From Poetics & Polemics: Louis Zukofsky, a Reminiscence

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 11:00 AM 0 comments

For the Louis Zukofsky Centennial Celebration, Columbia University, 2004

Louis Zukofsky wasn’t as old as my father – or my mother for all of that -- but he was the first poet of their generation who offered friendship and a particular model of what it meant to be a poet against the odds and with a persistence approaching the heroic. If Pound was, as Louie and he had it in various letters, “papa” to Louie’s “sonny,” Zukofsky wasn’t that for me or for the poets close to me (Antin, Kelly, Schwerner, Economou, Blackburn) who enjoyed his company back in the early sixties. He was however a remarkable and delightfully graceful poet and a link to a time before ours and to other (older) poets of that time still largely out of reach. That interested me a lot as I tried to imagine the pathways of poetry and what came before us or what was likely to follow. I knew him to be older than me but I had little use for a hierarchical or reverential view based on age or gifts or anything else for that matter. I thought we were a generation that believed in an equalizing of all such relationships, though I may shortly have been proved wrong in that assumption.

My initial contact with Louie was in June of 1959. I had sent him a copy of my first little magazine – Poems from the Floating World – and he had responded (as was his custom) with a brief and courteous note, handwritten on a postcard and starting off “Dear Sir.” George Economou thinks it was Paul Blackburn who brought a few of us to the Zukofskys’ Brooklyn Heights apartment on Willow Street, probably not long after. I knew of him of course as one of the lost “Objectivists” and a collaborator in that sense with the generation before his, most specifically with Pound and Williams. The first edition of “A” 1-12 had come out from Cid Corman’s Origin Press in 1959 and was a featured book when a number of us opened a short-lived East Village bookstore, The Blue Yak, in 1960 or 1961. A year or two later, Economou and Robert Kelly published I's (Pronounced Eyes) [a.k.a. Ryokan’s Scroll] under their Trobar imprint, and by then Louie was, in some sense, part of our circle or network or cabal, or at least we thought he was. Diane Rothenberg and I saw him and Celia at their place (I can’t remember if at ours), at some readings and other public events (one of his in Brooklyn at which he introduced me to Marianne Moore), at an occasional concert of Paul Zukofsky’s, and at at least one glorious excursion out of town. From Louie’s side it seemed clear that he welcomed the attentions shown him by younger poets, earlier contact with Duncan and Creeley being cited as events of particular importance.

For me the Pound connection at that point (it would be different for me a few years later) mattered less than it did for some of the others, since I saw my main derivations from other aspects of the international avant-garde. It’s also likely that the interaction with Zukofsky was one of the circumstances that allowed me to expand my poetics to include and draw from the American line of vorticists and “Objectivists,” though I may not be the best judge of how that came about. I knew that Louie had his long essay on Apollinaire but it was also clear to me that his focus – like so many at that time – was on American [Poundian] modernism as the dominant center of poetic interest.

By autumn of 1961 I had taken on a teaching position at the Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, where I was a one-person English or Literature Department, though I was able to hire parttime assistance from people like Antin, Diane Wakoski, Jackson Mac Low, and Frank Kuenstler. I was also given a small budget to set up a poetry reading series, for which I had a vast ambition but not much money to support it. My memory fails me here and I can remember only two of those who read in the series during its first and only year of operation: Paul Blackburn and Zukofsky. (Charles Olson also accepted – or seemed to – but finally backed off.) At Louie’s reading, as I led him to the reader’s podium, we managed to spill a pitcher of water between us, which allowed me to make some inane apology and Louie (who was being a little nervous otherwise) to shrug it off with a pun about making a splash, or words to that effect. The reading went off very well, though, and it’s his voice from that evening that mostly sticks with me in memory: a very musical voice with a very refined overlay on what was otherwise a very healthy New York accent – nothing of Pound’s or Yeats’s oldfangled bardic raptures but a gently anachronistic cadence that bested both of those, at least to my New Yorker’s ear. And then, when the reading was over, we took a cab downtown, where someone was hosting a party for Louie, and the cab driver, who overheard us talking about it, allowed that he was a great fan of Zukofsky’s and joined us for the celebration. (That – for me at least – was the beginning of “the sixties,” as we soon came to know and love them.) At the party itself I remember Louie, clearly pumped up by the event, interrogating a number of listeners still new to his work, about the structure of “A”-7, which he had read that evening, and delighted (I think) that no one had heard it as a sequence of seven sonnets, though in the written text the form was evident. (“As I love:/ My poetics,” I thought out loud, in a phrase of his that I even then remembered.)

We were most of us barely in our thirties then – or even our mid twenties – and Louie was getting on to sixty, so there was room enough to be reverential, if you chose to do that. Nor was he young-looking for his age – a thin body and a kind of grey frailty that he exaggerated by the way he would protect himself against the elements – a shawl wrapped around himself when he felt a lack of warmth in their Seventh Avenue apartment. He smoked a lot and drank a lot of coffee, but so did we, so all that came out even. I don’t think there were any physical problems at the time, though those who knew him better spoke affectionately about his hypochondria and let it go at that.

There was some concern about Louie’s health when a number of us decided – in the spring of ’64 it must have been – that we would go for a couple of days to the Amish (Pennsylvania Dutch) Fair in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and would ask the Zukofskys to join us. It was, I believe, at the height of our friendship, and Louie and Celia were eager to be a part of the expedition. The other couples, since we were definitely into couples, were Paul and Sarah Blackburn, Armand and Dolores Schwerner, and George Economou and Rochelle Owens. We stayed at a hotel an easy distance from the fair, and found lots of time for talk – mostly swapping stories and once (I remember) getting into a discussion about e.e. cummings, among other key poets, in which Louie and I were cummings’ big defenders. On our second afternoon, as a break from the fair, we went over to the house or farm of someone whom one of us knew, where most of the time was spent batting a baseball around. (George Economou reminds me that he always carried a ball and bat in his car.) At one point, Louie and Celia were standing with Sarah Blackburn in what passed for the outfield and weren’t paying much attention to what was going on, when someone fungoed a hard line drive and struck Sarah on the back [on the head, someone else corrects me], knocking her down. When we came rushing up, she was still on the ground, and Louie said (jestingly of course): “You almost hit the poet.”

I think, although his timing here was somewhat off, that this was Louie’s self-mocking (ironic) reference to his position in the little world around him – like Williams asking “Who shall say I am not / the happy genius of my household?” There was a kind of wistfulness in all of that – a regret, let’s say, about the lack of recognition in the larger world, that some of us were seeking to redress. For me it added to the fondness that I felt for him, though I would take our friendship (over all and looking back at it) as rather shallow in affect – not in any invidious sense, you understand, but never really reaching to the depths. On the level of ideas, my own poetics were shared more easily with poets closer to my age, those who engaged with me in what David Antin would later call “tuning,” talking to each other, seeking, plotting, looking back at him and others of his age for clues to our own futures. In retrospect now – and approaching the age at which he died – I have a sense of lost opportunities and obvious omissions, along with which, a blanking out of memory or else a memory of things that weren’t said, of absences perhaps, perhaps evasions.

Louie, by his own witness, wasn’t one to talk about himself or about his works, and though he wrote at length about poetry (in very specific ways) I remember him pushing me, at the time I was assembling Technicians of the Sacred, to play down the “commentaries”, which I was making an intrinsic part of the mix. That he had been involved with politics (Marxist, even Communist) in the preceding decades is clear from his published correspondence, but (unlike my experience with Oppen, say) I don’t recall it coming into conversation. I also don’t remember, though it would have been a shared area of our experience, that there was any talk about our both having had Yiddish as our primary early childhood language. In retrospect it seems like something we would have gone into or that we would have exchanged some talk in that language, which Louie appears to have known better than I did, but if we did I have no memory of it. I was still, at our time of greatest contact, some years away from Poland/1931 and A Big Jewish Book, both of which were for me experiments – real experiments – in writing (or constructing or assembling) “an ancestral poetry.” It was in that way a little like my meeting with Paul Celan – also in the 1960s – in which, as I’ve described it elsewhere, we spent several hours in a café near the Ecole Normale in Paris (where Celan taught), talking in a mix of hesitant German (mine) and hesitant English (his), and only at the end acknowledging that other language, common to us both, which we could have spoken, and yet didn’t. (A few years later I would have pressed Louie on that and related matters – particularly when I was assembling A Big Jewish Book – but by then he was out of New York and we had very little contact.)

