Gematria (2): 14 Stations, with Arie Galles

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 10:52 AM 0 comments





The First Station: Auschwitz-Birkenau

now the serpent:

I will bring back
their taskmasters
crazy & mad

will meet them
deep in the valley
& be subdued

separated in life
uncircumcised, needy
shoes stowed away

how naked they come
my fathers
my fathers

angry & trembling
the serpents
you have destroyed

their faces remembered
small in your eyes,
shut down, soiled

see a light
take shape in the pit,
someone killed

torn in pieces
a terror, a god,
go down deeper


A NOTE ON 14 STATIONS. The full series of fourteen poems was written to accompany Arie Galles's monumental charcoal drawings derived from World War II aerial views of the principal Nazi extermination camps - each with an attendant railroad station - known even then to have been the sites of holocaust. As Galles worked from documentary photographs to establish some pretense at distance (= objectivity), I decided to objectify by turning again to gematria as a way to determine the words and phrases that would come into the poems. The counts were made off the Hebrew and/or Yiddish spelling of the camp names, then keyed to the numerical values of Hebrew words and word combinations in the first five books of the Bible. It was my hope that this small degree of objective chance would not so much mask feeling or meaning as allow it to emerge.

The full set of drawings & poems (also drawn in charcoal by Galles) can be found at http://www.chgs.umn.edu/museum/exhibitions/absence/artists/aGalles/index.html, and the poems without drawings appear in my two books, Writing Through (Wesleyan University Press, 2004) and Seedings, & Other Poems (New Directions, 1996). An earlier posting on gematria appeared in this blog on July 8.

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with Jeffrey C. Robinson

THE BEGINNINGS OF AN ETHNOPOETICS

Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas’d and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon,
Of the deform’d, trivial, flat, foolish, despised,
Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung
.


-- Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself

If it was the century after that finally produced a fullblown ethnopoetics – & the fullness even now is far from complete – the earlier nineteenth-century openings coincided with the Romantics’ search for new origins, an inheritance in turn from the generations that immediately preceded theirs. Something had happened – Enlightenment or Revolution or, on its more doubtful side, Imperium – that brought other worlds into view & put the inherited past into question. It was a measure of the new liberty & the new science that what had long been lost or repressed or concealed now came to surface. The first openings here were to ancient European & Mediterranean worlds & then to traditional worlds, both ancient & contemporaneous, outside the European orbit. (At the same time Europe in its old & new guises was impacting the worlds of the others.) In an age filled like all ages with contradictions, the search once begun was twofold: on native grounds toward sources for a new national literature, and in the larger world an awakening to a transhuman inheritance that put the narrow nationalisms into question. Alongside the official ideologies that shoved European man to the apex of the human pyramid, there were some artists & thinkers who found ways of doing & knowing among other peoples as complex as any in Europe & often virtually erased from European consciousness. As the nineteenth century progressed, cultures described as “primitive” & “savage” – a stage below “barbarian” – were simultaneously the models for political & social experiments, religious & visionary revivals, & forms of art & poetry so different from European norms as to seem revolutionary from a later Western perspective. It was almost, looking back at it, as if every radical innovation in the West were revealing a counterpart – or series of counterparts – somewhere in the traditional worlds the West was savaging. In this way originality – often taken as a marker of Romanticism – returned to a sense of origins from which the word derived.

What follows, then, is a selection of what could be taken as old, originary – whether in an actual past or in a fictive present disguised & (mis)interpreted as timeless. The unsealing of languages (ancient, occulted) moved apace: Sanskrit, Egyptian, Sumerian, Mayan, came to light along with their attendant literatures. In a line with these were new recoveries from the Western foundational languages – Greek, Latin, Hebrew – & first translations from classical literatures outside the West as such. The result was not only literary shock for those who sought it, but the raising of heretical & gnostic ghosts, banished for centuries, & the translation & dissemination of sacred texts – Hindu, Buddhist. Islamic, etc. – on an unprecedented & rapidly expanding scale. And at the same time poets & others continued an engagement with unwritten poetries & with folk & dialect traditions closer to home.

On the level of science a new anthropology arose, still closely linked to a poetics; dreamworks before Freud & the Surrealists laid the groundwork for the construction of an originary energy toward a full imaginative life; & biological/ecological breakthroughs by Charles Darwin & others that brought the totality of the living world into a dance of origins. In the pages that follow, then, some prominence is given to the translators and compilers of the originary works (Sir William Jones for Sanskrit, E.A. Wallis Budge for Egyptian, Edward Fitzgerald for Persian, Daniel G. Brinton for Aztec, & so on), with a recognition of the force of their constructions & retellings, but with no intention to diminish the independence & power of the works themselves.

[From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, which Jeffrey Robinson & I have co-edited for the University of California Press. The book itself is scheduled for publication in January 2009 with an expectation of advance copies in November or December. “A Book of Origins” is one of its principal sections, with over twenty separate entries. For further information check the following URL: http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10540.php. Earlier excerpts from Volume 3 appeared on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, July 13, & July 21.]

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[The interview, from which this short excerpt is taken, was conducted by Rodrigo Garcia Lopes for the Brazilian journal Medusa just as the last century was winding down. Translated & published in Portuguese, it hasn’t appeared in its original English version until now, but will be part of my forthcoming book of essays, Poetics & Polemics, scheduled for October publication in the University of Alabama Press’s Modern and Contemporary Poetics series. For which, see http://www.uapress.ua.edu/UACatalog_FW2008.pdf ]


In the last years, several anthologies of contemporary American poetry have appeared. "From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990"; "Postmodern Poetry: A Norton Anthology"; "The Heath Anthology of American Literature"; "American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators & Outsiders: An Anthology"; as well as yours (& Pierre Joris's) "Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry.” 1) Why is there this urge to anthologize at this end-of-century? 2) In a recent interview, Brazilian poet Haroldo de Campos rejected the term "postmodern" as applied to poetry: "We are still in modernity", he says, "only if we accept that Mallarmé is already
post-modern in relation to Baudelaire". To critics such as Jameson, postmodernism points to an emerging & different cultural logic. Do you believe in a postmodernism in terms of poetry & poetics? 3) How would you place "Millennium" within the context of this debate?

There’s “this urge to anthologize,” as you put it, & then there’s my urge to anthologize, which has been going on for some time now. (Since the 1960s, to be exact.) And one can easily say that the end of a century – in this case a millennium as well – is always a retrospective occasion. But the three anthologies you mention in particular – Messerli’s, Hoover’s, & mine & Joris’s – also represent the public (re)appearance of a certain kind of work after a period of time in which that work was grossly under-represented. Earlier – in the 1960s & 1970s – there had been a blossoming of experimental & avant-garde gatherings – what I’ve spoken of elsewhere as manifesto-anthologies. The memorable ones from my perspective were Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry, Emmett Williams’ An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, & the Fluxus-oriented Anthology edited by LaMonte Young with assistance from Jackson Mac Low. The success of the Allen book in particular encouraged larger publishers to open up to the new poetries – in my own case Doubleday & Random House, who were the publishers of Technicians of the Sacred, Shaking the Pumpkin, A Big Jewish Book, & America a Prophecy, all of them works within a single ten-year period. All of these books of course had a range outside the present, but the pasts that they represented were heavily colored by a sense of radical transformations of poetry & poetics, & were presented along with later & very experimental contemporary works. And in the 1980s – even as the larger publishers were pulling back from manifesto-anthologies – the so-called Language Poets were able to use the anthology as a means for manifesting & displaying their own new departures.

