Tuesday, August 31, 2004

I've just finished Nathaniel Bellow’s “The First Four Measures,” a short story in the Paris Review. That is the first short story I’ve read in a real long while, and it is really really deft at its own telling, at putting itself together as it goes, like a machine and inevitable, but feelingly feeling along. I’ve heard E.L. Doctorow say he hasn’t finished reading a novel through in however-long because he sees what’s happening after the first fifty to seventy pages. I admired him for that but I saw where this was going halfway through the second section and still read it (maybe this is because it is the first, and not the ten-thousandth, short story I’ve read in a few years) and felt/experienced the spring, what was the situational sadness and entrapment at the end. The story as inevitable in its revelation of the boy growing being the simultaneity of his being cast into shape—his paralysis, to take the keystone word from the story’s hope, Dubliners.

I wished I could have written it—not had written it, mine would have been different, but that I could have. It’s so cold in its calculation, its craft of introduction—oblique to take the hit of initial attention, the way our bodies, our skulls, are, crafted to deflect impact by grace of evolution. The first page-and-a-half especially. I admire this, it’s lizardy compared to the hot composition-feel I get from almost all poetry. I know this sounds facile, but I’ve been reading for a while and am going with my nerves on this, do poets compose not hot ever? Even feelingly so at the time (composedly composing, that is), looking back I’ve just been unselfconscious of what I’m feeling enough that there is no place cool for perspective. What is it like to . . . stretch out . . . your feeling, like that, to write fiction? I used to be praised for my fiction and not my poetry—that’s why I stuck at poetry and not fiction, and now here I am, reduced to the moment.

I should go get quotes and show what I mean when I’m speaking that way. I’m being lazy I suppose. But that’s why I’m a poet (to get all defined on you and all), all I have to do is tell you my soul and I can do anything else I want (not that I am telling my soul now, but). I can even be lazy if I want, and if I tell my soul (not necessarily now but ever) then it’s ok, inevitable even, for me to be so.

By spiritual I mean that I write poetry because we don't know how to express ourselves except violently, except momently.

By violence I mean the separation of soul from body.

Monday, August 30, 2004

You may ask why I give my attention to the New Yorker each week, instead of some less-attended and more-deserving publication, one I (ahem) appreciate more. You might. I might. I might as well.

Why review the New Yorker?

A contrarian impulse. To see a-if its reputation for blandness is warranted (not these past weeks, actually, but I did read it for a few years in the mid-nineties and it was a dry stretch virtually uninterrupted until I let my subscription lapse. Maybe the taste has gotten better there? or mine worse?). b-to ‘protest’ (and how I wish I were there) said blandness not by supporting its ‘opposite’ but by (futilely) holding it to the standards of actual poetry, and not that of mere signed edifice.

Futilely because its circulation is—what? 650,00 I think I remember? & how many people read a New Yorker poem? More than I have time to count to. My one voice against that? Not even against, but for, idealistic and open, humble (as in I am not an inspired critical voice, just trying out my reading naked and responsive), it.

How can I resist?

and: In Bernstein's My Way, he has a short essay titled "Water Images of The New Yorker." It would seem that nearly every poem published in that magazine is run through with the trope of water. Funny essay.

Saturday, August 28, 2004


Friday, August 27, 2004

The buzz, the buzz . . . Poker #4—the takeaway poem, for me, is the Du Plessis. Nice stride, tonal shifts like walking affected by thinking by walking etc. I expected (read: wanted) more by her and kept reading onto the next page as a poem titled “Cedar Sigo” maybe four nights running before (last night) I realized why it so confusedly didn’t have the presence of “Dialogue of Self and Soul.” I mean no slight of Cedar Sigo with my preference for her (immediate) predecessor.

The New Yorker has, reasonably enough, four Czeslaw Milosz poems. The New York Times has a great piece in yesterday’s op-ed section by Robert Pinsky on the man as well (note: I think the link is only free for a week following publication). You can’t walk twenty feet, actually, without finding something somewhere. Mine:

I heard him read once, at Amherst College. He was a presence larger than the (relatively) small space he read in. But his poems in translation were not, were kind of flat. He read them in Polish first (that is, Polish, trans., Polish, trans., etc), though, and they were electric, though I knew not one word of Polish. True words have a power which precedes meaning.

Sort of contra this, a momentary fancy: It’s funny to me to imagine Milosz in exile in Berkeley writing in Polish with an immediate ear for how he and Robert Hass will translate it—kind of a Borgesian or maybe Nabakovian image (not Calvino or Barth, though, in the tenor of my mind)—the translation there almost before the Polish, him writing the English, manipulating its possibilities, with the long tongs and careful pokers of the Polish. This feels fitting to me for Milosz, maybe, because his poetry can be so concerned with the nature of what precedes, of immediacy/originality of self and composition.

The poems? Go read. Dreams, angels, sex, youth, and life, life, life. Mynheer Peeperkorn with a genius for not just people, but himself. I like the first and the third (“Guardian Angel” and “Merchants,” especially “Merchants,” nice and complex in its simplicity) better than the second and fourth (“Classmate” and “If There Is No God”), which were kind of one-trick ponies.

And you?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

House and Home

my grandfather in a lemon
the pits his rooms
“my potbelly eats thousands
of lemons
and shits out the pits
in mountains”

around his house
from each acorn my grandmother
flies to heaven

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

At what point does a philosophy become a mysticism? Either a theology?

Alternately, at what point does a philosopher become a mystic? Either a . . . what, a priest? A prophet?

Monday, August 23, 2004

Feeling more like myself again. An incredible process, one whereby my body just cannot maintain certain basic metabolic necessities such as body temperature, easily. So brain powers down, and immune function, and digestion sometimes, while I recover. I’m so much better than I was, which means the process is not so severe/painful as it used to be. And this time it took a few days, which is heaven. In the beginning, a misstep (and they were impossible to avoid, some days getting up to go to the kitchen would do it) might take months to recover from. Eventually that turned into weeks, which has now, since the break of winter passed, become days.

Need I say, I look forward to the ‘hours’ period of my journey?

