Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Franck André Jamme’s New Exercises

Shrub and Door (Hommage à Milton Avery)


A whitish nothing anther-
corolla’d cupping a nod
rostrum hobbles a furry
bumblebee thighs Popeye’d massy.

Synthesis audibly sounding its
loss number-cruncher Pan
indiscernibly up a tree
in with the greeny.

Ah bathos ah velocity
ah yellow pollen-orbs
spittle-jaw’d Amazon leaf-
cutters volcanic ash soap.

Stupendous pensivity a ghastly
contagion hoots the suburbs
o most High follow’d
by a gappy rigidity.

Jordan Davis, in a rather rambling essay / review of some recent (and less recent) collections of poetry in translation, “Exchange Rate” at Boston Review, an essay that seems to adopt the curiously imperialist premise that a flood of translation’s good for U. S. writing mostly for offering up a new market to thieve (see particularly the apparent straight-facedly made observation following a quote of Alexei Parshchikov’s “The Road”—“Perhaps there is nothing to steal in Parshchikov’s poem . . .”) Is it that underlying premise that makes the resort to proscription look so, uh, imperious?
There is more to poetry than sensation and mystification, or, if you prefer, reason and piety, form and content, jouissance and restraint.

That more is progression, whether it takes the form of narrative, a turn of argument or some other type of modulation not merely a change of subject (devotees of parataxis, this means you). I and other readers are responding more and more to work that develops beyond the accretion of modernist shocks and postmodernist jokes; even cascades of luminous details have come to seem less and less sufficient.
“This means you”? Sorry, were you talking to me? Isn’t this simply “reason and piety” itself, writ large? It’s entirely odd that it ought to spring so sprightly out of the mouth of a FlarfCo® chum, though “we”’ve seen exactly such double-speak before, usually play’d out under the unfurl’d banner of equanimity, or impartiality. One way of despoiling the muffin and keeping it too. (I am suddenly remind’d of O’Hara’s lines out of “Romanze, or The Music Students”:
In Ann Arbor on Sunday afternoon
at four-thirty they went to an organ
recital: Messiaen, Hindemith, Czerny.
And in their ears a great voice said
“To have great music we must commission
it. To commission great music
we must have great commissioners.”
There was a blast! and summer was over.
Basta the pronunciamento.) What becomes clear in Davis’s piece is that the dismissal of “shocks” and “jokes,” the declared insufficiency of “luminous details,” the call for a return to a “turn” (verse!) is camouflage to a moralizing (not to say “scolding”) impulse. Look at how he touts Brecht, and for what:
More valuable than the finenesses, though, is the combination of Brecht’s winningly rakish persona, his confident shaping of each work’s beginning, middle, and end (not necessarily in that order), and above all the sense that literature is commerce between adults who think well enough of themselves and others. Sanity, in other words.
Straight out of Keys to Success manuals: winning, confident, commerce-savvy, sane, allow’d a rakish “persona.” Brecht as “Dress Down Friday” meister. “Adults who think well enough of themselves and others,” precisely the kind of conventional morality that’d subsume “literature” under the vacant Sunday homily. O’Hara again (“Memorial Day 1950”):
Picasso made me tough and quick, and the world;
just as in a minute plane trees are knocked down
outside my window by a crew of creators.
Once he got his axe going everyone was upset
enough to fight for the last ditch and heap
of rubbish.
. . .
                                          How many trees and frying pans
I loved and lost! Guernica hollered look out!
but we were all busy hoping our eyes were talking
to Paul Klee. My mother and father asked me and
I told them from my tight blue pants we should
love only the stones, the sea, and heroic figures.
Wasted child! I’ll club you on the shins! I
wasn’t surprised when the older people entered
my cheap hotel room and broke my guitar and my can
of blue paint.
. . .
                        And those of us who thought poetry
was crap were throttled by Auden or Rimbaud
when, sent by some compulsive Juno, we tried
to play with collages or sprechstimme in their bed.
Poetry didn’t tell me not to play with toys
but alone I could never have figured out that dolls
meant death.
                            Our responsibilities did not begin
in dream, though they began in bed. Love is first of all
a lesson in utility. I hear the sewage singing
underneath my bright white toilet seat and know
that somewhere sometime it will reach the sea;
gulls and swordfishes will find it richer than a river . . .

Frank O’Hara, 1926-1966

Of Note

Something to assuage yesterday’s grinch’d and gritty skepticism and bile at the sight of the cash cows and glamour hogs with they double-entry bookkeeping journals out . . . Out of Franck André Jamme’s New Exercises (Wave Books, 2009), translated by Charles Borkhuis:

I respond to that the way I picture Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeths communing deeply with a Chinese character, pulling the various ideogrammatic particulars (man, tree, fire) out in order to suss out a synthesis, registering progress with a satisfying asemantical grunt. I like how slow it makes the world. I like the waiting, the revel of delay reveal’d. (A lovely line of apparent instruction, laconic, prefaces the selection: “Not too fast.”) Here’s another:

’ S C O R
And who’s got that line I love, that Lethe-cover’d line—André Breton or Frank O’Hara: “Tu as un œil qui dit zut a l’autre”? Isn’t that one of the figures crooning here behind the mesh (in plain sight)? What Jamme says of the source of the impulse, the method:
      Tablets like these used to be found on small gold leaves in ancient Roman graves. These leaves were typically folded inside the closed hands or mouths of the dead. They could be read as maxims, wishes, recommendations, or favorite sentences probably meant to seal the crossing over to the other side, that totally unknown country whose existence itself is so uncertain—the country of “the most numerous,” as the Romans called it.
      In the following pages, there is no message for or towards the beyond; instead, just a pet hobby that materialized without warning then developed, like a fire, until it became a book. A game played with thoughts that are neither funny nor playful; a “game” in that it was amusing to watch as these thoughts drew steles, and amusing again to spend time, days later, trying to decipher them. To distract myself for once with letters and words, and to abandon, for a time, the customary, linear way of reading. To obscure it in order to suddenly render attention necessary; not only attention, but even a kind of effort.
      No fascination here either for any formal perfection. In the tradition I draw from, any tablet may be considered “perfect” as soon as it has as many signs in its last line as in each previous line. My tablets, as you’ll see, are rarely so lucky; they usually just end when they can, where they fall: an arrangement—of signs, of lines—that has never subsumed their meaning.
Marvelous, the infinitives bury’d in the note, waiting to be arranged:

Too, there’s a terrific spillover of Jamme’s remarks to the back cover of New Exercises. I only recall seeing such a sign of excess (sign of the “imperfect”—an arrangement whose meaning remains “unsubsumed”) in Gerry Gilbert’s Moby Jane (its initial piece—“Sounding,” with the “taunt, considering” initial line reading “poets all begin in the same place”—begins directly on the front cover and its final “Zig Zag Blues” is found back cover verso). Jamme, in a lovely requiescat spill’d out (with solemn restraint):
Now that the time has passed and this book is almost printed, I realize when it was that these writings became a kind of antidote to lost seasons. Salvation, one could say, through play. Long before I’d even considered publishing them in book form, I spent a lot of time playing around, drawing these tablets on pieces of gold foil I found in packs of cigarettes or around chocolate bars, as if to offer them—I have no idea how—to the hands and mouths of the dead who’ve begun to surround me. I then began to inscribe them on mirrors, so that the simple reading of letters and words would instantly obscure any faces, starting with my own.
Something terribly forthright and modest—trustworthy—there: it reminds me of Sebald a little. Deux encore:

’ S O W N

“Lethe’s other laugh” lodged like a lozenge under the tongues of the dead.

Franck André Jamme’s New Exercises
(Design’d by Jeff Clark)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A ‘Howling Success’



Commendably the cargo’d trees
disjecta membra the heart’s
sworn fill thin résumé
plump’d by a rhetor.

All the horses shy
off with half-neighs
making shapely a throng
compliance wheel to stampede.

Unstageable acts a bicyclist’s
gaseously rapid legs pumping
unstrung mechanicals out of
snow-seiz’d plum tree.

Errancy’s a theft of
acquaintance a momentary negligible
blot to hazard a
shorn heart’s steering forth.

