Dennis Tedlock: Six More Poems from Alcheringa

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:54 AM 0 comments
The Year

First comes
Broken Branches Moon
the snow is heavy
next
Snowless Road Moon
it snows
but it doesn’t stick to the road
next
Little Wind Moon
when the snow is in patches
next
Big Wind Moon
next
Nameless Moon
next
Turnabout Moon
next
Broken Branches Moon
also called Rooster Pull
the time of the rodeo
next
Snowless Road Moon
also called Get-together
Look-at-one-another
next
Little Wind Moon
next
Big Wind Moon
also called Pick-the-ears-of-corn
next
Nameless Moon
when they set the date for the dancers
next
Turnabout Moon
All these twelve together are called
time-surpasses-itself.

Winter Solstice

Here is the place of fear
for four days
no greasy foods are eaten
there is no coffee
no trade
all places of business are closed
for ten days
no sweepings
no garbage is taken out of the house
no fire is taken out of the house
not even cigarettes are lighted outside
people shouldn’t use their cars
the street lights are all turned out
this is the middle of time.

Recipe

Fill a bowl with hot water
add, to taste:
dried leaves of wild mint
ground chili
onions
dried chinchweed flowers
wolfberries
& venison jerky.
This is called
hot-bowl
it is
an ancient dish.

Cornshucking


Pull down the husk
all around
then twist it all off at once
with the stem
put the dry ears in this pile
for us
put the damp ears
the moldy ears in this one
for the hogs
& throw the shucks out there
some of the ears are yellow
some are blue
red
white
some are pretty
the multicolored ones
some are black
look for the Fully-Finished-Ear
without a single kernel missing
right to the very tip
a deer, a buck
wears that one on his breast
& the Flat-Ear
with a forked tip
a doe wears that one on her breast
& the Road-Ear
with a groove down its whole length
runners wear that one on their backs
now here it is
a Fully-Finished-Ear
but it’s wet
I’ll put it at the edge of the good pile
& here is an ear
yellow, but
each kernel
is tinged with red
it’s sort of pretty
there’s no name for this one
I’ll put it here on the fence rail
maybe I’ll do something with it later.

When The Witches Are Out

On the road at night
we caught a deer in the headlights
he didn’t know which way to go
he came toward us
turning left & right
in the lights
we stopped
he cut left through the sunflowers
into the dark
we went up to the house
so our nephew could get his rifle
on our way back down the road
there was another car coming
far off
his lights went out
we rode all the way down past
where the deer was
& there was no deer
& no car.

The Two Of Them

The Zuni
& the anthropologist
walk a narrow road
to the tip of the mesa
to see the Hopi Snake Dance
between two sheer drops
the Zuni says
to the anthropologist
- Both sides!
You jump one way
& I’ll jump the other.

[Additional poems from this series -- with a note on Dennis Tedlock -- appeared earlier in Poems and Poetics.]

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[Originally posted on Keenan's blog, Piri' Miri' Muli', for 08 August 2010]

Jerome Rothenberg just posted the meaty second part of a 1994 talk on e.e. cummings, ending it with an excerpt from a Navajo horse-blessing song he translated in the 1970s:

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

The gerundization of “boy” and “raised” reminds me of Velimir Khlebnikov's “Там, где жили свиристели (Where the Waxwings Used to Dwell),” where Khlebnikov uses suffixes and formed words to convey specific meanings, with the word “momentwill (времирей),” a word he made up which sounds Bergsonian, relating to the joined words around it: “warblewingish,” “waxwings,” “beguilish.” Russian like German has larger words than English, so Khlebnikov is using this composite diction to combine two concepts generally kept separate: time and will, the will of the past enduring, befitting his wish for an eternal present and his belief that language has been a divisive force, which he set out to resolve by way of his zaum language, the sort of representation of cosmological unity that Foucault criticized in Les Mots et les choses.

In addition to works of his composed entirely in the zaum language, Khlebnikov uses made-up words in contexts of existing words that elaborate their possible meaning, as in “Grasshopper” and “Bo-beh-o-bi sang the lips,” assigning a non-connotive language to animals, objects, body parts, and sensory stimuli. Roman Jakobson said “The question of the interplay between speech sounds and letters and the possibility to utilize these interplays in verbal art, particularly on its supraconscious (zaum) level, vividly preoccupied me in 1912-14, and they were intensely discussed in my correspondence of 1914 with Krutchenyk and Khlebnikov."

In a way, the combination of cummings being the major figure of typographic innovation in America and that the content he used it for didn't inspire, may have had some sort of effect on the use of typographic effects thereafter. Creeley spoke of this in a 1963 interview (which I typed out for a conversation with Curtis Faville about cummings last April):

“Cummings' battle with the typographical set of the poem was one in which, once people were willing to admit typography could be variable and could have a useful effect, the particular value was lost... I like some of his earlier poems very much, both the uses of the sonnet and some of the straight wise-guy poems where you get this beautiful jargon and slang, but I feel that he's always been limited by being a real college boy, by which that his thinking, curiously, has never really gone deeper than the kind of, oh! let's say junior, sophomore, college wit... cummings, despite all his insistence on the single identity of the "i," is speaking for almost a class.”

As Creeley found cummings' content wanting, Joanna Drucker complains that Khlebnikov “was not interested in the contents of the individual psyche, but in himself as a priestly figure working in the service of profound truth,” though Julia Kristeva and Jakobson find a stylistic imprint of sexuality in Khlebnikov's frequent use of “mech-mjach” (sword-bullet) as in lines like “mecha stat' mjachom” “(Impatience) of the sword to become a bullet,” a psyche perhaps too impulsive and not sufficiently reflective for Drucker's tastes. Kristeva also credits Khlebnikov among others for the “resurgence of an ‘I’ coming back to rebuild an ephemeral structure in which the constituting struggle of language and society can be spelled out.”

