Saturday, July 31, 2004

I think I’m going to start trying to give the New Yorker poems a chance, just an experiment, I don’t know how long it’ll last. I haven’t really since college.

In the most recent issue, two poems, one by Gary Snyder “No Shadow,” and one by Jack Gilbert “Trying to Sleep.” For drama and reality-show-style human interest, I’ll also ask Jonah what he thinks.

The Snyder poem goes down easy. While he flatfoots it through most of the poem in not-unpleasant prose rhythms the final image endures. H e treats the cargo plane as a thing, a human thing and, like all things human in a natural setting are in the Eastern tradition (one of his tonal borrowings here), transient. Its shadow passes; the osprey's no-shadow endures.

I get confused with poems like this, that seem simultaneously lazy and done. I want to say the laziness is part of its charm, but those first two stanzas, while they have a kind of casual music, it is not really a poetic music, or satisfying. They are boring, and not in the way which could be called 'embodying an artful artlessness.'

But I do like the finish, which wouldn’t finish without the beginning. Snyder is good at conveying certain meditative states of mind, and here he nails it out of the water, so to speak. There is a point where the big clumsy riveted made world (Air Force cargo plane) stops obscuring his perception of what has always been there (osprey) and perfectly subtly integrated, its absence even. This evokes nicely the sensation of entering a certain meditative state, one where you have a peaceful awareness of change without self, or words. I think it was zhuangzi but it may have been some other who said “Cut off the flow; follow the billows and waves.” It's kind of like talking to someone and you suddenly realize you should be listening instead. There's no decision, just awareness.

I want to be clear: while the za-zen comment itself (last line of second stanza) feels throwaway and unevocative, what follows doesn’t.

The word ‘practice’ in the fourth-to-last-line is not subtle, but it fits well and highlights the contrast in three ways. One, that it is ‘practicing’ infers the osprey is a ‘professional;’ two, it as synecdoche for human is practicing, i.e. sitting za-zen (admittedly, not so well, its clumsiness is that of self); and three is the ominous fact that this plane, while a cargo plane, is still an air force plane, and such things make practice runs that when they do the real thing, whether to kill or supply those killing, they are proficient in their execution. All three contrast unfavorably with the osprey, and Empson would approve of the not-breathtaking-yet-skillfully-applied ambiguity which pivots this implied comparison.

So I said to Jonah “Jonah, can I read you a poem, to see if you like it or not?” and he said ok. At the first sentence’s end (“My friend Deane took me into the Yuba Goldfields.”), even before the first line ends, Jonah says “Oh, its too boring!” And that was it, he wouldn’t have anymore, which is how I felt too, at that point in the poem, though I as an adult am not as precise in gauging my own boredom.

The Jack Gilbert poem I find unpleasant. It is misproportioned in consideration of the woman’s pain and suffering compared to the author’s own. There’s really nothing here. For obvious reasons, I didn’t ask Jonah’s thoughts on it.

from Meisel's Myth of the Modern, "Joyce has aready superseded the anxiety that places him within tradition by virtue of being able, especially so early[refers to Dubliners], to represent its terms rather than to capitulate to mere expressions of them."

Friday, July 30, 2004

As for my previous post on text etc, I want to be clear, that I'm not saying anything catastrophic or even 'abnormal' has occurred from this poet's viewpoint. I am saying poetry evolved in us as we evolved, culturally, it and in it. But for simplicity's sake I'm sticking to the paradigm that it evolved in us, its environment, for probably ~100,000 years (how long we've been the species we are, I think), until writing became a way to remember out of our heads. Then, for another ~6,000 years the technology spread, changed, and influenced our language and our poetry, but still I feel safe thinking of the preponderance of poetry's existence as oral. So I'm saying that with the advent of certain conditions of modernity--recording media in particular--poetry as a happening (as a species is a happening, dynamic expression of an environment) responds to that now with, as all evolution is, an impulse to conserve balance.

That poetry (which in this context I think of as our keeping time) in its motion through us, its time, is not isolated from other elements as they move through us, their time, in time.

Strange clarification, I know, the same word turned and turned. Call me cranky!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Spurred by Ron Silliman's teasers, I've begun "My Way" (all by Bernstein I have on hand now) which is also a book I need to read for an incomplete. His first poem of the book (the book is a collection of speeches and poems), "A Defense of Poetry" is very optimistic, a rational obfuscation shone through to great clarity by the obvious heart of friendship. I guess I think so because of a general tone, manifest in a bounty of asides and  genial connectives ("Taht is," What we have," We have preshpas a blurrig of sense," "Indeed you say," "I don't agree," "What you mean," and so on) and a familiarity with the addressed (Brian McHale) mind's habits. I may be wrong, perhaps they aren't friends, but the feeling of affection, from wherever generated, is very much part of the poem.

I think I also feel a friendliness in how lightly the words are distorted, it feels that he is in this way praising the ability of people of different opinions to communicate through the medium of poetry and affection:

 .  .  .  We
have preshpas a blurrig of sense, whih
means not relying on convnetionally
methods of conveying sense but whih may
aloow for dar greater sense-smakinh than
specisi9usforms of doinat disoucrse that
makes no sense at all by irute of thier
hyperconventionality (Bush's speech's

Is all his poetry this likeable? Curious.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Why now now? or, American powetry and the past, our greatest growth industry

(usual cavil: I know this is probably not all new, or even at all new, but it is as it is occurring and whatever I may have previously read this is first thought from me, so inherently interesting to—invested in—me. It will speculate, and go on, and I am neither awfully-well-learned nor Montaigne so I fear my prose rhythms may not scintillate, let alone illuminate. Conclusion: proceed at your own risk, perhaps by your own lights!)

