Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Ping’d, Twerp


What does it mean, pinged?


The C-dog and I
under the cockeyed umbrella
barking at the rain.


I like that word, twerpy.


Whatever happen’d to Howard Ant?


Abeyance: same root as yawn.


Dylan line running in (ruining) my head: “Stayed in Mississippi a day too long.”


It’s partly that I am empty-head’d. It’s partly that I like to put different and various things next to each other. Argument by selection and placement. That’s all imagism is. That’s all the New Sentence is. That’s all renga is.


Davenport: “a grammar of images . . . rather than a grammar of logical sequence.”


Davenport: “The components of an ideogram cohere as particles in a magnetic field, independent of each other but not of the pattern in which they figure. The ellipse, which we feel to be the absence of predication, is the invisible line of attraction between particle and particle.”


For Pound, the image. For Silliman, the sentence. For Davenport, the prose cube.


For Basho, a history of images. Basho: “Tu Fu wrote:

The whole country devastated
only mountains and rivers remain.
In springtime, at the ruined castle,
the grass is always green.

We sat a while, our hats for a seat, seeing it all through tears.

Summer grasses:
all that remains of great soldiers’
imperial dreams.”

Sam Hamill adds a note:

“Basho’s poem is also inspired in part by a poem of Saigyo’s, written at the gravesite of the poet Fujiwara Sanekata who died in exile in 998:

He left us nothing
but his own eternal name—
just that final stroke.
On his poor grave on the moor,
one sees only pampas grass.”

In The Essential Basho, Matsuo Basho, translated from the Japanese by Sam Hamill (Shambhala, 1999).


Walt Whitman throws off the coarse green blanket, yawns, stretches, smiles big.


Placement, overlay, nudge, reminder, series. What makes a tradition.


Monday, December 22, 2003



Received (Order'd through Peter Riley Books, 27 Sturton Street, Cambridge, CB1 2QG, U.K.):

Wittgenstein's Devil: Selected Writing 1978-1998, by Alan Halsey (Stride, 2000)

Lives of the Poets: A Preliminary Count, by Alan Halsey & Martin Corless-Smith (Ispress, 2002)

A Robin Hood Book, by Alan Halsey (West House Books, 1996)

Magpie Words: Selected Poems 1970-2000, by Richard Caddel (West House Books, 2002)



Distant Noise, by Jean Frémon, translated from the French by Norma Cole, Lydia Davis, Serge Gavronsky, and Cole Swensen, cover by Louise Bourgeois (Avec Books, 2003)

Cris d'approbation.


Crise d'appropriation

T. writing me, warning that appropriating and "scattering" odd tags of Shakespearean et al. lingo may defeat the reader, trumping (and removing) any serious attention that that reader builds in reading.

My obsession is with orthography. And diction. And mix. That lingo follows me home nights. Probably I done overdone that particular schtick. I have a "history" of overdoing.


Weekend of torpor mitigated by bouts of seasonal guilt. Mad little horrified dashes out into the Kommerz-Staedt (which is everywhere) and back with guilt-lacerated booty. The wrong articles for the wrong people. Walks with Carmen through the profusely-lit neighborhood: kleig light icicles, huge inflated Santa Claus dolls blocking sidewalks, sticking out tall, impeccably-shined black boots to trip th'unwary, giant lightbulb-construct'd reindeer hoo-hawing in the shrubbery, and one petulant nasally canned voice singing endless winter-wonderland refrains out of the convulsive manic-rocking of a miniature hobby-horse.


What would an expressionist writing look like: an Emil Nolde, Egon Schiele, Blue Rider expressionism?


At Borders the strike continues. Few picket, cold. Last week someone paint'd Blood Money and Slaughters Diversity on the sidewalks in the front of the entrance: using it as a handy excuse, management broke off negotiations for a couple days.


Tangles of a dream of meeting J. She play'd a tape of high-pitch'd chanting call'd badade, pronounced with long a's. Also nova badade. Jump to a sort of cafeteria, mostly Chinese sitting in rows, listening to "performances," doors guarded. I decide to try to exit and am able to do so, heroicks not possible here, I'm completely ignored, J. is in the "audience" watching. Jump to me riding a bicycle against traffic. Jump to a jukebox, labels pointing to Indian music, reading Dufek's Badade, Derlinsky's Nova Badade.


Hell, I don't know.


Not Dufek, not Derlinsky. Place-holders for a name I miss'd. Forgot.


Sitting in the car in a crowded parking lot with G. yesterday. He want'd to hear more of the sitar and drums music on the radio.




Friday, December 19, 2003

Thumb Pump


Skid-skittering in by bicycle, odd hibernal insect. Thinking how I whack'd a snowbank a few years back: thumb hanging down like a pump handle.


Reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to G. "[Applausive titters.]" is how Mark Twain puts it. Just like that. In the middle of the superintendent talking some old condescension rag in Sunday School.


