Wednesday, October 29, 2014

W. S. Merwin

W. S. Merwin [Stanford]

from W. S. Merwin's The Vixen:


When I still had to reach up for the door knob
      I was wondering why the Lord God whoever that was
who had made everything in heaven and the earth
      and knew it was good and that nobody could hurt it
had decided to plant a garden apart
      from everything and put some things inside it
leaving all the rest outside where we were
      so the garden would be somewhere we would never see
and we would know of it only that it could not be known
      a bulb waiting in pebbles in a glass of water
in sunlight at a window You will not be wanting
      the garden too the husband said as an afterthought
but I said yes I would which was all I knew of it
      even the word sounding strange to me for the seedy
tatter trailing out of its gray ravelled walls
      on the ridge where the plateau dropped away to the valley
old trees shaded the side toward the village
      lichens silvered the tangled plum branches hiding
the far end the scrape of the heavy door as it dragged
      across the stone sill had deepened its indelible
groove before I knew it and a patch of wilting
      stalks out in the heat shimmer stood above potatoes
someone had cultivated there among the stately nettles
      it was not time yet for me to glimpse the clay
itself dark in rain rusting in summer shallow
      over fissured limestone here and there almost
at the surface I had yet to be shown how the cold
      softened it what the moles made of it where the snake
smiled on it from the foot of the wall what the redstart
      watched in it what would prosper in it what it would become
I had yet to know how it would appear to me

Saturday, October 25, 2014

All Bo Blang

All Bo Blang

all bo blang   bing cho cam   dem ecto fletch
gumble gar   hag inda jer   kuntle   lo medic nudich
om pidge   quag roo slurry   tinker tew
ubble voh   wun xipple   yop zend   ar bilt coo
day emple   foe   gaff her   im jay ky
mutt ning   onk pho quip   rella ruff
sich tin   tess un   vac woo   xtra yum zah

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Natural History of the Senses

A Natural History of the Senses

— a Diane-Ackerman-inspired cento

in the western idiom
a chord is an idea
budding from olfactory stalks
embodiment of
ten octaves

olfactory regions are yellow
receptors at the base of hairs
the mouth
a plague of mellow apples
yellow fever of butcher shops

constant in our lives
the sneeze is
a greater handicap
than blindness
for whom it fails to ring

when we sing
the landscape kisses
its signature
sensory maps
we are its consciousness

is the sound that once rang in the sky
at 85% the speed of sound
delicate as a twig traveling
vigilant across a field

pupils dilate
ground-up bones
touch as
endorphin levels rise

the sky is the one visual
perfume of healing
tactile vocoder
of a substance
in human embryos

original rosaries were made
from pigeon dung
typhus is said to smell of mice
even crown jewels
are replaced every thirty days

during early afternoons in October
we become nomads
bending together
to water vibrations

hand gardening
we sing
the season’s periods of dark & light
our sleep schedule parallels
an earthworm nearby

guided by smell
the duck’s bill
expels air
cerebral hemispheres

ethereal, resinous, musky,
minty, floral, acrid, foul
testosterone is at its highest
in Islamic cooking
menses breath is oniony

neurons in the nose
mix rose water & musk into mortar
a clanship of porridge
internal organs don’t
devour their enemies at table

a delicate staple
of only eight molecules
has many pain receptors
sight appears dull
on the battlefield

to move its flying muscles
eat a live goose
measles of freshly plucked feathers
dried-up rose petal hair
be honest in sacred's name

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fanny Howe

Fanny Howe [Vineyard Gazette]

from Fanny Howe's Second Childhood:

The Monk and Her Seaside Dreams 

The monk is a single 
and so am I 
but which kind? 

All of them 

from young to wild 
and the boyish one 
(mine) cared for the weak 
until there was no one 
to care for him 
besides an old woman 
who lived as a she.

I became a penitent
first in sandals
then in boots
then with a hood
and bare feet.
Now night-bound, now nude, then old.


Another brother and I took a train with a view of mountains
floating in water
out of Limerick Junction
to Heuston Station where Wittgenstein
tried to discover emotion.

He hit a horizon.

"Philosophy should only be written as poetry."


In a Sabbath atmosphere you stand still and look backwards
for time has ceased its labors
and no cattle tremble.
You can contemplate the peripheries
and for a flash see the future as a field in a semi-circle.

