Archive for September, 2010

Earthcutt

September 25, 2010

This is the proper order to read the previous five entries, which are a kind of dialog (and which turned out to be much longer than planed). This idea from Mikhail Bakhtin was in the back of my mind.

The one who understands…becomes himself a participant in the dialog.

Read the rest of this entry »

How She Had Wished It So

September 25, 2010

It’s strange the way she could magnify sight
—amplify sound—
the way a megaphone would flood the shore,
as if she was wrought from the tide’s assumption—

A mouse and meek, tired, weak,
it is Miss Megaphone we seek

Thus Beth Karmody had brought
her once imaginary hurricane—Eno—
to Cuttland Island and it had become a legendary calamity—
The storm’s mighty landfall at night,
the tides, the full moon, the game
the water played with the harbor—
it had given Earthcutt Harbor its new name—
had cut  the  tides right through the sand—

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen—
the storm that bleaches the beaches,
that left the sand so clean that
it has become a kind of homage to Prospero—

And now she’d called up that nice boy, called Frederick,
—I’m thirteen, he’s eleven—
so are they two?  taking turns to bring
an  old lady (who  just happens to have
a circus tent in her backyard) The Muffin of the Day
every morning. Trudging up from Stevo’s—
at least until Labor Day—
One, to play
the poem that follows from the wind,
so as to certify it,
the other, so that all the island kings,
can play on Penelope’s piano, Pan’s pipes.

May they all rise together,
these people who are praying for her,
may they all applaud together,

(How she had wished it so.)

May the wind that blows through
the circus tent,
may it continue and hover,
and with storms lift it higher,
Frederick, higher, a sail in
the larger breeze.

What is Poetry?

September 23, 2010

Mrs. Biscuit’s sister’s first and second cousins are visiting
from Toronto this week. Be sure to say howdy if you see ‘em
in town or out fishing.

Sarcasm does become you, brother C.
A source of great benediction, I’m sure,
as Mistress Biscuit  and her sis must be
related—just de jure, just de jour
—not really, not for sure—for, Cecil, both
your first cousins and those that are removed
are mine as well. In-laws?  No, I am loath
to find that neither redundancy is proved
here. Your formula is polygamous.
We’ll give our welcome to the biscuit’s yield
and rise—like the lark, that’s anonymous
at break of day from sullen earth and field,
when flushed by us and free to fly, does flee.
It seems you are not you, nor I, me.

Wow Fred

September 22, 2010

Wow Fred—

In splendor, all things come to rest.
May they rest ashore; may they rest
in the direct currents, a fractal thereof.

In splendor, Beth Karmody lives. Something did go
damn wrong out there. Direct currents, indeed.
The hurricane became—
to use your word, Fred, a ‘fractal’, a fractal of her life
performed last night, all the rough edges,
and all the space in between. She’s in Earthcutt Hospital,
right  now, not in Intensive Care, but, in ‘Sensitive Care’,
just some burns on her hands, really.
The danger she’s in is the danger all of us
are in. Life empties out. Our balloons get released
into the sky to blow away…

I know, so poetic—the poem that follows from the wind
so as to certify it, as if to seal its hastening,
a poem for the Commissioner of Parks, one pushing
debris together, an all-poem in all-concision… Fred,
I want to create a hurricane—call it Hurricane Intaglio—
or Mr. Eye-Sore as Himself—okay, a poem about
a hurricane—called I Married a Hurricane—a poem
where balloons do escape into the sky—Mr.
Eye-Soar sweeps a fractal circus,
one ‘pleasing families with a phantom fantasy’,
faux-families…

Where all things come to rest…

Okay. We’ll leave the hurricane clean-up to you,
Mister Park’s Commissioner…
I’ll tell the people what they want to know.
The Earth Intaglio—‘Earth’s best named newspaper’
will hit the stands and doorsteps of Cuttland Island
tomorrow with a special issue:
I MARRIED A HURRICANE!
An interview with Commissioner
Friedrich ‘Nietzsche’ Hanson—like nobody knows
that Freddie and Cecil are brothers.
Not to worry, I’ll make you up
—l always do—
official you, easy to do.
We’ll run that picture with the suit and tie.
Page Two:
‘Mrs. Biscuit’s sister’s first and second cousins are visiting
from Toronto this week. Be sure to say howdy if you see ‘em
in town or out fishing.’

Go ahead, Fred. Wow me with that.
Please do.

