Thursday, September 30, 2004

Thought I'd prop this new book out from a friend, Jeffrey Lee. Here's a review.

Headcold, so thinking has gone from bloggy to foggy. The season is joined, and I have to adapt with all the seriousness of survival. David Wagoner (I took a poetry class nonmatric with him when I lived on Vashon) liked to say "Birds live extremely difficult lives, and everything they do, they do extremely well." And point out the minimal margins of error within which they lived. He suggested, of course, both watching them intently as well as approaching your poetry with a like attitude.

So I've explained my difficulties with cold weather; there's some metabolic sluggishness on my part, and maintaining body temperature in anything but temperate weather comes at the expense of other metabolic functions any healthy person would take for granted (ex. immune function, digestion). The past three winters, I've hit a serious wall around the second week of December. Not a wall, really, that's just when the water finally stopped the car running through it, stopped by dint of inertia or flooding I guess I'd say both. The run-up, through Autumn, was gradual erosion and denial on my part of what was happening. And then had to go total hermit, avoiding the outside at all costs except where essential, like dropping Jonah off at school and picking him up, which was, the past two years, almost all my life from December - April (& the bulk of it otherwise anyway). This year I do not plan on letting that happen. I am healthier, physically, than I've been in years and mistakes, like yesterday, when I sat without a hat on on the playground and read while Jonah played, are not going to happen.

So I up my meditation, and keep my body strong, and move within its movements. Like I was saying regarding Milton, if you follow a natural law, you will prosper, and if you don't, you won't. Not a social morality, but a matter of living, like the birds Wagoner preached (and yes, he preached like I imagine an Old Testament angry one would). My body wants to be a tree (i.e. drop leaves come cold, and send sap underground) and hibernate, fine with me, I'll turn inward and build energy, gather energy, and come out of it healthier than ever. In a natural rhythm. That is a good thing. Patience comes easy with hope.

Anyway, back to poetry & its concerns. Just thought I'd say.

Oh, and I suggest you read this, if you haven't. I get the impression it'll be good prep work for the debates tonight.

I realize that the Fish quote below needs some context. So, I'll type out the first page of the section (the first of the book) for those interested.

"Milton works from the inside out. . . . In saying this I mean several things.

1. The priority of the inside over the outside is thematized obsessively in Milton's prose and poetry. Indeed, "priority" is at once too weak and misleading, since often outsides will either be declared nonexistent and illusory or found to be indistinguishable from the insides of which they are the local manifestation.

2. In Milton's prose and poetry, the direction of knowledge is inside out. In the world as he conceives it to be, truth and certainty are acheived not by moving from evidence gathered in discrete bits to general conclusions, but by putting in place general conclusions in the light of which evidence will then appear. Rather than confirming or disconfirming belief, the external landscape, in all of its detail, will be a function of belief."

And he goes on to very interesting points, which are not as salient just now. I hope that makes a little more clear where Fish was coming from, in the paragraph I previously posted.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

A thought regarding the goings-on in Iraq--I've heard various reasons for why so many Iraqis are willing to take arms etc against the US there. One I haven't heard occurred to me last night--from what I understand, a lot of children died because of what medicine wasn't available due to the US-led embargo which lasted from Gulf War I to Gulf War II. How much bad 'p.r.' did this generate for the eventual occupying forces?


Then the rain on its way from the south
and pushed east over us by a low
must be almost here, for my thirst
is of a dying man’s, and sleep
has forgotten me. That is weather too,
for cannot a man swigging gallons yet parched
be called a weather? On account
of sleep gone the way of the mild
September we had known, he is tenuous
like a cloud pulled with each attention
from the medium otherwise known
as its world apart, and high
like that one too. Tonight, dreaming
of sleep, shifting into whatever
he will hazily wake to, nothing is memorable
for it is in the syntax that weather shifts.
In New Jersey it is Florida
again, in Florida the central Atlantic
prophesies land loudly, and in his body
is a relentless/revelatory shifting, thirsty
to overtake us all.

A quote from Fish's book. He is discussing Milton's "radical sense of being":

"The distinction between knowledge and belief is a given for a post-Cartesian world in which the inner realm of subjectivity (now first invented) has been severed from, and put in an ever-problematical relation to, external reality. A subject thus separated from the real has no direct way to apprehend or confirm the truth about things and must have recourse to impersonal mechanisms (mathematics, scientific experiments) devised to neutralize and/or bypass its partiality. Such a subject can never be sure of anything, and, like the Satan of Paradise Regained, must always be in search of more knowledge (there will never be enough) in order to shore up its faith. Since that same subject is (as a condition of its existence) cut off from the truth, it will be guided by its own desires and passions, which will intersect with duty and obligation only accidentally or as a result of discipline externally applied. Such a subject--autonomous and, because autonomous, adrift--will always be torn between the directions of its impulses (sexual, material, political) and the direction a rule or sovereign or a God would enjoin. And even when such a subject has come to "know" (by report, rumor, "sacred" text) of something larger and more abiding than it, it will turn away from that knowledge to the safety of its own circuit of habits and opinions; it will know one thing and do another."

To much? Enough? So in my experience with the philosophy and meditation of taoism, I can say that, shifting a few referents (to account for the cultural valences of words like God and sacred), this could be a practical statement on how to find an easy mind meditating. Not that you should think it out meditating, necessarily, but knowing it prior can set you easy. A reassurance that, disentangled, there will still be a there there. Not sure if this matters yet. To my paper, that is.

The Eastern and Western senses of emptiness/nothing are so different. Emerson's "terrible blank" and Laozi's "uncarved block". So much of what drives people is illusion and fear; that external referents mean anything like we pretend they do, that making someone act how you want them do does anything good, can protect you, anything you are can be hidden from yourself. It can be funny, in a non-absurdist way, non-absurdist because Absurdity suggests that such is all a human can be. It can be mournful, in a non-tragic way, non-tragic because Tragedy suggests that such is all a human can be. There's a fit, a happiness, non-Stoic, non-fatalist, non-ecstatic, that is possible. Not that these are bad approaches, one may be just right for you. But that there are ways which don't involve deception. It's difficult to explain. If you find that balance which perception is, between you and the world, honestly, not setting up constructs to fool/foil the interaction, things flow smoothly. Simple is best. This is difficult to express. The big question: how can you not know what you know? That's the confusing thing, when you think about it. Sometimes you just want to yell, very firmly, to the world, "Everybody, just calm down."