Osip Manselstam said Khlebnikov wrote “one enormous all-Russian book of prayers and icons from which, for centuries and centuries to come, everyone who may will find something to draw on.” Included in everyone are the Soviets and their more religious successors. The Soviet association most likely caused Joseph Brodsky to brand Khlebnikov taboo to the poetic foot soldiers of Reagan-era Cold War triumphalism, but a Khlebnikov revival in Russia seems afoot in the music and theater worlds that see in him a spiritual guide. The composer Vladimir Martynov was recently asked to compose a fusion piece for symphony orchestra and the Tuvan throat singing ensemble Huun Huur Tu and decided to use as his libretto Khlebnikov's creation myth Children of the Otter, and the work premiered in 2009, based on the myths of the Altay region. Martynov states in an interview that he finds in this Asian music and Russian traditions a model for "the end of the era of the composer," the preservation of cultures without humanist authors, a far cry from the “resurgence of the 'I'” Kristeva found in the artist Martynov is adapting.

Martynov describes Khlebnikov's vison of the “super-saga” as “the synthesis of different planes, or as in Children of the Otter, “sails.'” Kristeva describes the drama as “a mother, coming to the aid of her children in their fight against the sun. The Otter's children are squared off against three suns, one white, one purple, the other dark green.”

Also there's a splendid trailer for a new production of Victory Over the Sun, with attempts made by the editor to incorporate the visuals of Kazimir Malevich and others as well as Malevich's costumes.

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[with a commentary by John Bloomberg-Rissman on Coppe and the Ranters]

***Behold, behold, behold, I the eternal God, the Lord of Hosts, who am that mighty Leveler, am coming (yea, even at the doors) to level in good earnest, to level to some purpose, to level with a witness, to level the hills with the valleys, and to lay the mountains low.

High mountains! lofty cedars! it’s high time for you to enter into the rocks and to hide you in the dust for fear of the Lord and for the glory of his majesty. For the lofty looks of man shall be humbled and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord ALONE shall be exalted in that day.***

Hills! Mountains! Cedars! Mighty men! Your breath is in your nostrils.

Those that have admired, adored, idolized, magnified, set you up, fought for you, ventured goods and good name, limb and life for you, shall cease from you.

You shall not at all be accounted of (not one of you), ye sturdy oaks who bow not down before eternal Majesty—Universal Love, whose service is perfect freedom, and who hath put down the mighty (remember, remember your forerunner), and who is putting down the mighty from their seats, and exalting them of low degree. ***

And the prime leveling is laying low the mountains and leveling the hills in Man.

The eternal God, the mighty Leveler is coming, yea come, even at the door; and what will you do in that day?***

Mine ears are filled brimful with cries of poor prisoners, Newgate, Ludgate cries (of late) are seldom out of mine ears. Those doleful cries, Bread, bread, bread for the Lord’s sake, pierce mine ears and heart, I can no longer forbear.

Wherefore hie you apace to all prisons in the kingdom.

Bow before those poor, nasty, lousy, ragged wretches, say to them, your humble servants, sirs (without a compliment), we let you go free and serve you, &c.

Do this or (as I live, saith the Lord) thine eyes (at least) shall be bored out, and thou carried captive into a strange land.

***Loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the poor that are cast out (both of houses and synagogues) to thy house.

Cover the naked: hide not thyself from thine own flesh, from a cripple, a rogue, a beggar, he’s thine own flesh. From a whoremonger, a thief, &c., he’s flesh of thy flesh, and his flesh and whoredom is flesh of thy flesh also, thine own flesh. Thou mayest have ten times more of each within thee than he that acts outwardly in either. Remember, turn not away thine eyes from thine OWN FLESH.

Give over, give over thy midnight mischief.

Let branding with the letter B alone.

Be no longer so horridly, hellishly, impudently, arrogantly wicked as to judge what is sin, what not, what evil and what not, what blasphemy and what not.

For thou and all thy reverend divines, so-called (who divine for tithes, hire, and money, and serve the Lord Jesus Christ for their own bellies), are ignorant of this one thing:

That sin and transgression is finished, it’s a mere riddle that they with all their human learning can never read.

Neither can they understand what pure honor is wrapped up in the king’s motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense. Evil to him that evil thinks.

Some there are who are accounted the offscouring of all things, who are Noble Knights of the Garter. Since which—they could see no evil, think no evil, do no evil, know no evil.

ALL is religion that they speak, and honor that they do.

* * *
A strange yet most true story; under which is couched that Lion whose roaring shall make all the beasts of the field tremble, and all the kingdoms of the earth quake. ***

Follow me, who last Lord’s day, Septem. 30, 1649, met him in open field, a most strange deformed man, clad with patched clouts; who looking wishly on me, mine eye pitied him; and my heart, or the day of the Lord, which burned as an oven in me, set my tongue on flame to speak to him, as followeth:

How now friend, art thou poor?

He answered, yea Master very poor.

Whereupon my bowels trembled within me, and quivering fell upon the worm-eaten chest (my corpse, I mean), that I could not hold a joint still. And my great love within me (who is the great God within that chest or corpse) was burning hot toward him; and made the lock-hole of the chest, to wit the mouth of the corpse, again to open, thus:

Art poor?

Yea, very poor, said he.

Whereupon the strange woman who flattereth with her lips and is subtle of heart said within me,

It’s a poor wretch, give him twopence.

But my EXCELLENCY and MAJESTY (in me) scorned her words, confounded her language, and kicked her out of his presence.

But immediately the WELL-FAVORED HARLOT, whom I carried not upon my horse behind me, but who rose up in me, said:

—It’s a poor wretch, give him sixpence and that’s enough for a squire or knight to give to one poor body.

—Besides (saith the holy Scripturian whore), he’s worse than an infidel that provides not for his own family.

—True love begins at home, &c.

—Thou and thy family are fed as the young ravens, strangely, though thou hast been a constant preacher, yet thou hast abhorred both tithes and hire; and thou knowest not aforehand who will give thee the worth of a penny.

—Have a care of the main chance.

