Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pasternak / O’Hara

Some Clouds

Boris Pasternak, in 1919, out of a piece call’d “A Few Principles” print’d in the “literary miscellany” Sovremennik (found in Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Rainer Maria Rilke: Letters, Summer 1926):

When I speak of mysticism, or of painting, or of the theater, I speak with the detachment and obligation with which a free-thinking amateur judges all things.
      When the subject is literature, I think of books, and that robs me of the ability to judge. I must be shaken out of my physical absorption in books as out of a swoon; only then, and most reluctantly, overcoming a faint distaste, can I take part in literary conversations that touch not on books but on any other aspect—on readings of literary works, say, or poets, or schools, or new trends.
      Never, under any circumstances, would I of my own free will cross the boundary separating the territory of vital concern from the territory of amateur lack of concern.


Contemporary trends assume that art is like a fountain, when really it is like a sponge.
      They have decided that art ought to gush, but it ought, rather, to suck up and absorb.
      They assert that art can be divided into categories according to means of representation, when actually it is composed of organs of perception.
      Art must always remain among the spectators and see things more clearly, more truthfully, more perceptively than the others, but in our day it has resorted to using face powder and dressing rooms and displaying itself on the stage. It is as if there were two forms of art and one of them, knowing that it holds the other in reserve, allows itself the luxury of perversion, which is tantamount to suicide. It makes a display of itself when it ought to get lost in the top gallery, in anonymity, and be unaware that it cannot help being discovered, that while shrinking in the corner it is afflicted with a glowing translucence, the phosphorescence that goes with certain diseases.


A book is nothing but a cube of hot, smoking conscience.
      It was assumed, in the not-so-distant past, that a book’s episodes were invented. That is a misconception. What need has a book of inventions? One forgets that the only thing within our power is the ability to keep the voice of truth within us undistorted.
      The inability to find and speak the truth is a failing that no talent for speaking the untruth can disguise.

. . .


. . . In setting the fancy free, poetry inevitably stumbles upon nature. The real world is the only source that, once having been successfully drawn upon by the imagination, never ceases to feed it. This goes on and on, constantly proving its validity. As a source it is reliable, profound, always alluring. There is never a letdown on the morning after. It renders the poet a far greater service than models and patterns . . .
I think: how different that “cube of hot, smoking conscience” is, put up against Pound’s “The book should be a ball of light in one’s hand.” I think of Frank O’Hara’s early (1952) address to Pasternak at the end of “Snapshot for Boris Pasternak” (“A photograph must do for greeting in its rain”):
Dear Master, as time pushes us towards the abyss
that’s sharp as a sledge hammer, let always
your prayer be perverse and gratuitous, a
volcano in the lengthening bandyleg of truth
so far from fountains that the sun’s outdoors
choking on its own white fur and black tongue
and whispered wrist. Do not dismiss me, sad
that I am in your world, as your eyes rip
in the perfect light of fame, as you permit earth
completion in vicarious mortality, like poetry.
Unstopping, ever incomplete poetry’s “stoppingness” (like the earth’s) a permit’d (perversely, gratuitously—hence an abyss may be “sharp as a sledge hammer”) thing, vicarious its end, whilst the eyes (attending) continue to “rip.” (See art’s “glowing translucence, the phosphorescence that goes with certain diseases.”) O’Hara begins another piece—late, dated 7 July 1962, call’d “Political Poem on a Last Line of Pasternak’s” with “‘A certain person’s epoch’s burning’”—a line lift’d out of a poem call’d “M. T.” (undoubtedly Marina Tsvetayeva), translated by J. M. Cohen:
You’re right to turn your pockets out
and say: ‘Look, rummage, fumble.’
I don’t care what makes the mist damp.
Take anything—say a March morning.

The trees in their smooth overcoats
stand upright on the gamboge soil, though
it’s a certain bet the branches
have hardly strength to bear their wrappings.

Dew throws their twigs into a shudder;
like a merino’s fleece they ripple.
Dew runs shivering like a hedgehog
with a dry haycock on its nose.

I don’t care whose the conversation
I catch, as it floats in from nowhere.
That anything—the yard in springtime,
when it’s all muffled up in mist.

I don’t care what’s the cut of clothes
fashion thinks proper for my times.
They tack up anything—a dream, say,
in which they’ve calked the poet up.

Through many sleeves, turning and turning,
he whirls like smoke out of one fateful
epoch’s holes into another
still more impassable deed-end.

Steaming, he’ll rush out through the chinks
Of fate, that he’s squashed to a pancake.
His grandsons say, as if ’twere peat:
‘A certain person’s epoch’s burning.’
Insouciance, colloquialisms, a shrug-it-off sense of destiny, the natural world wrap’d in affable goofiness: it’s uncanny how “O’Hara-esque” the Pasternak piece seems.

Off a couple of days.

Boris Pasternak and Frank O’Hara

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Stephen Crane / Ford Madox Ford

Some Clouds

Scattery and desultory reading, “atavistic” reading, or gregarious reading. One thing pointing to a flock of others, reading unraveling, butting up against itself, its circularity. Ford Madox Ford talking about Stephen Crane (who own’d dogs named Soap, and Flannel, and Sponge—Conrad’s dog is Escamillo, presumably “after” the toreador in Georges Bizet’s Carmen), and Crane’s rose, plant’d in Sussex where Crane lived in 1899, renting a 14th century stone house call’d Brede Place, just down the road, near Rye, where Henry James hem’d and haw’d interminably, and Winchelsea, where Ford inhabit’d a “white Canadian frame house”—Ford, who knew a thing or two about agriculture, too, (mid-Crane reportage Ford’ll point out how leather—boots, particularly—serves “to manure” the roots of various vines, and figs: “if you want to plant a fig tree you should plant it with its roots in an old leather portmanteau. You will have wonderful figs”) liked to return to Crane’s rose (“blooming, being a monthly rose, though there was actually snow on the cropped turf between the clumps of gorse”) after Crane, dying of tuberculosis, took off to Badenweiler, in the Black Forest, with common-law wife Cora (who had a “history” of being madam of a “house” call’d “Hotel de Dream” in Jacksonville, Florida), feebly, and uselessly. Ford wrote of Crane’s eyes: “They were large, like a horse’s.” Too, mid-something or other about the British Liberal Gladstone, Ford inserts a delicious morsel: “(Brillat Savarin says that the perfect lunch consists of a small slice of turbot au gratin, a glass of sherry and a slice of thin bread and butter.)” So one veers, in prevaricatory exhilarance. Picks up Edmund White’s 2007 Hotel de Dream. Here one finds Crane liking
to mock everything foreign in American expatriates, especially their linguistic affectations. The more Henry James fluted away like an English matron, the more Stevie when around him tried to sound like Daniel Boone or Andrew Jackson. Of course there was a serious concern buried under the tomfoolery; he was always so worried he’d forget the authentic American voice, that he’d start sounding like a limey, or like nothing at all. That was the worst: linguistic limbo.
And, White’s version of the young Crane (c. 1893) staying in the old Art Students League ramble that ran along E. 23rd Street (where one beam carry’d words out of Emerson’s “Heroism” Crane took up: “Adhere to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous age”):
Everyone teased me for sitting the whole time with a lit but unsmoked cigarette smoldering between my yellow-stained fingers. They teased me about everything—my rumpled clothes, my fascination with women in red dresses, my sentimental verses, my banjo playing, my rapacious way of grabbing a magazine or book to pluck it clean of quaint phrases or queer facts and then cast it aside, for I was too impatient (and too chary of being influenced) ever to finish a book. I thought of myself as an aesthete, or rather a sensibility in ragged trousers, and I didn’t want to learn or acknowledge or appreciate. No, I just wanted to be jostled by language as one might be shouldered aside by pedestrians scurrying up Broadway.
Reading and tossing, the piecemeal omnivore. I like how a piece by Ford, collect’d under the title “On Obsolete Words”—though seemingly repeat’d in a number of places (like many of Ford’s anecdotes) goes somewhat counter to White’s Crane the collector. Ford writes how he recalls
hearing Stephen Crane . . . with his wonderful eyes flashing and his extreme vigour and intonation, comment upon a sentence of Robert Louis Stevenson that he was reading. The sentence was: ‘With interjected finger he delayed the action of the timepiece.’ ‘By God, poor dear!’ Crane exclaimed. ‘That man put back the clock of English fiction fifty years.’ I do not know that this is exactly what Stevenson did do. I should say myself that the art of writing in English received the numbing blow of a sandbag when Rossetti wrote, at the age of eighteen, The Blessed Damozel. From that time forward and until to-day . . . the idea has been inherent in the mind of the English writer that writing was a matter of digging for obsolete words with which to express ideas for ever dead and gone. Stevenson did this, of course, as carefully as any Pre-Raphaelite, though instead of going to mediaeval books he ransacked the seventeenth century. But this tendency is unfortunately not limited to authors misusing our very excellent tongue. The other day I was listening to an excellent Italian conférencier who assured an impressed audience that Signor D’Annunzio is the greatest Italian stylist there has ever been, since in his last book he has used over 2,017 obsolete words which cannot be understood by a modern Italian without the help of a mediaeval glossary.
Two things. Apparently the Stevenson line in question, out of the short story “Markheim,” actually reads “that piece of life had been arrested, as the horologist, with interjected finger, arrests the beating of the clock.” And there’s a story that G. K. Chesterton tells somewhere, that the same objection to “interjected” was made by George Moore. (Ford continues, raconteur par excellence, with a contrary—opposing and sassy—comment about “Mr Ruskin’s Epithet”: “On one page of one of Mr Ruskin’s books I have counted the epithet ‘golden’ six times. There are ‘golden days,’ ‘golden-mouthed,’ ‘distant golden spire,’ ‘golden peaks’ and ‘golden sunset,’ all of them describing one picture by Turner in which the nearest approach to gold discernible by a precise eye is a mixture of orange red and madder brown.”)