Sorry for the sermonizing. News-induced. & I think I'm getting beyond my resistance to Milton's external 'moralizing' to see something of his 'strangeness.' I'd like to understand him better.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Mark Irwin poem up on Verse Daily today is very nice. I remember his White City as being a memorable book, though I remember nothing from it, believe it or not. I'll go dig it up, though.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Picked up Ashbery for the first time in a while, struck that his poems not always but one mode of them do something like what Jeffery Bahr imagined a poem might do, change the actual lines as you read along; that is, that most poems as we know them trace out a three-dimensional shape, something like that blind person feeling out an elephant all around to know it wholly. That's the subtext, or the 'under,' or whatever you will call it. That Ashbery not only changes around the same topic, he changes the affective/subjective continuity as he goes--there's a lot of change there held together by that glib flowing surface. The under changes, and I guess I'm saying that I'm so used to his style that it can be shocking when you notice just how weird and strange what he does is. The elephant changes to the Sunday Times, I mean, but you never (well, that's not true, it depends on his mode, in some poems you never know, in some you do, in many he even holds the foundation he walks on straight) really know what under the over is referring to, because it has changed, though you get the feel/taste of it enough before it changes. All this (obviousness, probably) with "Variations, Calypso and Fugue on a Theme of Ella Wheeler Wilcox" in the background. Lovely poem (with timely references to the book of "Jonah" even inside).

And thought I'd put up this striking little thing excerpted from Stevens, whose 'strangeness'I never don't notice. Funny thing, that so many love Stevens so, to me, because I was introduced to him as an 'undesirable,' 'uncool' poet. My first poetry workshop, the prof. on the last day went around the room and told each of us her/his "Bloomian" anxiety (gave himself Keats, naturally). I was last, and he said, "Stuart, don't take this the wrong way, but . . . Wallace Stevens." I said who? Growing up with the name Stuart, a little formal-sounding, you can imagine, and then to hear "Wallace," I could only imagine that guy, his poetry. In any case, the group affect was not positively valenced. Yet I bravely hiked down the hill to the bookstore and bought the Collected Poems a few days before I went abroad for a semester, and spent the semester reading it (and, in the background, Auerbach's Mimesis, Joyce's Ulysses, and the action-parts only of Moby-Dick, which I found the most difficult of all these for some reason). So I had a fairly substantial bubble where I thought I was the only one who knew just how great this poet was, and he really did sink deep into me/I deep into his work. Which is, I think, the best way for anyone to get to know a poet's poems. Now, of course, I'm grateful to not be such a freak, though I do think I've taken him a little more directly than most my age, since I didn't read Ashbery for years. Maybe that's just an egotism talking, I don't know.

Anyhow, striking little Stevens fragment (from "Primordia," which is in Opus Posthumous):


The birch trees draw up whiteness from the ground.
In the swamps, bushes draw up dark red,
Or yellow.
O, boatman,
What are you drawing up from the rain-pointed water?
O, boatman,
What are you drawing up from the rain-pointed water?
Are you two boatmen
different from each other?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Beginning the heavy lifting I have in store for the next month or two--the essay for my Milton incomplete. My meander begins with Stanley Fish's How Milton Works, so you might be hearing about that intermittently. Unless I get tired enough to set it aside, which might happen, we'll see, though I'm optimistic.

Striking book. Strange typographical touch, that chapter subheads are flowery italics. A lot of the thinking is amazingly strong, though not all. I'm taken with his overall argument, an evolution of (and generalization from) his earlier work, which focused on the actual mechanics of Milton's syntax, enjambment, and imagery as spread across time. From what I remember, brilliant work, arguing that Milton' s poetic (I most remember the argument regarding enjambment) in Paradise Lost is to offer you multiple choices of meaning and then surprise you with what the actual is, so that you participate in the 'fallenness' his poem concerns. Again, it's been years, and foggy ones, so I may not have nailed it in that one sentence, but that's how I remember it.

Right now I'm thinking of a paper that deals with the concept that 'free will' doesn't take place in the arena we usually think if it in, of decisions made in time, contingent--but in an instantenaiety prior to that unfolding, purely regarding the character's relationship to god; that the decisions of "fallen time" are where we get lost pretending they are real because of what the character (Satan, say, or Eve) have cut ourselves off from in that holistic instantenaiety. That such "fallen time" decisions play out as maps of the prior decision, and not as creative actualities in themselves. And following, that the penalty for violating the natural, or moral, law, is not subsequent, as a sequence, but is the violation itself. Fish mostly touches on this suggestively, but I don't see how his argument goes far enough to reconcile God's boringness, his staticicity, with what is supposed to be his goodness, otherwise. Well, if I read his statements in the light of Eastern philosophy, specifically Taoism, I do, but I can't help but think that is me 'Projectively' reading. Though some passages lend themselves to borrowing by what I know and, I imagine, any whole spiritual conception of the moral universe. I'd quote some now, but the book is upstairs and I'm not, so I do apologize for the delay if you are interested; I will do so later today.

& a strange part of growing older and returning to what you have not finished (which, in a holistic sense, is everything), is that what was once taught you dynamically can return feeling like an original idea. That may be the case with my idea above, it smells a little like that to me. I'll go look up my old Milton notes and report back.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Halfway done with Tony Tost’s Invisible Bride. An act of pure romanticism, I love it. Not as advertised however (I expected some seriously nonlinear and sound-based action (not that sound isn't a base here)), unless such minor (though important to the work for the work’s sake, still poetry is as reputed a carefully conservative art) alterations in technique make for the definition of schools. His intelligence functions as a mild restraint on his affect, what is felt is perceived first—well, expressed so and believably, which allows the narrative to stray on a surface level without betraying affective continuity. And it always comes together within a page, satisfying and intelligent. And almost always beautiful. Self felt; the collection’s mild restraint is Bloom’s mild restraint in episode 4 of Ulysses. I have “12 Self-Portraits” in front of me, it may be the foreground of my description, btw.

Like I said, I expected this book to be, well, difficult, maybe unforgiving. Why? Impression, and a sense of danger associated with ag/pa claims. The kind of talk which actually makes up much less of the dialogue I’ve encountered in the past two months than you would think from how much the bogeyman of rigid definitionalism is talked about is kind of like a fourteen-year-old’s leather jacket (the stances, not the poetry). It really does seem to me that we are all trying to write with the same basic stuff. And I think like in junior high, a lot of people get scared about being vulnerable and deal with it in their own way—retreat, make friends, learn lines, become a know-it-all, bully, etc.

This perception makes me happy. As does, btw, Mr. Tost’s book, and not for any reason it wouldn’t have been ten years ago, before my vocabulary ‘expanded’.

Well, at least not yet. Maybe when I get to know it better I’ll see that my above-trumpeted comfort is bedded upon not looking for the reality of variation. Kind of a “Oh, we like both kinds, country and western!” moment, I mean. Predetermined ears.