By the 1990s – against a backdrop of cautious instructional anthologies – an underground constituency had built up – a relatively large group of writers & readers in search of works to represent & to update the changes since the 1960s. While middle-ground poetry asserted itself, the take-over was far from complete, & many of us, who had come into some form of public place, found that we were able to act – Douglas Messerli through his own Sun & Moon Press, Paul Hoover through convincing the arch-middle stream publisher Norton that a big “postmodern” anthology was needed, & Pierre Joris & myself through an arrangement with a major university press. (To these I would also add Eliot Weinberger's American Poetry Since 1950, which appeared in both a North American & a Mexican [Spanish] edition.)

Let me say a little, then, about Poems for the Millennium before responding to your question on postmodernism.

Both Pierre & I had been living with a sense that what we valued most in the poetry of our time – what we shared with many others – had been almost systematically omitted from, or marginalized in, the anthologies & literary histories then current. This was true not only for the immediate present but for the near past – in shorthand terms, not only for “post”modernism but for the modernism that came before it. The great movements from the early part of the twentieth century, for example. While we cherished the work of individual, even solitary, poets, we wanted to bring the larger movements back into the picture: Dada & Surrealism, Futurism, African & Caribbean Negritude & the work of the North American “Objectivists.” These we felt were missing elsewhere, & with their absence, there was also missing a sense of poets engaged with their own self-definition as artists & as the makers of their own poetics. The mix of poetry & poetics was something we worked to bring out – & the sense of poetry being the center of a program, a proposition or a set of propositions working in the public sphere. And writing in the United States – now, at the turning of the century & the millennium – we also thought it vital to insist (again) on the global dimensions of modern & “post”modern poetry – following several decades of insistence on the centrality & hegemony of a presumed “American moment.”

In doing this we brought the distinction between “modernism” & “postmodernism” into the subtitle of our book. Here there was an advantage – chronologically – in distinguishing one half of the twentieth century from the other. But we made it clear – as I have always done, I think – that we saw a continuity between the two halves – sometimes oppositional, at other times developmental. My own first encounter with postmodernism (I will now leave out the quote marks around post) came in the mid-1970s – a written interview, much like this, with the critic & editor William Spanos. At that point, certainly, I felt myself to be a part of an ongoing poetic revolution – “post-nuttin” [post-nothing] as Jackson Mac Low once put it – & felt postmodernism to be a critic’s term & not a poet’s. (None of the poets I knew at that time spoke of themselves in any such way.) So I insisted – & would continue to insist – that postmodernism was an ill-defined term because it depended on a prior definition of modernism, & that such a prior definition was still up for grabs. Over the years – as postmodernism became a part of our time &, still undefined, a part of our vocabulary – I became more prone to use it & to use it as an extension in particular of one form of early modernism – the more experimental & overtly revolutionary – that was often in conflict with the institutionalized version still current then & now. And I came to believe that modernism & postmodernism were like some kind of twin birth – closely related & ready, always, to call each other’s birthright into question. For this I would frequently cite Tristan Tzara’s statement in the days of Dada: “You are mistaken if you take Dada for a modern school, or as a reaction against the schools of today. ... Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of an almost Buddhist religion of indifference. ... The true Dadas are against Dada.”

That was postmodernism as I could use it, & that was postmodernism too in relation to your previous question. I believe that something like that was what De Campos had in mind when citing Mallarmé & Baudelaire; & I would want to extend it, say, to Tzara & Mallarmé, & then to the work of my own generation in relation to Tzara’s, & that of some further generation in relation to ours. Still, it would be better to do without those terms.

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(Nnnnn N ghan) because I was the boy raised ing the dawn & nnnn but some there are mine all (ghan) & some (gwing) there 're mine there

(Nnnn N ghan) & in the howse the bluestone home & mmmrrrr but some there 're mine all (ghan) & some (gwing) there 're mine there

(Nnng N ghan) & in the howse the shininggwingNdghan & some there are mine all (ghan) & some (gwing) there 're mine there

[Total translation from Navajo by Jerome Rothenberg: The 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell, opening lines]






































A NOTE ON IAN TYSON

While I’ve been able to publish the texts of my “total translations” from Navajo in a number of different venues, the images, above, that Ian Tyson created for the first edition (The 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell X-XIII, Tetrad Press, 1969) have rarely been seen in the intervening years. That work came early in what would become a forty-year collaboration, but I’ve recently come to write about it in retrospect. The following, from the catalogue for a joint exhibition a couple of years ago, is an indication of what he was then into with relation to my work.

I had begun by the late 1960s a work in ethnopoetics that would bring me into the experimental translation of American Indian poetry, largely but not exclusively derived from song texts. The first collaborative piece to emerge from that was a large pamphlet/broadsheet derived from an Aztec description (a lexical definition, in fact) of the ceremonial & private uses of flowers. The verbal piece, which I in turn had mined from Bernardino de Sahagún’s sixteenth-century Florentine Codex, was a cataloguing of repetitive & parallel declarative sentences that rose at times to crescendo. In the resultant piece,
Offering Flowers, the words on the left are pulled toward the image on the right by cross-bars of a large “F” taken from the title, & the image itself (in orange, black & white), while it’s still composed on the grid, is allowed dramatic bursts, like clusters of squared-off flowers, pathways, stairs, in a manner reminiscent of pre-Columbian design or, as he writes of it, “rather like an embroidery pattern.”

From the “more explicitly illustrated,” almost fluid flower image, he went in
The 17 Horse Songs of Frank Mitchell to a group of much more austere, more minimal pieces. The poems here were “total translations” of four of the seventeen Navajo songs, which I took as sound-poems & to which his images related in a more general way than before – an accompaniment rather than a mapping of the infrastructures. The principal response to the structure (this time of the songs over-all) was in the choice of color (white & blue) suggested by the alternation of blue & white objects (turquoise, whiteshell [abalone], etc.) in the systematically paired horse songs themselves. Tyson’s designs kept an American Indian feeling, akin to Navajo sand painting & even closer – as with the Aztec flowers – to native weavings. And along with this there was also a sense in which the form of his images might be thought to represent, in line with the underlying mythological narrative, “a ‘going through’ portals to the sky, to obtain and bring back the horses.”

[From “Ian & Me – A Collaboration,” in J.R., Poetics & Polemics, University of Alabama Press, Modern & Contemporary Poetics Series, scheduled for publication later this year.]

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for Hanon Reznikov

From EUREKA, A PROSE POEM

… the poetical essence of the Universe

[1] PREFACE

To the few who love me and whom I love -- to those who feel rather than to those who think -- to the dreamers and those who put faith in dreams as in the only realities -- I offer this Book of Truths, not in its character of Truth-Teller, but for the Beauty that abounds in its Truth; constituting it true. To these I present the composition as an Art-Product alone: -- let us say as a Romance; or, if I be not urging too lofty a claim, as a Poem.