Direct Currents

September 20, 2010

This poem will use each word as the last word,
every word, as it were,
in its importance,
in all its honesty, in a circus of polyphony…

At daybreak, I walk to the beach, the littered sand,
just to compare the sand, the pitch, the swell
of land against the churn of waves, currents
that cut into the sand, the ledge
and then the fence, not as fractals of each
other, but as direct currents.
Toss in a snapped, lance-like flag pole,
pallets, all the old wood that always comes ashore,
real glass milk bottles, coke bottles, and all
the rotting tires, the styrofoam—how could
you find resemblances, except for the resemblance
one finds in being big?

And it is big! As big as Robert Duncan as
Herakles:

SPLENDOR, IT ALL COHERES.

Hurricane Eno has left behind what we
call ‘massive debris’ in the sanitation business.
As it tracks up the coast across Nova Scotia,
it will cease to cohere as itself somewhere
in the Maritimes; cold water always kills
hurricanes. Down at Stevo’s, though, the talk
is of Mrs. Karmody.  Maybe—maybe—she
electrocuted herself last night. Her cat,
the old barn loft, direct current out there…
Cecil was listening to the police band all night.
No, I don’t know, I’ll talk to Chief Johnson,
he’ll know for sure. Mrs. Karmody had
Parkinson’s. She shouldn’t have been out there
alone, not after Kenny Karmody died, we all
know that. Easy for me to say, I guess…
Like the wind blows through a circus tent.

Cecil, this is where Adorno takes art.
This is how it corrects our understanding—

To understand artworks…means to become
aware of their logicality, and its opposite,
and of their fissures and of their significance.

Every art work, if it is to be
fully experienced requires thought
and therefore stands in need of philosophy,
which is  nothing but thought that refuses
all restriction.

In splendor, all things come to rest.
May they rest ashore; may they rest
in the direct current, a fractal thereof.

Muffin of the Day

September 18, 2010

Pretend that I’m concocting this whole thing,
okay?—

So I’m not the lonely troubadour and I’m not
out serenading Señorita Salazar
under her bedroom window, under a
full moon—
besides, that kind of thing will get you a
drive-by from one of our cruisers. ‘Excuse me, sir,
but we have a report of an intruder.’

Most days,
I’m down at Stevo’s  for breakfast. I get to pick ‘The
Muffin of the Day’. I have my spot in the corner.
I’m not writing love poetry. Besides
I’m more an extruder. I take my meds.
I listen to the music. I talk to Stevo,
who’s from Iceland and who reads poetry
and who plays Cecil Taylor at four in the morning
when he opens up for the boat guys.
Cuttland Island lives off its charter boat business.
You Hook ‘Em, We Cook ‘Em. Not everybody likes
Cecil Taylor for breakfast, but Stevo makes a
mean pancake. Serious syrup. If you’re taking
a charter from Cuttland you start at Stevo’s.
You pour too much syrup on your pancakes
and you listen to (too much!) Cecil Taylor. And you take
a muffin for later. That’s the deal. I pick the muffin
every morning and I tape ‘The Poem of the Day’
on the counter. Every morning a muffin and a poem.
Okay—

The Chaco-Raisin. Just delicious with Stevo’s Home Brewed.

&—

This poem will use each word as the last word,
every word, as it were,
in its importance,
in all its honesty, in a circus of polyphony…

That’s today’s muffin, and that’s today’s poem—
what the locals call ‘Crumbs and Crummy’.

See you tonight, Señorita.

Adorning the Rock (2)

September 16, 2010

We live in an old Chaos of the Sun

Our words want to turn the world into a human world, a place where humans live. Name something, write a sentence about it, talk about it, think up an adjective that applies to it, and you are bringing it into the human world. Go for it: write a metaphor—all the world’s a stage—a simile—o my love’s like a red, red rose—apostrophize it—o rose, though art sick!—write a poem, develop a myth, articulate a philosophy. Pray. Write aphorisms, sutras, tack your thesis to a church door. Order a sandwich for lunch. Propose to your beloved. Teach somebody something. Educate the masses. Establish liberal democracy…

Words have been helping mankind cozy up to the cosmos since…well, since ‘in the beginning’. God must have given us words. Words must have given us God. Take your pick on the two previous sentences…

It’s Sunday morning. People used to go to church on Sunday morning. Wallace Stevens (or his protagonist) has decided to spend the day at home.  Complacent as one can be in a peignoir, she and he are still young, reveling in the green freedom that youth has, quite certain they have seen through the ancient myths. That tomb in Palestine is just that, a tomb, a grave. All that other-worldly stuff—okay, okay, it still has its appeal—but let’s face it, we’re talking mythology here. Truth is, we live in a purposeless world, we live on a pale blue dot in a vast cosmos of empty space, we live an old chaos of the sun, that’s all. A sunny Sunday. Is this is a hard place to be, even if you’re young and healthy and you have a taste for aesthetic contemplation? The poem Wallace Stevens wrote, Sunday Morning, doesn’t quite tell us. We are left with pigeons, floating off the horizon—on extended wings.