Obvious idea: has anyone ever considered putting together a counterpart to Best American Poetry which deals only with what the internet has to offer, a Best Internet Poetry (in English, probably, though maybe not even?)? BIP to the BAP, not so big, obviously, but there are already more web-only journals than I can keep track of, and the aesthetic on display is both a wide-and-varied field, and substantially different than the spread of what print journals offer. It would act as a legitimizing agent for such journals, and bring attention where it is deserved. Not to mention, I imagine it would sell, probably, if marketed well. Personally, I'd like to have it to read, to give me a (simplistic, probably, but we are perceivers, and comfort is no small quality for any who feel like tourists) feel for the contours of what makes up the 'there' out there.

So, any one up for it?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

This is very funny. A taste:

O'REILLY: What do you think Kerry wants to get out of coming on your show?

STEWART: He wants to get what any politician does: access to a new constituency. He wants to get...

O'REILLY: The stoned slackers.

STEWART: ... that's exactly right, because the stoned slackers, this election is going to rely on the undecided. Who is more undecided than...

O'REILLY: Than the stoned slacker, right.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

I’m a little behind on the New Yorker poems thing, so now comes two weeks worth. Can you take it?

Rosanna Warren, “From the Notebooks of Anne Verveine, VII.” I’m unfamiliar with I – VI, or if they exist, but this is lovely on its own. She shifts between abstraction and solidity satisfyingly and lightly (the poem opens: “Distance was the house in which I welcomed you./ But it was in the river/ that we became cadence, there where the current braided/ together again, after the stone stanchion parted the stream”), and her consonants follow a similar pattern, discretely repeating in an ‘organic’ burble (like the ‘r’s and ‘s’es of those just-quoted lines). Virtually the whole poem is water, and this gives her a chance for her repeat words to modify different objects, a syntactic mimesis of water moving through similar and discrete patterns (“water/ poured around us, surging up from springs” then, three lines later, more restingly and transformed from an out-around to an in-outward experience, “I am poured out like water.”) which ably involve the speaker essentially in the river as well as the relationship as well as the poem. Some precious flashes, nothing criminal (“Leonardo’s woman, ex.). Lovely ending, both satisfying and maybe a little too neat (“Sorrow/ is a liqueur. Drink deep. We will all be consumed.”) on reread. All the poem ties up in those last lines. Based on how ‘open’ you like your poems, you’ll like or not like it. Personally, I like it most first read, and feel admiration now, on reflection. Sticky topic, intentional craft, when so able. But this is a good poem. Probably the kind the New Yorker would publish more often if they were more on the ball; not a departure from their aesthetic, as I understand it, but an intensification.

Ron Slate’s “The Final Call,” a roundup of easy types who personify various end-of-the-world logics (“The pair of polite apostles,” “an economist explains,” “analysts,” “think tanks,” “The ram’s horn,” the last one, maybe, the only one which doesn’t smell like the result of a mid-80’s SNL brainstorm). Yeah. But guess what? There’s a nice poetic image to save us (“We’re called to parasail/ from hilltops . . . Ah, another soft landing.”) with another vaguely ominous nice poetic image to keep us guessing. Personally, I’d consider this a ‘political’ poem, pace the discussion going on on Victoria Chang’s blog. (I’d also consider Katha Pollitt’s poem in the next issue (below) a political poem.) (Look out, just because there's a bunch of crazies who haven't been right yet doesn't mean the world ain't dangerous.) Basically, it has a two-dimensional consciousness of the kind I get when I spend too much time reading the newspaper & political blogs &c. The challenge is to write political poetry with more than two dimensions. The reason it so infrequently happens is, I believe, simply put, that when you think in more than two dimensions, there are more interesting things to write about than politics.

I’m going to pass on Liz Rosenberg’s “1:53 A.M.” Kinnell-lite and phoned in. No water image, though.

On to the next issue (the fashion issue, btw). Elizabeth Spires, “Nightgown” (clever, no?). This poem starts off with a nice kind of uncanniness—the poets voice inhabits the nightgown, which apparently wants autonomy. The height of the unheimlich is the indented stanza “Someone is inside me./ Someone is continually dreaming/ dreams not my own/ so that I am pulled this way and that!” Unfortunately, it all unravels with that last, terribly clever, line. (The NYer seems to have a weakness for this coy-yet-serious deployment of dead idioms in superficially novel engagement with their surroundings. ) The next lines are ok, but then it descends into sentimental lyricism; shies from the frightening autonomy the poem must have dreamt of, at some point of its composition. Oh well. No water imagery unless the allusion of “the white world” to snow counts. I don’t think it does.

And Katha Pollitt’s “Cities of the Plain,” easily the flattest of the bunch. Oooh, angry god. Lonely god. Oooh. “Killing them/ made him want to kill them again—“ “Being God, he would not permit himself regrets.” oooh. Maybe I’d humor it in a workshop I was running, if it was the beginning of the semester. Pollitt does (did? I haven’t read it in a few years) a great job at The Nation, and I’ve read good poems by her in the past. This ain’t even a bad poem. &, incidentally, no water imagery, unless you count “the turquoise baths.” I’m noticing that maybe the best NYer poems are the ones heavy with water. Just a theory, an addendum to Bernstein’s thesis (disproved in these two issues, btw).

I apologize if anyone has previously enjoyed these poems; the statements made above are entirely subjective and meant only to judge the poems, not any potential readers of said poems. I mean, the NYer doesn’t even know I exist. So.

Monday, September 20, 2004

This is pretty cool.

Kind-of-recently, Tony Tost posited that "there are no nouns in nature, only verbs." Provocative. I've been thinking two tracks on this. The first I mostly resist, the obvious 'no', the desire to say "I refute it thusly," as Samuel Johnson said, when he kicked a solid rock, in refutation of George Berkeley (his idea that all the world is god-thought, not the man, that is). Because that's not what Tony means, I'm almost completely certain.

The other way my thinking has gone (and I'm indulging the perogative of the blogger here, I'm probably far afield from where he started and certainly ungrounded, at least consciously, in the framework which that sentence appeared in on Tony's blog) is sort of to (to pick one of many accomodating frameworks) Deleuze-&-Guattari. That everything is becoming, is changing on its way to something else. A ball, for example, is sitting. Or flying, or falling, or being kicked, or being etc. I'm still confused as to how this maps out syntactically (because I'm clumsy when it comes to partitioning sentences). Does this statement mean nouns are irrelevant? That "Rick floated down into the sea" means the same thing as "the milkweed seed floated down into the sea" or, really, any variation of furniture placed around the word "floated"? That these sentences are unreal, and that a real sentence might look more like "grew photosynthesized bloomed floated landed soaked dreamt sprouted grew"? Or that, to go back to Rick and the milkweed seed, the word 'floated' is like the sun to the objects around it, casting the defining light which gives them shape and, though Rick is no milkweed seed, the act of floating is mostly all of the poetry of either's actions?