Skimming through Jed Perl’s New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century (Knopf, 2005), struck by how tired the tiredness of the tired old Dada nag is. Perl:
Already in 1958, Nell Blaine was worrying in a journal entry about the rise of “the idea of novelty above all” as well as “the love of cruelty and art brut of the Post-Atom 2nd string Dadaists.” All this, she wrote, “has stuck in the craw of many serious artists who may go their own way quietly.” At least until the end of the 1950s, though, [Marcel] Duchamp’s and [Ad] Reinhardt's dark, contrarian views were held in check by a gloriously optimistic sense, the sense that [Hans] Hofmann epitomized, that art was organically, dialectically related to the hurly-burly of life—and that art could transcend life. “Those with a capacity for life, joie de vivre,” Blaine observed, “will go on in the face of annihilation.”
Reinhardt, “the gadfly’s gadfly,” who says “Art is art. Everything else is everything else,” and “Art is too serious to be taken seriously,” and, in a 1966 interview: “The art world is no longer satirizable. I suppose there isn’t much going on except business, and that’s not very funny. Ten years or fifteen years ago (perhaps it was much longer), it was possible for one artist to call another artist an old whore. It’s not possible any more. The whole art world is whorish and one artist couldn’t’ possibly call another artist an old or young whore. Everyone now wants to be a ‘howling success’ and a celebrity. Everyone wants to be like Elizabeth Taylor. And there isn’t anything Elizabeth Taylor can do that’s not of great interest to everybody. I’ve been using the term ‘selling out’ the way it was used in the twenties and thirties. Everyone else thinks it’s a good idea or a good expression. An artist who comes in and says he has sold out his show thing that’s a good thing.” To the Kenneth Goldsmiths who’d do a crocodile-tears Brion Gysin lament (1959) that “Writing is fifty years behind painting,” one’d add: “Thank God for that.” Though it’s apparent that of late it’s determinedly making up for it, the whorish burgomeisters out in front.

Ad Reinhardt, “How to Look at an Artist”

Ad Reinhardt, “Number 18,” 1949

Ad Reinhardt, 1913-1967

Monday, September 28, 2009

Anselm Berrigan’s Free Cell

Hook and String


Snag’d god-humours tatter
the bramble patch red-
flag’d quotidian catches a
shrike spiking a mouse.

Nine pound hammer flung
down in the dirt
post-angelic hurly burly
of two men ungirt.

Blood-truancy queues up
the unbottled westering clouds
the sun’s countersunk stopper
pull’d drain-tint’d light.

Wild impress of night’s
unsecluded lathering up shiny
blooms curry’d a horse
mane unbraid’d and comb’d.

Weekend of hurly-burly and long spurious trajectory: no catch in the unreeling, the motility of tableau. Harold Rosenberg:
At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act—rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze or “express” an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.

The painter no longer approached his easel with an image in his mind; he went up to it with material in his hand to do something to that other piece of material in front of him. The image would be the result of this encounter.

. . .

If a painting is an action the sketch is one action, the painting that follows it another. The second cannot be "better" or more complete than the first. There is just as much in what one lacks as in what the other has.

. . .

The big moment came when it was decided to paint . . . just to paint. The gesture on the canvas was a gesture of liberation, from Value—political, esthetic, moral.
Why do I think that, out of Rosenberg’s “The American Action Painters” (originally 1952, reprint’d in Tradition of the New), in considering Anselm Berrigan’s Free Cell (City Lights, 2009), particularly in the initial long piece / sequence “Have a Good One”? (The book consists of “Have a Good One,” a two-page piece originally order’d by the Composers Collaborative—Berrigan work’d with David First—call’d “Let Us Sample Protection Together”—beginning with the fully O’Hara-inflect’d “When I was little I cut off the heads / of many lords. I can’t count on the energy / that took to rise in me at will, but I’ve / strengthened my ability to make a stand-firm surface,” that combo of nonchalant myth-making and flattish data, the personal poised in-between), and a final sequence, “To Hell with Sleep.”) Randomly, out of the middle of “Have a Good One”:
Have A Good One

The problem with free will
is not that it does or does not
exist, but that it’s pointless.

            Have A Good One

                    Pint balanced on beak.
                        Pre-emptive fluff
                            in quality trash sync
                                with gentrified protest
                            against the sweet song
                    of cronyism. No.
                O acid blood
                        in the meta-squall
                      aquiver. Poly-flammable
                    apparitions and calibrated
                            scuzz for sale.
                                They, comrade
                spite the bitten neck
            for throbbing so wound-like.

                                                                                            Have A Good One

a fundamentally sound clubhouse cancer

                                                                        I got caught up
                                                                        in the memorial biz
                                                                        I let people let me
                                                                        hurt their feelings

                        Have A Good One

Let’s step out of the day

                for an unscripted haunting

across time             I sharpen             my teeth

                                    needing boats
                                    to exterminate

the wooly rhino
              & fuck yr flock

                        afore ye knew

        a need to possess


I have imagined saying no so often and rarely ever fantasize a yes.
One may own a strategy what contains spitting yes repeatedly as
a tactic leading to the fulfillment of a grand vision that will be the
unmistakable embodiment and subsequent catatonic astral eruption
of a no.

                  my kissable lifeline
                              illustrates foraging
                      via $20 burgers
                                                                  silence in public
                                                                  is how I work
                      wonder of mortality
                                & risk being tarred elegiac
                    some risk                   & if I can’t wait to properly age, hon?

by dusk
      by yard
by splintered coalition
      by foot
          by guided missile
      by a gathered mind’s porous non-fear of shit like owning a house
          by delicate flower
          by aphoristic glee of doom in the proto-fauna
                by being prone to negotiate
          by need for a new sack
                by not wanting to argue every god damn day
                      by artificial pond
      by blunders run up to get beat down
by ecstasy of refusal
                        by right’s side dull discomfort growing daily
                  by above all’s fierce intellect

I’ll summon resistance gets used a lot by academics these days. Get
rewarded by a monkey fucking a football or spin the chore sheet,
and these things have character and what is that character, how can
I convey it or channel it into a intro? I will give my sister-in-law a
book about modernism for Chanukah, and my mother something
to steal from. To a colleague in the upper American north wilds
perhaps an explanation of the difference between ghosts and subject
matter. Some perjury for the comrades and a lovely pink slip for

                                                                        Have A Good One

The promise of a hard-won exuberance
brought you near. The need to be
around the most people doing
something was a fucking magnet. From
                running races to making copies to
               delivering packages promotion became
              a recognizable cycle, if always
             with a clear ceiling or escape hatch.
            The latter you design, though awareness
           of authority in that regard can be
          transient. It’s a cheap shot. Honesty
         in the making. But do the parts get to
       be themselves while part of the whole
      thing? And if they’re only themselves
     like I’m only my habits and kindnesses
    measuring contact before moving
   forward we’re done. You’ll call me.
  I tend to screen. Technology’s
 beauty made shapely by the choice.
Bits of it, I mean. Shape is for the birds.
Is it the all-over diction, its rarely “showy” variability—“Poly-flammable” to “scuzz” to “fuck yr flock” to “unmistakable embodiment” to “I tend to screen,” all that flotsam of the American idiom entering without knocking—that makes me think that here is something in the proximity of a “big moment” wherein Berrigan’s simply “decided to write . . . just to write”? If Berrigan says “Shape is for the birds” is that akin to, say, Willem de Kooning’s contempt for the “finish’d”? (In Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), edited by Robert Goodnough (Soberscove Press / Wittenborn Art Books, 2009), I read de Kooning’s reply to Hans Hofmann’s rather portentous “A very great Chinese painter once said the most difficult thing in a work of art is to know the moment when to stop” with something like a Berriganesque shrug:
I refrain from “finishing” it. I paint myself out of the picture, and when I have done that, I either throw it away or keep it. I am always in the picture somewhere. The amount of space I use I am always in, I seem to move around in it, and there seems to be a time when I lose sight of what I wanted to do, and then I am out of it. If the picture has a countenance, I keep it. If it hasn’t, I throw it away. I am not really very much interested in the question.
Like saying “Have a good one” and moving along. Encountering some of Berrigan’s pieces here and there it didn’t occur to me that that phrase act’d as anything but a title. In Free Cell though, it flits through the piece as chorus, title, marker. Recalling somewhat Kevin Davies’s use of typographic markers in the “some assembly required” parts of The Golden Age of Paraphernalia (Edge, 2008), the “Have A Good One” keeping the thing lubricat’d, unfinish’d, its items rearrangeable, interchangeable, unfix’d.