And reading the Victor Brombert memoir. To myself.


The picture of Bruce Andrews reading Newsweek troubles my sleep.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Iced for the Age


Scratched out some gobbledegook about the Poetics tempest and think I'll ice in down for storage for now. Hierarchickal squabbling is tiresome. Is it my escapist self that yawns and shrugs so at the meagrest argument? Or is it this particular argument? I'd be the first to admit I find Silliman's public writing of late tremendously irritating, and I'm all too willing to make sport and derision of that fact. In the current hubbub, the Bear's put up a bewilder'd sort of physiognomy, point'd a paw at His Rumpledness, and spoke: "Gosh, Leslie, what's got your panties in a wad? Couldn't be me . . ." And then proceeds by bizarre innuendo to associate Scalapino with Joe McCarthy for not naming names. Standard way to deflect the heat. All heck? --My neck.


"To be attached to the life of words means to take possession or repossession of sounds and signs that are charged with echoes, reminiscences, unexpected alliances, surprising betrayals, yet also carry at their core a permanence that promises an eventual return home."

Victor Brombert, in Trains of Thought: Memories of a Stateless Youth (W. W. Norton, 2002)

Wednesday, December 17, 2003



Dirty laundry.


Ron Silliman's getting some upsides-the-heads on the Poetics list. Leslie Scalapino and Tom Beckett. My tuppence: insecurity only builds a (temporarily) floatable boat. Come here and get your comeuppence. Bully.


Odd hush there. At Poetics. Is it seasonal or waiting for the bear to notice its tormentors and begin to growl?


Reasons humbly
offer'd why

the name
of Ron

Silliman should
be left

out of
the Act

of Oblivion:


Being (a little) idiotic. A little idiot.


Sunspots. Crankiness.


He's the man, with the plan, he got five dollah in 'is hand, he's Mistra . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Clubbingly Deft




My mouf's fool.


A sloppy day out. Scrambling with stuff to complete by mid-week next. Probably ought to say I'd amend my assessment of the Colson Whitehead. I liked the tiny psychological portraits of New Yorkers clubbing, deft, recognizable types.


How tired today of Eugenio and Leander, of noble views of God. How tired of the slow pac'd caravan of . . . and the poor Chaldean with the naked eye.


Belly full of Indian food: naan, goat curry, spice'd tea.


A mystery: distinct memory of reading an article in the New York Times Magazine, I think, about Richard Howard doing a new translation of A la recherche du temps perdu. Maybe ten or fifteen years back. Wha happen'd?

Dawdling with the new Lydia Davis thing. All one can do with Proust is dawdle.


Angry little hybrid of a virus snatch'd out the guts of the machine and waved triumphantly aloft. Arthropoda or annelid?


Quite a pretty story it is, by Peter Grievous.


A book called The association, &c.


Mairead Byrne is writing.

Monday, December 15, 2003



More Hejinian: in “Mythopoesis,” there’s homophonic translation, English to English:

“one sup on at I’m, th’air was a far a way
eye land, in them it dell of the see. It
was rolled by a crew elk king named minus,
who held prize on her a great man stir bull
in a beautiful maize. This may stood up
of the why tie cliffs, whined in gan
turning on the no ruth sighed of the I
land. Day and night the seat self eccoed
withe rower of the minute tore.”

Which I find satisfyingly moving, Minotaur, “the minute tore”: time itself heaves under the language which seems to exist in a simultaneity of language and time. Goethe and the Erl King, a biblical Ruth, a Latinate ecco (or is it ecce? no matter, the jam is made of echoes and traces, the merest ellipses), the Gatesby of “why tie cliffs” (white tie and cuffs, or the Marvell, vertical chalk-white Dover), “great man stir bull” (a not-so-subtle attack on modernist heroes and heroics (when does homage flip over to regale unbecomingly as curse?) as so much stir’d up “bull,” such monumental history (of men) a “minus” not a plus), and the “seat self” (“sea itself,” surely, and seat of the soul? and self as seat, central and essential?) The point is, the lines double and triple up with matter (Joycean, though Zukofsky—what’s the date of the Catullus work?—is caught in the intussuscept, too.)

And then a long Stein string (or is it root’d in the impossible musicks of the Provençal troubadours? the short-lined bird noises . . . ):

“I see
at sea;
stings me.
I flee.
I dree
upon the
I plea,
says bee,
that ye
will let me
With glee,
say we,
if you will let us be.
Fair fee,
says he.
say we,
and so we
turn the
upon the
begins her spree
at three
when we
have tea.”

Was self-amusement still suspect in 1968? I suspect that self-amusement is always suspect, hence the legions of “afflatus seriosos” doing choir duty wherever the solider posts of the -avants gather (And no, I will not name names—here. This isn’t about you.) I read th’above and think: “At night Chinamen jump / on Asia with a thump.” The impulse is similar: convulsive.