We did talk some about Pound, however, and the question of antisemitism was clearly a part of that. There was no real defense of Pound – nor did I have any reason to expect one – beyond some observations – quite understandable on Louie’s part – that Pound was less vehemently anti-semitic than some of the other American modernists. At the time I hadn’t seen transcripts of Pound’s World War Two broadcasts – and Louie probably hadn’t either – nor was I aware of the depth of their relationship or their curious dance of the non-intelligence in social and political matters, anti-semitism no small part of it. When I finally read their letters, a decade or so after Louie’s death, I felt a pang of regret, of sympathy too, for Louie caught up in the other’s madness (mishigass, I meant to say) and feeling forced to account for the cardboard Jews of Pound’s [banal] imagination. At the same time I tried to think myself into Louie’s place – and (with more difficulty) into Pound’s – and got no further than the pain of it, and stopped.

Theirs was a strange relationship all in all and very different from how the other “Objectivists” related to Pound (or failed to). For it seems to me that it’s in the letters – the correspondence – far more than in the poetry, that Louie takes on the master’s voice: the pseudo-folksiness, the free orthography, the portmanteaus and punnings, even the mock yiddish accents of Pound’s Der Yiddisher Charleston Band parody and Louie’s occasional declarations of his own “anti-semitism” (possibly ironic, possibly not). In the course of the letters, Louie argues (from a Marxist and Communist perspective) against Pound’s fascism and his embrace of Major [Clifford] Douglas’s social credit theories, but with the anti-semitism he seems more often than not to play along with the joke or to deflect Pound’s absolutism with regard to Jews – all Jews. The most egregious example of the latter is the commission that Pound gives him (circa 1936), to get a reading from his father Pinchos on whether prohibitions on usury in Leviticus 25 apply equally to Jews and Gentiles – “whether the jew IF he enters a community of nations proposes to treat the goyim as his own law tells him to treat his own people.” It is a curious mission, this, from poppa to poppa, a curious notion that the older Jew, as informant, will speak in this regard for all Jews (much as the American Indian informant is sometimes thought to speak for all Indians). The result, to say the least, is ambiguous, another well lost cause.

If Pound was the master here – the FATHER -- Louie was in many ways his equal and in some ways (dare I say it?) his supeior. Where it came to Louie’s “music,” say – a tempting but elusive word applied to poetry – it wasn’t that he was better than Pound (that would be a spurious distinction) but that he was more radical in certain ways, more removed from the Victorian lyric voice qua music, as Williams was also, and Olson later – all of them operating like Pound on strategies of long poem composition, though nowhere more musically conceived or constructed/composed than by Zukofsky, “specifically,” as he said of himself, ‘a writer of music.” (I would refer here to Cage’s contention that poetry, if it isn’t music as such, is most readily defined by the formal and rhythmic elements it shares with music – all of which, like other Cage “definitions,” seems fairly obvious but no less true.)

On still another level of language – both its sound and meaning – there was in Louie’s work (at least as I heard it) an idiom of New York and of a portion of the early twentieth-century immigrant world that created a demand for a new or altered dynamic in poetry (in Louie’s case the sound of Yiddish pulsing beneath the surface of “Poem beginning ‘The’” – and elsewhere – as a deliberately inserted presence). This was an opening of language that Williams would specifically have encouraged, Pound less so, and that someone like Eliot would have (and did) hold up to scorn – a fancy British overlay obscuring his own Missouri base. None of this of course is absolute, and much of it may be open to question, but it was something that seemed fresh to me when I first read and heard Zukofsky, and even more so now.

What also seemed fresh – and the degree of its freshness only became clear to me later – was the entry into Louie’s mix (his grand collage of cultures, times, and places) of the deep tradition of Jewish lore and mysticism – even against its dismissal or erasure by his masters. Here was something different from Reznikoff’s judaica and from that of many far lesser poets, something that set him apart also from the other big writers of his time, both Jew and Gentile. I can’t say that it was a direct influence on my own work – much less on that of Meltzer or Tarn or Hirschman or others: Robert Kelly, who was so good at it, and Robert Duncan, who knew “that lute of Zukofsky” and its airs as well as anyone. What Zukofsky gave us, then, wasn’t so much ethnic writing in the ordinary sense (though Louie, like others of us, could do that too) as an addition to an ethnopoetics on a grand scale, diving into the poetic and near-poetic past with the charge to make-it-new (“contemporaneous in the mind”) and to carry it freshly into the present. In doing so, he found a place for himself (and for all of us), where he could hunker down and leave his masters well behind.

What we have in common, I would suggest, is a matter of source that needn’t comment on itself as source.

[Published originally in Jacket 30 [2006] & scheduled for republication next month in Jerome Rothenberg’s Poetics & Polemics (University of Alabama Press Modern & Contemporary Poetics series). The best biographical source is Mark Scroggins's The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2007).]

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Uncollected Poems (5): What They Wore

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 10:37 AM 0 comments
WHAT THEY WORE.
A PLAY FOR ACTORS.
IN FIVE ACTS.

(1)
He wore a top hat.
She wore a feather in her hair.
He wore a nose-plug.
She wore a tuberose.
He wore a shadow.
She wore a calendar.
He wore a scarf.
She wore a field of wheat.

(2)
He wore a lightning rod.
She wore a message.
He wore a dangerous display.
She wore his stripes.
He wore a double knot.
She wore last winter.
He wore June Twenty-Third.
She wore obsessively.

(3)
He wore between impressions.
She wore too large.
He wore in quotes.
She wore not very often.
He wore a day ride.
She wore the other side of sleep.
He wore what wore him.
She wore the weather.

(4)
He wore how well she thought.
She wore their stanzas.
He wore an open buckle.
She wore between her legs.
He wore the more he wore her.
She wore a third of what she wore.
He wore bananas.
She wore a dangerous display.

(5)
He wore her slippers.
She wore pretending.
He wore canonically.
She wore as though she wore.
He wore for breakfast.
She wore & didn’t.
He wore their elegance.
She wore their elegance in sleep.

circa 1970

[This poem was recovered, along with numerous others, for a volume of Uncollected Poems to be published by Mark Weiss and Junction Press.]

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For Kader El-Janabi: The French Connection

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 9:14 AM 0 comments

The following short essay and poem were commissioned in 2002 for publication in Kader El-Janabi’s short-lived magazine,
Arapoetica de la Poésie Internationale, but with that magazine’s demise or suspension, was never actually published. The issue for which it was intended was to focus on the connection between American and French poetry over the preceding century. In its original English version the concluding poem (“Three Paris Elegies”) had appeared earlier in A Paradise of Poets (New Directions, 1999). Baghdad-born and long exiled in Paris, El-Janabi remains for me an exemplary fighter against all forms of political and religious despotism – concerns at the center of his poetry and art.

For myself, writing and living in late-twentieth-century America, there was a sense that all of us, as poets, shared a past and future with forerunners and contemporaries across a startling range of times and places. This came at a time when we were discovering ourselves also as American poets with a new language in which to write and a new perspective – a series of new perspectives – that we could write from. If the thrill of the moment led some into an easy jingoism or a more interesting localism, for others it opened the possibility of an experience of poetry and life that could truly push against the boundaries of languages and cultures.

For those of us who meant to proceed by new means, modern means – to be “absolutely modern” in Rimbaud’s phrase – the memory and presence of Paris and France loomed large. Never mind that at the same time we were discovering America or that we were determined dwellers in our own cities (New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago). Paris as city and vortex (Pound’s word) was with us in our imagination as poets – even for those of us who had never set foot there. There were exceptions of course – poets who felt themselves to be more exclusively American or were themselves distanced from the great cities of America and Europe; Snyder and Olson, say, among the really good ones. But for myself again, Paris, once I had found it, was a place I could inhabit, not the physical city so much as the the world of experimental and radical modernism that the city had once come to represent. Post-modernism, for myself and my companions, was no more than the transfer – often contentious – of the older modernist impulse into a new terrain and time.

I have lived almost my whole life on the two coasts of North America – New York first and California later. From both of these Europe was less than a single day’s travel, and because that travel became increasingly possible (starting for me in the late 1960s), I came to think of myself as inhabiting two continents. In 1997 I spent four months in Paris, and there have been several other extended visits since then. At the time of the 1997 trip I had initiated, with Pierre Joris, a translation project that would extend over the next few years. What we had chosen to do was to translate the collected poetry of Picasso into English, Pierre to focus on the French and I on the Spanish. So I brought Picasso with me to Paris, or in another sense, I found him there: Picasso and other ghosts in a Paris that had long since dissolved into history and myth, leaving their names on houses and streets or, for some, etched onto tombstones in the city’s great cemeteries.

I began in fact to think of Paris as a cemetery city, a city filled with ghosts – both its ghosts and ours. The presence of the dead was then particularly strong for me, because of the number of friends who had died over the preceding year. These mingled with the ghosts of that early avant-garde whose place had been here and whose work we had been determined – some of us – to reach and to surpass. But more than that of course, there was the actual city as it existed in the summer and autumn of 1997 – an evidently threatened economy that made for an increased number of beggars, some curiously well-dressed I thought, in the streets where we were living. That was in a space between La République and the Canal, where in the square itself one afternoon we saw what seemed to be a large soup kitchen for the unemployed. And whatever I saw there fused quite naturally with Picasso’s words as we had brought them over into English:

the blockhead who stretching out his hand asks them for a little alms sitting alone on the ground in the middle of the plaza

and again:

over the beggar’s hand
only adorned with blossoms
alms collected through those worlds
he pulls along


All this to form another continuity.

