Monday, March 31, 2014

Elise Cowen

Elise Cowen [Ahsahta Press]

from Elise Cowen's Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, ed. Tony Trigilio:

A cockroach

Crept into
My shoe
He liked that fragrant dark

A cockroach

Climbed into
My shoe
Away from cold & light
I crept my hand
After him


            The best I can do for you
            Is compare you to bronze
            And the Jews
            You're not really welcome
                       to use my shoe
            For a roadside rest


From the shadow of my hand
You keep coming back
            across my floor
For more? — look —

You've lost an antenna

I treat you
            seriously affectionately as a child


And not to forget

            the cockroach
that crawled across
the floor & painted
blue under the stove
somewhere in the [   ]
to God knows where


Keep out of the light

Out of the dangerous radiance of
Bong Eyes
Respect the cockroach centuries
And the heavy confection of plunder kitchen


Must I move to get away from killing you

And carry to Sutton Place in the back of my mind
            back to San Francisco ants
To get away from you?
I know —
            I'll starve a hungry cat
            And name it Darwin


            If I crawled into your crack in the wall
            Four clumsy appendages, too dumb to talk
            What would you & your dynasty do?
            Tickle me to death under your indifferent feet
            Teach me to be a makeshift cockroach
            Live off my flesh & use the bones for cockroach walls


I'm coming in

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Canto 10

Canto 10

Dante's never-subsiding
hell of folks are dead
not dying.

To wit, what so many dread
has happened al-

Worse yet, folks in hell
repeatedly suffer
devilish ills

plus their torture
won't end
even if they offer

now to repent.
No, they’ve waited too long
to mend

or sing for pardon.

Friday, March 28, 2014

28 March 2014

Dan Beachy-Quick [Coffee House Press]

from Dan Beachy-Quick's An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky:

I went into my office and closed the door. My desk I kept perfectly clear. Books on the shelves in alphabetic order. No photos on the walls; only a clock whose minute hand vibrated when it clicked into place. A window overlooked the green where students hurried between classes, where the old oak with the obtuse burl grew more grotesque by the decade. A dead fly on the windowsill; I picked it up carefully by the tip of one wing; its forelegs pressed together as if in anticipation of prayer; I dropped it in the wastepaper basket. As if I needed a reminder, I thought. To inspire one must be inspired. I had been and now . . . it was, or I was, or both were, changed. Not that the books I taught had fallen in my love or regard for them. The opposite. I loved them as much as I ever had, maybe more; I just felt incapable of being loved by them in return. Somehow I had made myself unworthy of the words, those others' words — words that had put in my mind worlds, a careful disorder I lived within and out from which I looked at my students and invited them in. The classroom is its own peculiar cosmos, built not of natural laws, but of laws of attention — sympathetic chords that the teacher plucks in himself so as to secretly force the same note to vibrate in his student. How does one learn? — that is an awful, unanswerable question. I wanted my students to suffer a confusion that clarified, to leave the classroom unable to explain even to themselves what had just occurred over the previous two hours, as if, once one stepped back out the threshold of the classroom's door the spell had been broken, one had unwittingly drunk from the river Lethe by stepping over it, invisible though it may be, and the distinct memory of the discussion, what the discussion brought light to, slowly disappeared in content even as it remained in form, an empty form whose emptiness was the only reminder that it had once been full, world-full, thought-full, but a few minutes ago. Knowledge was this absence of knowing — that is what I taught, thought. But how could I have suspected I would become my own philosophy? That from within emptiness I would have only emptiness to offer? To speak about pages as if they were still blank, to hold them up and say, See, do you see — say it if you do — that underneath these words the page is blank? The words disguise that blankness as meaning in order to secretly imbed the blankness in you. Words speak around a silent heart. A word is a giant who buries his heart in silence where it can never be found, and in the silence it pulses, not a sound, but sound's opposite, a blank deafness of muteness inside a simpler quiet, the mind's quiet when it seems to say to itself, I'm ready to think, and then waits for thought to begin. Blank faces, they all look at you, little planets above the flat plane of their desks. It isn't a look of expectation, not of hope, not of yearning — it is a look of fact, the fact of itself. The eye is a dark tunnel behind which mysterious processes occur — distraction and judgment. Behind the eye is the clear pool Narcissus stares into and drowns; but so too is Echo's echo chamber, all the words others speak to us rebounding against the skull only to be spoken back. The world is the condition of asking others to love you by using their own words to convince them to do so. Infinite repeat. Day after day of walking from my office, walking down the hall, down the stairs, to the classroom where students were still assembling, the dark wainscoting adhering to the wall, waiting for them to sit, for chatter to subside, not a silence of patience, but the old chaos in whose silence alone meaning could occur; saying over and over again, countless times, let's open our books, let's open our books, the sound of the pages being thumbed through, let's open our books, specifying a page, a specific word, the breath in a sentence one comma requires you to take, let's open our books. It is a form of enchantment. Professor as conjure-man, professor as initiate, professor as medicine man, professor as holy fool, shaking the book as a shaman shakes the rattle, beating the book as the shaman beats the drum — but it ends. It does not end well. The hand drops from its power, or the power drops from it the hand.