So I’ve had a few ideas, I guess I’ll just put them here and sort them as best as they allow, using discretion so as not to take any reader's time (overly) for granted. These are probably just some version of the usual getting-to-know-Heidegger thoughts, common, so I make no great claim to their depth or originality. Still, they have something of me, interacting, in them, so they seem to me yet interesting. I’ll lay them out more-or-less chronologically, there’s a telling chance in thought which may expose for any onlookers where I’m coming from/going with my thought process regarding all this. They are probably more a reaction to myself than to Josh, and I am going to go back and revisit the conversation in the next few days, to see again what's there.

Here goes:

I am remembering now, in the class in which I learned of de Saussure’s theories (the same class, btw, which touched on the nation-state and its reliance on the printing press for cohesion I mentioned weeks ago), we moved from him on to Clifford Geertz, who postulated that social and biological evolution are inseparably intertwined. That language has shaped our brain’s evolution as much as our brain has shaped our language’s. It makes perfect simple sense. It also complicates de Saussure’s idea that signifiers are arbitrary, in that speech is thus connected to the natural world—sound to meaning (onomatopoeically as well as perhaps synesthaestically) in ways too elemental for us to even comprehend, shapers of our anthropological experience as much as the reverse—if on long stilts through time which eventually, extended beyond reasonableness so as to not see one’s footing, must topple or collapse as one moves along the way on such abstracted words (that last part’s my apocalypse and Orwell’s perhaps, but not, from what I remember, pragmatic Geertz’s). And that brings us back (commodius vicus) to Vico, who I find evocative in similar fashion to Bruce Chatwin—useful beyond the verifiable reality of what he says—which is to say, poetic.

I’ve actually read a very little on Heidegger now and its funny, when I’ve considered poems as autonomies (‘objects’) my frame-of-reference has always been Paterian, with his trope of density, brilliance, and energetic purity, of ‘burning with a hard gemlike flame,’ or the idea (Collinsean?) of a poem as a living entity, this second one kind of melding in with Buber’s division of interactive perception into a language of two words. I’m going to go get “Being and Time” and see what I can make of it; I do wonder, in a work as subtle as this is reported to be, how much gets lost in translation, though.

As far as the quantum mechanics I mentioned in the discussion posted on Josh’s site, I know such things can be the (well, one) domain of contemporary crackpottery. My intended use of it was Ovidean, an etymology of becoming, process(ion) of being through being. Or Being through Time, mebbe, in the terms I’m coming to understand.

One misconception I can now see, the result of my unfamiliarity with Heidegger. “Refer” doesn’t mean “connected” or “distantly part of.” I was confusing it with such. What it means is ‘to not be part of and yet direct/motion (cognitively?) towards.’ Always a complicated situation, since something can’t refer without also being (John Barth makes much of this; so do the mechanics of metaphor, which is I think where my conceptual (con)fusion came from). But in a discrete universe, or at least a discrete frame-of-reference, such bottoms don’t have to always drop out (‘eternity in a grain of sand’ is only every grain always if you’re as gifted as Blake), as Josh Hanson discussed earlier too. That post brought to mind the book Godel, Escher, Bach, and the concept of sets which contain more than themselves perpetually, which brought to mind college and its excesses. And I think I’ll leave off there, burgeoning references.

And a note to notes (trivia): In regards to my previous misprisioned understanding of reference as a concrete connection, I was trying to get at the distinction between absolute (i.e. divine) and relative transcendence. That’s what the use of understanding space having multiple dimensions is—like two buildings connected by a skybridge. From street level, they are two discrete buildings, but on the fourth floor, they are contiguous. This is the transcendence of reference, as I understood it being used. Conversely, intermingled roots, ground and biological process, could be. Or would that be sublimity?

I’ll close with no particular logical connection to what's come before with this quote from the introduction to The Mountain Poems of Hsieh Ling-yun, translated by David Hinton (suggestion of Loren Webster’s blog):

"The traditional terms of enlightenment such as Hsieh came to in his Yung-chia exile can be found in the spiritual ecology of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, the originary Taoist sages. We might approach their Way . . . by speaking of it at its deep ontological level, where the distinction between being (yu) and nonbeing (wu) arises. Being can be understood provisionally in a fairly straightforward way as the empirical universe, the ten thousand living and nonliving things in constant transformation; and nonbeing as the generative void from which this everchanging realm of being perpetually arises. Within this framework, Way can be understood as a kind of generative ontological process through which all things arise and pass away as nonbeing burgeons forth into the great transformation of being. This is simply an ontological description of natural process, and the Taoist sage dwelt as an organic part of that process. In this dwelling, self is but a fleeting form taken on by earth's process of change--borne out of it, and returned to it in death. Or more precisely, never out of it: totally unborn. Our truest self, being unborn, is all and none of earth's fleeting forms simultaneously."

And that's kind of where I was going or coming from, I think, with my sense of what Josh & Josh meant by 'reference.'

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Yesterday, we went to the Flemington Outlets with my dad & his wife. Between the walking, driving, talking, and decision making, I’m tapped out, and I don’t have much energy left for my brain-stuffs. So I’m going to take a day or two to meditate only, forget thought, and sleep it off. At least the humidity has broken (down here in Highland Park, at least).

Was it worth the exhaustion? Nah. I did get a great jacket, though, and Dara & Jonah got new school clothes, and Jonah got an ice-cream sandwich and his first mint truffle. And it’s a ritual, third year now, us going, so. Some things you just got to do. Like my grandfather used to say, “do it and then it gets done.”

So my thanks to Josh Corey for hosting this discussion, and for putting it up on his site. If ideas connected to it occur to me (and I imagine they will) which I consider worthwhile (that we’ll wait and see for) I’ll post them here. It definitely introduced a new vocabulary for feelings & ideas I’ve wanted to express, and was provocative, in the best sense of eliciting response (and vocation-enhancing, as well, though we’ll see what comes up in my poetry in the next year or so connected). I feel gratified to have uttered such a mixture of confusion and comprehension.

And it’s Heidegger. Heidegger. Heidegger.