What I here propound is true: -- therefore it cannot die: -- or if by any means it be now trodden down so that it die, it will “rise again to the Life Everlasting.”

Nevertheless it is as a Poem only that I wish this work to be judged after I am dead.

[2] AN EXCERPT

If the propositions of this Discourse are tenable, the "state of progressive collapse" is precisely that state in which alone we are warranted in considering All Things; and, with due humility, let me here confess that, for my part, I am at a loss to conceive how any other understanding of the existing condition of affairs, could ever have made its way into the human brain. "The tendency to collapse" and "the attraction of gravitation" are convertible phrases. In using either, we speak of the reaction of the First Act. Never was necessity less obvious than that of supposing Matter imbued with an ineradicable quality forming part of its material nature -–a quality, or instinct, forever inseparable from it, and by dint of which inalienable principle every atom is perpetually impelled to seek its fellow-atom. Never was necessity less obvious than that of entertaining this unphilosophical idea. Going boldly behind the vulgar thought, we have to conceive, metaphysically, that the gravitating principle appertains to Matter temporarily -–only while diffused -- only while existing as Many instead of as One -–appertains to it by virtue of its state of irradiation alone -–appertains, in a word, altogether to its Condition, and not in the slightest degree to itself. In this view, when the irradiation shall have returned into its source -–when the reaction shall be completed -–the gravitating principle will no longer exist. And, in fact, astronomers, without at any time reaching the idea here suggested, seem to have been approximating it, in the assertion that "if there were but one body in the Universe, it would be impossible to understand how the principle, Gravity, could obtain": -–that is to say, from a consideration of Matter as they find it, they reach a conclusion at which I deductively arrive. That so pregnant a suggestion as the one quoted should have been permitted to remain so long unfruitful, is, nevertheless, a mystery which I find it difficult to fathom.

It is, perhaps, in no little degree, however, our propensity for the continuous -–for the analogical – in the present case more particularly for the symmetrical which has been leading us astray. And, in fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be depended upon with an almost blindfold reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe – which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems. Now symmetry and consistency are convertible terms: – thus Poetry and Truth are one. A thing is consistent in the ratio of its truth – true in the ratio of its consistency. A Perfect consistency, I repeat, can be nothing but a absolute truth. We may take it for granted, then, that Man cannot long or widely err, if he suffer himself to be guided by his poetical, which I have maintained to be his truthful, in being his symmetrical, instinct. He must have a care, however, lest, in pursuing too heedlessly the superficial symmetry of forms and motions, he leave out of sight the really essential symmetry of the principles which determine and control them.

That the stellar bodies would finally be merged in one – that, at last, all would be drawn into the substance of one stupendous central orb already existing – is an idea which, for some time past, seems, vaguely and indeterminately, to have held possession of the fancy of mankind. It is an idea, in fact, which belongs to the class of the excessively obvious. It springs, instantly, from a superficial observation of the cyclic and seemingly gyrating, or vorticial movements of those individual portions of the Universe which come most immediately and most closely under our observation. There is not, perhaps, a human being, of ordinary education and of average reflective capacity, to whom, at some period, the fancy inquestion has not occurred, as if spontaneously, or intuitively, and wearing all the character of a very profound and very original conception. This conception, however, so commonly entertained, has never, within my knowledge, arisen out of any abstract considerations. Being, on the contrary, always suggested, as I say, by the vorticial movements about centres, a reason for it, also, – a cause for the ingathering of all the orbs into one, imagined to be already existing, was naturally sought in the same direction -–among these cyclic movements themselves.

Thus it happened that, on announcement of the gradual and perfectly regular decrease observed in the orbit of Enck's comet, at every successive revolution about our Sun, astronomers were nearly unanimous in the opinion that the cause in question was found – that a principle was discovered sufficient to account, physically, for that final, universal agglomeration which, I repeat, the analogical, symmetrical or poetical instinct of Man had predetermined to understand as something more than a simple hypothesis.

This cause – this sufficient reason for the final ingathering – was declared to exist in an exceedingly rare but still material medium pervading space; which medium, by retarding, in some degree, the progress of the comet, perpetually weakened its tangential force; thus giving a predominance to the centripetal; which, of course, drew the comet nearer and nearer at each revolution, and would eventually precipitate it upon the Sun.

COMMENTARY
with Jeffrey C. Robinson

The highest order of the imaginative intellect is always preeminently mathematical; and the converse. (E.A.P.)

The reception of Poe on the French side was, as we know, far greater than on native grounds, & whether they got it right or wrong, there is no doubt but that they got it. For there is with him, far more than with most of his postromantic contemporaries, the sense of a new opening & of possibilities imbedded in language & mind that he or others will make it their business to explore, whether achieved or not. Placing him in the penultimate spot in his radical study of poets & others thinking & writing “in the American grain,” William Carlos Williams wrote as an isolated act of rehabilitation: “On him is FOUNDED A LITERATURE – typical, an anger to sweep out the unoriginal, that became ill-tempered, a monomaniacal driving to destroy, to annihilate the copied, the slavish, the FALSE literature about him: this is the major impulse in his notes.” And Baudelaire, who devoted himself to extensive translations from Poe, both the verse & fiction, & to a number of biographical & critical assessments, described him as “the man … who throughout a life that resembled a tempest with no calm, had invented new forms, unknown avenues to astonish the imagination, to captivate all minds desiring beauty.” To which he added: “Diderot, to choose one example in a hundred, is a red-blooded author; Poe was a writer of nerves, and of much more – and the best writer I know.”

Poe’s advocacy of a poetics based on near mathematical precision & absolute verbal condensation – or so he hoped – was accompanied by a devotion to the fantastic (often too to what Jean Paul called the humoristic) & by a life & temperment that prefigured the poéte maudit & the “decadent” & symboliste writings of the later nineteenth century, where his poetic stature outside the U.S. remained strong. (See, for example, Mallarmé’s memorial sonnet (tombeau) & André Breton’s assessment of Poe as a Surrealist forunner [“a surrealist in adventure”] & as a master of what Breton elsewhere named “black humor.”)

(2) Working between genres, Poe was quick to realize that the boundaries of poetry didn’t stop at the border with prose, & while his sense of the “lyric” drew him toward the intense single moment (the meaning-charged fragment as a carry-over from Romanticism) & to a rejection of the “long poem,” his own long prose work Eureka (1848) – devoid of any resemblance to “poetic” diction – was for him not only an extended essay on cosmology & his excursus into scientific speculation, but, as he specifically named it, “a prose poem.” In one of the more daring/dazzling moves of the nineteenth century he effectively erased, beyond the work of other or earlier practitioners, the longstanding boundaries between poetry & prose.