I try to not let myself feel how it is I feel.

I try not to remember; I write so I don't need to remember — let the pages live that life.

But I fail.

The dead fly I'd thrown in the trash bin rattled weakly against the metal, not dead at all. The metal amplified the sound, a buzzing that didn't fill the room but annoyed the ear, the flightless wings trying to fly. I don't know why, I don't know why it must be so, all of it — that it is as it is, has been as it has been, my life; my life's transparent wing. I looked out the window at the oak, blue storm-light darkening the sky, and I thought, I can't bear it.

No, I said it to myself differently. I said, It can't be borne.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Carolyn Kizer

Carolyn Kizer [Too Much Monkey Business]

from Carolyn Kizer's Cool, Calm & Collected: Poems 1960-2000:

A Widow in Wintertime

Last night a baby gargled in the throes
Of a fatal spasm. My children are all grown
Past infant strangles: so, reassured, I knew
Some other baby perished in the snow.
But no. The cat was making love again.

Later, I went down and let her in.
She hung her tail, flagging from her sins.
Though she'd eaten, I forked out another dinner,
Being myself hungry all ways, and thin
From metaphysic famines she knows nothing of.

The feckless beast! Even so, resemblances
Were on my mind: female and feline, though
She preens herself from satisfaction, and does
Not mind lying even in snow. She is
Lofty and bedraggled, without the need to choose.

As an ex-animal, I look fondly on
Her excesses and simplicities, and would not return
To them: taking no marks for what I have become,
Merely that my nine lives peal in my ears again
And again, ring in these austerities,

These arbitrary disciplines of mine,
Most of them trivial: like covering
The children on my way to bed, and trying
To live well enough alone, and not to dream
Of grappling in the snow, claws plunged in fur,

Or waken in a caterwaul of dying.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Clubhouse

[photo by Candace Porth]

The Clubhouse

wreathed in my dream
by shrubs, roped by wisteria
here is stucco & tile clamped
to the desert, wind scoured,
the roadside plantings olive,
twisted 50-year stock
trucked from Mendoza,
so many bare leaved,
others warm to the site,
sprout green from tough-
skinned knobs, sand.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

25 March 2014

Weldon Kees []

from Weldon Kees's The Collected Poems:

On a Painting by Rousseau

The clouds seem neater than the trees.
The sky, like faded overalls,
Breaks the distances of sight;
And shadow that defines the curb
Shelters the silhouette of dog
Who, waiting patiently beneath
The amazing carriage with tangerine wheels,
Is eyeless, though he seems to sense
The black Chihuahua that the pavement grows.

The street is bare. The hooves and mane
Of the posing horse and his speckled flanks
Flow back to the six in the cart he draws:
The idiot aunt and the girl in white
(A ventriloquist's doll with a colorless wig),
And a sexless figure upon whose lap
A beast is squatting, macabre, blurred.

These four and the one in the yellow hat
Regard us with eyes like photographs
That have been shown us long ago.
— All but the man in the driver's seat,
His wax hands fastened on the reins,
Who, from the corners of his eyes,
Watches the horse he does not trust.

