The Eggshell Parade brings you an interview with writer Mark Baumer.
Review: The Book of Knowledge, by Chad Faries
Vulgar Marsala Press
My first experience of Chad Faries’ collection of poems, The Book of Knowledge was the cover—a sort of map to the whimsy, conjectures, and elaborations within. We have a blond haired child in the clothes of a page/minstrel/jester (there are pantaloons) holding what appears to be a paintbrush or a stylus (too small for my middle aged eyes to decide). He is in color and has his back turned to us. What he looks at is a night sky full of chalked lilies, a salamander, a motorcycle, two hands wielding a bow string and violin bow (primitive string instrument, fire maker?), an octagon of a zodiac, an outline of the great lakes, and to the left of the boy, the C cleft (the one violas use). There are also numbers 2, 3, 5 (Fibonacci sequence) as well as other mathematical signs, and we may wonder if this black and white universe is the boy’s created knowledge, and the secret, or metaphorical code for the book. The back cover has blurbs and a rather whimsical description of the author: “… the Owls in the wild oaks outside his house in Thunderbolt, Georgia, know him as an alien and call his name quite often. They coo and woo and, with Chad’s heavy sweet breath, they all shift into song. And so is the life of Dr. Chad Faries, famous American writer.”
So, having seen the front cover, and the back, I am assuming certain things: the book will have something to do with mapping, cartography, magic, whimsy, and a play on the name Faries. It will be about knowledge perhaps, and perhaps that knowledge will be random and surreal. It will ape old illustrated books—the sort of books with illustrations throughout. The author will speak of himself in the third person or make up characters to do so, which hints that it will be imaginative and, hopefully, fey and playful like Herbert’s Mr. Cogito poems, Dobbyn’s heart poems, Paul Zimmer’s work in which Zimmer is the main character. I am annoyed at the small print (it is a little book for little people supposedly) but delighted by the cover.
So, thus far, I am both annoyed and delighted all at once, and I have a sneaking suspicion the poet would not mind that I be both annoyed (or irritated/agitated like a clam) and delighted all at once. I am already shaking the book for its possible contents before I have even entered it. Is it meta-poetry? Is it playful like Trout Fishing in America? No less a luminary than Andre Codrescu has blurbed it, and so I am going to think this book is being claimed for the American surreal, and experimental (or what might be better called speculative). Sure enough, Codrescu is claiming the poet as a wonderful exception to the dregs out there. He blurbs: “In the easy narrative mess that many poets are now making out of the mystery of their lives, Chad Fairies keeps the mystery of his intact…” This is Codrescu’s way of saying Chad is not a confessional poet. I think this blurb widely true, but inexact, as good strategic blurbs often are. I translate the blurb as: “There are those terrible narrative poets out there (like Sharon Olds?) making a mess of the mystery of their lives, and then there is Chad Faries who is not committing the sin of the confessional, the straightforward, that which is bereft of mystification.” Perhaps Codrescu is doing a positive version of Anis Shivani? My heart (if you want to call it that) starts to sink because I am thinking that I am about to get the opposite side of the same MFA driven coin: the non-confessional school of MFA: moderately surreal, life tweaking, cute, playful, troping, mass produced competent surreal poem as opposed to the straightforward, utterly clear and as flat as Sharon Olds’ ass fully confessional poem. Oh no! I think: the stupid wars by which mediocrity wins grants! I’m as sick of Codrescu’s camp as I am of so called normative free verse. I think Codrescu is fighting a war that ended in the 80s. Both sides won and poetry lost. Both schools mass produce university magazines and poets. Fucking spare me. I wish to play Mercutio and shout a plague on both their houses.
So I have seen the front cover, read the blurbs, and now I enter the acknowledgements which contain Codrescu’s famous Exquisite Corpse, and the bastion of all that is not I: Barrow Street. I think: this is going to be another tongue-in-cheek,- eternally pop or lit-referencing- tropey- surreal– dada meets -John Ashbery meets comic shtick, and has a baby called Beavis and Butthead collection of poems by a really intelligent white guy who went to grad school and who is a smart ass. I’m kind of sick of those guys. They get on my nerves.
Where I am not right is where I highly recommend this book: first, it is thick, with verbal impasto (not the usual breezy lines of chit-chat and non-sequitur), with an “I” voice that at times lays it on thick with finger rather than brush paint, and enjoys hearing itself speechifying—sort of a drunken hybrid of Polonius and a character out of Confederacy of Dunces. Slight example of this pontificating shtick (the titles are often long and often mock didactic, and a little like the subtitles in old books which would have: “chapter 7 which treats of Justin’s realization of eternal truth”). This is from, We Must Not Let the Muddle of Words Mislead Us:
Let us move to heat. The simple word is used
For two quite different things though only the very
wisest of those who would study such things have
yet noticed how their word is deceiving
them. Now by coincidence I can speak
of heat slightly metaphorically,
though I didn’t plan to, and would rather
Note how the enjambments aid and abet the breathless rambling preamble of it all. The voice of the poem hems and haws and qualifies, and is breathless. This is one of the pervading styles of the book—a sort of performed “I”, an “I” that would not be out of place in a book by Berryman.
But there is another, lyrical, even beautifully broken voice that reminds me of the Apollinaire of Mirabeau Bridge—a sort of harlequin sadness that encroaches in the midst of all the verbiage, and begins to make The Book of Knowledge far more than verbal trickery. One of my favorites that achieves this effect is the poem Seeing Voice:
I stood on the sky and looked;
A blue toy glider launched, arching
over the peak of a roof. A blond
child with a plastic and rubber band cross-
An omnipotent mother puffing a cigar-
ette, her breath a braid
This is beautiful and magical scene painting, true surrealism—the moment throbbing with its own unconscious, ephemeral life—utterly plausible, not just clever or tricky. It is in this way that Chad Faries keeps the promise mentioned in Codrescu’s blurb: not removing the mystery of life.
As mentioned, the book has many long poems, poems that leave a trail of strangeness on the page. It is full of illustrations like a 19th century text, and has many interesting cartographical and astronomical instruments drawn throughout. If you remove these, do you remove the effect of the poems? Not at all, but it is a book to rummage in, and for all its high concept, to skip around and enjoy as one might enjoy a book of maps—an almanac.
There are narrative poems here, lyrical narratives that have great emotional force. The poem Steve, if it were about suicide (and we will never know) is a better poem about suicide than Nick Flynn’s more famous Bag of Mice. Just the beginning, to get a sense of it:
On top of the roof he cut open the belly
of the sky with a pair of scissors…
Or these lines:
The fire truck in the distance
was a mourning woman who had lost her son.