It turns out that the “Have A Good One” beginning “Let’s step out of the day” is also the result of a commission of sorts. Apparently the editors of Konundrum Engine Literary Review “asked two poets to exchange work and create interpretations of each other’s poems”—the poets being Stacy Szymaszek and Berrigan. Berrigan’s commentary on the process exhibits a kind of slapdash full frontal writerly assault (and humor):
. . . as I was in an emotionally agitated state I realized quickly upon making the plunge to actually do the translation—without giving it much thought beforehand in any planned sense (though anticipating the endeavor with solid excitement)—that I was going to write off of each line in each poem and each word in each line but not so much off of what I thought the poems were trying to broadly communicate. However, that kind of thinking does not, by my way of looking at it, preclude working off of the experience of reading and engaging each poem. I was not looking to write about the source of my agitation either, so that provided some symmetry in the sense of Stacy’s work having both my own inability to be composed and my lack of desire to make said inability be a subject between itself and my translation. Since I wrote all the initial lines all over the pages Stacy gave me, there is this intimate document somewhere, but that is not the actual translation. That’s more of, like, the literal translation vis-a-vis Stacy’s english into my english, and is therefore a disaster of accuracy.
Berrigan’s “own inability to be composed and . . . lack of desire to make said inability be a subject between itself and [the] translation”—isn’t that de Kooning’s “in the picture” and “out of it”? (I note in the version in Free Cell compared Konundrum’s to two tiny occlusions, a “however” and a “centimeter” that dangled off the beginning of that sequence of “by” phrases.) “A disaster of accuracy”—perfect, precisely what the age requires.

Anselm Berrigan

Anselm Berrigan’s Free Cell
City Lights Spotlight No. 2

Friday, September 25, 2009

Acoherency and History

A Wall


Painterly doodads
run amok,
impasto’d coils
squeezed out
excrementally taper’d,
a filigree
of turds
marshall’d forth—
the material
world resinous
and gummy.
to make
a useless
replica of
the little
shits with
words, how’ja
know? Put
commonality’s affable
pal transparency
to rout
is what
I am
“at.” It’s
a vulgar
error saying
so, like
the way
Natty Bumppo
sounds like
a Negro
cook, or
a fly
-sized hlæfdig
caught between
the orbs
of earth
and sweet
verminous heaven.
The word—
any word—
tax, mucker,
kidney, finch

’s trapped
by scrims
of red
semiotic juice,
meaning intercepts
it, sucks
it off,
depositing nothing
seeable: clarity’s
monstrous husk.

Skinnying down with an itch. O my spotty reading, crush’d by night!

Of Note

Out of the fourth issue of Peaches and Bats, edit’d in Portland, Oregon “by Sam Lohmann for ‘The Firm and Aerie’”—it runs the subtitle, “a twice-yearly magazine of poetry and teasing”—a chunk of David Shapiro talking to Lohmann about Joseph Ceravolo, a “cubist youth”—and, uh, “everything”:
I think Joe and I were more like pals, copains, than teachers and students with each other. I found him depressed and anxious about work and family, when I had little interest in work and family, being 15. But I also found him endlessly strange, as if he were inside his own eclipse. I loved that purity in him, and those wide expanses between letters and words: “Oak oak.” I felt annoyed when his friends treated him as a saint and me as a Jewish intellectual tramp. What helped us all was the other glue of our friend Frank Lima, who completes a strange trio of us. Lima had all the Catholic twists that came like my Jewish-Russian background. We were all slightly inebriated with the idea of language, but Lima and I were also confessional and angry, and Joe was purist and a kind of St. Francis of poetry: “I want to give my food to a stranger / I want to be taken / I am thinking about my friend.” I think Joe found it hard to deal with my “mixed” poems. He kept to a single great tone of grey-blue, a conceptual grey-blue as in Cézanne (Rubin’s insight here). The struggle in all of us was how to wreck narrative, unburden our lines from mere confession, strike through syntax, uncouple grammar and coherence, and end up however with an effect as powerful as Moore, H.D., Pound or Reverdy or Apollinaire. Ted Berrigan sometimes seemed to me to lack the pluralism of understanding us all three. But it was a difficulty to dogmatists, and even pluralists can be dogmatically monist about their pluralism. Ted loved Joe, and so did I, but I saw in Joe an endless discipline of engineering poetry, as in his “day job.” Joe also had no pretense except the highest. It is hard to imagine this homo religiosus not being friends with everyone and everything. He and Frank loved each other despite enormous differentia. I loved his long poems and his ambition for the tiny world of bugs and lyrics. We need more complete works of Lima, Ceravolo. A lot of literary history is simply false because of some expungings or what Silliman has called disappearances. Lima and Ceravolo, “precious pair of poets, genius in both, but what is genius?” It would take a long essay to build up a sense of the sociology of those moments. I did find it amusing that Ron Silliman picked up or was picked up hitchhiking by David Melnick, and I had spent all of a summer 1967 preaching to David about Ashbery and Roussel. David told Ron evidently that I was his favorite poet with Ashbery, but Silliman never mentioned this till very recently. A lot of the techniques of the “Language” group, I must say, came from this contagion with another set of poets. When I met Melnick, he was reading Sartre every day like a worshipper. After our months-long conversation, David was writing false translations as I told him to, triply acoherent rounds and much else out of Roussel and even myself. And so we find a great link in which I turn out to be a comrade or paternal, as I often think, toward the Language school. And I am about to say my most arrogant comment: I have never seen anything since my cubist youth that was to me technically amazing or new. Clark Coolidge I was anthologizing in extremis in my NY School [An Anthology of New York Poets edited by Shapiro and Ron Padgett] and also Bernadette Mayer. What in these seemed pre-linguistic? Ceravolo’s long acoherent odes—what has gone beyond them in formal shattering and vividness of simple shifters? Dubito, dubito. And yet all poets compete and don’t compete, the “more angels the more room.” But in art, none can hardly claim to have done something new in drips, if they looked done by Pollock in 1947, a snowy day in which I was born at the moment of the first all-over. Let me say that I often find critics and academics who haven’t read Dick Gallup in C Magazine—a long poem called “Life in Darkness” that would be accepted as a poem written tomorrow by 99 percent of those thinking of themselves as innovators. Yes, this saddens, angers me. But Ron Padgett says wisely also: “We are lucky to be writing and getting our work out at all.” But the thick lived life of poetry is sometimes expunged by false canons. I really have this as ressentiments, a lover’s quarrel with poets. Or a loveless quarrel with critics. Now let’s say something cheerful, like: “I breathe slowly and I rarely dance.”—Satie! The author of the endless Vexations knew how to be humble in a bar of pianists and poets.
Whew. Poems and a collage titled “Wittgenstein Dreaming” accompany the conversation. And work by Marcella Durand, Laynie Browne, Andrei Sen-Senkov (translated by Zachary Schomburg), Eléna Rivera, Jesse Morse, Tom Blood, Mickey O’Connor, and Lohmann himself.

David Shapiro
(Photograph by Claudio Papapietro)

An alignment. Out of Artists’ Sessions at Studio 35 (1950), edited by Robert Goodnough (Soberscove Press / Wittenborn Art Books, 2009), Robert Motherwell’s reply to a query by Hans Hofmann, “What is abstract art in the ‘good’ sense?”:
The word “abstract” has a technical meaning. It means “to take from.” As a method, it signifies selecting one element from a myriad of elements, for the purpose of emphasis. Whitehead says, “The higher the degree of abstraction, the lower the degree of complexity.” I suppose the word was first applied to a certain kind of art that was very highly abstracted (in Whitehead’s sense) but consequently with a low degree of complexity. The people who first said abstract must have meant that so much was left out. Picasso represents a higher degree of complexity and a lower degree of abstraction than Mondrian, for example.
“Oak oak.” I look’d up Gallup’s ““Life in Darkness”—with epigraph “and once surrounded” (“I put to shore quickly by             gnawing / Because nearly hving qualities incident to / A wild stae . . . full cries of anguish / Groaning             It’s high time to frustrate / Scheme at once overpower             catch . . .”), it’s found in Shiny Pencils at the Edge of Things: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House, 2000), and found the jittery Elizabethan fool-prattle hints of “From the Beaumont Series”:
Age came not my conifer, O
Not my corall on the prairie
The Navy, some Noel port,
In Voguelion collars.
Vase knee lop, Unguented an’
Interred d’old tram are:
O Me! Lassoo dolent enter,
Come! O dig! So far!

      A vase in Altrac, on the rate,
A knoll, remember? A deer:
For image knowing Anne, a tacked on
Tan—Tison, Lisos—Fire?
Chum, if Anne — O gran! Goo! er
La notte, cold a day;
Nascent elan dint, er
Not my parch so see a

      O’s antus and tus Deo,
Chain lever gin when is the
Tug guard all more me?
Boil da me dip ill art is to
Oil tap or test ate
Then muted otta ate
Idolise me more
Tisia! rack o man data!