Everything is even on the Sabbath. The died and the living.
Each person or place wants you as much as you want another.


Towards a just
and invisible image
behind each word
and its place in a sentence
we must have been sailing.

Scarcely defended, best
when lost from wanting perfect sense.
But still, recognizable.

Be like grass, the phantom told us:
lie flat, spring up.
Our veils were scrolls
you couldn't walk into
but only mark the folds.


I've lost my child at the bend where we parted.
We will never come back to that hour.

Let me write about the place again the path so sandy
and the table cloth blowing in a wind from Newfoundland.
It was here it began. She left her bouillabaisse untouched
and headed out on the train.
Sort of, soft, gold at sunset, turrets and sandals
were hard to identify so many copies.
Let me concentrate on ancestral faces
and I will recognize hers
before my powers fail and our DNA has been smeared
on cups and cigarettes, bottles and gloves, bowls and spoons
and replicated, sucked or kissed into the lips of strangers.


I have to pass through the estuary
to investigate breakdown as a trail of nerve-endings
at the beginning of everything.

Scrapes like threads seeking holes.
It's a strange textile that serves as a road map.

This one did:
its blue led to the edge.

Where could a fabric begin and end except as a running woman
who sews and passes it along?
So I ran with it in my hands.

A kind of eucharist.
No break in its material from the first day on earth
to the Sabbath where all are equal
and the cows covered in sackcloth.


Where has my mind gone?

The bloody thieves
are very quick.

You may have noticed I'm naked
and sliced by glass.

Soon words will be disappeared
and then the Celtic church
and seven friends
I will not name.

One word that contains
so many:

dearth, end, earth, ear, dirt, hen, red, dish, it and
I must examine each part
then cut the ropes without a heart and set out.


The slide downhill on my back to a ledge
and the sea out there and a city
to the left of the mud.
The place they call an area
preparing for an earthquake. Under-shade and crowds
of hungry old people lining for bread.
One woman collapsed on her side
and another helped her up
and I was let into the bunker
by the best kind of communist.

There was orange vomit on a large cape over a large woman.

The hills! No bells.
I went down for what reason.
Not to enter a cell.

Luckily no one was white.
We discovered we were in a loft space from the olden days
that I indicated pleased me.
because I couldn't get my body out no matter what.

I paused long enough to encounter
a slender elder with the delicate posture of a Rastafarian.
The people were indifferent as they are to whites but polite.
The lean man showed me the door in colorful clothing.

But there was a huge blast from the building beside us
And we ran up rickety stairs to look at what
was now a structure speared with broken glass and stone.
A worker was already being transported on a stretcher.

We looked around at the mess then went inside to discuss
our love of failures, every one of us.


I hauled so many children after me
with ropes and spears and nets
like sea-creatures that others would eat
without them I have no purpose.

As in the Gospel account, I believed in their belief.
But now there would be what? For he, the little one,
was kneeling and saying, You must run.

The lover I still loved stayed near the door
so I raced off, you stood, when the police came
seeking coherence in everything.

The total machine of retribution presses on.
Regardless of a prayer or what a person did.
This is incredible.
We're breaking up.


A Trappist led me around as one of him
to a ship heading for the country where they edit the best films.
There was a city on deck: residential with pleasing evening trees
and then a downtown area until we couldn't tell the suns
from the portholes on board.

The ship would transport us to a staging dock in Iona.
I would lose my luggage from the twentieth century
(though its particles and buckles were forged in eternity)
and make my private vows to the creator
in every theater we entered.


Together we traveled in a boat as it filled with night-water
from the bottom up.
By night-water one means fear.
So the refilling is adding a sting to the salt.

Living naked
still leaves you covered

by a surface of wood, feathers, fur or skin.

Bare skin, blue skin: a muff of lambskin
over the ears where the thief can get in.

It's lucky the mind freezes before the heart.


Back there is the string of mountains your uncle painted
and you lost. Out there is the clotted cream
on a raspberry tart that he couldn't finish.

There is the goose and the blackbird, the brindled donkey
and the trap. They stand on the thin black thread of your lineage.
Your scissors are split, your fiddle is cracked, its strings are thin
and your mouth is dry, your clothes American.

No more rush of notes as if a window is open inside.