Henri Rousseau's Old Junier's Cart (1908)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lawrence Millman

Lawrence Millman [Geophysical Institute]

from Lawrence Millman's Last Places: A Journey in the North:

Eyvindur Jónsson was born in 1714 and enjoyed a quite normal childhood except for his constant desire to steal. He started out with small things, like household utensils, and then worked his way up to livestock. Finally, after a large quantity of stolen sheep were found in his possession, the Althing proclaimed him an outlaw. Now he took to the mountains and pursued his trade in earnest, stealing sheep morning, noon, and night from rich and poor alike. No account of his career ever mentions personal gain or a violent craving for mutton. Eyvindur simply stole sheep as some other talented lad might have written verse. Indeed, one of the few descriptions of him warns his potential victims that "he is frequently heard humming strophes of rimur or old songs." He would arrive at a farm — incognito, of course — and first win the farmer's trust. Then he'd make off with the man's sheep, as if it were wrong just to descend on the farm and steal the sheep. When it came time for him to marry, he made certain the woman of his heart, a young widow named Halla Jónsdottir, shared his interest in sheep thievery. If a farmer or sheriff got too hot on their trail, Eyvindur and Halla would disappear into the uncharted interior. Eyvindur himself was no faster on his feet than the next man, but he had a strategy that enabled him to escape even his swiftest pursuers — he turned cartwheels. An entrancing vision this is: a lone outlaw cartwheeling wildly over lava and sand, as the forces of law and order lag ever farther behind him.

"Eyvindur hid here," Gisli said, "during the winter of 1774-5. He had a dead horse for a roof. He ate the meat from this horse and by spring the sun was shining through its bones. A year later he was pardoned. Twenty years he'd been an outlaw. The government won't let you be an outlaw longer than that."

I looked at this heap of stones and tried to imagine someone living there. In its prime it would not have measured more than five feet by three feet, hardly enough room to turn a single enervated cartwheel in. But Iceland seems to prepare a person for the stoniest of conditions and fosters in him the most creative of survival tactics: if a dead horse is your roof, at least it keeps out the weather.

Whereas Eyvindur stole sheep, Bensi retrieved them. He was a scruffy, snuff-taking farm laborer whose job it was to find missing sheep. Once he struggled for days to bring back a single sheep to Grimstad farm, but then he lost it. This legendary effort — only a slightly dotty person like Bensi would have been so worried about a lone sheep — provided Gunnar Gunnarson with the idea for his 1944 novella The Good Shepherd, which is about a snuff-taking shepherd's failure to retrieve a sheep during a Christmas Eve blizzard. According to Gisli, Ernest Hemingway cribbed The Good Shepherd for his novella The Old Man and the Sea ("Every Icelander knows how Hemingway stole from Gunnar Gunnarson"), turning Bensi into the old Cuban fisherman, the sheep into the tenacious marlin, and the Christmas Eve blizzard — this I found a little improbable — into the Caribbean Sea.

"I've often wondered why he committed suicide," Gisli said.

"Who? Bensi?"

"Nej, Hemingway. Do you suppose he felt guilty about stealing from Gunnar Gunnarson?"

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kamau Brathwaite

Kamau Brathwaite [AS/COA]

from Kamau Brathwaite's Ancestors:


But my father has gone out on the plantation
he use to make us windmills
spinnakers of trash when the crack of cane was in the air
their brown ecru stalks wrinkled & curled in the wind like scare

-crows of orange angels
butterflies flicker as the clip straw click its pin
as it pick up speed

but for years he has brought us nothing
for years he has told us nothing
his verbs shut tight on his briar

while my mother watches him go
w/his cap & his limp & his skillet of soup
& we nvr look at his hands