AN ADDENDUM. The extract, above, from Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3, is newly dedicated to Hanon Reznikov (1950-2008). Following the death of Julian Beck in 1985, Hanon was for many years the co-director with Judith Malina of The Living Theater & a powerful creative force in his own right. His last projected work, Eureka: On the Origin of the Cosmos is based on Poe’s prose poem & will open on October 1 at the Living Theater’s new space on the Lower East Side. In his “redefinition” of the Theater Hanon wrote:

To call into question / who we are to each other / in the social environment of the theater, // to undo the knots that lead to misery, // to spread ourselves across the public's table / like platters at a banquet, // to set ourselves in motion / like a vortex that pulls the spectator into action, // to fire the body's secret engines, // to pass through the prism / and come out a rainbow, // to insist that what happens in the jails matters, // to cry "Not in my name!" at the hour of execution, // to move from the theater to the street / and from the street to the theater. // This is what The Living Theatre does today. / It is what it has always done.
Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, is scheduled for publication in January 2009. Further excerpts have appeared here on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, & July 13.

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BABEL

“Let us go down and confuse
their language

so we may distinguish
the people
from our thoughts.”

*

Can it be true
that the baby is afraid

his wish
to gobble us up

has been realized
already?

*

Hard to say
since we’ve thrown our voice

into the future
and the past


COMMENT

The first two lines of this poem are quoted from the Genesis account of The Tower of Babel. The rest of the poem is a dialogue with God, the speaker of those lines – a dialogue in which, I confess, I freely put words in His mouth. I also taunt him. So maybe I am playing the role of Satan. I just now realized that. No wonder so many bad things have been happening to me!

Babel, not previously published, will appear without the terminal “comment” in Versed, Armantrout’s next book from Wesleyan University Press.

* * *

[The following is my abridgement of an essay/talk by Armantrout, published last year in Collected Prose by Singing Horse Press, where it can be read in its entirety – that & much else.]


CHESHIRE POETICS


My statement of poetics is going to be a personal narrative of sorts. I spent my twenties (during the 1970’s) in the Bay Area—at one of the origin points for what came to be known as “Language poetry” and I am, of course, one of the people associated with that group. Most of you know that—but when you know that, what do you know? This group is as varied, as diverse as any poetic school you can think of. So I want to look farther back—at what first drew me to poetry. When I was a teenager I was given an anthology, and the poets I most loved there were William Carlos Williams and Emily Dickinson. So I was drawn to poems that seemed as if they were either going to vanish or explode—to extremes, in other words, radical poetries. But how do we define “radical?” Perhaps by how much is put at risk in the text, how far the arc of implication can reach and still seem apt. But so much rides, as always, on that word “seems.” Is a writing radical when it risks being wrong, when it acknowledges our wrongness? I think my poetry involves an equal counterweight of assertion and doubt. It’s a Cheshire poetics, one that points two ways then vanishes in the blur of what is seen and what is seeing, what can be known and what it is to know. That double-bind. But where was I?

I was saying that I discovered Williams (and the other Imagists) early on and was very much moved by them. By what, though? I would say now it was by their attempt to make the object speak, to put things in dialogue with mind and somehow make them hold up their end of the conversation. This is both an important project and a doomed one. The world enters the poem only through a kind of ventriloquy. Thing and idea don’t really merge, as the poets themselves knew. That red wheelbarrow is essentially separate from the “so much” that depends upon it. But there is so much poignancy in that gap! It is as if the Imagist poet wants to spin around suddenly and catch the world unaware, in dishevelment, see it as it is when we’re not looking. And how can we not want that?

* * *

My earliest published poems were minimalist and neo-Imagist. A good example would be “View.”

Not the city lights. We want
—the moon—

The Moon
none of our own doing!

Looking back on it now, I see an exacerbated form of the doubleness which interested me in [a poem like] Williams’s “Attic” [discussed earlier in her talk]. “View” has not only two meanings, but two dissonant meanings. On the one hand, “we” (an already suspect first person plural) want to see the moon as separate from our own activity (a bit of the world caught unawares). On the other hand, our yearning is framed by deflating clichës. To want the moon is to want the impossible. Our thrust toward the non-human moon can’t escape the gravity of received language. The purportedly single voice of the nature lover and the words of a somewhat cynical crowd seem to collide.

So this is a poetics of collisions and overlaps, contested spaces. The border of the public and private is just such a contested space. To use dream imagery in a poem, for instance, is to expose something private, but what if a recent film inspired the dream? As I have become increasingly conscious of such contested spaces and the voices that articulate them, my poems have become somewhat longer and more complicated.

The concept of voice has long been associated with poetry. We all hear voices, on the radio, in the newspaper, in memory. As Whitman says, “I contain multitudes.” As Satan says, “My name is legion.” Various voices speak in my poems. I code-shift. I am many things: a white person, a working class person with roots in the South, a woman, an academic of sorts, a ’60s person who still likes rock and roll, someone who was raised on the Bible, a skeptic, etc. My voices manifest their own social unrest. In the last decade or so, academics have been raising the question of who speaks in literary works, who speaks and for whom. There is a contemporary poetry which enacts these same questions. Consider my poem, “The Creation.”

Impressions
bribe or threaten
in order to live.

Retreating palisades
offer
a lasting
previousness.

·

Let us
move fast
enough, in a small
enough space, and
our travels
will take first
shape, then substance.

·

In the beginning
there was measurement.
How much
does self-scrutiny
resemble mother-touch?

·

Die Mommy scum!

To come true,
a thing must come second.

In the third and fourth stanzas, a Biblical voice and the voice of scientific reason overlap in a farcical attempt to account for origin. In the final stanza, a third voice, apparently that of a child, breaks in. This voice seems to have a more immediate authority. But the last statement, “To come true/a thing must come second,” while it may sound true, also makes truth secondary. Such declarative statements have a “truth-effect,” like a false bottom, which gives way on second thought. There is, in fact, no voice which can be trusted in this poem. Mine is a poetics of the double take, the crossroads.

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A Note and Poem for Jean Pierre Faye and "Change"

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:17 PM 0 comments
I came into the orbit of Change, the magazine & the collective, in the early 1970s – a visit to Paris that Mitsou Ronat, who had spent some time in California, arranged for me. There was then what I remember as a close relationship between Change & Action Poétique – both interested, certainly, in what I & other American poets were doing – & there were gatherings that brought the two together, one or two that I attended in a bookstore on St. André des Arts. It was also on that visit that I gave a reading – the first I had ever done in Paris – at Jacques Roubaud’s apartment on Rue de la Harpe. I was then living on an Indian reservation in western New York state, & for some time before I had been translating & working on traditional American Indian poetry. That led me to perform some poetry in a way that was apparently new for Paris (& new for me as well) – shaking a Seneca Indian horn rattle & chanting other songs translated or composed by what I came to call “total translation” from Navajo. But the most important thing for me was that I came to meet a number of French poets & active writers who brought me into areas of contemporary work & thought that I hadn’t known before.