      The crock salve agent,
’Em face dis weird:
The crock miff adolant,
No me well din opperage are—
O crock pall leg rind,
Perch me high if it is true!
O my lasso, Tapina!
Key or dough, send in the nut.

      Lo! Radar Imp Compass
The nut is Monad Man-Teen,
His a mug er rat-face,
Come a tole, Tamia, spin,
Oil, the pot est ate
The mute had otta ate,
Loam, idolize me more!
Vizor are comin’, ain’t ’at a!

      “Gwanda, Crock-pig lie I’m
Certain, no lamb in sight,”
Quetch ate and Tom’s a mad
Dial it and Tom ache,
Neo-Fui bat up-a
’Em ass in purgatory.
And inch elate ten you too?
Purty stay it, Tamia.

      The Navy’s so bellicose:
In bone or pose, Anne or air
Tell ’em oil am Orcon Ellen,
Elegant chee, ha! wan deer.
O pad recriat ore,
Ah poor Tom’s a lesson duce,
Cavern noa noa, Sir Widower
Of lotus and the crock!

      O Pear. Pre-Ego. Do let the
Chaise-aisle ape Namia.
Come and fetch me a sonnet
And mantle, Tensoria:
Chill on poss, so aberrant are
La notte ’n Ladia!
Interred ole tremor be,
List “a la vie,” Tamia.
Splendidly niggling an absent narrative, pulling the leg of lingual purity, the piece sounds rather homophonically translated in part, though incompletely. It’s undated, though Gallup places it in Shiny Pencils a couple poems prior to the C-print’d “Life in Darkness.” “The thick lived life of poetry is sometimes expunged by false canons”—it is there Shapiro’s brilliance hits home. It is particularly so in an “era” of manifestly careerist and doggedly self-serving constructors of those canons, weight’d histories silently occluding, the never humble in the bar of the grand pianists and poets.

Dick Gallup, c. 1971
(Photograph by Larry Fagin)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mary Ruefle’s The Most of It

A Wall (“Big City Nightmare”)


Here in the rinse
my moony ensuing deceit
puffs up the post-
muscatel longueurs, herding sheepish
regrets forth, waylaying any
chill a forthright lie’d
depart. —Yeah, yeah. Profoundly
ô Nymphe, mes larmes,
mes lames,
the pure
and fatal bear whelps
of the day’s uncountenanc’d
delivery, its uncheck’d brute
tumble deceiving. —What perfect
drivel. The involuntary hour
of pitting ratios of
sense against the lines
and tackling of our
most common frippery, word-
smithing up a pretty
embouchure like a destiny
to blow. Or blow
down all ambiguity’s exits,
and make cottoning to
a rebuff against madness
or its mashy indwelling,
gaseous conjecture. —The scrap
heap. My own sad
beauty’s got nothing, is
how the perfidious stammerers
put it, without putting
out. Or putting it
out, or down in
defiance of the usual
lineaments of discourse, making
a rude array:
                              To the cowboys
                              with a thousand
      diligent reaches.

Skeptical unraveling or pointillist recovery? Eschewing the burdens of explication or statement. A visual memory of words, what makes, oddly, for tactility. Rebuff’d.

Of Note

Brandon Shimoda of Wave Books mail’d me a sampling of newish books recently, including—because I’d ask’d—Mary Ruefle’s 2008 book of prose pieces, The Most of It. I recall how terrific I figured Ruefle’s early books—Memling’s Veil and Life Without Speaking—I’d ask’d for, and print’d, work in Chiaroscuro in the ’eighties, and kept a “sidelong pickerel” look out for things in the intervening, though with my enthusiasm coming rather unbundled. So: tiny attempt to see if I can see a difference (or is it my own changing literary “needs”) between work early and late. Here’s a thing I always loved, out of Life Without Speaking (University of Alabama Press, 1987):
Gigantic Brazen Head

To think deeply right now
would terrify me.

            —E. S. Connell

All day singing the plum-tree tune!
Watching the florist and wanting to be
the ringmaker’s orchid, pinned to her
breast by the shoemaker’s hand, a master
of the female half-length, imagine!

If there are other lives
(never an insect, lord)
let me be five-thirty light
on the wall: a confectioner’s
bride trying to pinpoint her
threshold, lambent and thrilling
down to my slipper.

I once was the perfect square
of my own blue tile, and
later became that blue.
But you couldn’t confine me:
all of my memories I put
out to pasture.

Bluespike nearer the house,
Snakeroot in the garden,
Bergamot by the lake.
Bluebells last a long time on
The stem, and grow in clumps.
A bee on my lips!
My decision I’m certain will
always be excellent:
I merely question my ability
to carry them out.

And at some time, please: a plum.
The luxe of it! But let it be blue
like a grape. What was it before?
The child of a priest, perhaps.
Falling from grace like an art.

Never a little sardine tin lying
open at noon near a hot window.

Little by little a latent image
is beginning to appear as the
cardboard or canvas it was.

A terrible clawing in me.
It’s the day past,
trying to tell me
it is not half so worthless
as I had imagined.
Consider my astonishment
without it!

if only I were free
to be a tugboat.
Woebegone, the word,
if I were only the word—

All day listening to a radio sermon
with the life span of a sea slug:
things need not even exist to affect us.

Caged in the late rain
at the harbor.
Oh hope: downfall,
blue dun on the bay tide.
There are no tolerable dimensions.
But I’m reduced to them.

I can’t help lingering,
but there’s no reason why
anyone should know I’m still here.

Dew season now:
large and solitary flowers grow
wherever they think unfit.
The series thread’d through with blues, with “difference” (“unfit”), with a solitary kind of tethering sadness, with wry humor (“never an insect, lord”), and seemingly toss-off precision (“Caged in the late rain”). The lyrical outbursts—“Consider my astonishment / without it!”—rhetorically pure, meaning, aptly put in the empty chamber of the piece. In The Most of It (Wave Books, 2008), there’s a somewhat similarly composed piece, though longer, its early sections (mostly) fired by narrative coals:
A Half-Sketched Head

this is why
It was of no use, trying to discern whether the anchorite was happy or unhappy; in the first days of her visit Mary assumed this was why she had come, but the longer she stayed the more she felt at home, and the more she felt at home, the more she felt free to be miserable, and finally Mary saw that the question was useless.

The anchorite was in the habit of keeping lists. Among them Mary noticed a continuing list of regrets, under that heading, and though many of them were crossed off or blackened out, new ones were added as well. Mary asked him if a kind of balance were kept, to which he replied: “If only! As a matter of fact, your question is an item I have been tempted to add to the list.”

childhood memories
There was a long silence during which he seemed to be struggling. Suddenly he looked up at her. “I wish to tell you as quickly as possible that when I was a boy it was my sole responsibility to feed the baby goats from a bottle containing their mother’s milk. On one such occasion I managed to spill the goat’s milk down my shirtfront—over which I should have been wearing a smock in the first place. And though I can’t tell you why, I was wearing my best shirt: perhaps for the like of that alone I deserved to be punished. I went immediately to the washroom and began to rinse out the milk spots, using a large bar of my mother’s soap, which was always in plentiful supply since she made it herself. And as I stood there it struck me—my mother’s soap was goat’s milk soap, with goat’s milk I was trying desperately to erase goat’s milk. That something could be its own remedy—though I did not then think in those terms—struck me as a rather serious joke. It was my first occasion of panic.”

moments of delight
Once Mary found his shopping list—it was written on a pink slip from one of those rainbow pads: trout, staplegun, cherries, hammer, ribbon, wire. “Ah, that summer,” he said, “that summer. I sought perfection in all things. When a few groceries were needed I would spend hours devising—then revising—the list. Then in the store I carried it crunched in my hand, filled with an excruciating fear: the fear that others would discover, perhaps in the checkout line, that my list was less perfect that theirs.”

On the second occasion of Mary’s finding a shopping list—this one pinned under the weight of an extra-large egg snug in its styrofoam socket—the anchorite chanced to see her with it. Peering over her shoulder he read rhubarb, roses, crab legs, gray socks, then turned to her and said “Isn’t that the fate, Madam, of one destined to think in scraps?” What follows are a few of those craps, thrown to Mary while she did what few chores needed to be done while tending to the anchorite, who was ailing at that time.

Whatever habit one is most faithful to—whatever one does most, loves best, is their religion. A simple matter of precedence.

Penance is the heart of the matter. Why do any of us live the way we do? It is why I live here in the middle of nowhere. Precisely, it is the penance for never having sinned.

