneys round
Into two irregular forms: and looking on Albion’s dread Tree,
She wove two vessels of seed, beautiful as Skiddaw's snow;
Giving them bends of self interest & selfish natural virtue:

She hid them in his loins; raving he ran among the rocks,
Compelld into a shape of Moral Virtue against the Lamb.
The invisible lovely one giving him a form according to
His Law a form against the Lamb of God opposd to Mercy
And playing in the thunderous Loom in sweet intoxication . . .

        —William Blake, out of Jerusalem (1804)

Deaths, causes: tuberculosis, syphilis, dysentery, scarlet fever and streptococcal
sore throat, diptheria, whooping cough, meningococcal infections, acute
poliomyelitis, measles, malignant neoplasms, leukemia and aleukemia, benign
neoplasms, asthma, diabetes, anemias, meningitis, cardiovascular-tenal diseases,
narcolepsy, influenza and pneumonia, bronchitis, other broncho-pulmonix
diseases, ulcer of stomach and duodenum, appendicitis, hernia and intestinal
obstruction, gastritis, duodenitis, enteritis, and colitis, cirrhosis of liver,
acute nephritis, infections of kidney, hyperplasis of prostrate, deliveries and
complications of pregnancy, childbirth, and the puerperium, abortion, congenital
malformations, birth injuries, postnatal asphyxia, infections of newborn,
symptoms, senility, and ill-defined conditions, motor vehicle accidents, falls,
burns, drowning, railroad accidents, firearms accidents, poison gases, other
poisons, suicide, homicide.

        —Anne Waldman and Ted Berrigan, out of Memorial Day (1971)

Hit you unless you come over to our table. All
I took was just a little to get me through the
evening, lentils, don’t they have Valo Shampoo
too, and you sit with your legs crossed and can’t

TALK for two hours, WHAT??, who’s heard from Michael
Rumaker, someone ought to write, cheese with cara-
way seeds, chutney, I LIKE DUMB PEOPLE—Jack Spicer,
macaroni and tuna-fish, kidney stew, waffles butter,
maple syrup, everyone was so Hungover and Joanne ate
FIVE pancakes for breakfast, it made me Sick, cream
of barley soup, I wouldn’t care so much if he just
weren’t my roommate, dried lemon peel, Navy beans,
prunes, orange juice, watermelon, cod liver oil,
I’m never going to North Beach again, candied sweet
potatoes, mashed potatoes, yams, cucumbers, You can
throw book ends at Harold Dull but you can’t get
away with throwing them at me POW!

        —Joanne Kyger, out of “Poem for the Stomach Lined with Pills” (c. 1958)

. . . I sent Mr. Qwock some money last spring, with a request for some erudite teas. It appears that, when this letter reached Canton, he had left on a holiday in Central China, or in the moon, or wherever it is that learned Chinese go in the summer time. But on his return to his studies in the autumn he wrote to me and said that he had written to one of his uncles, who lives in Wang-Pang-Woo-Poo- Woof-Woof-Woof, and has been in the tea business for hundreds of generations. I have no doubt that in due course I shall receive from Mr. Qwock enough tea to wreck my last kidney, and with it some very peculiar other things, because I asked him to send me the sort of things that the learned Chinese drink with that sort of tea.

        —Wallace Stevens, out of a letter to James A. Powers (17 December 1935)

      Oblivious of my misdoubts, I fell under the spell of these Russians who considered all Americans lackeys dozing over their ulcerated middle-class newspapers, having nothing in their minds but the treacle and rot of motion pictures. After several weeks one who had been to a czarist military academy before the revolution lashed me with this observation: “Capitalism wears a man out before his twenty-fifth year. You’re as unhealthy-looking as a toad.”
      His remark enfeebled me and I told him I had long ago dried up, and my legs were weak, but I was only an unmonied street Arab in the Amercan society. “You can find me in any sough, alley, spittle, or just dig me out of a cemetery. A muckhill orphan, I read, and swallow oil of niter or a dram of hellebore to purge a halfpenny of the petit-bourgeois in me. Sometimes I drink barley water to clear my kidneys so that I can think. Now and then I catch a capitalistic cold, but after I have come to my working-class senses I cough up the phlegm of any social ambitions I have. Believe me, I own nothing, am nothing and will never be anything but a miserable glut of nothing.”