Friday, August 20, 2004

This reference, at Haring Makata, as well as being a post well worth reading, refers to lots of activity regarding Gary Snyder in blogdom--& I certainly have referred to him a few times in the last few weeks.

So I want to say, I’ve been ruminating on Gary Snyder not to dis him—I very much like him and often enough his work, though I have my quibbles—but a—because I’m trying out the synthesis of what nonwestern dualities I’ve allowed into my life with my poetry, and b-because (and related to reason a) I’ve recently done my first read through of Streckfus’ the cuckoo, and I’m trying to put into words my sense of that book. I have two lines of thought on it just now. My first is, the detached and completely authorial way he has with narrative and its energies. He knows how to build an expectation, and he knows how to satisfy one and in so doing, he shows you that the expectation you had is not the one you thought you had—that the behind-sense, the larger-consciousness one, is what gives the specific its meaning, and not the specific. This plays with his zen-derived (I think), koan-like, desire to show how the world’s specifics take themselves apart at the point of consciousness-inception, of narrative—narrative being, here, the desire to fit something into an algorithm to make it easily engaged-with.

Though after writing that, I went back to the book to see something, and read Louise Gluck’s introductory essay, and realized she’s saying something very similar, though in different and more apprehensible words. So I’ll move on to my second line of thought.

Second line of thought (intersecting): how this first engagement leads naturally to his more explicitly po-mo project in the book, the marriage of the old Chinese story “Journey to the West” not only with base physical reality, but with our own country’s march west and its narrative of Manifest Destiny, and attendant archaisms (bikes & monks, emperors and NGOs). The way the more traditionally mystical-consciousness impulse is at peace and at one with these techniques and their politics I like.

Tired now, so more later. With quotes, next time, too.

By spiritual I mean poetry is a real language.


Yesterday is the first day in—I don’t know, a while—I composed consciously, that is, not jotting down what came during meditation during meditation. To recover one’s mind, one’s artistic self, to significance, is an indescribable feeling. But of course, I’ll pithily try. For you.

It’s like when a hangover or flu recedes and one can walk again, or eat again (or, depending on how bad the hangover was, see again). I remember this is the feeling one gets after a great compositional day, but it is intensely heightened now by my circumstance. Meaning can be a wonderful thing.

It’s really wonderful to be alive.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Thought: the thing about Gary Snyder is, he is engaged with reality as an apprentice often, when he thinks he’s being a poet—and at such times, he knows too much in his not-knowing than is good for his craft, according to my ear.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

I don’t know if it’s because I’m cranky this week (Jersey humidity) or because of what they themselves are, but this week’s New Yorker poems are not so good. I’m not going to attend to them, I think I’ll just leave them be, to compost gradually back to the soil gently and without offence. Jack Spicer says deformed poems have a right to be, so. Let them be in peace.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I'm posting my most recent reaction paper written for my snail-slowly-completing incomplete. It's long by blog standards, warning, and probably lots of obviousness, but it took me a while and for that I'm proud of it. Read if you want an intro to Spicer, or school me on Spicer, if you want, where I've missed . . .

and I'm sure I have.

Reaction Paper Considering Jack Spicer’s Language and “Imaginary Elegies”
in the Light of John Calvin’s Theology (with George Herbert Mediating)

“This ocean, humiliating in its disguises . . .” Spicer resents from the beginning his place as receptor in his perceived system of poesis. He resolves himself to it with love, the final word and motion of “Thing Language.” In this resolution he is like Herbert. That is, he resolves himself through all torment and want with love. Spicer, though, goes for a harsher equalization of love and death than Herbert, who for all his severities writes of a love powerful enough to be indulgent (“Love (III)” comes quickest to mind as example). In Herbert’s theology, love conquers death—well not conquers (read “Death,” ex.) but subsumes death, death is a manifestation of love (read “Easter Wings,” ex.); love is the one morpheme, so to speak, and death an alternate pronunciation introduced to accommodate our free will; paradoxical to the receiver perhaps, but seen through the lens of faith a manifest grace. Spicer takes agape and thanatos as the two morphemes (“Lew, you and I know how love and death matter . . . thanatos and agape have no business being there.” Having no business, I take to mean, they are that they simply are.). Compared to Herbert, who views (and struggles to view, “Church Monuments” ex.) death as a subset of love, Spicer sees only with what Herbert would call “doubledark,” or non-faithed, eyes, and I suppose without some sort of faith there is no reason to believe death is not the equal dance-partner of love, particle to its wave. Spicer even rejects the possible American theology offered by Whitman[1] at the end of “Morphemes’” first section: “Dead grass. The total excuse for love and death”.[2] Emphasis for this point is “Dead.”

Now as far as the ‘value’ of a poet as receiver-radio goes, Spicer addresses it and its magical valence in the final section of “Thing Language” (though not only here). He first says there’s lots of silicon, i.e. organic matter, in his heart. & that this substance muffles the clear ringing of the iron. The metal in his heart “bangs,” not rings. “Too personal/ The glass and glue in my heart reply.” But then in the final two lines, “The sounding brass of my heart says/ Love.” This is not rationally deductible from the argument built up in the poem to this point; and even were it parsed to mean “well, what little brass there is sounds” the phrase “the glass, the glue, the living substance . . . muffles what the rest of the heart says” denies this possibility. So the crucial trans-formation which bodies forth into those last two lines from the previous seven, embodied in the one-line quote from 1 Corinthians (and well-bodied, as it speaks to the necessity of love—of being open to God’s love—to attain the eloquence not of mere hyperbolism but of love & truth[3]), is the miracle of grace. Its motion, both tonal and logical, brings to my mind’s ear again Herbert, say the turn ending “Iesu,” among so many.

One crucial difference between the two poets, one related to the issue of love’s relationship to death, is that Spicer does not seem to feel the lower-case-ess ‘self’ can conduct poesis. His poems move beyond the personal as their success; along the way, the ego may protest or observe its own inadequacy but ultimately, as the “Imaginary Elegies” do their best to, they transmit a holistic, worldwide verity-based metaphysic. In Herbert, the ego may protest, or observe its own inadequacy, but ultimately, as in “The Collar,” they transmit a personal, intimate, relational-based metaphysic. For Herbert, God’s love goes both ways and that is free will. For Calvin, from what I remember, the doctrine of predestination moves free will’s domain to a different and, strangely enough freer, domain. But this may be fanciful on my part.