I'm avoiding going back to the entry until I finish my own wandering through the idea. There's something of activity there I think I could use, until I find it. And to be honest, there's some intimidatingly vigorous thinking going on over there; I think I want to think out loud to myself kind of lazily a little first.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Why is this the Whitman poem I read so often? Why am I posting it?

As I Ebb’d With the Ocean of Life
by Walt Whitman

As I ebb'd with the ocean of life,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk'd where the ripples continually wash you Paumanok,
Where they rustle up hoarse and sibilant,
Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her castaways,
I musing late in the autumn day,
gazing off southward,
Held by this electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems,
Was seiz'd by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot,
The rim, the sediment that stands for all the water and all the land of the globe.

Fascinated, my eyes reverting from the south, dropt, to follow those slender windrows,
Chaff, straw, splinters of wood, weeds, and the sea-gluten,
Scum, scales from shining rocks, leaves of salt-lettuce, left by the tide,
Miles walking, the sound of breaking waves the other side of me,
Paumanok there and then as I thought the old thought of likenesses,
These you presented to me you fish-shaped island,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk'd with that electric self seeking types.

As I wend to the shores I know not,
As I list to the dirge, the voices of men and women wreck'd,
As I inhale the impalpable breezes that set in upon me,
As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer and closer,
I too but signify at the utmost a little wash'd-up drift,
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift.

O baffled, balk'd, bent to the very earth,
Oppress'd with myself that I have dared to open my mouth,
Aware now that amid all that blab whose echoes recoil upon me I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,
But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet untouch'd, untold, altogether unreach'd,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.

I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and that no man ever can,
Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon me and sting me,
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all.

You oceans both, I close with you,
We murmur alike reproachfully rolling sands and drift, knowing not why,
These little shreds indeed standing for you and me and all.

You friable shore with trails of debris,
You fish-shaped island, I take what is underfoot,
What is yours is mine my father.

I too Paumanok,
I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and been wash'd on your shores,
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island.

I throw myself upon your breast my father,
I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me,
I hold you so firm till you answer me something.

Kiss me my father,
Touch me with your lips as I touch those I love,
Breathe to me while I hold you close the secret of the murmuring I envy.

Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,)
Cease not your moaning you fierce old mother,
Endlessly cry for your castaways, but fear not, deny not me,
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feet as I touch you or gather from you.

I mean tenderly by you and all,
I gather for myself and for this phantom looking down where we lead, and following me and mine.
Me and mine, loose windrows, little corpses,
Froth, snowy white, and bubbles,
(See, from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last,
See, the prismatic colors glistening and rolling,)
Tufts of straw, sands, fragments,
Buoy'd hither from many moods, one contradicting another,
From the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the swell,
Musing, pondering, a breath, a briny tear, a dab of liquid or soil,
Up just as much out of fathomless workings fermented and thrown,
A limp blossom or two, torn, just as much over waves floating, drifted at random,
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of Nature,
Just as much whence we come that blare of the cloud-trumpets,
We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you,
You up there walking or sitting,
Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet.

I'm still unsure as to how posting a poem here counts for eventual publishing. I'd like to know. But this is a first part to something (and what is so far of the second), so for one reason or other (quality; part of what will be longer; eventually will probably be heavily edited) it is, I imagine, exempt. When I lived in New York, I used to go to the Metropolitan Museum as often as I could--now I can't, so what I'm writing here about is from memory. Which will end up being, I hope, the point. I fear Keats' Urn.

Tradition World


What does it look like

the long-necked amphora

a glass cube, under a skylight,

the Met, to be wanting
up, out

of the belly, and through?
The moon.

Past the thumbprints, which each
labored dint

in clay light shows as cirrostratus, philosophical-
est clouds?

Yes, that stable throat
is the moon.


missing strings harmonize now silence
now my mind

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Josh Corey has an insanely perceptive and articulate post regarding the selfsame Silliman post I excerpted from yesterday. I can’t say I agree with all of what he says (reservations noted below) but his position is lucid and inescapable. Be sure to read.

Now. The whole point of any true spiritual system, as I understand it, is simplicity. Away from, and not into, complexity, either its pleasures or its burdens. So, I don’t understand why Josh says “mysticism always diverts . . .” This is explicitly untrue of any true mysticism I am familiar with. What they do do is attempt to understand/exist within the world on its own terms, as a personal relationship. Organized religion often has diverted peoples’ spiritual energies away from the earthly as a means of crowd control (‘opiate of the masses’ &c), but when I think of a practitioner of a vital mysticism—say, at random (chosen flipping through a Joseph Cambell book) a Siberian shaman—they journey into the ‘mysterious’ to bring back to earth something real and of moral value—in the Siberian shaman’s case, to heal someone of a disease. How is this away from the earth, let alone moreso than Adorno, unless you are willing to dismiss even the possibility of actual efficacy coming from such practice? And what if it is shown to you such practice can heal? What does that do to the belief system you labor under now?

I’d also add I know of no wisdom tradition of any historical endurance which didn’t have a strong moral, social element. This is not to say there isn’t plenty of idiocy in the history of such things, but that the idiocy doesn’t cancel out the accuracy of what is accurate (Josh makes a similar point regarding theory, towards the end of his post, btw.).

I mean, let’s take Blake, as example. Blake’s a big hero, and his systematology is complex. But he didn’t set his complex systems up as an essential mysticism, for him, soul cleansed was simple; love. He advocated a cleansing of the doors of perception, and his complexities trace the paths of time, of such obstruction as needs to be navigated, the mind-forg’d manacles and all that. An attempt, that is, to bestow proper proportion upon the 'productions of time.' This is the proper role of a seer, of a mystic, of a Prophet, a wholly societal, local, generous and moral necessity. Not removed from earthly concerns, less a complex system to be adopted (i.e. made ritual) than an attempt to communicate a negotiable path out of the cave/Ulro/self/wilderness-of-Sinai to illumination. His complexity is there to teach you how to see clearly, and clearly is, simply, simply. (Simply is earthly, as earthly as can be. Why mystics forego opulence, eat so little, live in deserts, sleep in coffins, all that weird stuff to remind them what soul is. These are, note, not ends, but beginnings—it’s what follows from such practice that is important, not the practice as such.)

I mean, prophecy has always had less to do with foretelling the future as is, then with saying ‘if you don’t start acting right, some serious shit is going to come your way.’ A prophet is a citizen in the most complete sense of the word, and no society can exist without what s/he brings. We as a country are removed from that tradition (our cultic outbursts both symptom of, and reason for, such remove, I'd hazard to guess, though I could be horribly wrong), and we as poets feel the need to assert what is not an easily-definable, yet is an essential, perceptive ability, and I think the way theory has taken shape is part of that negotiation—a negotiation with our alienation on its own terms, attempting to make for survival of what we are.

