Thursday, May 29, 2003

Jim has kindly provided me with a link for those of you who'd like to see a few quadrants from Fourier Series. The preceding poems on the page are from my current work in progress, Severance Songs.

And here's a link to my new employer, The Bookery.
From reader to writer to purveyor—or should I say panderer? Tomorrow I start work at The Bookery, Ithaca's independent bookstore. I've worked for chain bookstores before and I look forward to being able to ring up a purchase without trying to foist one of those damned "preferred reader" cards off on the customers. Also I can call it the register, or even the till, and not the "cash-wrap." The chains insist on calling their registers that, which always baffled me—it makes me think of shifty-looking people wrapping up fat bundles of cash in tissue paper and putting them in a briefcase with handcuffs on it. I'm doing it for the discount and to give my summer a little structure. The more time I have, the less I get done.

Just spent the whole day putting together a little anthology of favorite poems for a friend's birthday, sidetracking me from my main priority right now, which is a reworking of my manuscript Fourier Series to make it more Fourieresque. There's a great webpage on Fourier here, if you're interested in learning more about him. He was an anti-semitic nutjob and yet I find the largeness, the ambition, and the sheer arithmetic looniness of his thought utterly compelling. He's an interesting one to pair with the Marquis de Sade, as Barthes does in his great book Sade/Fourier/Loyola—Barthes calls them logothetes, the inventors of new languages. Fourier's mania, or genius, was to claim an irrevocable link between the human world and the world of nature: he wrote, "the features of the animal, organic and material movements must represent the play of the human passions in the social order." The liberation of human passions would not only create a utopian society capable of unlimited productivity; it would also liberate corresponding forces in nature itself, causing a new round of creation to begin. From this new Creation, hostile beasts like lions and rats would be replaced by benevolent anti-lions and anti-rats; the Northern Lights would coagulate into a "crown" that would heat the arctic regions of the earth and make them viable for agriculture; and the salty sea itself would turn to a sweet beverage resembling lemonade.

Fourier decided that there were twelve passions (he was a great one for making lists: 16 kinds of workers' despair, 9 types of bankruptcy, 49 kinds of cuckold, etc.), as you can learn on that website: my book has a section for each of them, plus one for the 13th passion, "unityism" (the oceanic feeling of oneness between oneself and the multitude of mankind). I'd love to put some pieces of it up here but the arrangement of the poems is in quadrants (one to three lyrics arranged with what looks like a giant + sign) and I have no idea how to reproduce it in HTML. Jim Behrle took a couple for can we have our ball back? a while ago but they're not up yet. One did appear in the most recent New American Writing and I think there will be another one in next year's VOLT, but that's a long ways off. It's the most blatantly experimental thing I've ever attempted and I would love to publish it next—as different from Selah as it could be.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

A striking throwaway phrase (there are so many of them!) from Empson's Some Versions of Pastoral: "all [Shakespeare's] people change their minds on the stage and use heightened language where the rest of us use lapse of time" (38). No doubt this is a truism of Shakespeare study trotted out in every sophomore survey course, and of course he's talking about the importance of time to psychology and nothing broader than this. But I find the equation that substitutes "heightened language" for "lapse of time" fascinating if misprised to mean that intensifying one's language can change one's experience of time: a line of poetry that takes a few seconds to read becomes an hour or a year of someone's life. When you take into account how many times you might reread a given poem, the hours one has spent in the past with, say, Shakespeare's sonnets get folded in with the hours you are going to spend. How many more times will "That time of year thou mayest in me behold" or "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes" or "They that have power to harm and do none" fully occupy my consciousness and layer who I am at the moment of reading with who I was and will be at all the other occasions of reading? Time travel, indeed: Nick Piombino is on to something.

Monday, May 26, 2003

I can't seem to access my links right now but you should go check out the charming blog of my old Montana classmate Deborah Wardlaw Pattilllo, Chimera Song Mosaic.

And finally to set the record straight, or at least to have a record, here is the complete and unedited series of exchanges between myself and the formidable Gabe Gudding.

First, the e-mail he sent to me after I mentioned A Defense of Poetry on my blog, sent May 15:
"I find thinking about the book as rereading reduces the stakes the same way a book of funny poems deflects and subverts the highest and headiest
expectations of 'being Poetry' (that's why I can give a pass to Gabe Gudding's book, or Loren Goodman's Famous Americans, or even Gary's How to Proceed in the Arts: tweaking the nose of our internalized Harold Blooms is central to their project). These books present themselves as being primarily engaged with the literary (including, in the latter books' case, the "literary world" or po-biz),"

Hi Josh. Just in from long trip and reading blogs because have insomnia. Have to wonder, since so little of my book is about lampoon and parody (despite the back cover's description), if you've read the book. Very little of it could be considered intertextual in that mere "rereading" sense. If one key "thing" is tackled in the book, it is less poetry per se that is tackled than violence and dignity (and the book only comes at dignity via the violence necessary to maintain dignity). The review that STephen Burt gave my book in Boston Review would suggest the book is on the whole parodic, which it isn't. Am becoming increasingly amazed -- as you will when yours is published -- how few reviewers or commentators actually *read* the book. [in re dignity, too, i find your use of teh metaphor "high" to describe what are implicitly better? features of poetry interesting and telling, and am reminded of Aristotle's inherent bias {and maybe the source of our inherited bias?} against comedy in his poetics -- he used the same up=noble comedy=low metaphor]

If you don't have a copy, I'd be happy to send you one, my book not A's poetics, along with an essay about some of the key ideas in the book. That way at least you could know what the hell the author intended (am assuming you care abouut that -- you mentioned my "project" so you might be curious about what I've stated about my project).