Stephen Crane, 1871–1900

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Susan Howe’s That This

Some Clouds

“Starting from nothing with nothing when everything else has been said”—ending with no period—is where I begin, dipping into Susan Howe’s That This (New Directions, 2010). And, a few pages along:
      What treasures of knowledge we cluster around. Fear—reunited with other pre-communicable penumbral associations. God is an epigraph inscribed on memory. Blown back among ghosts—our abstract Parent restores order with covering rituals.
Howe’s writing (in “The Disappearance Approach,” the initial piece) in the lee emptiness of the loss of a companion, philosopher Peter Hare. “Covering rituals”—in a sense, words. Everywhere a wonderment (exultant perusal) of the quiddity of the word against sempiternal absence, ongoing effacement. Toward the end of the piece Howe quotes Paradise Lost, how “th’hast’ning angel caught”:
“Our ling’ring Parents—” At the end of Milton’s poem “They looking back, all th’Eastern side beheld / Of Paradise, so late their happy seat.” Now they mean to go to the end of the world—here—
      “where the body goes, ceases to be, comes to nothing—”
Throughout, an interrogatory of the copy, literal (reporting the workings of “the state-of-the-art North Light HID Copy Light system” employ’d by the digital photography studio at the Beinecke) and potential (“Even if ideas don’t exist without the mind, there may be copies or resemblances.”) Howe works largely by assembling correspondences—ideas that “don’t exist” to some degree. In one breath-taking stretch she puts together a wonderful chain of particulars: a single swan “solitary in the dying light” (“Stately, still, remote, assured, majestically indifferent and composed”—she’s quoting William Gass’s rendering of Rilke’s “The Swan”); Gass’s remarks about “the impossibility of ever perfectly translating Hölderlin’s image of the birds dipping their heads “ins heilignüchterne Wasser” because the religious undertones in the single German word carry echoes of holy water and grace and when you break the syllables apart for English meaning what is hallowed inside perishes” (Gass says: “That heilignüchterne is one helluva word”); and a ruminatory paragraph about a Prussian blue scrap of cloth, “the tiny square remnant of Sarah Pierrepont’s wedding dress” (“Outside the field of empirically possible knowledge is there a property of blueness in itself that continues to exist when everything else is sold away?”) and how, for Howe, that scrap begins to connect with “the oblong royal blue plastic throwaway sheath—protecting the early edition of The New York Times” witness’d un-retrieved outside the morning of Hare’s death.

Too, Howe’s work here is steep’d in archival Edwardiana (Jonathan), and its queryings of faith. She quotes Edwards’s wife Sarah writing to her daughter Esther (who, without receiving it, perish’d herself of a fever) regarding Edwards’s death by smallpox:
“Oh that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands on our mouths! The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness, that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart. . . . We are all given to God: and there I am, and love to be.” I admire the way thought contradicts feeling in Sarah’s furiously calm letter.
      We can’t be limited to just this anxious life.
“Furiously calm”: pertaining somewhat, too, to Howe’s work. In “The Disappearance Approach,” she writes:
More and more I have the sense of being present at a point of absence where crossing centuries may prove to be like crossing languages. Soundwaves. It’s the difference between one stillness and another stillness. Even the “invisible” scotch tape I recently used when composing “Frolic Architecture” leaves traces on paper when I run each original sheet through the Canon copier.
“Frolic Architecture” (with an epigraph out of Emerson’s “Divinity School Address”—“Into the beautiful meteor of the snow”—found amidst a complaint: “Whenever the pulpit is usurped by a formalist, then is the worshipper defrauded and disconsolate . . .”) assembles scissor’d, torn, and juxtaposed fragments out of Hannah Edwards Wetmore (sister of Jonathan)’s “private writings.” Two couplets precede it:
That this book is a history of
a shadow that is a shadow of

me mystically one in another
Another another to subserve
So, a completely fugitive writing. Material and dispers’d. One looks hard at the words and pieces of words (think of Pound’s reporting how Gaudier-Brzeska, “so accustomed to observe the dominant line in objects,” found himself able to read Chinese ideographs by merely looking): collage as ideograph. Three fragments (three typefaces) stuck to a single page. I read a line across the page, sans-serif, twelve point or so:
distemper I was seized with it
Under it a line-space. Then turn’d ninety degrees, a tear-strip, smaller type, serif’d and narrow, with broken letters (some I supply, interpreting):
f all t
tle liv
v be t
  olet a
lor; fo
Under the tear-strip, bordering it closely, two-and-a half torn serif’d lines:
  opening the house-door, she stoo
d, hesitating wheter she ough
Flecks of indiscernibles. One reads illegibility itself—a kind of distemper, a turning against one’s materials—into the reading. In “The Disappearance Approach” Howe reports how Jonathan Edwards was “the only son among ten unusually tall sisters,” what Edwards’s father call’d his “sixty feet of daughters.” Howe:
The girls were tutored along with their brother (in some cases they tutored him) in theology, philosophy, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, history, grammar and mathematics. All except Mary were sent to finishing school in Boston. All married late for that period. Mary remained single in order to care for her parents and grandparents. The Beinecke Library in New Haven owns a vast collection of Edwards family papers. It contain letters, diaries, notebooks, essays, and more than twelve hundred sermons; but apart from a journal kept by Esther Edwards Burr (Jonathan and Sarah’s eldest daughter) after her marriage, and a few letters to and from the sisters, daughters, and Sarah, all that remains of this 18th-century family’s impressive tradition of female learning are a bedsheet Esther Stoddard Edwards probably spun and embroidered herself, Sarah’s wedding dress fragment, and several pages from Hannah Edwards Wetmore’s private writings—along with posthumous excerpts collected and transcribed with commentary by her daughter Lucy Wetmore Whittlesey.
Damningly calm. In another fragment, cut down the center, one makes out (under something about “whether the new earth, but lately drawn / [fr?]om heavenly ether retained still some elemen[ts?]): “in, will fail you like a Broken Tooth, or a foot out of joint.”

Susan Howe

Susan Howe’s That This
(Design by Leslie Miller)

Monday, January 24, 2011

“Trees are alphabets . . .”