“and fauna fondly
rolled upon the logolatrous tongue: the periwinkles twinkle
twinkle Littorinae,
Lottia gigantea,
Tegula funebralis,
Amphiodia occidentalis: the tendrilled star.
clingfish and great shrimp, Callianassa offinis,
and the slimy blenny, the green
great Anthopleura xanthogrammica,
surflashed Pisaster ochraceus,
and the cowry and conical Conus californicus
luxuriating in the multilingual sea.”

Pound’s “Blandula, Tenulla, Vagula” gets a nod, with its “triune azures, the impalpable / Mirrors unstill.” Or do I only see what I read? In a follow-up to my first remarks on “Mythopoesis,” Jordan Davis sent me a note titled “Yeats.” It read:

“dolphin-torn, gong-tormented”

in its entirety. And I did not protest. For whatever howsoever much of the century last Yeats’s come to dominate, I can not read the man. That short thing about Innisfree and the wattles stir’d three downy hairs just below where my red neck ends, but that was it. “Shucks, ma’m, I know he’s well-regard’d, I just ain’t never took to him. “The Wild Coots chez Swann”? No, ma’m, I never did read that one.”

Enough silliness. What shines up for me here is “the slimy blenny.” Diction-shift: that’s where compulsive beauty lies.

Hejinian, sonneteering:

“Though from the riches of minds’s myriad ways
Madness is made, and cruel confusion mocks
The dreamer’s mazéd slumber, yet there lays
A light hand on night’s labyrinthine locks
The poet; for the imagery of dreams
Is the selfsame as that of verse, and poetry
The fruit of the same mind. What seems
Merely Medusa’s murderous revelry
Is as well the bleeding sea and source
>From which Pegasus, swift steed of muse
And mortal poet, with sheer white-winged force
Sprang forth, madness and art in flight to fuse.
Hence have the dreamer patience with his heart;
Such mind’s madness alone enriches art.”

Follow’d by “the shook speare’s donne with shaking / the hymn hummed.” Romantic drenching of art and madness, “light hand on night’s labyrinthine locks / The poet,” even amidst requisite alliterative mishmash a syntactical verb-noun swing cocks back the fist of ambiguity. I think.

Hejinian manages to unleash a couple of other bravura set-pieces, one with an ababb five-line stanza:

“In caligraphy like that of the sea
Worm, but yet less lovely, whose cruel art’s line
‘S engraved upon the shore but briefly; the
Slightest winds or seas brush away the sign
Of this, his lost passage, and thus of mine.”

Cruel art’s line-breaks: “sea / Worm” jolts, “line / ‘S engraved” slows down and demands a double-take. And somehow the “yet,” a word I generally sneer at, pulls up and knits together the y-, short e-, and short a-sounds, and along with consonantal f / v’s there’s a whole run of loveliness: caligraphy, that, yet, less, lovely, engraved, briefly.

Another piece, of Popery (Alexander, heroic couplets) runs through muses and English poets:

“So hail first to poets multonymous
In anthologies kept anonymous,
And then to Chaucer, Marlowe, and Shakespeare
(The latter variorumed without peer),
Herbert and Herrick e’er anthologized
And to E. Waller, who apologized
For having loved before, to Dryden, hail,
To Suckling and to Lovelace without fail.
As I died in 1744
My skill at rhyming poets is tax’d no more.”

“Mythopoesis” is, in a way, a poet’s sketchbook, a demo tape, understandably show-offy and virtuosic. Plus tard.



My Life in the Nineties, by Lyn Hejinian (Shark Books, 2003). Available through SPD, or, send a check to Lytle Shaw or Emilie Clark, 74 Varick St. #203, New York, NY 10013, $12).

“The realm of the incoherent yields a profusion of fruits.” and “The sea is hard.” Small format, delicate sans-serif type. Terrific watercolor and ink bestiarial-doodle of a cover by Emilie Clark: frog, wasp, crow and others in cave-drawing overlay and “profusion.”

Bought (Friends of the Library):

Poems from the Greek Anthology in English Paraphrase, by Dudley Fitts (New Directions, 1938, 1956).


I despise yr interminable novels-in-verse
Yr well travelled highways please me not
I abominate yr ubiquitous back-slappers
I will not drink from the common spring
I abhor anything popular.



The Slender Maiden

Whenas in sleep Artemidôra lay,
Demetrios fanned her with an ostrich-plume, &
Blew her clean out of the house.


Selected Poems, by Robinson Jeffers (Vintage, 1965).

Bought partly because it’s been there for weeks, a fifty cent paperback, and my reading of Jeffers is near nil, and partly because reading Hejinian’s “Mythopoesis,” with its several mentions of Carmel, I’d thought of Jeffers, the “crag and misanthrope in the stone tower,” I want to say, not knowing for sure if that’s right. And the hammering adjectives driving the line? is that Jeffers’s manner too?