        —Edward Dahlberg, out of The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg (1971)

      To bring the white of a whale’s eye made hard by boiling.
      Whether the country be plane or mountainous: how the tides to ours: whether it raineth often, thundereth and lighteneth often: what winds most common.
      What quantity of salt a gallon or any other greater measure of sea water affordeth, if taken up at flowing water.
      What use they make of the stones or seed of whales.
      To bring the bladder of a whale or morse, cleansed and dried so that it may be blown up.
      The bigness of the stones and kidneys of whales, if not too big, to bring one dried, or one of a sea horse.

        —Sir Thomas Browne, out of “Of Greenland”
        “These queries were in all probability instruction for some friend, by whom
        Browne was desirous of obtaining information respecting Greenland.”

It is Swedenborg’s theory, that every organ is made up of homogeneous particles; or, as it is sometimes expressed, every whole is made of similars; that is, the lungs are composed of infinitely small lungs; the liver, of infinitely small livers; the kidney, of little kidneys, etc. Following this analogy, if any man is found to carry with him the power and affections of vast numbers, if Napoleon is France, if Napoleon is Europe, it is because the people whom he sways are little Napoleons.

        —Ralph Waldo Emerson, out of “Napoleon; or, The Man of the World”
        (Representative Men, 1850)

My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.

        —Vladimir Nabokov, out of Lolita (1955)

Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horse’s necks,
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex . . .

        —Dorothy Parker, out of “Bohemia” (Sunset Gun, 1928)

I suspect impurities adhere to their substance. I think acidity weakens the spleen, sugar expands the kidney, grief sours the lung and salts encrust the heart. I observe quick-silver trembling in the aludel. I watch menacing seeds sprout. And there is strange emptiness behind the moon.

        —Evan S. Connell, out of Alchymic Journals (2006)

The morning is past and the sun remains but the sunlight is brighter. The study of painting is exhausting and the sea always gets larger—here I quote Tintoretto. Twigs are the many sounds of light. Could the prairie be this sea—for love. What I felt was that figs resemble kidneys.

        —Lyn Hejinian, out of My Life (1980 / 1987)
        “The coffee / drinkers answered / ecstatically”

Wednesday 13th June [11th]. . . . My brothers and I again went upon the water, and returned to dinner. We landed upon the island where I saw the whitest hawthorn I have seen this year, the generality of hawthorns are bloomless. I saw wild roses in the hedges. Wm. and John went to the pike floats. They brought in two pikes. I sowed kidney beans and spinnach. A cold evening. Molly stuck the peas. I weeded a little. Did not walk.

        —Dorothy Wordsworth, out of The Grasmere Journals (11 June 1800)

      If Heav’ns bright Torches, from Earths kedneys sup
Some somewhat drie and heatfull Vapours up,
Th’ambitious lightning of their nimble Fire
Would sodainly neere th’Azure Cirques aspire:
But scarce so soone their fuming crest hath raught,
Or toucht the Coldnes of the middle Vault,
And felt what force their mortall Enemie,
In Garrison keeps there continually:
When downe againe, towards their Dam the beare,
Holpe by the waight which they have drawn from her:
But in the instant, to their aide arives
Another new heat, which their heart revives . . .

        —Guillaume de Salluste, Sieur du Bartas, out of The Divine Weeks and Works (1604),
        translated by Joshua Sylvester

And then we have one unending, undeviating succession of junketings, in which “devilled kidneys” are never by any accident found wanting. The unction and pertinacity with which the author discusses what he chooses to denominate “devilled kidneys” are indeed edifying, to say no more. The truth is, that drinking, telling anecdotes, and devouring “devilled kidneys” may be considered as the sum total, as the thesis of the book.

        —Edgar Allan Poe, out of “Charles Lever”
        A review of “Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon.
        By Harry Lorrequer. With Forty Illustrations by Phiz.”
        (Graham’s Magazine, 1842)

You say that everything is very simple and interesting
it makes me feel very wistful, like reading a great Russian novel does
I am terribly bored
sometimes it is like seeing a bad movie
other days, more often, it’s like having an acute disease of the kidney
god knows it has nothing to do with the heart . . .

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Yesterday Down at the Canal” (1961)

no fool merely slow and the day comes we come to the day when stabbed in the arse now an open wound instead of the cry a brief murmur done it at last

with the handle of the opener as with a pestle bang on the right kidney handier than the other from where I lie cry thump on skull silence brief rest jab in arse unintelligible murmur bang on kidney signifying louder once and for all cry thump on skull silence brief rest . . .

        —Samuel Beckett, out of How It Is (1964)