look at his hands|
cactus crack. pricked|
worn smooth by the hoe|
limestone soils colour|
he has lost three fingers|
of his left hand falling|
asleep at the mill|
the black crushing grin|
of the iron tooth ratchets|
grinding the farley hill cane|
has eaten him lame|
& no one is to blame|
the crunched bone was juicy|
to the iron. there was no|
between his knuckle|
& ratoon shoots. the soil|
receives the liquor w/cool|
three fingers are not even|
a stick of cane. the blood|
mix does not show the star|
-graze crystal sugar shines no|
brighter for the  cripp.le|
& nothing more to show for|
thirty years spine|
-curving labour in clear|
rain. glass eyed|
-in off|
the sea.  fattening up the|
in the valleys. caus|
-ing the toil of the deep|
well-laid roots. gripping|
to come steadily loose|
junction & joint|
between shoot & its flower|
to be made nonsense of|
& the shame the shame the|
-lessness of it all. the name|
-less days in the burnt cane|
fields w/out love|
of its loud trash. spinn|
-ing ashes. wrack|
of salt odour that will not|
his throat. the cutlass fall|
-ing fall|
-ing. sweat. grit between|
chigga hatching its sweet|
nest of pain in his toe|
& now this|
& now this|
an old man. prickle|
to sleep by the weather|
his labour|
losing his hands|

Friday, March 21, 2014

Susan Stanford Friedman

staring at the mirror she saw herself, saw herself, yes, she was somehow dehumanized. . . . Who was Mrs. Darrington? Mrs. Darrington was a trench, wide and deep and someone else had stepped out and was out and wasn’t Mrs. Darrington.” But instead of identifying with her image in the Lacanian sense, Hermione recognizes “Mrs. Darrington” as the false imago, as the socially constructed self out of which the woman who will be the mother steps. Tasting wine signals this woman’s abandonment of the alienating imago and initiates the procreative discourse that prefigures her coming pregnancy:

You tasted grape and grape and gold grape (can you imagine it?) and gold on gold and gold filled your palate, pushed against your mouth, pushed down your throat, filled you with some divine web, a spider, gold web and you wove with it, wove with it, wove with the web inside you, wove outward images and saw yourself opposite smiling with eyes uptilted, smiling at something that had crept out of Mrs. Darrington, small, not very good, looking at you in a glass, tall, very tall, not very good, divine like a great lily. Someone, something was looking at something and someone, something was smiling at someone. Wine went to your brain and you knew there was no division now and there was someone, one left, just one left like yourself who was dead and not dead who was alone and not alone.

The absence of division between self and other, the presence of an indeterminate “you” and split subject, the “something that had crept out of Mrs. Darrington, small,” and the one “like yourself who was dead and not dead” foreshadow pregnancy to come. The spider, web, weaving, gold, and lily reappear interwoven with gulls, swallows, bees, frogs, butterflies, and rings to signify a pregnancy that can only be indirectly imaged, not directly articulated. The repetitive, hypnotic weave of words initiates the discourse of pregnancy that punctuates the nine months of gestation. Near term, Hermione moves to a “little hut,” itself a womb:

Weave, that is your metier, Morgan le Fay, weave subtly, weave grape-green by grape-silver and let your voice weave songs, songs in the little hut that gets so blithely cold, cold with such clarity that you are like a flower of green-grape flowering in a crystal globe, in an ice globe for the air that you breathe into your lungs makes you too part of the crystal, you are part of the air, part of the crystal. . . .

Weaving both song and baby out of her own body, Hermione is a “spider” who is container and contained. Confined by the pregnancy, she is also the cocoon that births a butterfly: “Hermione was a cocoon, a blur of gold and gilt, a gauze net that had trapped a butterfly, that had trapped a thing that would soon be a butterfly. . . . Herself had woven herself an aura, a net, a soft and luminous cocoon.” Boundaries and distinctions of the Symbolic order vanish in the fluid oscillations of pregnancy:

There is God in one and God out of one and now that God is in me. I feel no difference between in and out. Something had happened to me, whatever the oracle may say, I know already something has happened to me. But I’ll ask it, for inside and outside are the same, God in and out, all gold, gorse, pollen-dust, gold and gold of rayed light slanting across the low spikes of white orchid and fragrance in and out. . . .