The times then were askew, as they have always been during our lives, & Change within those times was a miracle or a part of a miracle shared with projects from around the world that I came to know & in which I was able to participate. Jean Pierre Faye was one of my principal guides here – as I hope I was for him – & in his presence & in those of others who became good friends & comrades-in-poetry (& in life), I felt for the first time the truly international character of the work that we were doing. Through him & the Collectif Change, with its self-identification as “le mouvement du change des formes,” my first book in French (Poèmes pour le jeu du silence) appeared 1978 in Christian Bourgois’ Collection Change Sauvage.. I also acted as American correspondent for Change & for Change International, its short-lived successor, & Jean Pierre cooperated with me on New Wilderness Letter, my own magazine of the late 1970s & early 1980s. (The name “New Wilderness” stares out at me from the cover of Change 36, the issue that took as its subtitle “S&T [Set] International.)

For me Jean Pierre Faye’s relevance was & remains that of a poet, a talent & an occupation that forms the living center from which the rest of his work emerges. That work, because he is so much a poet, has a wholeness that brings together poetry with a real poetics & with a complex philosophical, linguistic & historical consciousness & conscience – a stance-toward-reality (to use Charles Olson’s term) that forms the link between the “change des formes” (now further realized) & the still projected change of life & language that continues to elude us. In all of this it was our common ambition to cross boundaries of nation & mind – a move (as he put it in the manifesto for Change International in 1983) toward “une circulation entre les forces de culture de pays différents … [et] une approche sans frontières de lieux ou de thèmes”.

The poem printed below & newly dedicated to him & to our common work in Change and New Wilderness comes in the aftermath of the September 11th attack on New York, to which I was with many others an unwilling witness. Still in progress, as the time itself is, the poem is my own recollection of world war, cold war, & those wars of culture & religion that loom as the clear & present danger for the century on which we’ve just embarked. “Blessèd terror” is Bin Laden’s phrase of course, as “shock & awe” (in the third section) is ours, & together they compose a “totalitarian language” (renewed) that Jean Pierre may understand far better than I do. It had been my early hope that poetry (or something like poetry) would be the antidote to such a language, and while I no longer believe that to be the case (except, I want to say, for us), I will continue, as I trust that he will, in that hope.

* * *

Blessèd Terror
A Poem in Progress
2001/2002/2003
for Jean Pierre Faye
. . . . . . .

blessèd terror
issues from his mouth
as words,
like poems from yours:
it is a pinnacle
the true sum of our days
together,
of the earth on which we’ve walked,
where men & animals
lie broken,
burned,
a century of flames & ashes
that a mad man stokes,
bad poet mixing
art & life,
sad witnesses in whom his words
cohere, their flesh
evaporated
as the universe will also be,
no god in sight

2
that death could fall from heaven on so many,
right in the middle of rushed life

Picasso, 1967

the sky has failed us waking crazed
to hear death falling in a space
outside the center where we watch
the crowds push down the road the statue
in the harbor sparkling in the sun
our teeth still caked from last night’s
catch a thunder felt beneath the earth
& in the mind’s eye cities rocked &
swollen birds eclipsed by ashes & by
light shadowed the wires once again
the way the cough stuck in my throat
the fish bones clattered carp & thread-
fish devil-fish & milk-fish little fish
with deep eyes sunk into their skulls
the vendors on canal street offering
to sell us what we crave mementos of
the death of thousands a millennium
of deaths of nothing left of us but
smoke of children of the sun of stars
of entropy distributed throughout
the universe inside the collar of a dog
the irons every man & woman wears
that shackles them to life or death
(to life and death) who come at us with
open hands with sores with words
that tell us that the hungry dead are here
the wanderers who fill our streets now
moving between squads of soldiers
north of where the bodies burn
no longer bodies but the furnace
that is god appears again the same force
now unleashed that burnt the children
out of all existence turned their bodies
into shadows shades the hungry dead
ungrateful unforgiving where the watchers
saw the bodies launched into the air &
hanging dangling in the void qué sacrificio
the fury in the god’s name at the god’s
behest again they know no simple
pleasures they are once again the men
in love with death like those who led
our cousins down a road made awful by
the ice against their bare feet not to be
forgiven but the act to be repeated
with each century that passes ice
& flames that leave their mark deep
in the consciousness of what was once
called man this little blip in time
the twice forgotten the unresurrected made
into a game a sight for distant visitors with
memories of fires & of images your mind
can’t unerase but wait in terror knowing
that the dead are never gone
but in the night in dreams we see them
moving joining with the nameless others
from the place where consciousness
was murdered never to be reborn

3
Days of Shock & Awe

death fell from the sky
& finally
it found us
where we lived,
huddled like children,
uncaring,
feckless,
only to feel the air
ablaze,
the weight of centuries
too great to bear,
the days of shock & awe
unpunctuated, drifting
from death to death,
the killer who inscribes
a call to war,
who puts his tools in place,
confronts the glass,
his eyes stare at his eyes,
fingers reach out to fingers,
concealment as a crime,
the more we search for it
the less we find,
no end to war
or terror,
but the few who live,
the sad survivors,
walk among the stones
& do not know
the fateful elegies
too terrible to tell,
dark angels, strangers
sharing our common
fate, their eyes
turned inside out,
forever in a state of siege,
of madmen facing
other madmen,
pursuing them through
ancient towns,
new cities,
preparing for the final war
to bring it home

Published originally as “Terreur Bènie” and “Une Note pour Jean Pierre Faye et Change,” with translations by J.P. Faye, in faire part, Paris, 2005. Additional translations from Khurbn will appear in La correspondance littéraire philosophique et critique later this year. The magazine Change was primarily Faye’s work & that of the Collectif Change & was one of the most influential French reviews of the post-World War 2 period. A major French poet, he is also the author of Langages totalitaires, an ongoingly vital study of the use and abuse of language by totalitarian states.

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with Jeffrey C. Robinson

THE SHARK


Solomos' poem "The Shark" (O Porphyras) is based on a newspaper account of the tragic death of a young English soldier whose remains were washed ashore the day after he was killed by a shark as he swam in the harbor of Corfu on July 19, 1847. A friend of the poet reported that he and other friends heard a recitation by the poet of the complete poem, but the work now survives primarily in two fragmented manuscripts catalogued in the National Library of Greece. Linos Politis presents the poem in his edition as a sequence of eight fragments, which have been separated by dashes but not numbered in this translation. The seventeen-line quotation is spoken by the young swimmer. [Translators' note]

Though watchful Hell's always out to get you,
it has none but a distant dominion
far from Paradise, and you have in you
a place in your heart--hear it yearning?
--
You look at the first bright rose of the sun,
yes, first, but that's second to your own face!
--
"May night send me thousands of stars to bathe with.
--
You, black cleft in the rocks, laugh among flowers.
--
Now downward and near wheels the golden-winged
that quickly left its branch for the rocky shore
and there takes in beauties of sea and sky,
and there heaves its voice with all its magic,
harmonizing sea with desolate stone,
and calls out the late night star that must rise.
Birdie, airing your voice of miracles,
if your marvelous song is not pure bliss,
nothing good has flowered here or in heaven.
Oh, if one stroke could get me where I'd go,
sea-foam, keep me afloat till my return,
with mother's kiss, native earth in my fist.
--
I kiss my hands and sweetly hug myself.
My soul's eyes are open wide and watching.
So whence springs your birth, fountain so graceful?"
--
Nature, you smiled at once and yielded to him.
Hope, you bound his mind with all your magic powers.
Lovely, new world full of joy and goodness.
He looked around to see .............................
Now confronts the youth the tiger of the sea,
and far, alas, from reach his sword and musket.
How easily it slices through the deep
and comes speeding ...................................
for the pure white throat gleaming like a swan's,
for the strong broad chest and for the fair head,
for the sweet magnanimous breath of youth,
and thus the young man ...............................
from Nature's gorgeous, powerful embrace,
in which she softly held and whispered him--
while in his free, naked glowing body
the crafts of swimmer and of warrior stirred.
--
Before it passed the great soul filled with joy,
in a bolt of light the young man knew himself.
Worlds around him opened, showering him with crowns.
............................................................................
Torso wondrous in your ruin and grandeur,
dear lovely stranger in the bloom of youth,
come, receive ashore the strong man's lament.