There are many such moments in the book, and I do not truly know why the high concept of the illustrations and some of the voices are needed, but these moments are enough to make me not care. I enjoyed it almost as much as I did Peter Markus’ Good, Brother. It has moments that are as sweet-without-being-cloying as the playful love poems of Kenneth Patchen, and these moments make The Book of Knowledge a refreshing change both from straight on confessional narrative free verse, and the too easy surrealism and emotional disconnection that now passes for innovative. It is not a book for lazy readers. Its small print means that at 91 pages, it is really more like 130: a small novel. One can see it as a small novel or a very large miscellany. Either way, it is a book of poems worth struggling into. It has the muscular strength of something beyond sound bites and “projects.” I wish it were in hard cover with gold lettering here and there. For some reason I cannot fathom, The Book of Knowledge reminded me at certain points in its thickness and gnarled whimsy of Browning. If Browning is lurking about the book, then it transcends both the schools of confessional narrative and American speculative verse. And that is all to the good. Condrescu commends Faries for “Standing upright by the light of his torch, and for not assuming that he recognizes anything he sees.” I commend him, but not for not assuming he recognizes what he sees. Being puritanical about never-assuming can be a real bore (I love assumptions and find them amusing. I work in academia where all assumptions are qualified into oblivion). Every once in a while Faries sees something and points with his torch, knowing the fire of his words will distort it. And he does not apologize. Good for him. This is a book that manages to do things none of the prevailing books are doing. It is slow going in the beginning, but picks up. It is a book that insists on patience. In this case, patience is rewarded.
Now that you know something about free verse, I thought we’d approach imagery. You will hear in workshops: “Show, don’t tell,” but that’s a bunch of malarkey. It should be: “Show what tells.” If all you have is mere description, your poem will be like someone’s photo album: interesting to you, but perhaps boring to everyone else. Many poets can describe a tree–and this is no small accomplishment–but it is very rare that a tree is just a tree.
Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Fish” is so wonderful in its visual accuracy that she can get away with it just being about catching a tremendous fish, but besides being one hum dinger of a fish story, it is also about the mystery, the amazement of what we might turn up when we venture forth into the world. Wonder and awe are at the heart of the ontology of this poem. Ontology is the being that both proceeds from the poem, and animates it. Best description of ontology I can give is from my life: once, I was in an overcrowded and dark car, riding to the Jersey shore. I thought my bare leg was against the bare leg of a girl I was “in love” with. The whole ride was in relation to this leg. Oh brave new world! The lights scything across the car, the sound of air planes thirty thousand feet above the vehicle, the smells of Perth Amboy… it all went into this moment when I thought: “My leg is against my love’s leg, and she has not moved her leg, and I hope she never moves her leg until we get to the shore, and she falls naked and impassioned beneath me while the sea roars, and the moon is a ghostly galleon, etc, etc, and so forth.” The feel of her leg against mine became the center of my universe. I didn’t look. I closed my eyes, to restrict my senses to the tactile. When the car stopped at a red light, I glanced over and saw that my leg was against a different girl’s leg, a girl I did not like at all. It greatly disappointed me. The rest of the drive passed uneventfully, except the girl I did not like now thought I liked her.
I had taken a single detail and made a whole world out of it. Sometimes a leg is just a leg. Imagism, in its most radical form, advocates that a leg be just a leg. Some poets are anti-ontological. Haiku, in its strict form, is supposed to build an ontology through images alone–no overt emotions, or opinions of the imagery. It should imply a season:
Old man pissing in a grave yard.
Up from the tomb stones
We’ll if smoke rises, or something like smoke, it is probably pretty damned cold. We don’t have to make a connection between the rising smoke, the piss, and the old man. I do. So here’s a rule of thumb: as much as possible, choose images that will create the effect, the mood or truth or emotion you desire. Just as good, choose images that will incite the reader to do the work for you. Don’t just describe. Also, don’t overdo the images.
Haiku is not 5,7,5. Anyone who has read Ron Padgett’s wonderful work on poetry forms, and anyone who has taken a class in Haiku will know this. I don’t like Haiku all that much, but I’ve written thousands, most of which I use as scrap material for my longer poems. You can link the Haiku:
Old man pissing in a grave yard
up from the tomb stones
He adjusts his fly.
Snow on the stone angel,
snow melting into his P coat.
At the Baptist church,
with a two hour service.
The girl smiles.
Jesus loves you.
Sound of forks scraping plates.
Ok, so now we can assume the old man might be homeless, or indigent, or willing to put up with God for a free lunch. It’s up to the poet.
Remember, telling through showing is relatively new–about a hundred years old in Western poetry. Pound and all those early modernists were influenced by the Japanese and Chinese. It was a way of getting rid of maxims, and rhetoric, and all the clutter of rhetorical devices. Let’s translate an older poem into this sort of thing:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit impediments; love is not love
which alters when it alteration finds
or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no, it is an ever fixed mark.
Impede what? The marriage of true minds! Or perhaps “impediments” is not a verb here, but a noun, and means imperfections.
The wife adjusts her senile husband’s
hospital gown. She covers his ass,
Her hands remembering him.
I like the Shakespeare way better. Images alone can be boring, and they have a certain arrogance. Why should an oak tree at sunset move me? And why should an old lady, covering her senile husband’s ass, equal faithfulness and steadfastness in love? Suppose I despise sunsets. Or suppose I think people should be euthanized when they become senile. Who is the writer to assume an oak tree at sunset will make me feel tender, or that I will care about a doddering old couple? Who indeed!
We must be careful what we assume a reader knows or feels. For this reason, a poem ought to offer layers of meaning. Also, we should be careful when telling what we think is true. We should not bully a reader; neither should we be so unwilling to say anything that we bog down in our mystifications. One can either find something deeper, or just enjoy the surfaces.
So here’s a difficult assignment if you’re up for it: take a poem that makes a statement, like Shakespeare’s sonnet, and “translate” it into sensual imagery, so that the statement is implied through the imagery, and nothing else. Proverbs are good for this:
You can’t take it with you.
They also serve who only stand and wait
Death be not proud nor honor long.
Like flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.
Introduction: Why the Lyric Essay?
I want to start with a problem: an overwhelming, close to paralyzing sense that an essay about John Ashbery’s poetry is like a representational critique of a cubist painting. The two (essay and poetry) just feel ill-fitting, strange bedfellows, as though a parent (the essayist), out of the desire to understand her son (the poet), gave him a lesson in thermodynamics. Ashbery can be theromodynamically complex, yet such a lesson would seem to miss the point, not to mention the fun. New forms of interpretation are needed to come close to an approximation to what Ashbery is doing.
So how do we approach him?
One day I made a list of various things that go into an Ashbery poem. I’d just read Philip Levine’s “They Feed They Lion,” and, inspired, I decided to use his form, namely the “out of” incantatory rhythm, and apply it to what an Ashbery poem, in my mind, might be made out of. Here is a sampling:
- ideas stretched like mattresses
- feelings too simple and complex at once
- unsystematic thinking
- the bowels of the straining imagination
- the window where the morning does something just grand enough for a verb
- thoughts that ricochet around the laundry room
- sweeping symphony-like waves
- tissue boxes
- cardboard tents
- old political buttons
- aunt’s recipes scrawled in chicken-scratch on yellowing note cards
- domestic arrangements
- pictures of loved ones doing random silly things
- the noise the cat makes when it covers its litter
- cats and their following eyes
- fake plants
- the distant realm of the voice that swoops down out of sheer necessity to splatter the page with its urgings
But this seemed to defeat my purpose. I should begin at the beginning: Why was the lyric essay my answer to the problem of writing an essay about Ashbery?
