Thursday, February 28, 2013

Notebook (Ronald Johnson, William Carlos Williams, &c.)

Ronald Johnson, 1935-1998

The incipient doddering-stage continues, with its minimal contiguity, its foetid airs, its rote human protuberance mistook for a salient, ah! A late common idiocy to level with, a way of paring down what’s been scaled back, reduction (in some quarters) averred a sign of (gulp) wisdom. Or why not point to the snow’s aimless and continual sifting down out of the sky and say its maleficent presence lingers in the way it makes every detail succumb to its own “big, cold, dramatic gesture”—“like a purple ‘Okay to Eat’ on a rump of beef” (James Schuyler)? Why not that? You needn’t be rigorous and personal about it. You can look forward to assembling a little anthology of whatever’s sprung loose by the March floods, a mash-up of yellowed monocotyledonous debris (“snow-tamp’d grasses”) and green sprigs of skunk cabbage or ailanthus (anything but “the usual fescue”). Rescue in the offing. See William Carlos Williams 25 July 1945 letter to Norman MacLeod:
. . . all I can do (growing old) is to compose. It is the only recourse, the only intellectual recourse for an artist, to make, to make, to make and to go on making—never to reply in kind to their strictures. It is his doing, I mean, his only doing to compose: in a sort of night, in a sort of dumb philosophic stupor—except to himself where, within, there burns a fiery light, too fiery for logical statement . . .
Thus the tussle—“through the changes of the night”—with doubt with all its renegade fevers, its orders to stop.

Out of Ronald Johnson’s marvelous autobiographical (“I was born bawling with red hair, November 25, 1935, smack dab in the dustbowl: Sun, Moon, and Jupiter in Sagittarius, and Aries rising. All direction and fire . . .”) ledger “Up Till Now”:
      The Ramparts [in ARK] are arches illuminating, through the changes of the night, all that went before. I found my inspiration upon finally visiting Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers. I spent quite a few visits in L.A. trying to convince someone to take me there, but every one put their hands up in horror of visiting Watts—the scene of the famous riots. But I finally found a couple of friends who didn’t mind. I knew from photographs the major towers and some of the mosaic work, but I was not prepared for the majesty of the actual. I had several hours to simply look, look, look. The walls surrounding the spires were a bricolage of broken tiles, colored glass and mirror, broken crockery set in a mosaic arch after arch, an intricate trash in patterns like a Persian carpet . . .
      My arches were formed the same way: bits and pieces of life, words and phrases picked up along the way. They are printed as they came, night after night. The first lines present a theme and I try to keep up the tempi and meaning. Some of these take a text for inspiration, like Van Gogh’s letters, or Thoreau’s notebooks, for the possibility of finding another range of vocabulary and experience. One begins with a waking dream: “Riddle iota sublime,” which later swept up most of America the Beautiful . . .*
Johnson, out of “ARK 76, Arches X:
riddle iota sublime,
and know no more
than when cast forth garden

a city built caught straws
if clay hold up,
millefleur to the shore

scrutiny, full honeycomb
many thousands feet thru rock
beg quest thereon

towers cliff ad finitum
capstone continent,
sea stretch from last species

amongst a summer’s rose,
leaf round leaf face inner core
move source target

unto last sheaf reaped
cairn for the dead,
spread many-colored a carpet

magnetic congeries of genes
made-up of answers
meanwhile flinging new question

bareass us barreling nowhere, now
inevitably believable
yet having whale of a time . . .
Or: “to make, to make, to make and to go on making . . . in a sort of night, in a sort of dumb philosophic stupor.”
* Johnson’s report of that particular “waking dream” out of “Hurrah for Euphony”:
I wake every morning either with a song in my head, or a phrase. These I hum and ponder until they seem worked (or played) out. One morning it was “riddle iota sublime.” Obviously meant as a direction for my next Spire, and I puzzled it out (one Anglo-Saxon word, one Greek, one Latin) an edict for either scientist or poet: render radiant sense from smallest thing. When you are thrown a line like that you’ve got to live up to it. So I added the lines “and know no more / than when cast forth garden.” The rest came, night by night, via “America the Beautiful,” to the end of bells from the Sunken Cathedral “set in great hymnal font.”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Notebook (John Bulwer, Gerard Manley Hopkins, &c.)

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889

The usual blue hour (of writing) expended shoveling out the five or so inches of new snow. Tuckered out. Or reeling in a kind of pleasant post-exerting idiocy. Out of the thirteenth chapter of John Bulwer’s 1648 Philocophus: or, The Deafe and Dumbe Mans Friend, a chapter whose argument reads “That the motions of the parts of the Mouth in Speech are so remarkable, that some have (not without successe) attempted to imitate them by Mathematicall motions”—a lovely foray—“for curioſity or ſtrangeneſſe ſake”—into man’s endless reverie for a “natural language”:
      Svch Sagacious Æmulators and audacious Inquisitours of Nature there hath been, who without naturall vertues, by Mathematicall Magique only, having borrowed the influences of the Heavens, produce workes like to those of Nature, as speaking Bodies, which are not endued with animall vertues; for, Mercurius writeth that the Ægyptians by a most inutterable art, made the Images of their Gods (especially of Mercury) so, that they uttered an articulate voyce. And we have a hint of encouragement to ſuch a Deſigne, from the Grand Augmentor of Sciences. There is found, ſaith he, a ſimilitude, between the ſound that is made by inanimate Bodyes, or by Animate Bodies that have no voyce articulate; and divers Letters of articulate voyces: and commonly men have given ſuch names to thoſe ſounds, as doe allude unto the articulate Letters. As trembling of water hath reſemblance with the Letter L. quenching of hot mettals with the Letter Z, ſnarling of Dogs with the letter R, the noyſe of ſcreetch-owles with the letter ſh. voyce of Cats with the Dipthongue eu. voyce of Cuckoes with the Dipthongue ou; Sounds of ſtrings with the Letters ng. So that if a man (for curioſity or ſtrangeneſſe ſake) would make a Puppet or other dead Body, to pronounce a word; Let him conſider on the one part, the motion of the Inſtruments of the voyce; and on the other part the like ſounds made in inanimate Bodies; and what conformity there is that cauſeth the ſimilitude of ſounds; and by that he may minister light to that effect.
Recall Gerard Manley Hopkins’s insistence that sound indubitably tempered meaning, onomatopoesis running its tiniest minuscule tendrils out to minister the light of whole batteries of words:
      Flick, fillip, flip, fleck, flake.
      Flick means to touch or strike lightly as with the end of a whip, a finger etc. To fleck is the next tone above flick, still meaning to touch or strike lightly (and leave a mark of the touch or stroke) but in a broader less slight manner. Hence substantively a fleck is a piece of light, colour, substance etc. looking as though shaped or produced by such touches. Flake is a broad and decided fleck, a thin plate of something, the tone above it. Their connection is more clearly seen in the applications of the words to natural objects than in explanations. It would seem that fillip generally pronounced flip is a variation of flick, which however seem connected with fly, flee, flit, meaning to make fly off. Key to meaning of flick, fleck and flake is that of striking or cutting off the surface of a thing; in flick (as to flick off a fly) something little or light from the surface, while flake is a thin scale of surface. Flayis therefore connected, perhaps flitch. . .
Another “Sagacious Æmulator”—one admires the unflagging plethora (a medical word originally, for an overabundance of humours, “where all the humours, beynge superfluousely increased, fylleth and extendeth the receptories of the body, as the stomake, the vaynes, and bowels . . . most properly callid fulnesse, in greke Plethora . . .”) of it . . .

Elsewhere, Thoreau (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers), in a sweet dither of chiding:
      Enough has been said in these days of the charm of fluent writing. We hear it complained of some works of genius, that they have fine thoughts, but are irregular and have no flow. But even the mountain peaks in the horizon are, to the eye of science, parts of one range. We should consider that the flow of thought is more like a tidal wave than a prone river, and is the result of a celestial influence, not of any declivity in its channel. The river flows because it runs down hill, and flows the faster the faster it descends. The reader who expects to float down stream for the whole voyage may well complain of nauseating swells and choppings of the sea when his frail shore-craft gets amidst the billows of the ocean stream, which flows as much to sun and moon as lesser streams to it. But if we would appreciate the flow that is in these books, we must expect to feel it rise from the page like an exhalation, and wash away our critical brains like burr millstones, flowing to higher levels above and behind ourselves. There is many a book which ripples on like a freshet, and flows as glibly as a mill-stream sucking under a causeway; and when their authors are in the full tide of their discourse, Pythagoras and Plato and Jamblichus halt beside them. Their long, stringy, slimy sentences are of that consistency that they naturally flow and run together. They read as if written for military men, for men of business, there is such a despatch in them. Compared with these, the grave thinkers and philosophers seem not to have got their swaddling clothes off; they are slower than a Roman army in its march, the rear camping to-night where the van camped last night . . .
Enough. (Thoreau: “A perfectly healthy sentence . . . is extremely rare.”)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Notebook (Williams, O’Hara, Hopkins, &c.)