Translation from Greek by George Economou & Stavros Deligiorgis


COMMENTARY

I have nothing in mind except liberty and language. (D.S., in “Dialogue between the Poet and the Pedant”)

(1) “He has always been a beginning,” George Seferis wrote about him, looking back from both a Greek & modernist perspective. A “national poet” like Adam Mickiewicz & others (he is in fact the author of the Greek national anthem), he was also an extraordinary innovator, whose role in the revitalizing of Greek language & poetry – away from the classical & into the vernacular/oral – took effect in his own century, but whose greatest & most experimental work wasn’t recovered until seventy years after his death. He is in that sense a poet (like Smart & Blake & Dickinson) whose work, at least on an international scale, comes to fruition at a time beyond his own. Born on the Ionian island of Zante (Zakynthos) to an aristocratic Venetian father & a Greek mother, he went to Italy at the age of eight & stayed on until he was twenty. His early poems were in Italian, while many of his Greek writings show a non-conventional orthography & a sense of poetry as an oral phenomenon with prose as its post-facto written medium. Even as he sets a standard for a new literary Greek, his own work develops what one of his later editors Peter Mackeridge calls “a dialogue between languages” & an overwhelming sense of the demotic. Or Solomos himself: “Every language should necessarily have words from other languages.” And again: “The nobility of languages is like the nobility of a people … The kind of nobility that English words had before Shakespeare wrote, the one French words had before Racine did, the one Greek words had before Homer, and they all wrote the words of their time.”

(2) The events underlying Solomos’s two great poems, The Free Besieged & The Woman of Zante were the two Turkish sieges of Missolonghi & their repercussions, in the latter poem, on the island of Zante. Both of the longer poems were fragmentary – works in process – & both are major examples of experimental romanticism. In The Woman of Zante (1826-1833), Solomos turned to a form of free verse or short, numbered prose paragraphs, to carry his narrative: an account by the “monk Dionysios” of the Woman of Zante’s rejection of pleas from embattled Missolonghi that moves between realism & mirror-dream fantasy. But the total work, as recovered in manuscript in 1927, has a still further complexity. As translator Stavros Deligiorgis describes it: “Solomos's neatly copied text occupies the left hand column of the Ms., the right hand column containing texts which all scholars and editors have relegated either to the status of foot- or end-notes or to very private memos that Solomos wrote – a propos of the primary text in the opposite column – for the purposes of an eventual elaboration. The right-hand column, however, appears to contain vignettes and episodes that, beyond amplifying and commenting on the left column, may be observed to possess a large degree of narrative autonomy. It is … the intention of the translation … to elevate this neglected parallel text to the kind of visibility that Solomos's creative ‘intellection’ clearly prefigured.”

[ From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, edited by Jerome Rothenberg & Jeffrey C. Robinson (scheduled for publication in January 2009). A portion of the double-columned text, not shown here, will of course appear in Poems for the Millennium itself. A version of “The Shark” was published earlier in Lou Rowan’s Golden Handcuffs Review. Earlier excerpts from Poems for the Millennium appeared on June 11, June 18, June 24, and July 6.]

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Clayton Eshleman: The Left Foot of King Ramesses I

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 1:46 PM 0 comments
resembles a long semi-flat black fish.
The toes caterpillar forth,
five black tent caterpillars on their way to a cherry tree feast.
From the tips of their abdomens they secrete pheromones
so that their relatives, detecting these chemical signals,
can also stream down the trail!

From Permian times onward, tent caterpillars have had no god.

When they reach a leaf patch at the end of a branch, they snuggle side by side, humming and feeding in unison along the margin of a young leaf.

Many a tentstead is torn and littered by the shrunken cadavers of larvae killed by braconid wasps.

Having detected the buzz of a tachnid’s wings, a tent larva swings its body from side to side in a kind of samba, creating a moving target, befuddling the attacker.

Fully formed tent caterpillars chew their way out of eggs in sync with their host tree’s bursting buds.

They happily cooperate in many interactive tasks: leaf-shelter building, communal basking and mat spinning, anti-predator group displays, trail laying, recruitment to food and basking sites.

Tent caterpillars are at the pinnacle of caterpillar social evolution and should never be dissed as “walking digestive tracks.”

They have six eyes, which tragically provide them with no information about the form of an object. However, by swinging their heads, they perceive dark vertical shapes against light-colored backgrounds (much as we would see branches against the sky).

They have color vision (ultraviolet light and shades of green); they use the sun as a compass.

Successive cycles of body waves drive them forward, carrying their sixteen legs.

A typical female may emerge, call males, copulate, lay eggs, and, being completely spent, die in less than a day.

They love to feed on water tupelo, aspen, water oak, flowering dogwood, and cherry.

Their great epic, The Cherry Tree Journey, translated in 1530 by the blessed Persian angel Sorush, describes the journey of the Ortok tent caterpillar clan to retrieve the princess Zal carried away by a warbler and deposited in a bird-citadel in the top of a tall cherry tree.

Their other enemies are beetles, stink bugs, ants, wasps, chickadees, titmice, bluejays, the Baltimore oriole, redwing blackbirds, chebecs, wood peewees, phoebes, cuckoos, downy woodpeckers, red-eyed vireos, and the brown-headed cowbird.

They have no known friends.

Think about this: any aggregate of birds or animals that cooperated to build a communal shelter, shared information regarding the location of food patches, and had their own epic, would be considered a highly social unit.

Their sole musical instrument is thought to be the Cryptonephridium, embedded in the walls of their rectums.

It has recently been conjectured that the tectiforms engraved and painted on the sides of bison in the Upper Paleolithic cave of Font-de-Gaume may be tent caterpillar shelters and may have inspired Cro-Magnon people to construct small hide-covered lodges

The first architects!

We must now conclude this brief excursion by caterpillaring back into the toes of Ramesses I’s long black fish-foot, colonized, along with the rest of his statue, in a glass case (“Mummy Section”) of the British Museum.

. . .

