30 March 2007

Chard de Niord

[Chard de Niord as published in Harvard Review]

What the Animals Teach Us

that love is dependent on memory,
that life is eternal and therefore criminal,
that thought is an invisible veil that covers our eyes,
that death is only another animal,
that beauty is formed by desperation,
that sex is solely a human problem,
that pets are wild in heaven,
that sounds and smells escape us,
that there are bones in the earth without any marker,
that language refers to too many things,
that music hints at what we heard before we sang,
that the circle is loaded,
that nothing we know by forgetting is sacred,
that humor charges the smallest things,
that the gods are animals without their masks,
that stones tell secrets to the wildest creatures,
that nature is an idea and not a place,
that our bodies have diminished in size and strength,
that our faces are terrible,
that our eyes are double when gazed upon,
that snakes do talk, as well as asses,
that we compose our only audience,
that we are geniuses when we wish to kill,
that we are naked despite our clothes,
that our minds are bodies in another world.

Stephen Nachmanovitch

[from Robert Peake's blog post on an essay by Stephen Nachmanovitch]

there is a pathology inherent in all conscious thinking, and that pathology comes from taking a small linear segment of a circle of causation and taking it to be the whole thing . . . related to our illusory notion of the self - to our view of taking that which we are able to consciously scan, in our own processes, in our own thoughts, our own feelings, our own memories . . . to be the whole . . . [art helps] us to perceive that the self is a provisional, illusory construct that's useful for certain limited kinds of activity - but it's not the whole Self

28 March 2007

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[from "Frost at Midnight," 1798]

Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, everywhere
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

. . . while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles . . .

25 March 2007

T. S. Eliot

[from T. S. Eliot's “Reflections on Contemporary Poetry,” 1919]

There is a kind of stimulus for a writer which is more important than the stimulus of admiring another writer. Admiration leads most often to imitation; we can seldom remain long unconscious of our imitating another, and the awareness of our debt naturally leads us to hatred of the object imitated. If we stand toward a writer in this other relation of which I speak, we do not imitate him, and though we are quite as likely to be accused of it, we are quite unperturbed by the charge. This relation is a feeling of profound kinship, or rather of a peculiar personal intimacy, with another, probably a dead author. It may overcome us suddenly, on first or after long acquaintance; it is certainly a crisis; and when a young writer is seized with his first passion of this sort he may be changed, metamorphosed almost, within a few weeks even, from a bundle of secondhand sentiments into a person. The imperative intimacy arouses for the first time a real, an unshakeable confidence. That you possess this secret knowledge, this intimacy, with a dead man, that after few or many years or centuries you should have appeared with this indubitable claim to distinction; who can penetrate at once the thick and dusty circumlocutions about his reputation, can call yourself alone, his friend: it is something more than encouragement to you. It is a cause of development, like personal relations in life. Like personal intimacies in life, it may and probably will pass, but it will be ineffaceable.

The usefulness of such a passion is various. For one thing it secures us against forced admiration, from attending to writers simply because they are great. We are never at ease with people who, to us, are merely great. We are not ourselves great enough for that: probably not one man in each generation is great enough to be intimate with Shakespeare. Admiration for the great is only a sort of discipline to keep us in order, a necessary snobbism to make us mind our places. We may not be great lovers; but if we had a genuine affair with a real poet of any degree we have acquired a monitor to avert us when we are not in love. Indirectly, there are other acquisitions: our friendship gives us an introduction to the society in which our friend moved; we learn its origins and endings; we are broadened. We do not imitate, we are changed; and our work is the work of a changed man; we have not borrowed, we have been wakened, and we become bearers of a tradition.

24 March 2007

Anne Truitt

[from Anne Truitt’s Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, 1982; quoted in May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal, 1984]

I went straight to the Rembrandt self-portrait, painted when he was fifty-three, my age. He looked straight out at me, and I looked straight in at him.

There is a sort of shame in naked pain. I used to see it in my patients when I was working in psychology and nursing. They found it more seemly, more expedient to pull over themselves thin coverlets of talk. There is wisdom in this, an unselfish honor in bearing one’s burdens silently. But Rembrandt found a higher good worth the risk and painted himself as he knew himself, human beyond reprieve. He looks out from the position, without self-pity and without flourish, and lends me strength. . . .