Some Clouds

Weighing Barthes’s remark (out of Roland Barthes, under the rubric “Le démon de l’analogie ~ The demon of analogy”) how, for him, and contra Saussure’s “arbitrary (nature of the sign),” the bête noire of language is analogy. “Why? Because analogy implies an effect of Nature: it constitutes the “natural” as a source of truth . . . what adds to the curse of analogy is that fact that it is irrepressible: no sooner is a form seen than it must resemble something: humanity seems doomed to Analogy, i.e., in the long run, to Nature.” (And I recall, too, the upstart Charles Bernstein—out of “Stray Straws and Straw Men”—claiming high dudgeonly: “Natural: the very word should be struck from the language.” Though Bernstein entirely and immediately undercuts the remark by—“naturally”—repeating it, jabbing a finger repeatedly in the reader’s general vicinity, stomping out a tantrum, removing a Khrushchevean shoe and pounding it against the table, saying poetry is “constructed, rule governed, everywhere circumscribed by grammar & syntax, chosen vocabulary: designed, manipulated, picked, programmed, organized, & so an artifice, artifact—monadic, solipsistic, homemade, manufactured, mechanized, formulaic, willful . . .”)

Bernstein and / or Khrushchev
Barthes continues:
Whence the effort of painters, of writers, to escape it. How? By two contrary excesses, or call them two ironies which flout Analogy, either by feigning a spectacularly flat respect (this is the Copy, which is rescued), or by regularly—according to the regulations—distorting the imitated object (this is Anamorphosis).
Thus Dr. Williams’s “—Say it, no ideas but in things-- / nothing but the blank faces of the houses / and cylindrical trees / bent, forked by preconception and accident— / split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained— / secret—into the body of the light!” versus the high artifice where the rubber-clad wheels of constraint (of whatever kind) meet the temporary road and lay down an indiscernible patch amongst like indiscernible patches. Barthes:
Aside from these transgressions, what stands in beneficent opposition to perfidious Analogy is simple structural correspondence: Homology, which reduces the recall of the first object to a proportional allusion (etymologically, i. e., in the Edenic state of language, analogy used to mean proportion).
And one recalls Fourier’s “the passions are proportional to the destinies”—the whole world a correspondence. One thinks, peut-être, that the refusal of “the ‘natural’ as a source of truth”—that stand and dismissal—is precisely where “we” humans go wrong. (Barthes: “According to the Greeks, trees are alphabets.”) To be “doomed to Analogy, i.e., in the long run, to Nature”—isn’t there something to that correspondence—nature a function and variable of mankind’s “integral”—that’d combat the onerous failures of the rampant sauve qui peut-isms of singular artifice? Hunh.

A lovely thing out of Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller: Observations on the Works of Nikolai Leskov”:
      Leskov was grounded in the classics. The first storyteller of the Greeks was Herodotus. In the fourteenth chapter of the third book of his Histories there is a story from which much can be learned. It deals with Psammenitus. After the Egyptian king Psammenitus had been vanquished and captured by the Persian king Cambyses, Cambyses was bent on humbling his prisoner. He ordered that Psammenitus be placed on the road that the Persian triumphal procession was to take. And he further arranged that the prisoner should see his daughter pass by as a maid going to the well with her pitcher. While all the Egyptians were lamenting and bewailing this spectacle, Psammenitus stood alone, mute and motionless, his eyes fixed on the ground; and when presently he saw his son, who was being taken along in the procession to be executed, he likewise remained unmoved. But when he subsequently recognized one of his servants, an old, impoverished man, in the ranks of the prisoners, he beat his fists against his head and gave all the signs of deepest mourning.
      This story shows what true storytelling is. The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its energy and is capable of releasing it even after a long time.
And, out of the dedicatory letter of Ford Madox Ford’s Return to Yesterday:
      You will say that volumes of memories have no forms and that this collection of them is only a rag-bag. It isn’t really. The true artfulness of art is to appear as if in disordered habiliments. Life meanders, jumps back and forwards, draws netted patterns like those on the musk melon. It seems the most formless of things. . . .
      The excuse for setting down one’s life on paper—the only excuse—is that one should give a picture of one’s time. I believe that hardly anyone—and certainly not I—so lives that his personal adventures whether on the high seas or in criticism can be well worth relating. But certain restless spirits roll, as the saying is, their humps into noteworthy cities or into the presence of human notables. So, if one can keep oneself out of it, one may present a picture of a sort of world and time.

Ford Madox Ford, 1873-1939

Friday, January 21, 2011

How to Continue 9

Some Clouds

In Switzerland, approaching
death, Rousseau did
openwork lace pieces,
ornamentally white. Nietzsche
suggest’d we humans
turn’d scientific out
of lack of
subtlety. Ford Madox
Ford, who claim’d
nothing that Dante
Gabriel Rossetti did
matter’d “a damn,”
privately pictured him
sweeping inconstant fingers
over “the heart-
strings of innumerable
hearts,” calling out
the music within.
Clement Clarke Moore,
composing the Homeric
metaphor, “As dry
leaves before the
wild hurricane fly, /
When they meet
with an obstacle,
mount to the
sky . . .” likely recall’d
the Shakespearean tag
(out of Coriolanus),
“As weeds before /
A vessel under
sail, so men
obeyed and fell . . .”
What is literary

Barthes (out of the 1975 Roland Barthes, under the title “Lisible, scriptable et au-delà ~ Readerly, writerly, and beyond”):
In S / Z, an opposition was proposed: readerly / writerly. A readerly text is one I cannot rewrite (can I write today like Balzac?); a writerly text is one I read with difficulty, unless I completely transform my reading regime. I now conceive (certain texts that have been sent to me suggest as much) that there may be a third textual entity: alongside the readerly and the writerly, there would be something like the receivable. The receivable would be the unreaderly text which catches hold, the red-hot text, a product continuously outside of any likelihood and whose function—visibly assumed by its scriptor—would be to contest the mercantile constraint of what is written; this text, guided, armed by a notion of the unpublishable, would require the following response: I can neither read nor write what you produce, but I receive it, like a fire, a drug, an enigmatic disorganization.
And, under “Une société d’émetteurs ~ A society of transmitters”:
I live in a society of transmitters (being one myself): each person I meet or who writes to me, sends me a book, a text, an outline, a prospectus, a protest, an invitation to a performance, an exhibition, etc. The pleasure of writing, of producing, makes itself felt on all sides; but the circuit being commercial, free production remains clogged, hysterical, and somehow bewildered; most of the time, the texts and the performances proceed where there is no demand for them; they encounter, unfortunately for them, “relations” and not friends, still less partners; so that this kind of collective ejaculation of writing, in which one might see the utopian scene of a free society (in which pleasure would circulate without the intermediary of money), reverts today to the apocalypse.
Writings “clogged, hysterical, and somehow bewildered”? Writings writ in order “to contest the mercantile constraint of what is written”? Is Barthes’s receivable referring (avant la lettre) to the kind of unreadable “unpublishable” represent’d by items like Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget, &c. Why, in an era of completely demolish’d “mercantile constraint” (it is here, I am supplying these words freely), would such a receivable exist? Certainly one’s hard-press’d to see any utopianism in Goldsmith’s mechanical transcribings. Apocalyptical, but only laughably so. (Bourdieu’d surely offer one approach.) And, glancing through indefatigably log-rolling pages of Marjorie Perloff’s Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century (University of Chicago Press, 2010), one pictures Goldsmith giddy with the success of such compilations of hysteria. Perloff attempts at one point to bind a list of “Names of magasins de nouveautés” out of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcades Project to Goldsmith’s “work”:
Here the seemingly sober catalog of names looks ahead to the cataloging of such recent long poems as Kenneth Goldsmith’s No. 111 2.7.93–10.20.96, with its constraint-generated alphabetically organized syllable lists.
(Footnoting rather clumsily, and repetitiously, Perloff reduces the strength of the proposed Goldsmith connection to Benjamin’s famously unfinish’d Passagenwerk. She writes: “This encyclopedic poem collects all the phrases collected between the title dates that end in sounds related to the sound er (schwa), organized alphabetically by syllable count, beginning with one-syllable entries for chapter 1 and ending with the 7,228-syllable The Rocking Hose Winner by D. H. Lawrence.”) Perloff’s grander argument—attempting to determine the pulse of the era (or to direct it?) with so many contending arms waggling around (think of Kali, goddess of time and change)—seems design’d to match the ineffable dumbing-down of discourse un peu partout. After quoting the openings of several “famous American poems” of the “pre-Language” ( dirait-on) period, poems by Bishop, Ginsberg, Plath, James Wright, Levertov, and Ammons (“these are poems of strong individualistic cast: each has its own voice, its own discourse radius, that connects it to other poems by the same author”), Perloff writes:
Language poetry had as its explicit aim to oppose such “natura”l expressivist speech, such individual voicing and accessible syntax. But for the most part—and this has been insufficiently recognized—the poets . . . did accept their predecessor’s trust in invention, in the poet’s power to create unique parole from the language pool of the culture—a parole framed to resist what Adorno had defined as the culture industries. In the climate of the new century, however, we seem to be witnessing a poetic turn from the resistance model of the 1980s to dialogue—a dialogue with earlier texts or texts in other media, with “writings through” or ekphrases that permit the poet to participate in a larger, more public discourse. Inventio is giving way to appropriation, elaborate constraint, visual and sound composition, and reliance on intertextuality. Thus we are witnessing a new poetry, more conceptual than directly expressive . . .
Perloff then quotes Gerald Bruns’s pointing to a shift—he’s talking about John Cage’s “writings through” of Finnegans Wake: “linguistic competence, in which the subject is able to produce an infinite number of original sentences . . .” now replaced by “pragmatic discourse that appropriate and renews what is given in the discourse.” “Dialogue,” though, never ceased. One senses its new meaning chez Perloff is mostly scoop and deposit and run—the culture industry become the ground and means for a kind of self-satisfy’d busywork. And evidence of “a larger, more public discourse” is sorely lacking. (Margaret Fuller: “We shall have much communion, even if not in the deepest places.”)