A heightened attention to form and content seems to echo, among other poems, in some regards Ashbery’s longer work – I’m thinking of Flow Chart, or Three Poems, the sense of an unspooling thought following its own unwindings, but arguing for something, implicit or explicit, perhaps a way of being, perhaps a style, or maybe a space in the world for such a way-of-being/style to exist. A lyric essay does something similar: poetic and rhetorical, it gives the writer a freedom than the more conventional essay does not, a freedom that hopefully comes close to the Ashberian exuberance exhibited in poem like “Daffy Duck in Hollywood” or, better yet, “The Skaters.” The lyric essay, though argumentative, is more therapeutic, meaning it is more interested in providing helpful frameworks for thought than sending home an immaculate argument. Its intention is to “redescribe,” a la Richard Rorty – to speak differently, believing that “large-scale change of belief is indistinguishable from large-scale change of the meaning of one’s words.” (Voparil and Bernstein, 215) Indeed, this lyric essay has an ambitious goal: it posits that words placed in a lyric essay mean differently, work differently, and that this change in meaning is inextricably linked to changes in belief: the belief, say, that poems are best explicated by more formal essays, as opposed to other poems, or lyric essays; the belief that more conventional essays are mirrors reflecting the reality of the poem, as opposed to Lego-blocks, creating, blue block by red block, word by word, new interpretations, new angles, new ways of looking, which cannot happen separately from the form of the assay. The goal of the lyric essay, then, is to change writer and reader’s self-image, however slightly, “to insure that the moral consciousness of each generation is slightly different from that of the previous generation.” (Voparil and Bernstein, 304)
Part 1: Ashbery and the Rortian Self-Image
It has long been my contention, or suspicion, or just unverified hunch, that John Ashbery (like Gertrude Stein) has had some relation to William James and American pragmatism. Ashbery’s reluctance to make any statement or declaration that does not appear to arrive and disappear on the heels of his miraculous syntax seems to me evidence of the kind of conceptual relativity that James first enunciated in the early years of the twentieth century. Ashbery’s joyous investment in a present reality as being inimical to what James called “copying” is further evidence: Ashberian poetics insists on the multidimensionality of time-space duration, as opposed to either pictorial mimesis or the cause-and-effect order of conventional, developmental narration: reality, for Ashbery, has neither linearity nor replica. Connections among thinking and feeling, knowing and doing are always in flux. – Ann Lauterbach, Conjunctions: 49
Lauterbach is making a wonderfully interesting claim: that Ashbery is doing something similar to what philosophers do – and, more specifically, what pragmatist philosophers such as William James do. (What do they do?) Notice that Lauterbach is very careful in her phrasing: Ashbery “has had some relation to William James and American pragmatism”; his reticence, his self-deconstructing poetics, are each “evidence of the kind of conceptual relativity that James first enunciated in the twentieth century.” These are powerfully intriguing statements, and they are intriguing because they are vague. James himself would approve of this vagueness, who wrote in the first chapter of his monumental Principles of Psychology that,
It is better not to be pedantic, but to let the science be as vague as its subject […] we gain much more by a broad than by a narrow conception of our subject […] At a certain stage in the development of every science a degree of vagueness is what best consists with fertility. (James, 6)
Owing to the fact that our science here is literary criticism, which seems at best highly chimerical and dependent in some regard upon academic fads; and owing to the fact that our subject is John Ashbery’s poetry, an art form so florabundantly fertile as to deliberately court the benefits of suggestiveness, (if not the dangers of nebulousness), it seems best, following James and Lauterbach’s example, to proceed cautiously (but boldly) in our discussion of the affinities between Ashbery as poet and Ashbery as pragmatist philosopher. A pregnant vagueness is what we are after, as opposed to an insipid one.
Pregnant vagueness defined in Ashbery’s “Clepsydra”:
A moment that gave not only itself, but
Also the means of keeping it, of not turning to dust
Or gestures somewhere up ahead
But of becoming complicated like the torrent
In new dark passages, tears and laughter which
Are a sign of life (Ashbery, 143)
So what do pragmatist philosophers do?
Rorty, pragmatist par excellence, defines “philosophizing” as “[raising] questions about questions,” especially questions about “unexpressed assumptions” and “presuppositions.” (Voparil and Bernstein, 15) Voparil, quoting Rorty, points out that this activity of philosophizing “implies the primacy of ‘imaginative vision’”. (Voparil and Bernstein, 15) So, a-ha (we want to say)! Philosophizing, or the raising of questions about questions – what we normally associate with philosophy – entails the importance of imaginative vision – what we normally associate with the driving force behind poetry! Here we might imagine William James and John Ashbery clasping hands. But what is the relationship, more specifically, between raising questions about questions and imaginative vision?
Suffice it to say here…that imaginative vision might be described as a way of thinking outside the box, and therefore as its own idiosyncratic form of metaphilosophy…? Meaning that to reflect upon the old way of thinking, we have to first move out and away from that old way of thinking. Here’s a metaphilosophy as defined by Ashbery in “Clepsydra”:
Of utterance is the true one; likewise none are true,
Only is the bounding from air to air, a serpentine
Gesture which hides the truth behind a congruent
Message, the way air hides the sky, is, in fact,
Tearing it limb from limb this very moment: (Ashbery, 140)
And what is the goal of philosophizing, as defined by Rorty? Voparil goes on to write, again quoting Rorty,
The aims of edifying philosophy involve helping not only readers of philosophy but ‘society as a whole,’ to ‘break free from outworn vocabularies and attitudes, rather than to provide ‘grounding’ for the intuitions and customs of the present’”. (Voparil and Bernstein, 21-22)
Such a “[breaking] free from outworn vocabularies and attitudes” is valuable, because such edifying discourse will “take us out of our old selves by the power of strangeness, to aid us in becoming new beings”. (Voparil and Bernstein, 22) A very compelling sentence; but what does it mean, and how is it related to Ashberian poetics?
Analogy. Do you remember as a teen wanting an article of clothing so badly, that you begged your parents for it – and for whatever reason, they decided not to buy it for you? I remember, as a pre-teen, desiring desperately a Corliss Williamson basketball jersey – red and white, with the word “Arkansas” at its center. The question is, why was I so obsessed with wearing that jersey? What is it that clothes represent that gets our desire-juices flowing? And what does this mundane example have to do with the seemingly extra-mundane notion of “[taking] us out of our old selves by the power of imagination, to aid us in becoming new beings”?
Another way to ask the question: Have you ever, after knowing a person for a good while, seen them in a different context, and the context changed the way you thought about them? Maybe you see your father interacting with an old friend you’d never met. Or you see a girlfriend interacting with her grandparents. Perhaps you see an old friend wearing a shirt you’d never imagine her wearing. And suddenly you’re feeling like you don’t know this person,
and you think to yourself, half-delighted, half-bewildered, “Oh my god, I never realized they had this side to them!”