And thus she flattereth with her lips and her words being smoother than oil; and her lips dropping as the honeycomb, I was fired to hasten my hand into my pocket; and, pulling out a shilling, said to the poor wretch,

Give me sixpence, here’s a shilling for thee.

He answered, I cannot, I have never a penny.

Whereupon I said, I would fain have given thee something if thou couldst have changed my money.

Then saith he, God bless you.

Whereupon with much reluctancy, with much love, and with amazement (of the right stamp) I turned my horse head from him, riding away. But a while after I was turned back (being advised by my Demilance) to wish him call for sixpence, which I would leave at the next town at one’s house, which I thought he might know—Sapphira-like, keeping back part.

But (as God judged me) I, as she, was struck down dead.

And behold the plague of God fell into my pocket, and the rust of my silver rose up against me and consumed my flesh as with fire; so that I and my money perished with me.

I being cast into that lake of fire and brimstone.

And all the money I had about me to a penny (though I thought through the instigation of my quondam Mistress to have reserved some, having rode about 8 miles, not eating one mouthful of bread that day, and had drunk but one small draught of drink, and had between 8 and 9 miles more to ride ere I came to my journey’s end; my horse being lame, the ways dirty, it raining all the way, and I not knowing what extraordinary occasion I might have for money). Yet (I say) the rust of my silver did so rise up in judgment against me, and burnt my flesh like fire; and the 5th of James thundered such an alarm in mine ears, that I was fain to cast all I had into the hands of him, whose visage was more marred than any man’s that I ever saw.

This is a true story, most true in the history.

It’s true also in the mystery.

And there are deep ones couched under it, for it’s a shadow of various, glorious (though strange) good things to come.

Well!—to return—after I had thrown my rusty cankered money into the poor wretch’s hands, I rode away from him, being filled with trembling, joy, and amazement, feeling the sparkles of a great glory arising up from under these ashes.
After this, I was made (by that divine power which dwelleth in this Ark or chest) to turn my horse head—whereupon I beheld this poor deformed wretch looking earnestly after me; and upon that, was made to put off my hat, and bow to him seven times, and was (at that strange posture) filled with trembling and amazement, some sparkles of glory arising up also from under this, as also from under these ashes; yet I rode back once more to the poor wretch, saying, Because I am a King I have done this, but you need not tell anyone.

The day’s our own.

This was done on the last LORD’S DAY, Septem. 30 in the year 1649, which is the year of the Lord’s recompenses for Zion, and the day of his Vengeance, the dreadful day of Judgment. But I have done (for the present) with this story, for it is the latter end of the year 1649.


COMMENTARY

The selection above is taken from a regularized-spelling version of Abiezer Coppe’s [First] Fiery Flying Roll (1649, according to Lady Day Dating; the Thomason Tract copy in the British Library [E.587 (13,14)] is dated January 4, 1650, and Thomason’s dates are very accurate).

Abiezer Coppe is often identified as a Ranter; it is important to remember that Ranter is a term of abuse that was given to certain radical Christians who believed that adherence to the Law was inessential for salvation (aka antinomians). Those who labeled Coppe and others like him Ranters constituted what John Carey describes as ‘authority’. To take at face value what Authority had (and has) to say about the Ranters (most notably Coppe, Laurence Clarkson, Joseph Salmon, Jacob Bauthumley …) would be akin to accepting as unbiased all that was said by Spanish Falangists about the Barcelona anarchists during and after the Spanish Civil War.

The emphasis on “sin” (in which the Ranters did not believe) in the description of them found in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Archive [on-line] could have been written by said Authority: “…extremists, like Abiezer Coppe (1619–1672) and his fellow Ranters, held that the elect, saved by grace and inhabited by God, are perfect, are incapable of sin, and have a religious duty, by sinning freely, frequently and publicly, to demonstrate their sanctity. Drawn largely from the ranks of apprentices, distressed urban artisans, and itinerants of various sorts, Ranters flourished from 1649 to about 1654: some cursed and blasphemed constantly, others drank to excess, smoked strong tobacco in their meetings, ran naked in the streets, and fornicated openly, often, and with multiple mates.”

Authority was right; what else is this spitting in the face of Calvinist proprieties besides apocalyptic antinomian class warfare? Of interest here too – and even more so in the present context – is Ranter language, which supplies the context for Ranter behavior. As The Norton puts it again, “They earned their name, Ranters, by their random, hectic, ‘inspired’ discourse, rooted heavily in the Bible and the experiential; the Ranter prophetic voice attempts to escape from the usual forms and conventions of language.” (The later relation to William Blake might also be noted.)

“‘My great desire (and that wherein I most delight) is to say and see nothing’ [Joseph Salmon, Heights in Depths and Depths in Heights, 1651]. The naming process becomes hollow, void of meaning, and for [Laurence] Clarkson [(1615–1667)], even the imagination, when employed, is nothing compared with the infinite state of knowing God within: To ‘arise into the Letter of the letters’ … is to outstep oneself.’” [Both quoted by Nigel Smith in the introduction to his A Collection of Ranter Writings from the 17th Century (London: Junction Books, 1983)]

Whereas Wittgenstein was forced (by philosophical convention?) to close his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus with “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”, the Ranters refused such silence, and preferred to engage fully with “the breath’s transparent coinages” (Gustaf Sobin).

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In advance of an official announcement, this is to report that Poems for the Millennium, volume 3: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry, edited by myself and Jeffrey Robinson, will receive a 2010 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. It’s my understanding that there will be thirteen such awards over all, including Amiri Baraka’s Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music and Dave Eggers’ non-fiction narrative Zeitoun, as well as a lifetime achievement award for our old comrade-in-poetry Quincy Troupe.