Thursday, January 20, 2011

How to Continue 8

Some Clouds

Fill’d with up-
surges of vatic
oratory or its
pointedly fey accompanist,
mute and sybilline
desire, Mallarmé’s mardi
is not Melville’s
Mardi, I know
that. Zola’d commandeer’d
the Thursday slot.
Watery grog ordinaire
and a Chinese
pot of tobacco
offer’d the divagatory
musts and lathers
whilst a calico
cat sniff’d at
the noisy gas
jet and resumed
its presumptuous loitering.
‘Despotic bouquin!’ Mallarmé’d
shout suddenly, or—
en anglais—‘Tuesday
Weld!’ and off
he’d go, morose
and Orphic, trying
to fit all
the ‘pure rhythmic
motifs of being’
under a single
binding, a vice
laid out bare.

An hebdomadary of it, a drear continuity, teasing out one’s crude tendency for tedium and compleynte, looking at nothing straightly, dilatory and spurning: that’s probably enough of that. Considering, like Mallarmé, the writing merely the endrayghte (see the French endroit) wherein language finds itself performing. There’s that sort of helplessness, spruced up by the line. Baudelaire’d say, blunt and reptilian, ditching dogma, putting the writing at the source of history: “La poésie a existé, s’est affirmée, et elle a engendré l’étude des régles. Telle est l’histoire incontestée du travail human.” [“Poetry exist’d, assert’d itself, and engender’d the study of rules. Such is the uncontest’d history of human efforts.”] The writing. Edicts of an obsédé. Dog sniffing a pee-drill’d hole in the snow. And what if one were to change the “endrayghte”? To the solitary canary-color’d legal pad, to the dog-ear’d notebook? See William Blake (out of Jerusalem), that favor’d quote of Marshall McLuhan:
If Perceptive Organs vary, Objects of Perception seem to vary:
If Perceptive Organs close, their Objects seem to close also.
(Blake adds: “Consider this, O mortal Man: O worm of sixty winters . . .” putting a chill spin to the closing, ineluctable and fraught.) My machine’d percepts, light-writ. Where’s the unholy sting of earth, of solder’d and grommet’d tin helmets butting at the iron-studded oak door? Where’s the grit-lip curl of intaglio’d steel? We sail recondite and wobbling off the cliffs of our perpetuity, angling for the sun. The sun in the machine, its cursory spectre. Blake:
The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man; & when separated
From Imagination, and closing itself as in steel, in a Ratio
Of the Things of Memory, It thence frames Laws & Moralities
To destroy Imagination, the Divine Body, by Martyrdoms & Wars.
Even the laws (les régles) refuse the adjudicatory trappings, run afoul, heed the daily word-itch (la dictée quotidienne). Blake, en plus:
When this Verse was first dictated to me I consider’d a Monotonous Cadence like that used by Milton & Shakspeare & all writers of English Blank Verse, derived from the modern bondage of Rhyming, to be a necessary and indispensable part of Verse. But I soon found that in the mouth of a true Orator such monotony was not only awkward, but as much a bondage as rhyme itself. I therefore have produced a variety in every line, both of cadences & number of syllables. Every word and every letter is studied and put into its fit place; the terrific numbers are reserved for the terrific parts, the mild & gentle, for the mild & gentle parts, and the prosaic, for inferior parts; all are necessary to each other. Poetry Fetter’d, Fetters the Human Race.
Feeding the cataleptic inertia (that “modern bondage”) with words, uxorious words, a uncontrolled-blowback op. Helplessness in the choked interstices of history. No clearings made (wherein to scratch lollingly at pensivity’s bothersomes) beyond these rabid and clockwork “heapings up.” That’s the contagion. Mallarmé (out of a letter to Eugène Lefébure, 17 May, 1867):
My work was created only by elimination, and each newly acquired truth was born only at the expense of an impression which flamed up and then burned itself out, so that its particular darkness could be isolated and I could venture ever more deeply into the sensation of Darkness Absolute. Destruction was my Beatrice.
That’s the crucible. Suffering a “terrible choking spasm” (8 September, 1898), Mallarme, thinking it’d “return during the night and finish me,” wrote a letter wherein he instruct’d the burning of “the heap of my notes, fifty years’ worth . . . since not one sheet will be of any use.” It did.

Stéphane Mallarmé, 1842–1898

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Continue 7

Some Clouds

Stunning the number of books un-
consumed, stack’d against my sun-
set years, my futurity of
genial camaraderie. (Lenin says: The
end result excuses all manner
of ruthlessness.
) The metaphysical distance
approaches like a dog barking
in its sleep. (I am
a member of the bicycle
battalion.) A two-fist’d adherent
to the “gaga and sinister” breach
of the arbitrary: style is
a mask, and a masque.
(Lenin says: No revolutionary practice
without revolutionary theory.
) You can
eat without me.