William Carlos Williams, c. 1949
(Photograph by Musya Sheeler)

Snow in the offing and no pre-processed offertory in the hopper. The moot galoot at the controls. I think of Williams’s “A Sort of a Song”: “Let the snake wait under / his weed / and the writing / be of words, slow and quick, sharp / to strike, quiet to wait, / sleepless . . .” The allowable polyphonic fugue of the slow repartee, its itch to continue. Williams again (Paterson):
      It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence.

      Only one answer: write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive.
Fastidiousness duped by insouciance (“Tra la la la la la la la la / La tra tra tra tra tra tra”). Or I think of O’Hara’s “A Hill” (with its plausibly emphatic yesses buoyed by a single querulous no) and its quarrel with the prepossessed, that kind of control:
Yes, it’s disgusting
when you lose
control, but my
wilderness is love

of a kind, no?
And the purity
of my confusion is
there, it’s poetry

in love with you
along with me,
both of us love you
in the same “My!”

Yes, but don’t be
scared; poetry
is intangible and
there’s no purity

in me
outside of love,
which you can easily wreck
and I can lose.

Clouds pass in
my notorious eye
but you, through
all, I see.
Feral ingenuity. Isn’t it in the late piece “Should We Legalize Abortion?” that O’Hara’s radical sass stages its supreme WTF? moment (and nails it, in all caps)?
                                            So stop thinking about how
badly you’re hurt . . . Stop coddling yourself. You can
do something about all this and I’m here to help
you do it! I’ll start by getting your clothes off . . .

What the . . .
                          THERE’S NOBODY AT THE CONTROLS!
we ever met.
Feverish errantry yclepted errancy. The impossibility of a permanent druthers. So, too, Gerard Manley Hopkins, out of a journal entry (24 September 1863), “horning in” at a wild etymology (“the corn become a black smut”):
      The various lights under which a horn may be looked at have given rise to a vast number of words in language. It may be regarded as a projection, a climax, a badge of strength, power or vigour, a tapering body, a spiral, a wavy object, a bow, a vessel to hold withal or to drink from, a smooth hard material not brittle, stony, metallic or wooden, something sprouting up, something to thrust or push with, a sign of honour or pride, an instrument of music, etc. From the shape, kernel and granum, grain, corn. From the curve of the horn, κορωνις,* corona, crown. From the spiral crinis, meaning ringlets, locks. From its being the highest point comes our crown perhaps, in the sense of the top of the head, and the Greek κέρας, horn, and κάρα, head, were evidently identical; then for its sprouting up and growing, compare keren, cornu, κέρας, horn with grow, cresco, grandis, grass, great, groot. For its curving, curvus is probably from the root horn in one of its forms. κορωνη in Greek and corvus, cornix in Latin and crow (perhaps also raven, which may have been craven originally) in English bear a striking resemblance to cornu, curvus. So also γέρανος, crane, heron, herne. Why these birds should derive their names from horn I cannot presume to say . . .
Hopkins, wildly burgeoning, in a tangle like a foliant rose (“nothing that is not green will survive”). Uncontrollable as a neuroses. The Hopkins who’d write, too (in April of 1864):
It is a happy thing that there is no royal road to poetry. The world should know by this time that no one can reach Parnassus except by flying thither. Yet from time to time more men go up and either perish in its gullies fluttering excelsior flags or else come down again with full folios and blank countenances. Yet the old fallacy keeps its ground. Every age has its false alarms.
* κορωνις is the name for the flourish at the end of a book, and also for the mark over a crasis, shaped thus ’. (G. M. H.’s note.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Notebook (eccolinguistics, Place Holder, &c.)

Place Holder
Saturday’s sign: a flock of twenty or so robins, fussy and implacable in the snow. Usual chores and rereading Dana Ward’s “Typing ‘Wild Speech’”: “The ruin of the frivolous disables all potential.” (How it recalls sans aucune raison Shelley’s lines out of “To a Skylark”: “. . . That from heaven or near it / Pourest thy full heart / In profuse strains of unpremeditated art . . .”) I like the kind of presumptuous copiousness and “gush” (“Middle English gosshe, gusche—as the word is wanting in Old English and the other Germanic languages, there is nothing to forbid the supposition that it originated onomatopoeically in Middle English”) a word like “frivolity” unfetters. Hats off Romanticism. Clark Coolidge, in a note “On Jimmy Schuyler’s Poems” writes: “A lot of unalloyed nouns . . .” And:
Weather, as all strata in a possible day.
Words, all articulate shifts of a possible sky.
Recalling (Hendrix at Woodstock: “you can leave if you want to, we’re just jamming, that’s all”) Willem de Kooning, out of the Robert Snyder movie Sketchbook No. 1: Three Americans (1960): “Everything is already in art, like a big bowl of soup. Everything is in there already, and you stick your hand in and you find something for you.” (See, too, John Ashbery in the Paris Review interview (c. 1983): “. . . on the whole I feel that poetry is going on all the time inside, an underground stream. One can let down one’s bucket and bring the poem back up.”)

Of note. Out of the new Jared Shickling-edited newsletter eccolinguistics (#2.1), a many-pronged poke between the narrow steel bars of the Conceptualist hoosegow by the mysterious and ineffably-named Place Holder:
Evaluation: “Uncreative Writing 101”

“I realize you’ve lived in France, but that doesn’t mean you know EVERYTHING!”
—Frank O’Hara, “Lines for the Fortune Cookies”

1. This was the most boring class I ever took.
2. I signed up for poetry and the teacher if you will call him that spend the term laughing at it.
3. This was a totally original class. I loved it.
4. Everything we turned in had to be stolen.
5. It was so boring that when the guy next to me passed me some pills I swallowed them no questions.
6. The train is still sitting in the institution. You only dreamed it was in motion.
7. So I’m from Watts. And you white folk are clueless.
8. It’s as simple as this: They treat you like a child, and you store up some insults to use later on.
9. Once I asked if we could get in academia trouble by the Plagiarizing. He just looked at me funny and said Stick close to me kid, I’ll take the Rap.
10. WTF??? This class is a waste!
11. So I just copied stuff and that was all I had to do.
12. When I was younger, I was always getting these ideas.
13. This class met once a week on Mondays, and for the whole semester I looked forward to Mondays.
14. He wouldn’t even write comments on papers and I doubt he even did look.
15. Everything came back as “Nice job, Travis!”
16. Why the President invited this clown to the White House is a joke I can’t process.
17. As my Sorority sister said, “With celebrity poets like these, the country is in some serious shit.”
18. I really liked the teacher he’s unusuel and lade back.
19. I think it’s sorta funny he read Whitman to children there when children just like those are getting whacked in Afghanistan and stuff.
20. Little red places on the limb suddenly turn white, then bud forth with something green.
21. If my parents knew they were paying money for this they’d go ballistic.
22. Does one have to be Caucasian to be Conceptual? Just asking.
23. To tell you the truth, I’d get a lot of pleasure going a few rounds with this aesthete in an Ultimate Fighting cage.
24. I came into this class as a very insecure person. Now I have a hole new perspective about life and feel empowerd.
25. Nobody else on the lacrosse team will ever take this class, that’s for sure.
26. I emerge from this experience with a deeper understanding of the conceptual homologies informing the Fraternity and Poetry subcultures.
27. If you have a person you want to submerge in boiling lambs and lobsters, recommend this class to him / her.
28. I have one question: Is just copying stuff what I really came to the University of Pennsylvania for?
29. And I have this question: How would you theorize Conceptual Poetry in relation to the Greek far-Left?
30. The teacher is a nerd, but in a loveable way.
31. Plus, with his inch-long fingernails, he looks like an ivory tower crack addict.
32. For the life of me, I don’t see what’s avant-garde about fifty-year old recycled quasi-Pop.
33. Professor Rocks!!
34. Flarf is dead and Conceptual poetry should be too. I’m sorry, but I’ve had it.
35. But how late to be regretting all this, even bearing in mind that regrets are always late, too late!
36. I used to be bipolar; because of this course, I am now a 17 mile-long tapeworm.
37. His voice reminds me of the sound of an unmanned drone circling overhead, which survivors have reported as a kind of techno-pop back beat from the heavens, right before the flash.
38. One Richard Prince is quite enough, thank you.
39. Orpheus realized this and didn’t mind so much about his reward being in heaven after the Bacchantes had torn him apart, driven half out of their minds by his concepts, what they were doing to them.
40. I loved this class, it was easy and I learned a lot.
41. I’d go on automatic pilot when he’d start talking about Duchamp for the ten thousandth time and just think about my girlfriend’s pussy.
42. I didn’t learn anything from this class, except that I’m the Author of the Inferno.
43. The sweet peas grip the fence; the beans hang hidden by the leaves.
44. I want my tuition back, plus damages.
45. This class has changed my life.
46. To quote the immortal Robert Frost: Tennis with the net down is for those who can’t.
47. With Mr. Filreis, at least your opinion is respected, but in this course, you might as well be wearing a saddle and halter.
48. What’s with the Halloween bow ties and hats?
49. This class got me to thinking: What is “Art”? I still don’t know, but one day I hope to ride forth and find out.
50. I was insulted to have to read the literal defense testimony of rapists and pimps.
51. Just to give you an example, I know I only got a B+ because I said I liked Kent Johnson’s DAY.
52. The teacher praised me for my scanning and reformatting of the entire two-volume anthology of William Cullen Bryant’s A New Library of Poetry and Song, and I appreciated that.
53. If I hear Marjorie Perloff mentioned one more time I will chug a giant bottle of Lysol.
54. I kept asking the Professor about Language Poetry, and it seemed like he always got nervous and had a different answer every time.
55. The wind has stopped, but the magnolia blossoms still fall with a plop onto the dry, spongy earth.
56. He seems to like the Foundational of Poetry a whole lot, for some reason.
57. To be honest, I’ve met scores of gang members in prison more in tune with the world than this petit-bourgeois scrivener.
58. Administrators, please listen to me: I know what I’m talking about because I share a strange machine with them.
59. The pimp is busted. I shall have to get him fixed.
60. This class was pretty cool. I’m a Marketing major, but now I know I can be a poet, too.
“The ruin of the frivolous disables all potential.” One thinks precisely of the Conceptualist disabling of the frivolous, its cut and dry, its smirk and smarm. Frivolity, with its unquashed weightlessness and trumpery, its unreliable trifling and fickle dunning of the unsteady heart’s own potential, its sheer unapologetic excess runs—must needs run—catty-corner and outré to any mere conceptual bluff configured in advance, and the earnest studiousness of Conceptualism’s always already tired joke.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Notebook (George Bowering, Charles Olson, &c.)