The nominating statement for Poems for the Millennium reads as follows:

“Modernism rejected Romanticism in the way that one political leader rejects another—not because it is any different but because it wishes to win the same audience. This book demonstrates that the only thing that happened in Modernism was that a door opened onto still another aspect of the immense cultural experiment that Romanticism was—or as Rothenberg and Robinson might insist, as Romanticisms were (are). Central issues were what Rousseau called conscience de soi, self-awareness (but a self-awareness which deliberately did not separate itself from ‘world’), a new interest in ethnicity and the local, and a shift from thinking of poetry as a ‘craft’ and of the poet as ‘maker,’ to thinking of it as a provoker of consciousness—even a creator of consciousness—and of the poet as Bard, Shaman. To know the work so carefully, lovingly and brilliantly assembled in this book is to know ourselves in a new and newly conscious way.”

A note on the Before Columbus Foundation and the American Book Award is also worth including here. Founded in 1976 by Ishmael Reed, Victor Hernández Cruz, Rudolfo Anaya, and others, the Before Columbus Foundation’s long-term strategy has been to promote "a multi-ethnic” and “pan-cultural view of America,” especially through the promotion of “multicultural writers.” This led two years later to the establishment of the American Book Award, for which the following statement acts as a kind of official history and manifesto:

“America was intended to be a place where freedom from discrimination was the means by which equality was achieved. Today, American culture is the most diverse ever on the face of this earth. Recognizing literary excellence demands a panoramic perspective. A narrow view strictly to the mainstream ignores all the tributaries that feed it. American literature is not one tradition but all traditions. From those who have been here for thousands of years to the most recent immigrants, we are all contributing to American culture. We are all being translated into a new language. Everyone should know by now that Columbus did not ‘discover’ America. Rather, we are all still discovering America-and we must continue to do so.

“The Before Columbus Foundation was founded in 1976 as a nonprofit educational and service organization dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature. The goals of BCF are to provide recognition and a wider audience for the wealth of cultural and ethnic diversity that constitutes American writing. BCF has always employed the term ‘multicultural’ not as a description of an aspect of American literature, but as a definition of all American literature. BCF believes that the ingredients of America’s so-called ‘melting pot’ are not only distinct, but integral to the unique constitution of American Culture-the whole comprises the parts.

“In 1978, the Board of Directors of BCF (authors, editors, and publishers representing the multicultural diversity of American Literature) decided that one of its programs should be a book award that would, for the first time, respect and honor excellence in American literature without restriction or bias with regard to race, sex, creed, cultural origin, size of press or ad budget, or even genre. There would be no requirements, restrictions, limitations, or second places. There would be no categories (i.e., no ‘best’ novel or only one ‘best’ of anything). The winners would not be selected by any set quota for diversity (nor would ‘mainstream white anglo male’ authors be excluded), because diversity happens naturally. Finally, there would be no losers, only winners. The only criteria would be outstanding contribution to American literature in the opinion of the judges.

“All winners are accorded equal standing. Their publishers are also to be honored for both their commitment to quality and their willingness to take the risks that accompany publishing outstanding books and authors that may not prove ‘cost-effective’ in the short run. There are special Award designations (such as Lifetime Achievement) for contributions to American literature beyond a recently published book. The American Book Awards Program is not associated with any industry group or trade organization. The American Book Awards offer no cash prize nor do they require any financial commitments from the authors or their publishers. The Award winners are nominated and selected by a panel of writers, editors, and publishers who also represent the diversity of American literary culture.”

An awards ceremony and reception will take place on Sunday, September 19th from 1-4 p.m. at the Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA. A reception will take place following the ceremony. Free and open to the public.

Addenda. The following is the complete list of award recipients, just released:

Amiri Baraka, Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music (University of California Press)
Sherwin Bitsui, Flood Song (Copper Canyon Press)
Nancy Carnevale, A New Language, A New World: Italian Immigrants in the United States, 1890-1945 (University of Illinois Press)
Dave Eggers, Zeitoun (McSweeney’s/Vintage)
Sesshu Foster, World Ball Notebook (City Lights)
Stephen D. Gutierrez, Live from Fresno y Los (Bear Star Press)
Victor Lavalle, The Big Machine (Spiegel & Grau)
François Mandeville, This Is What They Say, translated from the Chipewyan by Ron Scollon (University of Washington Press)
Bich Minh Nguyen, Short Girls (Viking)
Franklin Rosemont and Robin D.G. Kelley, editors, Black, Brown & Beige: Surrealist Writings from Africa and the Diaspora (University of Texas)
Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson, editors, Poems for the Millennium: Volume Three: The University of California Book of Romantic & Postromantic Poetry (University of California Press)
Kathryn Waddell Takara, Pacific Raven: Hawai`i Poems (Pacific Raven Press)
Pamela Uschuk, Crazy Love: New Poems (Wings Press)
Lifetime Achievement:
Quincy Troupe
Katha Pollitt

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John Martone: geometry (poems)

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:24 AM 0 comments
geometry



circling
this lake
to left
counter
clockwise


~


log—
hollow

long time
now

down
to this

empty
skin


~


fallen trunk
my path’s one
straight stretch


~


beaver dam—
farther on
fire circle
!


~


wood
pecker
yes

way
up
beaver-

girdled
oak


~

burrow—
room for
5 words


~

beaver
blue heron
bald eagle

& you


~

beavers too—
chisel-tooth’d
pen


~

that
beaver
dam’s

human
look—


~

cdnt do better
than this beaver dam
yrself

~


but this
beaver dam’s
conical
symmetry—

this beaver dam’s
geometry


~

beaver dam—

ought to
bathe today!

~

adding 9 words
to this beaver dam

here’s a poem


-- john martone
november, 2009


NOTE. For some years now, John Martone has been an indomitable worker in the pursuit of poetry, whose autonomous publications, many of them under the chosen logo of tel-let have come out in simple handstitched versions and since 2005 in an ongoing on-line format. In his own accounting: “ [Tel-let] began in 1987 as an extension of correspondence among poets. Over 100 numbers have appeared, originally in a simple 8.5/11 side-stapled format. During this time, the range of formats has grown, but the impulse has remained to provide a meeting place for exiles. The current print form reaches upwards of 100 correspondents in the US, UK, Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, and Slovenia. Poets represented include Bob Arnold ° Ed Baker ° Michael Basinski ° MJ Bender ° Cid Corman ° Simon Cutts ° Larry Eigner ° Theodore Enslin ° Clive Faust ° Robert Fitterman ° Bob Grumman ° Gary Hotham ° Stefan Hyner ° Karl Kempton ° Robert Lax ° David Levi Strauss ° John Levy ° Rupert Loydell ° Giovanni Malito ° Lissa McLaughlin ° David Miller ° Peter Money ° Barbara Moraff ° Frank Samperi ° George Quasha ° Jerome Rothenberg ° John Vieira ° Phyllis Walsh ° Scott Watson.”