From the Encyclopedia of Religion. “For Calvin, the world of God in scripture is generated by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, properly interpreted only by the Holy Spirit.” “The often-discussed doctrines of providence and predestination . . . are presented by Calvin as the response or affirmation of a man of faith, affirming the control of God in his life, not an epistemological program.” “Calvin’s theological program is based on the dictum of Augustine that man is created for communion with God and that he will be un-fulfilled until he rests in God.” “God is always hidden and revealed, both beyond our comprehension and revealed to us at our level. Humans . . . are dependent creatures, both because we are created to be so and because our sin renders us totally helpless in spiritual things. Consequently, God must always be the initiator of any communication with us.”

I mean, where to begin? This is Spicer’s very poetic. A poet is to receive. A poet is to abnegate the personal as any more than a tool to be used by the broadcaster, the “ocean, humiliating . . .” which is broad and complete enough to not even need us for meaning, let alone to exist—the relationship being one way. Love, for Spicer, is not part of the equation—poetry’s messages, which have battered the self who attempts to receive them, to be an available transmitter and has suffered in the process (“The tubes burn out . . .), do not even know “they are champions.” They are envisioned as lifeless transmissions from some Solaris-like ocean which, tossing, makes the music we would move to. Love, for Spicer, while an adequate for death, is purely an interpersonal matter.

Or maybe not. I seem to be arguing 2 things for him. One, that, as I just said, love is terrestrial. The other, that, as quoted before, freed as if by a miracle from the dross of personality, his responsive eloquence is one word, “Love.” So he makes much of death but perhaps is not so removed from Herbert in this regard. Or is and isn’t; I don’t know that he is saying merely one thing.

My (usual) caveat: In addition to this paper’s purpose being to touch on, not completely explicate, the topic at hand, I know I am also clumsy in my exegesis, these poems are lovely and while they feel familiar in a way I’ve never encountered, I am still feeling my way into them. The use of nursery rhymes feels significant, and my sense of why—something of the power of regression to a primal state of birth-existence, one where personality has yet to develop and so one is a receiver of the first order; where one has not even developed, through experience, a structure of personality upon which injury might be felt (from the force of the transmission-waves, that is)—doesn’t feel complete. I look forward to reading some prose by the man, to get a more detailed sense of his poetic. But I very very much like what I’ve read, much more so than I expected to—such enjoyment, and such a sense of fellowship, is almost by definition beyond expectation. And I think that fits.

[1] i.e. from Leaves of Grass, explicit: “To die is different than any have supposed, and luckier . . . look for me under your bootsoles.”

[2] He does so, though, in a way which makes Whitman (and, I suppose, the power of viewing and ‘chanting’) more primal than love or death, by introducing the ‘dead grass [period]’ as a found excuse, a ‘total’ excuse, for love & death. I suppose this is the motion a Romantic poet should make. It is also the motion Harold Bloom would ascribe for any poet reaching for strength—it both makes his own poem an antecedent to his ‘strong’ predecessor and affirms the primacy of the (Blakean, Shelleyan) Romantic Imagination, while offhandedly denigrating the “strong” predecessor in the process. Which I find interesting because before reading much Spicer but having from you the topic of this paper, my first thought was of Bloom, who makes so much of language having its way through history through its poets, of poems talking to each other more truly than of poets. But that’s about it.

[3] Question, actually: do those sects which practice speaking-in-tongues have any connection to Calvin? They would seem to have a connection to Spicer’s poetic in this regard, at least.

John Mulrooney writes the following in response to my post of August 11:

"Perhaps another obvious point, it is not just that we are westerners and caught in the western dualities, but also that the nature of experimentation in art owes a great deal to the nineteenth century’s professionalization of both science and art. You wisely point out the danger of focusing on the results, at the expense of processes seductions. But there is an even more sinister side to this shift. A result focus has been increasingly tied to the concept of production and blogsphere will attest that we are pumping millions of barrels of poems a day.

I hear people rally around the notion of “academic” poetry vs. “experimental” poetry. This hard to pin down duality has veered us away from the “schools” encampments that artists have used to identify themselves, with varying degrees of usefulness, for centuries. People are less inclined to join or form a school when they can fall on one side of a two party system. My concern is that experimentation is, in many ways an academic pursuit. It’s just not in the English department.

Every good scientist knows that a no answer is just as good as a yes answer. Is the same true in art? If, as an artist, I value the concept of experimentation, then are my “failed” experiments (if such a thing can be determined) just as valuable and worthy of another’s consideration as my “successes”? Must I state a hypothesis before I begin composition?

Art is seen as needing to progress, as science appears to, and suffers as a result.

Science suffers less obviously, since its refocusings still produce “results”, see the rapid technological advancements that wartimes have generated (recording tape, plastics, radio networks, rubber products, zippers, various efficiency measures in clothing, not to mention the overhaul the assembly line process undergoes with each war). All of those are the results of the work of scientists, and many of them resulted from failed experiments. Would science benefit from being freed of the chains of the scientific method? Perhaps. And perhaps a greater chaos would ensue.

I am troubled by these dualities, but I must admit, I use them daily."

(me again, now, in response) Yep. People like definitions. And they like comfortable narratives, even if its one about them transcending 'narrative.' I mean, what good narrative doesn't contain transcendence? Also, the idea that schools don't necessarily mean a breakdown into two-party systems, but that a plenitude also doesn't have to be an everything-equivalent system either--that value can be real and multivalenced at the same time--is honestly utopian and beautiful, to my eye.

And lots of other good stuff here, too. I don't knowwhy I'm trying to summarize in response, except that he brings up so many points so neatly.