I’m thinking of the removal of the word from its oral space as a result of wide-spread text availability as a result of printing technology, coupled with the spread of the Reformation, itself supported by the decentralizing possibilities of printing and informing the effect of ‘essentializing’ the word (i.e. stripping it of ‘physicality’ as its first/primary manifestation), sending truth ‘inward,’ beyond physical representation, to a ‘purely’ mental space (I’ll be happy to expand on this for anyone not familiar with this movement of representation associated with early Protestantism).

That technology’s ability to radically foment change while simultaneously keeping form unchanged beyond those forms’ normally-changing state (i.e. ‘evolving’) in a more-purely oral culture, thus undermining a true form’s natural ability to accommodate invention w/ the gradual rolling-over of tradition etc. perhaps necessitates the development of a more-radical rebellion against what-is-received which, since each bucking back against the what-is-text is then recorded, becomes an attempted ever-cresting avant-gardeism (an actualization of what otherwise has been the failure of the radical socialist “perpetual revolutions” to succeed in burying history?).

I mean, the past may feel more burgeoning to us because it is more burgeoning. Our means of preserving information is historically unprecedented. Nothing goes fallow, past forms and iterations don’t only seep into the language like composting elements, they preside over it like idols or corporations, and form absolutely unaccommodating over centuries can feel like tyranny. “Means of Production” indeed. (note to self: did Benjamin say similar things in “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction?” Oh dear. I’ll go check later, self says.)

I mean that tradition is not mediated through the generations by personalities, but by texts, direct. I mean, personalities modify, but not as completely as in an oral-primary culture, even one as late as Dante, or Chaucer. So we get every sonnet direct, not mulched or preserved through the memory of generations, preserved on the page and not in mouths, behind eyes. By mouths transferred, even if word-for-word identical, is of an entirely different character. That game of telephone, by which tradition must have gradually wended its gradually-mutable forms through history up until history began. Thinking in these (neoromantic?) terms allows me to understand, almost as vision, the iconoclastic impulse which fuels the avant-garde (and explains my ambivalent sympathy for those times Ron Silliman plays the “cooties” game).

You can see the way the printing press affected language in one clear instance, as a tool/shaper of the nascent nation-state. (caveat: this I was taught in a class called “Nationalism: the Politics of Language and Culture” in connection with Geertz, Hobsbawm, de Saussure, & co. So I state it in reference to them. If anyone asks, I will go look up more specifically the anecdote.) In the middle ages, one could walk from Gibraltar up through Provence and down to Sicily, and find that each fishing village could talk no problem with the neighboring villages, in a gradual continuum. This continuum gradually shifted, so that those in Aragon could not talk at all with those in Sicily. Neither could those in Liguria talk with those in Sicily. The printing press allowed for a centralization of power and one of the ways it allowed this is by the wide dissemination of teaching texts. The French king in, I believe, the 17th century (again, I’ll do research if anyone’s curious, I’m flying by memory now, which is a little ironic given my topic), saw it illegal to use any dialect but that spoken in the Ile de France. Eventually, you have Normans and Marsellaise able to speak to each other, and those on the coast in southern Provence unable to communicate effectively with their Spanish neighbors in the north of Aragon. Both effects were desirable from the p.o.v. of the centralizers, in that it both tied the country together via communication and gave it a resultant sense of shared community—created the country, really— and also weakened those local affections which cross national borders (you can see the problems such things cause to large states with the dynamics across the Afghan/Pakistan border) by way of shared language and culture. Think of what impact audio-visual media are having on local dialects in our country, and you get a sense of how strong a centralizer media is on language.

That kind of power we all, poets, live under, and its weight may have distorted what form is, as a presence, in our art, and necessitated the reactions which have come, as a way of saving/representing self in poetry (powetry?).

So such centralization has occurred with poetry, too, in space, then. But the centralization I’m concerning you with here is that which has occurred in time. I suppose this is why postmodern is considered ahistorical, archaic in its manifest juxtapositions. (I also think—and maybe this is the soul of this post—that maybe, now that it’s ten to fifteen years behind me, I’m starting to learn what what I learned in college was all about. Not just words. This is very humbling.

What writer can know the myths they write within the confines of ? Even Barthes wasn’t immune. I expect I’ve exposed/created a few of my own here I won’t see for more years. Maybe that’s the best you can do, trace out the walls you want to exceed before plotting your new shape beyond them.) The centrality works through time, gathering its select into the gravitational center of the canon, and since we are still people of the same size as used to fit into the previous ‘system’ of history, it grows a little rougher to negotiate the space for oneself with ‘tradition.’

What I mean is, the local sonneteer is not the living embodiment of sonnet for the polis (so to speak), he is just another guy who isn’t Shakespeare. This is why I have so much admiration for those who break out of the fragmented social structure of USA and work to create community, along the lines of what Spicer did, I admire that greatly. To embody real personhood, not only textualness, is an importance of its own.

I know this all sounds theoretical, speculative, even cranky. Think of what audio recording media does to musicians. A song becomes known, and everyone hears that one time it was played over and over, until that one time becomes the song. The artist, or another artist, playing it live has limited ability to improvise. Thus, jazz takes stage as a formal structure for improvisation. Something like that is what I mean. Things have to keep changing because otherwise they won’t change at all.

Further speculation: once a word is disassociated from its oral space, who of us can even fathom what other disassociations ensue? Are there cognitive-physical links to somatic expression (i.e. dance, facial expression, non-vocabularied vocables, parasympathetic response?) which go un-“triggered” in text-based poetry (which almost all our tradition is and almost all our writing is, even when uttered, I’d think) or which have for most of humanity governed the forms apparent to poems through tradition? In this light, experimentation is a groping back to wholeness, to reality, out of the cave.