But I understand that blogs are in many ways desultory records of passing thoughts, so it's groovy if you're paragraph about gudding, sullivan et al was just meant to be read as more or less impressionistic.

Take care,

I replied to Gabe the same day:
Hi Gabe,

I must confess to lumping your book in with others impressionistically, but I have read it, or at least large swathes of it, though admittedly in
manuscript form--Jasper Bernes gave me a copy. Do you really think poems with titles like "Richard Wilbur" "Robert Lowell," or "The Lyric" aren't intertextual, aren't satirical in intent (especially "Robert Lowell," which in spite of being dominated by your favored tropes of animalistic violence [or at least violent animals] seems like a satire of one of Lowell's poems about his Winslow forebears)? And the book is called "A Defense of Poetry," for goodness sake--under that rubric the book signals its major mode will be inter-, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say hyper- or paratextual. That it might have something else to say, something more serious to say, I don't necessarily doubt--though why should it have to, actually? I mean, I believe you--what you say about violence and dignity resonates with my
experience of your poems. But when I go on about "highness," although I suppose such a term inevitably privileges a certain kind of poem (I remain a lover of Romantic lyric, as I suspect you do, though I am perhaps less disillusioned for the moment) I certainly don't mean to express that I think that's the only kind of poem worth doing or worth reading. I rather like the paratextual mode--and you have to admit that you opened the door for critics to read you that way, in any case.

I'm sure you're right about the sloppiness of revewers, etc.--Burt gave my friend Richard's book an extremely cursory read. Trying to brace myself to somehow retain my dignity amidts the violence of sloppy or ill-willed critics. But though I may count myself amongst the former, Gabe, in your case I'm certainly not one of the latter.

Mind if I post this exchange on my blog? I'm a little hard up for material these days.

On May 18 Gabe kicked it up a notch:
Hey Josh,

It's true that 6 or 7 poems out of 40-some poems are actually referencing former poets or overtly literary matters, yeah. The book also has poems "about" the HUAC hearings, a Roman soldier, Ronald Reagan, the history of Oklahoma, the Norse attack on Lindisfarne, family matters (often *violent* family matters), being a deckhand, Sept 11 -- and the one or two themes subtending all of these pieces (including the "literary" ones) is/are dignity/indignity, violence/suffering/endurance. As for the title: given that the title poem in no way overtly references literary matters once one steps past the title and the epigraph, it might be useful to consider why I'd open the book with a string of insults. Maybe the title of the book is suggesting a hinge be made of the word "of," as in the genitive versus the objective of?; maybe not. What matters is that you've not read the book: The copy of the MS that jasper gave you looks nothing like the book. So, yeah, I do find it weird that you'd feel free to make a public comment about the book when (1) you've not read it and (2) are basing your impressions on 6 or 7 poems out of 40 or more poems.

Since when is a book's title enough to judge it by. Is _The Tennis Court Oath_ really about tennis courts or oaths? The "major mode" can't really be found via a title lifted free of the book's contents; content and title work as a pair, not each alone.

I don't mind if you post this exchange, so long as you post my response to your response.

I responded to this from my girlfriend's father's house in Bethesda on May 19, which may or may not have had an effect on the tenor of what I wrote:

I've got to say your desire, even your obsession, with getting people to read your book "correctly" puzzles me. From the post you made to the Poetics list complaining about your Amazon reviews to statements you've made on your own blog to this, it seems like the fact that your book has made a considerable splash and has led lots of people (even those who by your estimation haven't read it, like me) to talk about it and have powerful responses to it only makes you miserable. I thought at first it was just another paratextual blague on your part--this is the defensiveness of the poet after the defense of poetry, some kind of situationist comment on the scene not just of the production of poetry today, but of its reception. In a sense, then, your very public frustration with people's "misreading" your book has contributed to
this particular (non?)reader's misreading.

It can't be fun to feel you've been misunderstood, but damn, Gabe, if you wanted to be "understood" in that way you should have included some kind of essay (I have SEEN the printed book so I know there isn't one in there) explaining, a la Bloom, how to read it and _why_. The fact that you didn't do this suggests to me that at some point, consciously or not, you signed the devil's bargain every writer makes with his or her (always to some degree imagined) readers: you labor and sweat to create the book with a hundred different drives motivating you to do it, and they read it. That's all. They read it, and they have any and every possible reaction to it, and if they're writers themselves they will talk about that reaction. And I don't understand why you don't feel lucky about the fact that you do have readers, lots of them, and they're all talking. Somebody (even if it hasn't yet been me) who wouldn't have otherwise has probably bought your book because it was mentioned on my blog. Or at least they've thought about it. Maybe I'm less ambitious than you are, but if my own book is misunderstood by as many people as yours has been, I'm going to be really surprised and grateful.

For the record, I never claimed that there wasn't more to your book. And you may be right to chastise me for talking about something I haven't read in the author & publisher approved form (I hope I haven't exposed Jasper to an angry e-mail from you). But when and if I read it, and comment on it, I may still not "get" it by your lights. And that's my prerogative as a reader, damn it. Your prerogative is to smile or snarl or shrug, and write another book.