The discussion-of-'academic' part of John's response came to my mind when I read this quote in the most recent Harper's Magazine, from an essay by Lewis Lapham:

"The liberal consensus hadn't survived the loss of the Vietnam War. The subsequently sharp reduction of the country's moral and economic resources was made grimly apparent by the impeachment of Richard Nixon and the price of Arab oil, and it came to be understood that Roosevelt's New Deal was no longer an offer. Acting on generous impulses and sustained by the presumption of limitless wealth, the American people had enacted legislation reflecting their best hopes for racial equality and social justice (a.k.a. Lyndon Johnson's "Great SOciety"), but any further efforts at transformation clearly were going to cost a great deal more money than the voters were prepared to spend. Also a good deal more thought than the country's liberal-minded intelligentsia were willing to attempt or eager to provide. The universities chose to amuse themselves with the crossword puzzles of French literary theory, and in the New York media salons the standard-bearers of America's political conscience were content to rest upon what they took to be their laurels, getting by with the striking of noble poses (as friends of the earth or the Dalai Lama) and the expression of worthy emotions . . . " (itals mine)

I guess I'd like to know from someone who was present as an adult during the seventies and eighties how much of this narrative is true. Especially the section I italicized. And how much of it is the monocular simplified view of an indignant-culture-jockey-essay-speak?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Last post, so general, WCW wouldn't approve. Here's a more specific approach, by example, of the thing:

Da Mo: “If you want to look for help, to be healed, look inside yourself, not to medicine.” 1000, 1200 years ago? He said this because medicines have side effects, even those of the variety which work. Treating illness thusly is, by definition, unbalanced. Better to go to the source of the problem.

We feel what we do for a reason. A headache is a signal of something. So is an infection. So is almost all non-acute-injury-related illness and pain. Taking aspirin for a headache is like muffling a smoke alarm when it goes off. Better you should first find out why it is going off. Take care of that and it will stop. Too much time in front of the computer? Better you go rest your eyes on something else. Taking the aspirin to relieve the pain means later on, some greater discomfort—serious eye strain, I don’t know what, only that something—will become the alarm. Obviously this chain of events doesn’t lead to anything mortal, but you can see where such a pattern leads when you start taking antibiotics and compromising your body’s immune system. Attend to your health like you do to a poem, is my thought. And with the difficult developments, as long as you are alive you can walk it back to health with concentration and love and an underestanding of qi.

This is not faith-based healing. It is not religious, it is philospohical. Faith is not necessary, and many people of various faiths do use it. It is consciousness-based, and when I say philisophical I mean nothing much more complicated than the natural law signified by the taiji (yin-yang) symbol.

The form of meditation I practice is, properly speaking, a formless form. There is a specific set of imagery but that is more the map to the party than the actual meditation--I suppose that any true meditation is like that. This one, Taiji Five-Element Qigong, is a Taoist form. The Taoist forms are differentiated from the Buddhist forms, philosophically speaking, in that Taoism regards all 'this' as something which has arisen from nothing and will return to nothing, and is actual while it is, while Buddhism regards all 'this' as illusion to be transcended. So the Taoist forms focus first on building up the body/unconscious, clearing it of all illness and knots (this is qi- and lower dan tien-focused) before moving to the challenges of enlightenment. This makes any true Taoist form a useful medical one.

While practicing, ideally, you should have no distracting thoughts. To accomplish this, there are two sets of suggestions, the "dos" and the "dont's."

The "don'ts" are:

Forget your illness
Forget your troubles
Forget where you are
Forget who you are

and the "dos" are:

Let kindness be the foundation (the image here is more like "root", actually)
Let acceptance/forgiveness/humbleness be the ('trunk/stem' or 'growth')
Let selflessness be the ('flowering').

Better to not be thinking enough to remember these when actually practicing, of course, but I've gotten the "don'ts" to a neat mnemonic

I am here, worried sick.
I am here, worried.
I am here.
I am.

that shows why the progression is as it is suggested. It also works with the Taoist precept of 'forget something every day.'

I really have no idea how to talk about this in this forum (blogworld), but I feel I have to, at least once. I've seen those who diligently apply themselves to this form heal themselves of diabetes, cancer, arthritis, hypertension. I've also seen two men heal themselves of supposedly-irreversible injuries sustained in bad car accidents. And a woman infertile for a decade who now has two children.

I know, I'm insanely gullible. That's fine, I just wanted to mention it. If you're curious, and/or understand yet the poverty of real efficacy our medical profession labors under, the link is on my link-roll to the left. I may bring it up once or twice more, of course, but only because I find the whole thing fascinating.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

By spiritual I mean that I have no enemies.

. . . and Flask is completely contained. And Starbuck? Well, in the path of my recent thought I see the primary valence of ‘buck’ as 'ungrown'—his sense of the spiritual (thus the ‘star’) as that of a child’s, simple, trusting and uninvestigated, immature, not-developed-beyond-the-conventional. The implication is that he has the potential, had he not Ahab.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Two days ago I heard “Ana Ng” for the first time in ~13 years. One of those songs I love . . . it has a similar quality of attention, pure pleasure, I mentioned in a previous post.

I mostly don’t listen to music because when I pay attention to it it stays in my head 24/7 for unreasonably long periods of time. I don’t have a photographic memory, but I do a phonographic and it prevents me from sleeping, thinking, even perceiving. And the more I like a song the longer it stays. I’ve trained myself to, when hearing a song I enjoy, to pay light attention so it will pass by and leave me be. But sometimes I give in, and it is so pleasureable, a tangible sense of time passing through and not just around, of the world of the moment—dominion of Stevens’ “Emperor of Ice Cream”—but the days following have the quality of a hangover. When I meditate, though, I do get to the place where consciousness accedes to depth and unpaved quiet and the emperor’s ice-cream truck recedes.

Two days later, though, still waiting for me where it can.

addendum: I see now, having googled the lyrics page for link above, that the final line of the refrain is not, as I've always heard, “or the ones you would think I would say if there was a me for you" but “They're the ones you would think I would say if there was a me for you." I think, of course, my version is an order of magnitude smarter in its subjective/objective positioning, and more TMBG-ish to boot. So, I guess not completely phonographic.