Love the Wild Swan

“I hate my verses, every line, every word.
Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try
One grass-blade’s curve, or the throat of one bird
That clings to twig, ruffled against white sky.
Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.
Unlucky hunter, Oh bullets of wax,
The lion beauty, the wild-swan wings, the storm of the wings.”
—This wild swan of a world is no hunter’s game.
Better bullets that yours would miss the white breast,
Better mirrors than yours would crack in the flame.
Does it matter whether you hate your . . . self? At least
Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.

In Suspect Terrain, by John McPhee (FSG, 1982)

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester (Harper Perennial, 1999)

The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography In two volumes. (Time Inc., 1964).

Beyond the Zukofsky linkage to the work itself, the unbendable stiff covers and the sock’d in, unbreakable bindings of this particular edition are terribly familiar. In the late ’fifties and early ’sixties my family lived in the middle of the Pidgeon River State Forest, in northern Michigan. The nearest town (post office, and school), Vanderbilt (named, I think, after the railroad robber baron, who didn’t, after all the hoopla of the honorific put a train through there), was thirteen miles distant. The next nearest (Gaylord, pop. roughly 2,500, where we went for groceries) was another seven beyond that. No bookstores, or maybe one in Traverse City, a couple hours to the west. A library exist’d up a long flight of creaky wooden stairs in a building across from the county court house (a jumble of red brick sitting in the middle of an otherwise vacant city block, a silver-paint’d cannon at the corner, big enough to sit astride). I think an auditorium exist’d in that building, too. One wherein I sang two songs as part of first-grade graduation: “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window,” and “Little Goldie Goldfish.” That on the day I’d decided to scissor away at my own hair to fetch up the laughs of my classmates. My father and mother were less amused. The library consisted of two rooms, if I recall rightly, and what I brought home were “Childhood of Famous Americans” biographies (Eli Whitney: Boy Inventor, Clara Barton, Girl Nurse. Invariably the same qualities through which the adult made his splendid name, existed already, evident and irrepressible, in miniature in the child.) Later, I brought home “Landmark” biographies, and histories, and Nancy Drew mysteries. (These latter taught me the materiality of the signifier: the sight of a sentence print’d in italics enough to set the spine a-tingling, the heart a-thumping.) And one long fever-dream, part of a series I never found another book of, titled The River of Adventure: I would read about the fakirs in India, then I would examine my hands, what mountainous regions they held! or the fuzz of my blanket, gigantesque balls of shiny filaments tumbling toward me, threatening to swallow me! In my best-ever fever ship, that was. And one terrific thing called, I think, The Silver Teapot or The Silver Pitcher, a girl sneaking biscuits and potatoes out to a wound’d British redcoat she’s hiding (not for love or politics, but because it was right) is what I hold of it, and how I want’d to be that girl.

Gubb. That was s’pos’d to be about my father, and the way he’d get boxes of those Time Reading Program Special Editions (as they are identify’d, inside the cover of the Adam autobiography), usually four or five to a box. I think they probably came on an approval basis. That is, one could select one or two and return the others, and the following month a new selection would arrive. My father’s something of a bookhound, never failing to ask to see what I’m reading, wanting always to know what I bought if I come out of a bookstore. Though I don’t think I realized this at the time. Up in Michigan, a kid of nine or ten. Once we got to the metropolis of Ann Arbor, we instituted “book days.” The first of every month was somebody’s “book day” (there were seven of us by then) and was allow’d to purchase, or was given, a book.

Time Books I remember besides the Henry Adams (most of these are probably still in bookcases at my parents house, so my memory get a chance to be jogged on nearly any visit): Reveille in Washington, by Margaret Leech, The Forest and the Sea, by Marston Bates, Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi, The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene, Karl Marx, by Isaiah Berlin, Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, a biography of Einstein, a something on Galileo, I’m sure there’re others.


A walk out in new snow, and overcast gray sky. Looking at the snow lying white against the black branches, thinking of Nick Rorick, a friend at Cornell in 1971 (he split for Nashville, or Oklahoma the next year, want’d to play music and did—Nick and the Convertibles, Stray Cats kind of stuff I think though I can’t be sure.) Nick’s line about moonlight

“lying on the branches like snow,”

or is it

“snow lying on the branches like moonlight,”

and trying to figure out if one is preferable, or “better,” or “more accurate,” and come to no conclusion, not even the simplest and most dismissible one of whether it matters, or not. Some “ecstatic vision” he’d had night-driving, crossing the Cuyahoga south of Cleveland. (He loved to mock ecstatic visions: he hurried up to me one day to tell me the perfect poem that somebody’d left him, taped to the door:

I come
from California, where
you go
to the snow
the snow doesn’t
to you.

dig acid.