So there you have it—we were both obviously getting a little testy there at the end. For what it's worth, I certainly do plan to go out and get the book (or would you still be willing to send me a copy of it, Gabe?) and then I'll say what I think of it. This has been a useful conversation for me because it's made me think a bit harder about the extra-poetic means at a poet's disposal to shape the reception of his or her book. There's something very old-fashioned, very Addison and Steele, about Gabe's willingness to engage each and every critic of his work in print, which I kind of dig, even though I can't see myself following the same practice. It's also once again opened up the question as to what exactly my responsibilities are as a blogger. Certainly if I had based a book review on a manuscript I haven't even read all of I would be subject to censure. But am I a critic? Is this criticism that I'm writing right now? (Morpheus: "You think that's air you're breathing now, hm?") Gabe certainly seems to think so. For the present, I'm treating this blog as if impressions and immediacy were higher values than careful scholarship, which makes it a kind of vacation from my PhD work or from any review or article I may eventually try to publish ("publish" in the sense of passing through some kind of editorial or peer review process). But maybe that will change. In any case, people can and will continue to call me on the things I say, and I have to welcome that even if it makes me nervous. There's something at stake in even this most virtual of worlds.
Tim, I'm going to an Ammons-themed dinner tomorrow night. He is, of course, something of a god at Cornell, and my committee chair Roger Gilbert is writing his biography (I'll be doing a little research to help him over the summer). I actually haven't read much Ammons (Sphere and a few shorter poems) but although I've sometimes wondered if there's a there there I do feel that there is something... there. Sphere, for instance, is genuinely funny in spots, and it also demonstrates a Whitmanesque capacity for catalog, the sense of a poem that manages to include encylopedic quantities of information about the world. I'll have more to say about Ammons as I get deeper into him. He might make a good baseline example of late 20th century pastoral, serving as a foil to the wilder manifestations of Ronald Johnson, Duncan, etc.
Tuning in to the blogosphere after what feels like a long absence. Is it my imagination or are the blogspot sites not coming up as quickly as they used to? Ron seems to be loosening up a bit in this post, trying to make his blog a little more bloglike perhaps. It's a little strange to see—kind of like Don Ameche breakdancing in Cocoon. I'm also following the back-and-forth on Flaubert and rigor and blogging that Steve Evans started: he's summarized other bloggers' responses here. I kind of like the blogging as party analogy—coats on the bed, everybody drinking in the kitchen and talking too loud, with the occasional couple sneaking off to be by themselves. Though clearly there's room for more thoughtful analysis (provided most reliably by the likes of Ron and Kasey and Tim) the bloggers who seem closest to the spirit of blogging ("If there is such a thing," as Agent Smith sniffed in the first Matrix [The Matrix Reloaded completely sucked for its first forty-five minutes but nearly redeemed itself in the last forty-five minutes]) are those who artfully (the seeming artlessness of it is the art) provide a certain amount of autobiographical context for their posts (Stephanie and Jordan leap most immediately to mind). I guess I lean more toward the Kasey/Tim model myself, having discovered poetry blogging ass-backwardly (is that tmesis?) by reading Ron before I discovered anybody else. Who knows what this blog would have looked like if Equanimity had been my model?

Nothing like a little meta-blogging to get back in the blogging habit. I'll get to Veronica Forrest-Thomson (so many typos in my last post!) a little later on, I swear.

Go Richard! (as they liked to say back at Montana). I wish I could have been there. Or anywhere it isn't raining, for that matter.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

The ads over Stephanie's blog today say "Get Rid of Squirrels Now" and "Kill Rodents Now." What is the common denominator between Stephanie, squirrels, and rodents? The NOW.

Wonder how Richard's reading went at 21 Grand in SF last night.

I'm on my way back toward serious blogging, I can feel it. After I recover from a week with my in-laws (well, Emily and I aren't married, so her family) and before Emily and I shack up together a week from today, I want to say something intelligent about Veronic Forrest-Thomson, whose Poetic Artifice I've been dipping into. She says some things about my man Wallace Stevens that give me pause.

In the meantime here's a grotestuqe bit of Milton which William Empson says, in its evasive use of language, "has the squalid gelatinous effect of ectoplasm in a flashlight photograph":
         The aggregated Soyle
Death with his Mace petrific, cold and dry,
As with a Trident smote, and fix't as firm
As Delos floating once; the rest his look
Bound with Gorgonian rigor not to move
And with Asphaltic slime; broad as the Gate,
Deep to the Roots of Hell the gather'd beach
They fasten'd.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Givens of a walk round: five goslings and two geese

beneath architecture. A sapling spines out of rainwater

with a marsh bird in its beak. Beyond, commissary

concrete and the police band's buzz, enthusing

flyaway. We are mortal and these thoughts

propagate what they propitiate. Specialness,

springtime: we accept terrain. Rain dusts

newsprint to assign our skins, adopt our homes.

But Mrs. Ramsay said it would be fine tomorrow.

Is our tomorrow hers? Her nearly audible click?

What is to be done in the face of our mild occupation?