In the present blogger format, a few of the poems presented above have had to do without occasional indentations, but it’s my hope that the fineness of the work comes through in spite of this. He remains throughout our greatest living miniaturist -- his art a scaled-down work of nearly epic dimensions. (J.R.)

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Milton Resnick, Poet-- In Memory

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:09 AM 0 comments
Milton Resnick walked in on me while I was tending the Blue Yak Bookstore on East 10th Street, showed me his poetry, in three small, neatly printed pamphlets, & later taught me, as I came to know him, what it meant to be devoted to art as the center & pivot of a life. The year must have been 1961, since the Blue Yak didn’t last for more than that year, & probably in the spring, before Diane & I went off to Europe in the summer. (The store had vanished by the time we got back – or if it hadn’t completely vanished, was on the way to doing so.)

Milton’s declaration, right from the start, was that he was a painter who had given up painting in favor of poetry & that he thought that I & my fellow poets should now give up poetry in favor of painting. I took him at his word – or pretended to – & for a part of the next year I busied myself with photomontage or collage & even got into painting for a spell, when Diane & I hid away for a week on a small island (Picton) in the St. Lawrence River. My commitment to painting wasn’t very deep of course, but I learned something from Milton & from the actual feel of doing it, the act (however brief for me) of being in it. I wrote about it too, as follows, though I think it got into my poetry in other ways as well:

I sweat too much, I have
a long way left
& I would like to know death
not as this fear
but as my hand touched form
when painting
opening, the shadow of a color
on my arm

[from “Three Interiors” in Between, 1963]

But what was much more important for me was Milton’s work & presence – a ferocious devotion to painting & to whatever else it was that drove his own work. He was uncompromising & quickly dismissive of what he didn’t love – a temperament in that sense very different from my own – but his loves were also powerful & contagious. It was his enthusiasm, I know, that first turned me to the paintings of Arshile Gorky & led to a book-length gathering of mine I called The Gorky Poems. I didn’t dedicate the book to Milton, as possibly I should have, but I have a sense that I borrowed from him a certain ferocity – something of his rant, I thought, more than of mine or Gorky’s, or something in the mix along with ours:

What men!
What stone in their voices!
What glass in their blood!
What iron! What flesh!
What bright eyes!

This stone, this iron
in a dream
Still worse when no one dreams it.

[from “The Pirate (II),” in The Gorky Poems]

I was also deeply moved by Milton’s poetry, to which my first response, as often the case in those days, was to publish a group of his poems in the magazine I was then publishing & editing, Poems from the Floating World. I had an idea, even then, of the ways in which certain artists had crossed or blurred the line between poetry & painting (or between poetry & art, to put it that way) – Arp, Picabia, Kandinsky, Ernst, among the ones whom I was then pursuing, & Schwitters & Picasso the ones I would pursue much later. In Milton’s four small books – Up & Down, followed by Journal of Voyages 1, 2, & 3, all published consecutively in 1961 – I found an equivalent shift from one genre to another. It was not a question of mixing genres, which began to interest me in work by other poets & artists who were then emerging, but of carrying the intensity he had lavished on painting into a new medium – that of words. That he did it instantly & with equivalent grace & fury astonished me, as did his natural & credible assumption of the poet’s [bardic] voice:

I release my poems upon cities
upon cities
a human soul circles
towers of smoke
lance the sky

& again, from a place of anxiety shared by many a poet/artist “in advance of techne”:

yellow fingers scratch showers of sweat
I make a noise in my throat
black be blacker be feared
fear teaches poetry
whose double pin hooks deep into all of us

Some of that fear, I came to think, was a Jewish thing – at least that image came up very strongly when he & Pat Passlof moved from the East Village into the abandoned synagogue they bought, circa 1963, on Forsythe Street. I had begun to work, however tentatively, toward Poland/1931, which would be my attempt to resuscitate Jewish “identity” & simultaneously to put it into question, so the synagogue (one of many in what had been the heavily Jewish Lower East Side) was a point of fascination for me. It was for him also, something that he described to me as a “return” – to a place where he could go & “be a kike again.” That was exactly how he put it, though by the time he got there, Forsythe Street had turned heavily hispanic & was – their block at least – a dangerous part of a notoriously dangerous neighborhood. In the midst of that Milton & Pat turned their synagogue into a green paradise, filled with plants & birds, a workplace & oasis in a hostile world.

Our last dinner at their place – before Milton got his own synagogue on Eldridge Street & the neighborhood turned decidedly Chinese – was one that still stands out in recollection. It was late into the evening & we were sitting in the sunken part of the house, a large high room below street level but with tall windows facing onto Forsythe Street. There had been some talk about drug pushers & other local dangers, all of which Milton put down in favor of his sense of a “return.” It was in the middle of that talk or soon thereafter – with dinner, I think, already over – that we heard several loud bangs from the street outside & looked up – startled – to see a body, illuminated by a street light, dropping to the ground. We continued to watch in silence as other murky figures loomed up & the rotating colored lights of a squad car came on the scene with siren blasting.

I hardly remember what else we saw – an ambulance at some point & the movements & voices of shadowy spectators after the fact. Finally the street emptied out & there were no sounds coming back at us. No one seemed ready to say anything, the rest of us looking toward Milton to see how he would respond. There was a long pause – very long – & Milton then said – to no one in particular I thought: “I have never felt so safe in my whole life.”