A cardinal couple (they mate for life) desultorily going about business in the hawthorns, a small flock of chickadees making chatter. I snuck into the high school baseball field and let Carmen run loose. She nosing around oblivious to my whoops and clapping and whistling: or suddenly head up and perfectly still to nail me with a Travis Bickle look: “You talking to me? You must be talking to me. Ain’t nobody else here.” And then running full tilt straight to me: her hind legs overstriding her front with such speed that she just looks all balled up with a silly grinning dog face pasted to her . . .


Read most of Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts and found it somewhat disappointing. I thought John Henry Days ambitious, and moving, and nigh impeccable, and The Intuitionist, though pretty clearly a “younger” book (I read it second), smartly allegorical: the two opposing “methods” in the ranks of elevator inspectors a seemingly impossible premise carried out splendidly. This one seems slight, magazine work put between boards. Though I amused myself somewhat identifying lines that could have jump’d out of any number of Ron Silliman’s works: tiny acts of social witnessing present’d without commentary beyond juxtaposition and context:

“Gooey surprises at the bottom of the coffee cup, dunes of undissolved sugar. “

“Only after a while does he notice her and give up his seat to the elderly lady.”

“You read into your pocket for change but forget you used it on that phone call and isn’t it awkward with that guy sticking his hand out. Folding his coat on his lap to hide the sudden inexplicable erection.”

“New socks tint soaked toes blue.”

Or maybe I’m sucker’d into seeing a connection that is due mostly to a prevalence (in both) of images “took” on public conveyances.


Too Late the Epigraph (Breeze)

“Just when you get settled a breeze or hooligan ruins things.”

—Colson Whitehead

Friday, December 12, 2003

Got Bruit’d


Poking around in old bound volumes of Epoch yesterday after Ron Silliman’s mention of Alfred Starr Hamilton, a name, unforgettable enough, that’d got bruit’d around Cornell in the early ’seventies, and I need’d to check my memory against whatever sullen archive I could find . . . I found a poem by one C. H. Hejinian, titled “Mythopoesis.”

“o lords,
ye gods and goddesses, ye gonetimes’ ghosts,
gathering upon the surf’s upsurging sea’s hoar shore
(shoo-rash-oor-ash the spewming spray
sprangling as spanish moss foliated from the fog,
as timestides’ lichens’ silvering from the sea): wakelyn
and Lyaeus;
the grape is green and sweet and Greek.
who’ll be, and where’s, else, herhis littoral godmothering
muse of the lethanlostlyn’s blind homeric homing
to the pacific dreamsea-by-the sea.
call Leucothea, surfsleeping beneath the cliffs
at Knossos and Carmel’s pacific childsea: letlyn
gullfeathered and daedalean, aloft
upon the seagored gorse and gorgonheaded sierra
gargoyled by the bulltorn sea.”

The temptation is there simply to type in the whole thing. It continues, however, for thirty pages, and with indentations (the fourth and fifth lines above should be indent'd) and step’d-down lines and letters that (in small ways) pattern the page calligrammatically: I’d never get it to “look right” here.

I’d heard that Epoch’d been the first publisher of Lyn Hejinian (I love the little self-referents of “wakelyn,” “lethanlostlyn” and “letlyn” that spoke out here, though probably wouldn’t’ve shone (or shown) up so in 1968, not to the casual Epoch reader.) The contributor’s note reads in its entirety: “C. H. Hejinian’s unusual poem marks her debut in Epoch, though she has published poems in several literary magazines. A native of San Francisco, she is contemplating a return to that city with her husband at present.” In Epoch, Vol. XVIII, No. 1 (Fall, 1968). Other contributors: Steve Katz, Wendell Berry, Harold Schimmel, Paul Ramsey, Morton Marcus, and the formerly-ubiquitous Peter Wild, among others.

What’s evident here: Pound’s “Seafarer,” Joyce’s adjectival smoosh, Pound’s revived Old English prosody of four-beat lines with three (in various patterns) gonging out the alliteratives (“the grape is green and sweet and Greek”), Joyce’s finnegan’d together punning, a sound onslaught overload’d with cunning connotative conneries (“surf’s upsurging sea’s hoar shore”), Pound and Joyce’s epic delight, erudition striding lustily up the sand.

What’s odd here? I’m struck by the conditions of publication, how did Hejinian’s “unusual poem” end up in Epoch? Even with readily identifiable precedents and authentic modernist earmarks, a thirty-page poem by a relative newcomer isn’t something a committee-edited university magazine is wont to accept, no? I suspect that Baxter Hathaway push’d for it, though I have no way of knowing. I knew Baxter a few years later, had him as a teacher, work’d with him briefly at Epoch (some sinecure position he’d garner’d me, after lousy grades’d lost me a tiny scholarship), and work’d with him for some years at Ithaca House. Two things about Baxter I think of regarding the Hejinian poem:

He didn’t favor the new, but he’d never shy away in front of it. Particularly if someone else (mostly younger, he saw clearly how the young need’d to commit their own mistakes, and he could see past his own “time-provincialism” even if the young couldn’t) claim’d its merits. He’s the one ‘lowed as to how

“what high lurking hornets buick the moose”

was the best (or his favorite?) of the Silliman poems in Crow after David McAleavey brought that manuscript back with him from California and got Ithaca House to publish it.