Paddling between their parents, the newly fleeced

are burred with dim yellow optimism. What's given

seems some water and the bell these buildings peal.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Do I still have any readers left? I know I've got one—Gabe Gudding and I have been having a contentious little e-mail exchange about my mention of his book a while back. I'll post it when I get home, but right now I'm typing this from the third floor of Emily's father's enormous house in Bethesda, MD, and don't have the needed files with me. We've come down for a week with her family to see her new niece, Ya'el (and the old one, Elly, with whom I hope to play many games of "Jumpy-Jumpy Whoo!" which is the best game I've ever played with a three year-old). The week after this Emily is moving in with me temporarily, and two weeks after that we're moving to new digs permanently and together. So it's kind of a crazy and stressful time and you'll have to forgive me for neglecting my blogging. Did I mention the end of the semester? Mountains of grading? Jumpy-Jumpy Whoo!? Oh, I guess I did.

What's going on in blogworld? People are dropping out—maybe no one wants to be chained to a cumbersome online persona during the summer, too hot and sweaty. I for one will be doing Blogger Lite for the next few days.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Some fine morning I'm going to get up and write something interesting on this blog again. But not this morning. Instead, I'm going to paste in the bulk of an e-mail I sent to one of my professors about my prospective dissertation project. Why am I doing this again? Because I'm hoping for ideas from you, my gentle readers. I'll get back to poetry soon, I promise.


Here is a rough sketch of the three topic areas I'd like to read in:

I) Aesthetics. In order to get a handle on the biggest questions (What is poetry for? How does it work?) I want to familiarize myself with the field of aesthetic theory in general and theories about poetry in particular. My list starts with Plato, Kant (Tracy McNulty in Romance Studies is doing a reading group for the Third Critique this summer, which will be helpful) and Schiller, goes on to include Burke, Arnold, Ruskin, and Pater, and finishes up with Lukacs, Heidegger, Benjamin, and Adorno. There might also be some supplementary reading of Marx and Marxist critics (Jameson, Raymond Williams) because the social function poetry might serve (especially as critique) is of particular interest to me.

II) Pastoral. Although my thinking about pastoral must necessarily include the _genre_ that starts with Theocritus and Virgil, I am much more interested in pastoral as a _mode_. There are a number of layers to this idea that don't yet gel, but for the time being I've put the complex of ideas and theories that will be the engine of my dissertation into the category of "pastoral":
- Pastoral dialectic: Here I want to consider the opposing views of pastoral: as a mode in which the individual withdraws from the larger society to contemplate the eternal verities of love/sex and death (classical pastoral); and the "proletarian fantasy" mode in which a convenient fiction of shepherds and nymphs serves to provide a simplified access to more complex modes of being. The latter is rooted in William Empson's book on pastoral, which if nothing else provides me with a model for moving the category "pastoral" away from a particular kind of verse and into a larger range of possibilities. In addition to reading his book more closely, this category will probably overlap somewhat with the Marxist criticism I mentioned above. And of course I'll (re)read some classical pastoral: the Idylls, the Eclogues, bits of Milton and the metaphysicals, etc.

- Pastoral of the drives: Some of the reading I've done in psychonalytic theory (Lacan and Kristeva) has suggested another way of thinking about pastoral: as a fantasy about how the organism's biological drives might find a "natural" home and "natural" objects, without there being any troubling remainder or excess. Lacan refers to the pastoral in this way in his Ethics seminar, and Kristeva describes something very similar to this in her book Revolution in Poetic Language when she talks about "a direct transcription of the genetic code" (50). My understanding of psychoanalysis is still rather tentative but I think this could be one of the most promising areas of research.

- Existential pastoral: This revolves around Heidgger and the suggestive parallels to pastoral as both a hyperindividualistic and as a political mode that I've found in his work. The Dasein who seeks to become authentic in Being and Time does so through its resolute Being-towards-death, which strikes me as resonant with the notion that death, too, is necessarily in Arcadia. This consciousness of death frees Dasein from its fallenness into the "they", taking it out of a world which is always already understood and making authentic individuality possible. There are also tantalizing suggestions of this brand of pastoral in Heidegger's imagery of the farmer in the Black Forest. But there is a tension in Heidegger's work which at least partially recuperates it from the charges of solipsism and fascism that naturally accrue to it: Heidegger's notion of the function of the art work in his later writings suggest that it can be art (and most especially poetry) which does the work that Being-towards-death does in Being and Time: it can "clear" the always already understood and make possible new relationships both among human beings (ethically, politically, religiously) and between humans and nature. I've already done much of the reading in this area but I will also want to look into some basic texts of phenomenology, as well as backward to Nietzsche and forward to Levinas and Sartre.
III) Objectivism. The poets and poems I'm most interested in reading this summer tend to cluster themselves around the second-generation Modernists often grouped together under the rubric, "The Objectivists." Williams is something of a senior member; the other poets I'm interested in reading include the core group of George Oppen, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, Carl Rakosi, Lorine Niedecker, and Basil Bunting; there are then some contemporaries and fellow travelers of theirs who include Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson (the latter two are instructive for the ways in which they rejected Objectivism for a kind of revivified Symbolism), and Ronald Johnson; and there is at least one contemporary poet who has publicly declared her allegiance to Objectivist principles, Rachel Blau duPlessis. The Objectivists seem like a natural choice because of their insistence upon the concrete, musical qualities of language (Zukofsky: upper limit music, lower limit speech) which will help to ground me in the home of the poetic amidst all the theory I'll be reading. Their effacement of the "I" in favor of reimagining collectivity and collective experience ("Of Being Numerous") suggests their possible affiliation with the proletarian face of pastoral. And Charles Altieri has written an important essay about them in which he described their attempts to put objects into language in such a way that there would be no remainder that would tempt the poet to insert him- or herself into the poem in a Romantic way--which sounds strikingly similar to the Lacanian pastoral fantasy I described above. And there's one more vector: many if not most of the core Objectivists were Jewish, and I have a particular interest in Jewish ethics (as differently articulated by Franz Rosenzweig, Sigmund Freud, and Emmaneul Levinas) and the ways in which it might inform their sometimes spare, sometimes baroque, but usually self-effacing and politically conscious poetry.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Wandering around in the tall grasses of theory. Trying to fit the most interesting pieces of Kristeva, Levinas, and Lacan (or maybe it would be more accurate to say: the pieces I think I understand) under the category of "pastoral" because I have an intuition about what the resulting framework might tell me about the strategies of some poets: Oppen, Zukofsky, Williams, Stein, Duncan, Creeley, Johnson. Who knows? I can't explain it to myself yet. This is what happens when I read a great synthesizing book like Jameson's Marxism and Form, it makes me feel like I understand everything in general even though I understand very little in particular. So I try to get particular. Slogging through Revolution in Poetic Language; I think I get the gist, but my God there's a lot of Husserlian and Chomskyan and psychonalytic jargon to hack through first. In a nutshell: Kristeva seems to think that poetic language is the root and ordinary forms of discourse are branches: communication is made possible not by what you posit but by what you lop off and suppress. When you trouble the procedures of ordinary discourse you have poetry, or at least the poetic impulse. Simple enough, right? Why does she have to go on about all those Greek words? At least transliterations are provided. Chora. Hyle.