The symptoms of pregnancy not only disorient, but also induce a discourse without Symbolic signification. Words as sound, sight, color, rhythm, and smell flood the words as signifiers of meaning. The play on “in and out,” “inside and outside,” is a startling anticipation of and variation on Derrida’s concept of “hymenal” discourse, the inscription of a simultaneous enfolding and enfolded, inside and outside that deconstructs the difference upon which phallogocentrism depends. The uterus in H. D.’s text displaces the hymen in Derrida’s text as a literal and figurative site of deconstructive power. The woman as speaking mother, not the woman as silent virgin, disrupts the binary system of patriarchy. Pregnancy makes Hermione both mother and babe, inside and outside:

The symptoms made her realize that she was not so neatly a painted box, a neat coffin for its keeping. She was being disorganized as the parchment-like plain substance of the germ that holds the butterfly becomes fluid, inchoate, as the very tight bond of her germination became inchoate, frog-shaped small greedy domineering monster. The thing within her made her one with frogs, with eels. She was animal, reptile. . . . eel-Hermione . . . alligator-Hermione . . . sea-gull Hermione . . . She wanted what an animal wants, what an eel wants, what even a bird must have.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mario Santiago Papasquiaro

Mario Santiago Papasquiaro [fotolog]

from Mario Santiago Papasquiaro's Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic tr. Cole Heinowitz & Alexis Graman:

The world gives you itself in fragments / in splinters:
in 1 melancholy face you glimpse 1 brushstroke by Dürer
in someone happy the grimace of 1 amateur clown
in 1 tree: the trembling of birds sucking from its crook
in 1 flaming summer you catch bits of the universe licking its face . . .

That's how it is on the trapeze on the tightrope
                                                           of this 1,000-ring circus
1 old man rattles on about the thrill he felt at seeing Gagarin
                            fluttering like 1 fly in outer space
& pity the starship wasn't called Icarus I
that Russia is so fiercely anti-Trotskyite
                            & then his voice dissolves / collapses
                                         between cheers & boos

Reality & Desire get thrashed / get chopped up
they spill out over each other
like they never would in 1 of Cernuda's poems
foam runs from the mouth of the 1 who speaks wonders
& it would seem he lived in the clouds
                                 & not on the outskirts of this barrio

The humid air of April / the lewd wind of autumn /
            the hail of August & July
all here present with their fingerprints

piss / what hasn't fertilized this grass
how many sub-minimum-wage gardeners will leave their watery proteins
                             in this trap . . .

A poem is occurring every moment
            for example
that fluttering of mute flies
            over 1 package nobody manages to decipher
how much of it is trash & how much miracle

Cole Heinowitz [Jacket Magazine]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Halldór Laxness


Some years ago, a horse was swept over the falls to Goðafoss. He was washed ashore, alive, onto the rocks below. The beast stood there motionless, hanging his head, for more than twenty-four hours below this awful cascade of water that had swept him down. Perhaps he was trying to remember what life was called. Or he was wondering why the world had been created. He showed no signs of ever wanting to graze again. In the end, however, he heaved himself onto the river bank and started to nibble.

Halldór Laxness (center) []

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

18 March 2014

Bellerophon on Pegasus spears the Chimera [Wikipedia]

from H. D.’s Palimpsest:

Atalanta curveting, flung forward at the delicate hint of Gaius’ knees pressed inward. She raced breakneck, in exquisite condition, down the steep shingle of the outer mound and landed, like some forward flung gelding of the race-course, feet firm, head delicate, shoulders quivering, wet and with a wild fire of phosphorescent light glinting on her bright flanks. Bellerophon came after. As the heavier horse struck the loosened shingle in his mad down-plunge, Marius, for one exalted second, thought the game was over. With what a hair-breath of a swerve all would be simplified. The great beast with its heavier form, its dark weight, might so easily slide forward; the simple heave beneath would tell, in one second, of some unwonted incident. Marius’ knees, his heavy thighs, unconsciously as if his very soul were lodged there, seemed waiting with some supersense for such sheer incident. For one exalted second, he thought surely on that loose shale, Bellerophon had failed him. In one exalted second, he could see the odd severance of steed from rider. A severance (he visualized it) not more fearful than that of head from body. Dour memory assailed him. The late unofficial expedition to Sardinia. Rome the insuperable. Against his face whipped the dire evening mist of the campagna. Beneath him, he knew in an agonising second, that Bellerophon had gained the soft turf, that Bellerophon was, like Rome, invincible.

