Friday, September 27, 2013

Notebook (Will Alexander, Lissa Wolsak, J. H. Prynne, &c.)

J. H. Prynne

Three statements, a neap congeries for the boundless illimitable, the involuntary lingual reaches summoning the capacious world. Out of Will Alexander’s Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose Texts, Interviews and a Lecture 1991-2007 (Essay Press, 2012):
Taking Issue with Ubiquitous Reduction

      To be forbidden one’s volcanisms, one’s quarrels, in favor of the dust of a plainspoken warren, is to exist in terms of ubiquitous reduction. Language in its purest state exists as primal capacity, and the challenge of such capacity is to engulf delimitation, to advance the circumstance which completely alters the common mean. And by the common mean, motion is understood as digressive utterance, always in keeping with quarterly reports, with scheduled breaks, with logs which replicate preplanned proceedings. To such perspective I remain extreme, being no more to the civil eye than a cave fish, or a cephalopod, or the strangeness of an owl combined within the remnants of an ice bear. I utter sound, but it is not prone to the same template as the work bench, as the written thoughts from the paymaster’s dungeon. I say this because as poet I owe my utterance to other saturations, to other exhibits of sonority. As if I were a hawk shunted aside, as if my singular utterance sprung from indigenous Malay. Perhaps my English is the parallel of indigenous lorikeet or Malay. Perhaps it is a network of glass scattered by sonorous visibility, where the Sun proclaims a different hue, where the dawn rises backwards, where the sea enacts its weather from a parallel momentum other than the moon.

Lissa Wolsak—in “shared electro-epistolary plane” conversation with Pete Smith—out of Squeezed Light: Collected Poems 1994-2005 (Station Hill, 2010):
I vehemently see no reason to dumb-down the sheer and useful beauty of language. What ~ of cultivating an ability to see in, pre-positionally through, of, with, the space between atoms, space less tyrannized. I know what to write because language lightens itself to reveal the pan-psychic shock / sleep of being alive, anatomies of collectivity / possibility, juste-milieu . . . the lucre of subjectivity.
I have an antipathy toward flatland embrittlements within normative sentence making because I have not often enough experienced the truth of their / my constructions. Moreover, the mind is non-local and undermines my smooth to the eye approaches. I choose, rather, to activate consciousness, and to keep a loose hold on the smoky, beguiling and sometime fatuous muse of controlled meaning, but not to exclude the genuinely intended or navigable. I am more a receiver of shape and form than an architect of same. By its very fracture, I write to surprise myself.