A NOTE ON CLAYTON ESHLEMAN

In my writings over the years, the work of certain contemporaries, like that of multiple generations of forerunners, has given me a series of touchstones against which to test my own ideas & powers as a poet. … With Eshleman, as with other contemporaries, a kind of dialogue remains ongoing & mutual: an interchange that has spanned more than four decades & has fueled moves on my part, & possibly on his, that would have been impossible without such interaction. … I believe that Clayton, at an early point, had made the decision to be totally relentless in his calling as a poet, & I came to prize that relentlessness & his determination to pursue a poetry that would take him to his limits – & us along with him. There is with that a singular intelligence that emerges in the way he comes at a subject, an idea or an experience, & gives it an unexpected shape & meaning. Along with this he also – like the best of us – draws from the full range of what he can discover in the world, through his own observations or from those of others. In the present instance, then, the specialized material on “tent caterpillars” comes from a source book of that name by Terrence D. Fitzgerald, although the uses to which he puts it are distinctively his own & a sure reminder of his transcreative powers.

NB. Eshleman’s great magazine of the 1960s and 70s was also called Caterpillar.

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Gematria (1): Seven in Dedication

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 3:14 PM 0 comments


For Edmond Jabès, in Memory

The desert
speaks.

[Desert = 246]


A Gematria for Jackson Mac Low

CHANCE

made it happen.

[Chance = 310]


3 Gematrias for John Cage

ROARATORIO (1)

A new
place.

ROARATORIO (2)

The leeks
& the fire.

ROARATORIO (3)

The magicians
return.

[Roaratorio = 625]


A Language Gematria, for Charles Bernstein

Divination.

Like the bed
in the firmament.

Language.

Our voice
& your eye.

Colors
limped.

The thick darkness
shall rule you.

Language
shall rule you.


3 Gematrias for Armand Schwerner

THE TABLETS (1)

Fearing
to give light.

THE TABLETS (2)

The moon
will choose.

THE TABLETS (3)

Sheol
in Sodom.

[The Tablets = 443]


2 Gematrias for Howard Norman

WILDERNESS (1)

They emptied it out.

WILDERNESS (2)

Your eyes
in the tree.

[Wilderness = 400]


Tens, for David Meltzer

Ten riches.
Ten fountains.
Ten wrestlings.
Ten cities.
Ten wonders.
Ten hairs.

Ten
& ten.

[From Jerome Rothenberg, Gematria, originally published by Douglas Messerli’s Sun & Moon Press in 1994. A revised & expanded version is scheduled from Mariela Griffor’s Marick Press in 2009 or 2010.]

A NOTE ON GEMATRIA

As a form of process-generated poetry, the gematria poems play off the fact that every letter of the Hebrew alphabet is also a number & that words or phrases the sums of whose letters/numbers are equal are at some level meaningfully connected. For myself these coincidences / synchronicities function not as hermeneutic substantiations for religious & ethical doctrines, but as an entry into the kinds of correspondences / constellations that have been central to modernist & postmodernist experiments over the last century and a half. The source for the poems, however, is limited to the first five books of the Hebrew bible, which adds a quasi-oracular tone to the resultant gematria-generated poems. In addressing a conference several years ago at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taiwan – the topic there “the poetics of the sacred” – I commented on the terrifying, even spooky side of the topic in question & tied it to gematria, as follows: “Here I report my intuition, but it is an intuition curiously reinforced by a form of hermeneutic numerology from the tradition of Jewish kabbala. … This was used, not surprisingly, to substantiate accepted ‘truths,’ though there were times when the system (called gematria from the Greek) was used by the heretical and the heterodox to call the others into question. In following that system, then, I found that the letters in the Hebrew god-name aleph-lamed-vav-hey (eloha) add up numerically (= 42) to the Hebrew word bet-hey-lamed-hey (behalah), ‘terror, panic, alarm.’ That they also add up to kvodi (‘my glory’) only intensifies the problematic. In short, a way of making poetry. So, take it any way you choose. Where God breaks into what I write or think, it is the terror that admits him.” This spoken, of course, as a devoted non-believer.

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Reconfiguring Romanticism (4): Hugo & Dickinson

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 12:53 PM 0 comments
with Jeffrey C. Robinson

Victor Hugo

One day, the entirety of my work will form an indivisible whole. I am making – like many other poets, I might add; the critics of the future will understand this – I am making a Bible, not a divine Bible, but a human one. A multiform book summing up an age – that is what I shall leave behind me. (V.H., quoted in E.H. & A.M. Blackmore, Selected Poems of Victor Hugo)

And it’s this ambition, when set beside the poetry itself, that marks him as the first & greatest of the belated French Romantics. His range in that sense was enormous – an attempt, as with a number of the Romantics & others in their wake, at a global perspective & a search for the means to bring it across. As a mark of his productivity he composed, in addition to plays like Hernani & novels like Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris that made for his greatest celebrity, some 160,000 lines of poetry, much of it still unpublished at the time of his death. The structural procedures (not trivial) opened up forms of irregular versification, still within the frame of fixed meter & rhyme but that sometimes brought strong condemnation. Yet the real breakthroughs were in his work’s unbounded content & its often contradictory perspectives, as in his massive “trilogy” (The Legend of the Ages, The End of Satan, & God, the latter two left incomplete & posthumously published) of which Dieu (God) is the culminating section. For that last series he drew on a panoply of religious beliefs & disbeliefs (Christianity, Islam, assorted paganisms & polytheisms, satanism, atheism) in all of which he participated empathically & as a fullblooded act of the imagination. Along with these came a body of witnessing poems (the equivalents in a sense of Les Miserables) & other politcal/revolutionary poems & tracts that brought him into twenty years of voluntary exile (on Jersey & Guernsey in the British channel islands) from the oppressive regime of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. An exemplary & remarkably self-aware figure throughout, he up-ended the Romantic stereotype of the aging poet, moving from a conservative stance in youth to an increasingly radical one in middle & later life.

(2)

I am the ogre, then – I am the scapegoat.
In this chaotic age that wrings your withers,
I trampled good taste and ye old ffrenche verse
Under my feet; I, hideous creature, said:
Let darkness be! – and voilà! there was darkness
.”
(from “Reply to a Bill of Indictment,” translated by E.H. & A.M. Blackmore)

Wrote Mallarmé in tribute: “Pursuing his mysterious task, Hugo reduced all prose – philosophy, oratory, history – to poetry; and since he was himself poetry personified, he nearly abolished the philosopher’s, speaker’s, or historian’s right to self-expression. In that wasteland, with silence all around, he was a monument.” Or Jean Cocteau, jokingly but with an insight that holds: “Victor Hugo was a madman who believed that he was Victor Hugo.”