Sigh. Maybe this’ll help my mind lose interest faster.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

I'm too young to remember this debate (discussed on Bemsha Swing), but my sense of Bloom (I once took a class with him at NYU, btw, which only reinforced this sense) is that he is not, properly speaking, a critic. He is someone who really really wanted to be a poet and decided (or was decided upon) to figure out how to do so before he started. The essentializing nature of all his theory sounds to me like someone desperate to create a narrative which they can then enter. His curmudgeonliness fits this too, defending the foundation for his eventual (& at-this-point forgotten) entry into composition. In this he is like the protagonist in "A Painful Case," never getting there.

That he would have entered into a discussion whereby criticism is considered an aesthetic production in its own right makes sense to me along these lines too. I always try to consider poems on their own terms, and poets too, to see them from the inside-out. If you do this with Bloom--apply all his inventive and perversely-specific constructions to his own presence--you see a man who was too scared to write the poems, and used the approach/avoidance of criticism to release some of that creative/relational energy. I ^do^ gain great aesthetic pleasure from reading Bloom, but I don't think I mean it as Jameson means it, in that I don't read it as straight criticism, by which standards it is laughable as a whole (I'm not including his earlier stuff on the Romantics, btw, which really is drop-dead gorgeous. I do think the taste of Blake's systematology may have ruined him, though), though he has incredible specific insights when he lets them out.

So yes, taken strictly as a poet, he is a bad poet, but taken for what he is, he is masterful at his form. I think this would be obvious if he wasn't so threatening.

Oh blogosphere,
I am a hamster
who has met his hamster-wheel!

In stack to read &/or finish: Mountain Poems of Hsieh Ling-yun (tr. Hinton), The Room Where I Was Born (Brian Teare), Between the Acts (Woolf), Invisible Bride (Tony Tost), the cuckoo (Peter Streckfus), Spell (Dan Beachy-Quick), and Alone with America (Richard Howard). And maybe I should shelve it all and start Moby-Dick again, lose some questions one way or another. I notice a tendency away from cover-to-cover reading and for more browsings-through (drive-bys, sometimes) on my part since I began perusing the blogosphere. Depths dispersed.

It just hit me why Stubb’s name is so—at least Ahab was a full-sized upright, though lame. Stubb diminishes himself with a monomaniacial obsession (to the point of abandoning Pip, the even-smaller-one) with what he can gain, and not what his striving can make him—Ahab’s concern is throughout in a sense Thoreauvian, a self-cultivation, though distorted.

& that most all of us are in action Stubbs, not Ishmaels, not romantic Ahabs, or as well as—even Joyce, Lucia his Pip.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

From listening, it seems to me that every writer of poems begins as an experimentalist—they see a poem and say ‘wow, I didn’t know you could do that!” And give it a try, just sort of see where it leads to think words that way. Eventually people (everyone, probably, for periods at least) forget the process, and focus on the results. That doesn't seem to lead to such growth, when your intention leaves the art for what the art can leave.

From its scientific meaning, one who experiments is trying by intuition the actual world in order to get their description of its reality more complete. Because scientists (at least the real ones) remember that theories don’t describe reality exactly, they are approximations—Newton’s f=ma is not as accurate as einstein’s e=mc^2 (which itself for famous reasons involving gravity is not the final word on the subject), but it’s a lot tidier and, in the to-scale frame-of-reference of our day-to-day life, is a faultless representation of cause-and-effect—at least, the ideal scientist, they understand it’s a game. Think Einstein, Da Vinci, Jimmy Neutron.

So an experimentalist's job is, by definition, both never complete and potentially successful. This is true for theoretical scientists (i.e. Einstein etc.) but also for the Edisons, because the world offers potential form-without-end for an experimentally-minded curiosity.

Poets aren’t scientists, of course, but a) ours is at least partially the labor of western dualism still, especially as Americans we are bound to carry materialism to extremes and b) our subject is in part reality, but not objective reality.

I suppose this is another obvious point. I like obvious points, sometimes working backwards from the beginning can get to something new ('original'). Einstein, famously, barely graduated college. He got a barely-passing grade on his final physics exam, I think he turned in most of it blank because he was just thinking about the terms of the question instead of using them to get the answer. That's the story I was told. I would like to be more like that, that simple.

Not that they are simple, but just cursory readings of a few blogs today impressed me, specifically John Latta's and Jordan Davis's. Good thinking is so good when it takes the terms of an attention and lays out some of its wideness, not just its direction.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Dara and Jonah are in Israel, visiting her sister's family, for ten days. So if the posts seem lonelier, that's because I am.

Without them, time is collapsing, which I didn't expect, though I remember now every journey happens this way. This time is without them, but it's the same way.

This test is making rounds. It tells me I am Einstein (intellect to save/destroy the world), I am Apocalypse Now (looking for my shadow).

(I don't think I'm Einstein, because I still can't figure out how to post images. & Apocalypse Now, I think the thing there was to get away from your shadow, but still . . .)

Monday, August 09, 2004

I don’t think I’ve ever written a good poem without having a sense of something syntactically interesting, of some essential organization, being enspringed in the opening words. I like words, but when I let them organize alone, it's not so interesting. I 'm more drawn by syntax playing against what each word means alone and spent together.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

afraid to take off my lead hat as if
as if I forgot myself
I’d cease to be

Friday, August 06, 2004

Ok. New New Yorker, and two new poems. “Stanley’s First Death” by Cleopatra Mathis, and “The Kindness of the Blind” by Wislawa Szymborska.

First question, unanswerable since I know nothing, is is this a historical or personal Stanley? My guess is personal. Personal poem.

I like the syntax shift in the first stanza; up to “its proof,” 3rd person, following first person. Unless the elided continuity “The body became . . . before him nothing but . . .” is intended which is fine, the ambiguities support each other. Breaking the second line on ‘nothing’ is easy, a portent of laziness to come.

The stanza ends with a vibrating rhyme on ‘string’ (with ‘quavering,’ three lines before), which is kind of nice. The bridge between stanzas is, unfortunately, ‘somewhere’ being repeated, which is not a good decision I think.