J. H. Prynne, in a letter—out of the Helmut Bonheim and Raymond Federman-edited Mica 5 (1962):
      . . . I am prompted by my present isolation from people and books to offer a few vague, unsupported and highly compressed reflections about the kind of work you are printing, much of which seems to be in the mode most prevalent among a section of the more interesting American writers. Briefly, my viewpoint is this: current American writing doesn’t seem to have gone much further than the basic Imagist resolution at the beginning of the century—the breakthrough of Pound and Williams. Not only do few writers seem to wish to go any further—or advance in any other direction—but hardly any of the current endeavor at new experiment seems aimed at developing technical means for a change of attitude or approach.
      The implicit anti-intellectualism of the current short lyric—its explicit dogma is the pre-occupation with Zen and derived vatic utterance—leads to the capture of the small moment of contact between humans; but more often of the instantaneous insight by the percipient into a landscape or environment not containing other beings that we can conceive of as living—over days and weeks—their own, various lives. The area of complete, fused success is that (generally) of momentary perception, mostly a sensitive refraction of what is seen and heard. We are not, really and in fact, far from Pater, though infinitely more poised and well-disciplined into the tentative casualness of mood that is so much more seriously outward than ever Pater was. And the sense of urgent concern, the voice speaking from the center, is there; but working always through the small, amenable event, the personal image. The writer’s total involvement opens out the relevance of this experience to infinite dimensions, fills the horizon, and genuinely. This is a vast achievement, especially in view of the deliberately small aims and over-developed musculature of most English writers of verse, sheltering with provincial timidity behind the irony inherited from Eliot. It stimulates in a way that American verse has never done before, and English not (perhaps) for over 150 years: but there is seldom evidence of equipment or intention to control and shape that stimulation, which often remains a near-vicious indulgence (I overstate, this I realise). But a lot of American poems now being written are opiate, offering substitutes for experience instead of modes of access. Once we enter the world of these short poems, we may move at will over a wide plain, shape the course of our progress through it according to a personal choice. The real concern behind the writing is enough to exclude the outer world and provide the motive power for movement; yet the precise direction is our own.
      Hence perhaps the importance of the journey itself as an image, especially in longer poems; the motif of action without sufficient motive; the conscious arbitrariness with which the small event becomes the occasion for serious writing; the general rebuttal of the will as an element in human experience. Hence perhaps the way so many poems need the pool of silent reflection that follows their close, into which the strong concerns not shaped into final relevance by the last line can lose themselves in free contemplation. For the concern must have a fully articulated object (so I believe); the object should not be the poet’s anterior experience (Eliot’s fundamental error), but the poem’s achieved shape. This is not only the words as isolated monads, but their ordering; the grammar of feeling; the movement forward speeded or checked by the adverbs, bent, inverted or split by the conjunctions, maintained always by the constant verb. And this is not simply the imitative verse-movement of the Augustans, but a unity on a much deeper level. It is the mind at work, directing the convictions or importance to what is in fact important, working every preposition into the final contours of the poem and the shape of its own defining.*
Signed: “J. H. Prynne, Outer Hebrides.”
* Larry Eigner’s reply—reprinted under the title “Like a Dog Bark in Music” in the Benjamin Friedlander-edited Areas Lights Heights: Writings 1954-1989 (Roof Books, 1989)—out of Mica 6 (1962):
      J.H. Prynne’s comments seem penetrating, but I wouldn’t know exactly, being so fragmented myself that I can’t take a survey (can’t see much into the verse of Prynne himself, for instance). But the object he says the concern must have, if not the “strong concerns” which he pleads be “shaped into a final relevance,” doesn’t it, or don’t they, lie beyond poetry or certain poems, which are pieces of language, nodes of language risen in thought out of the general continuum to prompt or orient us? Objects beyond the action of language? One idea may be that a poem should gain a reality capable of being renewed always, or an illusion of reality, by evoking, dragging in, or referring to something beyond the poem, so to have it less isolate, since isolation of any appreciable degree, in more or less time diminishes the real, a part being taken for the whole, while on the other hand too many things are too real nowadays, and to consider another side, daydreaming or whatever is crowded out and life is exhausted. Right now John Glenn is eating the Waldorf. Empathy must have moderation, otherwise it dissolves distance and does away with itself. Everything should be taken for itself, but not too much, otherwise it is lost.
      Then how does the extrinsic turn intrinsic at times, the extraneous become digested? “A poem is a machine made of words”? Anyway, the dragging in of things from beyond the poem can’t be carried out very thoroughly. In a sense everything has to come of itself, unexpectedly, and has to be faced.
In Mica, Eigner’s letter is dated “February 28.” Seemingly stretching into the next day: “John Glenn . . . eating the Waldorf” undoubtedly referring to the unnavigable excess and spectacle of the ticker-tape parade in New York following Glenn’s earth-orbiting Friendship 7 space flight.

“. . . the voice of the city never grows hoarse . . .”

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Notebook (Roberto Bolaño, Ted Berrigan, &c.)