Damnably consumed by the quotidian, stretch’d out ineluctably against the rack of chores. I see a few lines of Pound’s opening in medias res (“And then went down to the ship . . .”) of the Cantos serves up an Homeric nod in Mathias Énard’s Zone (Open Letter, 2010). Sleepy in the skew’d light of morning’s six o’clock I think of signaling (some kind of) epic intent with “And then went down . . .” tout court. That kind of surrender to my own sly idiocy: a temper for the day. Thumbing (my days of merely thumbing, hardly a surface-rending thing) something of Marianne Moore’s, finding—in one of the La Fontaine fables:
An aptitude for art, birthright of ancient Greece,
Made fables possible, and we have some of these.
Even so, irrespective of what we have read,
A few gleanings may still be harvested.
Given the wilderness of fancy anywhere,
Every author finds himself a discoverer.
In La Fontaine’s French:
L’Invention des Arts eſtant un droit d’aîneſſe,
Nous devons l’Apologue à l’ancienne Grece.
Mais ce champ ne ſe peut tellement moiſſonner,
Que les derniers venus n’y trouvent à glaner.
La feinte eſt un païs plein de terres deſertes.
Tous les jours nos Auteurs y font des découvertes.
A kind of apology for Moore’s own method sunk precisely in the seventeenth century fabulist’s work. Nobody reads Moore’s La Fontaine (meaning, “certainly not me”), assigning it to a falling-off period, a period of routines and procedures (one thinks of Moore herself, ask’d by Donald Hall about writerly “professionalism”—she’d written somewhere that, in America, Wallace Stevens seem’d the “one artist whom professionalism will not demolish”—replying that writers “sometimes lose verve and pugnacity . . .”) Indubitably. Evidence of late un peu partout. Or one thinks of Philip Guston, in the 1978 “Talk at ‘Art / Not Art?’ Conference” (out of Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations):
Failure is always around, waiting. It has always been mystifying to me, why, on a lucky day, the images do take hold, grip, and there is no urge to clear it off. This temporary satisfaction, very temporary, is always a surprise to me. Then a sort of chronic restlessness enters the studio and you begin again.
“Chronic restlessness” fitting to a T. (“You can eat without me.”) Guston, in the next paragraph, detailing to what extent professionalism (the “official”) ’s led to art-making’s purge of failure—its singular human residue—itself:
Regarding the general situation in art today […] I haven’t really too much to say. It has become official, obviously; it is so insured against failure, against bad painting, against risking. But something must be wrong somewhere, because there is this overwhelming success and at the same time such an overwhelming apathy. Everyone knows about art, except the artist. He, it seems, must find out not about art, but how to stay on the treadmill . . .
And: “. . . we don’t even recognize the extent to which we are victims of the institutionalized art which is all around us. Nor how often we check ourselves.” Which is probably one honorable argument for plopping one’s subjectivity into a musette bag and riding slunk-shoulder’d out into the gloaming. Away. Into the omphaloskepsickal non-continuousness (a prairie term). One risks a kind of doctrinal poop adhering to one’s amateur flashings out of the constant perspicaciousness required by (the result of) the daily writings. (I think helplessly of Nick Adams saying to Marjorie in “The End of Something”: “It isn’t fun any more. Not any of it.”) Though, too, that very helplessness triggers a kind of inveterate thrill—blend’d with recklessness. Of course it is fun. I write out the slapdash adamancy of my slow upheaval, the only “writing through” I know, or care a single pin to know.

Marianne Moore and Jean de La Fontaine

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How to Continue 6

Some Clouds

Okay, goodbye!

Okay, goodbye floribunda . . .

I put down “Okay goodbye!” and examine it with all the mandarin severity I can muster, mentally loading it up with cartoonesque flourishes, exclamatory marks splenetic or jocular, unabash’d or mean. I long to strip away the lingual preening, make it beastly—a rag, a tool, a mitt—and apt (think of Isaac Babel saying, “A simile must be as precise as a slide rule and as natural as the smell of dill”). Goodbye gas station, goodbye ambulance, goodbye light socket, goodbye shoe . . . I read Mallarmé (“Le Mystère dans les Lettres”):
The privileges of purity would, this time, be at the mercy of base buffoons.

Every piece of writing, outside its treasure trove, must, out of respect toward those whose language it borrows, after all, with an objective quite other, offer by way of words, a meaning, even a nondescript one: this brings the advantage of heading off the person of leisure, who will be enchanted to find that there is nothing in it to bother him, at first glance.
Thus James Tate, in Viper Jazz (1976), begins a piece call’d “A Radical Departure” with: “Bye! // I’m going to a place so thoroughly remote / you’ll never hear from me again.” Mere shtick and buffoonery. (Mallarmé: “if it weren’t for the alarm produced by a certain underlying shimmer, difficult to disconnect from the surface granted to the retina—it arouses suspicion: astute members of the public, demanding that the matter be cut short, opine, in all seriousness, that, exactly, the tenor of it makes no sense.”) Ah, floribunda and skint! Allow’d a smidgen of “sense” one is unstoppable. (Stein, in “Composition as Explanation”: “I naturally made a continuous present an including everything and a beginning again and again within a very small thing. That started me into composing anything into one thing.”)

I belch loudly and turn to Flaubert: “There are in me, literarily speaking, two distinct persons: one who is infatuated with bombast, lyricism, eagle flights, sonorities of phrase and the high points of ideas; and another who digs and burrows into the truth as deeply as he can, who likes to treat a humble fact as respectfully as a big one, who would like to make you feel almost physically the things he reproduces; this latter person likes to laugh and enjoys the animal sides of man . . .” Long shabby intervening period of puzzling through some lines of Mallarmé where he suggests that “writing—in itself an absurd, senseless game—is the arrogation by human beings, in virtue of a doubt—the drop of ink related to the sublime night—, of some duty to remake everything . . . in order to aver that human beings are happy and doing what they ought [on est bien là où l’on doit être] (for—please allow me to express this apprehension—an uncertainty persists).” (Flaubert, again, famously: “What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the strength of its style, just as the earth, suspended in the void, depends on nothing external for its support; a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.”)

Rummaging, encore through Guston materials. I find a 1956 Robert Creeley note (“Philip Guston: A Note,” originally in Black Mountain Review) wherein anxiety coughs itself up (encore): “Care, it seems, comes from several words, among them the Anglo-Saxon caru, cearu (anxiety) and the Old Saxon kara (sorrow).” And, rather confusedly:
I think—in that denseness of anxieties, and sorrows, like a nightmare world, of forms which are all exact and there, yet not the forms? What are the forms, one says. It is not possible that one should not arrive at them. Somehow not to be accidental, not even enough or too much ‘accidental.’ No one understands, but some know. It is a very articulate determination which can, at last, “. . . take care / by the throat & throttle it . . .” with such care.
Creeley’s rewriting, oddly enough, the end of Robert Duncan’s poem for Denise Levertov, “For a Muse Meant” (out of Letters (Jargon, 1958) with its list of Gustonesque items: “2. a nude tree / 3. a hot mouth (smoking) / 4. an old saw (rusty edge) / 5. a copy of the original . . .”):
      For a Song of the Languagers

What are the signs of life? the breath, pulse,
    the constant
sluffing off of old stuff in
                creasing, increasing—
            Notes:     to hesitate, retract.
                Step by
                                                  / to be idiot-awkward

                                                        to take care
    by the throat & throttle it.

                Bottle that genius
        for mere magic or intoxic

        It is sober he stumbles
            on truth? Hell, no—
        this he sober gnaws
        the inconsequential
                  eternity of his skull.

        His appetite is not experimental.
“Sluffing off of old stuff” originally reading “sloughing off of old disguises . . .” (in a letter to Levertov). Inconstant and “idiot-awkward”—c’est moi. (Think of Sartre’s Flaubert: L’Idiot de la famille . . .)

C’est moi, floribunda.