The second thing is how, more than once, I heard Baxter suggest that writing (re-writing) classical themes, or mythological tales, the culture’s unbound, available trove of stories, was something young writers should do. That is, they were unlikely to have much “to say” themselves, having experienced little (we young’uns chafed against that shit, we did, and rightly so, and wrongly so), so, the argument went, let them tell a known story: a chance to get “out” of oneself, a chance that something (nevertheless) less “usual” might get said. (Is the “making wicked whoopee with the syntactic glue” tactic just that: another way to get out of oneself? Or any constructivist ploy, laying on a self-generative form what was once served up by automatic content?)

A long way away is the Hejinian. I can see it through the slits behind which my eyes are trying to get some sleep. Domani.

Thursday, December 11, 2003



“Admit the truth unadorn’d and get it over with”: that smarm-slick bromide in the form of an essay titled “The Difficult Poem” that Charles Bernstein wrote for Harpers (June 2003) . . . ? Mmrrrh, is that supposed to 1) make one laugh? (It is not funny, “the outbreak of 1912, one of the best-kown epidemics of difficult poetry” is lame and sophomoric, and the piece itself is unending, unchanging in its tone of shrill condescension.) Or, 2) make one think? (It is too drably straightforward, too tauntingly simple-minded to get the firecrackers pinging off the upstairs balcony or to rouse anything beyond the most modest and yawning interest “below.” It is not sexy. As Bernstein says, “Keep in mind that a poem may be easy because it is not saying anything,” and being the tyro of genrelessness he is, I’m sure he’d want one to keep such suchness “in mind” regarding the essay, too.) S’pos’d to, 3) make one mad? (Too anemic, a chancellor’s report. A schtick of wide-eyed innocenti rules-making, the faux-naif dumbing-down of the instruction manual, done up more chillingly by Russell Edson, more goofily by James Tate, or more warmly by Bill Cosby. It is not affectionate. Is't suppos’d to, 4) make one money? (Aucune idée. Money is not my métier.) To, 5) umh, make a mass-cultural “intervention”? (“How you talk, po’boy! You be wantin’ that I ‘regain your authority as a reader’ upside the head?”)


“Difficult poems are like this because of their innate makeup. And that makeup is their constructed style.”

Innate makeup = constructed style.
Innate makeup = constructed style.
Innate makeup = constructed style.
Inmate makeup = constricted style.

2 + 2 = 4. C’est un mur.


Bribes de brebis. Leftover Ashbery notes.

“And Robert Duncan I’ve never really been able to fathom, though he intrigues me. His work strikes me the way my own work must appear to many people.”

Twenty pages later: “As far as Prynne goes, I always feel that I like his work, but that there must be something I’m not getting. But I know many people feel exactly that way about me.”

Ashbery refuses to suggest that difficulty figures into whatever intent he brings to the poem at all. On the few occasions when I’ve heard him speak of the difficulties of the poems (inevitably in response to a plaintive audience-member’s query), he’s look’d slightly pain’d, unraffishly quizzical, and answer’d with something of a lament: “I’m sorry. They seem so plain to me. I try to make it clear.” Words to that effect. To the extent that I trust the delivery. Ain’t it the Language Boys who haul’d Dame Difficulty out the attic and got her so gussied up? And to what purpose? The fetishizing of difficulty for its own sake? Quel, as the French say, opprobrium. To what conceivable marketing plan be difficulty made?

Ashbery, replying to a question asking if he’s follow’d Language Poetry’s “experiments”: “Yes, but from a distance--like the English lady in Firbank’s Prancing Nigger: ‘I always follow the fashions, my dear, at a distance.’ Probably like Surrealism it will become more fascinating as it disintegrates--or like Minimalism in music: it’s like there’s a certain hard kernel that can stand the pressure only for so long, and then it starts to decay, giving off beneficial fumes.”

Fashionable. Distancing. What is the half-life of a Language Poem? Or is that method of dating now dated. Decay. Fumes.

What struck me most in the Ashbery interview. On the choice of “Litany” for a title: “I was going to church a lot at the time . . . I often used to go to a Sunday afternoon service at a chapel near here.”

Religion makes one shutter. Religion makes me shudder. Even in America where statistics show consistently a huge percentage of th’inhabitants believe in Something Big up there helping us Timid Little Ordinary Ones down here grow our Perfect Cabbages, even in America I never believe anybody except Wallace Stevens actually goes to church. Went.