The poem that follows, translated here by Jean Portante, is not only a lament for the dead and the living, but a celebration of my own French connection as it appeared to me in 1997. The first of the three elegies is derived from Picasso’s favored form, a block of prose absent all punctuation, and the second is the account of an event, a minor existential crisis, in the Pyrenees. It is in the third, however, that the fusion takes place – of past and present, dream and waking life – and leads me to the realization of a world in which time loses its meaning in a simultaneous present which isn’t time at all. If this can travel from my own place and language into yours, then it’s likely that another connection will have taken place.

Jerome Rothenberg
Paris/Encinitas
November 2002

*

Trois élégies parisiennes

1

dans mon sombre dimanche à moi la lumière s’approche comme la lune à travers des plumes ce qui à peine vue sombre coulée par l’aveuglement & la pensée que tout le monde est mort autour d’une ville sur le point de disparaître tout comme elle l’a fait auparavant engloutie dans une poche vide et démesurée & avec une odeur de terre les lumineux aventuriers de 1910 dont c’étaient les rues partageaient une tombe commune avec ceux qui ont suivi atteignant même l’endroit où toi et moi attendons en compagnie des amis partis un à un comme des cybersinges s’envolant dans l’espace insouciant

2

au-dessus d’une gorge nous pendions
& oscillions
les montagnes étaient vivantes de chaque côté
témoins de pierre
l’air était immobile rien qu’un lointain souffle de vent
nous étions assis suspendus par un câble d’acier
sans voix
personne à qui parler dans le monde
sauf toi et moi
cette révélation
je crois que c’est son vide que je prise le plus
et même maintenant arrivé à paris
je suis assis seul
& je le sens éclater de ma poitrine
électrique
final
ruée de pas dévalant une rue vide

3

pourquoi un homme bien habillé s’approche-t-il de moi & me demande-t-il l’aumône?

(c’est un rêve, me dis-je, cela ne peut pas être vrai)

pourquoi une mère souriante habillée pour la messe tend-elle une main pour me toucher des nuages tout autour d’elle assise par terre

pourquoi demande-t-elle de l’aide

& pourquoi est-ce que je continue de marcher la laissant derrière moi

où il n’y a ni rue ni soleil

même à paris en ce jour le plus chaud de l’été

quel est le bruit qui vient vers nous du coin de la rue bruit d’une vague suspendue dans l’air de ruches d’abeilles de mains qui applaudissent dans le noir

qui est l’homme qui porte une fleur dans son oreille une chemise avec beaucoup de plis un gilet une barbe les boutons qui brillent comme des étincelles électriques

à mesure que je scrute ses traits je peux voir que ses lèvres sont parties sa langue est lourde & pend d’un côté & forme des mots qui ne m’atteignent jamais que l’obscurité couvre

tous les gens de cette rue sont assis contre un mur les uns les yeux ouverts d’autres enfoncés dans un sommeil profond

tous sont bien habillés

les hommes portent des costumes d’affaires & des blazers un gilet un veston croisé un smoking & queue-de-pie mais n’ont ni manteaux ni chapeaux

leurs chaussures sont simples toujours d’un brun obscur ou noires avec des traces de sable de promenades dans les jardins parisiens lacets défaits parfois sans chaussettes

& les femmes bien habillées aussi même si la chevelure de l’une est avachie alors qu’une autre l’a clairsemée et laisse entrevoir son crâne une troisième porte les traces d’une barbe une grande tache humide sous une aisselle

on n’a qu’à les regarder & déjà ils se mettent à parler

comme parlent les oiseaux

plumes que le vent fait tourbilloner à travers le square

nous sommes assis au paradis & nous nous repassons un ballon

bouts de papiers à nos pieds

puis c’est l’heure de partir & nous tournons à l’angle de la rue montons par le petit escalier & les entendons suivre

une bouffée de musique d’un temps lointain une voix de femme devenant régulière les mots qui émergent bas & hauts implacables ouvertures processions

& c’est picasso en tête un petit homme aux épaules poilues il s’est mis en short de course comme frank o’hara tous les deux maintenant des étoiles du collège mineola tous les deux déclarant maintenant leur amour du mal

et apollinaire qui est également là sa tête pas plus grande que l’ongle d’un pouce flanqué de gertrude stein yeux comme ceux d’une poupée folle & quelqu’un qui ressemble à mon père max jacob enveloppé dans un habit brun de moine dans lequel son corps disparaît

ici dans un monde où il n’y a que des petites gens des fantômes où le ciel n’est pas un ciel la terre rétrécit quotidiennement sous du plastique argenté disparait glisse entre mes mains comme des billes dans un salle de pachinko les yeux tourbillonnant comme des lumières rouges

pour finir ici à la république avec tous les autres morts les fantômes affamés sous nos fenêtres soupe populaire pour les morts ceux qui courent ceux qui s’accroupissent maintenant dans l’herbe

ils disent notre faiblesse la déchéance incorporée à la vie décomposition chaos anarchie confusion d’autant plus confondue saleté pêle mêle

hors coup & hors usage hors gonds hors argent hors temps hors jeu hors haleine hors boulot hors espoir hors pouvoir

parce que les hommes qui viennent vers nous bien que morts sont exactement comme nous & nous fixent comme des princes déchus

soyez les bienvenus dans la mort disent-ils leurs regards nous divisent en deux

les nombres dansent à nouveau derrière nos yeux

les cercles se brisent

l’homme portant une horloge à son oreille comptera le silence

chaque jour est été

ce qui était naguère vivant est parti

& ce qui n’a pas encore été vivant


Paris
août/septembre 1997

Traduit par Jean Portante

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CHOPIN’S PIANO

La musique est une chose étrange! -- Byron
L'art? ... c'est l'art - et puis, Voilà tout. -- Béranger


1
Bound to your place those penultimate days
Whose plot was impenetrable –
– Myth-full,
Dawn-pallid …
– Life’s end a whisper summons its start:
“I will not render you – no! I will raise you! …”

2
Bound to your place, those days so penultimate
Once when you mirrored – each moment, each moment –
That lyre that Orpheus lent us,
Whose force like a missile struggles with song,
And its four strings commune with
Each, striking each other,
By twos – and by twos –
A murmur slipping toward silence:
“Did he begin
To pound out a note? …
Of what sound was he Maestro! whose playing’s repelling? …”

3
Bound to your place in those days, oh Frederic!
You with your hand alabastered
In whiteness -- possessing – and shuffling –
Your touch scarce a touch – ostrich feather like –
Brushing me blurred in my eyes with your ivory
Keyboard …
And you like that figure
From marble’s own womb
As if hammered
Would pull back your chisel
Your genius – eternal Pygmalion!

4
What in that, in what you have played, and then what? –
A first note recited – and what? he’ll express it
However its echoes set themselves up, will be different
From when with your own hand you blessed
Every chord –
And played it through, simple
And perfect like Pericles,
Like a virtue drawn from a deep past,
Set foot in a village, a log cabin home,
Told herself as she entered:
I was reborn in heaven,
Whose gate changed into my harp,
A ribbon – a path …
Where the Host – I could spy through pale wheatblades –
Emanuel he who now dwells
On Mount Tabor!

5
And Poland within, from that zenith
Perfections of history, ancient, arrayed
Rainbow’s ravishment – Poland –
Wheelwrights transformed!
Selfsame, certain,
Gold bee!

6
And – now – you’ve ended the song – And I
No longer can see you – only – can hear
Hearing what? – like when boys battle boys –
– The keys still resisting
The source of their yearnings unsung
They softly push back on their own
By eighths – then by fifths –
And murmuring: “He – has he started to play?
Or uncaring – cast us aside?”

7
Oh You! Love’s profile
Fulfillment your name:
These – Art dubs them style,
Who penetrate song, who shape stones …
Oh! You – who in chronicles sign yourself Era,
Where you are, aren’t, history’s Zenith,
Are Spirit and Letter in one,
“Consumatum Est” …
You! Oh – Exquisite fulfillment,
Whichever you are, And where? … Are a sign …
In Phidias? David? Or Chopin?
Or a scene out of Aeschylus? …
Evermore – vengeance upon you: PRIVATION! …
Globe’s Stigma – penury:
How it hurts him! … Fulfillment? …
He – who prefers to begin
Forever to throw out before him – down payed !
– “Ear of Corn”? … like a gold comet ripened,
Wind’s breath barely stirs it,
A rain of wheat sprinkles down grains
Perfection alone sweeps away …

8
Over here – Frederic, look! … This is – Warsaw:
Under a star blazing forth
A crazed brightness –
– Attend to it, organs in parish halls; look! it’s Your nest:
It’s elsewhere – old houses patrician
As commonwealths,
Pavements of squares deaf and grey,
And Sigismund’s sword in a cloud.