Bought a new notebook for myself, a total indulgence at $9. It has a nifty black cover with a lizard-like texture and it's ruled with green lines. The green lines sold me. It's also a bit smaller than the usual 9 x 11 notebook size, which I like. And it's slim. Sometimes you have to let your inner aesthete have his head.

Like everyone else I'm being wowed by Barbara Guest's Forces of Imagination. I will definitely use some of this material in my creative writing class this fall. She makes me want to go read Mallarmé's essays but hey, what doesn't?

Also secretly regretting not purchasing a used copy of Wittgenstein's notes for the Tractacus—another book more read about than read, at least in my case.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

If utopian thinking is a re-making of "the third"—that which stands between and in and around any monad or dialogue, any subject and object (Heidegger's das Man), what is pastoral? A fictive removal of the third so that the subject or the subject and object can imagine what it would like to be alone with "Nature" (which is never the third)? Or is it simply an outlining of the third in negative space: Roman society becomes visible through what's left out of the Eclogues? What about Biblical pastoral, if there is such a thing—Abraham and his flocks? Job and his kine? The third there is God. Perhaps pastoral is simply the hypostaziation of the third into a necessarily simpler form. Pastoral is false, but the false can serve a purpose. When the lie is discarded what remains?
Do archives ever return? The cruellest month has vanished.

Come back, Shane!

Thursday, May 08, 2003

I think what I enjoy about Robin Caton's book is the way it comes off as the diary of a reader in love with the sometimes ascetic, sometimes lusciously indulgent self-divisions of the poets listed in Michael Palmer's blurb: Rilke, Stevens, Jabès, Ponge, and Duncan (not to mention Palmer himself). At first I was taken aback by this catalog: doesn't anyone have anything new to say? Are other poets and other poets' poetry all we can write about any more? This is probably why, after buying the book in 2001 in an intial blaze of curiosity (I think I got it at Diesel in Oakland where Richard used to work) I felt the same weariness I feel when confronted with a book dominated by ekphrastic poems, and put it away. (This is probably why I haven't been able to really engage yet with Cole Swensen's Try or Such Rich Hour, which derives from an engagement with the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, or her little book Oh, which seems to be about opera.) Howzabout an originary engagement with the world, as Emerson pleaded for, and not just a rereading? But Caton has changed my mind; I find thinking about the book as rereading reduces the stakes the same way a book of funny poems deflects and subverts the highest and headiest expectations of "being Poetry" (that's why I can give a pass to Gabe Gudding's book, or Loren Goodman's Famous Americans, or even Gary's How to Proceed in the Arts: tweaking the nose of our internalized Harold Blooms is central to their project). These books present themselves as being primarily engaged with the literary (including, in the latter books' case, the "literary world" or po-biz), as opposed to trying to be literary, to be Rilke or Richard Wilbur or whomever. Caton's primary mode is not comic or satirical (though she doesn't lack a sense of humor); instead she seems passionately interested in the visionary territory that these poets opened up for her, and she has no need to Oedipally shove them out of the picture that they've uncovered for her. And she takes that picture seriously enough to be a genuinely metaphysical poet in both senses of the term. She is interested in discovering the underpinnings of the overlapping understandings of the world that her totem poets had—their overlapping totalities. And she has that metaphysical wit, though her conceits are not so much concerned with analyzing emotional experience (as Donne's flea or stiff twin compasses are) as they are with exploring the gap that yawns between poetic language (the semiotic, the excessive), words themselves, and the reconstruction of some kind of world done by a reader who is less interested in recuperating poetry back into communication than she is in letting that language bloom and stir some kind of reaction within herself. The book is full of white space which in this context feels more luxuriant than withholding—I feel as though she is recreating her own experience of reading for me, an experience I believe similar enough to my own that it creates a kind of warm companionable glow around poems that can seem otherwise stripped and precious. Her confidence, at this lat date, in poetry's ability to be numinous reminds me of Ronald Johnson's, especially when she writes a concrete poem (like a part of "Blue" that I won't attempt to replicate here). Here's something a bit Johnsonian, though, from "Green":