George Bowering, c. 1970
(Photograph by Sheldon Grimson)

Gritty snow flailing down, liable, they say, to “turn” to rain. Reading in lurches, writing some God-awful truck (“There’s a kind of automatism / That relegates casuistry to a side- / Pocket, dumps the eight ball in / With no posturing, no gait of / The soldat making a method of / The body’s own taut hindrance, its / Poise. You’re barely a speck now, / Moving across the plain with no / Visible evidence pertaining to the engine / Of your going. Like a lunatic / Marinating a jawbone in a soup, / Like a semi-detached rearview mirror, / Like a stiff pollen-made honey / Gucking up the cake batter, like / A pertinacity of finches thieving sun- / Flower seeds . . .”) A little pocket of things slung loose, as is my late wont, of the harness of thinking . . .

Out of chief contrarian George Bowering’s Words, Words, Words: Essays and Memoirs (New Star, 2012), the wily onslaught of a piece called “On First Opening Nichol’s Chaucer”:
      Canterbury Tales, it’s a long poem that incorporates—that’s a good word, with the gross corp, the body in it, the fart wheel, the big peckers and pants full of shit or a lusty woman with a gap between her front teeth, the church on one horse, the bawd on another—and I remember that Anselm Hollo in 1966, a year before bp started on his lifetime’s epic, wrote naughty words in the gleaming pigeon poop on a bridge in Hyde Park, poetry gone contrary on the whited sepulchre.
      So also does Charles Olson’s own pilgrimage, celebrating or detailing a Massachusetts fishing town older than USAmerican history—lately filled with Italians instead of Adamses—make the most recent great Amerk poem, out of the narrative of a giant smoking man’s breath, necessarily oppositional, a form of love that “is form, and cannot be without / important substance,” one substance being the “gurry of it” that the speaker, so we have been taught to call him, is covered with, so that this big human mammal boasts the holes in his clothes, “my fly / gaping, me out / at the elbows”—the funniest misdirection in midcentury poetry, but is it really misdirecting? Someone he purports to be quoting says that in the face of sweetness a poet should
and go
thus going “contrary.”

Olson, out of “The Songs of Maximus”:
Song 1

                colored pictures
of all things to eat: dirty
                    And words, words, words
all over everything
                                        No eyes or ears left
to do their own doings (all

invaded, appropriated, outraged, all senses

including the mind, that worker on what is
                                                                                    And that other sense
made to give even the most wretched, or any of us, wretched,
that consolation (greased
even the street-cars


Song 2

              And I am asked—ask myself (I, too, covered
with the gurry of it) where
shall we go from here, what can we do
when even the public conveyances
            how can we go anywhere,
even cross-town
                                  how get out of anywhere (the bodies
all buried
in shallow graves?
And (out of Song 3):
              “In the midst of plenty, walk
                as close to
                          In the face of sweetness,
                            In the time of goodness,
                go side, go
                smashing, beat them, go as
                (as near as you can


                In the land of plenty, have
                nothing to do with it
                                                          take the way of
                the lowest,
                your legs, go
                contrary, go


Out of “Poetry Summer,” Bowering’s diary notes made during the period of Olson’s teaching (“Big man reaching down to shake my hand. Impossible to register . . .”) at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 1963:
Monday, August 5, 1963, 3:53 p.m.
      Today for the first time I went to Olson’s seminar, and I got one specific (and there seems to be a dearth of them). The reason he goes to the root of a word becomes clear when you know that root is not a historical (fake) thing from which the word evolved; but rather the ROOT that is still there, feeding the branches we eat. That is, in 2100 AD we speak the same organic language(s) we spoke in 2100 BC, and there is no reason to fix that false historical date on it . . .

Out of Clark Coolidge’s “Notes Taken in Classes Conducted by Charles Olson at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, August 1963” (Olson: The Journal of the Charles Olson Archives, No. 4 / 1975):
[August 12, 1963]

“no need to go to school anymore
          the literacy lies in Indo-European language”
                                                                              2100 B.C.
                                            that has come down to us recently
                                                                opened up
                                                      thru Hesiod (Greek)
                                                              & Homer

see 85th Canto
      “Ez hit it there
            best thrust”
      “a conception applied to a poem
                              a mantra”
      “85th strings itself in a planar vertical”
        experiential (of ideogram)

“what is called ‘The Wisdom of The East’ is just something
      which was in the Indo-European 2100 B.C. language
                                                                      to begin with”
“we’re not interested any longer in what a poem is
                                              but what it can do!”

      mouth is organ of creation (heart & tongue)
      language is heritage & invention of man
                                                        (not science)
                        “before 2100 B.C. you were not allowed
                                      to speak, if the word sounds
                                      were not used in sacred sense

                        tongue (word sound) first found in Pleistocene
                                    (Whalen’s sense of “Interglacial Age”?)

                “tongue has been attacked & driven out—the mutes
                                                                                                are now
                        (SCIENCE = SILENCE)                             upon the earth”
“write the words you know”
                                                    “there’s a moment when you feel
                                                            oh man, I did
                                                                            get hold
                                                                            of a word”

Peter Auxier: “language is something you have to get into
                            rather than something that’s in you, to be got out”

                “self expression is not enough”

David Tudor—“greatest living pianist”
                Tudor told O: “just read the words

        “take the meanest little possibility
                                                                rather than
                                                                      the grandest”

“don’t grab too quickly”

                “Duncan’s shaping the word with the hand—there is something
                                                                                                                in that”

“don’t say schizophrenia—but name it as this
                                                                                    & this
                                                                                          & this
                                                                                                & this
                                                                              like a continuous ribbon”

“get soused in language—strictly without any attitude from
                                                                    “no help at all”
      Duncan says: the language comes in & gets you

                  Olson: “you’ll never hear me use the word ‘magic’

The apt Poundian brief, one of the “functions” of criticism limned in “Date Line”:
      Theoretically it tries to forerun composition, to serve as gun-sight, though there is, I believe, no recorded instance of the foresight having EVER been of the slightest use save to actual composers. I mean the man who formulates any forward reach of co-ordinating principle is the man who produces the demonstration.
      The others who use the principle learn usually from the example, and in most cases merely dim and dilute it.
      I think it will usually be found that the work outruns the formulated or at any rate the published equation, or at most they proceed as two feet of one biped . . .
The way it refutes its own formula, denying saying’s intent beyond the unprompted occasion of its saying.

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Richard Prince, “Joke on You,” 2008

Jokes replace form.