This is what Voparil and Rorty are referring to, in regard to the goal of philosophizing, and what Ashbery enacts in his poeticizing: it’s the process by which we “change our clothes,” literally and metaphorically, to try on something new, for in so doing we are in effect trying on new identities, new self-images, imagining in the process the people we wish to become. We do this every time we start a new job, or try something new at our old job; every time we don a different haircut, or read a different poem, or wear a different style of t-shirt.
This – the changing of one’s self-image – is the GREAT THEME of Ashbery’s poetry.
Rorty describes this theme in terms of Freud and Hegel, although we might as well substitute “Ashbery”:
Freud, in particular, has no contribution to make to social theory. His domain is the portion of morality that cannot be identified with “culture”: it is the private life, the search for a character, the attempt of individuals to be reconciled with themselves (and, in the case of some exceptional individuals, to make their lives works of art).
Such an attempt can take one of two antithetical forms: a search for purity or a search for self-enlargement. The ascetic life commended by Plato and criticized by Nietzsche is the paradigm of the former. The “aesthetic” life criticized by Kierkegaard is the paradigm of the latter. The desire to purify oneself is the desire to slim down, to peel away everything that is accidental, to will one thing, to intensify, to become a simpler and more transparent being. The desire to enlarge oneself is the desire to embrace more and more possibilities, to be constantly learning, to give oneself over entirely to curiosity, to end by having envisaged all the possibilities of the past and of the future. It was the goal shared by, for example, de Sade, Byron, and Hegel. On the view I am presenting, Freud is an apostle of this aesthetic life, the life of unending curiosity, the life that seeks to extend its own bounds rather than to find its center.
For those who decline the options offered by de Sade and Byron (sexual experimentation, political engagement), the principle technique of self-enlargement will be Hegel’s: the enrichment of language. One will see the history of both the race and oneself as the development of richer, fuller ways of formulating one’s desires and hopes, and thus making those desires and hopes themselves – and thereby oneself – richer and fuller.
Here’s Ashbery writing at the close of “Clepsydra.” I’m choosing this passage, because 1. it is itself about self-image – (passages about self-image in Ashbery, as I’m suggesting, are legion); and 2. when I read the passage, I myself feel changed, feel as if Ashbery is articulating something I’d always felt but never heard articulated, something so innate as to be almost unconscious and habitual: the workings of the imagination (read: self-image) itself, talking about itself:
What is meant is that this distant
Image of you, the way you really are, is the test
Of how you see yourself, and regardless of whether or not
You hesitate, it may be assumed that you have won, that this
Wooden and external representation
Returns the full echo of what you meant
With nothing left over, from that circumference now alight
With ex-possibilities become present fact, and you
Must wear them like clothing, moving in the shadow of
Your single and twin existence, waking in intact
Appreciation of it, while morning is still and before the body
Is changed by the faces of evening. (Ashbery, 146)
This absolutely remarkable passage is not only about the imaginative process by which we imagine ourselves into the people we wish to become – it seems itself to somehow enact or re-enact that process in its own formulation. It’s as if Ashbery, in discussing his own experience of growth and becoming, helps us to experience it within ourselves as well. It is a powerfully poetic way of telling us to trust our hopes, by calling attention to the way in which those feathered things are inextricable from our desired self-image. We have a “single and twin existence” because we are constantly setting out (“twin existence”) from where we just recently started from (single existence) – (The Mooring of Starting Out is what Ashbery titled the collection of his first five books of poetry). We are constantly twinning ourselves, imagining ourselves into the people we hope to “really be.”
This is why William James wrote in A Pluralistic Universe that “a man’s vision is the great fact about him.” (James, 20) “Vision” can be thought of synonymously here with personal imagination. James, like Ashbery and Rorty, is saying, modestly but confidently, that who we presently are is a quiet achievement, that growth is just as much an active process as it is a passive one. And Ashbery is one of our greatest chroniclers of this process by which we alter, gradually or suddenly, our self-image.
Books Used for this Essay
Ashbery, John, Collected Poems, 1956 – 1987, New York, Library of America, 2008.
James, William, The Principles of Psychology, Volume One, New York, Dover Publications, 1950.
James, William, A Pluralistic Universe, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1996.
Rorty, Richard, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Rorty, Richard, Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers Volume 2, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Chrisotpher Voparil and Richard Bernstein (ed.), The Rorty Reader, Malden, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2010.
Why are the best artists not always the most successful? I have a friend, Marco, who I believe is the most visually gifted artist I’ve ever met. His eye, his sense of color, shape, perspective, line, and shading is beyond good; it’s great. His conceptions are often both original and novel (not always the same thing). Yet, he is unknown when many lesser artists, including people Marco and I grew up with, are far more successful. Why? I mean we could say the usual stuff: luck, the ability to schmooz, a benefactor who took a liking, etc, etc, but what might be the common, non toxic explanation?
I believe being recognized is a talent, a capability in its own right. It can arrive at success or fame either from the stand point of optimal normativity ( a word I coined to express a talent for fitting in to standards of excellence intuited among the prevailing norm of a field) or abnormativity (the ability to seem abnormal, or distinct in a manner that pleases the normative’s desire for variety). These are separate gifts from artistic ability, but I believe they are essential to most success in the arts.
True originality is never apprehended until it has been either normified or abnormified–either taken into the norm of what is considered right and well, or taken into the abnorm of what is considered acceptably quirky. In short, true originality does not exist until it is well on its way to no longer being original. The human mind, the eye, the ear, the sense, the intuition follows after it, not seeing it until the mind and ear and eye evolve enough to apprehend. The audience must be invented with the artist. And so I have several theories as to why Marco is not as famous or successful as some of our mutual friends who have not even half his ability. I could put them bluntly as: he is both too normal and abnormal in ways that do not signify success or fame:
1. He has poor skills for knowing who is valuable and who is not, and he does not cull the herd of who and who not to associate with. Alexandro, a mutual childhood friend of ours who is successful, highly successful (art books by Pittsburgh University press, exhibitions globally) knew who and who not to waste time on. He wasted time on us when he was a teenager and we were the only game in town, then departed from associating with us when he caught the eye of a major latin American art power broker. He did not hurt or help Marco. Alexandro simply took off for more promising associations. Alexandro did not waste energy. I don’t believe he did this consciously or out of disdain so much as he had a talent for recognition. He had good target sense and an ability to articulate his aesthetics. It is no surprise to me that his art works, though well received, are not as emphasized as his critical writings on the arts. He is an expert in Latin American art of social protest. He knows Marco is a superior painter. he will never champion his work. He went after what he instinctively knew would help him achieve his goal. His goal was never to be a great artist. Most people in the art scene do not essentially care about that.That’s too sloppy. His goal was to find steady and admired success in the arts, to achieve a homeostasis of well-being as an “artist” in the top circles.. To that end, Alex was good at being both normal and abnormal in all the right ways. He did not waste energy, and his desire was, in a sense , as normative as a law student’s. One brand of this sort of thinking is called professionalism. It is only one variant and it means showing up and presenting one’s normalities and abnormalities, one’s in the boxes and “out of the boxes” in a package that is appealing to the gate keepers.