Former Lives of the POETS

JOHN WILKINSON, BRUSH-MAKER, opposite to the Quaker Meeting-house, and next Door to Robert Moore‘s in Second Street, Philadelphia, still continues to buy Hogs Bristles, and make and sell all Sorts of Brushes, as heretofore, at reasonable Rates.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003



A mighty kind and highly intelligent review of my book Breeze and Peter Gizzi's book Some Values of Landscape and Weather is up now here. Done by Dale "Skanky" Smith, most energetic of possums.


Tawdry piece of faux-laid paper (actually cover'd with pale gray stripes the width of a paper-making screen) from the O. Henry (hometown Greensboro boy by the name of William Sidney Porter) Hotel, the new one, the old 1919 grande dame having been torn down in a pre-prevervationist burst in 1979 (circa ten years later in the South than in the North where, with exemplary and unfortunate timing, both the Ithaca Hotel and Rothschild's department store fell to the wrecker's ball, both in the late 1960s. The paper is cover'd with scribbles. My crimping unwieldly post-stroke scrawl that often leaves me guessing what I intend'd. In the grocery store I'll ask G. "What do you think that says?" "I don't know. You wrote it."


Frémon's book (Island of the Dead) is named after the Swiss symbolist Arnold Böcklin's painting. The characters all do researches at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. And some (most?) are nominally confused with other, known (marginal?) historical figures: Van Gulik the Dutch diplomat, mystery writer (of the Judge Dee novels), sexologist, collector of Chinese erotica and natural history lore (author of both Sexual Life in Ancient China: a preliminary survey of Chinese sex and society from ca. 1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D. and The Gibbon in China: an essay in Chinese animal lore) plays a prominent rôle. As does Emilie (who dresses in white, and is a watercolorist of roses), Gertrude (whose "portrait . . . turned out severe, rigidly dignified . . . spouse in the pose of a spouse, like Madame Cézanne" who only occasionally seems model of a possible Stein), and Sam (a Beckettesque "Indian-chief," or "Eagle-with-Periwinkle-Eyes," with "prominent Adam's apple . . . hair in rebellion . . . lanky frame," he collects animal genitalia facts, and measurements).

Or the walk-ons, vaguely familiar. Is that Rosset Barney Rosset? Is Wilson Edmund O.? Dawkins, c'est qui exactement? Or Karl, he who's left behind both a hat and many pages in a leather-bound notebook scratched precisely out, leaving but word-strays, though impeccably. My favorite: Coolidge of Stockbridge. Maybe Coolidge's brief, first (only?) appearance might give a sense of the way the novel moves, by tidbit and tinfoil, bright items stow'd by a magpie in a nest, questions of a precocious nature. Two succeeding fragments:

On August 5, 1834, as he was dashing off to Brest by the mail-coach to recover his runaway daughter Juliette, Victor Hugo stopped to make a brief note, "The magpie, both a speaking bird and a thieving bird, seems to have been created expressly to show just how close plagiarism is to highway robbery."


On the title page of the manuscript of Opus 131, Beethoven wrote:

Zusammengestohlen von Verschiedenen Diesem und Jenem, which translates as, Lifted from here and there, or even, borrowed from various others. Milner claims that the phrase is quoted by Coolidge of Stockbridge in the afterward to his collected works.

When Beethoven's publisher read this note, he immediately shot off an angry letter to the Master, complaining that the work was not original. "Funkelnagelneu!" said Master replied, new as a shiny penny.

What is resemblance, I wondered.

What is imitation?


Vibrations surrounding questions of resemblance, identity, imitation. Self as ellipsis, anything that "doesn't tell all." Ghosts, spirits ("Books, paintings are real ghosts. The shadow they project is not their own, but is that of their habitation, of the white sheets they're hiding beneath.") What can form hold? What'll keep us from blowing away, dry husk, carapace, exoskeleton. The narrator is perhaps an artist, prone to drawing series of inkblots and envisaging faces within. Rather in the manner of Henri Michaux's doodles, or barely lisible, like Robert Ryman's gradients of whites in series. Or: "With a large charcoal, I try several times to capture the perfect hyperbola of Mapplethorpe's white tulip, a half-ellipse that opens out. It's immensely satisfying to draw simple forms over and over."

Frémon: "No salvation outside the systematic. The collection of facts, the collection of evidence, the collection of things, how else are we to batten down our dreams?"

And: "Intuitions are spirits that visit us. We need proper receptacles to receive them."

Somewhere in Frémon is a kind of sadness for what man's lost becoming man. A kind of sex-tristesse at loss of transport, of passion, of must and musk. An emptiness where instinct gave over to the sere wind of ratiocination and went fallow, oh dustbowl blues. "It's stifling in here" says Gertrude at one point. And: "Your story's a bore; go get a life."