        —Ron Silliman, out of Ketjak (1978)

                                                                                              I was eating eggs
And anticipating (anticipation is always dependent on the senses)
A spunkier texture than I’d been used to, whereas each new parenthesis
        paused to introduce . . . a joke, nothing structural,
Although contingent—sudden, but to the point—or, rather, now that I
        think about it, missing the point, but intentionally, so as to defer
As it were, the bestowal of a middle name on Relativity Theory, and all
        the attendant
Dissipation, skywriting,
Thinning of (horse-like) atmosphere,
In which it seems that anything can be compared to anything, and yet
        nothing is captured
Since it wriggles through a few hands and over the fence it goes
To look back. Lacking power, ‘nothing’ watches.

        —Jack Collom and Lyn Hejinian, out of Sunflower (2000)

The jokes
Are ghosts
The joke
Is a ghost
How can you love that mortal creature
Everytime he speaks
He makes

        —Jack Spicer, out of “Blood” (The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, 1960)

And if I could explain
And if I could explain
If I could,
You would probably consider
the river more
not what you think
But more river
or just more.
This code is no joke—it’s impossible to end the recounting of
the activities of the human mind but nothing is new.

        —Bernadette Mayer, out of “This Is a Problem-Solving Dream Where the Group
        Attempts to Change the Language” (Scarlet Tanager, 2005)

                                                                                                                        Trees are like clothes, they . . . No. From the point of a pen things stand for a time. As long as one goes on with it, going on being eventually to forget what one started out to do. I think of soap, alone, no use, for no reason in the world I can tell. Secrets are locked up everywhere in procedure. Tell me the time and I’ll tell you an unkempt joke. The hours are like clouds, their coming and going directions obvious. But, as far as I can tell, writing, like its poor cousin speech, has no beginning.

        —Clark Coolidge, out of Mine: The One That Enters the Stories (1982)

In the lighter time of year words arrived
concealed in branches. Flaubert exchanged
himself for words, night became a night of
words and a journey a journey of words, and
so on.

Words became “a superior joke,” I trembled
under a revolutionary weight, a coward fleeing
from a cloud. The ego of words stretched to
the room’s borders assuming the sonorous
movement of a poem.

        —Barbara Guest, out of “The Screen of Distance” (Fair Realism, 1989)

Practical Jokes. Always play practical jokes when going on a picnic with ladies.
Practice. Superior to theory.

        —Gustave Flaubert, out of The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas, translated by
        Jacques Barzun (1954)

      Reason does not joke, and men of reason do not; a prophet, in whom the moral sentiment predominates, or a philosopher, in whom the love of truth predominates, these do not joke, but they bring the standard, the ideal whole, exposing all actual defect; and hence the best of all jokes is the sympathetic contemplation of things by the understanding from the philosopher’s point of view. There is no joke so true and deep in actual life as when some pure idealist goes up and down among the institutions of society, attended by a man who knows the world, and who, sympathizing with the philosopher’s scrutiny, sympathizes also with the confusion and indignation of the detected, skulking institutions. His perception of disparity, his eye wandering perpetually from the rule to the crooked, lying, thieving fact, makes the eyes run over with laughter.
      This is the radical joke of life and then of literature. The presence of the ideal of right and of truth in all action makes the yawning delinquencies of practice remorseful to the conscience, tragic to the interest, but droll to the intellect.

        —Ralph Waldo Emerson, out of “The Comic” (1843)

                                                                In my house, every cloud
                                                                has a silver lining

                        there is only one cloud in my house

Inside that cloud is a joke

                                it is not an inside joke

        —Ted Berrigan, out of “Tambourine Life” (Many Happy Returns, 1969)

My mother’s sending us a dirty joke in the mail.
He’s on the rag now because he took too many pinkies.

        —Alice Notley, out of “As You Like It” (Margaret & Dusty, 1985)

someone told an
elephant joke:  how do
you kill a blue elephant?
            with a
blue-elephant gun:  how
do you kill a white
elephant?  with a
white-elephant gun?  no,
you tie a string around
his trunk and when it
turns blue
you shoot him with a
blue-elephant gun:

        —A. R. Ammons, out of Tape for the Turn of the Year (1965)

“What do you get
when you cross
an onion with a jackass?

Most of the time
you get a hairy onion
but sometimes you get a piece of ass
that’ll make your eyes water.”

        —Edward Dorn, out of “MLA cocktail joke” (Captain Jack’s Chaps / Houston MLA, 1983)

Filler. Nostalgia filler. Shelve inconsequential nostalgia filler.
Failure. Shelve inconsequential go-go. Americana go-go. Failure.
Failure. Tourist Cabin. Joke hoax brands in joke Icebox. Failure.

        —Kenward Elmslie, out of “Fiscal Nonsense”
        (Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics 1960-1998, 1998)

                Hank D. Thoreau
                too seldom used eau

                de cologne,
                and was asked to live at Walden on his own.

Sir Edward Elgar
was never vulgar,

though why—in mixed company—he made jokes about smegma
was certainly an enigma.

        —Jonathan Williams, out of “Clerihews” (Jubilant Thicket, 2005)

When the Vitalità nell’ arte catalog came in the mail I laughed
                        thinking it was Perspectives USA but it wasn’t it
                        was vitality nellie arty ho ho that’s a joke pop
                        “I never had to see I just kept looking at the pictures”

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Biotherm” (The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara, 1971)

I praise those ancient Chinamen
Who left me a few words,
Usually a pointless joke or a silly question
A line of poetry drunkenly scrawled on the margin of a quick
                        splashed picture—bug, leaf,
                        caricature of Teacher
        on paper held together now by little more than ink
        & their own strength brushed momentarily over it
Their world & several others since
Gone to hell in a handbasket, they knew it—
Cheered as it whizzed by—
& conked out among the busted spring rain cherryblossom winejars
Happy to have saved us all.


        —Philip Whalen, “Hymnus ad Patrem Sinensis”
        (The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen, 2007)

      Hark! There’s laughter! These fight and draw nearer, we—fight and draw apart. They know the things they say are true bothways, we miss the joke—try to—Oh, try to. Let it go at that. There again! Real laughter. At least we have each other in the ring of that music. “He saved a little then had to go and die.” But isn’t it the same with all of us? Not at all. Some laugh and laugh, with little grey eyes looking out through the chinks but not brown eyes rolled up in a full roar. One can’t have everything.

      Going along an illworn dirt road on the outskirts of a mill town one Sunday afternoon two lovers who have quarreled hear the loud cursing and shouts of drunken laborers and their women, followed by loud laughter and wish that their bodies were two fluids in the same vessel. Then they fall to twitting each other on the many ways of laughing.

        —William Carlos Williams, out of Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920)

      There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker.

        —Herman Melville, out of Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851)

        And one day he said: Henry, you can have it,
On condition, you can have it: for four months
You’ll stand any reasonable joke that I play on you,
And you can joke back
                provided you don’t get too ornry.
And they put it all down in writing:
For a green cloak with silver brocade
Actum in Castro Sigismundo, presente Roberto de Valturibus
. . sponte et ex certa scienta . . . to Enricho de Aquabello.

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

That was a good joke you played on the other guests.
A joke of silence.

One seizes these moments as they come along, afraid
To believe too much in the happiness that might result
Or confide too much of one’s love and fear, even in

The spring, though mild, is incredibly wet.
I have spent the afternoon blowing soap bubbles
And it is with a feeling of delight I realize I am
All alone in the skittish darkness.

        —John Ashbery, out of “The Skaters” (Rivers and Mountains, 1966)

No, no joke, titbit of wit can save you a bit:
when luxurious dawn comes to the bookstalls
I’ll run, screen them off—Caesii, Aquini,
Suffenus, the whole venomous lot of them,
and with these subtleties remunerate you.
Void, vile, now be interred, and goodbye to you
ill look into hell where your dead feet led you,
incommodious cycle, pests of poets.

        —Louis Zukofsky, out of Catullus (Gai Valeri Catulli Veronensis Liber),
        translated with Celia Zukofsky (1969)

Yes it is quite funny
to drink our fill
so that it burns the throat

the catch is apologetic
as fun slakes the will
so far so quite that

and the joke metal turns
just out of sight
for ever and ever and ever.

What do you say then
well yes and no
about four times of day

sick and nonplussed
by the thought of less
you say stuff it.

        —J. H. Prynne, out of Down Where Changed (1979)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Notebook (John Clare, John Ashbery, &c.)