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding on to images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves. This indifference can be, in its extreme, a form of murder and seems to me a rather common phenomenon. We claim autonomy for ourselves and forget that in so doing we can fall into the tyranny of defining other people as we would like them to be. By focusing on what we choose to acknowledge in them, we impose an insidious control on them. . . . The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

22 March 2007

William Butler Yeats

[from "The Hour Before Dawn," Responsibilities]

‘You cry aloud, O would ’twere spring
Or that the wind would shift a point,
And do not know that you would bring,
If time were suppler in the joint,
Neither the spring nor the south wind
But the hour when you shall pass away
And leave no smoking wick behind,
For all life longs for the Last Day
And there's no man but cocks his ear
To know when Michael's trumpet cries
That flesh and bone may disappear,
And souls as if they were but sighs,
And there be nothing but God left;
But I alone being bless├ęd keep
Like some old rabbit to my cleft
And wait Him in a drunken sleep.’

21 March 2007

Lynda Hull

[from Lynda Hull's Collected Poems, 2006]

Magical Thinking

A woman, after an absence of many years, returns
     to her old neighborhood and finds it a little more
         burned, more abandoned. Through rooftop aerials

the stadium’s still visible where the boys of summer
     spun across the diamond and some nights she’d hear
         strikes and pop flies called through the open windows

of the rooms she shared with a man she thought
     she loved. All that summer, she watched
         across the street the magician’s idiot son

paint over and over the Magic & Costume Shop’s
     intricate portico — all frets and scallops, details
         from another century. The more he painted though

the more his sheer purity of attention seemed
     to judge her own life as frayed somehow and wrong.
         Daily the son worked until the city swerved

toward night’s dizzy carnival with moons
     and swans afloat in neon over the streets.
         One evening she saw the magician’s trick bouquet

flower at the curb while he filled his car.
     He folded the multicolored scarves, then
         caged the fabulous disappearing pigeons.

It is a common human longing to want utterly
     to vanish from one life and arrive transformed
         in another. When the man came home, he’d

touch her shoulders, her neck, but each touch
     discovered only the borders of her solitude.
         As a child in that neighborhood she’d believed

people were hollow and filled with quiet music, that
     if she were hurt deeply enough she would break
         and leave only a blue scroll of notes.

At first when he hit her, her face burned.
     Far off the stadium lights crossed the cool
         green diamond and burnished cobwebs swaying

on the ceiling. Then she became invisible,
     so when the doctor leaned over and asked
         her name all she could think of were her dresses

thrown from the window like peonies exploding
     to bloom in the clear dark air. No music —
         merely a rose haze through her lids, something

ticking in her head like a metronome
     in a parlor, dusty and arid with steam heat.
         How many lives she’d passed through to find

herself, an aging woman in black, before the locked
     and empty shop. So much sleight of hand, the years
         simply dissolving. Again she hears the crowd,

a billow of applause rippling across the brilliant
     diamond, across the mysterious passage
         of time and the failure of sorrow to pass away.

20 March 2007

Lynda Hull

[from Lynda Hull's Collected Poems, 2006]

Night Waitress

Reflected in the plate glass, the pies
look like clouds drifting off my shoulder.
I’m telling myself my face has character,
not beauty. It’s my mother’s Slavic face.
She washed the floor on hands and knees
below the Black Madonna, praying
to her god of sorrows and visions
who’s not here tonight when I lay out the plates,
small planets, the cups and moons of saucers.
At this hour the men all look
as if they’d never had mothers.
They do not see me. I bring the cups.
I bring the silver. There’s the man
who leans over the jukebox nightly
pressing the combinations
of numbers. I would not stop him
if he touched me, but it’s only songs
of risky love he leans into. The cook sings
with the jukebox, a moan and sizzle
into the grill. On his forehead
a tattoed cross furrows,
diminished when he frowns. He sings words
dragged up from the bottom of his lungs.
I want a song that rolls
through the night like a big Cadillac
past factories to the refineries
squatting on the bay, round and shiny
as the coffee urn warming my palm.
Sometimes when coffee cruises my mind
visiting the most remote way stations,
I think of my room as a calm arrival
each book and lamp in its place. The calendar
on my wall predicts no disaster
only another white square waiting
to be filled like the desire that fills
jail cells, the cold arrest
that makes me stare out the window or want
to try every bar down the street.
When I walk out of here in the morning
my mouth is bitter with sleeplessness.
Men surge to the factories and I’m too tired
to look. Fingers grip lunch box handles,
belt buckles gleam, wind riffles my uniform
and it’s not romantic when the sun unlids
the end of the avenue. I’m fading
in the morning’s insinuations
collecting in the crevices of the building,
in wrinkles, in every fault
of this frail machinery.