9
Look! … from alley to alley
Caucasian horses break forth
Like swallows ahead of a storm,
Ahead of their regiments, darting,
By hundreds – by hundreds –
– The town house caught fire, died down,
Then flared up again – And there – Under the wall
Saw the foreheads of widows in mourning
Pushed back by rifle butts –
And again, smokeblinded, I saw,
As it moved past the portal, the pillars,
A contraption that looked like a coffin
They were heaving out … crashing and crushing – your piano!

10
That one! … that championed Poland, he from the heights
All-Perfections of history
People-bound, anthem ecstatic –
O Poland – of wheelwrights transformed;
That same one – crushed on the granite squares!
– Over there: as the thoughts of the just man
Are drowned in the popular anger
Or as, from age unto age,
All its angers awaken!
And right there – like Orpheus’ body,
A thousand nailed passions tear him to shreds
And each one howling: “Not me! …
Not me!” – with a clatter and chatter of teeth –– ––
Is it you? – is it me? – then let’s strike up a Judgment Day song,
Urge them on: “Rejoice, o you child who will be! …
With groaning – stories gone deaf:
The Ideal – now brought low on the pavement” –– ––

Translation from Polish by Jerome Rothenberg & Arie Galles

COMMENTARY


with Jeffrey C. Robinson

All things in this world become beautiful in their patterning after a beauty of a higher order, after non-material beauty. Only when they attain the metaphysical grounding, do they attain their own real being - an infused spiritual beauty, a beauty infused by God. In this manner then, aesthetic beauty becomes fused with moral beauty, with Goodness, with Good itself. ( C.N.)

(1) In the search for which, Norwid (1821-1883) developed a complex surface in his poems – hard to conceive for those of us cut off from him by language – whose darkness, verging on a self-proclaimed obscurity (sancta obscuritas he called it), brought him ineluctably to a new knowledge & practice of reality. If that was his goal, the means he used involved a panoply of what the twentieth-century Russian (Chuvash) poet Gennady Aygi called Norwid’s “poetry of sound,” or Czeslaw Milosz: “the impenetrable obscurity of his style and his jarring syntax, until no one would publish him.” Writes Danuta Zamojska-Hutchins of the range displayed here: “Latinizing syntax, ellipses, foreign language infusions, multiple neologisms, twisted sentences often contrary to the grammar of the Polish language, the use of inversions and punctuation antics, but, above all, variations of the morphological and syntactic functions, the exploitation of the rhythmophonic and expressive qualities of language , all of these are the key emblems of Norwid's poetics of darkness.” (Italics ours.) But the attempt here, in a line from the Romantics to the present, was not only to make the writing new, but to renew the language – or language itself – by repeated & precise acts of defamiliarization, & through that altered, often nonabsorptive language to renew our image of the world. A poet of “Socratic Christliness,” as Bogdan Czaykowski names him, “he thought of himself as a reader of signs, of traces left by God for human beings to recognize and decipher.”

The comparison to Hopkins, often made, seems to hold true on many levels.

(2) Like other Polish Romantic artists including Adam Mickiewicz, Norwid – poet, dramatist, painter, sculptor – spent a life in voluntary exile, a Polish nationalist at a distance, leaving Poland at 21, wandering through Europe & even the U.S., settling at length in Paris where he died in poverty. In that Paris milieu, however, he became an intimate of Frederic Chopin, who fulfilled for him the definition of a modern artist – Norwid wrote about him in at least three pieces – totally absorbed in the lyric “perfection” of the composer’s work which nonetheless, he thought, “voiced Poland,” vulnerable to contemporary brutality yet impervious to it over time. And his remarkable free-verse experiment “Chopin’s Piano,” presented here, dramatizes the impinging turbulence that modifies but does not destroy Chopin’s music as his piano is (actually was) hurled to the Warsaw streets by the army of the Russian Tsar. Little of Norwid’s poetry appeared during his lifetime; indeed, scholars published the complete edition of his poems only in 1962.

[From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, scheduled for publication in January 2009. 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, July 29, August 7. August 16, & September 7.]

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Uncollected Poems (4): On a Line by Valéry

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 10:21 AM 0 comments

for Paul Blackburn

Caesar did it too
– into the snow
at night –
& Stalin
by a wall behind
the Kremlin.
Gandhi too
& Shakespeare,
pissing in a line
like sleepers.
This is the prophecy
of Valéry
& Blackburn:
we are little men.

22.iii.85

[This poem was recovered, along with numerous others, for a volume of Uncollected Poems to be published by Mark Weiss and Junction Press.]

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12 Essential Books: for Poet’s Bookshelf, Volume Two

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 3:59 AM 0 comments
THE INVITATION

1) Please list 5-10 books that have been most “essential” to you, as a poet.

2) Please write some comments about your list. You may want to single out specific poems or passages from the books, discuss how you made your decisions or provide thoughts about the importance of these books in your life. Feel free to write as much as you would like.

THE RESPONSE

Federico García Lorca, The Poet in New York
Roger Caillois and Jean-Clarence Lambert, Tresor de la poésie universelle
Robert Motherwell, Dada Painters and Poets
Donald Allen, The New American Poetry
André Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism
Tristan Tzara, Oeuvres complètes
Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
Ezra Pound, Cathay
Louis Zukofsky, Catullus
Jackson Mac Low, Stanzas for Iris Lezak
John Cage, Silence

It’s an impossible task – for me at least – & I find myself bewildered in the face of it. The books & the poets & writers that they represent come at me in rapid succession, each one a memory of some point in my life when they first appeared to me. I can account for only a small portion of that in the space allotted, & I’ll try to do it in terms of what have long been my overriding concerns as a poet. Some of it will take me back to a point when I was hardly anything special as a reader & when my ideas of poetry were all in the future.

1. My first introduction to a poet outside the American orbit was to Lorca, in particular to an early translation by Rolfe Humphries of Poet in New York. I was fifteen or sixteen years old, & Tom Riggs, a college instructor of my brother’s at NYU, had seen some of what I was then writing & had taken it on himself to advise & educate me. By then I had already had glimpses of modernist poets like cummings & Stein, maybe Joyce as well, & others like these who both puzzled & tempted me. Riggs, who was still a young man, died a few years later in a swimming accident, but what he opened for me (not only Lorca but others as well) was unprecedented. There is no book of poems from that time – the actual tactile feel & the rush of images coming off its pages – which I remember as vividly.

2. At about the same time I caught my first glimpse of traditional American Indian poetry in the concluding pages of Mark Van Doren’s 1928 Anthology of World Poetry. I wouldn’t present this as a key book for me, except as an early revelation of a poetry outside the boundaries of where I expected poetry to be. A much later book by Margot Astrov, The Winged Serpent: American Indian Prose and Poetry, came closer to what would be an overriding concern of mine, & on a still larger, even global scale, a French anthology, Tresor de la Poésie Universelle, co-edited in 1958 by Roger Caillois & Jean-Clarence Lambert, who later became a good friend of mine. I had that one clearly in mind when I began to work on Technicians of the Sacred, so would have to list it here as clearly transformative – an indication of the possibilities of poetry in the area of what I later came to speak of as an ethnopoetics.

3. The other two anthologies that led me toward making assemblages of my own were Robert Motherwell’s Dada Painters & Poets (1951) & Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry. Before Motherwell’s book came along I had only a dim presentiment of what the old Dada poets had unleashed, & however excited I was by what Motherwell showed there. what I found largely missing among the book’s memoirs & manifestos were actual examples of works of poetry. That set my mind toward the creation of a new Dada book in which poetry & near-poetry (most of it in translation) would play the central role. I announced it for publication by my press of that time, circa 1960, as That Dada Strain, but didn’t carry through on it. Later I would use the title for a book of my own poems, & Pierre Joris & I would create the missing Dada anthology as the Dada section of Poems for the Millennium.

4. The New American Poetry had a two-fold meaning for me, both for its presentation of a poetry in the process of becoming & as a model of what an anthology might be. In 1960 I already had ideas of my own & companions in poetry who were my de facto collaborators. Most of us were just outside the orbit of the Donald Allen book, but speaking for myself, I can say that it instigated me with an actual content that greatly enhanced my sense of the range of poetry & poetics that was coming open for all of us. That may have been more useful in the long run, but for me it opened the idea of the anthology-as-manifesto – an amalgam of poems & statements/commentaries by the editor/assembler & by the other poets present in its pages. I was later included in the revised edition of Allen’s book, but the important thing for me had happened earlier: the idea of what a book like this was & what it might still become.