Can we conceive of a religion without prayer? And what, exactly, is prayer? If I am in prayer I seem to be concentrated. But I seem to be concentrating now and I am certainly not in prayer. What then is peculiar to one’s concentration in prayer? It seems, simply, that one must concentrate on something that doesn’t exist, as in prayer to our Lord, or prayers for the future—prayers for a turn of events, against all odds. What counts is that is does not exist. In which case, algebra seem a very good way to get to heaven.

Which is how the thing begins, the initial three pages of eighteen or so. And, typing it out, one begins to think of the “sketch” in “half-sketched” pertaining to the “comedy sketch.” Isn’t there every move of both the intently-observed foibles of human behavior ramp’d up just a touch (I am thinking of some of Ellen DeGeneres’s “material”) and the pointedly odd juxtaposing of details (“trout, staplegun”)—staples of contemporary improv spot? A couple of other lines:

on sex
Just as one lover can be better than another it seems possible that one celibate might be . . . more accomplished . . . than the next. In this vein, I consider myself the greatest of all celibates.

. . .

In the same newspaper he saw an ad for The Complete Penguin Shakespeare and he thought it very odd that penguins would bother to read Shakespeare at all.

Which I greet with a hearty Gertrude Stein belly-laugh only to turn tail and aver and warn: “Jokes are not literature.” (Insert commonplace-rich drubbing of mass-markets, the commodity-made spoilage of the “era”’s talents, how, art, formerly a perceiving-machine’s become just another convenient packaging of mirrors for publick consumption, fulfilling the human beast’s implacable need for seeing himself, foible’d or not . . .) Here’s another:
A Romantic Poet and His Destiny

      Born into a family, H enjoyed an abundance of comforts and was provided a sound education, thanks to his uncle. Upon entering the world of commerce, H did not like banking, he did not like retailing, and he did not like practicing the law. What H liked were daughters. They liked H too, but not as much as they liked the phrase auf wiedersehen. Failure and rejection fertilized H. He wandered here and there, across hills and through valleys, composing songs. As time passed little H became big. People tried to find him. He gravitated toward mountains and promoted their fallen charms. This shift in his writing style did not really change the world. Secret French money kept him alive—albeit he was surrounded by German spies. Living a tricky life was tiresome, so every seven months for seven years he cleared the skies with an illiterate girl. She convinced him to turn forty-four, but sadly he was confined to bed thereafter, by what the Germans called the French malady and the French called the German disease. He married the dear girl, often eating crackers in bed and writing on napkins. After he died, his whole estate went to his widow on the condition she would marry again so there would be at least one man to regret his passing.

Heinrich Heine by Forrest Gump. Ruefle provides a curious note regarding “A Romantic Poet and His Destiny,” insisting that the piece is “slightly altered from a text I found on a paper placemat in a diner off Interstate 91 . . . I was served a hamburger on top of this, and had to ask the waitress for a clean “copy” of the mat. I have no idea who wrote it, but I admired its succinctness, for I happened to be reading a five-hundred-page biography of Heine.” Rue’d dumbing down irrupts in self-mockery, one of the hazards of, if not the “age,” its bleak chorus of sycophants, its unween’d public. Heed Bernadette Mayer: “Work your ass off to change the language & don’t ever get famous.”

Mary Ruefle

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blake’s Conceptualismus

A Wall with a Hook and Two Tacks


In tender arms sweetlie I
my mnemonic duchy with watry
ware, no rosie horses moue
without, wyfhood is no comparisoun.

The cankers of the memory-
venom’d surround, the hid cutworms
who lop off the weedy
surfeit flush, fleshly night-rapiers.
The world is set against
any comprehension of it, we
stick sticks in its grease-
kecky gears and still it
keeps its ostent fitching. Of
course there’s money to be
made in procedural detachment, there’s
a story to mop up
off such indubitably epicurean voluptuousness—
though chances of its making
it beyond the outré circle
of miscues, typos, and Henny
Youngman ‘fans’ is zilch. Every
crime is a work of
art uncommitted to the canvas,
some anodyne tin-work’d Athena
emerging out of my slit
brow, the color of silt,
the color of cash. Tenderlie
my pudeur out of whose
thicke and queachie plot like
a Mayfly hatch’d I flye.

And then one rank morning, biking in the pitch, it all begins to seem a foul goatish gabble, like that of the laborers of Babel, and only a life without speaking’d allow one’s breath and blood to mingle. All that proceeding with fatal mordancy and flourish, all that brain-palsy and vertigo, all that beleaguer’d assurance and marauder’s post-subliminal fistful of heart’s-ease, all of it, over words! They are everywhere! The lingual surge, a kind of violence “that blows all Summer, and often in Winter: it sows itself.” Journeying through the psyche’s pitch with what wan blazes slash’d into trees cover’d with other, sap-befoul’d blazes, scorn’d scars, vicious blackguard trees all along the rutted path: “But words came halting forth, wanting Invention’s stay.” What if Blake—
Swelld & bloated General Forms, repugnant to the Divine-
Humanity, who is the Only General and Universal Form
To which all Lineaments tend & seek with love & sympathy
All broad & general principles belong to benevolence
Who protects minute particulars, every one in their own identity”
—meant words? Words that mash the “minute particulars” to an impalpable moot-smeariness, a phenomenal sludge? Blake of the inimical tactility, Blake / Nebuchadnezzar who snouts along the wordless earth, “crawling on his belly, naked covered with hair & nails grown long, eating grass,” Blake of fingers taut and shining forth light in the figure of a caliper:
If Perceptive Organs vary: Objects of Perception seem to vary:
If the Perceptive Organs close: their Objects seem to close also.
Ah, the limit-purchase we all cling to, fingers bent to the sooty ledge, yellow’d honk-metaphysical noises of the taxis streaming below. It is not McLuhan who is powering “up” my discomfort, though I did swamp about in the ever-remarkable Gutenberg Galaxy yesterday, and somewhat sleeplessly (“Je ne dors pas Georgia / Je lance des flèches dans la nuit Georgia” comme dirait Philippe Soupault) noted how Ruskin provided a gappy constellatory collage method: “A fine grotesque is the expression, in a moment, by a series of symbols thrown together in a bold and fearless connection, of truths which it would have taken a long time to express in any verbal way, and of which the connection is left for the beholder to work out for himself; the gaps, left or overleaped by the haste of the imagination, forming the grotesque character.” Which sounds a little like playing Jacks, thrown down and scoop’d up in manageable “sets” (“work’d out for oneself”—“ Ip dip, sky blue. / Who’s it? Not you.”). “Not you” nothing-doing: isn’t one to say that, post-Ruskin, Nous sommes tous les grotesques? (I am remind’d, too, pondering Ruskin’s “symbols thrown together” somehow side-stepping “any verbal way,” of that Fitterman and Place claim in Notes on Conceptualisms: “All conceptual writing is allegorical writing.”

Ah (all-purpose noise situating itself between contempt, admiration and a variable third quality, something like piteous skepticism for us all), Conceptualisms. Out of Blake’s worrying the human sensibility, the limit’d and clumsy tools, make it a plaintive query—“Who protects minute particulars?”—we descend to boss-hallucinogenic props for “failure”:
Conceptual writing proposes two end-point responses to this paradox by way of radical mimesis: pure conceptualism and the baroque. Pure conceptualism negates the need for reading in the traditional textual sense—one does not need to “read” the work as much as think about the idea of the work. In this sense, pure conceptualism’s readymade properties capitulate to and mirror the easy consumption / generation of text and the devaluation of reading in the larger culture. Impure conceptualism, manifest in the extreme by the baroque, exaggerates reading in the traditional textual sense. In this sense, its excessive textual properties refuse, and are defeated by, the easy consumption / generation of text and the rejection of reading in the larger culture.

Note: these are strategies of failure.

Note: failure in this sense acts as an assassination of mastery.

Note: failure in this sense serves to irrupt the work, violating it from within.

Note: this invites the reader to redress failure, hallucinate repair.
Which is rather like tantrum-heaving the Jacks across the room. (Or controlledly “throwing” the Jacks down in a perfectly retrievable clump.) “We” no longer need reply to anything in our human condition beyond production and consumption (“the easy consumption / generation of text”), the undignify’d machine world’s won, we capitulate (subsumed by the capitulum, the chapter’s title, the capo, caput, L. head; we and all our “minute particulars” are kaputt, G. finish’d). I am going to sit quietly now naked in the garden with the good craftsman and printer William Blake and wife Catherine, she who help’d sell vegetables in Battersea, and sign’d her marriage certificate with an “X.”