So why is it so complex to say so, let alone do so? Well, this is one reason, I suppose, why ‘mystic’ is cognate with ‘mystery.’ My momentary apprehension is that society is, it has been commented, a group sharing a similar psychosis. We all talk to ourselves, and we all do so with a similar range of voices, probably. That’s one definition of what makes a community, I’d say. Stopping those is something like what Blake called cleansing the doors of perception I think, is a (re)turn to simplicity, getting through what you know of as ‘yourself’ to yourself (“God is a man upright in the noon sun” and all that) though getting yourself to do so is an arduous task, and seems along the way like a removal-of-self-from-what-is-apparent. The Taoists suggest forgetting something every day; that each piece of knowledge is a dust-mote on your pupil, an obstacle to ‘youing’ yourself through the world and the world ‘worlding’ through you. Navigating these voices back to their genesis is a matter of self-control, of mystical apprehension, and of poetic composition, I’d trepidate. They are all one you, I feel pretty confident saying, though I know there are theoretical frameworks I contradict in doing so. At least, I think there are.

But moving on. Josh’s point regarding the transcendent joys of apprehending critical logic is luminous, and a worthy addition to Silliman’s point. Such joys I think of as Talmudic, and I know it’s strange for me to be advocating a non-knowledge-based self-apprehension given that my tradition is of such extreme (in practice as well as in longevity) text-basedness (and on Rosh Hashannah no less—o God, please know all this is to praise you; and write me in the Book of Life—how’s that for a text-based mysticism?), as are near all of the purest connection I have found, from a very early age, first as a reader and now, even, occasionally, as a writer, but I think there has to be a balance. How much of what words are is pendant on that not being all they are (or, even, primarily are)? Derrida’s powerful theorizing would have no power were he really arguing that words are all there are—same with Lacan. Even these guys still labor under certain materialist assumptions which I think are untrue (that consciousness can have no direct effect on things/’reality,’ for example). Laura Carter has been making some wonderful points regarding Plato and what she suspects his original intentions in his original Greek are. Her new tag-line, a quote of his, sounds nearly Blakean, or nearly Kabbalistic, or nearly Taoist—take your pick. They are all paths up the mountain, I suppose you could say, or you could say “all religions are one religion.” Can Lacan be taken as a path up the mountain? I just don’t know yet (I have to admit, I'm completely confused by this point). Maybe he is part of some coalescing-‘mysticism’, we are too. Because it really does take a tradition of honest teachings for any one person, short of a ‘spiritual genius,’ to figure their way out. That’s kind of how I think of poetry, by the way, when I’m feeling like it. And the world has changed a bunch, maybe it does need a new true knowledge system to find its way back to balance (how hippy do I sound?).

Anyway, this has gone fantastically far afield, and I feel like I’m thinking myself back to a certain type of undergraduate conversation bound to end in “hmmm.” Needless to say, this is in no way a scholarly approach, spoken more out of my intuition of the words and what they mean to us today. I want to have said this all better, and I’m all thumbs today, my mind is just slow, & I feel entirely inadequate to the task of saying what I feel I need to, but I felt I needed to put something up. Maybe it'll make more happen. Because conversations like this, at least the part I get to listen to, I could easily get used to. Probably something like the discourse Dante encountered in that peaceful castle within the Infernal gates, before he crossed the river.

& I like how Josh ended his sophisticated post, getting through the body & quoting Roethke, fierce and floppy advocate of self-knowledge as world-knowledge. The thinking-attention itself is a kind of world-interaction, good reminder. It also reminds me, Roethke also belongs in my list of tree-mystics, as posted a few days ago. And that somehow Greg Perry’s recent dwellings (1 & 2) on Frost seem worth mentioning as a further counterpoint.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Very articulate post on Silliman's blog today regarding (among other things) the ebb of mysticism in US poetry these past 30 years. If you're reading this blog, and not Silliman's, well, I don't know who you are, but make sure you check it out at least today. Here's the excerpt which specifically informs those questions regarding mysticism & poetry I asked a while back:

"One can point to a number of causes for this process of resecularization (if, in fact, that is what it was) of American poetry, but two in particular strike me as important here. The first is the death of Charles Olson in 1970 at the relatively early age of 60. The degree to which many of the poets who investigated such alternative discourses did so out of a sense of encouragement by Olson, or even out of a desire to in some fashion be Olson, cannot be underestimated. Without his oversized presence, that entire strain of Black Mountain poetics went silent very quickly and very completely.

The other was the rise of theory, starting around 1966, right about the moment when structuralism in the human sciences was giving way to post-structuralism. It’s ironic perhaps that it was at that moment many younger poets began to find theory, and especially to find structuralist theory and its antecedents in Russia such as formalism & futurism. Theory had a relevance that the wisdom traditions did not precisely because some aspects of it came out of, engaged with, and attempted to explain the very profound events that were then taking place in the US, Europe, Mexico and Southeast Asia. Whether one followed the Habermas-Benjamin-Gramsci-Althusser line or the Barthes-Greimas-Jakobson tradition, or the newer contrarians led by Kristeva, Lacan & Derrida, all modes of theory also offered one of the primary phenomena that had been associated previously with modes of mysticism – a difficult, convoluted linguistic tradition in which verification often mattered less than authority and prestige. "

Not that it's only that simple (I don't think it's too much of a stretch to include Benjamin in a mystic framework, for example, correct me if I'm deluded), but this feels basically right on to me, perceptive and lived.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Today reminds me why I like Spring. Sunny, nice breeze, fresh feeling, quiet (i.e. no edgers, mowers, leaf blowers--well, there's one, but around here, that's like none at all), a balance of qualities in full balance with themselves. The tipping point into autumn, like the tipping point out of early spring except the fir in our backyard is fully green (it always has a discarded christmas-tree dry brownness to its leaves in April) and the grass really needs to be mown. And the basil picked. Except for that, it's like Spring.

Which is neither here nor there, but thought I'd say.

Well. I think my shaggy beast (i.e. my ms) may have a recognizeable form (i.e. a leg or two). Well, that may be pushing it, but it's the first assembly where I’ve felt, well, that’s there, and I’m here. There it is. Holding to itself, together, like I’ve felt with some poems. Not that it means it’s done, but that it’s done now. So. Anyone feel like taking it for a walk?