5. Other books fed my appetite for a new poetry & a related new poetics. (I have a tendency to be retrospective, to look backward, as David Antin said of me, while hopefully pushing forward.) With others around me I shared a regard for Williams & Pound in the generation before us – the discourse as much as the poetry – & I was drawn after a time to how Olson & Duncan (Zukofsky as well) were cobbling a new poetics from what Pound & Williams had earlier set in motion. But even more I was drawn to build on the poetics & polemics of radical avant-gardists like Breton, Tzara, & Artaud (many others as well), for whom there were then few texts in English. The first big book from Breton that served my purposes (I had already found him through other sources) was the Manifestos of Surrealism translated by Helen Lane & Richard Seaver, circa 1970 -- a persistent point of reference even now. With Tzara I clawed my way through the Oeuvres Complètes in Tzara’s own text, & with Artaud the big volume of Selected Writings edited by Susan Sontag suited me fine, though Eshleman’s & Hirschman’s books added to it later – & Artaud’s own voice, played over & over again, in the great postwar recording of Jugement de Dieu, topped it off. In all instances the poetics was & remains linked to the poetry – as it should be.

6. The importance for me of Mircea Eliade’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy is embedded in the title of Technicians of the Sacred, my first attempt at a gathering of works that I would later put forward as a twentieth-century version of an ethnopoetics. The book came to me in the early 1960s, along with the English translation of Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism a few years before, another book that shaped & informed an aspect of a work that I was then beginning. Whatever its shortcomings may have been, Eliade’s book was for me a schatzkammer of how pervasive language & performance & dream have been in all human cultures & how fully developed & complex they were where we might least have expected to find them. It was just a small push beyond what he presented to take the shamans of his book as proto-poets, with the caveat, in my case at least, that what we were looking for wasn’t shamanism so much as poetry – no matter if the two (shamanism & poetry) coalesced or not. With Scholem, whom Robert Duncan brought to my attention at the same time (1959) that I brought Paul Celan to his, the revelation was no less clear. I had been smitten already by Isaac Singer’s mystics, madmen, & thieves as they appeared in his Satan in Goray, & what Singer & Scholem led me to, ensemble, provided some of the underpinnings for Poland/1931 & for A Big Jewish Book. With Celan, whom I mentioned just before, it was different – a close contemporary whom I was the first to bring into English, & like other contemporaries a force to reckon with.

7. Speaking of translation, then, which has had a special place for me throughout my life, I take Pound’s Cathay, not surprisingly, as the preeminent book of the last century, to show translation as an important way of making poetry, & Zukofsky’s Catullus as still another likely touchstone. Taking that as a base I began to think of what I called “othering” as running from translation as such to processes like collage & various forms of chance operations & appropriative techniques that I began to explore on my own but with a welcome push from books like Jackson Mac Low’s Stanzas for Iris Lezak & John Cage’s Silence & the series of books that followed for both of them. These also added to my sense of poetry as a great collective & collaborative enterprise – like language itself. In that sense too the enumeration of books that have shaped me/us through my/our art could go on for many more pages & into many more domains, but then, as Blake (another shaper & shaker) said, “Enough! or Too much.”

[First published in Poet’s Bookshelf, Volume 2, edited by Peter Davis and Thomas Koontz, Barnwood Press, Indiana, 2007.]

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The Charge of Light

“LANGUAGE IS DELPHI,” SAYETH JEROME AND NOVALIS
author of visionary poetry
LIKE
Hymns to the Night
and The Blue Flower
(BUT)and now such is outmoded by remembrances of television
but remain in the core of my consciousness
and it’s place as the center of stalagmites of dreams.
Creep Reason, and make me (more) free by letting deep looks
INTO MY FEARS
-- with concern for the dharma and compassion
for the meat of myself and all meated creatures.
In this blackness are old hurdles of pain from a child
just breaking from the womb.
-- This darkness is the charge of light
setting off brigades and peace marches of sound sleep
and wholesome breathing. Speak deep from the lungs as far inward
as there is an existence in the outward.

From "Swirls in Asphalt"

34
WE SWIM IN THE ILLUMINATION
of the full moon
through (the) cold
eucalyptus branches
AND
THE
CAT
really does purr somewhere
besides in our heads
real as the icy wind over
the garbage bin
and the smell of baked apples
and hot cinnamon.
We love the cold air that enters us
and warm beaches
all wrapped in this moment.
Monteverdi’s voices sing:
“Hawk’s breath on the table
and plums nestled in velvet.”
It is carved on a jewel
with gyrfalcons diving
from their nest on a rocky (splintering) cliff
to kill a lurking raven
with one blow of the beak
to its (her)black cranium.
And I pick up the dead body
from the frozen moraine
and listen uncomprehendingly
to my friend’s voice
shouting in the wind.
And we are always together
IN THIS NEVER
which is the now
that we have
in whatever realms
we slip into from sleepiness
to dreams
(that) we remember
of those who come to speak (to us)
or mumble
right before waking.

35
A VULTURE FLIES OVER THE EDGE
of the pine
into an ancient sonata
of blue sky.
The city ceaselessly roars
in the mid-distance
and we might be lions
looking for the meaning
of things in themselves.
Secretly knowing this moment
is tentative
we put our feet
down on it
and it is as solid
as everything
ELSE.
We are dressed
in casual elegance
and our minds
melting
together are elegant.
The instant rushes
so rapidly in the citron silver car
that there is almost
NO LOVE
as it gives way to mutual
care and support,
NOT
ENOUGH
to go on living for.
THIS
HUNGER
is for itself
and only my chest
longing for you can suppress it.
You are beyond all,
in your laughter
and quietness,
and the way you imitate
the expressions of animals.

53
SPONTANEOUSLY PERFECT NOTHING
abolishes change
as does the smile on your face
in your broad straw hat
IN THE SUN
in the middle of a
universe.
This moment the cat sleeps
on the yard lounge
under a blue towel
the color of corn flowers
and there is no hail falling.
This is a perfect description
of everyone knowing
it is truth and courage
and our mammal warmblood
nature that do nothing.
Nothing will save us
and the appreciation of it
is a necessary disguise
for feeling love or compassion.
Mindfulness is a truck tire
in the middle of the roadway
COMMANDING
ALL
THAT
PASSES.
Dreams curl up to sleep
in the afternoon
and darkness fills the empty room
much as light does
where, like music,
they are shaped by consciousness
and two-by-fours and the smell
of plaster. Plastic
can be used
to shape tiny, gleaming, scarlet
flying horses
that are sewn to children’s hats.

A NOTE ON MICHAEL MCCLURE
for a reading at D.G. Wills, La Jolla, 15.iv.00
.
I think that Michael McClure and I first came together when he helped me to see - in 1968 or 1969 - the implications of what I had worked out on my own in Technicians of the Sacred. I had for years before that been gathering materials and texts that involved (specifically) outcroppings of poetry in areas and cultures outside the accepted literary mainstreams. From Michael - and from others like Gary Snyder - I became aware of how many shared interests that involved and of how many transformations had already taken place, beyond the page (so to speak) and into the wide world outside.

I knew Michael McClure's poetry before that and had inserted poems of his into Technicians (the Ghost Tantras that he wrote in "beast language") as parallels to kindred ancient works from aboriginal & mantric sources (& to the sound poems as well of early modernists like Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters). His work throughout was electrifying to those of us watching - with great joy in the discovery - the poetry that was arising then among our own contemporaries. The "beat surface" - which he, like others, "scratched" - was an important part of this, but there were other surfaces and other depths as well. In McClure's case there was from the beginning a mix of highly charged language (visceral, sexual, what he would later call mammalian) with an often overriding gentleness of tone and gesture. In the voice of those poems I heard the voice of someone really speaking, but speaking in - what should we say? - a bard's voice, with a touch, a memory of Blake & Shelley: poets who had moved him in the past.

This sense of voice & body (but really body-mind as one) led him also into an amazing series of theatrical works, like the often acclaimed & often banned The Beard, and on its musical side, to interactions with the likes of Bob Dylan and The Doors (and to his later collaborations, still active, with keyboardist Ray Manzarek). Now, all of this might mask, as it too often does with others, the full sweep of McClure's work. He is both a latterday Romantic - in the best sense - & a sharer in an experimental modernism that has produced our greatest poetry - worldwide - over the last hundred & more years. His grasp of poetry - and art as well - goes back to high school days and first discoveries of surrealists and dadaists who came before him, but also to the work of contemporaries who shared with him a front place in the heyday of the San Francisco
Renaissance. And beyond the poetry as such, he is a devoted student of a range of knowledge in both the arts and sciences - the biological and anthropological in particular - which feeds the poetry in turn & brings about a genuine & very unique lyricism of bio-particulars (meat science as he calls it) & the finest celebration that I know of a universe of living forms.