14 March 2007

Allen Ginsberg

[from Allen Ginsberg's Journals Mid-Fifties 1954-1958, edited by Gordon Ball]

The poem as an equation (a machine) reproducing in verbal images the visual and other images of the dream . . . reproducing the elements which juxtaposed gave me the awe & terror & knowledge in the dream — successfully such an ideal poem could reproduce that “petite sensation” in the reader. . . .

Setting up two (images) points (with a gap) separate in time and showing the distance between them:


The host with someone indistinct
Converses at the door apart,
The nightingales are singing near
The Convent of the Sacred Heart,

And sang within the bloody wood
When Agamemnon cried aloud . . .
       T. S. Eliot, “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”

The slant moon on the slanting hill
Once moved us toward presentiments
Of what the dead keep, living still,
And such assessments of the soul

As, perched in the crematory lobby,
The insistent clock commented on . . .
       Hart Crane, “Praise for an Urn”

. . . Actually attaining an inner secret Time shock, the result of telescoping time by setting up two or more image points separated with a wide gap showing distance between them, the jump or interval or ellipsis of consciousness: a sort of mystical eclipse of Time arrived at thru the science of presenting clearly images showing change. . . .

The parallel between Cezanne’s theory and poetry theory — to present to the mind’s eye two equally strong images without editorial or rhetorical connection — same as without traditional perspective lines, for the effect of the juxtaposition: the resulting pun or ellipsis of Space. . . .

so much depends
a red wheelbarrow
       William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow”

. . . The ellipses between 2 points in the mind’s eye should show the finality of time in no uncertain terms . . . The clearer & starker & barer, the more sensational the Eclipse. . . .

Ellipsis in event gives rise to the grief-realization of time, or the cold shiver of eternity . . .

Ellipsis in syntax — dropping of articles, connectives, sawdust of the reason [CP: my italics] — to join images as they are joined in the mind: only thus can two images connect like wires and spark . . . [I] need to trap sensations and collect the fragments which give rise to them, by any means, reconstructing [sensations] in images. This means, events in time perceived, giving rise to a subjective emotion, illuminating time. . . .


Thinking about ellipsis,
look in the mirror.

12 March 2007

Gertrude Stein

[from Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933]

As Pablo [Picasso] once remarked, when you make a thing, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly, but those that do it after you they don't have to worry about making it and they can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it when they others make it. . . .

She had come to like posing, the long still hours followed by a long dark walk intensified the concentration with which she was creating her sentences. The sentences of which Marcel Brion, the french critic has written, by exactitude, austerity, absence of variety in light and shade, by refusal of the use of the subconscious Gertrude Stein achieves a symmetry which has a close analogy to the musical fugue of Bach.

[CP: Brion failed to appreciate Stein and Bach?]

06 March 2007

Robert Burns

[from Robert Burns's "Tam O'Shanter"]

But wither'd beldams, auld and droll,
Rigwoodie hags wad spean a foal,
Louping and flinging on a crummock,
I wonder didna turn thy stomach.

02 March 2007

Dorothy Richardson

[from Dorothy Richardson's Deadlock, 1921]

These women's rights people are the worst of all. Because they think women have been subject in the past. Women have never been subject. Never can be. The proof of this is the way men have always been puzzled and everlastingly trying fresh theories; founded on the very small experiences of women any man is capable of having. . . . [Men] must leave off imagining themselves as a race of gods fighting against chaos, and thinking of women as part of the chaos they have to civilize. There isn't any 'chaos.' . . .It's the principal masculine delusion. It is not a truth to say that women must be civilized.

01 March 2007

Charlotte Smith

[from Charlotte Smith's "Beachy Head"]

The high meridian of the day is past,
And Ocean now, reflecting the calm Heaven,
Is of cerulean hue; and murmurs low
The tide of ebb, upon the level sands.
The sloop, her angular canvas shifting still,
Catches the light and variable airs
That but a little crisp the summer sea,
Dimpling its tranquil surface.