John Clare, c. 1844
(Painting by Thomas Grimshaw)

Cold and blowy, the crows assembling in the dire oaks. Spotty reading, irregular sleep. On committal papers for John Clare, entering the asylum at Northampton, in reply to a query whether Clare’s madness “was preceded by any severe or long continued mental emotion or exertion,” the exculpatory squib: “After years addicted to Poetical prosing.” Bookseller Edward Drury, writing (c. 1819) to John Taylor, Clare’s publisher:
It is to be greatly feared that the man will be afflicted with insanity if his talent continues to be forced as it has been these 4 months past; he has no other mode of easing the fever that oppresses him after a tremendous fit of rhyming except by getting tipsy. A single pint of ale very often does this, and next morning a stupor with head-ach and pains across the chest afflicts him very severely. Then he is melancholy and completely hypochondriac.
      You will easily suppose how true is my account when I assure you he has rhymed & written for 3 days and 3 nights without hardly eating or sleeping . . .
(One recalls the “kept” doings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, another supposed “primitivist.”) Clare himself, in a late (2 August 1844) poem:
I snatch’d the sun’s eternal ray—
And wrote ’till earth was but a name.
How right John Ashbery’s lines in “For John Clare”:
. . . The feeling that the sky might be in the back of someone’s mind. Then there is no telling how many there are. They grace everything—bush and tree—to take the roisterer’s mind off his caroling—so it’s like a smooth switch back. To what was aired in their previous conniption fit. There is so much to be seen everywhere that it’s like not getting used to it, only there is so much it never feels new, never any different . . .
Or, later, the spelled-out futility of the possibility of “mutual cohesion and interaction,” what beckons, nevertheless, off there in a liminal state (“like coming to the end of a long, barely perceptible rise”):
. . . Seasons that pass with a rush. After all it’s their time too—nothing says they aren’t to make something of it. As for Jenny Wren, she cares, hopping about on her little twig like she was tryin’ to tell us somethin’, but that’s just it, she couldn’t even if she wanted to—dumb bird. But the others—and they in some way must know too—it would never occur to them to want to, even if they could take the first step of the terrible journey toward feeling somebody should act, that ends in utter confusion and hopelessness, east of the sun and west of the moon. So their comment is: “No comment.”
That blunt irretrievability of the world, its mere presence ungoaded, unfathomable, recalling Ashbery’s later formulary for Clare: how—primitivist, again—“The sudden, surprising lack of distance between poet and reader is in proportion to the lack of distance between the poet and the poem; he is the shortest distance between poem and reader.” Ashbery (out of Other Traditions):
We are far from emotion recollected in tranquillity or even the gently shaping music of Keats’s grasshopper sonnet.* Clare’s poems are dispatches from the front. “I found the poems in the fields / and only wrote them down,” he wrote, and he tells us that a favorite method of composing was in the open, using his hat as a writing desk. The resulting plein-air effect is similar to the studies of John Constable, Clare’s exact contemporary. In the case of both, the point is that there is no point. Clare is constantly wandering, in his circumscribed domain, but there is not much to see; the land is flat and fenny and devoid of “prospects.” Unlike Wordsworth’s exalted rambles in “The Prelude,” there is no indication that all this is leading up to something . . .
Precisely. “So their comment is: ‘No comment.’” Clare, all tangibility and exactitude to no particular end beyond itself:
Now the owl on wheaten wing
And white hood scowling o’er his eyes
Jerking with a sudden spring
Through three-cornered barn hole flies
Out of a poem called “Evening” (dated “Feby 13th / 47”). Earlier in the piece, the line “the sun is two yards high” oddly recalls the fragment of Heraclitus regarding the size of the sun: “The width of a human foot.”** Or, too (out of a late piece titled “Song”), more of Clare’s birds (and Maria, a “gipsey with brown swarthy cheek”):
The wheatear it sits on the thorn in the breakan
The furze linet sits on the apple top’t oak
And the fire-tail weets there as its nest had been taken
And the cuckoo sings plain as if somebody spoke
        While the lovely Maria
        By the crackling fire
        Unlinks her dark hair
That falls o’er her shoulders a thunder cloud making
And covers her neck so lovely and fair
How lovely, that hair undone with all the disgathering ebullience of a thundercloud. In a late fragment, Clare writes:
Language has not the power to speak what love indites
The soul lies buried in the Ink that writes
(And Ashbery: “As long as that couple is stopping to look in that window over there we cannot go. We feel like they have to tell us we can, but they never look our way and they are already gone, gone far into the future—the night of time. If we could look at a photograph of it and say there they are, they never really stopped but there they are. There is so much to be said, and on the surface of it very little gets said.”)
* “Keats’s grasshopper sonnet”:
On the Grasshopper and Cricket

The Poetry of earth is never dead:
    When all the birds are faint with the hot sun,
    And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run
From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead;
That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead
    In summer luxury,—he has never done
    With his delights; for when tired out with fun
He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed.
The poetry of earth is ceasing never:
    On a lone winter evening, when the frost
        Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills
The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever,
    And seems to one in drowsiness half lost,
        The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
“The Poetry of earth is never dead”: a concluding structure is being erected in advance of the seeing eye, percipience staggering under the weight of human, too human conceit.

** Dante, in Il Convito, renders such palpable obviousness moot, applying “human reason” to the job of putting the sun at a distance whereat it vanishes entirely:
Thus we know that to most people the Sun appears of the width of a foot in diameter; and this is most false, for, according to the inquiry and the discovery which human reason has made with its skill, the diameter of the body of the Sun is five times as much as that of the Earth and also one-half time more, since the Earth in its diameter is six thousand five hundred miles, the diameter of the Sun, which to the sense of sight presents the appearance of the width of one foot, is thirty-five thousand seven hundred and fifty miles . . .

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Notebook (Horace Traubel’s Walt Whitman, &c.)

Thomas Eakins, “Portrait of Walt Whitman,” 1887
(“Eakins’ portrait of W. being mentioned, W. said: “It is about finished. Eakins asked me the other day: ‘Well, Mr. Whitman, what will you do with your half of it?’ I asked him: ‘Which half is mine?’ Eakins answered my question in this way: ‘Either half,’ and said again regarding that: ‘Somehow I feel as if the picture was half yours, so I’m going to let it be regarded in that light.’ Neither of us at present has anything to suggest as to its final disposition. The portrait is very strong—it contrasts in every way with Herbert Gilchrist’s, which is the parlor Whitman. Eakins’ picture grows on you. It is not all seen at once—it only dawns on you gradually. It was not at first a pleasant version to me, but the more I get to realize it the profounder seems its insight. I do not say it is the best portrait yet—I say it is among the best: I can safely say that. I know you boys object to its fleshiness; something is to be said on that score; if it is weak anywhere perhaps it is weak there—too much Rabelais instead of just enough . . .”)

Found in a book: “A Cancer is cured by a stuck Frog; which they call Glew of the Water: They tie a Frog to a staff and expose it to the rayes of the Moon, that so it may be reduced to its first matter, in form like a Frog but looking like dissolved Tragacanth.” Tragacanth: “A ‘gum’ or mucilaginous substance obtained from several species of Astragulus, by natural exudation or incision, in the form of whitish strings or flakes, only partially soluble in water.” (“Gum tragacanth is inodorous.”) Astragulus: “Any one of several low-growing spiny shrubs found in Persia and neighbouring regions, which yield gum tragacanth . . .” Knowing is a circle.

Out of Horace Traubel’s With Walt Whitman in Camden (Tuesday, April 10, 1888):
      I picked up a stained piece of paper from under my heel and read it, looking at W. rather quizzically. “What is it?” he asked. I handed it to him. He pushed his glasses down over his eyes and read it. “That’s old and kind o’ violent—don’t you think—for me? Yet I don’t know but it still holds good.” I took it out of the hand with which he reached it back to me. “Put it among your curios,” he said, “you’ll have enough curios to start a Walt Whitman museum some day.” The note is below:

      “Go on, my dear Americans, whip your horses to the utmost—Excitement; money! politics!—open all your valves and let her go—going, whirl with the rest—you will soon get under such momentum you can’t stop if you would. Only make provision betimes, old States and new States, for several thousand insane asylums. You are in a fair way to create a nation of lunatics.”
And (Tuesday, April 17, 1888):
A couple of volumes of poetry from unknown writers reached W. by mail today. “Everybody is writing, writing, writing—worst of all, writing poetry. It’d be better if the whole tribe of scribblers—every damn one of us—were sent off somewhere with toolchests to do some honest work.”
And (Sunday, April 22, 1888):
      I took W. a volume of Goethe-Carlyle correspondence. “This Goethe-Carlyle business seems to have been an affair of respect rather than of love. It was not beautiful to me, like Goethe’s love for Schiller, like Schiller’s love for Goethe.” I said: “You never seem to enter into such literary companionships.” “No—I do not: they are hardly possible to me: I do not seek them. I do not value literature as a profession. I feel about literature what Grant did about war. He hated war. I hate literature. I am not a literary West Pointer: I do not love a literary man as a literary man, as a minister of a pulpit loves other ministers because they are ministers: it is a means to an end, that is all there is to it: I never attribute any other significance to it. Even Goethe and Schiller, exalted men, both, very, very, were a little touched by the professional consciousness.”
And (Wednesday, April 25, 1888):
      Some anarchist was in to see W. today. W. did not know his name. “He was a stranger to me—a Russian, I think: clean, earnest, with a beautiful face—but too insistent: he would have me, whether I would or would not, say yes to his political, or revolutionary, program. We had no quarrel—I only made it plain to him that I was not to be impressed into that sort of service. Everybody comes here demanding endorsements: endorse this, endorse that: each man thinks I am radical his way: I suppose I am radical his way, but I am not radical his way alone. Socialists, single tax men, communists, rebels of every sort and all sorts, come here. I don’t say they shouldn’t come—that it’s unreasonable for them to come: the Leaves is responsible for them and for more than them. But I am not economically informed—I do not see the fine—even the coarse—points of difference between the contestants. I said to the Russian today: ‘Don’t ask me for too many definitions. Be satisfied with my general assurance. My heart is with all you rebels—all of you, today, always, wherever: your flag is my flag. Why should you want me to give you more?’ The fellow was sensible—said he had learned a thing or two—and went away. I think Emerson was sweeter with such men than I am—was more patient, was more willing to wait their talk out.”
And (Thursday, May 10, 1888):
      Longfellow was mentioned. W. recalled a visit from L. “He came with Childs, but I was not at home—had just started off for the ferry. They came after me, followed me, and inquired of one of the men at the wharf, who told them I was on one of the boats, for which they waited, but our talk was very short.” The man they questioned at the ferry was Ed Lindell. After they had gone, and as Walt came from the boat, Lindell asked him the name of the man with the gray beard. W. told him but was more inclined to talk of Childs than of Longfellow. I asked W. about L.’s port and manners. W. said: “His manners were stately, conventional—all right but all careful.” Was his conversation striking? “Not at all—he did not branch out or attract.” Was he at all like Emerson? “Not a bit. Emerson was as different as day from night—indeed, had the best manners of any man I ever met: by this I mean manners in the right sense: manners, words, thoughts, always right, yet never at any time suggesting preparation or design. Emerson always seemed to know what he wanted. If I was asked to put him into two words, I should give ‘sincerity’ first—always first—and—oh! I had a more apt word a minute ago, but now it is gone: I may call it ‘definiteness’: yes, sincerity and definiteness. Emerson never lost this quality: in his last days, when it was said his mind had failed, he remained of this aspect: in fact, it seemed to me to be emphasized. Emerson only lost the outward, the superficial—the rest of him remained unharmed. I thought Alcott had really lost something. He came to see me in Brooklyn once just before Emerson. While Emerson was with me I asked him about this breakdown of memory or what-not in Alcott—but Emerson would not have it my way—he was gentle but firm—he opposed my observation. Emerson never lacked decision; he was indeed the firmest of men, never shaken from his place—unshockable—he never unhatted to any person or any power—any institution—never went out looking for things which did not come to him of their own accord. Alcott had a lot of queerities—freakishnesses: not vegetarianism—I do not count that—but transcendental mummeries—worst of all a most vociferous contempt for the body, which I, of course, opposed. I spoke to Emerson about these things that day—but my comments made no impression: I saw that Emerson had his own opinion of Alcott and was not going to let me disturb it—though that was not my intention: underneath it all I had every sort of respect for Alcott myself.”
A nine-volume entry into the nineteenth century, produced* on the eve of its departure. Guy Davenport (“Horace and Walt in Camden”):
On Wednesday the twenty-eighth of March 1888, the twenty-nine-year-old Horace Traubel began taking down in shorthand what Walt Whitman had to say in the poet’s upstairs bedroom on Mickle Street in Camden, New Jersey. “At Walt’s this evening. Called my attention to an old letter in the Philadelphia Press describing a visit to Emerson with Louisa Alcott, and Emerson’s senility.” Whitman was sixty-nine, not yet wholly house-bound. Traubel wrote up his visit within an hour of leaving the house. He kept to this routine until March 26, 1892, on which day Whitman died at sunset.
* See, though, Davenport’s account (c. 2001) of its publishing history:
Horace Traubel published the first volume of these daily conversations as With Walt Whitman in Camden in 1906. A second volume came out, with a different publisher, in 1908; a third, with yet another, in 1914. Traubel died in 1919 (an even one hundred years after Whitman's birth—his last words: “Walt says come on, come on”). It took thirty-four years for the fourth volume to be published, in a preposterously small number of copies, by the University of Pennsylvania Press. This is an all but unobtainable book, and very expensive. Volume 5, edited by Horace’s daughter, Gertrude, was published in 1964 by Southern Illinois University Press. Over the next thirty years, the same press brought out Volumes 6 and 7. Only within the last five years have Volumes 8 and 9 (the last two) been published by W L Bentley Rare Books . . .

Herbert Gilchrist, “Portrait of Walt Whitman,” c. 1887
(“. . . the parlor Whitman . . .”)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Reading Notes (John Clare’s Journal)

John Clare, 1793-1864
(Painting by William Hilton, 1820)

Against the fraught pell-mell tumult of the days ongoing with their quotidian concerns, a momentary stay and conservatory found in reading John Clare’s Journal (1824-25), its measure defiantly slowed, its uncommon sense of continual gathering (of “things I may read or see”). A man attending. Out of The Prose of John Clare (1951), edited by J. W. and Anne Tribble:
Mon. 13 Sept. 1824. Wrote 2 or 3 more pages of my Life—read some of the Sonnets of Shakespear which are great favourites of mine & lookd into the Poems of Chatterton to see what he says about flowers & have found that he speaks of the lady-smock:
So have I seen the lady-smocks so white
Bloom in the morning and mowed down at night
as well as my favourite line of
The kingcups brasted with the morning dew
Tues. 14 Sept. 1824. Continued the reading of Chatterton in search for extracts to insert in my natural history inserted them in the Appendix—I was struck with the many beautifull & remarkable passages which I found in them what a wonderful boy was this unfortunate Chatterton I hate the name of Walpole for his behaviour to this Genius & his sneering & cold-blooded mention of him afterwards when his gossiping fubble had discovered them to be forgeries why did he not discover the genius of the author no because they surpassed his Leadenhall forgery of ‘Otranto’*

Mon. 1 Nov. 1824. Took a walk to Lolam Brigs to hunt for a species of fern that usd to grow on some willow tree heads in Lolham lane when I was a boy but coud find none got some of the yellow water-lily from the pits which the floods had washed up to set in an old water-tub in the garden & to try some on land in a swaily corner as the horse-blob thrives well which is a water flower listend in the evening to Glinton bells at the top of the garden I always feel mellancholy at this season to hear them & yet it is a pleasure
I’m pleased & yet I’m sad
Tues. 2 Nov. 1824. Set some box edging round a border which I have made for my collection of ferns read some passages in Blair’s Grave a beautiful poem & one of the best things after the manner of Shakespear its beginning is very characteristic of the subject there are crowds of beautiful passages about it who has not markd the following aged companions to many such spots of general decay
. . . a row of reverend elms,
Long lashd by the rude winds. Some rift half down
                                    . . . others so thin atop
That scarce two crows could lodge in the same tree.
Mon. 15 Nov. 1824. Went to gather pootys** on the roman bank for a collection found a scarce sort of which I only saw 2 in my life I pickd up under a hedge at Peakirk town-end & another in Bainton meadow its color is a fine sunny yellow larger than the common sort & round the rim of the base is a black edging which extends no further than the rim it is not in the collection at the British Museum

Tues. 23 Nov. 1824. Some months back I began a system of profiting by my reading at least to make a show of it by noting down beautiful odd or remarkable passages—I immitations in the poets & prosewriters which I read & I have inserted some likenesses [?] of Lord Byrons about which there has been much nattering & ink shed I never saw some of them

Wed. 8 Dec. 1824. Found the common Pollypody on an old Willow tree in Lolham Lane & a small fem in Hilly Wood scarcely larger than some species of moss & a little resembling curld parsley I have namd it the dwarf maidenhair & believe it is very scarce here

Mon. 13 Dec. 1824. Bought a Moore’s Almanack with its fresh budget of wonderful predictions on the weather & the times alterd with such earnest ambition of pretending truth that one shoud think the motto ‘the voice of the heavens’ &c means nothing more or less then the voice of Moors Almanack &c—saw 2 Will o’ Whisps last night

Tues. 14 Dec. 1824. A coppled crownd Crane shot at Billings’s pond in the Green—’Twas 4 foot high from the toes to the bill on the breast & rump was a thick shaggy down full of powder which seem to be a sort of pounce-box to the bird to dress its feathers with to keep out the wet its neck & breast were beautifully staind with streaks of watery brown its wings & back was slate-grey the down on its head was of the same color

Sun. 26 Dec. 1824. Found at the bottom of a dyke made in the roman bank some pootys of varied colors & the large garden ones of a russet color with a great many others of the meadow sort which we calld ‘badgers’ when I was a schoolboy found nowere now but in wet places—there is a great many too of a water species now extinct—the Dyke is 4 foot deep & the soil is full of these shells have they not [lain] here ever since the romans made the bank & does the water sorts not imply that the fields were all fen & under water or wet & uncultivated at that time I think it does—I never walk on this bank but the legions of the roman army pass by my fancys with their mysterys of nearly 2000 years hanging like a mist around them what changes hath passd since then—were I found these shells it was heath land above Windy Well

Sun. 27 Feb. 1825. Recievd a letter in rhyme from a John Pooley—a very dull fooley—who ran me 10d further into debt as I had not money to pay the postage.