As I’ve said, I find Chatwin’s “The Songlines” useful as a placeholder, a place to imagine what humanity in an evolutionary-mandated balance to its capabilities as a species would look like, the arts unbroken from themselves, from us, from our days.

I really am going to keep politics on this page to as much of a non-presence as I can. This is really the first thing I've felt like linking to. The general point it makes with its specific seems like such an important point it can't be said, or linked to, often enough.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Often, my poems come in pairs. Maybe because there's a third I'm too shortsighted to see; or one I'm to weak to compress to, so it spins into component parts. Or maybe because opposition really is a natural law of the perceptual universe (which is not the same, natch, as the universe). Or maybe it just makes me happy when they do, because then I have that much more reality to attend to. These two, you may have guessed, came in a pair. Often the pairs have more affinity than these do.



Cowrie Apostrophe

Let circumstance be breeze. At once:
shells rush, rub ocean, is it sure
or is it unsure? You are unsure
then sure. On shore, then are shore. Sink, shell,
not once as one but down to one ten thousand
thousand ones. Now you are thought
approaching thought. A thought that moves
like breeze, not surf—an end-slow
breeze near not. Once, inland,
where the breeze moves so, was ocean.
Once you think it through some
million thousand years, you’ll understand
that, not vague or me. Will that be memory,
as-if-remembering a moist body-in-body accreting
ideas once home, once heaven settled
to routine, you, set longer
than that body’s set of days, the shape which gave
you shape you gave shape to?
What are you now? What are you? At the edge
of permeant being, ages roll
your thought, you, down to its subsumed selves—
its heart is you, its trying
is what you think surety is: unsurely.




As if a tree
could set aside anything
not in the course of years, I
am to one walk in
stride out of the hand
of my roots?

Deeper in the crickets
a streetlit bench. “A capacitor
builds charge to a continuum
field, which exhibits
properties of a superconductor,
properties of a unipole,
within its uniform charge.
Released, it empties gradually.”

I’d forget all I’ve learned
until only
the silence remains, until
these crickets are a mountain
I’m too close to see
or rooted into, to.

Friends, but no friendship and the
like a tree does wire fence,


"Most post-langpo work that appears to have returned to the terms of a pre-langpo existence is, in fact, pre-langpo," Ron Silliman wrote on his blog last friday (July 23).

This sentiment reminded me of a game I used to play, "Sid Meier's Civilization." An integral part of the game is a 'technology tree' and part of play is the comfort of always learning along the same path. The technology "polytheism," for example, will always eventually lead to "monarchy," which will then allow both "monotheism" and "feudalism," which will allow the discovery of yet-more advanced technologies. Later technologies leave earlier ones obsolete. Every civilization (the Mayans as well as the Spanish) advances on the same tech. tree, so it's easy to spot civilizations less advanced than your own, or more.

Fun game.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I used to not want to attend to the conceptual divisions of poetry, to just read as best I could up to myself. I knew I loved reading Keats, say, and since there seemed to be people arguing against the ‘old,’ I figured I really didn’t want to take too much time on concepts which considered Keats not-poetry. I liked listening in his poems, and that was enough for me. No doubt, my avoidance of (say) programmatic avant-garde-ism was also a reaction designed to keep down cognitive dissonance and keep what was already overwhelming—poetry itself—as available to my consciousness as possible.

I also didn’t think much of anyone who dismissed poems based on ‘school-ism’ the other way. It was obvious there were poems I wanted to read and steal rhythm from which were not in the ‘quietude’ camp. I just did my best and kept a little more willfully ignorant than, I think, I would have admitted. But my ears were open, and I read as catholic as I could manage.

Growing older, I think I need more possibility to accommodate certain poetic impulses I have had and not known really what to do with, or been able to invent for myself some form to accommodate as well as I used to think I’d be able to, once I’d internalized the lessons on formality, argument, sound, and self from those ‘masters’ I’d been drawn to. It’s a shame I didn’t earlier, if only to have seen what probably everyone clearheaded does, that more is made of these conceptual categories, or schools, than there is. Somehow, being human, definitions useful for distinguishing like things get turned, invariably, into playground war. I suppose because it’s easier to classify some poem as being of one school or another than to actually read the thing on its own terms.

So anyway, I’m starting to see what the distinction really is, that is what is meant when people talk about sound, that any new poetry is about sound. Not that the old poetry wasn’t (load every rift with ore and all that) but if you’re willing to forego meaning as well as established patterns of meaning (even if, by poetic license, one always pushed and strained the expected concordance between syntax and linearity, say, 'back then'), the number of words available to fit the sonic ‘needs’ of that moment-space are greatly increased just as, self-freed from the requirements of rhyme, one (Milton (i.e.) has more word choices at the end of his lines.

So the sonic argument becomes compressed, and this creates a whole new dynamic. It is true, again, that the sonic argument has always been an essential component of poems, but as with any system, even small proportional changes make a huge difference. (Been to the beach lately, for example? a few feet from the tideline is not much different, compositionally speaking, from a few feet in—but the practical difference is huge—or for another example, one of taste, add a pinch salt to your applesauce instead of leaving it unsalted. The practical difference of such is large.) So the sonic argument becomes momently intensified, its terms primary. Freed from the strictures of logic-sense, is another step towards primacy, away from the larger structure of ‘tradition-meaning.’ A sonnet seen thusly, does not give force and release through its compression and regulation, anymore, it instead functions to remove its words from reality. It becomes, to certain poets’ hands, unnatural.