Only up to “dark the star” in Stewart’s Columbarium (the titles are abecedary, under the title “Shadow Georgics,”—you can see, even in the few lines below, the georgic in advice spoken—preceded and followed by poems of 'elemental generation'), but already enspelled. I remember liking her work b.2000 (my turning point, my personal history-pivot), but not this much, so personal. There’s some magic going on here:

“If I could come back from the dead, I would come back
for an apple, and just for the first bite, the first
break, and the cold sweet grain
against the roof of the mouth, as plain
and clear as water.”

is the first stanza of “Apple.” Here’s the 6th, through the 10th:

“If you wait for the apple, you wait
for one ripe moment. And should
you sleep, or should you dream, or
should you stare too hard in the daylight
or come into the dark to see

what can’t be seen, you will drop
from the edge, going over into
coarse, or rot, or damping off.
You will wake to yourself, regretful,
in a grove of papery leaves.

You need a hillside, a small and steady wind,
a killing frost, and, later, honeybees.
You need a shovel, and shears, and a ladder

and the balance to come back down again.
You will have fears of codling moths
and railroad worms, and aphids.

Scales and maggots and beetles
will come to do their undoing.”

I like the mystic swirl of specificity; the denial of too much reality as appropriate for apprehending the apple at its ripeness. And the fairylike hyperspecificity of imaginative apprehension (sound like Keats, via my description? Yeah, I think so too.) is not overplayed, which I think would have been an easy mistake to have made. The balance of the lines works, it’s like walking at night. And all for the small perfection of biting the apple at its one ripeness-moment. I don’t know what system of apprehension/appreciation you use, but I imagine this poem (though it goes soft a little in the beginning of the final third) will accommodate most any.

I have a weakness for the mysticism of fruit trees. Sometimes I think its not just growing up with pear trees in my backyard, but is that drawn through my incessant mind-repetition of “Ode to a Nightingale,” specifically the stanza with “nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs . . .” in it. That and the part of “In Search of Lost Time” where Marcel makes to his room with apple boughs—and the hawthorn along the way—and the other vegetable loves he writes of. Which reminds me, Marvell too, and his almost-creepy attachement to all things green. Those guys all are who I think are the influences I turn to with my pear poems. Oh, and Gluck’s “The Wild Iris,” too. I can still remember reading first each of those—each like (and I’m not being hyperbolic here, though perhaps goofy) some seed planted in my soul (as Melville said of talking with Hawthorne, though I’d be afraid of such rapture as he welcomed if I felt it growing in me).

So here’s a few lines from Stewart’s “Pear” (jumping ahead):

“. . . That the two seeds, or the four seeds, are where the pear will go and where

it began. Black bark, blossoms in the mild rain, smelling like piss
in the spring rain, the chips and twigs raining down beneath our weight

as we broke off bouquets for the teacher. “What is that smell?” she asked.”

She gets the pear’s physicality and atmosphere so right. And that smell! I’ve always been startled by it; I realize, in retrospect, I’ve approached our pears’ blossoms ‘poeticaletically’ (as Sharon Olds, in workshop, would say), that is expecting them to smell like apple blossoms, and never really brought my reality-consciousness (that they smell sour and unpleasant) to my word-consciousness. She uses that detail beautifully here.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

I love Ginsberg. I think Silliman's right about "Wichita Vortex Sutra." And though reading it today, his prophetic outrage against the political destruction of language sounds, in 2004 terms, quaint and naive, even moreso I wish there were more writings this sharp against what our country is. I guess I wish I were doing so. I don't know if my reluctance is by nature or if my lack of artistic inclination in that direction is a failure of the soul. What are these times? I can't even see clearly yet.

It's interesting to me to compare Ginsberg's treatment of his mother's insanity with Pinsky's. Both Jewish, (both from New Jersey, too) both with mothers destructively beyond the bounds of meaning. Ginsberg turned with ecstatic outrage into himself/America (I guess you could also say he internalized it as a means of sublimating it, sort of an Orphic desire to go into the land of the dead and lead out the beloved), and Pinsky seems to have buttoned up his shirt, and figured out how to let enough steam off so as to keep steady until tomorrow (his "The Piano" is what I have in mind just now). I have no idea what to make of them. Or myself. I've always been conservative by nature, example: when I was sixteen, I read "Crime & Punishment" one night on vacation. When I finished, around dawn, I turned back to the frontpage, and my eyes rested on the copyright date (1876? I think?) until I understood that before this date, this book didn't exist, it had been written, by a person, who lived and watched time move, like I did, and that he didn't know what it was, until after it was done, and that meant I could try too.

Did I take the lesson? Go to a blank page? No. Somehow I figured I'd better read everything before I started with all that. So I didn't start until I took a creative writing class in college, and was told I had to. What does this have to do with Ginsberg? Or even Pinsky? Just my tendency to want to know before I know what doing is. But god, do I admire "Wichita Vortex Sutra" as a poem, as well as as an utterance.

first line for a poem:
There are no mysteries, all that is left us are questions:

That’s all I’ve got so far.


A poem is a wave looking for a shore to break along.
Paradise Lost is a tsunami . . . an epic is a tsunami, taking impressive note of everything as it subsumes it and rolls on.


Also, or: Language is one of those Everglade skimboats, zipping through reality. Yes, I know, the boat is real too. It is even an expression of the Everglades, shallow and light. That it zips through, hard loud & mechanical, is what I mean.

And, Abstraction is seven-league boots.


Also, or: Ars Poesis: Fat mockingbird on a thin dogwood branch, flopping to get a dried berry, life happy fattening on another's winter, nothing else, no possessions but its life and the dogwood berry’s death.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Today at "Hotel Point," Latta on Beckett on Proust on art.

This week’s New Yorker. One poem by Charles Simic, “the Alarm”. What am I missing? This is terrible, vague, cliche. Easy measured sound, though, so a forgivable clunker, if it weren’t for the last line “In some other century, less violent than ours.” What century, just out of curiosity, was less violent than ours? (Ours being, I suppose, the ‘short 20th’ (1905-2001) or the ‘long 20th (1905-) or the ‘short 21st (2001-)? Or should I not look for more than the sentiment of a hackneyed statement, ‘our century’ being the gauzy desire for civilization to bring the peace it promises to those within, an ‘eternal’ artifact of nation-building?) Is he nostalgic for the 19th? The 18th? The 17th? The 16th? Which?

Or maybe he’s using a sophisticated and subtle Ashbery-like technique, meant to expose just the mentality I’m responding to, by ending on such a vague, nonsensical statement. &, no water imagery in this poem, though I think it could have used it.

And one poem by Anthony Hecht, “Spring Break,” a pair of sonnets to which I’ll limit my response to “oh, god, no.” Water imagery limited to the first two words, “The beach,” and a line in the second stanza, “views of the changeless ocean leave them bored” (one thing you can say about Hecht, he gets his lines to serve his prosodic purposes. I suppose this is why risk is important.). It occurs to me that maybe more water imagery would have served him well in this poem, though probably, actually, on reflection, not.