The recognition of this central aspect of his work has nowhere been better explained than by Francis Crick, our fellow San Diegan and a longtime admirer of McClure's, who said about him: "What appeals to me most about Michael's poems is the fury and the imagery of them. I love the vividness of his reactions and the very personal turns and swirls of the lines. The worlds in which I myself live.. the private world of personal reactions, the biological world (animals and plants and even bacteria chase each other through the poems), the world of the atom and molecule, the stars and the galaxies, are all there; and in between, above and below, stands man, the howling mammal, contrived out of 'meat' by chance and necessity. If I were a poet I would write like Michael McClure - if only I had his talent."

Addendum
18 Jottings from a Notebook, on the Roots of Romanticism
by Michael McClure


Love of the Female
Discovery of nature
Discovery of art
Love of history and mythos
Archetypal modes of thought
Monism, animism, atheism
Asian space
Love of consciousness, the complex and endlessly expanding
Disagreement with measurement
Avoidance of reductionism
Empowering the negative, chthonic
Empowering the beatific
Disbelief in boundaries
Encouraging the intensely sensorial
Enjoyment of metaphor and kenning
Ultimately INSPIRATION
Ultimately IMAGINATION
Love of science and art

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From A Book of Concealments: Romantic Dadas, & Others

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 9:12 AM 0 comments

Romantic Dadas
for Jeffrey Robinson

A late night party
where Romantic Dadas
cut a rug too iridescent
to resist
our smug caresses.
How will we begin
addressing them,
by name or by a face
that turns away from you
unseen, leaves scarce
a trace behind.
Mister Novalis,
or if that isn’t
your real name,
drop it right now
& try another.
He is too determined,
too far below
his average height
for anyone to count.
Aside from which
there are the odors
of the women
who surround him,
so many that the walls begin
to press his skull.
He has to break away
to make an outcry
in the name of Dada.
I and I and I are left
without a place
ulterior to place,
to run or hide.


The Persistence of the Lyric Voice
for Scott McLean

He will keep writing,
will he not,
as you will.
A pressure like a finger
builds inside
his chest
& travels upward,
somewhere between
the trachea
& glottis,
pushes the fold aside
& breaks.
Imagined speech.
It is the same for everything
we say we think we know
the speaker but the speaker
escapes our observation.
It is this concealment
that reveals
the truth of poetry
no less authoratative
than the other
in full gusto.
From the direction of his voice,
an absence & a grief,
his profile is a kind of blue.
The footfall of a wanderer
crosses the open field
in daylight.
Let the spirit rise
until it’s mind,
the untranslated,
untranslatable,
in which the lyric voice
resides mind’s matter
& its coming forth
by day.


A Deep Romantic Chasm
for Michael McClure

A deep romantic chasm
beckons him it leaves no time
to hide from light
in spite of circumstances,
& the way the street
flows like a stream
from no source,
nowhere. This season
with its birds
newly arrived,
the first one on a fence,
mortal as you,
a harbinger of days to come.
Another word,
a false return,
the spoken still unspoken
carries us off.
The cavern of the universe
widens each morning.
My head fills up with dew,
the father writes,
having no home but where
his shadow leads him.
In greasy shirtsleeves, heavy
lids, blotched faces
,
the men pursue
a trail of tears,
unbuttoned captive
to a dream,
a starless galaxy,
the deeper sky
a field of images
measureless & mindless,
absent their god.


Concealed Assassins

Those who are masters
needn’t talk,
but signal with a secret
nod or wink,
concealed assassins
brought into the mix.
Involuntary tears,
a dream of executions,
(C. Baudelaire)
smoke
rises between our teeth.
The ones who loved us
die not one by one
but now en masse,
the presence of the dead
in every corner
.
The wretch who testifies
may also sing,
capturing the ebb & flow
of tides, the pressure
blood breeds
where it stokes the body.
Once to stand there,
hapless,
to sense the joy
in failure
only the wise
can know.
Someone will lift
a burden
from our eyes
& we will witness
worlds unseen

[Earlier parts of this series were published as A Book of Concealments by Chax Press in Tucson (2004) & as A Second Book of Concealments by VEER Books in London (2007). The final section, A Third Book of Concealments, is now ready for publication.]


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with Jeffrey C. Robinson

Poetry fetter’d fetters the Human Race. – W. Blake

It was Blake’s prophecy of an unfettering – & the practice of poetry that accompanied it – that presaged what would issue finally in the revolutions-of-the-word at the heart of any/every future avant-garde. As such the late eighteenth-century urge to “unfetter” citizens from social constraints & repressions had its counterpart in an “unfettered” version of poetry itself. The political association to the liberation or unfettering of prisoners from their chains – in, for example, the Bastille – was revisited in the visionary liberations described in some poems of the period & in the unfettering of traditional form & conventional syntax. Often conflated with “the fancy” & set in conflict with the unifying & “shaping spirit of the imagination” (S.T.C.), some key principles underscored these tactics, namely that poetry’s language, grammar, & syntax could actively participate in the protest & revisioning of the world. In which case, poetry as fancy could also question the consoling function often ascribed to it – that is, the notion of its congruity with a stable self &, by extension, the notion of the poem itself as stable, a “monument” that withstands the buffets of the world “cased in the unfeeling armour of old time,” as Wordsworth had it. There is in fact a long countertradition of poetry that broke open in the late eighteenth century, exploded in the twentieth, & is currently very much alive – a tradition of self-aware, difficult, experimental work that locates poetry’s “political” role (as a means to a reawakening of human possibility) in the very elements of poetry itself. These elements, in the context of experimental poetry & equally experimental prose, are not invisible conduits of poetic “content” but reveal the constraints on the mind, while indicating the means by which to throw off those constraints.

It is this notion of the experimental under whatever name that introduces as well the ludic spirit of play alongside a serious & often expressionistic poetics. Its markers, stretching from the late eighteenth century into the twentieth & beyond, are hybridization – crossover – mischung – improvisation & performance – dreamwork as poem – new forms of rhyme & lineation – prose as an instrument for poetry – first glimmerings of open verse, free verse, & words in freedom. With this as subtext, the Romantic poet adheres, characteristically, to a still traditional, if increasingly shaky, image of the poem, with its formal structure or poetic “line”; that is, most Romantic poetry is written in predictable forms – stanzas, couplets, rhymes, blank verse, sonnets – yet signs of turbulence reside within these structures, such as parataxis, excessively long blank-verse paragraphs, half-rhymes, seemingly endless tetrameter couplets, & unconventional grammar & syntax. While such devices are present throughout these pages, A Book of Extensions brings together some of the still more experimental “extremes,” beginning in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries & accelerating toward their fuller recognition in the century to come. Embedded within Romanticism & Post-Romanticism they represent an alternative road toward that visionary & liberatory goal that has defined poetry & related works from then to now.

[From Poems for the Millennium, Volume 3:The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry, scheduled for publication in January 2009, which Jeffrey Robinson & I have co-edited for the University of California Press. Further previews were posted on June 11, June 18, June 24, July 6, July 13, July 21, July 29, August 7, & August 16.


The following are three of the sixteen pieces in this section.]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Writing Aslant
from Conversations with Eckermann

“At times,” Goethe continued, “the experience I had with my poems was quite different. I had no impression of them in advance and no presentiment. They came over me suddenly and demanded to be made then and there, and I felt compelled to write them down on the spot, in an instinctive and dreamlike fashion. When I was in such a somnambulistic state, it often happened that the paper before me lay all aslant and that I noticed this only when everything was written, or when I found no room to go on writing. I used to have several sheets of paper written like that on the diagonal, but they gradually got lost, and I am sorry that I can no longer show examples of such poetic immersion.”

Lewis Carroll
THREE SYLLOGISMS

(a) All babies are illogical.
(b) Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
(c) Illogical persons are despised.

(a) None of the unnoticed things, met with at sea, are mermaids.
(b) Things entered in the log, as met with at sea, are sure to be worth remembering.
(c) I have never met with anything worth remembering, when on a voyage.
(d) Things met with at sea, that are noticed, are sure to be recorded in the log

(a) No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
(b) No modern poetry is free from affectation.
(c) All your poems are on the subject of soap-bubbles.
(d) No affected poetry is popular among people of real taste.
(e) No ancient poem is on the subject of soap-bubbles.

Henry David Thoreau
A TELEGRAPH HARP (1851)

Sept. 3

As I went under the new telegraph wire, I heard it vibrating like a harp high overhead. It was as the sound of a far-off glorious life, a supernal life, which came down to us, and vibrated in the lattice-work of this life of ours.