So this focus in sound is a technique/benefit of a program/mentality which distrusts easy meaning. And I suppose this is why from modernism on (quantum mechanics and all that—I’ll save that for another post) this tendency is pronounced and defined. Why its arrival and independence can be considered a 'new' poetry.

Sidenote: some of the energy I’m trying to get at (extractive industry, me) can also be explained with this comparison: that just as the printing press freed words from their oral ‘space,’ so in its long-livedness a new freedom has developed, a liberation of words sounds from their meanings.

Writing about the new (and this new even has been around for so long now—or is it just that I aging have?—so I/we have some perspective) gets interlocutative so quickly, it’s like trying to feel your skin from the inside to see what you look like from the outside. I think, by the feel of them, that the figurings-out I find interesting here have been arrived at many times and more eloquently by many—probably a stopping-off point for any poet. I do my best. But even if I’ve read similar words before, the feeling of understanding in this way, in potential for my own poetry is new, so I write it while it is available fresh, so.

Sometimes it makes no sense to argue for an innate natural goodness. But if those lives lost, the brutalities enacted and suffered, are to ever be worth sorrowing for . . . ? 

Friday, July 23, 2004

Reading Laozi, and considering the value of individual Chinese ideograms, Pound came to mind. And sideways from that, I remembered Zhuangzi (an early and especially irreverent 'Daoist,' though from what I remember the term wasn't really in use when he lived, maybe 300 b.c.?), and how he often took Confucius to task for his reliance on rules as the arbiters of virtue. Zhuangzi’s basic attitude towards the Confucians was "look, by making all these rules and imposing them on people in the name of virtue, you create evil, non-virtue. First, you create an environment where people look to superficialities instead of realities. Hypocrites thrive; for in such an environment who can tell a bandit from an honest ruler? You confuse people as to what is good or bad within themselves, by distancing people from themselves and their innate natures. Violence of all sorts goes unbounded, cloaked in piety. Better to let people be themselves; and then all will be fine."

This is a clumsy paraphrase but it will serve. My sense is that this critique, thousands of years old, can be used to understand Pound, in his adoption of Confucianism, and in his adoption of Fascism. EP was looking, in his poetry as well as in his (political) life, for some sort of VERY reliable order—a code, even—by which everything could be understood. Josh Corey in some earlier posts had some deft reasonings regarding EP's see-no-evil hero-worship, and these tendencies seem of a piece. In general, Pound did not like messiness, and seems to have been disposed towards favoring ideas over people. This is what Zhuangzi, and the Daoists in general, criticized Confucius for, which might be an interesting connection for someone who knows more about Pound’s actual use of Confucius and Chinese to develop and inform me of (ah, the daydreams of a lazy literati! or is it literatus?).

Sidenote: The kind of criticism Zhuangzi had for Confucius was collegial, and he had a very high opinion of the man’s teachings, from what I remember. The divisions of philosophy and thought in China don’t seem as strict as they were/are in the Western world: Confucian Buddhists would have no problem going to a Daoist priest for healing etc. Zhuangzi, who taught by parables which almost always involved nature, might use Confucius as a wise and knowing character in one parable, and as less-than-wise-in-the-Dao in the next.

btw, Zhuangzi is most famous in English as the guy who wrote “A person lives in the Dao as a fish lives in water.” He’s also the guy who dreamt he was a butterfly . . .er the butterfly who dreamt . . . well, you know. A nonchalant selflessness was his ideal. Again, I probably should go research before posting this, but there’s only so many hours in this man’s day, and I know at least roughly what I write is right.

Borrowing from this link, as translated by Patricia Ebrey, here’s the man at his own death:

When Zhuangzi was about to die, his disciples wanted to bury him in a well-appointed tomb. Zhuangzi said, ''I have the sky and the earth for inner and outer coffins; the sun and the moon for jade disks; the stars for pearls; and the ten thousand things for farewell gifts. Isn't the paraphernalia for my burial adequate without adding anything?"

''We are afraid the crows and kites will eat you, master," a disciple said.

"Above ground, I will be eaten by crows and kites; below ground by ants. You are robbing from the one to give to the other. Why play favorites?”

And this one, from this link, pretty much sums it up: 

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
"Can we live together
and know nothing of it?
Work together
and produce nothing?
Can people fly around in space
and still forget to exist
World without end?"

The three friends looked at each other
and burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before.

Then one friend died.
Confucius sent a disciple
to help the other two
Chant the traditional funeral ritual.

His disciple found that one of them had composed a song.
While the other played the lute,
They sang:

"Hey, Sung Hu!
Where'd you go?
You have gone
Where you were before.
And we are here--
Damn it! We are here!"

Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and exclaimed:
"May I inquire where in the funeral ritual it allows you
to sing so irreverently in the presence of the departed?"

The two friends looked at each other, smiled, and said:
"Well trained in liturgy,
but the poor fellow doesn't understand life and death!"

What's funny is, I could see Pound the poet, as I know him, enjoying this bit of drama.

Last night I spent some time with the Dao De Ching. In the version I have, in addition to a straight translation (which is ok, but because the translator is primarily a translator of Sanskrit, it has a vedantic ‘taste’ to it) there is an ideogram-by-ideogram translation in the back. For each character, he gives a bunch of variant meanings, and for some the pictorial origin. So if you are patient, you can puzzle out different syntaxes and sentences, most of which end up supporting each other, not negating. Working through passages of Finnegans Wake was good practice for this, I think.

