What are you thinking about? O, a tree....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Mysterious Wing

Poetry is the mysterious wing that glides at will in the whole world of the soul,in that infinite sphere, one part of which is colors, another sounds, another movements, another judgments, and so forth, all vibrating simultaneously, according to certain laws,that a vibration in one region communicates itself to another region. The privilege of art is to feel and express these relationships, which are deeply hidden in the very unity of life. From these vibrations of the diverse regions of the soul an accord results, and this accord is life; and when this accord is expressed, it constitutes art. ~Henri Dorra

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The only thing that makes sense

Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, Paris
I suppose poetry is
Listening Out Loud

And what one listens to is language --

language in one's head

(only a fool would confuse that with himself thinking

only a fool would think the things that he hears languaging in him
are things that he himself is thinking)

Most poets are too smart to believe in their own intelligence.

Witless, clueless, we await a sign.

Pindar tells us a sign is never clear (at least a sign from Zeus) --
hence the poem veers towards a kind of

lucid incomprehensibility,

[Eventually after a few hundred or thousand years we begin to comprehend the incomprehensible -- Dante, Aeschylus, Milton -- and they become classics and become of great celebrity but diminished use. But till then the texts are of great power, startling, provoking, eliciting. Some grand provokers -- Pindar himself, Li shang-yin, Lycophron, Hoelderlin, Stein -- still wait their turn, still turn us towards the poem we must write, the poem they force us to write, to make sense of what they do to our heads.]

The incomprehensible provokes the reader to acts of preternatural awareness.

This incomprehensibility factor is what the ancient Greeks called Mousa, Muse. [The Spartans -- sturdy workmen, who would have liked the sacred gizmos of Elshtain's gnoetry -- called her Moha.] (I told her I would work her into this evening.)

The incomprehensible is the only thing that makes sense. That is, it creates sense -- the sense of something happening to you as you read.

And that's the only happening poetry has?

The luster of listening.

Or what we hear in poetry is groans from the battlefield where time struggles against space.

Robert Kelly, STATEMENT FOR THE MODERN POETRY CONFERENCE AT CUNY

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

American Poetics: Ezra Pound, Walt Whitman & the Great Stench



He Is America. His crudity is an exceeding great stench, but it is America .... He is disgusting. He is an exceedingly nauseating pill, but he accomplishes his mission.

I honor him for he prophesied me while I can only recognize him as a forebear of whom I ought to be proud.

As for Whitman, I read him (in many parts) with acute pain, but when I write of certain things I find myself using his rhythms.

Mentally I am a Whitman who has learned to wear a collar and a dress shirt (although at times inimical to both) .... And, to be frank, Whitman is to my fatherland ... what Dante is to Italy.

~Ezra Pound, What I Feel About Walt Whitman

Also: The ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition

Art: John Bauer: King of Troll Mountain

Friday, July 16, 2010

On The Collective Narcissism that is Lyric Poetry



In the tropics, I am told, evening twilight is brief and shadowless, bathing forms in a divine golden light that leaves as suddenly as it came. I think Apollo. Not so in the Northwest summer, where daylight lingers until the last possible moment. We are different, he and I.

But it was in the Northwest that, on the Ides of July, the nice man and I made our way across town and bridge to hear Oregon's poet laureate read in the artsy area of St. Johns, near the University of Portland. The occasion was the release of the fifth edition of The Grove, the most pleasant surprise of a literary journal.

Perhaps it is the magic of our twilight, or the culture of the Northwest, but it is possible to arrive late her and still be early. We were greeted and welcomed and welcomed again, offered wine and vegan petits fours, invited to look through the newest edition -- people-watching and lit fashion won out. Lit fashion is timeless, and full of ghosts. The nice man murmured something about "the collective narcissism that is lyric poetry", a line he used in one of his reviews, but grown beyond itself into another context.

One auburn-haired wraith floated in and out of conversations in a pale Louise Brooks | Carol Tinker dress. A few minutes later, I would know her name: Hannah Louise Poston, who would read first. She was introduced by Matt Barry, The Grove's publisher, a large man with an even larger personal space, who repeated himself and others and knew it. Yet one didn't mind this tropical sunset of a man, newly five years in Portland, bathing us in golden light. I almost felt comfortable in my own skin.

I like Ms. Poston, who shared that she had been accused of being "elusive" for not answering her phone and had then gone on to create a character, and poem for the character. I liked that, and her poem inspired by the ghost ship, Mary Celeste, very much.

A bit of what she chose to read was tinged with young woman wailing wall, a poetic sub-genre I myself indulged well past youth. As intense and full of imagery as any of the best wailing wall poetry, it is not, I think, her best voice. This is:

It may yet frost. I tell the apple trees,
which bloom too readily,
wait for the ground to thaw,
the loam to loose; wait
to begin building fruit—

they are as heedless
as Lincoln was of Booth.

April Fourteenth

She is interested in forms and devices and uses them freely, often well and sometimes not. In listening to her read, I realized how many of the subtle internal rhymes and enjambment in my own poetry would seem harsh and immature if read in another context than waltzing through the house. I like Hannah as a person, just from her reading. She, along with Primus St. John, discoveries of a decade and and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Mary Gloss, a fourth generation Portland native, read a short story, with many Portland details. I am not familiar with most of the landmarks that are so familiar to her, but still felt the richness. Although her story invoked my inner editor, always alert to the preposition circus, and hunting adjectival phrases, I had only to plaster two minutes of polite attentiveness at the beginning of her reading before I was enthralled by the inner dialog of her character.

I wanted to see what makes a poet laureate a poet laureate. I was not disappointed. As expected, Oregon's poet laureate, Paulann Petersen, is the incarnation of down home natural religion; Blake, be damned. She read three poems, all of which I had read on the net and while one had inspired me to a morning of repeating the word "duff" in a Zen-like chant, but not enough to make a special trek to Powell's to buy her books.

But oh how she read those poems. Paced exactly right, each word given its full due -- you could taste the vowels. It was the sound, the wave that carried you from beginning to end, that makes you want to read it yourself quietly, then again louder, read it to someone else in a soft shower of kisses, then even slower letting each word blossom in your mouth -- "the spinning of language on and into itself", as it were. Guilty as charged.

I put my hand on my seat next to the nice man, half-wishing he would take it, knowing that he wouldn't, wishing we could bridge the emotional and spiritual wasteland between us. Because this is poetry, that thing I love, bigger than I but at the core of me, the path and the destination, an end-in-itself rather than a mere means. But maybe I was just caught up in the spirit of the evening, the stuff of day dreams across an ocean.

We rose to leave. I wanted my book signed by the priestess and he said he would meet me at the door. I would ask Paulann to sign my chocolate smeared issue of The Grove, telling her that I liked her reading in a somewhat more reserved way than I did here. She says poetry is meant to be read aloud and performed -- I think In Memoriam and D.A. Powell but she is sparkling in the summer sky and this is not the place. Rexroth and Sam Hamill would have said as much, but I am not so sure.

And we were off, I and the nice man. The resting moon tinged with yellow. Venus moved off.

Art: William De Morgan: Peacock Tile

Thursday, March 18, 2010

For the sake of a single poem

Edmund Dulac Daughters of the Stars
For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents who you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else —); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars, — and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves — only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Art: Daughters of the Stars by Edmund Dulac