Philip Guston, “Anxiety,” 1975

Philip Guston, “Reverse,” c. 1979

Philip Guston, 1913–1980

Monday, January 17, 2011

How to Continue 5

Some Clouds

Anxiety in the hock
shop retrieval: is that
the Marine Corps dress
blues jacket I left
under consignment at Aux
Puces circa 1969? Kierkegaard
writes: The doubter is
like a lash’d top.
He remains upright only
whilst the throttling continues,
unable to stand erect
without it.
And Kafka
puts forth the necessity
of “a goal to
which one makes one’s
way by undergoing every
kind of unhappiness.” Weekend
of wheedling the Vibe
along the snowy roads,
keeping to the black
tracks of the eighteen
wheelers. Anxious, out of
angĕre to choke. Harold
Rosenberg in 1966:
To mention anxiety is to arouse suspicion of nostalgia or of a vested interest in the past, if not of a reactionary reversion to the middle class notion of genius suffering in a garret.
Today one chokes on the preternatural un-troubledness of it all, the ease of its conveyance as it carries one exactly nowhere—just another rudimentary “construct,” a jalopy of cahoots. Rosenberg rightly insists that “the uneasiness of art in the face of its own situation was not adopted by artists as a manner, in the way that one adopts a leather jacket or a hairdo that covers the eyes”: “Anxiety was forced upon art as the experience that accompanies the rejection of shallow or fraudulent solutions.” And the ever-vacillatory Philip Guston, quoted in Dore Ashton’s Yes, but . . .: A Critical Study of Philip Guston:
I remember days of doing “pure” drawings immediately followed by days of doing the other—drawings of objects. It wasn’t a transition in the way it was in 1948, when one feeling was fading away and a new one had not yet been born. It was two equally powerful impulses at loggerheads. I would one day tack up in the house a bunch of pure drawings, feel good about them, think that I could live with them. And that night go out to the studio to the drawings of objects—books, shoes, buildings, hands, feeling relief and a strong need to cope with tangible things. I would denounce the pure drawings as too thin and exposed, too much “art,” not enough nourishment, and as an impossible direction with no future. The next day, or day after, back to doing the pure constructions and to attacking the other. And so it went, this tug-of-war, for about two years.
To reject the merely processual, to re-insert the irreducibly human. Out of Bill Berkson’s terrific collection For the Ordinary Artist: Short Reviews, Occasional Pieces & More (BlazeVox, 2011), a piece call’d “From the Guston Papers”: “(To speak of stopping ‘when the emotion runs out.’)” And: “Dagwood’s Inferno.” And: “A cache of circumstances. Composition need not apply.” And:
Journal 3/11/61: “It’s like the fable of some last judgment. You want to say this is what I’ve done, good and bad, do you get it? But the line is so long you’ll never get to be judged anyway.” (P.G.) A visit to Philip Guston’s studio: weight in the air—different from the buzz or frenetic space of other painter’s lofts, and not exactly business-like as others’ beside, not oppressive either—the feeling you could talk there and, hearing what you’d say, you’d be surprised. INTEGRITY—in big block letters.

“What’s wrong with feeling bad?” (P.G.)
How oddly that ancient human-sized bell sounds in the current “milieu.” Finally (“finally”?—a mustering of the inevitable is all one every manages), there’s Guston writing to poet and novelist and critic Ross Feld, included in the 1978 “Talk at ‘Art / Not Art?’ Conference” (out of Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations):
I have recently done a painting which continues to baffle me, a highly desired state. I admit vacillating between trying to explain, or not to. Here are some thoughts then on a matter which should perhaps not be talked about at all. I also think the only real things to talk about are not possible to talk about. The painting might well say, “What do you want from me? I'm only a painting. Let me be.” . . . I know this may sound too circular, but it is here—precisely—where the mystifying area in creating enters. For, if, as I believe, one is changed by what one does—what one paints—continuous creation can be furthered only in time. That is, to maintain the condition of continuity—or as we might put it, the subversion of an intolerable finality. Not to do so would be to enter the wax-works museum, which is comic and hilarious—a sort of mock death. Further in refusing this wax-works state, one is propelled to make what one has not yet made, nor seen made. What one does not yet know how to make. I must say though, that to dwell overly much on this unknown character of time, in art, may be inutile. Perhaps we are not permitted to know more than we do know.
(Rosenberg’s anxious art object talks, too: “Am I a masterpiece,” it must ask itself, “or an assemblage of junk?”) And “naturally” enough (though hardly invariably), we do know. Done with novelty-grabbing, aloft in the contingencies of brute history, sailing (wings unfetter’d by the kundalini upsurge of some kind of primal sap), we wring the human out of the veriest blue of the sky. Off days we “pioche away” with heads beneath blankets (a condition of our blackout and sour industry), formulaic, spading, mitigants to the pervasive restlessness amok partout.

William Gass Paint’d by Philip Guston

Philip Guston, “Painter’s Forms II,” 1978

Philip Guston, 1913–1980
(Photograph by Arthur Swoger)

Friday, January 14, 2011

How to Continue 4

Two Doors

Entirely in the moment without
the tug of memory,
glory curtain, that low simplicity,
that facile lapse out of
irresolvable vacillating gist. The moment
undeter’d by abatement or stricture,
the green apple that green
apple, possibility of no other.

Battling time’s exigencies, the blank slate of sleep, &c. Philip Guston, out of “Statement in The New American Painting” (in Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations), whence the “tug of memory” line:
      It is not always given to me to know what my pictures “look like.” I know that I work in a tension provoked by the contradictions I find in painting. I stay on a picture until a time is reached when these paradoxes vanish and conscious choice doesn’t exist. I think of painting more in terms of the drama of this process than I do of “natural” forces.
      The ethic involved in “seeing” as one is painting—the purity of the act, so to speak—is more actual to me than pre-assumed images or ideas of picture structure. But this is half the story: I doubt if this ethic would be real enough without the “pull” of the known image for its own “light,” its sense of “place.”
      It is like the impossibility of living entirely in the moment without the tug of memory. The resistance of forms against losing their identities, with, however, their desire to partake of each other, leads finally to a showdown, as they shed their minor relations, and confront each other more nakedly. It is almost a state of inertia—these forms, having lived, possess a past, and their poise in the visible present on the picture plane must contain the promise of change. Painting then, for me, is a kind of nagging honesty with no escape from the repetitious tug-of-war at this intersection.
(See Frank O’Hara’s “[Statement for The New American Poetry]”: “My formal ‘stance’ is found at the crossroads where what I know and can’t get meets what is left of that I know and can bear without hatred.”) (See, too, Ford Madox Ford’s notes “On Impressionism” (“a thing altogether momentary”):
It is . . . perfectly possible that a piece of Impressionism should give a sense of two, of three, of as many as you will, places, persons, emotions, all going on simultaneously in the emotions of the writer. It is, I mean, perfectly possible for a sensitised person, be he poet or prose writer, to have the sense, when he is in one room, that he is in another, or when he is speaking to one person he may be so intensely haunted by the memory or desire for another person that he may be absent-minded or distraught. And there is nothing in the canons of Impressionism, as I know it, to stop the attempt to render those superimposed emotions. Indeed, I suppose that Impressionism exists to render those queer effects of real life that are like so many views seen through bright glass—through glass so bright that whilst you perceive through it a landscape or a backyard, you are aware that, on its surface, it reflects a face of a person behind you. For the whole of life is really like that; we are almost always in one place with our minds somewhere quite other.
Ford writes of wanting to “attain to the sort of odd vibration that scenes in real life really have”—kin to Guston’s objects whose “poise in the visible present on the picture plane must contain the promise of change.” How to continue, how to keep the tension (“time’s exigencies” versus “blank slate of sleep”) contradictory and vif? Ford’s “odd vibration” produces—he notes—“something that is very like a Futurist picture—not a Cubist picture, but one of those canvases that show you in one corner a pair of stays, in another a bit of the foyer of a music hall, in another a fragment of early morning landscape, and in the middle a pair of eyes, the whole bearing the title of ‘A Night Out.’ And, indeed, those Futurists are only trying to render on canvas what Impressionists tel que moi have been trying to render for many years.”)

Or, desuetude in the orchard,
the two horses nickering and munching
the slightly under ripe wind-
fall, the barn expiring into
pre-weather’d board lengths, neglect
running the palm of its
dirty hand up under recovery’s
wont’d shirt. Hounds chorusing out
beyond the soybean fields, running
a rabbit to its hole.
Empty socket of earth unbung’d.