H. D. [Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library]

Monday, March 17, 2014

17 March 2014

Anna Moschovakis [CoffeeHousePress]


The problem is I don’t care whether I convince you or not
In a perfect world I would be able to convince you of this

Everybody should always have a position on everything
We take our positions with us, like folding stools to the beach
The stools, when we abandon them, fade to the same color

And I will go with you to the end of this argument
As I have gone with you to the beach
And the man with the cooler will walk by selling streets
And we will pick a street to carry us home

We’ll pick the one with the best-loved name
A flower or a state or October the 12th
Because each date must be celebrated somewhere in this world
Each moment of courage or loss or revolution
When something pushed something and something fell down

The Tragedy of Waste [excerpt]

Suppose that instead of killing Germans
the organization had been directed
to the killing of malnutrition, slum dwelling,
shoddy clothing, infant mortality, occupational disease, starved
opportunity, illiteracy, and ignorance

             for example

Death As a Way of Life [excerpt]

Man dies, that is nothing.

          when a woman sits on the edge of her bed, in front of a window, and lets down her red silken hair, threading it through her delicate fingers as it cascades in waves down her porcelain back, which reflects the moon’s silvery mood, so that any man privileged enough to catch a glimpse of her falls directly to his knees, blind, lost, panting for breath, choking on words he can’t pronounce, starving for familiar phrases he can no longer retrieve from their world of abstraction now that the real thing is manifest before him, so that he vomits up his lunch, his excellent breakfast, and the previous night’s dinner, disgusted with anything he saw fit to consume before setting sight on this morsel of perfection, and lies there in half-crazed ecstasy for three days and three long nights, without food or water, his senses damaged to the point of extinction, until he is on the verge of death, and the moon’s high silver has fallen to dust, and nobody can help him so nobody tries, and the woman is gone, and her hair is gone, and her porcelain back is gone, and her slender fingers, and even her image is gone, and still he has no regrets, and he welcomes death, invites it, knowing as he’s never known anything before that his life wants for nothing
                    now that is something

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Joyelle McSweeney

Joyelle McSweeney [voca]


We wheeled the volcano from state to state.
From the ash we fashioned vistas.

We relished effluvia. At those extremes,
we lived without differentials.
Ourselves, others. We salvaged the heatseekers
and cast off the weaponry. Bacteria
swept the ocean like decimals, barcoding the currents.

The reef disbanded and was reassembled
in the bays of a converted bomber. Launched
into the paunch of the storm, our meters
not only monitored but analyzed it.
The black clouds were deseeded and reined in.

At the hangar, there was a curling
in the pages of the manual, an inner
complication, an ever-paisling structure
making inroads in the pods. With the tips
of our toes we could almost
taste it, we could almost put our finger on it

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Thousand Deaths

A Thousand Deaths

the butcher
the hotel owner
her sister Something-linda (or was she Something-bella?)
the artist/farmer who made quince paste, jams, & wine
who found a home for my cat
her big-name son who modeled the clay bird
the young sexpot intent on finding a better-than-Argentina-wife life
the old woman who along with her husband owned the hardware store
who invited me to see her garden, whose garden I never saw
her husband who exchanged the shovel when the handle broke
the big man at the market who showed no affection
but gave me the best-looking vegetables & fruits
chose a round yellow goat cheese from the cooler, cut me half
the 5-kilo bags of unshelled peanuts
the tiny kitten threading through legs at the market
surely our cat’s cousin
the girls at the market who thought things of me I couldn’t fathom
their old mother with whom I chattered, we were the same old though different
the figs, the cherry tomatoes
the man at the notions store who filled our butane lighter
the woman at the notions store who helped me choose scissors & thread
a fruit bowl, a bicycle basket
the grill man who accepted a glass of beer
the restaurant owner who brought a bottle of champagne on our 20th anniversary
went for a third glass, celebrated with us
the woman who sold me a scratchy wool blanket
plaid colors I’ve forgotten
the woman who stopped me from buying linens at the department store
showed me better, thriftier items
the man who hand-trucked my purchases through 6-blocks of city traffic to my car
the man who sold me the sewing machine
the man who filled my plastic bottles with goat milk from the stainless tank
farm cats, muscovy ducks, goats watching me come & go
the artist who made my stained-glass window
the barn owl who flew full tilt at the picture window
the snake the cat chased, lizards the cat tormented, killed, left
the men who emptied the trash barrel
into the wooden-sided wagon hauled by the red tractor
the man who drove the rattle-bang dump truck, hauled away green trash
the man who filled a black plastic bag with oregano prunings to steep for mate
the toothless old man in the floppy black hat
who shifted dikes in the irrigation ditches for the alfalfa fields
25 years he worked on this thousand acres
horses who grazed the alfalfa fields
jumped the fence, whirled & cantered through billows of dust
cattle egrets who groomed the horses
my cat winding between the legs of the pregnant mare
each spring a spindly colt