Emily Dickinson

When I state myself, as the Representative of the Verse – it does not mean – me – but a supposed person. (E.D., July 1862) And again – in an often cited statement: If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way. (E.D., August 1862)

(1) While Dickinson has moved from an almost self-imposed obscurity (“a poet who never willingly consented to print” – R.W. Franklin) to recognition alongside Whitman as one of the two major American poets of her time, the reach & ferocity of her work belies the frail, reclusive image of her life-&-work-made-myth. Against the normative metric of her poems (a still recognizable ballad form or Protestant hymn measure) she launched a radical barrage of deformations, splintering her lines with dashes & with nervous run-overs that could be read as line breaks or as grammatically “lawless” but musically articulate silences & speech-like gaps; marking off alternative readings for certain words set beneath her poems like footnotes; & even, as in the version presented here of “A poor - torn Heart - a tattered heart,” adding collaged images that partially obscure the text & thus create an unanticipated visual poetry. For this her mode of “publication” was a series of handwritten & handstitched fascicles, which formed the early portion of the nearly 1800 poems & poem fragments now gathered as her oeuvre. Together with her surviving letters, these can be read (by those venturing to do so) as a single continuous poem, an unsent “letter to the world” that ends not in aesthetic time but with the end of life itself. In all of which she was a poet, in Susan Howe’s phrase (from Heidegger), "on the trace of the holy;" the formal disruptions and gaps in her poems reflecting, precisely, the struggle to wrest meaning in a space “ … like chaos - stopless, cool, - / Without a chance or spar, / Or even a report of land / To justify despair.”

(2) Writes Howe whose book My Emily Dickinson (1985) set the pace for poets & readers in pursuit of Dickinson: "In prose and in poetry she explored the implications of breaking the law just short of breaking off communication with a reader. Starting from scratch, she exploded habits of standard human intercourse in her letters, as she cut across the customary chronological linearity of poetry. ... An artist as obsessed, solitary, and uncompromising as Cézanne ... like him ignored and misunderstood by her own generation, because of the radical nature of her work."

And Camille Paglia (1990), with a sense of the still darker, even “Sadean” implications of that work & its “stupefying energy”: “Words are rammed into lines with such force that syntax shatters and collapses into itself. The relation of form to content is aggressive and draconian. … Dickinson’s poetry is like the shrinking room of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, a torture chamber and arena of extremity.” Or again, as the directive, let’s say, for a radically new poetic reading: “She uses metaphors more literally than anyone else in major literature.”

N.B. In bringing Dickinson’s poems into these pages, we have followed the numbering system established by R.W. Franklin, here using it for titling her otherwise untitled poems. We have also included, where applicable, the alternative readings that she marked off with crosses & placed beneath poems in her fascicles. But even so her own handworked versions may in the end be the best key we have for charting her intensities.

[Commentaries excerpted from Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, which Jeffrey Robinson & I have co-edited for the University of California Press. The book itself is scheduled for publication in January 2009 with an expectation of advance copies in November or December. For further information check the following URL: http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/10540.php. Earlier excerpts appeared on June 11, June 18, and June 24.]

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That Dada Strain Continued: Three from Tristan Tzara

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 11:20 PM 0 comments


HIGH CLASS CRIME

red gown red glowworms
jelly frostfrost thickened
leather
doctor to the trade
gone sour
boy oh boy
-- the empress cried –
the young girl
fell down dead
-- said –
that’s my boy!


SKETCH, AFTER NOSTRADAMUS

. . . . . . .
o the colors of the sea divided in three slices
Thirst
the king of islands will be hunted down by force
darkness of iron change to wine & salt
Awakened, secret study of the night
Flame
brass
solitude
my sex in hand implanted in midst of branches
voice
divine
foot
onto their cloaks somebody poured out whirlpools
spirals white & red prop up the voices
& the ships like god advancing in the flesh
a long time
combat
candle wings divide the pipes of solicitude the brass drums & the belfries
the inconstant wind
the sun’s veins bandaged up with parchments & the slaves are howling
empty
to die, to see its dead fruit
when the snakes come they will make an arch for the pavilion
of your heart
militia
shall we listen to the pain the sounds of queens in books
-- a patriotic lesson –
shall we leave behind the sounds
the sounds you should be taught a lesson

to surround
the fulgent brightness
the electric shock
will turn up bright adornment
when they see the great cock in its coffin
the cardinal of france will turn up
the chosen chased his people grown infirm
fire seen in sky the nation wasted scary outcry
Powerless of fire burnt basilica
O lovely liquor both past dying
two eclipses set for such a chase
to climb the wave
hunger fire blood
flora sprung from death will be the cause
because of three salt lilies
by whose double fruit like naked flesh / like salt /
the font to break in thirds resistance
flight high cloth grey life


CRIME IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
A Clairvoyant Poem

orang & gibbon
lion & cat
puma & cat
rat & mouse
barebreasted monster angelical glacier scrubbed clean
by brandenburg moustache by scissory legs
invades your apartment
gooseberry syrup strawfed down gullet
what do you think we’ll be finding this morning?
young boy just 16 years old
lights his blood’s final match fading out stripped of cover

for the man
for the anthropoid ape
for the felines
for the rat & the mouse
for the parrots
for the magpie the crow
for the ravenous daytrippers
for the wild duck
for the peacock the pheasant
it all comes out the same

NOTE ON TZARA & DADA. Like other such "movements" before and after, Dada was largely the work of poets or of those who saw in poetry a liberating gesture setting it apart from that of Art. Of the poets in the Zürich group … Tristan Tzara (b. Sammi Rosenstock in Rumania) was -- at nineteen -- the movement's principal publicist & its link to the Dada poets of Paris (Breton, Soupault, Péret, Picabia, et al.), some of whom would be, in turn, the founding fathers of Surrealism. …

Asserting a postmodernism at the heart of a still vibrant modernism, he wrote: “You are mistaken if you take Dada for a modern school, or as a reaction against the schools of today. ... Dada is not at all modern. It is more in the nature of an almost Buddhist religion of indifference. ... The true Dadas are against Dada.”

Which was Tzara's way of proclaiming Dada's postmodernity -- not as chronology but as an irritation (a disgust) with solutions altogether ("no more solutions! no more words!") & with prescriptions (old or new) for making art. It is important to remember: that at the heart of Dada was a pullback from the absolute: from closed solutions based on single means: not a question of technique, then, but of a way of being, a state-of-mind (of "spirit"), "a stance" (: Charles Olson, decades later) "toward reality." For which the only technique was the suppression of technique, the only sense of form was to deny form as a value. And for all of that, Dada drew from means that were common to its time & to its predecesors in Futurism & Expressionism: a series of projects it would work on until its own (predicted) self-destruction as a movement. Collage. Performance. New Typographies. Chance operations. And a high devouring humor.

[From Poems for the Millennium, volume one, edited with commentaries by myself & Pierre Joris, & reprinted in forthcoming Poetics & Polemics, University of Alabama Press Modern and Contemporary Poetics series. The “dada strain” reference is not only to my book of that title (New Directions, 1983) but to a Dada anthology that I announced for publication in the early 1960s but that was not to be. The translations presented here in slightly revised versions were similarly unpublished.]

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Language 3x8

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 7:51 PM 0 comments
for C.B. & B.A.

1
in. in.
how to be in-
comparably
blowing.
neither up
nor out.
how daily
able.

2
sting
ray.
don’t spare
a penny.
blunt a tube.
a sparkler.
bright & like a kite.
in any air.

3
by. one. to build in
build a stable flow.
the matter
suicidal. their range
complete.
this volubility.
this insight.
showing their capacity for play.

2.1.79
recovered: 2008


NOTE. A poem, written early in our friendship, for Bruce Andrews & Charles Bernstein, never previously published, & dedicated anew.

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