The rest was worth having read these, though. Great article by Philip Gourevitch, “Bushspeak,” on the appeal and limitations of Bush’s public speaking. I’ve been a great fan of Gourevitch ever since his reporting on Rwanda in 1998. A few quotes from this article:

“Bush campaigns with the eager self-delight of a natural ham. There’s an appealing physicality about him. When he says he wants your vote, he does not just mouth the words but follows them through with his entire body, rising to his toes, tilting toward you yearningly. When he works his way along the stage, waving, shaking hands, he has the concentration of an athlete in the thrall of his game. He seems to hold nothing back. He reaches for the hands around him, tipping so far forward that it appears, in the frozen fraction of a second captured in photographs, that he has lost his balance. He twists, and stoops, and spins, and stops abruptly to wave, and the raised hand seems to lift the rest of him with it, up and forward. Bush is said to be charming, and polls show that Americans tend to find him likable than his policies, but one does not even have to like him to admire how truly at home he appears in his body.

He has a repertoire of stock poses and expressions, as does any professional performer, but the freedom of his movements is striking. Flip through snapshots of him, and you’ll find any number that catch him in a bizarre or comical position. The mobility of his face leaves him open to lampooning, not least because of its simian modeling, which is underscored by his affectation of an equally simian gait—the dangle-armed swagger, like a knuckle-walker startled to find himself suddenly upright. But even when he looks foolish, or simply coarse, Bush is never less than an expressive presence.

The same can be said of his language.”

I know that’s an overly long excerpt, but it is (as is what follows) the best description of what Bush’s appeal is I've read. “To watch Bush work a room, however cheesy his salesmanship and however canned his hucksterism, is to behold a master of the American vernacular, that form of expression which eschews slickness and makes a virtue of the speaker’s limitations—an artfulness that depends on artlessness, an eloquence that depends on inflection and emphasis.” As a poet, can you say that this expressive demand (of the ‘American vernacular’) doesn’t play a significant part in your writing, one way or another?

And another worthwhile, by Adam Gopnick, “Will Power,” a review of Greenblatt’s new bio of Shakespeare titled “Will in the World.” Gopnick makes the book sound like a necessary read, and Shakespeare sound like the kind of artist you could be. Which is no small essayistic feat (the second, that is; the first, I bet even I could do).

My two-part conclusion to this week is that a) I love the New Yorker and b) not the poems. The essays can go on long, but are all the good things essays should be.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004


Dirty Cleans

A few thoughts about Gabriel Gudding’s “A Defense of Poetry.” A blog-jot, really. I hope some part of it is coherent in the light of tomorrow.

Not just smashmouth (or pottymouth) poetics. He has imbued his words with an etymologist’s/linguist’s sense of the drama by which words through centuries of use acquire themselves, a nonlinear and profane smush and defence-vs.-smushing by drawing distinctions sharply and violently. An interpenetration of the meme’s seming and alimentary processes. Preservation means defense; to me certain poems (“Memoirs of the Backhoe”,”Richard Wilbur”) seem like words trying to avoid being ‘Finnegans Wake-ized’ by drawing as violent a (verbal, definitive, cartoonish) distinction between themselves and the word(s) they are drawing near to be potentially composed into a new word with. The vulnerability (such as it is) of “Adolescence” actually allows the metamorphosis to happen, once, just to let us see.

The point is, his poetry is relational and fused—sort of like Dante’s level of thieves but not so dire—but a sense that personality is separation, is a vital commodity, and anger, insult, scatology expressed is the momently-discrete formulation’s best chance at survival—is an etymologist’s structuration, in other words. Self-sustaining selves. It seems to me this is where he gains his tremendous verbal energy; an atomic (i.e., nuclear)-level reaction. Like and unlike Carl Philips, who goes to great distance in his syntax and composition to suggest articulations of intimacy and its crushing/killing power. How to maintain, how to continue: the concerns of body, of words and their language are the same: what to eliminate, what to consume.

Gudding delves into righteousness, for example, to eliminate, as is therefore fit, what he thinks is utter shit. And to live off what is extracted is vitality. An alimentary poetics. To say it in one, quoted, sentence: “I am the king of my potty.” One’s essence is defined by what one eliminates, whatever end, whatever means.

Oh, and just in case: Disclaimer: I HAVE TOO read the book. I love it. It’s a bruiser.

& that the above is a strain through to understand (so to speak), not a definitive.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Just some of what I’m currently (if slowly) reading (my internet habits are seriously affecting my reading habits; I am going to have to lose the “multiple windows open” technique soon, though, because I’m moving on to my Milton incomplete): Columbarium by Susan Stewart (“The ear is a drum and cavern/that will not close against the world,/and so we build our houses/where the wind cannot enter at will.”); Alone with America by Richard Howard (not easily excerptible); the most recent New Yorker, the food issue (I’ll attend to the poems in the next few days; somehow, it’s Snyder & Gilbert again, as well as Yehuda Amichai), specifically momently this from the back page by Gabrielle Hamilton, an essay titled “Killing Dinner (“In my own way, not like a machine at all, I laid it down on a tree stump, and while it was trying to recover I clutched the hatchet and came down on its neck. This first blow made a vague dent, barely breaking the skin . . . The chicken began to thrash, its eyes open, as if chastising me for my false promises of a merciful death. My dad yelled, “Kill it! Kill it! Aw, Gabs, kill the fucking thing!” from his bloodless perch. I kept coming down on the bird’s throat—which was now broken but still issuing terrible clucks—stroke after stroke, until I finally got its head off. I was blubbering through my clenched teeth. . . . As I released the bird, finally, and it ran around the yard, bloody and ragged but at least now silent, he screamed, “What kind of person are you?”); Invisible Bride by Tony Tost (“That’s me, tongue placed firmly in the subconscious.”). & the new Harper's, some where in which, I think, though I've lost track of where, is a quote from a seventh-century proto-sufi woman, who reputedly says, when asked what she thinks of the devil, “I’m to busy thinking of god to think of the devil.” Maybe it wasn’t Harper’s, I’m not sure where I read that actually.

Also on my open shelf: the 1st issue of N+1; the Zinn People’s History; Being and Time by Heidegger as well as an introduction to his philosophy (my brother, who was a philosophy major, said he had a few native german-speakers in his Heidegger class who preferred their Heidegger in English. Go figure); Jack Spicer’s 3rd Vancouver lecture (which is highly excerptable yet sadly upstairs); and god knows what else underneath that. Oh yeah, Milton, by way of Stanley Fish.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

By spiritual I mean you are not your own context. Either one. It depends on the day.