The second stanza has another syntax shift; the sentence is declarative through “else,” and finishes interrogative (banalest as you can imagine, “who knows?”). This sentence shows another reason why the first sentence of the first stanza’s shift was pleasurable, in that the first part of the sentence comprises two units of syntax (i.e. The body . . .,” and “the rasping breath . . .,”) and the final part one—an uneven balance that feels ‘organic.’ The second stanza’s first sentence has the balance of carelessness. (Warning, supposition to follow!) My personal guess is that the poet by now has been striving for a certain continuity and left behind some clear ideas that a quick discontinuity of composition would have allowed her to get on paper and that her mind is unfocussed by the time she reaches the second stanza. That she just wanted to get to the final image, which is a lovely one. (This is at the very least a sympathetic projection, at worst an outright one; here I claim the rights of the blogger, which are those of the self-published, to try out ideas knowing some might be silly, but probably will help me bring something into focus later simply by dint of it having been expressed. See? Reflexive criticism! Please bear with me.)

I also think it is possible she is self-conscious at having used “spirit/ lofted forth” and is trying to compensate with a laid-backness tone here, which, whatever her intentions, only leaves dangling, for this reader’s ear, that first phrase, which otherwise seemed fine. That is, the second stanza sounds fine on its own, but it clashes uglily with the first stanza, in part because of too-easy linking via the two ‘somewhere’s. And if the image is to be complete, shouldn’t the penultimate line be “then snapped back, found”? Or am I asking too much coherence from the connecting image of the string?

But I’m taken with the ending, which pinpoints, no angels, the place quotidian labor has in preserving us against eternity. And that free will does, the desire to undertake the subjective labors we do in the face of mortality and all that not as Beckett had it, as desperation, but as something worth being for because it is being. Which I guess is what Beckett had it for, though he was pretty keen on the situation’s desperation, also.

So the poem ends with a rebirth into self. A suburban spirituality.

The Szymborska poem, is wonderful. She takes Plato’s bifurcation of philosopher and poet and re-fuses them, casting the poet as he (in the poem the poet is a he) who has ventured out of the cave and returned. In reading to the blind he dreads informing the blind what he has seen not because, as the Plato’s myth had it, he will be ridiculed, but because he will be misunderstood (by making the audience kind not unkind, Szymborska underscores the tension which is perceptual not social, that of misunderstanding, very contemporary/modern) or (and these are both inferred, not explicit, and the flavor of the poem is, I think, the second primary but both. That may just be me.) because he will cause the blind to regret their state, which is, also in revision of Plato, not remediable. The ending is lovely (I think that must be what Alice Quinn looks for, because so far—and only three so far, to be sure—all the endings have been very very nice) as an act of trust and emblem of the partnership a poet must forge with his/her audience, a partnership which can be extremely uneasy and is here portrayed with lovely grace.

So the big question is, are the blind kind for transcending the difficulty they face in remembering/imagining, not seeing, color and image, or for humoring the poet?

& a quick compositional: If you make it just complicatedly honest enough, when the person figures it out, it feels like their own idea.

Quick random take on Tate (James): His hunger for connection (both kinds) is so complete he thinks its denial is all enlightenment takes.

And yes, I read his poems first whenever I see his name on the toc of a new journal.

Well yes, you can be too cynical. Until I was a parent, I didn’t understand people who thought the world net good, or even balanced—one hard kick took twenty true kindnesses to balance, it seemed to me, and the world seemed so much more full of selfishness and the various inflicted miseries of flesh (images of famine, war, disease) and spirit (assorted cruelties, vast and petty). But as a parent, I understand something. It is so good to be a parent, and parents give so much good to their children, every day, even the ones (all of us, to varying degrees) who don’t do the best they can; and the world is as full of love as it is of children. Every child grown represents an enormous amount of selflessness and good will enacted and that is in its own way a tangible thing.

What I like best about Milton, btw, that structuring whereby evil is not the opposite of good, but a debased good—that good precedes evil, and is not negated by it. “Ethics precedes being” (Levinas) and, I believe, will endure us.

Not that I expect history to transcend itself, nor do I think you can be too cynical when it comes to politics, power, and money. Life as we know it will go on (I'm looking specifically at the six paragraphs, beginning with the one which begins "I have my own reasons" and ending with the one beginning "I may just be letting my paranoia." I remember a few things from my science classes, and one was that a sound theory must be able to accurately predict the future and, judging from the jobless news and the NYSE's dramatic response this morning, well, . . . am I too cynical to think?).

Ok, ok, no more.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

This is the first I’ve heard of this “writing the wartime experience” project. Josh writes “That is, the direct good done by giving the soldiers writing as a kind of safety valve does indirect evil by making them into more flexible weapons of war, less likely to malfunction or go haywire after use.” I think the organizers of this project are not thinking this deeply or really considering the therapeutic value of writing at all. They probably are most interested in culling those samples written for good propaganda, that’s all. Hudgins and Mason are probably unaware of their servicing the propaganda needs of the military by offering their names as legitimizing agents of what the army may produce from what is produced.

Am I being too cynical? Can one be?

Ok, now I'm back to no more politics again.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Dipping only—Streckfus’ The Cuckoo (which I’ve seen reviewed as being “nonsensical,” so I expected it to be more like Famous Americans, but so far it seems very clearheaded in its distinction between what people are and how they tell their stories), Olson’s Maximus (extremely quotable: “it puts a man back/ to find out how much/ he is busy, this way, not as his fellows are/ but as flowering trees,” or, earlier, “there are no hierarchies, no infinite, no such many as mass, there are only/ eyes in all heads,/ to be looked out of.” Interesting how he invests himself in genius in its wayback meaning, spirit of a place, throughout. &, did he know the Lawrence poem “Maximus,” I wonder?), the Dao De Jing (what is there to say?), Perry Meisel’s Myth of the Modern (this guy is a brilliant critic, and also seriously off on his own at times. In one sentence, he admires authors who look forward to those they are in dialogue with in their future (for him, those moderns who take after Pater), and respectlessly disdains those obsessed with a nonfactual perfect past (for him, those moderns who take after Arnold)), and a book by an old (first, actually) writing prof., Alan Michael Parker, Days Like Prose, which poems’ sensibility affected me deeply. In two ways, since his teaching style is similar to his poetry’s. But funnier.