a wind


the streets
are falling

once   the bells
twice   the bells

     I am not able


     sorrow of light
     the color
     of grass
Too thin for you? It really works best as a book, though there are some marvelous individual poems. A God, Old Testament in His absence, presides over the book, but he is occasionally directly and lately addressed, Rilke-style.
In the Museum

We keel left. Verticals
protruding from the green

This works. This unreels.

The process undulates.

Only when the lights go out,
only when we huddle
in the semi-erotic darkness
does the vein hit.

Pergamon. The frieze.
Marbled heads captured
in their looming white.

Situated here, inside
themselves, Degas' horse,
the Russian bride.

Something's pushed against us—

We re-make God.

Sentence us, Lord.
Tell us the next
thousand years.

And then the next.

Lavender body, tree
pouring from its root.

Can this be memory?
Okay, she almost loses me there with her breathlessness. But the book as a whole persuades me, and is richly intertextual enough for the blanks to be charged and overflowing instead of just blanks. And the "poetic" words she uses (light, field, dancing, garden, and of course all the colors of dusk: gray, purple, green, red, orange, white, blue, black) are never solely shorthand for the poetic (though they can, playfully, be that). Words end up talking and rubbing logopoetically against each other, producing new readings of the old vatic Sayings.
Preceding Series (Duncan)

Often I am permitted   unwingd O   to re-turn

groping   often, often   a certain shaped thing

seeking its longitude   and the permission?

light falling on said meadow   arms out-stretchd

as if from no thing   rising   oft oft often

is the per mitting   is the I of ten   to excavate

this eadow   to un-leaf   headless, heedless

the obscene green   so much in the rhythm

of these sounds precedes us   came into the world

came forth   a meadow   often, often   obligd

permitted   re-turnd   re-tumbld   arms out-

strechd   oblique, obscure   I ecstatic   take

O and walk her through a dark center to this the light desiring
Such a gorgeous evocation of Duncan and her experience of Duncan, of the permission he grants us postmoderns to go around dazd asking the big questions all over again. I feel enlarged by this book. It makes Poetry possible again in poetry. And Caton the reader is someone I feel fortunate to have encountered as a writer.
Hanging out with Brian has meant I've been able to feel part of a living, face-to-face poetry community for a couple of days, and I have had neither the time nor the inclination to blog. I wonder if that means my blog would survive a move to a scenesterish area like NYC, LA, or SF. (New rule: if it can be written as instantly recognizable initials there will be a poetry scene there. Poetry is shorthand.) Now that he's gone after two lovely days of conversation, strolling, cooking (Brian makes an amazing miso soup, and I speak as someone who doesn't much care for miso soup), and browsing, I expect I'll get back on the stick. I think I'll want to say something about Robin Caton's book The Color of Dusk, which I've been reading avidly, a little later today.

Monday, May 05, 2003

My good friend Brian Teare (whose book The Room Where I Was Born is forthcoming from Wisconsin) will be in town any minute! Everybody say hi to Brian!

Brian does a lot of page-as-field stuff and I'm damned if I can figure out how to render it correctly. But here's a relatively simple poem (simple in format, that is) from his chapbook Pleasure:
The Eden of the Author of Sleep

And sleep to grief as air is to the rain,
upon waking, no explanation, just blue

spoons of the eucalyptus measuring
and pouring torrents. A kind of winter.

As if what is real had been buried
and all sure surfaces blurred. Is it me

or the world, risen from beneath?
Mind refining ruin, or an outside

unseen hand, working—as if with
a small brush, for clarity—the details?

To open my eyes is the shape of a city
rising slowly through sand. Cloudy

quartz, my throat, cut unadorned
from the quarry, stone of city cemetery

and roads, to breathe is a mausoleum
breached. To think of Eden is speech

to fill a grave, tree in which knowledge
augurs only its limits, the word snake

a thought crawling in the shadow
of its body. Was it, Adam, like this

always, intellect in the mind’s small sty
mining confinement for meaning, sleep

to grief as air is to the rain, upon waking,
the world’s own weapons turned against it—

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Could not resist feeding my own blog to Rob's Amazing Poem Generator:
Cahiers de Corey poetry,
would be in Book at
all at 11:32
AM psyched to
any lanky model of
sexual desire I
puzzle over what
groping toward, a
name spoken
do Culture, is? dominated by moment, with pretty
braids;and a
single goal and
palpable in both stadium and conception of the woods near
our attention on
a certain affection, for
it. more pleasure of work the
language might
shield him
near our attention on the meaning of confrontational activity
Davidson is endless generative of
maneuver—a succession of making them aware
that Muzak has become wise. But
he is no longer part
of. the virtual Montana soon... did you
make one hand, fraught, with
a version spring of good—deal more
a fully immanent to its own
The way to read
Charles Afterword have him His courage will