Friday, March 14, 2014

14 March 2014

Memory, though multitudinous & various, exists in each of us as a most intimate possession. Hume went so far as to suggest that it was “the source of personal identity.” But the conscious mind exists only in the present moment and taps only a fragment of memory. Somewhere within us, we presume, exists the entire body of memory — yet we can only recover it in bits and pieces. So the poet who takes himself for his subject is apprehensible only in fragments. Memory is, however, always “there” to be drawn on, and the poet may fondly dream that serious, systematic labor of recall (such as an autobiographical poem) might make it explicit in print. Perhaps Wordsworth hoped that The Prelude would be memory transposed to a concrete medium. And, if memory equals self, the finished work might claim to be more the poet than that flesh-and-blood creature who called himself Wordsworth. . . .

The provisional nature of the long poem becomes one of its hallmarks, even for those poets who did not rely so much on memory. Williams remarked, when he found it necessary to continue Paterson, “It called for poetry such as I did not know, it was my duty to discover or make such a context on the ‘thought.’” The context that might supply unity can hardly do so while still undiscovered or unmade. How can we know when we have uncovered all our important memories, and how do we shuffle them into a unity once we have?

Two poets of our century, David Jones and William Carlos Williams, tended to deemphasize the importance of unity. They seemed to consider it desirable, but hardly necessary. Of Paterson Williams remarked, “As I mulled the thing over in my mind, the composition began to assume a form which you see in the present poem, keeping, I fondly hope, a unity directly continuous with the Paterson of Pat. 1 to 4. Let’s hope I have succeeded in doing so.” His curious estrangement from the poem, suggested by “the composition began to assume a form,” bears a resemblance to Zukofsky’s withdrawal from full responsibility for his poem. Both men saw their work developing a life of its own, a life not necessarily amenable to unity imposed by the author.

Jones’s conception of unity in The Anathemata was even more nebulous. “What I have written has no plan, or at least is not planned. If it has a shape it is chiefly that it returns to its beginning. It has themes and a theme even if it wanders far. If it has a unity it is that what goes before conditions what comes after and vice versa.” For Jones, discovery is mostly a matter of collecting what is already at hand. Therefore the chief operation in The Anathemata is one of arrangement. To have started with a preestablished unity would have been to assume that the materials would sort themselves out according to a plan fashioned by Jones. But this is precisely what Jones wanted to escape.

Furthermore, Jones’s materials, like Wordsworth’s, are fundamentally mysterious. They can only be presented, not explained. The poet works to explore, elaborate, and celebrate them — not bring them down to his measure. Charles Olson once attempted to grapple with this process: “Energy is larger than man, but therefore, if he taps it as it is in himself, his uses of himself are EXTENSIBLE in human directions & degree not recently granted.” Since Wordsworth, poets have been seeking that “something” larger than man [sic], whether we call it memory, divinity, energy, the imagination, or paradise. Unity becomes a useful way of channeling that larger dimension into the poem. If the manifestations of that larger entity can only be perceived multiply, unity is fractured into a collection of unities. Pound, Williams, Jones, Olson, and Zukofsky were attuned to a wider spectrum than is tidily manageable.

Barry Ahearn