William Blake, 1807
(Painting by Thomas Phillips)

Catherine Blake née Boucher, c. 1805
(Drawing by William Blake)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ray DiPalma’s The Ancient Use of Stone



Drowsy and incapacious,
a sere astringency
suborn’d to plug-
boosterism, the nigh-
perfect block lettering
of a sign
spelling out two
giant-sized words
consign’d to mere
architecture, illegible, blue.
At odds with
the jowl’d intent,
with the squeeze-
vehicle merry, with
all the romp
human fortuitousness of
captcha and plunge,
the dibble making
a row of
finger-sized holes
in the earth
for green seedlings.
One smallish chapter
in a book
of riot, viciousness
and conceit is
all one is
ever capable of,
hoodwink’d by myopia
and conjecture, flung
into the starry
impatiens, the rue.

Just for the recording of it, out of an appendix to Donald Davie’s Purity of Diction in English Verse, two quoted chunks—Ben Jonson and John Dryden the culprits—niggling the categorical the way our own nigglers do today (Mr. Silliman ought might hoist the Jonson standard mayhaps and be done with it, call that fictional “School of Quietude” a bunch of “girls”—). Here’s Jonson, in “Discoveries,” censurer of both extremes, the rough and the smooth:
      Others, that in composition are nothing, but what is rough, and broken: Quae per salebras, altaque saxa cadunt. And if it would come gently, they trouble it of purpose. They would not have it run without rubs, as if that stile were more strong and manly, that stroke the eare with a kind of uneven(n)esse. These men erre not by chance, but knowingly, and willingly; they are like men that affect a fashion by themselves, have some singularity in a Ruffe, Cloake, or Hat-band; or their beards, specially cut to provoke beholders, and set a marke upon themselves. They would be reprehended, while they are look’d on. And this vice, one that is in authority with the rest, loving, delivers over to them to bee imitated: so that oft-times the faults which he fell into, the others seeke for: This is the danger, when vice becomes a Precedent.
      Others there are, that have no composition at all; but a kind of tuneing, and riming fall, in what they write. It runs and slides, and onely makes a sound. Womens-Poets they are call’d: as you have womens-Taylors.
“They write a verse, as smooth, as soft, as creame;
In which there is no torrent, nor scarce streame.”
You may sound these wits, and find the depth of them, with your middle finger. They are Creame-bowle, or but puddle deepe.
Ah, Jonson’s “middle finger.” Dryden, in “An Essay of Dramatic Poesy,” puts Crites to talking with Lisideuis, the former admitting to “a mortal apprehension of two poets”:
      “’Tis easy to guess whom you intend,” said Lisideuis; “and without naming them, I ask you, if one of them does not perpetually pay us with clenches upon words, and a certain clownish kind of raillery? if now and then he does not offer at a catachresis or Clevelandism, wresting and torturing a word into another meaning: in fine, if he be not one of those whom the French would call un mauvais buffon; one that is so much a well-willer to the satire, that he spares no man; and though he cannot strike a blow to hurt any, yet ought to be punished for the malice of the action, as our witches are justly hanged, because they think themselves so; and suffer deservedly for believing they did mischief, because they meant it.” “You have described him,” said Crites, “so exactly, that I am afraid to come after you with my other extremity of poetry. He is one of those who, having had some advantage of education and converse, knows better than the other what a poet should be, but puts it into practice more unluckily than any man; his style and matter are everywhere alike: he is the most calm, peaceable writer you ever read: he never disquiets your passions with the least concernment, but still leaves you in as even a temper as he found you; he is a very Leveller in poetry; he creeps along with ten little words in every line, and helps out his numbers with For to, and Unto, and all the pretty expletives he can find, till he drags them to the end of another line; while the sense is left tired half way behind it: he doubly starves all his verses, first for want of thought and then of expression; his poetry neither has wit in it, nor seems to have it; like him in
‘Pauper videri Cinna vult, et est pauper.’”
There Davie ends, though Dryden adds “he affects plainness to cover his want of imagination . . .” Ah, poesy, your mordon’t narraturf is constant, a lunaticycle.

Ben Jonson, 1572-1637

Of Note

Out of Ray DiPalma’s lovely and exceedingly rich book of notes, drawings, journals, a whopping big conglomeratory “fix” of things, The Ancient Use of Stone: Journals and Daybooks, 1998-2008 (Otis Books / Seismicity Editions, 2009), in a summer 2006 sequence call’d “Mules at the Wake”—epigraph’d with none of the coyness of the “poète-ingénieur des grands projets heroïques” and all the simplicity of one for whom making is a vivid integral, a way of being—“HOMO FABER // this then / then this // that then”:
July 16, 2006

1.   anonominaive
2.   harmonyms
3.   crawligraphy
4.   alcocolic
5.   renaissource
6.   sodgestive
7.   emotikon
8.   cartwhores
9.   radiocean
10.   enveloaf
11.   serveil
12.   imitorsion
13.   gratiturd
14.   faundull
15.   situaction
16.   audibubble
17.   wormwould
18.   racketicketer
19.   narraturf
20.   comprehinder
21.   engolf
22.   cornsitter
23.   benefiddle
24.   terminoloquy
25.   lunaticycle
26.   elimiluminate
27.   blackmoile
28.   improversion
29.   eventualibi
30.   interpretorsion
31.   nervice
32.   piguptrek / biguptrek / piguptrick / biguptrick
33.   fernychore
34.   yesdearday
35.   knoticaul
36.   limoushine
37.   porkypine
38.   neolurkism
39.   preditort
40.   nocturinal
41.   reminescience
42.   obscare
43.   glimmore
44.   mordon’t
45.   menopaws
46.   humdumb
47.   errortic
48.   dialock
49.   investipurgative
50.   ignorank / ignorink
51.   fewdual
52.   predescissors
53.   serialibi
54.   suspiscion
55.   vividiot
56.   accountrue
57.   inadequark
58.   curiouseful / curiouseless
59.   retiscents
60.   wreconmmind
In two columns, Joycean mashups (or, Saroyan, Aram, though that’d require each put radiantly to a page—one sees the paucity of the minimalist grindstone in DiPalma’s nonchalant mustering of a horde, a book, in a day). Not—I think—particularly “typical” of DiPalma’s book, being a kind of set-piece whereas the book mostly collects textual flâneuries. My prefer’d: vividiot. Is “July 30, 2006” typique?
“We are so estranged from our human essence that the direct language of man, the expression of need, strikes us as an offense against the dignity of man.”
                        —Karl Marx, Early Writings

“Good nature is that benevolent and amiable temper of mind which disposes us to feel the misfortunes, and enjoy the happiness of others; and, consequently pushes us on to promote the latter, and prevent the former; and that without any abstract contemplation on the beauty of virtue, and without the allurements or terrors of religion.”
                        —Henry Fielding, Essay on the Knowledge of the Characters of Men

Put it here, think of it later, abandon it again—

Constrained to produce, to reveal distinct features,
to argue from proximity, to suggest the elusive or
expedient from little or nothing—

The end of the day, the end of the page, the ends in themselves—

Thin broth small spoon—

An ominous dream described, then retold with added detail,
and then enlarged and highly embellished, for 3 different strangers—

Decipherment is invariably descriptive the more philosophic its original terms—

The burden of what has been take away—

No allegories, only shadow play—

Elder is a tree of ill-omen, and countrymen
used to raise their caps to it as they walked past.
A tree of shame, it was used for hanging criminals.

I like quiet places, but they always make me feel
I should hurry whatever I’ve come there to do.

memories of spook rock road
and blowing leaves
Dollops of poetics (“the ends in themselves,” “No allegories”), a seeping sense of winding down, of things left out, or removed, or abandon’d. There’s a sense of care, of “getting things right” (in some of the drawing-thick texts like “Jihadgraphy,” texts I’ve barely suss’d, I am remind’d of the letters and notebooks of Guy Davenport, drawings tidy and box’d in series, a visual compartmentaliz’d certainty attempting to harness the range of disparities.) So, a day’s interjection regarding “corruption in the text” and “inconsistencies” (in some unnamed document) is fitting:
There is a remarkable spareness to both texts that coincides with the setting of the events they narrate—described simply as ‘an uninhabited island’. Sufficient space was left for the names of the characters involved but it had been left blank in both versions, and its actual scope suggested only by two small decorative elements of the compositor’s choosing.