So here is what I think of the first ‘sentence.’ The characters are: “Dao,” which is derived from a head and a foot (i.e. the famous path, “Way”); “k’o,” which is derived from bear, or any powerful animal, and means able, having the power to; “Dao” again; “Fei,” which is derived from the two wings of a bird, and represents the “abstract notion of opposition, contradiction.” The commentary further says “Although the two wings oppose each other, they are both needed in order for the bird to fly.” This basic concept is the heart of Daoism (the philosophy, that is; I know little of the religion which goes by the same name but is actually different); “Ch’ang,” which is derived from a house-roof and a banner/flag flying, and means stability, elevated, authority, imperial, even eternal. The commentary further says “A flag, which is constantly moving in the wind, can also be seen as representing the eternal movement of the universe or the eternal law that says that all things change.” This is a very important idea throughout also, for emptiness (‘wu’) is seen as a great virtue, an accommodating and nonjudgemental emptiness such as is manifest in a flag’s acceding to the wind, or in the emptiness in a room which gives that room its definition; and finally one more “Dao.” So, trying to understand a little more deeply than the standard translations, which tend to be some variant on “The way that can be followed is not the Way,” I puzzled. From what I’ve learned meditating (which is experiential, not book-knowledge), I came up with a number of variants. The one I’m holding on to just now is:

“The way, which is the powerful-bodied, opposes, as one bird’s-wing does the other, the long-stable-structured way.”

or even

“The way is yin opposing yang,” or"The way is yin moving with yang."

at its simplest. This is also Blake’s energy and order. It’s also Yeats’ Byzantium poems, and his putting himself unbodied into a stable construct, a hammered art of lovely variation.

This first sentence is so beautiful in its various meanings. What I find striking is how understanding the characters as physical energies brings the meanings to an entirely actual level—that body-energy (bear—grrr) is the opposite complementary to establishment-energy (don’t forget to vacuum, dear)—that understanding the interplay between the physical and spiritual (and by this word I also mean emotional, intellectual, and social) energies is a sublime. And beyond even the specifics, to understand that any thing which is extreme is confirmed by its opposites. Isn’t this even Herbert, “That the fall may further thy flight in me?”

In light of this thought, I want to modify my simplistic Ishmael=good, Ahab=bad stance of earlier. Since all the “magic” of Moby-Dick is brought on by a domination of the theme that a man’s metaphysic is what creates his universe, Ahab in his extremity can be seen as the creator of Moby Dick. And, without Moby Dick, Ishmael never has the awe to reach the sublime he does. Ahab knows this at the end, and he would know, as I also should, that that which makes him ridiculous is not only a trait we all have, but is that which makes Ishmael sublime, escape it as he does, riding the contradictions of life and death to survival.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I'm going to start Daniel Beachy-Quick's "Spell" next (M-D was fortuitous prep reading). And Virginia Woolf's "Between the Acts." I want to get back to the Maximus poems. I'm also looking forward to Chris Arigo's "Lit Interim," and Olena Davis' "shattered sonnets, love cards, and other off and back handed importunities", and also two books I'm curious about from the authors' blogs: "Invisible Bride" by Tony Tost and "Selah" by Josh Corey. Clark Coolidge sounds worth getting to soon as well. Soon is relative, of course.

The thing is, I really haven't been up to the physical intensity of reading poetry at all since 2000, and am sure I've missed a lot I don't even know about. If anyone passing through has any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them.

By spiritual I mean that my body’s tensions are one map of time.

Gah. I usually don’t go for generalized rhetoric involving those big words which scare me so. Life is big and general enough to mean anything, at one point or another, and I really feel more comfortable cogitating meaning and metaphysic within a text. But this incomplete I’m working on, running poetic after poetic through the course of American history, has gotten me into the gaseous habit. So here I am, laboring to bear ‘the spiritual.’ Isn’t this work better suited for poesis? Probably. But I’m probably going to keep going anyway. More soon.

Finished Moby-Dick (I told you I read slowly these days). Some thoughts here and there.
In D.H. Lawrence’s “Studies in Classic American Literature, at the close of his essay on Moby-Dick, I can’t help but feel Lawrence missed that he answered his own question regarding whither-the-U.S.’s soul-post-Moby-Dick. Ishmael, water-worshipper, whale-worshipper, in both regards Ahab’s opposite, is untouched by Moby-Dick and continues on down the whale-road, the ‘profound unbounded sea.’ A Bloom, of sorts, to Huckleberry Finn’s Dedalus. I personally find satisfaction that water is the dominant life-symbol in this book, water which is the imagistic foundation for the daoists (‘softness is the quality of life, brittleness of death’ and so on. This is excellent meditation advice, by the way.) and so appropriate to Melville’s theme and tome.
Which is not, by the way, a “searing parable about humanity lost in a universe of moral ambiguity” (from the back cover of my edition). Searing, yes; humanity, yes, but moral ambiguity, no. It does trace the manner in which a man convinces himself he is lost in a universe of moral ambiguity and misproportions his perceptions to maintain his sense of centrality and self-importance. But even he knows his maintenance of such is improper, a malady. Ishmael is not lost, and he doesn’t live in a universe of moral ambiguity, at least not in the second half as I read it (despite the directional difficulties he faces the night of the try-pot fires), which is mostly unambiguous water-worship.
Doesn’t Ahab “dash his heavenly quadrant”? If there’s navigational ambiguity, it is by choice, and the will to maintain the terms of that choice.
Except for “The Candles,” Ahab is, to my reading (conditioned to sensitivity on Joyce and Proust and Spencer and Shakespeare) an absurd. And that’s why he’s so angry. And that’s why he’s impotent. And that pride is why he gets it wrong on purpose. Until “The Rachel,” that is, and as his drama becomes more real, actual and not preparatory. That Ishmael’s waxing more hydrotheistic is the backdrop for this movement helps make his pathos (insanity, wrongheadedness—he is an underground man, in his resistance to the universe’s interpenetration) appear as little as it is. And he sees it, and refuses do discard it, confusing the diminishment he is effecting on himself with that diminishment Moby-Dick has. His own diminishment being the greater mutilation, for it is on that part he claims worships with defiance only. This is to be seen in his absurd omening, for example: he smashes some metal and makes it a heavenly gesture (the quadrant). Like Richard II, he evades facing his own powerlessness with metaphor-making. Ishmael grows strong in his powerlessness and deepens through metaphor-making.
Lawrence asks whither, once the ship of our country’s soul has gone down? The answer he avoided is obvious: as Ishmael does, the better answer to Harold Bloom’s readings than the praise he gives Ahab. Bloom wants to find geniuses who create themselves in a manner he calls Gnostic—who maintain an individual creative imagination in conjunction with the world and apart from it. Ahab loses, his metaphysic is flawed, brittle and unencompassing—monomaniacal. Ishmael is delivered from the wreck, death has no grudge towards him. He accepts what he learns, even if it results in the staving of his conscious, created mind’s, integrity. To quote Lawrence back to himself, Ishmael has ‘prepared his ship of death.’