I treasure that moment in memory, as I treasure his art & the devotion he gave to it even when he turned from it in anger. That anger I think never left him but I would also like to believe that he maintained alongside it the determination to be the master of his life & death against all odds. He will be remembered for the beauty & reality that his art brought into the world, & in my mind at least he will remain a real poet, a fellow poet, as he was when I met him back in some mutually vanished past.

Jerome Rothenberg
Encinitas, California
July 2004

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Dennis Tedlock: Seven Poems from Alcheringa

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 6:48 AM 0 comments
Advice Received

Don’t ask too many questions.
Don’t ask questions about religion.
Don’t take notes in front of people.
If someone is chopping wood
don’t just stand there.

Dialogue

- I could tell you a story.
It’s the story told to all boys when they are initiated.
Do you want me to tell it? -
- If you want to tell it go ahead. -
- Don’t say that.
Say you want me to tell the story.

The Hunter’s Wife

1
She looks out the window
the snow is falling
her husband went hunting for elk
the boy went along too
a neighbor thinks he saw them at Red Hill
she hasn’t seen the sun all day.

2
She was out in the woods
gathering pine nuts
and there
under a tree
was a fawn
the fawn said
- Tie me up. –

3
The men left her in camp for the day
a wounded buck
charged right into the fire
she hit him over the head with a frying pan.

When Only The Breath Is Left

On the third day after her grandson died
she thought she heard his
transistor radio playing
but that wasn’t even in the house
it was already
broken and buried.
On the fourth night
the door was left open for her grandson
she dreamed of masked dancers
in a row
she heard the cry of the deer
they all walked away
he was the one in the middle.

The Fire in Your Fireplace

You started it right up
with one match, it must be
your aunt loves you
it was quiet for awhile
but now
listen to that fire!
The flames go straight up
it roars!
Someone is hungry, it must be your
great-grandparents
every time you eat
take a little bread
a little meat
throw it in the fire, say
- Great-grandparents!
Eat! -
That’s the shortest prayer there is.

While Eating Mutton

Here are the eyes
but that means weak eyes
here is the fat around the eyes
but that means getting tears in the wind
here is the tongue
but that means getting thirsty all the time
here is the brain
but that means snoring all night
here is the heart
but that means forgetfulness
here is a bone with marrow in it
but that means hangnails
now here is the meat on the palate, with this
I’ll be able to eat cactus fruit.

Spiders

1
A spider walked across the table
he lit a match and burned it
then he said
- Bluebird!
That handsome Bluebird!
He’s the one who killed you!
Shrivel up his eyes!

2
A spider bit the girl
there were big red bumps down her arm
but her aunt knew the right medicine
it was the juice of the burnt Bluebird.

NOTE. Dennis Tedlock’s work as one of the co-founders of contemporary ethnopoetics is internationally known & regarded as a singular achievement of twentieth & twenty-first century poetry. By the time of our first meeting in 1970 Tedlock had already started his own pioneering work in what I soon came to call “total translation” – the still remarkable presentation in Finding the Center of spoken Zuni narrative performances as lineated compositions. Afterwards, in the manner of true poetic innovators (& with a scholar’s skills to back that up), he created a new translation of the Mayan classic, Popol Vuh, that drew on the knowledge of contemporary Mayan speakers & his own study of Mayan language & culture. This was followed by his translation of the ancient Mayan drama, Rabinal Achi, & most recently his 2000 Years of Mayan Poetry has exposed for us the full range of Mayan writing from the earliest hieroglyphic inscriptions to the works of later writers using the Roman alphabet. Sometimes overshadowed by these groundbreaking works, Tedlock’s own poetry forms a continuum with them, as in these poems, informed by his years of association with the Zunis in New Mexico & first published in Alcheringa, the journal of ethnopoetics that he & I published & edited in the 1970s. (J.R.)

Further poems by Dennis Tedlock will soon appear here.

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[Continued from a previous posting, which can be picked up here.]

At the time of Olson’s Projective Verse manifesto (1950), Cummings was the most popularly recognized, most spectacularly experimental of the visible American poets (outside of Gertrude Stein, that is, who was herself very differently situated and rarely – except by Williams, say – acknowledged as, specifically, a poet). The extent of Cummings’ recognition is reflected in Pound’s titling of his own global anthology From Confucius to Cummings, or in Williams’ statement on Cummings, whom he places with Pound as “beyond doubt the two most distinguished American poets of today,” that “to me, of course, E. E. Cummings means my language.” A similar acknowledgement would come from Louis Zukofsky, who ranks with the others mentioned as among the American poets making “epics” as in Pound’s words, “poem[s] including history.” Thus Cummings appears a number of times in Zukofsky’s anthology/overview of English-language poetries, A Test of Poetry, and Zukofsky opens his summarizing essay (1930) on American poetry then entering its fourth twentieth-century decade with a linking of Cummings and Joyce as primary movers for his own “Objectivist” generation.

*

Now, there is no question that for many in my own generation and some part of what comes after, Williams, Pound, Olson, and Zukofsky can be viewed as the founders of a major line – not our only postmodern avant-garde but certainly one that any of us devoted to innovative or transformative writing would need seriously to consider. Here – apart from Olson and Zukofsky early on – I have found Cummings absent as a force or as a cited influence, beyond the admission (as in my case, above) of an enthusiasm dating back to adolescence. In other areas the recognition is possibly more direct or forthright – for those engaged, say, in concrete poetry and other forms of visually and typographically based writing. Here the locus is largely European, and in virtually any history or historical gathering of textart, word and image, poésure & paintrie, etc., Cummings is sure to appear as an acknowledged early American example. (So, by the way, is Pound, whose coined word noigandres became the name of the principal concrete poetry movement in Brazil.)

In the context of concrete and visual poetry, there is another interesting and useful thing that happens in our positioning of Cummings. Viewed alongside or within the early twentieth-century avant-garde he becomes no longer the unique instance but (as he truly was) the great American interpreter of the new visuality (and more) that was being developed on an international scale for two or three decades (1895 to 1920 roughly) before his own entry into poetry. If this makes him seem less original than heretofore (but the nature of such originality would itself be open to much question) it shows him as part of a larger work of transformation that was opening up new possibilities of language and of thought.