The world is your unconscious.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Is this really true? Is this really true? If it is, then things are even more fucked up than I thought I had even underestimated them being so. This is unbelievable. It's like those Kundera novels. Where's reality? Good god.

By spiritual I mean you are your own context.

Friday, September 03, 2004

I thought I had lost all the material I'd written in my one semester at Utah when my computer crashed in June of 2001 and my backup file was corrupted, so only archives from before September of 2000 remained (bizarre coincidence, that being my arrival in Salt Lake City) retrievable. But I knew, in some corner of my mind, that I had a poem or two on Dara's computer from then, because of my printer not functioning for a week or so, and so curious I went looking this morning and found I had backed up everything in February of 2001 or so. It may have been in anticipation of our leaving SLC to come back to New Jersey on account of my illness, but I do not remember. It's interesting that what my body knew--that I was sickening from within--and my mind did not is expressed clearly in my poetry. For example (written in September of 2000; Jonah was 2):

Sonnet for if I Die

Jonah, just today you made me dance in
a circle, chanting Dada-Jonah; you
missed ma-maaa but I made you laugh; and then
we were both circling the room; and you’d go
for my wrist to drag me up if I lay
down; I was so tired; but you, little boy,
through strength of will straightened me. The only
way to make you dance was to dance, your eye
said, bright arm waving a maraca. What
I know is now you’re older; I see you grow
this minute into thought, and hope: you sat
with me after my fourth rest, and sensed, knew
it was over; and you laughed, poked my eye,
stood, and ran a circle round my body.

and this:

There is a give-and-take between each self and the world; but it is a discrete, semi-controlled situation--something like a cell in your body, a semi-permeable balloon of pressure. Now I am being caved in--not like a submarine too deep but like a smoke ring rising; I look within and see the same as without, or nearly the same--no refraction or distortion, as a man looking out of his boat at the pond-bottom might, no reflection as he might, only the same; an eye, a smoke eye swirling through the air until only air.

Finally (and these three are culled; I'm so happy to have this material though I don't think much if any is water tight for publication, that I could post much more) this short presentation-essay I wrote for my poetics class. I don't remember having such thoughts. I wish I did (despite the game first paragraph), though having the writing is kind of memory enough:

Where Did the Lyre Go?

I take as my primary task elucidation of, and perhaps even exploration beyond, Susan Stewart’s essay on the history of the lyric. I know I’m supposed to be intellectual, and will be (I can’t be anything but, I’m afraid; effective is another matter); but my approach to the topic will be slightly different than we’ve been used to; hopefully it will be as effective as some of the other investigations this class has undertaken. I will try to keep it short, so as to open more time for direct discussion.

First, a paradigm, an image to stick to as we discuss all sorts of aspects of the lyric, of history. I turn to Physics 101, a class many of you, no doubt, have the pleasure of never having had. This is what is called the Standard Atomic Model: “Imagine a planet, say Earth; that is the electron. Now imagine a sun, say the Sun; that is the nucleus. For many electrons, read many planets.”

This is the way we are told to image the atom. It is as false as it is true. What an atom is is so strange to us we simply cannot hold it in our minds accurately. The differences of the laws of physical interaction (even the term ‘physical’ becomes compromised at such a small scale) between our scale and an atom’s are so great that gravity as a paradigm only partially describes atomic reality. For electrons are as much wave as they are particle—and are truly weird (trust me—the intricacies of how are not important for now).

The point is, the physics 101 student is being asked to perceive an unfamiliar world by overlaying what she/he knows over it. This is a scientist, a supposed seeker of truth. (Hopefully this is starting to sound like Wordsworth in “the Solitary Reaper”) Now, its important to note that while easy to ridicule Wordsworth (and our student) what better method do they have? This paradigm of relationship with the world is, I argue, an essential one, one all of us use constantly. (I suppose this sounds Freudian—so be it.)

Lyric poetry, as a locus where perception meets the imperceivable, where the self meets its own ends, seems a reasonable place to find this paradigm in action. I would argue (and I think Susan Stewart might bemusedly support my train of thought) that this is one of the primary projects of lyric poetry—to map this limnality and to create at least the possibility of new perceptual possibility. It is one way to at least question those limits which give us form, those restrictions which script us, one way to ask of them how true they are, to test them against the world’s aspects for solidity and truth—as compromised an enterprise as it may be—occurs.

For, as counterpoint to solipsistic pessimism: the standard atomic model does allow a certain perception of atomic reality (reality here being judged on predictive accuracy), if compromised. It does give our student a conceptual foothold from which to explore further the atom’s conceptual slipperiness. So, I contend, does Wordsworth’s failure (or compromised success, however you want it) offer a place (for us, apparently, more than him, biographically speaking, though who can know a man?) of departure for us to continue the search.

For as with the solitary reaper, song is the object, harmony. If we could understand even one strangeness beyond our own, we might have our momentary hand on the original lyre—the absence of which, Stewart claims, is the basis of lyric poetry, which is unified primarily, it would seem, by the question we, so over-historicized as to be aware of the generations of failures, ask today, disgruntled with the lyric as we are, “where did the lyre go?” (A question we ask primarily, I might add, in the ‘lyric’ itself, a song meant, to be literal, for the accompaniment of a lyre: a song in this case yearning for the absent music which would complete it.)

Questions to ask each other:

1. In what ways has ‘the lyric’ (as well as the definition of ‘the lyric’) changed through the course of history? Of each of our individual personal histories? What can we self-infer from our own definition? How well do you understand those definitions previous ages have advanced for ‘the lyric’? Do you feel the modern definition of the lyric accurately describes the modern lyric? The Renaissance definition the Renaissance lyric?

2. Why has the lyric itself come about as a form? To what extent is its ‘problematic’ nature (as discussed above—obviously if you don’t buy my conceit/argument this question is meaningless to you) representative or non representative of issues of Consciousness? Of your own consciousness?

3. How well does Vico’s degenerative description of history describe the “postmodern” state? Is advance really degeneration? Is the original lyre human consciousness unencumbered by a historicized vocabulary, purely somatic in utterance and origin?

Something else. Living is just, something else. I don't know what there is to say. To myself.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The apprehension that Shakespeare’s tragedies all revolve around the horror the desire for capital (or its significant, as in Othello, through both Othello and Iago) can be/bring. This and the chilling idea that the political elites of America had perfected the art of governing by dividing along race & class lines even before the American revolution (it seems Mr. Zinn believes the revolution was part of this process) are what I think & have from the first fifty pages of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Suggested a month or two ago by somebody, I forget who. Thank you whatever blog mentioned it, I pass on the suggestion; this is an essential book, for private clarity I feel even moreso than for political. Not to downplay the political, or suggest more of a divide than there is between the two fields.

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