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I was just reading this review of Marjorie Welish's Word Group and something in it made me want to clarify that: my recent posts are in favor of 'experimentation,' of people doing what they feel naturally fits their interest, of going where they want to go in their craft. I mean, if that's what is desired (and I in my way desire to find myself out too) than isn't that by definition natural? I don't mean to align my thoughts with some knee-jerk jargonese fit mostly for keeping linguistically unprovoked. By natural, 'spiritual,' 'order'(ly), 'nonmechanical,' I mean the opposite of this state of mind.

Just wanted to make that clear.


Some of what I mean by spiritual, a foundering forward in words.

(I expect this topic I'm stuck on now may be of interest only to me. I can't really tell, but I still want to go forward with it, see where to.)

That profundity is not the oh-wow of knock-you-over revelation, but simplicity—‘normalcy’—itself. I know this sounds obvious, and it is, and if it weren’t it wouldn’t be. The search for hidden meaning is a search to remember to undeceive yourself of the idea you need to undeceive yourself. There are no hidden meanings but the ones you pretend. But there are meanings we think around which are apparent. That is, meaning is almost always something we use to avoid, not perceive, reality.
That your consciousness, your intent, has an affect on the world beyond merely altering your perceptions. That you yourself are not but yourself, are also part of your environment. That time moves through you and not just you.
That society takes energy of intent to maintain and that it relies on orderly predictable uses of this energy to maintain its structure.
That the nonphysical self, realizing itself, can manifest effects other-than-body. That the nonphysical self has—can have—that which is beyond time or space. That there is an energy of existence you can act on which acts on you; you can act through which acts through you; you can manifest that manifests as you.
That you can’t analyze a body by dissection any more than you can a poem. I mean, you don’t believe a poem can be known or understood from its components, why would you a person? It’s absurd, when you look at it. It’s like saying “sound doesn’t exist because I can’t see it.”
I mean that thing which present gives life to words. Yet is not words. And not only words.

Open ears.

That there is a natural order.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

(Disclaimer: This post is provoked by a memory of something Josh Corey wrote a week or three back. It was a question regarding what he saw as an increase in 'spiritual' tendencies in poetry of late. I can’t remember it specifically nor can I track it down, so I’ll leave it unlinked. Maybe I imagined it.)
To be a human is to have a spiritual aspect. (Aspect is a clumsy word as I’m using it, I apologize—I mean by aspect something of which we, interpenetrated by it and other ‘aspects,’ are—I mean a quality marbled through us.) My assertion is like a Victorian saying “To be a human is to have a sexual aspect.” That is, we now are all on board, as a matter of communal consciousness, with there being no vital aspect of ourselves which lacks a sexual aspect, that there is no part of ourselves not interpenetrated by eros, no part not part of our interpenetrated whole (I know, if Beavis was a grad student that’s what he’d want to write). But as a person and a poet in America this era, it’s always been an unspoken understanding—a Barthesian myth, really—that having a metaphysic which involves a sense of nonempirical self will elicit an ambivalent response (anger/arousal), something like an ankle may have in Kate Chopin’s day. I think the noticed trend is this mentality now entering another stage of gradual easing. So I now, humble with my timidity, submit that the transcendent is not illusory, and is not merely signified. (And further, that it lends itself to mere signification is a quality peculiar to it, and an element of any consideration regarding spirituality especially inre: society and its Leviathanic needs.) 
That, just as with sexuality, it takes a magnificent effort to exclude the spiritual. To see it as an aspect, and not an integral, of one’s existence, is (also) a societally-implicated self-mutilation. As with all social distortions, time will do its work through us to bring back balance. And that bringing-back-to-balance is my sense of ‘why’ our poetic work is revolving towards a new integration of spiritual-feeling now.

I can be all for the separation of Church and State while realizing the mentality which gave rise to it is flawed—and that the negativity of the religion which it was reaction to necessitated it (by this I mean the thingy about our forefathers whereby physicality, body, beingness, existence, and self were at best treated with suspicion and at worst were all treated as manifestations of evil.). All that ugly messy American stuff Hawthorn & Melville & so on tried to get a grip on. Religion has been going for spirituality’s throat for god-knows-how-long, and the strange way our country is founded on that tension is as powerful as its originary self-contradictions regarding slavery.