Tues. 1 Mar. 1825. Saw today the largest piece of Ivy I ever saw in my life mailing a tree which it nearly surpassd in size in Oxey Wood it was thicker than my thigh & its cramping embraces seemd to diminish the tree to a dwarf—it has been asserted by some that ivy is very injurious to trees & by others that it does no injury at all—I cannot decide against it—the large pieces were coverd all over with root-like fibres as thick as hair, & they representd the limbs of animals more than the bark of a tree

Sat. 16 April. 1825. Took a walk in the field a birds nesting & botanizing & had like to have been taken up as a poacher in Hilly wood by a meddlesome conseited keeper belonging to Sir John Trollop he swore that he had seen me in act more than once of shooting game when I never shot even so much as a sparrow in my life—what terrifying rascals these woodkeepers & game-keepers are they make a prison of the forrests & are its gaolers

Tues. 26 April. 1825. This used to be ‘Breakday’ when the fen commons used to be broke as it was calld by turning in the stock it used to be a day of busy note with the villages but Enclosure has spoiled all

Wed. 10 Aug. 1825. A Newspaper lye of the first order—Mr Gale of Holt[?] in the parish of Bradford Wilts has at present a Pear of the jargonel kind in his possession which was taken by himself from the tree in 1776, 49 years ago & is now as sound as at the first moment it was gathered. It is hung up by the stalk & no means whatever has been adopted to preserve it—’ it must have been a wooden one
Clare’s ready skepticism and self-reliance. Meaning resides in use. In a fragment, he writes a kind of processual manifesto:
      Truth is the integrity of action not the correctness of speaking for the first is the spirit & practice of truth & the second only the preparation & theory which like the title of a book often leasds us to expect more than we meet with
And, too, a recipe for ink:
      Take three ounces of bruised Nut galls put into a pint & a half of rain water let it stand for three days then put in One ounce & a half of Green Coppurs & a piece of Stone blue & shake it up every day & it is fit for use
* The editors: “. . . the authorship of Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto was not declared till a second edition was called for within a year of its publication in 1764. Walpole had pretended the work was a translation from an Italian MS. of 1529. The completely unreal story richly deserves Clare’s contemptuous epithets of commercial falsity.” The lovely word fubble: “Entretouiller, to mingle, intangle, confound, fubble vp things together.” Brast: “Northern form of burst. Out of Gavin Douglas’s Æneid: “The fyry sparkis brastyng from hys eyn.”

** Pooty: “The banded or grove snail, Cepaea nemoralis. The OED quotes a line out of Clare’s poem “The Village Minstrel” (1821), its earliest usage: “Searching the pooty from the rushy dyke.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Notebook (William Carlos Williams, &c.)

Valery Larbaud, 1881-1957

South: mockingbirds and live oaks. Pawnshops. In downtown Houston, a horseback-bolstered Ranger shouting down into the window of a pulled-over Mustang. (Black man on the bus, with contempt, a knowing species resigned scorn: “Only in America.”) Second Ranger looking rather small and inconsequential atop an enormous chestnut-colored horse. He’s furiously texting something: the pointedness of the finger-flurry an anomaly against the ranging ample placidity of the beast.

In air reading (out of In the American Grain), muscled up by “the horrid beauty of its great machines,” loving Williams’s rarely quasi-ambivalent judgment of the place, the New World with its unceasing Puritan grip and its “agonized spirit, that has followed like an idiot with undeveloped brain, governs with its great muscles, babbling in a text of the dead years”):
      It has become “the most lawless country in the civilized world,” a panorama of murders, perversions, a terrific ungoverned strength, excusable only because of the horrid beauty of its great machines. Today it is a generation of gross know-nothingism, of blackened churches where hymns groan like chants from stupefied jungles, a generation universally eager to barter prominent values (the hope of an aristocracy) in return for opportunist material advantages, a generation hating those whom it obeys.
Though, later, somewhere between the initial aborted attempt to land in Charlotte (“heavy tailwind . . . we’re just going to circle around and come in out of the north”) and the limp (and pricey) sandwich, Williams’s own naysaying “resistant core” protrudes even in Old World Paris, whence he’d got, finally, to “shed . . . nerves” after a “brutalizing battle of twenty years to hear myself above the boilermakers in and about New York.” Thus:
      I was, during that time, with antennae fully extended, but nothing came of it save an awakened realization within myself of that resistant core of nature upon which I had so long been driven for support. I felt myself with ardors not released but beaten back, in this center of old-world culture where everyone was tearing his own meat, warily conscious of a newcomer, but wholly without inquisitiveness—No wish to know; they were served . . .
In terminal, under CNN’s tediously repetitious scouring of the brain-space, surrounded by travelers wholly “absorpte and ouercummed” by clutched digital gadgetry, there’s Williams visiting Valery Larbaud, coming a cropper up against the pervading lack:
Who are we? Degraded whites riding our fears to market where everything is by accident and only one thing sure: the fatter we get the duller we grow; only a simpering disgust (like a chicken with a broken neck, that aims where it cannot peck and pecks only where it cannot aim, which a hog-plenty everywhere prevents from starving to death) reveals any contact with a possible freshness—and that only by inversion . . .
And, the blunt perennial query: “Must I make a choice between to scream like a locomotive or to speak not at all?”

Detroit, midnight. Trails of orange runway lights infusing the blacker surround. (Emerson: “Temperament puts all divinity to rout.”) Narrow circuitries of roads here and there fattening up to intersect. Usual habit-fueled drive to Ann Arbor. (With all the “impudent knowingness” of a horse . . .)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Notebook (John Ashbery, Jack Kerouac, &c.)

Jack Kerouac, 1922-1969

Days of manifold directionlessness, scooting here, scooting there. East Saturday under patchy sun, west Sunday in rain, south tomorrow. Things to do, reading entirely patchy, negligent, fugal. Whitman (“Song of Myself”):
And I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
Recalling, somehow, Ashbery’s counter-tenor (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”):
I feel the carousel starting slowly
And going faster and faster: desk, papers, books,
Photographs of friends, the window and the trees
Merging in one neutral band that surrounds
Me on all sides, everywhere I look.
And I cannot explain the action of leveling,
Why it should all boil down to one
Uniform substance, a magma of interiors.
And Emerson’s sense (in “Nature”) of analogical man as a kind of Poundian “unwavering axis” or “rose in the steel dust,” constant, pervading:
. . . man is an analogist, and studies relations in all objects. He is placed in the centre of beings, and a ray of relation passes from every other being to him. And neither can man be understood without these objects, nor these objects without man . . .
Pound (Guide to Kulchur):
“I made it out of a mouthful of air” wrote Bill Yeats in his heyday. The forma, the immortal concetto, the concept, the dynamic form which is like the rose-pattern driven into the dead iron-filings by the magnet, not by material contact with the magnet itself, but separate from the magnet. Cut off by a layer of glass, the dust and filings rise and spring into order . . .
Or, too, out of Canto LXXIV:
This liquid is certainly a
            property of the mind
nec accidens est     but an element
                                                    in the mind’s make-up
est agens and functions     dust to a fountain pan otherwise
        Hast ’ou seen the rose in the steel dust
                                                    (or swansdown ever?)
so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron
we who have passed over Lethe.
Source of Robert Duncan’s own “property of the mind” and unwavering pivot (“everlasting omen”) of “what is” (out of “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow”):
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,
that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
Is it Whitman’s “solid and sound”—with a sidelong hint at the tangibility of its yawp—or Ashbery’s “magma” that calls forth Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight with its “haddal-da-babra of babbling world tongues coming in thru my window at midnight . . . the sounds of people yakking and of myself yakking among, ending finally in great intuitions of the sounds of tongues throughout the entire universe in all directions in and out forever . . .”—another implacable convergence, the purest there is, one “mouthful of air” after another? Kerouac:
Boy, says Old Angel, this amazing nonsensical rave of yours wherein I spose you’d think you’d in some lighter time find hand be-almin ya for the likes of what ya devote yaself to, pah—bum with a tail only means one thing,—They know that in sauerkraut bars, god the chew chew & wall lips—And not only that but all them in describable paradises—aye ah—Angel m boy—Jack, the born with a tail bit is a deal that you never dream’d to redeem—verify—try to see as straight—you wont believe even in God but the devil worries you—you & Mrs Tourian—great gaz-zuz & I’d as lief be scoured with a leaf rust as hear this poetizin horseshit everywhere I want to hear the sounds thru the window you promised me when the Midnight bell on 7th St did toll bing bong & Burroughs and Ginsberg were asleep & you lay on the couch in that timeless moment in the little red bulblight bus & saw drapes of eternity parting for your hand to begin & so’s you could affect—and eeffect—the total turningabout & deep revival of world robeflowing literature till it shd be something a man’d put his eyes on & continually read for the sake of reading & for the sake of the Tongue & not just these insipid stories writ in insipid aridities & paranoias bloomin & why yet the image—let’s hear the Sound of the Universe, son, & no more part twaddle—And dont expect nothing from me, my middle name is Opprobrium . . .
Tailing off into “birds & firewood” (“Pirilee pirilee, tzwé tzwi tzwa,—tack tick”), sound of the self clocking out to listen in . . .