Ford Madox Ford, 1873-1939

Philip Guston, “Painting on Floor,” 1978

Philip Guston, “Painting on Floor,” 1978

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Continue 3

Two Doors

Ford Madox Ford (out of “Pound and How to Read,” reprint’d in Brita Lindberg-Seyersted’s Pound / Ford)
      Writing as it today is practised is—consciously or unconsciously—a sort of pointillisme. You put point beside point, each point crepitating against all that surrounds it. That is what Ezra means by “charged” words. They are such as find electricity by fiction with their neighbours. That was the Flaubertian device—the Flaubertian trouvaille. Before anyone discoverable in the corridors of the literature that preceded him, he perceived that words following slumberously—obviously—the one the other let the reader’s attention wander. . . .
      Properly considered, single words in themselves have no magic beyond possibly that of a certain euphony . . . no solitary word can be much “charged.” On the other hand when you put two or three together they come to life—or die.
      So much I take it is generally accepted. It is when you come to the larger aspect of the conjunction of phrase with phrase, sentence with sentence, paragraph with paragraph that the matter becomes more obscure. That is finally the tyranny of the subject—of the idea. The whole of bouvard et pécuchet, as of madame bovary and éducation sentimentale, is one long protest against ideas following one on the other slumberously. . . .
Ford, spelling out New Sentence lineage—pre-New Sentence—for Pound. (Recall the provincial Silliman, never one to look beyond history’s momentary mud, blandly asserting: “The sole precedent I can find for the new sentence is Kora in Hell: Improvisations and that one far-fetched.” And: “I am going to make an argument, that there is such a thing as a new sentence and that it occurs thus far more or less exclusively in the prose of the Bay Area.”) (“Exclusively” proved exactly right.) Later Ford points to the “utter execrations”—of the untutor’d, the young, the American—fulminated “against the personality rather than against the technique of Flaubert” and remarks presciently: “That is how, fashions progressing, new markets are created.” Remarkable, seeing how relentlessly “achieved” (though now rather impropitiously” oversaturated) that particular “lingual” market’s proved to be.

Ford Madox Ford and Ezra Pound in Rapallo

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How to Continue 2

A Wall

Zonal tubers, flea-
bane, a requiem
for Hacienda Marv’s
Mock Relish, defunct.
Arm’d with some
anachronism like plum-
butter, he mingled
with the boys
who lent savvy
histrionics to what’s
subsequently become known
as “the occasion”
by belting out
a few choruses
of Gypsy, c’est
moi . . .
“Ten million
supple-finger’d gods.”
“Bluff’d not by
drain-pipe, gasometers . . .”
The plangency of
trying to see
time’s own brute
materiality in grease
congealing the off-
white color of . . .

Snot, one’d say, or sperm. (Where is it someone in Shakespeare shouts out a “Fie, painted rhetoric!”) Reading around in the new Philip Guston Collected Writings, Lectures and Conversations (University of California Press, 2011): here’s something out of a conversation with Clark Coolidge:
cc:     . . .that’s a quality of the act of painting, to get something down. Everything that’s in the sense of that phrase. To make it stay there. To stop it, in a sense. Like that book, to make it be there. Maybe that’s part of the original impulse for making a mark at all. To have a part of yourself, an act of yourself, be on the world.

pg:     That’s right. Well, there’s something I think I’ll probably constantly keep vacillating or wavering between, movement and no movement. I think it’s true of my whole past, as far as I know my past, to be fascinated by the one and the multitudinous. Sometimes I’ll put a lot of forms into a picture and think: Why do I need all that? I really don’t need this multitudinous feeling of forms. The world is filled with multitudinous forms. I really am looking for one form, a static form, from which the multitudinous forms come anyway. Like that bulging book we’re looking at now. . . . There just something about having a single form which is there in a space. There’s no movement to speak of, visually. It’s just there, and yet it’s shaking, like throbbing, or burning or moving, but there’s no sign of it’s moving. Now that book, I may be reading my things into it that other people don’t see, but I don’t think so.

cc:     No, I see what you mean. It’s vibrating.

pg:     It vibrates! In other words, it’s like nailing down a butterfly but the damn thing is still moving around. And this seems to be the whole act of art anyway, to nail it down for a minute but not kill it. That’s what I mean. Whereas in the act of painting sometimes, when I don’t feel so all together, and I want to keep in motion, I’ll paint movement. I mean, I’ll just put down a lot of things. And finally that doesn’t satisfy me, and I always wonder why it doesn’t satisfy me. But it doesn’t sum it up for me. There’s no need for it. That is to say, instead of painting all those forms moving around in the pictures—what the hell, I could just as well pull up the shade and look out the window on the street. Why do I have to do it? I don’t have to do it on canvas, but I want to do what nature doesn’t do. I mean, I can look out and see trees blowing, wind moving, and things are happening. I don’t have to duplicate that. But what I don’t see is a single form that’s vibrating away, constantly, forever and ever and ever to keep vibrating. And that seems to be magical as hell, enigmatic as hell, really. Gee, I never said that before, that way. Now that book is really moving. . . .
“Languorously agitating.” Is there a little of O’Hara’s “Personism” in here, a work “evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity”? “While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem . . .” A single form, like a single word:
A word Horace McCoy slaps defiantly down mid-course in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948)—“even when you are asleep you possess a kind of propliopithecustian awareness that enables you to know and very acutely feel certain things”—referring, likely, too, to how “when I don’t feel so all together, and I want to keep in motion . . .” So one does, continuing, vibratory, throwing it out (or down)—

                . . . So co-
sign’d, affably, against
the unsinew’d petulance
of dispersal’s curt
shrug with a
word like grass
put down against
the moment, its
prodigious quiver into
a penury spent.

Philip Guston, “Gladiators,” 1940

Philip Guston, “The Stone,” 1965

Philip Guston, “Book,” 1968

Philip Guston, “City,” 1968

Philip Guston, “Untitled (Tree),” 1971

Philip Guston, “Summer,” 1980

Philip Guston, “Untitled,” (1980)

Philip Guston, “Untitled,” (1980)

Philip Guston, 1913-1980
(Photograph by Steven Sloman)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Good Title

A Wall

Makes perfect sense, coming to it athwart: how one is, in a relentless age, unable to determine if one’s undergoing a crise de foi (or a crise de foie, that peculiarly French affliction, call it “un ensemble de manifestations digestives et neurologiques sans gravité, tels des vomissements et des maux de tête”—thank you, M. Michel Houellebecq, born Michel Thomas) or is simply too busy of late to deliver. No god or gauntlet abounding: lassitude and listlessness mark’d by finicky (that combo of cheerless and meaningless and precise) industry. Ford Madox Ford, born Ford Hermann Hueffer, refers to the function of the poet as “that psychical suckling of fools, and metaphysical chronicling of small beer”: of late, between chores, one’d prefer to suckle the small beers and read Ford. Though Ford’d counsel a more apt disposal (reviewing George Saintsbury’s A History of English Prosody in The English Review in 1909):
      Any philosophic student of the history of music will tell you that the study of counterpoint exists, not to teach counterpoint, but first to eliminate those whose sacred fire will not carry them through a period of arduous labours. Secondly, it teaches the composer how to break its own laws. The English composer of to-day is trained, if perfunctorily; so, too, the English artist. Even the English dramatist understands that he must learn something of stage-craft. It is only the writer who considers that all that goes to the making of a book are the pen in his hand and the vine-leaves in his hair. Professor Saintsbury is providing us with a treatise on the harmony and counterpoint of English verse.
      The English language is the perfect vehicle of poets; as a medium for prose it is too vague and too rich. The ideal paragraph in French prose is a framed set of facts which move us on account of the precision of the language. The best paragraph of English prose is a rhythm of words of poetic association. Hence it arises that the most exquisite statements of fact in the English language are to be found in blank-verse speeches.
So one labours, deigns to continue labouring, with an eye toward keeping the limbs “supple.” (Rampant be the lack of souplesse.) Yesterday, briefly succumbing to the machine, collecting a few pieces out of stray books (in the manner of Walter Abish writing 99: The New Meaning—“not actually ‘written’ but orchestrated”—that is, appropriating materials, 99 pieces out of 99 works by 99 authors—each lift’d off “a page bearing that same, to me, mystically significant number 99”), I collect:
Nothing surprising here—except one word: esperienza, “experience.”

Reading it would be deadly boring.

With no need to be lifted by art out of the nondescript general case because never for a second inhabiting it.
And it is evident (in the few select’d) how directly I am fighting the exercise. (Abish’s odd numbering system records the numbers of words select’d: I mimic that.) Wouldn’t I rather mock the Perma-Prest trou and arrange (and re-arrange endlessly) whatever tiny lyrical firings burst forth out of “my” “self” “churlish like a kite” and with “the coltish look of Anouk Aimée, born Françoise Sorya Dreyfus”? Yeah. “The Histrionics of a Get” would be a good title.