Only if you are insane or asleep
and the gods and animals
pound their way in
on a divine night wind.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag [Tanya Pretorius]

from Susan Sontag’s On Photography:

it was [Walter] Benjamin’s conviction that reality itself invited — and vindicated — the once heedless, inevitably destructive ministrations of the collector. In a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector become someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious objects once found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblematic fragments. . . .

Benjamin’s ideas are worth mentioning because he was photography’s most original and important critic — despite (and because of) the inner contradiction in his account of photography which follows from the challenge posed by his Surrealist sensibility to his Marxist/Brechtian principles — and because Benjamin’s own ideal project reads like a sublimated version of the photographer’s activity. This project was a work of literary criticism that was to consist entirely of quotations, and would thereby be devoid of anything that might betray empathy. A disavowal of empathy, a disdain for message-mongering, a claim to be invisible — these are strategies endorsed by most professional photographers. The history of photography discloses a long tradition of ambivalence about its capacity for partisanship: the taking of sides is felt to undermine its perennial assumption that all subject have validity and interest. But what in Benjamin is an excruciating idea of fastidiousness, meant to permit the mute past to speak in its own voice, with all its unresolvable complexity, becomes — when generalized, in photography — the cumulative de-creation of the past (in the very act of preserving it), the fabrication of a new, parallel reality that makes the past immediate while underscoring its comic or tragic ineffectuality, that invests the specificity of the past with an unlimited irony, that transforms the present into the past and the past into pastness.

Like the collector, the photographer is animated by a passion that, even when it appears to be for the present, is linked to a sense of the past. But while traditional arts of historical consciousness attempt to put the past in order, distinguishing the innovative from the retrograde, the central from the marginal, the relevant from the irrelevant or merely interesting, the photographer’s approach — like that of the collector — is unsystematic, indeed anti-systematic. The photographer’s ardor for a subject has no essential relation to its content or value, that which makes a subject classifiable. It is, above all, an affirmation of the subject’s thereness; its rightness (the rightness of a look on a face, of the arrangement of a group of objects), which is the equivalent of the collector’s standard of genuineness; its quiddity — whatever qualities make it unique. The professional photographer’s preeminently willful, avid gaze is one that not only resists the traditional classification and evaluation of subjects but seeks consciously to defy and subvert them. For this reason, its approach to subject matter is a good deal less aleatoric than is generally claimed.

In principle, photography executes the Surrealist mandate to adopt an uncompromisingly egalitarian attitude toward subject matter. (Everything is “real.”) In fact, it has — like mainstream Surrealist taste itself — evinced an inveterate fondness for trash, eyesores, rejects, peeling surfaces, odd stuff, kitsch. Thus, Atget specialized in the marginal beauties of jerry-built vehicles, gaudy or fantastic window displays, the raffish art of shop signs and carousels, ornate porticoes, curious door knockers and wrought-iron grilles, stucco ornaments on the façades of run-down houses. The photographer — and the consumer of photographs — follows in the footsteps of the ragpicker, who was one of Baudelaire’s favorite figures for the modern poet . . .

What is true of photographs is true of the world seen photographically. Photography extends the eighteenth-century literati’s discovery of the beauty of ruins into a genuinely popular taste. And it extends that beauty beyond the romantics’ ruins . . . to the modernists’ ruins — reality itself. The photographer is willy-nilly engaged in the enterprise of antiquing reality, and photographs are themselves instant antiques. The photograph offers a modern counterpart of that characteristically romantic architectural genre, the artificial ruin: the ruin which is created in order to deepen the historical character of a landscape, to make nature suggestive — suggestive of the past.

The contingency of photographs confirms that everything is perishable; the arbitrariness of photographic evidence indicates that reality is fundamentally unclassifiable. Reality is summed up in an array of casual fragments — an endlessly alluring, poignantly reductive way of dealing with the world. Illustrating that partly jubilant, partly condescending relation to reality that is the rallying point of Surrealism, the photographer’s insistence that everything is real also implies that the real is not enough. By proclaiming a fundamental discontent with reality, Surrealism bespeaks a posture of alienation which has now become a general attitude in those parts of the world which are politically powerful, industrialized, and camera-wielding. Why else would reality ever be thought of as insufficient, flat, overordered, shallowly rational? In the past, a discontent with reality expressed itself as a longing for another world. In modern society, a discontent with reality expresses itself forcefully and most hauntingly by the longing to reproduce this one. As if only by looking at reality in the form of an object — through the fix of the photograph — is it really real, that is, surreal.