Friday, May 02, 2003

Katy Lederer's Winter Sex seems to fall in that interesting middle zone of poetry between the tracking of subjective perception and the materialization of objects in language. The presence of a blurb from Lyn Hejinian on the back would suggest that Lederer stands closer to that particular mode of Language-y investigation, while the blurb itself suggests that a mimesis of subjectivity is also part of Lederer's project: "[these poems] are about the speculative yearnings that bind us to all that we care about." I'm still trying to wrap my head around these three potentially useful categories for describing poetic modes: subjective, objective, degree of mimesis. Lederer is less interested in wordplay than she is in subverting our syntactical expecatations, as in this passage from the poem "One Day":
The flowing scene and spirit within
The pearl in the solemn stream
And broken brook, I can hear it move haggard over rocks
Advancing, slow, along the path
To its settlement
And footstep,
Where it may or may not
Resembling, along, like a brook
Dry, parched, and of no substance.
Is there a name for this kind of rhetorical maneuver—a succession of independent clauses that are retroactively transformed into dependent clauses? The effect of the line breaks (and initial capitals, so rare now in verse) is to introduce parataxis into an otherwise hypotactic sentence, causing the action it describes—the crystalization of "The pearl" out of the more abstract"flowing scene and spirit"—to move out of concretization and back into abstraction. If there's mimesis here it reflects less "the solemn stream / And broken brook" than it does a mind suspicious of its own tendencies toward the symbolic.

Mimesis is one of Lederer's themes, most cleverly and ambiguously dealt with in the poem "A Dream of Mimesis," which is clearly meant to be a kind of translation or reading of Erich Auerbach's reading of book 19 of The Odyssey in his book Mimesis. Auerbach's take on Homeric poetry, of course, is that it is entirely unsymbolic, non-allegorical, rejecting of any notion of latent content. Auerbach's Homer writes from a curious sort of objective, immanent metaphysics: the things of this world (which include the gods) are fully present and fully meaningful, manifesting in Homer's poetry as objects fixed and unchanging in their relations with each other. It is the Homeric style "to represent phenomena in a fully externalized form, visible and palpable in all their parts, and completely fixed in their spatial and temporal relations. Nor do psychological processes receive any other treatment: here too nothing must remain hidden and unexpressed" (6). There is no background in Homer, only foreground; so when Euryclea recognizes Odysseus' scar the main narrative is interrupted in order for a second narrative, complete in itself, of how Odysseus received the scar as young man. It is not a flashback, it is not syntactically or otherwise removed to the past; it is a second, entirely self-sufficient present. Homeric time is synchronous time, a series of self-contained moments that vibrate up against each other rather than depending on a more linear, causal connection. Sounds like Objectivism, no? Lederer's remarkable poem seems to interrogate the nature of the force field in which these separate Homeric moments are suspended. It is glimmering with sex and violence.
A Dream of Mimesis