I’m going to be an annoying kid here and tug at Uncle Wallace’s coat. Where have those pigeons landed exactly? And aren’t those pigeons really us, soaring around, not sure of what to do next? Are you really sure they’re pigeons and not doves? Couldn’t they be, like, Christian birds, symbolic of the aimless condition religion has gotten itself into? Couldn’t this be a kind of reverse Kierkegaard? A leap into doubt? Birds live by leaping, don’t they? On the precipice they spread their wings and jump. The flying part is just mitigation; they have to land at some point. Come on, Uncle Wallace, you can’t just leave them floating up there. Where do they land?

Entitled

Nobody does titles better than Wallace Stevens. Just pick a few out of the hat— Tea at the Palaz of Hoon; The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad; The Snow Man. They could be tickets to a secret world. Take The World as Meditation: Just think about ‘the world as meditation’:  it redefines ‘world’; it redefines ‘meditation’; and it leaves you wondering about that ‘as’.  Really, not even the ‘the’ is safe.

Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.

Even with these great titles, Stevens remains a problematic poet for a lot of people. Canvas the room and you’ll likely come up with a list of adjectives: dry, deliberate, emotionless, elaborate, abstract, too abstract, philosophical, philosophical (both the bad kind and the very bad).

This is surely to miss the point. Stevens offers us a rare bouquet. Philosophy and poetry float together in his lines and sentences. They mingled in his mind; his mind merged them. It has long been something of an insult in philosophy circles to call your opponent’s work ‘poetry’. Can one reverse the gambit? Can one look down one’s nose and dismiss a poem as mere philosophy?

The Rock

Here’s what I’d like you to do. Get your hand s on a nice rock, something you can put on the coffee table, a piece of backyard quartz, a lump of granite, gneiss. Get a big rock.  What we want is something to remind us how time flies, something to remind us how short a fuse our particular life is set to. We want something that will intrude on our lives. Why will a rock do this? Just as a prominently placed skull was once thought to serve as a reminder of death, the rock will intimate a long perspective on time.  Death moves us away from our temporal being. We don’t want that; your rock may have been in existence for many thousands of years.  For us, time flies. For the rock, it simply doesn’t.  It’s an ancient being, on a different scale of existence than we are.

Wallace Stevens, I suspect, would simply deplore this idea. Messing up the living room with a boulder! Towards the end of his life he wrote a poem called The Rock. The poem he wrote doesn’t evoke or necessitate a particular rock; it certainly is not about collecting rocks or carving them. When Keats wrote about a Grecian urn, it seemed like he was at least looking at a Grecian urn. Not so with The Rock. Mr. Stevens seems to have a theoretical rock in mind.

The rock is the habitation of the whole,
It’s strength and measure, that which is near, point A
In a perspective again,

At B.

As a title The Rock sounds rather impenetrable. The Rock suggests a monolith, something so unitary, so primitive it can only be understood in a great intuitive embrace of being. The Rock reeks of Kant’s ‘thing-in-itself’. Analysis, some sort of break down into component parts, some procedural divide and conquer methodology, simply won’t work. We may have to make some deep philosophic apprehension to understand this Rock, not divide it up, right Uncle Wallace? This is what you had in mind with this title, something to challenge knowledge.

Wallace Stevens divided his impregnable Rock into three sections: Seventy years later; the Poem as Icon; and Forms of the Rock in a Night Hymn—titles that must be footholds to help our climb. Thanks, Uncle Wallace.

September Luncheon

September 11, 2010

They take one long and final breath so that
they may have some options to act upon: some act
of freedom—or on the freedom syntax brings.
Some act on one long note. Some act on two
—too many—short staccato ones. Some spring;
some cradle; some follow the flow of chi
as it flows through the copse or follow its footsteps,
to the timberlands, to the lakes and streams.
Some seek the fire in someone else’s womb;
in pity; in the cherries, in the rain,
in the world, to the woods, of the word;
and some drink the white wine in silence so it
won’t go to waste, the ladies so gracious,
the thunder so stunning…

We’ll serve the white wine, so it won’t turn to water.
The ladies will drink it,
so it won’t stain their lace doilies.
It won’t spoil their afternoon faces, their parties…
We’ll serve the ladies white wine so that it flows
like rain from the sky,
rain that washes the puddles of mud.
We’ll serve them that sky
till it tastes sweet, like pudding, like screaming.