But my eyes aren’t sinking deep enough in for any to into me, though. It’s hard to write with the exhaustion I often live with. Body energy = composition. Not-enough body energy = ideas.

Sigh. And so on.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A few weeks back Daniel Green linked to an entry of mine on Moby-Dick. This struck me as a fine compliment, and I thank him. Here’s another (scroll down to “Scott W”’s post of July 29th) short thought on the book I recently read, which I liked very much, and thought worth noting.

addendum to previous post, regarding that time of choosing I speculate on at the end, Nestorian advice:

This is wrestling Proteus—when he seems to give you what you seem to want, don’t let him fool you into fooling yourself—don’t take the terms over the thing for the thing, don’t eat the lotus which lets you confuse seems and is. Kill the Buddha, as it goes. Let it be.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Generally, people initially come to poetry in confusion regarding language. Whether they know it or not, they find out soon enough. Who doesn’t have divisions in their consciousness their consciousness lacks the tools to gain perspective on? We all know the wonder etc. of discovering poetry and what it is, what it can do with reality and the reader who brings it to the poem. And these are words, written by another person.

Enchanting. You try it for trying’s sake. And the deeper stabilization one felt, the unity of language and world, you see after some trying is also a destabilization, a destabilization of the self as established in negotiation between you and time. So you try and try, risk it all and find a form. The pleasures of control are the pleasures of discovery as long as balanced with the energy of time, of surprise, of the uncreated coming into creation. You find a form, and have gained a little ground on yourself. Rest.

Eventually everyone gets caught confused because what once wasn’t and desired now is. You have a form, be it of syntax or rhythm and meter or other technique, trope layers, a poetic self of apparent depth and satisfaction. A face where once was unconscious unease. A breadth once not. But it’s not this form, it’s the desire for more which keeps the poetry made. Remember the formula I attached myself to, above, ‘the uncreated coming into creation?’ I won’t hold it for too long,* it’ll get stinky like a fish, but look in its scales—mirrory—if you want more poetry out of yourself, you have to negotiate with time for it, with now, and that means letting those forms you’ve managed to condense out of the hot, the magma so to speak, to melt back into yourself and plunge with them into instability, into the need to recreate yourself and your world. That bad. Or else? Well, you’re a form, a person and not in the strict sense of the word, a poet, as I see it.

That’s just how it seems to me. A visual, like each person is born a ball of magma. Through the years of socialization a form is developed, a crust, whereby the internal pressure has courses through the structure made survives, and yet maintains structure. This is what is called ‘sanity.’ In my experience, poets aren’t those who have the stablest structures, yet have a need for them—and through force of will continually try to create perceptual structures by which they can stably and ably apprehend the world. It works! Then falls. Such structures take a long time to stay, to hold.

Over the years of such creation (i.e. writing poems, successful poems, ones which mediate the in-self, the magma-self, and environment/reality), from practice, like tuning a piano, the structures stay. This is the older poet imitating him/herself. This is the form unblooded by the uncreated coming into creation. Without the energy of time. It is, for all its apparent artistic patheticity, enviable. They have succeeded, they have raised themselves and become, as one critic I forget who claimed for James Joyce, their own parent. They have birthed themselves.

Succeeded in all but one way. They have taken the consolation prize. Better, in my estimation, to learn the lesson of magma-self, of desire, of change and fluidity, and avoid the social creation of self as much as possible. But who can do that forever? Not even Shakespeare, who went silent himself.

And me? God, I’m still trying to get one foot on the path.

When you go to a vet, try to not get a funny vet (disclaimer: I enjoy splitting infinitives.) Animals don't have a sense of humor, they just want to get out. If a vet is funny, in my experience, they're not paying attention to the animal.

Funny pediatricians, however, are a good thing. An absolute must.

By the way, I'm sure there are good and funny vets. If you are one, I hope you understand, I'm just talking experience.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Jonah doesn’t normally find poems boring. He’ll sit and listen to four or five Yeats poems at a time (he likes the Celtic Twilight stuff, the tricky sidhe ones). Mine, of course, when I ask him. He also really likes David Wagoner's Who Shall be the Sun?, a collection of poems from 1978 based on Northwest Native American Indian myths. His favorite is the title poem. It speaks to something good of Wagoner that a five-year old can appreciate hearing his poems over and over. Jonah also will listen to book tapes for hours, mostly of Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke.” He's recently moved on to the first Harry Potter, taking a break from which he said he though it was funny how Dudley controlled everybody in his family.

The first time I read Jonah a poem from the Wagoner book, he said “that isn’t the same kind of poem as the other one.”

“Which poem is that?”

“The one with the silver fish in it.” (by this he meant “Song of Wandering Aengus,” his Yeats of choice.)

“No, it isn’t. That was a . . .” and I fumbled some sort of description of lyric, something like “a kind of poem you write with sounds that sound nice, that feel nice to say. This one is more of a story. It’s called narrative, like someone telling a story.”

“Are you good at that kind in your poems, daddy?”

“Sometimes. Not always.”

“What kind are you good at? The kind where you decide what you want to eat?”

“Which kind is that?”

“Daddy, the kind where you want a burrito for breakfast!”

And I remembered the poem below, which I’d read to him a while ago, where I do decide that, among other things; and where my intention was less pure & concentrated than that noble pastime (deciding what to eat, that is), just fiddling and trying to write with a little fluid disjunction, a kind I’m not so practiced at. I can't say its brilliant, but it made him laugh, which is something. And I got to tell him a little about the !Kung!.

The Same Rain

I like tortillas because your beach smells flat.
My nose has a nose because rumpled I seem
I mean. Your nose is fat. Your sneeze
is like Sanka. Waves grow in the seams.
I like waves is like you in jeans
wet from the dryer. From me. The rain
sprints because my name has no name.
Unless you count its Hebrew name.
Does my name have a !Kung! name?
I like you is like you won’t tell me your name.
Rain like a river. Is nothing the same
as I am is like my thumb is a soul
of my hand is a soul of my heart. My heart
is a soul like a Jersey comber is white
with rain. The beat of the rain is
I’ll be awake soon. You too.
Let’s like breakfast again. Like


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