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Letter: O’Hara to Schuyler (2)

Robert Wise, Helen of Troy (1956)

Frank O’Hara’s 11 February 1956 letter to James Schuyler (out of the William Corbett and Geoffrey Young-edited That Various Field for James Schuyler) continued:
. . . George and I went to see Helen of Troy last night and liked it lots. Jacques Sernas looks heavenly: a combination of a Greek coin, Jean Marais and a rattlesnake; while Rossina Podesta has that piggish prettiness one used to admire in Angela Lansbury, gone a bit soft in the South and without the latter’s bite. Ouch! There is a greatly beauteous Aeneas who, when everyone else in Troy is acting dismal about Helen’s being brought over to start the war, passes his brother with a cheerful pat and says, “Destiny, Paris, destiny!” I loved him for it. The Greeks come off very badly in this version, since they were planning to plunder Troy anyway and Helen’s a mere Reichstag burning. It is the best spectacle of recent years, though, I thought reminiscent pleasingly of De Mille’s The Crusades. And so convincing that I absolutely LOATHED Ulysses for thinking up that Trojan Horse trick. Really! and they were having such a nice bacchanal! It does make you want to read the Iliad again because everything gets so mixed up: Paris kills Patroclus, Achilles kills Hector (right in front of everyone, it’s terrible, and then he drags him after his chariot, which made me hate him almost as much as Ulysses) and then on the ramparts, with tears in his eyes, Paris utters the prayer (from Samson et Dalile, I make no doubt: “Zeus! viens aider ma faiblesse!” and shoots Achilles in the heel with an arrow. At the end Menelaus kills Paris and takes Helen back. As she is looking for the last time at what is left of Troy, Paris’ voice comes to her saying roughly, “Nothing that is shared, like our love, can ever die.” Beautiful! Is that the way you remember it? Anyway, you probably won’t believe me, but the changes are quite agreeable. I’ve always thought Helen should be the one to say of the horse, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!”
      The “Love and Death” section of Goyescas is the biggest thing I’ve ever heard, including the Ring. On the sleeve the guy refers to Granados as a “miniaturist,” s’il vous me croyait! Towards the end, notes of the most exquisite imaginativeness trail along after the melody. Maybe I should write a sleeve someday and completely alienate the listener from the music by my enthusiastic ravings.
      George loaned me his Art News which I read with great pleasure, most specially your enthusiastic review of Herr Buchholz,* which made me cry out with joy when I came to the definitive sentence on German Constructivist plaques. The whole review is perfection, the “and so on dug into them” falls like water, at the same time very graphic, and the “Oddly,” is like a meaningful breath, and at the same time, again, nothing seems cross although the work sounds as if it could well make one so. I liked the Goodnough** excessively and I think you got what it is where I only emoted about what it might be—this is not to embarrass you, but I had the feeling as I read it that one sometime has when someone else has discovered the truth about something, “Of course, that’s precisely it!” How do you feel now that you’ve been initiated into the mysteries of the Kottler and Crespi entente? I don’t know how Frankfurter*** felt, but your discreet notice on Charlotte Serneaux-Gregori spoke worlds to me. I can’t wait till you get the Sculpture Center, I hope they have a lot of terra-cotta.
      Did you get to Oistrakh at all? By the way, so you won’t think I’ve lost all my sneaky ways up here, dahling, I want you to know I’m reviewing John’s Yale poems and Edwin’s book for Poetry Chi.**** Now tell me what to say, for god’s sake! I may never see THEM again. (Really, when I think of that mean bronze book end it brings tears to my eyes. You’re a genius!)
      The current production of the theatre up here is a verse drama by Hugh Amory called The Bandeirantes (bahn der ahn cheese) about two con men in Brazil who take in a young American in a scheme to do something or other in the interior that will lead to money and / or better the conditions of the natives there. It is sort of Senecan and there is a plane crash after which the survivors act Yeatsy in the jungle. There is a very touching scene in a café before the kid goes up in the Airplane when he is saying goodbye to his mistress, Marcia, who acts nicely like Garbo in Susan Lennox, “an older woman,” but the verse seems rather wooden to me. There are some beautiful speeches but much verbiage and talking around the subject. The funny thing is that the circumlocution is accomplished by quite abstruse and unnecessary references and the which may often branch into some portentous (sic) area like the Korean war, Hiroshima, death—suddenly it sounds as if I’m describing it worse than it is and this is all from rehearsals, remember (one to be exact). It may be divine, and he is very talented. That is, if talent means energy, as I’ve read somewhere. If it means ease and charm, well . . . . But the characters, save Marcia, don’t seem to feel anything about each other except the more negligible human emotions, such as pity, scorn, and cupidity. My, it does sound rather gripping, doesn’t it?
      I’ve been reading Tennessee’s stories in One Arm and, hold your hat! rather liking them, though they are terribly grey, aren’t they? Some of them would make wonderful plays, I think, particularly the black masseur one, which struck me as being genuinely sad. What a sentimentalist I am! I’ve also been reading W. C. Williams’ autobiog and refuse to stop loving him although he certainly is doing his best to discourage me.
      I hope the length of this letter doesn’t stop you from loving me! Write, come up, both, everything! Kisses to Arthur and Bobby and
                                                                                                          Love to you from your adoring,

Isn’t this beautiful—sort of like your letter in the Cantata.***** I wish it were art instead of life!
The post-signature line pointing to what looks like a newspaper clipping:

      Progressive Pilgrim—In your letter to Broken Dreams you say, “Put them dreams away.” But how can you, when every time you turn on the radio the songs make you cry? Each time you hear or see something that reminds you of the past. Did you ever go through this, or are you just trying to help—like telling a child the dentist won’t hurt. I try so hard to get back but haven’t been able to yet.

* Erich Buchholz (1891-1972), German painter and printmaker.

** Schuyler’s review of Robert Goodnough (out of the January 1956 ARTnews) reads in part:
[Goodnough] . . . shows in his new oils how strong a wedding of disjunctions can make a painting. On the one hand his pictures go after the kind of absolute balance in which each part compensates, so to speak, for another, and lets no one part come first: the whole picture would show itself in the flash of an eye, quivering tones of white, the surface is divided into angled planes and seems like looking through a prism . . .
*** Alfred Frankfurter, editor of ARTnews.

**** O’Hara’s review of Ashbery’s Some Trees, Denby’s Mediterranean Cities, and Chester Kallman’s Storm at Catelfranco appeared under the title “Rare Modern” in the February 1957 issue of Poetry. Pertinently, of Ashbery’s work:
      Everywhere in the poems there is the difficult attention to calling things and events by their true qualities. He establishes a relation between perception and articulateness which is non-rhetorical and specific; this relation is consciously desired by the poet, beyond bitterness and fatigue, and he even generously attributes it to others:
We see us as we truly behave:
From every corner comes a distinctive offering.
The train comes bearing joy;
The sparks it strikes illuminate the table.
Destiny guides the water-pilot, and it is destiny . . .

This is perhaps a day of general honesty
Without example in the world’s history
Though the fumes are not of a singular authority
And indeed are dry as poverty.
How often honesty becomes general in these poems! and it is a considerable technical achievement that the poems open outward to the reader revealing a person other than the poet, whom we admire with the poet for his courageous otherness . . .
***** Schuyler’s “A Picnic Cantata,” libretto for a composition by Paul Bowles, commissioned by duo-pianists Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, contains a letter (out of the “Sunday paper”) “sad as a blues”:
I have a heart problem, writes E Q.

I knew this other man was married
and had a little boy.
He knew I was married
and mother of three.
But we went out together
and discovered
we had many things in common.

Before we realized it
we had to see each other
at least every other day.
We found a kind of love
we’d never known before.
I had to leave him to
come back to my husband.
I felt it only fair to
be honest with my husband.

My husband and I are planning
on moving to this town.
The other man lives there.
I know that we can never
be free to marry
each other
because of the children.
Do you think it
would be a wise move?