Roberto Bolaño, c. 1979

Enrique Vila-Matas, recalling first meeting Roberto Bolaño—“21 November 1996, in Blanes, at the Bar Novo, a Catalan-style tearoom, one of these cafés . . . notable for their immaculate milk-white decoration, places that are actually as horrible as they are supposedly hygienic.” Out of Vila-Matas’s “Blanes or the Writers of Yore” (Archivo Bolaño 1977-2003):
I don’t think I’m fooling myself if I say that, in the Bar Novo that day, it took me no time at all to see or recognise in Bolaño a lunatic hermit or, better said, “a writer of yore,” one of these characters I by then considered were unfindable because I believed that they belonged to a world I’d glimpsed in my youth but that was now forever lost; the kind of writer who never forgets that literature, more than anything else, is a dangerous calling; someone who is not only valiant and who refuses to concede one iota to the prevailing vulgarity but who also displays emphatic authenticity and who fuses life and literature with total naturalness; an incredible survivor of an endangered species; this surprising kind of writer who proudly belongs to a caste of loony, obsessive, manic people who are disturbed in the best sense of the word; obstinate individuals, very obstinate types who already know that everything is false and that, in addition, everything, absolutely everything is finished (and I think that when one is in this situation of fathoming the dimensions of what is false and of the end of everything, then and only then, can obstinacy help, for it can push one to keep pacing round and round the cell so as not to miss the only tiny instant—because this instant does exist—that can save one); individuals who are truly more desperate than the famous revolution, which somehow makes them indirect heirs of the world’s hopeless misanthropes of long ago.
      These hopeless characters lived in times when writers were like gods, dwelling in the mountains as desperate hermits or loopy aristocrats. In those days they wrote with the sole purpose of communicating with the dead, had never heard of the market, were mysterious and solitary and breathed the air of the sacred realms of literature. The “writers of yore” are certainly heirs of the enigmatic, misanthropic, desperate hermits of long ago. They are like the shadiest tough guys in the most hazardous dead-end alley and, of course—I say this to add a touch of humour in keeping with the long laughter of all these years—they have nothing in common with the competent grey writers who in their day proliferated so abundantly in the so-called “new Spanish fiction.” The “writers of yore” are in quest of a very personal way of expressing themselves and are not unaware that in this way there might still be—after the end of the old, great prose and after the almost definitive demise of literature—a path, perhaps the last path to be taken.
Something of Vila-Matas’s barrage, its demand for a kind of defiant (and reckless) purity, recalling Ted Berrigan. (See Berrigan’s lines: “Purity means that you have something up / Your sleeve besides a right or a left arm. My / Arms are shot but my something is not.”) Out of Bolaño’s The Unknown University (2013), “Un Soneto,” translated by Laura Healy:
A Sonnet

16 years ago Ted Berrigan published
his Sonnets. Mario passed the book around
the leprosaria of Paris. Now Mario
is in Mexico and The Sonnets on
a bookshelf I built with my own
hands. I think I found the wood
near Montealegre nursing home
and I built the shelf with Lola. In
the winter of ’78, in Barcelona, when
I still lived with Lola! And now it’s been 16 years
since Ted Berrigan published his book
and maybe 17 or 18 since he wrote it
and some mornings, some afternoons,
lost in a local theatre I try reading it,
when the film ends and they turn on the light.
And, pertinently, in “our” time of increasingly fatuous gabble:

Poets from Spain and Latin America, literature’s most
Infamous, surged like rats from the depths of my dream
And strung their squeaks together in a chorus of minim voices:
Don’t worry, Roberto, they said, we’ll make sure
You disappear, neither your immaculate bones
Nor your writings which we spit out and ably plagiarize
Will surface from the shipwreck. Neither your eyes, nor your balls,
Will be saved from this dress rehearsal of sinking. And I saw
Their satisfied little faces, solemn cultural attache’s and rosy
Editors-in-chief, manuscript readers and poor
Copy editors, poets of the Spanish language, who go by the name of
Horde, the best, the pestilent rats, well versed
In the cold art of surviving in exchange for excrement,
Of public terror maneuvers, mass market Neruda
And Octavio Paz, cold swine, an apse
Or scratch on the Great Building of Power.
Horde holding title to the adolescent’s dream and to writing.
My God! Under this fat greasy sun that kills
And belittles us.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Notebook (Will Alexander, Wallace Stevens, &c.)

Will Alexander
(Photograph by Ramon Rao)

A tiny alignment of likes (similars), a congeries, minuscule, scintillant, proposed. Out of Jules Renard’s Journal, a completely satisfying phrase, complexly vacillating: Une inexactitude scrupuleuse. “A scrupulous inexactness.” (See, too, the somewhat pinched Beckettian humor in the lines: “A fly alighting on the sheet of white paper was excuse enough for him to give himself the right to be idle. He did not write, for fear of disturbing the fly.” Or: “The word that is most true, most exact, most filled with meaning, is the word ‘nothing.’”)