The emblems employed by the compositor were meant to represent the ornaments drawn by the original copyist. But they did so only in their placement. In no way did they replicate what the copyist had indicated. The compositor had replaced a carefully drawn hand and a woman’s face in profile with an animal horn and a pair of mason’s calipers.
And, too, elsewhere, in “Mules at the Wake,” the lovely one-liners crop up:
ravaged pointillist
Small loads, bitter novelties

inland areas
A normal day, 110˚ in Sparta

thumb sap
Gums the trigger, tangles the hammer

the revenge of the moderate
A greasy peony between the teeth
Impossible to detail (or even suggest) the bounty here—the book, in a capacious format, runs over two hundred pages. Six sequences: “The Ancient Use of Stone” (1998), “Jihadgraphy” (2002), “An August Daybook” (2005), “Mules at the Wake” (2006), “Ascoso” (2006), and “Salt in the Rock” (2008). “Jihadgraphy” is present’d in three-column pages, one column reserved for graphic elements, “Ascoso” (it begins “There’s nothing here to be measured— / simply take your share. Pensa, lettor”), the shortest, may be the most forbiddingly “thick” at approach (think of Ashbery’s Flow Chart). Everywhere evidence of a nigh-Beckettian compulsion to test and testimony, a will’d burden (here in “The Ancient Use of Stone”):
January 22   There is a rhythm to all this. Which to trust? The words? Or the pace of disclosure? The syllables shaped—prefixed, suffixed & the next word & the next—left with that. No peace to be found in the silence. Never. Better face into the wind. Out of what disclosures has it now been further made? There first.

Taunting the oboist.
And, in the next day’s note: “‘Chih’ [the word on the page] ‘Chung’ [its progress]. From base line to horizon—from the last man standing to the remark—what to do with this vestige? Another ghosted owl. Où sont? M. would say there’s nothing in all this saying, better to tell you something about something surrounded by an effective arrangement of something and something else. The bitter experience or the rendered smile. All things are made relative by being placed in a larger context. The expression of one is the exclusion of the other.” There, too, a sense of how saying degrades the plenum. And Laura (Riding) Jackson quoted a page or so along: “The liberty of word that poetry confers is poetry’s technique, not truth’s. [The Telling].”

Ray DiPalma

Monday, September 21, 2009

Martin Corless-Smith and Lives of the Poets

Cord and Cap

Regarding my two notes about the excellent Lives of the Poets (Five Seasons Press, 2009) by Alan Halsey, “with eighteen by Martin Corless-Smith”: Corless-Smith writes:
Thanks for your interest in the Lives. I thought I’d throw in my ten cents worth. Delightfully I find I recall it quite differently to Alan. Though not a marked contrast. I don’t at all recall the first “life” Alan showed me, nor do I recall the first I was working on, but I do seem to recall working on something before I knew Alan was involved in the project. It must have been after his Text of Shelley’s Death, which is a masterpiece, and excavates biography, or in that case biographies. Certainly he didn’t start this in response to seeing anything of mine, but I’m pretty certain I had already started my first efforts before knowing of his project. I had been looking at Surrey’s homage to Wyatt, writing a little bit about it I think, and felt it to be a “life” in terms of being a response engaged both with history and prosody. Well, I think I was reading a good bit of 16th and 17th century stuff at the time, as I often am, and was messing around a bit with a few things, when Alan showed me something he was up to. It struck me at the time that we were oddly up to the same thing. This isn’t that unusual really, and it does happen that Alan and I do occasionally compare new interests that have a starling similarity. I’ve no interest in claiming independence by challenging his memory of events of course. I’m much more interested in proliferating possible histories. Oddly, the final book states it contains 18 of my lyrics. It’s actually 19, which is a result, I think, of the work having taken place a long while ago, but also of the final outcomes from both of us having a fair few similarities. We never discussed the project in terms of this is what we’ll do, and this is what we’ll focus on. It was rather taken for granted what we were about. We did once in a while divvy up names. In the end I think the project is overwhelming, which is what attracts Alan to it no doubt. I still have a three quarter finished poem of Richard Rolle of Hampole awaiting completion somewhere. And once in a while it seems like the right way to respond to a poet and a poem. Was it started prior to the Schmidt book coming out? I think so. Certainly it was not a response to it. There was nothing ironic about the project for me. Well perhaps that’s not entirely true. Irony is a much maligned term perhaps. But in the end the project became Alan’s and for me the greater pleasure became waiting for his next and his next life, rather than finding time to write my own.
“Proliferating possible histories,” indeed. In a postscript Corless-Smith, nudging the scholar-athlete who resides deep in the bog of every poet, says “I never did say which life I wrote that was unacknowledged did I!” Prompting me to reply:
Thanks for another excavation, terrific. (I agree exactly that The Text of Shelley’s Death is a stunner and a lodestone.) . . . But you’ve left me hanging about the unacknowledged life. (Sounds like Thoreau: “most men’s lives go unacknowledged . . .”) I’ll have to search the book for clues, see if I can figure it out “textually.” By the way, your own prowling in 16th and 17th c. stuff—as it got reflect’d in Of Piscator led me into my own (noxious, to some) habits of fluid orthography (though a subsequent job here where I look at lots of Early English books’s done nothing but reinforce it).
A pause to note, out of Of Piscator (University of Georgia Press, 1997) lines like “maundering child / cant hear the ousel / ou la mavis sweet / who sing the matitudinal”—that impeccable “oldyn” ear. And to note, out of The Text of Shelley’s Death (West House Books, 2001), a single page (with its variances obtruding):
On the evening of the 12th [var. 21st] of May we discovered a strange sail coming round the point of Porto Veneri, which proved at length to be Shelley’s boat. —She had left Genoa on Thursday last. A Mr. Heslop and two English seamen brought her round, and they speak most highly of her performance. Shelley and I walked to Lerici, and made a stretch off the land to try her, and I find she fetches whatever she looks at—In short we have now a perfect plaything.

She looked almost twice her size. Thirty feet
var. seventeen or eighteen
var. twenty-one
var. twenty-eight
var. twenty-four feet in length, with a beam of eight feet, and drawing four feet: most beautiful boat, and so far surpasses both mine and Williams’ expectations that it was with some difficulty that we persuaded ourselves that you had not sent us the Bolivar by mistake.

A ticklish boat: very crank in a breeze: two tons [var. three tons and a half] of iron ballast to bring her down to her bearings.

She serves me at once for a study and a carriage.
She required more reefs than we found in her sails.
She passes the small feluccas as a comet might pass the dullest planets of the Heavens.
Halsey, under a tiny rubbing-out of some extraneous “Prometheus Unbound” verbiage (à la Ronald Johnson), so that the remaining reads—
                                wrecked on some oozy isle.
The fragments

—reiterates and “acts out” the variances: “The text of Shelley’s death, in so far as there is a text of Shelley’s death / The text of Shelley death unfolds out of almost at the moment it enfolds into its own contradictions.”

Martin Corless-Smith, to my hanging-dog whine, reply’d with two clues:
Well I wonder if there are any clues. Perhaps only that this obscure poet hails from the same region of England as I do.
. . .
I think Alan and I have discussed our variant histories, and I assure you (and myself) that this sort of thing happens with us all the time. We just discovered we are writing of and from the age of Rome. A vast arena, but nonetheless another coincidence.
I rather suspect’d that the “of and from the age of Rome” hide a third point of entry and off I went, gullible as a tree and wholly liable to fetch forth whatsoever I look’d at. So I shout’d back, kiddingly, “Geoffrey Hill,” the first Worcestershire poet I bang’d into. Pas de réponse. A little bumping around in the research canyons and I’d got myself wedged into a cranny good. I report’d in:
The quick answer is I’m mystify’d. There’s Thos. Swan, of course, obscurity’s flame, but he is account’d for in the 18. There is William Langland (undone), there is [Fockbury’s own, I should’ve add’d] A. E. Houseman (undone), there is Samuel Butler (done, though hardly obscure). Next, I shall turn to stylistic differences between yours and Alan’s, ho ho.
And, trying to draw a palpable fish nearer the boat, toss’d out “Rome, eh?” and sign’d it.

There, dear Readers, is where my search for the obscure Worcestershire poet lies. Obscurest of all the poets in Halsey and Corless-Smith’s Lives of the Poets is, I always suspect’d, “Part chronicler part chanticleer part imbecile” Thomas Swan (1653-80). Corless-Smith’s piece:
Thomas Swan

From seconde son to seconde son
Given to ‘books as solitude’
Not managing his studies so
Returning to his proper field
Part chronicler part chanticleer part imbecile
His brother Williams properties estate and pious Tom
“miraculous falls of atoms”
lost without word it seems
enough time on his land to enter in
Of course, Thomas Swan figures largely in Corless-Smith’s Nota (Fence Books, 2003). There, one reads “A Selection from the Works of Thos. Swan (MS. 8911 Worcester City Records Office),” with entries like—


Down momentarily and banks
itself the only mimick in the pond
of its cavorts the fly act randomly
which I can’t love as much as thee

from a calander of days

January 16th

Margaret in her vineyard laugh[s] out loud
I here [sic] as I passing as I ever much [must?]
this sweet song soul married now
and laughing to herself at three of clock

[March 19th or 20th?]