Adorning the Rock (1)

September 9, 2010

Great Poetry is Difficult Poetry, but…

Donald Hall goes right to the point: I see no reason to spend your life writing poems unless your goal is to write great poems. Steven Spender is equally succinct: I think continually of those who were truly great./ Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history.

It seems an unimpeachable point. Maybe we could quibble over this ‘soul’s history’ stuff, but who wants to write a mediocre poem? Who, indeed, takes pencil and paper in hand with the intention of writing something merely passable? No one’s forcing you to do this, pal. You can be a commonplace anything. Why write poetry?  You’d be better off practicing guitar chords or working on your jump shot.

I won’t get cute here. We all know the evil answer to this question lurks in Hall’s ‘your goal’.  We all know there is a great gulf between trying to write a great poem and writing a great poem.

Substitute the word ‘difficult’ for ‘great’ in both Donald Hall’s and Steven Spender’s sentences and you will find an interesting shift in meaning. Let’s face it, if you go through life aspiring to be difficult, all you accomplish is that you’ll stop getting invited to parties. As a goal for your poems, being merely difficult does not seem sufficient—whereas being great does. Still, we do think a great poem is a difficult poem, do we not? Difficulty suggests complexity of vision, insightfulness, a penetration of subject matter, an attempt to wring something from our quotidian lives that makes those lives worth living. A difficult poem attempts to tell us something we don’t want to hear. A difficult poem at least has the potential to be great that an ‘easy’ poem does not. Name one poem that’s great and easy. While they are clearly not identical, if we are going to understand the great poem there is a good chance we are going to have to get there through the door of the difficult poem. Besides, anybody can write a difficult poem.

Why are you doing this to yourself?

I have a non-poetry example. I just saw the movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Directed by Julian Schnabel, it throws you into the life of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who as the result of a stroke is ‘locked-in’ to a nearly immobile body. His thoughts are said to be unimpeded, but his functioning body has been reduced to one eye. He can blink. This is how he communicates. A great deal of the film places you behind that eye. We are privy to his thoughts—the mind-body problem in extremis—we see the world as it seems to that one trapped eye. It is a harrowing movie. It may qualify as a great one. I certainly found it difficult to watch. Now, here’s the thing. Pretty much everybody I talked to had the same question—indeed, the film asks it  of itself— Why did you want to see this film? Why are you doing this to yourself? What is gained by subjecting yourself to this drama?

My answer: A terrible beauty is born.

I wonder at the source of this beauty; it is unmistakably there.

Death is the Mother of Beauty

Though he will break it to us gently, Wallace Stevens has something difficult to tell us. The world is a beautiful place, yes…

Deer walk on our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness…

But…

…in the isolation of the sky,
at evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
ambiguous undulations

There is something alien in that beauty—ambiguous, isolated—something not human. Oh, and by the way, death is the mother of beauty—how about that?

Chicago Scattered

September 8, 2010

Great glass vapors come to the great windows.
We’re in Chicago for The Praise of Glass Festival.
In praise of dawn, in praise of sun!
Each morning as hundreds of tired businessmen
are forced aloft, akin to ghosts, the sun arrives—
and they can’t all be silicon come alive.

What if each window pane became a man
and soul each night, at dawn the vapors fill
the dry night air—the moisture lives, the sun
in vapors, a reverse metamorphosis…

What if, for example, Degas never finished
The Milliners, that one morning he stands before
the canvas like the sun is to the earth, always
before the dawn, always at noon, always
at night, always not a part
of the perspective earth creates…

What if this canvas— turned by him
into a painting that had once contained
a customer and now did not—was now
at ease with being alone,
a milliner making a hat, in silence,
sentence by sentence, as it were, in her hands
and head, a hat that she would never finish—

a Penelope of the skyline, so distinct…

What if the sun does rise over Cloud Gate
the one right here in Millennium Park—
and both try to mimic the perfection
found only in those scattered clouds—
what if we all did this—
What if we mime the navel of the world
with all our wounds and wonder too—

What if Mr. Breakfast, enabled years ago,
arrives today, this morning for some tea—
A spot of tea, he says—to break the fast.
Reflect with me, he says. What if he says that?