As a member of a lineage (rather than the sport of nature he sometimes preferred to be or to be seen as being) his predecessors go from Mallarmé through Apollinaire (that much is obvious) and reach a first and widely known cresting in the Futurisms (Italian and Russian both) around the first world war. (Marinetti’s “liberated words” and dicta regarding the “destruction of syntax” and the suspended use of punctuation and of captials would surely have been known to Cummings; Kruchenykh’s and Khlebnikov’s “word as such”/”letter as such” less likely.) The push comes closer to his own time with the works of Dada and De Stijl, of Kurt Schwitters’ Merz, of Paul van Ostaijen’s holographic/typographic writings in Bezette Stad in Belgium, of Anatol Stern and Alexander Wat in Poland; and beyond the visual and concrete, we see connections to works that are at once asyntactic and neologistic: the zaum experiments of the great Russian pioneers; the fractured grammar and proto-lettrism of Schwitters, Raoul Hausmann, and Theo van Doesburg; even the radical relanguagings of Joyce that clearly formed an instance known and admittedly absorbed by Cummings.

To say all of that is in no sense to diminish Cummings, much less to obscure him. For it is precisely in this light (I would suggest) that Cummings’ moves and differences can still be felt: as a developer of compositional strategies with sources and outcomes that are important for the real (not fabricated) mainstream of twentieth-century poetry and language art. At its most radical heart (not its extremities, its fringes, but its heart) the vocabulary is surely there – as it was with Olson a half century ago – to speak of and to precisely name his contributions. So, for example, the Noigandres poets of Brazil (Haroldo and Augusto de Campoos, Decio Pignatari), in their “master plan for a new concrete poetry” in 1960, list their array of predecessors, among whom Cummings is cited for his pioneer work in “the atomization of words,” in “physiognomical typography,” and in his “expressionistic emphasis on space.” The assessment is all the more important as a set of working hypotheses by highly creative and intelligent poets in the act of shaping their own destinies.

To look at Cummings’ work, then, through Noigandres or other engaged movements and artists is to see it from a perspective that begins to approach the present. I would suggest (since we’re here at a meeting of those, I take it, who are well disposed to Cummings) that one could now assess, could reassess Cummings in light of those and still later practitioners, even some of those (I’m only guessing here) who would likely back away from the acknowledgement of too close a connection. What could be done in this instance might be to follow through on the 1950 Olson proposition (the voice’s suspension in the movement of the line, the hovering of voice or breath) and compare the work of Cummings to that of Black Mountain poets like Creeley or Paul Blackburn, where I had thought of it always as most notable, or to that of Olson himself. And again, with a look toward the verbovisual postmodern, I would consider such borderline poets as Jackson Mac Low and John Cage, often included in such listings, or even such later (so-called) Language Poets as Bruce Andrews, say, or Hannah Weiner, in relation to whom Cummings would no longer seem so marginalized and willful, but as a pioneer in those works of “lexical and orthographic atomization/fragmentation, physiognomical typography, and spatial reconfiguration” (whether “expressionistic” or not) that the Noigandres poets called to our attention.

In my own case – to return to that – Cummings first allowed me to see that language was more than an adherence to the rules we had imposed on it, that there was in fact a range of remaking that was not only possible but often necessary in all our language acts as poets. I began with that when I was very young, lost it for a time (along with others of my generation) into my early twenties, and began to recover it again at the time of our rebirth (our renaissance, to put it baldly) in the later 1950s. I have never gotten back to Cummings in that sense, but I know that many of his works (among the first I memorized without ever really trying) are a part of my own body and state-of-mind down to the present. I will hardly try to ferret out the traces of it in my writings, nor do I think that derivation functions in that way. But I will close this presentation with a shortened version of a poem in which I atomize or break up words and reconstruct them – not as Cummings did but in a way that he and others both before and after him allowed to happen.

The origins of what I’ve written here go back to practices of verbal composition that are widespread in oral traditions around the world and notably among the traditional Indian peoples in the Americas. In the early 1970s, fully aware of the experimental writings and soundings of my contemporaries (in America and Europe), I worked with the assistance of the ethnomusicologist David McAllester from a series of Navajo horse-blessing songs that had been part of the Blessingway of a Navajo hatali (medicine man or, literally, singer) named Frank Mitchell. In doing so I made the English accountable for all the word distortions and nonsemantic sounds and syllables that are characteristic of that kind of poem-song. The result on the page was a text with diminished readability but one that I could use to rescore a performance, not following a Navajo melody or rhythm but one that seemed to me to issue from the English words and sounds of my own poem. If this connects cummings (and the rest of us) to a tradition deeper and older than the modern and postmodern present, it will have been part of my intention all along.

[reads or chants]:

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

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

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

et cetera

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[continued from previous postings on June 29, 2010 and July 14, 2010]

If a narrative is about making present and a story is about making sense, the two effects may come together or separately, but they invoke different cognitive capabilities and are produced by different means or by the different deployment of the same means.

Consider this passage from the Warhol Diaries.

Thursday March 23, 1978

Yesterday I watched the Flying Wallenda on the news fall from the highwire and get killed. You saw it all – he was walking, and he got to the middle, and a wind came from Miami, and -- he was just -- he fell, and then the cameras went close in, they showed him lying there
.

This is a simple story, the report of the aerialist's death, and it follows the form Labov suggests for oral stories of personal experience. It begins with an Abstract ("Yesterday I watched..."), followed in order by an Orientation ("...he was walking, and he got to the middle..."), a Complication ("...and a wind came from Miami..."), a Result ("...he fell"), and a Coda ("... they showed him lying there.") What makes it a narrative in my terms is what Labov calls the Evaluation, which in Labov's sense marks the significance of the event, but which as I see it narrativizes the story by marking the presence of a subject and the subject's sense of stake.