2. Marco while at the same time he is too available, is also too unavailable: Alex was not available when it would make someone desire his availability. He had the gift for making others slavish, and courtly. They courted his attention. Marco, because of his superior artistic gifts, had great trouble either courting the power brokers who were not equal to his standards, or denying attention and availability to those he considered talented (some of whom were lost souls and would never do him any good). He was also so obsessed with his art he never developed a marketable “Style.” Marco did not imitate Marco. This is also problematical when it comes to achieving success: how does one learn to imitate one’s self without appearing to be stuck in a groove? Most people do not know the difference between true style and voice, and parody of style and voice. You can fool most of the people almost all of the time until some expert says you are a mere imitation of yourself, and then the crowd decides to agree.
Talent means many things: one is recognizable ability, and the other is the mystique of being recognized for that ability. I believe these are very separate talents. Picasso had both in abundance–a genius for norms and abnorms that would serve his fame and success. Some call this luck, or good fortune, or fate. I believe it is a talent whose mechanisms are capable of being studied. This is an opening salvo in that regard.
PHOTO CREDIT: MARCO MUNOZ
Seen above, for the first time, is a newly-discovered photograph of Arthur Rimbaud from the 1880s. I quote from the Associated Foreign Press:
Unseen photo of French poet Rimbaud unveiled
PARIS — A previously unseen photo of French poet Arthur Rimbaud was unveiled in Paris on Thursday, bringing the total number of known images of the writer to eight.
The photograph, which shows Rimbaud on the porch of a hotel in Yemen around 1880, was showcased at the International Antiquarian Book Fair at Paris’s Grand Palais exhibition venue.
The black and white image is only the fourth to portray the poet as an adult and is “the only one in which Rimbaud’s adult facial characterisics are distinguishable”, according to the poet’s biographer, Jean-Jacques Lefrere.
Rimbaud, who was once described by Victor Hugo as “an infant Shakespeare”, produced his best-known works in his late teens. At 20 he gave up poetry and left France to travel. He died from cancer in 1891 aged 37.
Below, Rimbaud’s most famous poem, in the best translation the poetry has yet received into English, by Martin Sorrell (Oxford World’s Classics, 2001). He is the poet most important to understanding the crucial line of 20th century American-English symbolism: the inaugurator of Hart Crane, as well as of John Ashbery. He liberated words to music, and embodied the sovereignty of the imagination as an aesthetic principle foremost. For his sensualism, his precocity, and his recondite combinations of unexpected words, phrases—he is simply unrivaled. Rimbaud’s use of color in poetry anticipates Munch, as well as Georg Trakl. Far from being a reckless raving beatnik, Rimbaud was systematic—advancing the discoveries Baudelaire had made in revolutionizing and modernizing poetic form and style. He could parrot any style; yet he remains inimitable, unique, and resembles no one else. His prose poems are arguably still the best of their kind, in any language. The complexities of his life, which only dealt with poetry very briefly, between the age of 17 to 20, is inexplicable. There are other mysterious poets in history, but there is no other mystery like Rimbaud’s. Crane’s first book of poems, White Buildings, featured an epigraph of the French poet’s. (When he was drunk, he was taken to yelling, “I am Rimbaud come again!”) His letters are incredible. His insights have been adopted by no less an orthodox spirit than T.S. Eliot—whose own innovations, accredited to Jules LaForgue, owed much to Rimbaud’s. When W.H. Auden selected John Ashbery’s Some Trees he was quite reticent about the overall strategy and tendency in style of JA’s work, and saw Rimbaud as the precedent for such a subjective, surrealistic manner (one that might lead poets astray). Yet no style has meant more to poetry since.
THE DRUNKEN BOAT
I followed deadpan Rivers down and down,
And knew my haulers had let go the ropes.
Whooping redskins took my men as targets
And nailed them nude to technicolour posts.
I didn’t give a damn about the crews,
Or the Flemish wheat and English corn.
Once the shindig with my haulers finished
I had the current take me where I wished.
In the furious riptides last winter,
With ears as tightly shut as any child’s,
I ran, and unanchored Peninsulas
Have never known such carnivals of triumph.
The storm blessed my maritime wakefulness.
Lighter than a cork I danced on the waves
Which some call eternal victim-breakers-
Ten blind nights free of idiot guiding flares.
Sweeter than sour apple-flesh to children
Green water slid inside my pine-clad hull
And washed me clean of vomit and cheap wine,
Sweeping away rudder-post and grapnel.
From that time on, I bathed in the Poem
Of the Sea, lactescent and steeped in stars,
Devouring green azures; where a drowned man
Like bleached flotsam sometimes sinks in a trance;
When suddenly tinting the bluities,
Slow deliriums in shimmering light,
Fiercer than alcohol, vaster than lyres,
The bitter rednesses of love ferment.
I know skies splintered by lightening, breakers,
Waterspouts, undertows; I know the dusk,
And dawn, exalted like a host of doves -
And then I’ve seen what men believe they’ve seen.
I’ve seen low suns smeared with mystic horrors
Set fire to monster fires of violet;
Like actors in the very oldest plays
Slatted light shimmered, away on the waves.
Green nights I dreamed bedazzlements of snow,
A kiss rising to sea’s eyes slowly,
Circulation of undiscovered saps,
Blue-yellow wakefulness of phosphorsongs.
For whole months on end I followed the swell
Charging the reefs like hysterical beasts,
Not thinking that luminous Maryfeet
Could force a muzzle onto breathy seas.
I struck, you know, amazing Floridas
Where flowers twine with panther eyes inside
Men’s skins! Rainbows flung like bridles under
Sea horizons harnessed the glaucous herds.
I saw great swamps seethe like nets laid in reeds
Where a whole Leviathan lay rotting,
Collapse of water in the midst of calm
And distances tumbling into nothing.
Glaciers, silver suns, pearl seas, firecoal skies!
Hideous wreckages down in brown depths
Where enormous insect-tormented snakes
Crash from twisted trees, reeking with blackness.
I’d have liked to show children blue-water
Dorados, golden fish and fish that sing.
Foam-sprays of flowers cradled my drifting;
At times I flew on ineffable winds.
Sometimes, martyr tired of poles and wastelands,
My pitching was stilled by the sobbing sea
Which raised to me its yellow-sucker
Shadow-flowers – and I, like a woman, knelt.
Floating islands where the brawls and the guano
Of fierce albino birds bounced off my sides,
I sailed, while down among my fraying ropes
Drowned men descended backwards into sleep.
Now, I, boat tangled in the hair of bights,
Hurled high by hurricanes through birdless space,
Whom no protection-vessel in the world
Would fish up from the drink, half-drowned, half-crazed;
Free, smoking, got up in violet spume,
I, who holed the sky like a wall in flames
Which bears, good poet’s exquisite preserve,
Lichen of sun and cerulean snot;
Mad plank streaked with electric crescents, flanked
By dark formations of speeding sea-horse,
When Julys bludgeoned ultramarine skies
And pulverized them into scorching winds;
Trembling as I heard the faraway groans
Of rutting Behemoths and swirling storms;
Eternal spinner of blue stillnesses,
I long for Europe’s ancient parapets.