I have noticed ants today
all about the diary
as busy as our own busyness (and ours a busy day)
I could not work for looking at their ways
Now I assumed Corless-Smith’s playing Chatterton here—see in Swan’s “[Days],” “The day as is a hand we recognize as ours” or, out of the astonishing “Colours that do correspond not to the outward aspect though in truth I do not see them so”: “A person known to me of high regard—noticeable in the vicinty for his vocality is I have seen preceded and followed by a train of leaf green. This is the slightest of presences—invisible to the direct gaze—but it will happen as the air sucked after one who leaves a room.”

Stymied and stump’d (though who wouldn’t welcome a chance to return to Lives of the Poets or wander in the casual terrains of Nota?) Here’s (for all’s “Exagmination Round His Factification”) the piece for the author of the Cynarctomachy,that mock-heroickal battle between a bear and a pack of dogs:
Samuel Butler

300 guineas 3000 or none
for hudibras three parts in one
a good and a clever cavalier
breaks off in the middle where
th’equenecessary may be sed
and written in heroick Truckle-Bed
all lives of things and the late wars meet
as wit with the gout in poor Rose Street
Halsey or Corless-Smith? And of course in the riddled breeze of history, it probably hardly matters.

Samuel Butler, 1612-1680


Caught out again, beyond
the occasion, my momentary
dithering turn’d to makeshift
feints against the unbuffer’d
continuum, its ineluctable glissando
up-bow’d with a
faint rosiny ‘catch.’ I
return, glossy and prodigal,
with the frank smirk
of a moron repenting.
A rabbit dangles off
a rope secured insipidly
around my waist, its
nose a red coagulant
mess. Livery and geography
’d make me deviser
of some unsound stratagem,
some unrender’d half-measure,
a lout unperturb’d by
the centuries of knife-
shine and truncheon-lust,
or some irreproachably quick
beadle ‘shewing such a
dexteritie’ for order at
prayer, and coming regularly
back for more. “Polyphiloprogenitive”
’d stick out here
like a house dick,
the call is for
moot piety, no-color
sodality, a good Joe
meanness, I mean ‘average.’

Friday, September 18, 2009

“Simple Man”

A Wall


Pigeons, the plump Columbidae,
for Father Hopkins, go
strutting with necks jod-
a queerish verb,
completely right. “Of realty
the rarest-vein’d unraveller”—
he shuns no plain
property, makes exultancy itself
a study of light-
clubbed clouds nakedly white
or, unmitigated by simplicity,
of rock-interrupt’d water
pouring forth, with a
few ploughmen sitting side-
saddle mid-channel, letting
the horses, unhitch’d, drink.
Pencil-adept, he limns
a vulviform’d glacier—“This
is a glacier, though
you wd. not think
it.”—and complains of
Nature become Nemesis, she
of just proportion, so
planed-off precise and
wind-sawn the rocks
lying in the Aar.

The end of the week fatigue and sense of noble incompletion razz’d by jump humbuggery. My little racing onslaughts, nothing “deeply consider’d.” (Reports of Hopkins being mistook for a “simple man” for all the endless to and fro examining of something or other in a field.) Run into: another instance of Paul Valéry’s asserting form / invention’s superiority (the particular words hardly matter). The kind of thing I scold’d G. C. Waldrep for a few days back (noting my own late project-predilection). In Jed Rasula’s Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009):
In lieu of its “vocation of disorder,” Blanchot wonders what qualifies as Romanticism: “Where it manifests itself, rich in projects, or where it dies out, poor in works?” The answer: equivocation. Or, to use a term the Romantics themselves were fond of, the arabesque, the ability to wriggle simultaneously toward contrary poles. Although such wriggling can remain intransitive, and the work uncompleted, “‘this superiority of intelligence over the power of execution’ is the very sign of authenticity” as Blanchot puts it by way of Valéry. Execution is tacitly the domain of the artisan, so the artist asserts authority in a sovereign gesture of disdain, as if the poet, conceiving the masterpiece, says to the reader, you do it, where doing amounts to a laborious temporal extraction of the divine Idea from a patent muddle (in which James Joyce sets his hen pecking at a suspiciously sodden letter in Finnegans Wake). Resisting completion can also be decisive in its prevarication between available means; terminal indecision is hard to distinguish from polyvalent creative options.
Incredibly spark-throwing, that. Surely Rasula sees, too, in “the poet, conceiving the masterpiece, says to the reader, you do it,” the mantra of the Language boys, too. Is there a hint of alignment, two schools of wrigglers? Is there a sense of massive post-Romantic artistic dereliction of duty? Que scais-je?

Jed Rasula

Of Note

Out of Kit Robinson’s The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems, 1976-2003 (Adventures in Poetry, 2009):
A Pattern Language

Although the lists appear arbitrary, in fact they are highly ordered by the
particular modes of their arrangement. For instance, watch, game, friend.
My friend gave me a watch, which I subsequently lost at a game. I went
back to find it, and it was still there. But the narrative twist is gratuitous.
Story, legend, book. The associations are more than assumed. They are
the lineaments of a gratified desire.

The botched job
The list
The amphitheater
The sight of blood
The abandoned station
The parie of gloves
The articles of war
Some silly old fool
The serious interest
The hank of hair
The plenary session
The gross margin
The bolt
A reduced, clarified experience
But I bore you
The effortless grace
The new
The abstract
The belief in original sin
The formula-one race car
My one good pair of cuffs
The day laborer
The hitch
The satisfaction guarantee
The backwards flip
The bat
The least common denominator
The wash
The very slow ballad
The gentle breathing motion
The wax
The end of side two

Caught in this net of things, we tend to sort as we go, listing into the wind.
One of the satisfying things about a list: it propels one “somewhere”—that is to say, there’s inevitably another association to be made (“the narrative twist is gratuitous.”) Hence, though, the interjection: “But I bore you”? Endlessly, repeatedly “gratified desire” is the list’s modus operandi and a sign of its aimlessness, it both out-performs and fails to satiate. Oddly enough, Robinson’s poem recalls one of James Tate’s, early:
First Lesson

This is a meditation:
a snake with legs,
a one-legged snake,
a snake with wings,
a one-winged snake,
a rat with sparks,
a fiery rat,
a rat that sings,
a star rat,
a horse that explodes,
an atomic horse,
a horse that melts,
an ice horse,
a bee that flies through concrete,
a pneumatic bee,
a bee that lifts buildings,
the world’s strongest bee,
a tree that eats the noses off children
a bad tree,
a tree that grows inward until it is a dot,
a hill of dots that eats lots of children
(you are not meditating).
Tate’s, of course, both sillier and more obviously exhibiting Robinson’s dictum “we tend to sort as we go.” Isn’t there, though, a similar impulse in Tate’s self-scolding (for the asinine direction the “narrative twist” of “First Lesson” is taking) and Robinson’s shuffle-off-to-Buffalo punning in the final line, “listing into the wind,” a kind of slapstick’ry that undercuts the piece (and offers a way out)? Another out of The Messianic Trees:

I’d like to write
a little bit
about the time

I switched to lit
my verse has an open architecture
many meanings can plug into it

Like business services
such as payment, tax, logistics
advertising, planning

And collaboration
but I’d like to say a few words
a television is the sun

My papers are all in order
pages turning
like the hands of a clock

Before all being
means publicly
in front of the whole universe

That’s a H-O-R-S-E shot right there
it must have been the adrenalin
from behind the backboard

Get it first
but first get it right
in the same way it was

Like “April in Paris”
by Alex Chilton
with its triple ending

charging through the font
charging through the font
of repeatability
Which is quick, nervous, witty and unpredictable, a fine made thing. Any moment of its liability to follow-through is avoid’d: a series of rapidly re-calibrated beginnings (which, oddly enough, refer mostly to endings—the switch “to lit,” the papers “all in order,” the final E-shot in basketball game of Horse, the “triple ending” of Chilton’s piece, the imply’d mimic of which is deftly avoid’d by the final line’s swerve away from a third repetition of “charging through the font”).

Kit Robinson at SPD, c. 1986