I mean, what is there to say about religion v. spirituality that Dostoevsky hasn’t already said (i.e., in the “Grand Inquisitor” section within Brothers Karamazov)? Or, for that matter, for the basic incompatibility of any society I know (by participation or rumor) and spirituality? The intense selfness—I suppose I’m borrowing from Howe’s sense of the antinomian, but also Bloom’s gnostic sense of genius—of creating oneself, of spiritual being, is too creatively anarchic to support timely trains, I maybe think. But doesn’t America seem particularly ambivalent about the whole thing? I mean, I think the psychological term is ‘split.’ There’s just no integration, no moderation. Our spasmic manifestations of spirituality (John Smith, etc.) are not part of society as a whole, they are symptomatic-of, corrective, splintering actings-out, seen this way.

At this point, I’ll leave it be, because I can’t even write the word ‘spirituality’ without inverted commas anymore. There must be a better word somewhere for this quality. But my (our) uncomfortableness with it must speak to something like what I’m trying to get at. I am saying it in as empirical and non-religious a sense as I can. & I also apologize for the messiness of my logic--I will think it through and hopefully streamline this. I will, even, maybe, get in the habit of extemporizing then editing then posting (as opposed to extemporized posting), so as to spare any readers too much fussy-messiness.

I don't think I've ever enjoyed reading a movie review as much as this one.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

A poem I used to marvel at reread. How could I have forgotten it, except that Yeats' mastery of repetition (and its hints) always leaves my mind silent for a moment. From "In the Seven Woods."
The Old Men admiring Themselves in the Water
I heard the old, old men say,
'Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.'
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say
'All that's beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.'

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A few thoughts before I go beachward for a week.

Time is a matter of what-is extracting itself from what-may-be.


I don’t care what you want to call it—East Mars, the Holy Spirit, zeitgeist, the Sublime, BREATH, muse, pneuma, Self, the historical dialectic, the unconscious, ‘my dusky brother,’ Daemon, inspiration, genius, Shirley, or late-for-dinner—it is the totality of yourself. It is (to use another name) your soul, your spiritual existence, is that which writes, and not your consciousness, which is part of the constellation above-named (a part which though, like any amaneusis, must have a good sense of when to ad-lib.). How do I know? Well, experience. Not to say that others don’t have an entirely different experience of poesis—and not to say all compositional experiences involve this immanent beyondness so clearly at the time—but I really can’t conceive of writing without this voice, the smallest and only clear voice, trustworthy, that I know of as myself; somehow it seems that that larger voice which manifests so clearly when I am still is larger in me, is me so large that this illness is nothing, is like a cramp or a scowl at most, passing. I mean I love syntax and line-play, the instant feeling of control and discovery composition can yield, yet I feel that I could achieve so little (or less than the little I do) without this larger-ness which gives life to my love and sometimes manifests itself directly enough that the writing of it is almost the taking of dictation. (Anyone else feel this way?)

From what I remember, Plato set up the concept of “Furor Poeticus” to disenfranchise the idea of poetry as a valid art form. (Caveat: I guess I should go back and read again before holding forth on this topic, but this is a blog, virtual real-time thought, so I’m going to anyway) To wit: am I buying into some lessening of the art of poetry by defining it as a ‘talent’-based, not skill-based art form? I don’t feel so, for two reasons.

One, poetry requires the acquisition of many skills, yet any art which relies almost totally on skill is artisanal, not artistic. I know loads of you (hypothetically) are blowing poststructuralist gaskets at my acceptance of the myth of the sublime, but as it seems to me, we humans are structures—there’s no getting past the social structures we inherit, period. There is too much of human-being in these concept-structures (inspiration, sublimity, etc) for me to disdain them out of hand. Simply put, they offer me more, I feel, than the denial of them does. And I’m so far from being a convert to the Gnosticism of the church of All Received Knowledge is a Capital-Manipulated Instructuration that I’m just going to rest on my artisan/artistic dualism here—that the separation between the two is one’s ability to channel that ‘larger’ thingy we’ve been debating for three thousand years (at least) into an apprehendible form, a form which can lead a sensitive reader to that experience of self-beyond-self.

Two, again, I’m relying on experience. The only times I’ve written things I and others have felt is poetry is when the internal dualism between me and Me was disassembled, negotiated to a nonduality—when the sensation was of me recognizing that it was in harmony with Me (obliteration is a kind of harmony, too). (Earlier in my blog I kind of snipped about confessionals—imagine a confessional poet who wrote from the Atman? Is that Whitman?) I mean, I write because, among other things, I don’t want to always have to look into a mirror to see how I feel.

I may have to rethink this into sense if it isn’t so much now, I apologize if its seeming so to me is a momentary fancy on my part. In my defense I rest on my blog mission statement, that I am trying to sort out the implementation of what until now has been, despite some broad reading, mostly a matter of instinct. Sortings-out usually involve some messiness.

That’s all.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Of all my cooking, the thing Dara likes most is when I grind fresh chai masala, so she can add it to her tea. So simple.

& I’ve spent the past few weeks arranging a reaction paper to Spicer via Calvin, 3 pages. My brain still moves slow—better than when I first fell ill (2000) when, for example, I would struggle to find the right word and then say “cupboard” for tea cup; this among other impediments to clear thinking and communication. As I get better (a little each day adds up, thanks to the meditation and my family’s love) I can gradually do more, but it still takes an effort of its own, to write even exposition. Floyd Skloot has written eloquently regarding this.