Ford Madox Ford and Anouk Aimée

Thursday, January 06, 2011

X’d Out

Some Clouds

The kind of thing one is (or, used to be) warn’d against: scooping here and there, “joyning or disjoyning” the intelligibles in a de-contextual romp. Et maintenant? We all do it, unthinkingly. Mash-up extravagance and pulp. The conventions: insouciant seamlessness (or its rakish paramour, steamy ragamuffin-ry, rags and stitches); “dead to rights” ambuscades of innocents (il n’y en a pas); disarming amateurishness; The Registry® with its product code; déjà recumbent sexuality (or “up, brutal, spouting” like a boxer, or a dancer); pitiable “no nature” chicanery (as if no coyotes slink just downwind, slavering and anticipatory); bookishness in a world increasingly “bereft” of books. Contravenings: none.

One walks to work under the snow-dirty’d sky, incipient gobs of the stuff unbolt’d and descending songless and grim out of the upper reaches, ripcords pop’d, just sailing. . . Thinking: “my cogito’s broke.” Thinking: “expression is the need of my soul . . .” Restlessness’s unherald’d Mehitabel. Thinking: “ununoctium is probably not a noble gas.” Thinking (Benjamin): “The quotations in my works are like robbers lying in ambush on the highway to attack the passerby with weapons drawn and rob him of conviction.” How I love Paul Valéry’s “Je suis l’instable.” And, too, “Le moi est la réponse instantanée à chaque incohérence partielle—qui est excitant.” Self-evident intent short-circuiting itself: the sky lifting itself up—on all fours, hind end first, like a shaggy tick-rid dog—“against” the stable array of its own flung-off snow. Thinking: is Valéry’s spout there (out of Monsieur Teste) merely a reprise of Rimbaud’s nonchalant (and twice-toss’d forth) “Je est un autre”? (Rimbaud to Georges Izambard, May 13, 1871: “Je est un autre. Tant pis pour le bois qui se trouve violon.” I is another. Too bad for the wood that finds itself a violin. Rimbaud to Paul Demeny, May 15, 1871: “Je est un autre. Si le cuivre s’éveille clairon, il n’y a rien de sa faute.” I is another. If the brass wakes up a bugle, it’s not its fault.) Vatic heebie-jeebies under the stern stare of the gods. Roaring about nothing in a world plug’d full of such roaring.

In The Warbler Road (Flood Editions, 2010), under the title “Dendroica, Forêt Humide,” Merrill Gilfillan writes:
The Vancouver Island rain forest is such a towering closed system of such imposing scale it seems almost to levy an unexpected silence on its smaller creatures within the sun-streaked, dark, Jules Vernesque beauty of its hold. It is the hushed, fey, concentration of the banana slug rather than the exultant chorus you would find in a less specialized temperate woodland, and it makes one pause and strain to imagine the fierce matrimonial din of the tree-frog music in these same quarters in early spring.
The vacillatory clutch, desire ineffably bending to one’s lack. With the usual unrenderable fluster of inordinance and excess, one thinks to admire that “hushed, fey, concentration”—counter to the din one just now exult’d in. Counter to that high-strung rope bridge one sought to run along with it unbraiding behind . . . One longs for the limit’d, the closed system’s mete imposings. Ah, for sluggardry and ensconcement unreft! Some fortifying “hold” beyond mere vagary. “To banysh ryot, idlenes, ruffianynge, vagabuncie &c.” The noble gases under standard conditions: “odorless, colorless, single-atom’d, with low reactivity. Formerly call’d inert.” Bah. Off tomorrow. . . Semarang, Larnaca, Aden, Harar.

Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The H.D. Book Notes 2

Some Clouds

Robert Duncan, under “Eros” in The H.D. Book (University of California Press, 2011): “The work, the ground, and Eros lie at the heart of our study here. The work itself is the transformation of the ground.” Poetry is “a Making . . . the opus alcymicum”: its “rhymes”—results—being “correspondences, workings of figures and patterns of figures in which we apprehend the whole we do not see.” Duncan puts Psyche and Eros to work in a drama that “determines, beyond individual consciousness, the configurative image of a species”—presumably the work itself. Thus: “the would-be poet stands like Psyche in the dark, taken up in a marriage with a genius, possessed . . .” (Whence cometh, one thinks, Duncan’s 1987 Ground Work II: In the Dark) Duncan nods to an exemplary Williams (out of Paterson), “where Madam Curie works the pitchblende”:
by the hour, the day, the week
to get after months of labor     .

a stain at the bottom of the retort
without weight, a failure, a
nothing. And then, returning in the
night, to find it                 .
And—finessing a little, the way contextual thievery finesses—quotes Williams writing (in Paterson, too), “Knowledge, the contaminant.” The upshot: a story of “Making” that is rampant with Romanticism writ big, Keats-style. See, say, Keats’s letter to Benjamin Bailey of 22 November 1817 wherein he talks of “the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination” and points to “the probable mode of operating in these Matters”: “The Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth . . . I have never yet been able to perceive how any thing can be known for truth by consequitive reasoning.” And: “the simple imaginative Mind may have its rewards in the repeti[ti]on of its own silent Working coming continually on the spirit with a fine suddenness.” (See, too, certes, the “fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge”—early copyist (and sole source apparently of that particular letter) John Jeffrey, a Scot in Kentucky marry’d to the penniless Georgiana Keats, widow of Keats’s brother George, had it writ “insolated verisimilature”—and who’s to call him wrong, Keats in the clutch of mystery scribbling away “without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.”) (I find Keats’s reference to “Adam’s dream”—apparently out of Book VIII of Paradise Lost—a little confusing: for earlier (Book V) Milton puts “Fansie” in hock to Reason’s “joyning or disjoyning”—
But know that in the Soule
Are many lesser Faculties that serve
Reason as chief; among these Fansie next
Her office holds; of all external things,
Which the five watchful Senses represent,
She forms Imaginations, Aerie shapes,
Which Reason joyning or disjoyning, frames
All what we affirm or what deny, and call
Our knowledge or opinion; then retires
Into her private Cell when Nature rests.
Oft in her absence mimic Fansie wakes
To imitate her; but misjoyning shapes,
Wilde work produces oft, and most in dreams,
Ill matching words and deeds long past or late.
Mimic “Fansie” seems the “contaminant” here.) Duncan’s insistence that poetry-making occurs “in the dark”—“beyond individual consciousness”—isn’t it akin to A. R. Ammons’s stance of gain through loss (what he call’d “keeping oneself a little stupid”)? See something like the extraordinary little piece call’d “Offset”:
Losing information he
rose gaining
till at total
loss gain was
extreme & invisible:
the eye
seeing nothing
lost its
(that is a mere motion)
fanned out
into failing swirls
slowed &
became continuum.
A Romanticism that posits the self at the center only to flood it with knowing in a transformatory move that irrevocably disperses it “throughout” (“continuum” or “the whole we do not see”). [Long period of perplexity and stubbornness. Looking to “knowings” in Ground Work.] Out of Duncan’s “The Dignities” (one of the series of “Passages”):
Blesst the black Night that hides the elemental germ,
the Day that brings the matter to light and its full term.
For goodness’ sake we’ll snuff the candle out and turn again to dark,
for there the spark occluded rests most     firm bright flower of what we know,     bonny fleur,
your seed returns to work in what we cannot know.

The smallest particle vertiginous exceeds the Mind.
And, later: “we but follow a beckoning in measure haunted // ‘without actually performing any true computation at all’.” And, later (Keats’s “in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts” is call’d forth, part of the necessary “demeure” or lodging): “Wisdom as such must wonder for sortilege is all.” Duncan divinatory insistence kin to Ammons’s Emersonian eye. [One begins to assume Duncan’s cape, promissory and vague, admitting, too, that “weaving is necessary as I go, to keep many threads and many figures so that every thread is central and every figure central to threads and figures, with none coming to its conclusion but leading further into the process . . .”]

Robert Duncan, 1919-1988