Sept. 22

Yesterday and today the stronger winds of autumn have begun to blow, and the telegraph harp has sounded loudly. I heard it especially in the Deep Cut this afternoon, the tone varying with the tension of different parts of the wire. The sound proceeds from near the posts, where the vibration is apparently more rapid. I put my ear to one of the posts, and it seemed to me as if every pore of the wood was filled with music, labored with the strain – as if every fibre was affected and being seasoned or timed, rearranged according to a new and more harmonious law. Every swell and change or inflection of tone pervaded and seemed to proceed from the wood, the divine tree or wood, as if its very substance was transmuted. What a recipe for preserving wood, perchance – to keep it from rotting – to fill its pores with music! How this wild tree from the forest, stripped of its bark and set up here, rejoices to transmit its music! When no music proceeds from the wire, on applying my ear, I hear the drum within the entrails of the wood – the oracular tree acquiring, accumulating, the prophetic fury.

The resounding wood! how much the ancients would have made of it! To have a harp on so great a scale, girdling the very earth, and played on by the winds of every latitude and longitude, and that harp were, as it were, the manifest blessing of heaven on a work of man’s! Shall we not add a tenth Muse to the immortal Nine? And that the invention thus divinely honored and distinguished – on which the Muse has condescended to smile – is this magic medium of communication for mankind!

Sept. 23

The telegraph harp sounds strongly today, in the midst of the rain. I put my ear to the trees and I hear it working terribly within, and anon it swells into a clear tone, which seems to concentrate in the c ore of the tree, for all the sound seems to proceed from the wood. It is as if you had entered some world-famous cathedral, resounding to some vast organ. The fibres of all things have their tension, and are strained like the strings of a lyre. I feel the very ground tremble under my feet as I stand near the post. This wire vibrates with great power, as if it would strain and rend the wood. What an awful and fateful music it must be to the worms in the wood. No better vermifuge. No danger that worms will attack this wood; such vibrating music would thrill them to death.

[Note too David Antin’s suggestion that Thoreau’s two years at Walden Pond – his experiment at “living deliberately … fronting only the essential facts of life” – can now be read, much like the foregoing, as an example of performance art avant la lettre.]


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Technicians of the Sacred - 40th Anniversary Reading

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 1:54 PM 0 comments
At the Bowery Poetry Club, Sunday, September 14, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m., I will be hosting a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Technicians of the Sacred, which brought a global range of oral & tribal poetry into focus & launched ethnopoetics as a new approach to poetry & performance. Joining me will be a group of active poets & performers including Charles Bernstein, Bob Holman, Pierre Joris, Charlie Morrow, Nicole Peyrafitte, Diane Rothenberg, Carolee Schneemann, & Cecilia Vicuña. (Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, between Houston & Bleecker, in NYC.)

[For more on Technicians of the Sacred, see http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/1936.php and for the new French edition, http://www.jose-corti.fr/titresmerveilleux/techniciensSacre.html]

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A Listing of Previous Posts August July and June (complete)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 10:49 AM 0 comments
August (12)

Uncollected Poems (3): "The Silent Language," with a Note on Poetry & Signing

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Two Dialect Poems, with a Note on Sor Juana & the Pitfalls of Translation

Reconfiguring Romanticism (10): Michael Palmer on Shelley

Rafael Alberti (1902-1999): Buster Keaton Searches the Woods for His Sweetheart a Genu-ine Cow

From Poetics & Polemics (forthcoming): "A Secret Location on the Lower East Side”

Reconfiguring Romanticism (9): Some Outsider Poets

Uncollected Poems (2): Two for the Cockeyed Queen of Poland

Translation and Illegibility, with a poem from A Book of Concealments

Pierre Joris: from Justifying the Margins: “Nimrod in Hell” with a Note & Reminiscence on Joris meme

Reconfiguring Romanticism (8): Heinrich Heine, with Gerard de Nerval, a Prose Poem & a Commentary

from Daichidoron: 32 Ways of Looking at the Buddha, for Hiromi Ito

Charles Bernstein: 4 Poems, with a Note on Escape from Rousseau to Bernstein

July (13)

Gematria (2): 14 Stations, with Arie Galles

Reconfiguring Romanticism (7): Prologue to A Book of Origins

From the Medusa Interview: Anthologies, Modernism, & Postmodernism

Ian Tyson's "17 Horse Songs X-XIII" with a Note on Ian Tyson

Reconfiguring Romanticism (6): Poe's Eureka, with commentary

Rae Armantrout, BABEL, a Poem & a Comment, plus an excerpt from Collected Prose

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

Reconfiguring Romanticism (5): Dionysios Solomos Poem & Commentary

Clayton Eshleman: The Left Foot of King Ramesses I, with a Note on Clayton Eshleman

Gematria (1): Seven in Dedication, with a Note on Gematria

Reconfiguring Romanticism (4): Hugo & Dickinson

That Dada Strain Continued: Three from Tristan Tzara, with a Note on Tzara & Dada

Uncollected Poems: Language 3x8, a poem for Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews

June (18)

Crossing the Andes -- 2004

David Antin: 11 games for eleanor (previously unpu.blished), with a Note on David Antin

The People’s Poetry Language Initiative: Preamble and Declaration

Reconfiguring Romanticism (3): Goethe & Shelley

12 Russian Ikons, & Others

A Paradise of Poets: In celebration of Keith Wilson by Bobby Bird

Three Caprichos, after Goya

The Burning Babe, with Susan Bee – Now accessible in full

Reconfiguring Romanticism (2): A Preliminary Listing

The Burnt Book: Postscript to A Book of Concealments

15 Antiphonals: for Haroldo de Campos

La voix des morts: poésie et chamanisme

In Memoriam Jackson Mac Low

Reconfiguring Romanticism (1)

Autonomous Publication & the Internet

Uncollected Poems (1): A Seneca Memory

Three Poems after Images by Nancy Tobin

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From Poetics & Polemics: Reading Celan, 1959, 1995

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 9:01 AM 0 comments
At the International Paul Celan Symposium, Maison des Ecrivains, Paris, 1995.

Paul Celan was for me & others the great poet of what we later came to call the Holocaust. I was (I think) the first to translate him into English (or to translate him publicly), & I was fortunate enough to meet & talk with him in Paris three years before his death. When I was assembling A Big Jewish Book in the late 1970s (later called Exiled in the Word, from Edmond Jabès's phrase), I used a poem of Celan's as that gathering's concluding work; & I would like to start with it now, as a way to come into speaking about what I want to say about him today & in the reading I will do later in these sessions. He has been present for me since I first heard about him & long before I came myself to a kind of writing that I had put off for many years, although what propelled it had also propelled my life as a poet from the very beginning. I would like to suggest in doing this that Paul Celan was, for myself & many others, the exemplary poet in pointing to the possibility that such a poetry could still be written — & that it could, in any instance, be written as if written for the first time.

Celan's poem is called Zürich, zum Storchen. It is dedicated to Nelly Sachs & translated here by Joachim Neugroschel:

[Reads the poem beginning “The talk was of too much, / too little. Of Thou / and Thou again, of / the dimming through light, of / Jewishness, of / your God. // Of / that.” And ending: “We / simply do not know, you know, / we / simply do not know / what / counts.”]

With Celan, who was a poet of the human — not only Jewish — disaster of the second world war, I would like to address a theme or presence to which until several years ago my own work only barely alluded, but which has been an ongoing subtext in most of my poetry & in that of much of my generation. In a period of barely half a dozen years (from 1939 to 1945), there were over 40 million state-directed murders of human beings & at least that many sufferings, maimings & tortures: a disaster so large as to be almost incomprehensible & itself only a part of the disasters & conflagrations of this century & millennium from which we're now emerging. Auschwitz & Hiroshima came to be the two events by which we spoke of it — signs of an enormity that turned myth into history, metaphor into fact. The horror of those events encompassed hundreds & thousands of like disasters, joined (as we began to realize) to other, not unrelated violence against the environment/the earth & the other-than-human world. By the mid-twentieth century, in Charles Olson's words, "man" had been "reduced to so much fat for soap, superphosphate for soil, fillings & shoes for sale," an enormity that had robbed language (one of our "proudest acts" he said) of the power to respond meaningfully, had thus created a crisis of expression (no, of meaning, of reality), for which a poetics must be devised if we were to rise, again, beyond the level of a scream or of a silence more terrible than any scream.

The ground against which Olson, writing in the late 1940s, set his own poetry of "resistance" was the too familiar ground of Auschwitz – in his most specific reference: Buchenwald – & the death camps of World War Two. Even now, when that ground has been sanitized & turned into a museum (a museum more than a shrine), the presence as exhibits of hair, shoes, fillings, glasses, prayerhsawls, toys, can still bring an immediate, uncontrollable sense of the reduction, the degradation that the modern world allows. When I first came to Paul Celan's poetry — in 1957 or 1958 — the war and the holocaust (though I still didn't call it that) seemed very close to hand. I cannot remember how central that was to my reading of Celan then, although Death Fugue (Todesfuge) —his most overt poem about the death camps — was one of the poems that I translated. But I want to be quite clear about that opening attraction to Celan, for what allured me those thirty-seven years ago was not simply his relation to the holocaust as subject, but that I felt a renewal in his work of energies & gestures that the war — if anything — seemed to have set aside, called into question. A renewal & the beginnings — there & elsewhere — of a new twist on those older moves & stances (Surrealist and Dada) in which the war, the holocaust, could also find a voice.