It is duty and not hospitality that has diverted the ancient guest.
It is the whispered threat of sentiment and ignorance.
There is a plenitude of foresight. Before the diversion of the light.
The light is now spilling over. We now recognize him by his scar.
The feelings are being externalized. No contour is blurred, but of light
There is only the thin throat of it that hits his head. He rises—
Is seen through the curtains. Now lax—with the wind, made more solid. They are lying
Slick in the yellow light. He is wanting to fuck.
The thigh is clean. The scar on the thigh is newly healed.
In the episode's chaste entrée ("once ... when a boar ...")—here—
He must straddle her ass. We are patient. Here, his organs begin to swell—
Lest they are spiritual, his courage will fail him. His organs are swelling—we have, here,
Great depths—trimmed by delicate vulvic folds. Flesh dangles, cut.
They talk. Her hand, fraught, grabs at his clean, polished cock.
Gradually, historically, the choice has befallen him. Idols aged rot on the verge
Of legend. It runs too smoothly. The river beside her. Angst. The river is blue.
The river is not very wide. He is raping her. The situation is complicated,.
The scar on his thigh is newly healed. Let's not see it just yet—let's see
Both of their bodies illuminated in a uniform fashion. He slaps her. She grabs
At his ass. A suggestive influence of the unexpressed. The separation of styles.
Light hits her throat. The thigs of each swell—then abate. The sublime action dulls them.
He "persecutes" her. He is not afraid to let the realism of daily life enter into his sublime.
There are clearly expressible reasons for their conflict. The human problem has dealt with them
In this fashion. They are using two styles. The concept of his historical becoming has disturbed him
Into action. The episodic nature of her pain is obscured by the sublime action of his cock.
He is the simile of the wolf. He is seeking her nipples with his mouth ("A god himself
Gave him ..."). The introduction of episodes. An eloquent foreground. A uniform present
Entirely foreign to the story of his scar ("The woman now touched it ...")
With the "two styles," Lederer seems to be forcing the other major mode of mimesis that Auerbach describes into the episode of the scar. This is the subterranean, almost entirely latent world of the Hebrew Bible, in which an absolute minimum of action is narrated so as to invite a maximum of interpretive possibilities. The story from Homer is contrasted with the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which almost "[e]verything remains unexpressed."
It would be difficult, then, to imagine styles more contrasted than those of these two equally ancient and equally epic texts. On the one hand, externalized, uniformly illuminated phenomena, at a definite time and in a definite place, connected together without lacunae in a perpetual foreground; thoughts and feeling completely expressed; events taking place in leisurely fashion and with very little of suspense. On the other hand, the externalization of only so much of the phenomena as is necessary for the purpose of the narrative, all else left in obscurity; the decisive points of the narrative alone are emphasized, what lies between is nonexistent; time and place are undefined and call for interpretation; thoughts and feeling remain unexpressed, are only suggested by the silence and the fragmentary speeches; the whole, permeated with the most unrelieved suspense and directed toward a single goal (and to that extent far more of a unity), remains mysterious and "fraught with background" (Auerbach 11-12).
Clearly, Lederer has let the Biblical style seep into and infect the Homeric style in her reading both of The Odyssey and of Auerbach's take on the two major Western modes of literary representation. The boar hunt and Euryclea's recognition become conflated with a disturbing subtext (or rather, a latent text made manifest: "He is wanting to fuck") of sexual desire which is itself further disturbed by a "subtext" of rape. Perhaps she is thinking of the sexual threat Odysseus presents to Nausicaa when he confronts her with his nakedness in Book VI. Robert Fitzgerald's translation:
He pushed aside the bushes, breaking off
with his great hand a single branch of olive,
whose leaves might shield him in his nakedness;
so came out rustling, like a mountain lion,
rain-drenched, wind-buffeted, but in his might at ease,
with burning eyes—who prowls among the herds
or flocks, or after game, his hungry belly
taking him near stout homesteads for his prey.
Odysseus had this look, in his rough skin
advancing on the girls with pretty braids;
and he was driven on by hunger, too.
Streaked with brine, and swollen, he terrified them,
so that they fled, this way and that. Only
Alkínoös’ daughter stood her ground, being given
a bold heart by Athena, and steady knees (103).
Bold heart and steady knees describes Lederer pretty well. In her representation of erotic experience (section III of her book is dominated by this and it's certainly the most memorable section upon a first reading) she seems committed to representing her own subjectivity, but not in an egocentric way. Her "I" is a tense thing, contradictory at its core, more a placeholder for the experience of feminine desire under patriarchy than a claim for coherence. Her book helps me understand better what I'm seeking from poetry right now: the dialectical representation of experience, whether achieved through tracking the mental movements of a split subject or through the materialization of conflicting languages. Lederer stands more on the subjective side, which tends to manifest in most poets as a certain verbal aridity; when I tire of this I turn toward a richer, more supercharged, more "externalized" kind of language (that is, it manifests its phon- and melopoetic properties in advance of what it signifies) as I find in someone like Mullen or even Lucie Brock-Broido.

I wonder how much longer this model of poetic activity will seem useful to me? I was ever fickle about theories.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I too would like to thank Gary for his all-day mementos of Daniel Davidson. He sounds so much like his work, really—a vortex of energy that infuriates as much as it inspires, and which instills a certain affection, even a protectiveness, in its readers. At least it seems to have had that effect on me.

Feeling blogged out. It's been a summerlike day and a summerlike thunderstorm may be in the offing. The semester is grinding to a close. What do I have to offer you today, my readers?

How about this: opening up Benjamin's Reflections, I see this epigraph to "The Author as Producer": "The task is to win over the intellectuals to the working class by making them aware of the identity of their spiritual enterprises and of their conditions as producers." That's worth chewing on, but what really fascinates me is that the quote is attributed to a "Ramón Fernandez." Naturally I think immediately of Stevens:
Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker's rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.
Tell me if you know what further connection might be possible between a Marxist conception of the author as proletarian worker and Stevens' conception of the artist as ontological "arranger" (that stanza could almost be a paraphrase of Heidegger's description of the ways in which a Greek temple arranges, deepens, and enchants the world around it. Stevens' "reality" always wants to assimilate itself to "nature," but a Marxist reading of his work would have to historicize both "reality" and the "imagination" that presses back against it. Hum. Anyway, I'm intrigued by the Ramon Fernandez bit, though Stevens has neglected the accent. A quick Google search tells me that Stevens acknowledged the existence of the real Ramon Fernandez in a letter to the Italian critic Renato Poggioli : "I simply put together by chance two exceedingly common names in order to make one and I did not have in mind Ramon Fernandez. Afterwards, someone asked me whether I meant the man you have in mind. I had never even given him a conscious thought. The real Fernandez used to write feuilletons in one of the Paris weeklies and it is true that I used to read these. But I did not have him in mind" (Letters of Wallace Stevens 823). Could Fernandez represent the return of a repressed consciousness of the Marxist critique which would utterly change a reader's conception of the otherwise purely artistic "order" of the poem?

Should read the Benjamin essay now. Here's one of my favorite Stevens poems; I'm always ripping Stevens off in way or another, and this one is forever resurfacing unexpectedly in my work:
Loneliness in Jersey City

The deer and the dachsund are one.
Well, the gods grow out of the weather.
The people grow out of the weather;
The gods grow out of the people.
Encore, encore, encore les dieux. . .

The distance between the dark steeple
And cobble ten thousand and three
Is more than seven-foot inchworm
Could measure by moonlight in June.

Kiss, cats: for the deer and the dachsund
Are one. My window is twenty-nine three
And plenty of window for me.
The steeples are empty and so are the people,
There's nothing whatever to see
Except Polacks that pass in their motors
And play concertinas all night.
They think that things are all right,
Since the deer and the dachsund are one.

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