I’ve seen star-sown islands cluster; others
Whose delirious skies summon sailors.
Do you sleep banished in the pit of night,
You myriad golden birds, the Strength to come?
I’ve wept too much, it’s true. Dawn breaks my heart.
All moons are atrocious, all suns bitter.
Acrid love has pumped me with drugged torpor.
Let my keel burst, let me go to sea!
If I want Europe, it’s a dark cold pond
Where a small child plunged in sadness crouches
One fragrant evening at dusk, and launches
A boat, frail as a butterfly in May.
Steeped in your slow wine, waves, no more can I
Cadge rides in the cotton-freighters’ slipstream,
Nor brave proud lines of ensigns and streamers,
Nor face the prison-ship’s terrible eyes.
Arthur Rimbaud, from Poems 1869 – 1871, translated by Martin Sorrell
(To sum up our tryptych of posts for Dorothea Lasky, I present a brief and delicious interview)
It seems like some of the best writing that’s happening right now is coming out of the Amherst/ Northampton area. I’m thinking of Natalie Lyalin, Heather Christle, Emily Pettit. Matthew Zapruder went to school there. So did you. What’s the secret?
My instinct is to add to that list with the large number of great poets, writers, musicians, and artists who have come out of there also. But I am not sure where I would stop with this list. So, I will just shake my head and say yes, I agree.
That area is a generative space. Of course, I think so because I went to MFA school at UMass-Amherst (all of these people went to UMass, if not for MFA, then for undergrad.) The MFA program there is wonderful, it just generates. My teachers were Dara Wier, Peter Gizzi, James Tate, Noy Holland–they all taught me so much.
When I lived there, people always called the area the Happy Valley. I am not sure the origin of this, but there is something to the name. Amherst/Northampton, on the whole, is a very tolerant place. As an artist, I never felt more free to exist there and be myself. Where I hung around there, there was a dominant culture of acceptance of behaviors (although, probably this is a bit skewed as most behaviors there are pretty normative.) Still, I think tolerance is the ideal space and culture to create from within. And I think, despite the constricting other places I have lived, I carry this freedom with me always and probably these other poets do, too.
Sure. I developed my style after a long period of trying to hide what I was saying as much as possible in my poems. That is to say, for a long time I was interested in being as mysterious as possible and creating circles of language that the reader would never be able to follow. I think I distrusted my reader for a long time. Then somewhere in there, I realized that my reader was a person, just like me, who I trusted, but who existed outside of myself. So then, I decided I’d rather try to be as clear as possible and I combined the two instincts into the way that I write today. Still, I think my first instinct–mystery–always governs the poems a little no matter how plain-spoken they seem.
I think language can always bring about physical change. I think language has weight, exists in the material world. It creates new materials by turning into and/or changing a thought. Thoughts, spells, and poems are physical things (they *almost* literally take up space in the brain.) And changing thoughts also make all kinds of physical change and actions quite literally. Words are the finite forms of a changing thought. They too have weight.
Anyway, casting a spell is like changing a thought, so I guess, yes, I do believe a poem can bring about actual change in the physical world. And, yes, I do believe that a poem can act as a spell. (And vice versa.)
I think of Poetry Is Not a Project as an educational text and I take this category very seriously. I believe in sparseness, elegance, and clarity when explaining an idea to someone. I don’t like to flaunt the complexity of an idea when presenting it to a reader, because I think more often than not this turns off the very readers who are most important to me. In terms of discussing poetry, I don’t think less is more. But I don’t see the book as poetry scholarship, so I think my method is ok in this case.
I spend a lot of time listening and talking to people. I think the things people say, the ways people feel, and what lives they lead are my greatest influences outside of poetry itself. Other than people, the visual world is a great influence to me and also, dancing and performance. The physical, spatial world and the arts that are closest to this world are among my biggest influences.
Recently I have begun the epic adventure of watching a series after its time on television. This means many hours of sitting in front of a screen, not having to watch commercials or wait a week, or a year, to see how it all unfolds. Often times when you should be writing the greatest poem you’ve ever written, you instead occasionally get sucked into some ghastly TV series with abysmal, trite acting from smarmy characters trying their best to act dramatic (and god-forbid actually funny), filling us with quiet horror. The symptoms after such excursions are as follows: A stunned sensation closely followed by confusion, acute anger, a longing to have everything you just wasted your time on erased from memory, and ending with a vow to write a letter to someone to make it stop. (One such show that fits perfectly into this category is Mental—the most offensive portrayal of mental illness I’ve ever seen, led by character posing as a wacky doctor, whose wackiness is just an extension of his ordinary narcissism. The show should have been called Cringe).
However, with a great love of X-Files, deep-space, and Patrick Stewart, I went merrily into Star Trek the Next Generation, created by Gene Roddenberry.
If you’re going to watch a lot of something, it’s best to have it be something that makes you a better person. This is the case in Star Trek. Laugh all you want about trekkies and dweebs and campy planetary sets—but you’re missing the point. One can easily live a better life with beam me up and set phasers to stun on their lips. I’m finding myself constantly bringing TNG up in conversations about politics and human tribulations. For example, in Star Trek humans are no longer concerned with personal wealth (there is no actual money thus no marketing or advertisements) or material needs. True, 2010 is not a time when food and perfect martinis can be conjured up out of computer. Nor do we have the luxury of extra planets in which to cut down on over-population. But the human race in Star Trek (as well as many other interstellar races in the show) are now concerned with fulfillment of human potential. They’re curious. Their mantra is always the Prime Directive. The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal development of pre-warp civilizations, consistent with the historical real world concept of Westphalian sovereignty. This important law saves them from being imperialists.
In other words, we need to be more like Captain Picard. In stressful times he drinks Earl Grey and reads classic literature. He charges around the ship emulating bravery, reason, intelligence and finesse. All the main characters are extremely competent, trustworthy (there’s no locks on the doors they just open when you walk up to them. But I have yet to see a bathroom on the set) Finally, there is always some good, dry humor sprinkled throughout episodes.
Here are some good clips. Absorb. Indulge. Engage.
Eros, by H.D.
Where is he taking us
now that he has turned back?
Where will this take us,
spreading into light?
Nothing we have ever felt,
nothing we have dreamt,
or conjured in the night
or fashioned in loneliness,
can equal this.
Where is he taking us,
now that he has turned back?
Keep love and he wings
with his bow,
up, mocking us,
keep love and he taunts us
Keep love and he sways apart
in another world,
Keep love and he mocks,
ah, bitter and sweet,
your sweetness is more cruel
that your hurt.
Honey and salt,
fire burst from the rocks
to meet fire
spilt from Hesperus.
Fire darted aloft and met fire,
and in that moment
love entered us.
Could Eros be kept,
he was prisoned love since
and sick with imprisonment,
could Eros be kept,
others would have taken him
and crushed out his life.
Could Eros be kept,
we had sinned against the great god,
we too might have prisoned him outright.