Out of Will Alexander’s astounding Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose Texts, Interviews and a Lecture 1991-2007 (Essay Press, 2012):

      Not didactic addition, or superimposed forensics hoisted upon a psychic limestone slab, but exactitude, as a state, over and above the blizzard of static. A static made up of integers, and forms of integers, empowered across its field by exoteric procreation.
      Fact at the level of popular cerebral exhibit, can never organically respirate as poetic neural balance. The latter experiences itself as auric exploration, which inevitably accrues from auric harmonics. Again, right balance, So sums at this level are akin to Daumal’s savor, where essences intermingle, where the facts of the world then partake of the zone of tintinnabulation.
“Daumal’s savor”: “The savor is essentially a cognition, ‘shining with its own evidence,’ thus immediate . . . It is ‘simple, like the taste of a complex dish’ . . . It is not an object existing before being perceived “like a pitcher . . . illumined with a lamp”; it exists to the degree that it has been savored.” (Out of René Daumal’s 1941 Les Cahiers du Sud essay “To Approach the Hindu Poetic Art,” found in the Daumal compendium Rasa, or, Knowledge of the Self: Essays on Indian Aesthetics and Selected Sanskrit Studies. Daumal is quoting out of the Natya Śastra.)

Wallace Stevens:
Man Carrying Thing

The poem must resist the intelligence
Almost successfully. Illustration:

A brune figure in winter evening resists
Identity. The thing he carries resists

The most necessitous sense. Accept them, then,
As secondary (parts not quite perceived

Of the obvious whole, uncertain particles
Of the certain solid, the primary free from doubt,

Things floating like the first hundred flakes of snow
Out of a storm we must endure all night,

Out of a storm of secondary things),
A horror of thoughts that suddenly are real.

We must endure our thoughts all night, until
The bright obvious stands motionless in cold.
Originally in Stevens’s 1947 volume, Transport to Summer. A few pages previous, out of “Esthétique du Mal”: “The tongue caresses these exacerbations. / They press it as epicure, distinguishing / Themselves from its essential savor, / Like hunger that feeds on its own hungriness.” Exactitude, its “bright obvious” versus its accruing perceptual freight, its cumber and instability, its “static.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Notebook (William Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, &c.)

William Faulkner, c. 1962
(Photograph by Carl Mydans)

The tuneless reprimand of four a.m. Black maw of night, aimless and rhythmic saw of katydid, reverie’s tawdry presumptuousness. Its vain scribbled urgencies. William Faulkner, out of Intruder in the Dust (1948): “. . . he marveled again at the paucity, the really almost standardised meagreness not of individual vocabularies but of Vocabulary itself . . .” I love how Faulkner—eschewing all preliminaries—begins a speech accepting the 1954 National Book Award for Fiction (for A Fable):
      By artist I mean of course everyone who has tried to create something which was not here before him, with no other tools and material than the uncommerciable ones of the human spirit; who has tried to carve, no matter how crudely, on the wall of that final oblivion beyond which he will have to pass, in the tongue of the human spirit ‘Kilroy was here.’
      That is primarily, and I think in its essence, all that we ever really tried to do. And I believe we will all agree that we failed. That what we made never quite matched and never will match the shape, the dream of perfection which we inherited and which drove us and will continue to drive us, even after each failure, until anguish frees us and the hand falls still at last.
      Maybe it’s just as well that we are doomed to fail, since, as long as we do fail and the hand continues to hold blood, we will try again; where, if we ever did attain the dream, match the shape, scale that ultimate peak of perfection, nothing would remain but to jump off the other side of it into suicide. Which would not only deprive us of our American right to existence, not only inalienable but harmless too, since by our standards, in our culture, the pursuit of art is a peaceful hobby like breeding Dalmations, it would leave refuse in the form of, at best indigence and at worst downright crime resulting from unexhausted energy, to be scavenged and removed and disposed of. While this way, constantly and steadily occupied by, obsessed with, immersed in trying to do the impossible, faced always with the failure which we decline to recognize and accept, we stay out of trouble, keep out of the way of the practical and busy people who carry the burden of America.
      So all are happy—the giants of industry and commerce, and the manipulators for profit or power of the mass emotions called government, who carry the tremendous load of geopolitical solvency, the two of which conjoined are America; and the harmless breeders of the spotted dogs (unharmed too, protected, immune in the inalienable right to exhibit our dogs to one another for acclaim, and even to the public too; defended in our right to collect from them at the rate of five or ten dollars for the special signed editions, and even at the rate of thousands to special fanciers named Picasso or Matisse).
Slyly making of art a peccadillo, something of the “least and best of human vanities . . .” Continuing with the ambling reassurance that “even failure is worth while and admirable, provided only that the failure is splendid enough, the dream splendid enough, unattainable enough yet forever valuable enough, since it was of perfection,” and with the admonitory pinch that “one of the things wrong with our country is success. That there is too much success in it. Success is too easy. In our country a young man can gain it with no more than a little industry. He can gain it so quickly and easily that he has not had time to learn the humility to handle it with, or even to discover, realise, that he will need humility . . .” One thinks of the clipped magnificence of Samuel Beckett’s antic laboring (“From now say for be missaid”) in Worstward Ho (1983):
      All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Or of the lovely Beckettian strictures of what Faulkner might term “significantless speciosity”:
      Worse less. By no stretch more. Worse for want of better less. Less best. No. Naught best. Best worse. No. Not best worse. Naught not best worse. Less best worse. No. Least. Least best worse. Least never to be naught. Never to naught be brought. Never by naught be nulled. Unnullable least. Say that best worse. With leastening words say least best worse. For want of worser worst. Unlessenable least best worse.
Beckett, too, coining anew against perceived vocabular austerity (“Not to know what they say. Not to know what it is the words it says say . . .”) and athwart the void, the “Unmoreable unlessable unworseable evermost almost void . . .”:
      Worsening words whose unknown. Whence unknown. At all costs unknown. Now for to say as worst they may only they only they. Dim void shades all they. Nothing save what they say. Somehow say. Nothing save they. What they say. Whosesoever whencesoever say. As worst they may fail ever worse to say.
“Standardised meagerness.” Words as nigh vacancies, untenanted markers, voids tossed up against the void.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Notebook (William Faulkner, Guy Davenport, &c.)