These markers begin with "You saw it all," proceed by insistence through the staccato rhythm of "he was walking", "and he got to the middle", "and a wind came from Miami", which would have have continued to "and he fell", but this clause is emphatically interrupted by the stammering "he was just", the most emphatic mark of the observer's stake in the outcome. While the next clause -- "and then the cameras went close in" -- reveals that the narrative impact is upon the observer to whom "they showed him lying there". From this point of view, the final clause turns out not to be a Coda, but the narrative Result. For while the story gives an account of the fall of the Flying Wallenda, tripped up by a wind from Miami, the narrative is the sense of Warhol watching, first with interest and admiration, then in fascination and helpless horror from 1500 miles away. It represents and reenacts the confrontation of the observer's subjectivity with the promise of esthetic delight in a spectacle of grace and skill that turns into catastrophe.

Narrativization can be accomplished in a number of different ways. In his letter to Richard Southwell of July 20, 1452, John Paston is essentially offering legal testimony. And the testimony is presented by means of a story or, more precisely, that part of the story not known to Southwell.

... this be proof that Jane Boyce was ravished against her will and not by her own assent. One is that she, the time of her taking, when she was set upon her horse she reviled Lancastrother and called him knave and wept and cried out upon him piteously to her, and said as shrewdly to him as could come to her mind and fell down off her horse unto that she was bound and called him false traitor that brought her the rabbits. And when she was bound she called upon her mother, which followed her as far as she might on her feet and when the said Jane said she might go no further she cried to her mother and said that whatsoever came of her she would never be wedded to that knave were she to die for it. And by the way at the Shraggary's house in Kokely Clay and at Brychehamewell and in all other places where she might see any people she cried out upon him and let people wit whose daughter she was and howe she was raveshed against her will desiring the people to follow and rescue her. And Lancasterother's priest of the Eagle in Lincolnshire who confessed her said that she told him in confession that she would never be wedded to him were she to die for it and the same priest said he would not wed them together for a thousand pounds.

But to prove that Jane Boyce was taken against her will, Paston has to present evidence not only of her resistance, but of her unflagging unwillingness to be taken. By the time he has finished he has painted so vivid a picture of her frustration, rage and shame, that the account serves as Jane Boyce's narrative.

Narrativization through marking of the subject's experience seems to be a human universal and not culture-dependent, though different cultural traditions may make use of different procedures to accomplish the same end. In the ancient Sumero-Akkadian poem Gilgamesh, the depiction of Gilgamesh's descent into the underworld in search of the dead Enkidu is a striking example of narrativization by insistent repetition. The journey requires him to follow the road of the sun through a netherworld of darkness and cold till he finally comes to the light. The fearfulness of the trip is dramatically staged by insistent literal repetition:

one hour he travelled
dense was the darkness /// nowhere was light
neither forward nor backward did it allow him to see

two hours he travelled
dense was the darkness /// nowhere was light
neither forward nor backward did it allow him to see ...


and though there are many missing lines in the cuneiform tablets and verses that expand on this formula, the formula is essentially repeated through the ninth hour
nine hours he travelled /// the north wind
licked at his face
dense was the darkness ///nowhere was light
neither forward nor backward did it allow him to see

till Gilgamesh appears to approach the light by the tenth hour, arrives at the beginning of light in the eleventh hour and comes into the full brilliance of sunlight in the twelfth.

This repetitive formula, which was characteristic of old Sumerian poetry and is deployed to great effect in the late Akkadian version of the poem, serves as a kind of narrative staging of the story. In this tradition formulaic repetition is typical of action sequences that are of major significance for the protagonist and have the effect of theatrical presentation. While the manner and style of performance or recitation of these poems is unknown, even a silent literary reading, which is hardly likely for ancient near Eastern poetry, gives a powerful representation of the hero's subjectivity.

In a modern novella like Kafka's Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa's transformation has already taken place before the story begins. Or rather, the famous first sentence begins the narrative at a point after the the story has already begun:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself in his bed, transformed into an enormous insect.

And for the next 17 pages as the clock slowly advances from 6:30 to nearly 8:00 A.M. Gregor confronts his physical transformation from the point of view of the wretched human being he has always been -- the dutiful son, the miserable travelling salesman who has overslept and will be late to work and is afraid he will lose his job if he can't roll his beetle-like body onto its feet and off the bed.

It takes him 8 pages to rock himself off his back and out of bed, 6 more to crawl across the floor and prop himself up against the bureau, 2 more to let himself fall against a chair and use it to propel himself to the door, and a final page and a half to grasp the key in his mandibles, turn it, push the door open and appear in the open doorway. Gregor Samsa's journey across his bedroom is longer than Gilgamesh's descent into the underworld; and it accomplishes nearly the same thing -- the staging of the protagonist's subjectivity -- but by a nearly incredible precisionist description instead of repetition. In Labov's terms we might say that the Evaluation markers in Gilgamesh are produced by the insistency of repetition and in Metamorphosis by the precisionist, micro-detailing of Gregor's goal oriented behavior.

In both cases there is a story, which has a plot -- a configuration of events and parts of events that shape a major transformation, but the configuration doesn't make any important new sense of the events. Samsa fades away with a rotting apple in his side and dies with the mind of a human in the body of an insect, and Gilgamesh, who knew that he was going to die after seeing his friend die and went off to search for him and for immortality in the underworld, is still going to die and finds no new knowledge he can bring back from there. The tragedy of Oedipus makes no more sense than Gilgamesh or Metamorphosis. The young man who solved the riddle of the sphinx, who killed a rude old man at a crossroad and married the queen of Thebes, never killed his father or slept with his mother. He merely killed a man who turned out to be his father and slept with a woman who turned out to be his mother. The absurd chain of circumstances that connected these events, never connects Oedipus' two states of being. And because Oedipus despairs of connecting his two states of mind, he blinds himself. The narrative of Oedipus consists of the gradual confrontation of two states of mind that will not connect, and the plot is merely the device that brings the confrontation about. Kings never become beggars and beggars never become kings. Narrative explains nothing.

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