Could Eros be kept,
nay, thank him and the bright goddess
that he left us.
Ah love is bitter and sweet,
but which is more sweet,
the bitterness or the sweetness,
non has spoken it.
Love is bitter,
but can salt taint sea-flowers,
Is it bitter to give back
love to your love if he wish it
for a new favourite,
who can say,
or is it sweet?
Is it sweet to possess utterly,
or is it bitter,
bitter as ash?
I had thought myself frail,
with light equal
on leaf and under-leaf.
I had thought myself frail;
shell, ivory or crust of pearl,
about to fall shattered,
with flame spent.
“I must perish,
I am deserted in this darkness,
an outcast, desperate,”
such fire rent me with Hesperus,
Then the day broke.
What need of a lamp
when day lightens us,
what need to bind love
when love stands
with such radiant wings over us?
yet to sing love,
love must first shatter us.
at Great Lakes bar and Chris Stackhouse’s apartment Attendees yours truly Fitzgerald Kearney Gregorian Stackhouse though not sure if he counts honorary board member maybe everyone’s welcome everybody’s autobiography something in Ashbery about that ‘Soonest Mended’ until too late in the morning almost the dawn Minutes: dogwoods Parliaments fire escape, five favorite poets, five favorite poets, Bishop, Dickinson, Crane, Ashbery, Kaufman, long board boys, Dryden, Milton, own poems, taxi cab, Boston — Boston comes up in a few of my poems, hm — Christian Dylan and the Shrinks, this is all so private, all so coded, forgive and be forgiven, redemption as sure as we are living. Now I am as the walking dead having woken up far too early but it was all worth it everything is worth it in this compressed spring leafing out before return to Los Angeles spread out thank you guys thank you all I am so happy to be here where the far is ever coming near and the shared neckline seems regularly to be plunging – throwback to fashion!
is this a poem? i don’t know. i don’t care. A) she’s a poet and greying ghost put out a poetry chapbook of hers B) it’s awesome and in terms of its approach to the idea of the lyric i’d say it’s probably better than a deal of things i’ve read in verse. when i say better i want to qualify that: it is inventive and invigorating. inventive may not be the right word. but say this aloud. a lot.
mark leidner is a poet. this much we know. here is his contribution to this month’s edition of everyday geniushttp://www.everyday-genius.com/2010/04/mark-leidner.html
new issue of born up: http://www.bornmagazine.org/mother.html
oh hey can you watch awesome poem-movies in that recent review you picked up? no? too bad. good thing you can do that for free on the internet.
She hears, upon that water wide without sound,
A voice that cries, “The tomb in Palestine
Is not the porch of spirits lingering.
It is the grave of Jesus, where he lay.”
—Wallace Stevens, ‘Sunday Morning’
“Poetry may make us from time to time a little more aware of the deeper, unnamed feelings which form the substratum of our being, to which we rarely penetrate; for our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.”
—Derrida on Christianity & Deconstruction
Hegel said we live in a speculative Good Friday—that the moment of philosophy is to think of God’s death, his absence, forseeing at least a hundred years the 20th century. Was there ever a century more sure and fraught with such an absence, devoid of absolute goods, of whatever Christianity meant, beyond its corruptions, scandals and inglorious crusades?
At least — to pray — is left — is left —
Oh Jesus — in the Air —
I know not which thy chamber is —
I’m knocking — everywhere —
Thou settest Earthquake in the South —
And Maelstrom, in the Sea —
Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth —
Hast thou no Arm for Me?
To Him that was Crucified
My spirit to yours, dear brother;
Do not mind because many, sounding your name, do not understand you;
I do not sound your name, but I understand you, (there are others also;)
I specify you with joy, O my comrade, to salute you, and to salute those who are with you, before and since—and those to come also,
That we all labor together, transmitting the same charge and succession; 5
We few, equals, indifferent of lands, indifferent of times;
We, enclosers of all continents, all castes—allowers of all theologies,
Compassionaters, perceivers, rapport of men,
We walk silent among disputes and assertions, but reject not the disputers, nor any thing that is asserted;
We hear the bawling and din—we are reach’d at by divisions, jealousies, recriminations on every side, 10
They close peremptorily upon us, to surround us, my comrade,
Yet we walk unheld, free, the whole earth over, journeying up and down, till we make our ineffaceable mark upon time and the diverse eras,
Till we saturate time and eras, that the men and women of races, ages to come, may prove brethren and lovers, as we are.
Today is Holy Saturday, perhaps the least thought upon, least looked upon day in the Easter Triduum. But it has in the last few years come to epitomize for me my own life, spiritual and otherwise, where the pomp and majesty of supernatural events ceases; no gods dying, no gods reborn—merely dormancy on all fronts. This is the day when Jesus lay within his tomb; when the great hoax of the messiah was over; when if there was a hell, Christ descended.
Like many others, reprobate poets included, Jesus Christ continues to be a keen fascination—tantalizing, provocative, elusive, unforgettable. No character of literature—not Don Quixote, not Hamlet, not Walt Whitman, not Emily Dickinson, to name only a few of the most formidable ever to be created by human imagination—can rival the shock and astonishment I had when learning about this specific figure. Was he a historical madman who preached a new idea, forgive? Was he a philosopher, like Buddha or Socrates, that simply wanted to cure ignorance with peace, and noble deeds of charity? Or was he something more? God or human, or both—Christ is the supremest fiction—and yet he’s someone I talk little about (religions may be public matters but faith is always private), being a lapsed Catholic (redundancy?), being someone who hasn’t gone to Church and received communion since July 2004. And yet there was a time, as some of my friends know, when I wanted nothing more than to envision myself as a Catholic priest. In high school, I read a book called “I, Judas” which sparked my imagination into a pure rapture of fever. Then I watched Zeferelli’s masterpiece, “Jesus of Nazareth,” which was filmed with shots to mirror actual paintings from the Renaissance by the Old Masters. The film produced, for lack of a better term, a total conversion. It told me who I was, whatever Robert Powell (son of Elizabeth Taylor) dramatized. A stellar cast, full of drama, clocking in at over four hours, the film convinced me for the first time in my adolescent life that I had to ask larger questions than family dramas; I had to reflect on more than my own dizzy thought processes. Soon after, I read the Gospels, and by the time I finished Saint Matthew, in my heart, I felt something like a priesthood awaited. Month by month, I read more, saw the connection and relevance of the Catholic church to this old history, of a man and his disciples, and then decided if such a thing as a vocation existed, I felt a call to preach, to dedicate myself to God. In my callowness and intensity, I thought though that loving God meant rejecting all else, and my faith being built on a very inchoate, jerrybuilt consciousness soon demurred from such a radical decision. It was during this time I was also coming to terms with being gay, something that scandalized me deeply.