William Faulkner, c. 1931

William Faulkner, out of an 18 February 1946 letter to Malcolm Cowley, parsing the writerly categorical difference between fact and truth:
I dont care much for facts, you cant stand a fact up, you've got to prop it up, and when you move to one side a little and look at it from that angle, it's not thick enough to cast a shadow in that direction. But in truth, though maybe what I mean by truth is humility and maybe what I think is humility is really immitigable pride. I would have preferred nothing at all prior to the instant I began to write, as though Faulkner and Typewriter were concomitant, coadjutant and without past on the moment they first faced each other at the suitable (nameless) table.
Monstrously shrewd capture of the way the daubs and fancies of the world itself must needs fall away under the all-eschewing onslaught of writing. (Recalling, too, Keats’s “being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason . . .” and the chiding of Coleridge who “would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge . . .”)

That careeringest onslaught, galloping nigh out of control, its wild verges and convergences, its dash improprieties. Here’s Faulkner, “immitigable,” talking about man’s “enslavement to the demonic progeny of his own mechanical curiosity,” out of A Fable (1954):
He has already begun to put wheels under his patio his terrace and his front veranda; even at my age I may see the day when what was once his house has become a storage-place for his bed and stove and razor and spare clothing; you with your youth could (remember that bird) see the day when he will have invented his own private climate and moved it stove bathroom bed clothing kitchen and all into his automobile and what he once called home will have vanished from human lexicon: so that he wont dismount from his automobile at all because he wont need to: the entire earth one unbroken machined de-mountained dis-rivered expanse of concrete paving protuberanceless by tree or bush or house or anything which might constitute a corner or a threat to visibility, and man in his terrapin myriads enclosed clothesless from birth in his individual wheeled and glovelike envelope, with pipes and hoses leading upward from underground reservoirs to charge him with one composite squirt which at one mutual instant will fuel his mobility, pander his lusts, sate his appetites and fire his dreams; peripatetic, unceasing and long since no longer countable, to die at last at the click of an automatic circuit-breaker on a speedometer dial, and, long since freed of bone and organ and gut, leaving nothing for communal scavenging but a rusting and odorless shell—the shell which he does not get out of because he does not need to but which presently for a time he will not emerge from because he does not dare because the shell will be his only protection from the hail-like iron refuse from his wars . . .
(Recalling Guy Davenport’s fierce contempt for the automobile, “the mechanical cockroach that has eaten our cities.” And: “the machine that stole the city’s rationale for being.” “A man in an automobile is as active as a sloth.”)

“The cold-blooded ruses of the yelping sophists fill the crowds with contempt.” Four newish pieces (out of the clumsily monickered manuscript, Arrangements and Tendencies) here, in Aidan Semmens’s recently resurrected Molly Bloom.