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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

And Energy to Carbonize Diamonds

i like these ideas. and i'm mostly in accordance. many vantages must be pursued, surveyed, many veils must be lifted to find the right bride. in his poem "the lost hotels of paris," gilbert wrestles with this idea of language's ability to successfully express while being finite and mutable:

"Ginsberg came to my house one afternoon
and said he was giving up poetry
because it told lies, that language distorts.
I agreed, but asked what we have
that gets it right even that much.
We look up at the stars and they are
not there. We see the memory
of when they were, once upon a time.
And that too is more than enough"

i'm quite dazzled by his harmony and grace at answering this question of our own inexactness and the inexactness of words themselves. of course we are empowered. it's not recognizing that empowerment that causes a dissonance, a separation of the interpretor, the interpreted, and the outgoing message. these are profitable thoughts.

and as we have spoken before, these thoughts now--right now--need to have an exact power, movement, dynamism. "engagement" as hoagland said "is the success of a poem." how to be engaging and dramatic without gimmick or fancy.

how to create art that is its own solar panel, its own sense of creation, and nourishment. its energy must be a system borne to serve it. requiring the work of the artist, and most importantly, the work of the dislocated, silent viewer and listener.

but these are only thoughts of craft--not action. we must be fascinated and obsessed by the ability to assemble the car ourself, put it on the lot, sell it--even then the car must start, must have utility and purpose--long after we have created it.

we must also be concerned with maintaining the car, facilitating its longevity. action, action, action. rimbaud, berryman, bender, manning, pound, o'hara, bruce smith, bukowski, jarrell, w. owen, jeffers, d. young, lerner even, and eliot even, these are a short list of harnessing energy and releasing it in tempests.

beware of dog! i'm not going to make love to you all day, i'm going to fuck you till the thighs and buttock and tongue and triceps will no longer support the act. till we sleep and dream of being soft again with each other. there is a place for strength and softness. tristan, the eternal lover and child of all sadness, holding a sword and a harp. this fight is until you cannot stand, then crushing the esophagus and the skull.

we can talk philosophy and jargon all 25 hours of every day, but in the 26 hours of night, when we're all alone and stranded, we will have to fight for ourselves, we'll have to beat down every last one of ourselves. no punches pulled, no tooth left attached.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fear in the Face of Death is the Best Sign of a False Life

World War I tethered Wittgenstein's perspective to an ethical pivot, an elliptical center that moved between mysticism and logic, religious revelation to scoured insight. For instance, he explores both determinism and free will within the same domain when he corrects his statement ""I am completely powerless" to the form which later appeared in Tracatus, "The world is independent of my will." The L A N G U A G E poets argue for an honest portrayal of the opacity in language by creating a poem with an esoteric and opaque meaning, though the "language" used be a transparent symbol of that opacity. This movement derives from the public perspective and public involvement in the wars of the twentieth centuries. Yet, positioning this contemporary perspective, "like an eye in its visual field" of world events proves difficult. The problem with L A N G U A G E poets is that they position themselves in the untenable position of absolute knowldege. They argue from a school of "resentment" that chastises the lack of transparency in the world, in language, in meaning. Yet, this arguement derives from an initial assumption that language should be transparent, that one should not have to search for meaning, but have it available, an ominpresent transcendental signifier which T.V. should have represented. Surely, the degree of misinformation in today's media and advertising blitzkrieg vacates a role of accountability and distracts one's eye from the certainty of where that accountability lies; accountability proves an absent office of authority which ranges from the non-transparencies of the mechanisms at work in our daily lives to the revolving wheel of justice on display on television - the occasional crime caught on tape to reassure the systems are working properly. Yet before L A N G U A G E poetry submerged itself in the methods of meaning, I wonder what the precepts for meaning initially were. I despise this question, but it is universal:

What do i know about god and the purpose of life?

But Wittgenstein continues:

I know that this world exists.

Wittgenstein excludes absolute knowledge of the God's existence. Though he doesn't question life, he excludes it.

That I am placed in it like my eye in its visual field.

That something about it is problematic, which we call its meaning.

That this meaning does not lie in it but outside it.

Ok. Ok. I prefer the view of Wittgenstein as poet above anything else. He's certainly abstract, yet the logic is so forceful, it illuminates your own world view, rearranges your eye's apperature, allows a range of focus not felt prior to the reading of his work. I believe poetry must move in the same form, just as Perloff observes is the case in contemporary poetry. Yet, I want to return to rhythm and crop the crutch on linebreaks and let leave what wants to limp off page. I desire a change in my own writing beyond that of manipulating form, but as an arguement in the precepts of meaning, our need for it, and how our desires, mistaken as needs, renavigate us from a holistic, cosmological view of humility and to moths in streetlamps satiate in their proximity to stars. I'm searching hard for a place to start. Next time I promise more a balance between poetry and philosophy, and hopefully more of both.