But how does this all get us to poetry? Samuel Johnson, a man who it is dangerous to disagree with, thought that prayer was too high and holy for the lowly provinces of poetry, an artifical utterance. Though Johnson knew of Herbert and Donne, he didn’t have Hopkins or Christina Rosetti, or Geoffrey Hill. I can’t say whether or not he’s wrong—but I do believe poets have been deeply interested in questions of faith. Eliot, among them. In an essay I am in no state of mind to summarize or track down, Eliot rehearses this matter about whether poetry and belief can meet—how important it is that we share the beliefs of the work we read? To Harold Bloom, and many others less religious-minded than him, such an artist as Dante can be read as literature without loss. The greatness of it is not for its dogmatic assertions, for its religious doctrines or philosophies. Perhaps this bring us back to the problem of what a poet makes of his materials—are the materials of art irrelevant? Are we simply interested in what an artist does with those materials? This is the disinterested, mostly secularly, attitude of many authorities, Keats foremost, who espouses disinterestedness as the key to produce and appreciate art. As Eliot even himself says, reading Rilke’s ‘Duino Elegies,’ it is not important that we agree with the muddle of his life-philosophy – but only see into the poetic rhetoric he exhorts and exults in. But Dante is a persistent challenge – Blake also.
The philosopher Richard Kearney has written in his new book, called Anatheism, about an attitude and mindset which approaches God after God – realizing how dismantled, impossible and unsettled a simple Christian faith must be for the postmodern mind. I can’t help feeling drawn to such a new approach, as I am myself often in love with such worldly authors who in their own way have wrestled, and tackled with, the God question. That is, the absence of God, or: What Comes Next. Derrida. Beckett. Stevens. Dickinson. Blake. Whitman. Hart Crane. They aren’t dogmatic followers of Sect of Creed – how could that be respectably fashionable for arch individualists? – but neither can they, on the other hand, ignore hearing the long withdrawing roar of the Sea of Faith.
No matter where we turn, God creeps into the picture — even on Holy Saturday — in our media-blitzed lives — when faith seems so irrelevant, so in the hand of fanatics and madmen eager to blow up or imperialize the world. The best lack all conviction, / The worst are full of passionate intensity. Christ casts quite a shadow over some great minds, artists and poets who even turned away, weren’t interested in God Talk, some downright hostilely rejected the plausibility of Resurrection. Safe in their Alabaster Chambers / Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection. For some – this post may be idle nostalgia. Memoir drivel. Propaganda. And yet, even if only a matter of all-too human grief, we dream of returns. I for one, hope as TSE said of Tennyson, that I may be at least religious for the degree of my doubt, if not my faith.
|The Everlasting Gospel|
|By William Blake (1757–1827)|
This morning I couldn’t get up I didn’t want to get up I didn’t get up in bed here I lay with the usual bloggy stuff to say, poetry etc. Window world a world apart, window world and widowed bed. I will not leave my bed alone. I will be here for it until I turn to stone. One day soon mineral will advance over me.
One day soon I will be time’s cartoon, flat as the handle of a spoon. Have I gone on too long? Ring the gong.
I’m sitting up in bed, or on the couch, as it were, where I have been trying to sleep off the slew of vodka-and-tonics I downed last night at our Sand Paper Press reading here in Portland. Shawn Vandor, whose Fire at the end of the rainbow was just reviewed over at Dossier, and I read at 220 Salon. Happily I had the chance to meet and fraternize with thethe’s own Evan Hansen.
Happily too I have had the chance to experience a temperate spring. In my new adopted home we have a desert spring, which is an entirely different beast. Anyway, it’s been good to see green grass against mud and cherry trees in blossom. All of this reminds me of the wonderful lineage of cold muddy spring poems. There’s ‘Spring and All’
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken
And then there’s ‘A Cold Spring,’ poem that adds its title to the marquee of Elizabeth Bishop’s 1955 updated North & South. Unfortunately the wintereb is not obliging me, and I cannot find a text of said poem to paste and copy, nor can I manage to get myself out of bed, or off the couch rather, to open the actual book, which is about five feet away from me on one of Shawn’s shelves. Truth be said, I have been consumed with convalescence lately; well, not consumed with it actually, more consumed by the idea of it. But you never know when the time will come. In fact, several people have been recommending Denton Welch’s In Youth Is Pleasure to me lately.
Anyhow, I’m still stuck in this rhyming couplet thing; I can’t tell whether or not it’s a good idea to post my own poems here; especially this one, which I literally just wrote; but nor can I see why this can’t be a forum for, eh, I hate to call it experimentation, or even worse, abusing the reader, but rather using and misusing this poetry stuff in our fraught digital kingdom.
Oh yes, back to the couplets. Here are some more. And to further dispel the mystery, I tried to do these while cycling through the vowel-sounds, or vowel-name sounds: ae, ee, aye, oh, you. A little like Rimbaud, I guess, but without the intimidation. So, throat cleared, couplets, voyelles, et le printemps froid:
Here in Portland another day
begins, the sky is the color of spring clay
and in fact it is spring, see
the blossoming tree
outside the window? The sky
is the color of a sigh.
The blossoms show
that flowers too can mimic snow,
and fall, powdering the air they fall through.
The birds seem to have no clue:
can it be said that they pray
for wings they use to flay
the air and so are free?
Their wings must act the key
to a door locked to the sky,
locked no matter how hard humans try
to stick an intrepid toe
through it. Unlike the winterland show
of crystallized precipitation, the blue
provides no backdrop to our dreams, who
dance against open black highway
of orbits at rushing play.
Their flight is galaxy,
not of this world; while the birds are free
to roost and be shy,
and only when they die
do they understand how gravity is foe.
One falls lifeless to the petals––or are they snow?
Armies of gust, the white specks form a crew.
Clouds retreat. The Portland sky is blue.
Below are some candid photos I’ve taken of Poetryland’s Personalities.
“One of the marks of our world is perhaps this reversal: we live according to a generalized image-repertoire. Consider the United Sates, where everything is transformed into images: only images exist and are produced and are consumes… Such a reversal necessarily raises the ethical question: not that the image is immoral, irreligious, or diabolic (as some have declared it, upon the advent of the Photograph), but because, when generalized, it completely de-realizes the human world of conflicts and desires, under cover of illustrating it.”
“Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumes as such, publicly.”
“The Photograph is an extended, loaded evidence — as if it caricatured not the figure of what it represents (quite the converse) but its very existence… The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest, shared hallucination (on the one hand ‘it is not there,’ on the other ‘but it has indeed been’): a mad image, chafed by reality.”
In appreciation of Amy Lawless, to whom I dedicate this post.
1. Please meet Amy Lawless. Some call her Amy Flawless. Amy is to cellophane as cellophane is to 1,000 empires. Amy will make you laugh. Amy will make you cry. Amy will laugh at you when you cry. Amy has a lot of thoughts in her head and with these thoughts she writes poetry. She has a blog. She teaches. As a guest blogger on the Best American Poetry Blog, Amy deliberately talks about important things. She takes thoughts that are in her head and transports them to our head. What fun we have with these thoughts! What inspiration she lends to our souls! What a joy!
2. Gavin Wassung makes beautiful things.
3. Please meet Ben Mirov. Ben Mirov also does a lot of things. He makes a spinage shake every morning and posted the recipe on his blog. His chapbook I is to Vorticism is really something great. You should read it.