Since that was 1959, the bulk of the poems I translated (as part of a small anthology of mine called New Young German Poets) were from Mohn und Gedächtnis and Von Schwelle zu Schwelle, in which the fear or terror, rarely overt in its references (Death Fugue is in that sense an exception), was carried forward by a music of (almost) songlike rhythms & (not only in Death Fugue but throughout) quasi-formal repetitions. But it was only with the last poem I translated — Schneebett (Snowbed) from his (then) new book Sprachgitter — that the language began to show that convulsiveness — that disassembling & reassembling of language — that would later be the hallmark of his work. Looking back at New Young German Poets, I see the page with ”Snowbed" sitting next to a page with Helmut Heissenbüttel's "Combination II," and I note (as it struck me then too) that both (I stress both) have the marks of a consciously experimental deconstruction of ordinary verse & language. (I use the word "deconstruction" advisedly.) The first numbered section of Heissenbüttel's poem consists of the single word "blackness" hyphenated & broken into two lines, and the first line of his second section (written entirely as capital letters) reads as a single linked word AFTERNOONSSLEEPREMINISCENCE ... both of these being gestures described far too quickly as "uniquely" Celan's. And yet already at that time, while I spoke of Heissenbüttel in my introduction as "the most consistent verse experimenter" of the poets presented, I said of Celan (in a very brief contributor's note): "Paul Celan (b. 1920, Czernowitz/Bukowina, Rumania, now living in Paris) is regarded by many as the greatest of the post-war poets in Germany, perhaps in Europe. Because of his Jewish background, he grew up apart from the German world whose language he shared. Surviving, he has transformed that language into a unique personal instrument for assaulting a reality that has wounded him but that he still desires to address as 'Thou.'"

Looking back at it in that context I am curious as to what I meant by Celan's "uniqueness." It is as if there were already an inkling of the extremity of the later work, the shape it would take (in extremis) as he moved it further through his life & toward his death. For it suddenly occurs to me that to speak of Celan's 1959 work as unique — sitting as it does here next to Heissenbüttel's, with whom it shares certain (less-than-unique) characteristics — is already to assume, as I did, something personal (particular to him) — the use of language (a specific language) as "a personally unique instrument" (meaning a tool, or possibly a weapon): the voice in German of a Jew who had survived the German-led holocaust & was about to become the greatest poet of the German language after Rilke, say, or after Hölderlin, or what? His was, then, an act of subversion & defiance, clear enough even at that early point, although I had no way of knowing how deep, how, specifically, deep into language, that defiance, that mastery on every level of the German tongue, would go.

By the time I met Celan — in 1967 — his reputation had certainly begun to grow, and his work had touched the extremes of a post-Holocaust poetics. (It was still, however, four years before a first volume of his poems would appear in English.) By then his own work had developed through the 1963 publication of Die Niemandsrose (The Nomansrose) and the publication — just that year (1967) — of an even greater breakthrough volume, Atemwende (Breathturn). My own work then was heavily involved with experimental processes — of sound, of image, of metaphor, of visual presentation, of heightened oral performance, of ethnopoetic delvings into a multiplicity of human pasts. I was also accutely aware of my own contemporaries in English, to a lesser degree of his in German; & it seemed to me, among other things, that Celan's most recent verse (as in the poem I read at opening & in works with titles such as Breathturn and Breathcrystal) was as close as that of any European writer to the desired poetics of the breath (& body) that was forming the basis of what was then the most germinal side of the new American poetics. In Celan's words, which were so pregnant for us then & will be repeated often, I believe, in the sessions here: "Poetry is perhaps this: an Atemwende, a turning of our breath ... [&] it is perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange." And still further, as the call for a new poetics to meet a new reality, or to mine into our deepest layers (of history, of thought), he showed in his work the model for a poetry stripped down, compressed, exploring unavoidable "difficulties of vocabulary, [a] faster flow of syntax, [&] a more awakened sense of ellipsis" that connect (however "indirectly," he tells us) to "[the poem's] strong tendency toward silence."

He is, in this sense, one of those in the postmodern (postholocaust) period who came to realize & extend the innovations of the modern — not as a matter, simply, of his formal practice, but of that practice turned into a process of salvation/salvaging driven by the poet/seeker's desperation. We all have that to some degree, but there are certain poets — like Celan, Artaud, Vallejo, Hölderlin — whose lives (whose sufferings perhaps) invade the work & thereby dramatize the human fate the form addresses. In Celan's case — not uniquely perhaps but astonishingly — the suffering seems so closely tied to "holocaust," to that ultimate disaster of a people & a culture (that ultimate reduction of the human that brought about Olson's cry for a resistance through the breath, the body of both man & poem) — the suffering seems so closely tied to “holocaust” that the central issue of his work (the pursuit of a "reality [that] is not simply there [but] must be sought for and won") becomes alive for him & us: the dramatic example of what the revolution of language / revolution of the word might mean in our time. If something like this is inherent in the work of many, in his work & life it was brought to an unavoidable realization; for what sets him apart even here is that the language itself seems shaken to its foundations — disassembled & reassembled in such a way that the act of language becomes (for the moment) a believable act of redemption. It is reminiscent in that sense of William Blake's prophecy from nearly 200 years:

Obey thou the Words of the Inspired Man
All that can be annihilated must be annihilated
That the Children of Jerusalem may be saved from slavery

and again:

... Till Generation is swallowed up in Regeneration.

This has been noted often enough as it appears in Celan: a work of redemption carried on as a struggle against the horrors inherent in everyday language & act — more specifically the ways in which the dominant language (German in his case) is shaped & distorted by those whom the Dada poet Richard Huelsenbeck had called "the advocates of power" & had contrasted to the "creative forces" that it was Dada's goal to free. In that light, I would say, Celan's struggle with language — like ours — should not be viewed as his malaise so much as a sane, totally sane effort to get rid of what still another Dada poet, Hugo Ball, in midst of World War I, had called "the filth that clings to language," & by that very act of poetry — again I'm quoting Ball — "to get rid of language itself." Of the realization in Celan's work & life of that most profound & moving of avant-garde incitements (& of its relation to a specific language, German), our American colleague Jed Rasula has written: "Very few writers have so openly allowed the language of their poems to be helpless, to be written from a condition of abrupt syntactic disintegration consciously attended to. The great difficulty — and thus his greatest example for later poets — is in practicing a craft on material that disappears in proportion to the success of the poet. ... With Celan, the German language itself becomes the means of its own disembodiment. In his hands, more and more of the language simply goes up in smoke. There is nothing like it in any other language that I know of."

A language that goes up in smoke is symptomatically, inherently, a language "after Auschwitz" — after the death camps & crematoria & deaths by fire of World War II. As poetry — as an assertion that such an act of language is only possible as poetry — it is a rejection or a radical & ironic reinterpretation of Adorno's pronouncement about the barbarity or immorality of writing lyrik after Auschwitz. By his work & by his life, then, Celan stands as a beacon for all of us who came to poetry as a means of resistance — a necessary counter-language to the other languages – the languages of power. I would therefore want to end this praise of Celan with a poem of my own wherein I address the question of poetry after Auschwitz. In 1970 I dedicated to him the first installment of a series of poems called Poland/1931, in which I invoked an imagined ancestral Poland as the place from which my Jewish parents had come and where their parents and parents’ parents had lived before them — as far back as we can remember. Nearly twenty years later I went to Poland for the first time & found myself haunted by the ghosts of that place & driven toward a poetry that spoke — in my own words — of what we in my family had called, not "holocaust" but (using a familiar Hebrew-Yiddish word) khurbn. In the poem that I'll read I address the spirits of the dead as dibbikim / dibbiks: those numbering in the tens of millions who had died before their time. And in the same breath I invoke Adorno's familiar words about Auschwitz.

[reads from Khurbn, the section called Dibbikim, ending on the lines that follow]

.
. . . . after auschwitz
there is only poetry no hope
no other language left to heal
no language & no faces
because no faces left no names
no sudden recognitions on the street
only the dead still swarming only khurbn
a dead man in a rabbi's clothes
who squats outside the mortuary house
who guards their privies who is called
master of shit an old alarm clock
hung around his neck who holds
a wreathe of leaves under his nose
from eden "to drive out
"the stinking odor of this world"



[Poetics & Polemics: Essays & Talks 1980-2005 is scheduled for publication next month in the University of Alabama Press's Modern & Contemporary Poetics series.]

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