Friday, January 25, 2008

Asking a Stop Sign for Directions - More Anthropomorphism

Imagery and Imagination. In the chinese flim, "Not One Less", school children - already in full military salute - prepare to sing the national anthem to the flag in their dusty playground outside the 45 year old school, but the moment before they begin singing the Mayor points out that the flag is missing. The teacher usually puts it up there and the teacher is gone, the children explain. The mayor retrieves the dust ridden flag and unfurls it up the shabby wooden pole, uneven and with stubs of pruned branches protuding the surface. They sing of taking bullets for their threatened China.

The point is this: they are not at all moved by these images. It is routine and they have no prior experience with which to assiociate the nouns. At the end point of the movie, supplied with enough chalk to write their own colligraphy on the board - a single word only - they choose the simplest words, all nouns (except for the bright one that kept a diary - dilligence) as Piaget would predict: sky, blue, happiness, water.

These images are deep images, the brand of poetry introduced (by term) by Robert Kelley in his article "Notes on the Poetry of the Deep Image". He writes (an excerpt from All Poets Welcome: Lower East Side....)

I read FLOATING WORLD as an attempt to plot a series of points [images], the poems and translations printed, to surround an implicit definition of the powers of the deep image. Rothenberg's first volume, WHITE SUN BLACK SUN has just been published...the collection is...a happening in itself: the appearance of a demand for a new set of concerns in poetry, the appearance of a cogent movement in a new direction.

Ukiyo, or the Floating World is a term used to describe many aspects of life, including - but not limited to - the pleasure-seeking lifestyle and culture of Edo Period Japan. 1600-1867

That new direction was Robert Bly and James Wright. Particularly monumental was Wrights, "The Branch Will Not Break" (what a title!) and "Shall We Gather at the River", from which I've sent you all emails. But for posterity's sake:


i want to be lifted up
by some great white bird unknown to the police
and soar for a thousand miles and be carefully hidden
modest and golden as one last corn grain,
stored with the secrets of the wheat and the mysterious lives
of the unnamed poor.

A prayer to the lord ramakrishna

the anguish of a naked body is more terrible
to bear than god
and th rain goes on falling.


when i stand up to cry out,
she laughs.
on the window sill, i lean
my bare elbows.
one blue wing, torn whole out of heaven,
soaks in the black rain.


blind, mouth sealed, a face blazes
on my pillow of cold ashes.


i kneel down, naked, and ask for forgiveness.
a cold drizzle blows into the room,
and my shoulders flinch to the bone.
you have nothing to do with us.
sleep on.

Before I analyse the poem to death, I want to first state the goals of poetry, which I think we can agree on, and then from there, discuss how to do it - or how these poems accomplish it. From Bloomsbury Review's Interview with Morton Marcus.

That evocation of experience through language is all important to the way I conceive of the art of poetry. Jack Gilbert once told me (and this is not a direct quote) that of all the different levels we think a poem may contain, the only important one is the first level, because if the reader isn’t engaged, if his interest isn’t aroused and held by the first level of the poem, he won’t give a damn about whatever other levels, implications, suggestions, or whatnot the poem may contain. I call that first level the entertainment level, and out of Jack’s comment I evolved an idea that the excitement, and let us not forget the joy, of the poem for the reader is the awareness, however unconscious initially, of simultaneous meanings occurring as he reads the first level of the poem–what I call the "resonances" a poem generates. Actually, the first level is the only level in this definition, and if I remember correctly, Jack hated talking about the different "levels" of a poem.

To describe more forcefully what I mean by "resonances," let me give the example I give my students. I ask them to picture the poem as a giant gong that when struck vibrates so intensely, it visually seems to shiver into a number of gongs. To put this in the context of your question, the language of the sleight-of-word performer who entertained the audience has set in motion in their minds and hearts the plethora of suggestions, speculations, feelings states, and ideas that almost all serious poets intend in their work.

Ok. ok. Discuss and disagree. I have alot more to say about the subject, but have to get ready for work.

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