In one sense it (falling so ill so long) disrupted my life—I had just started in the program at Utah, where I was very happy to be. But, I see now that this is my life, or was and I didn’t know it. Looking back, I believe my body was fated (genetic, dispositional, early Lyme’s? I don’t know) to hit a wall and break down. I’d always been a reader by disposition—slow to physical exercise, sensorally removed, home from school sick a lot—and I think this was not just disposition but coping with a physical tendency which, as I became more responsible each day, and even each moment (married, a father, working), eventually came to a head. And the stress (good stress, but stress) of being a poet—the constant perceptual awakeness to oneself and one’s aroundness—eventually a gasket blew. Or something. I mean, there were infectious agents involved, but those a regularly-functional immune system would handle no problem. The real illness is my inability to maintain both a normal-functioning metabolism and a normal-functioning immune system. So it really was a matter of lifestyle. Why I chose to live a lifestyle which did not fit my body is a topic for later, maybe. That I found the qigong that I did is a miracle (That I am recovering, not only coping, due to the power of this meditation, is seriously just so happy, so rejuvenating-beyond-merely-the-illness, so cool). That it is enabling me to attend to my incompletes and even contemplate returning to school is the joy Scrooge felt back in his life, after the ghosts.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

& my first blog-dream last night--someone wrote a comment to a post: "Stop writing us your parti-coherent thoughts at 4 a.m. and GO TO SLEEP!"


King Lear = the price we pay for the careless passion of others, or our own. Lear has always seemed to me the most (most, that is not only) familial--nuclear-familial--of the dramas, now I understand why.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Here's a recent poem. (Reading it again, I see an aversion to (a 'swerving from,' even) tragedy. I know, it's only a tree. But that too is what I mean.)

Self-Georgic: Dwarf Gravenstein

A tree
which never awoke rolled over
into the warm season without a leaf—
Here I transcribe its dreams, its and not mine:

under clouds, it is strongest
among a field of near-as-strong, its children. There are no men
and wasps, the sun they doze through,
humid sun, and sometimes a slow breeze beats over
a moireish Turkmen carpet of rotting apple, from which birds
with ravenous appetites carry its seed and over
oceanic fields of humus drop them in waves. Nothing
stems these coming saplings but themselves. All is
as it should be, uncontained sun and roots full as trunks
until remembering the depth of pleasure, sap

underground and roots so swollen away
from cold, horizon, breeze, no farther out than we mostly are
with our attentions as we walk familiar home,
with the season contracts, expands to dreaming,
to concentration and depth, and finds itself
in the pleasure of depth a dream, an overless season
of self, self-
knowledge, rippless sea unwaiting, time untimed.

Two dreams here, in this one container.
From the nursery dormant, full-rooted, ready
to grow into my landscape
and dreams and my son’s knowing.
It is green-cambered and is yet unleaved.
It will slowly die, though we give it water.
Though it once grew, must have, to become what it, though slender, is,
it has in our home chosen self-knowledge over life.
There are better ways to know yourself than dreaming.
A tree may not know that. A tree may only know
the other way when knowing, the way which is inward and
too gradual to mean. Better you should look for life
in forgetfulness, tree, better you should be nothing.
Nothing is better than the meaning which suffocates
with its promise that eloquence, that of leaves or tongues, is
a matter of self, not time, or can be.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Quick followup--as Shakespeare's plays often end intimating that the restored order is vulnerable to the same forces which disrupted it in the first place (i.e. five acts ago), so the short passage I just quoted from Moby-Dick. Up to now, the prominent sharp metal objects have all been piercing-oriented--harpoons, the large blade for decapitating the sperm whale recently killed, the large hook used to strip its carcass of blubber, Ahab's knife used to impale the sighting-prize doubloon upon the mast. Not a direct statement of Melville's, but as an atmospheric I find the suggestion undeniable that these moral goosers will not find themselves removed from the cycle of karma. I mean, if nothing else, think of what Melville did with pens and the effect of their employment in Bartleby--morbid. Death one way or another will get you.

And this whole atmospheric denial of spiritual worth which is the topic of every other employment of the word 'modernity,' (yet is not exclusive to modernity, being broadly discussed as humanity seems to have been having its discussion) it seems sometimes, considered while I was playing with Jonah, who just doesn't have that weight yet, made me think along these lines:

that the desire of a child is the desire of a spirit—very and selfless, additive and of, for spiritual hunger only adds to that it hungers for. The desire of an adult is the desire of earth, of a ghost—it is, in fact, the absence of spiritual desire. To consume is its desire, its very desire, its desire itself, as sustenance, in order to replenish temporarily a temporality; of self to earth, until wholly earth, desireless. Why such desire, anxious to death for life, is in the end desire for death—for finality unbalanced by need. In this context, spirit is ever and everchanging, body is the temporary desperate for permanence.

To close the awful shark-chapter, where Stubb eats the whale-steak and humiliates his cook, Melville returns to the idea that Stubb seeing by the light of the fresh-harvested whale’s oil while he eats of the whale might at first seem insulting. He goes on:

“But Stubb, he eats the whale by its own light, does he? And that is adding
insult to injury, is it? Look at your own knife-handle, there, my civilized and
enlightened gourmand dining off that roast beef, what is the handle made of?
–what but the bones of the very brother ox you are eating? And what do you pick
your teeth with, after devouring that fat goose? With a feather of the same fowl.
And with what quill did the Secretary of the Society for the Suppression of
Cruelty to Ganders formally indite his circulars? It is only within the last
month or two that that society passed a resolution to patronize nothing but steel

Now there’s a lot here, I’m focused now on the final flourish. Following the illustration that even do-gooders do harm by the structure they live in (Melville in Moby-Dick makes it a metaphysical structure which in turn orders humanity’s social structure: the seer structures the metaphysic in all cases and in a case like this, in a society like this, extractive, our, it’s gonna be ugly) and on, Melville has the goose-lovers go mechanical. The choice is between a savage life organic with your around, or a mechanical life removed.

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