Frémon: "Konrad Lorenz thought animals had a much larger emotional capacity than man. He thought that the human sentimental sphere had undergone a process of reduction and simplification analogous to that suffered by our instincts. The passion for ellipses. Do imagination and intellect limit the emotional field, or, on the contrary, do they offer it new territory?"


All yesterday looking at Jordan Davis's "Unpleasable me!" And thinking: "Unappeasably me." "Unplaceably me."

"I can't get behind that unplaceably, Mr. Latta. That's one plug-ugly word."

I used to have a list unscroll'd in the high recesses of my personal noggin: a list of personally proscribed words. Poisonally perscroibed vvoids. (Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, Poisonville for Personville. Nabokov's Hugh Person in what? A Transparent Sunset? Transitions of a Sunset?

There you go. You go along royally thinking about something and then you hit a language bump. A gap without a stopgap. Transformations of a Sunset? No matter. (Mrrmph. I look'd it "up": Details of a Sunset and other stories in cross-pollination with Transparent Things. It's the latter matter I's thinking of . . .)

The words: "with," "at," "this," "his," "upon," "onto," "yet." I would go to gymnastic lengths, do a contortionist's tomfoolery, in order to dislodge any of them if I saw them approaching mid-sentence. And mostly succeeded. "With" and "at" have become fast friends. The others still get they comeuppences de temps en temps, the upstarts!


If I'm repeating myself
Would one of you
Please let me know.


And don't let me
Keep turning a sentence
Into more than itself.


Corllect'd Wordks


Six a.m. and the moon, a shaving past full, muffled under the gauze of a cloudlet, snot-crinkled, veil of Veronica. Six zero five a.m. sprung free, a hardball going, going, still there hanging above the western fence. Six ten a.m. the moon roped like a calf, saddled under that red-brown ring. Only: another ring, thinner, with a hint of ochre, a hint of daffodil, surrounds the all. What was that one word I thought, mid-shower, to jot down on exiting? That would surely have crack'd the case wide open, no? Gone now. Terribly gone.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Gumbo, Squirt


Trop des écrevisses. Which are, by back-formation those skittery notes that écrivains harvest, matériel de gumbo. Try 'n' cotch 'em up, mon, dey squirt off by de tayl.


I took the recent nod of Steve Evans toward Jean Frémon's Island of the Dead and scoop'd it up to carry with me on the airplane. Detroit, Atlanta, Greensboro, and in reverse, back. Perfect coat-sized Green Integer volume, translated by Cole Swensen. First publish'd in 1994, in French, by P.O.L. I'd never heard of Frémon: I ask'd of a friend là-bas, who'd not either. He's been around: first book, Le Miroir, les alouettes, publish'd by Seuil in 1969. Books on Tàpies and Robert Ryman show a predilection for art-writing. L'Île des morts is Frémon's most recent except for one: P.O.L. did La Vraie Nature des ombres in 2000. Avec Books publish'd something recently titled Distant Noise. That I have not found. "Yet." (Little word, rusty gate on which intention swings in anticipation . . .)


Leaving Atlanta at suppertime in the rain the MacDonald-Douglas burst climbing above the cloud blanket and brought the red-orange ball of the sun up with it. A sun rising in the west! Once it had clear'd the cloud-horizon and the airplane had reach'd its 35,000 foot cruising altitude, the sun commenced its slow liquid-spreading descent back down behind the blue-fissured rampant cloud-bank. Fifteen minutes or less had pass'd.

In the plump black that follow'd, under cloud-billows, and -roils, and -dells, and -rafters, the white lights of cities rent the cover, shredded the glowery bombast and hulk, peer'd wild-eyed up toward an unrinsed, ineffable heaven nowhere to be found. They did. And we, as Berryman wd say, "buckt."


What about Oblomov, and Frémon's claim he's a pre-Beckett Beckett?


Back, thankfully, to my blessèd noctambulatories with La Carmenita. Sunday a cold night, clouds trowel'd onto the sky in rows, planks, queer quasi-regular iterations across the sky-roads. The moon a one-eyed one head-light'd roadster, jalopy, bagnole unstylish, unfinned.

Primary head-scratch: what's that ring doing, so tight to the moon? Apparently full. A red-brown smeary ring in close encirclement and array, maybe three moon-widths out, a red ring-stripe nearly two moons thick, a circle seven moons in diameter. Pi-r-squared. Whazzat? Oh nothing.

I can't help it. I keep trying to avoid it. Something about the raggy clouds making wrinkle-y the moonlight. It's a sky-asshole. A sky-anus. Calling Gabe Gudding. I can't help myself.

Nightwalking in the annular sublunescence of the 1950s tracts. I am trying to jumpstart, to germinate another, any other, better excrescence out of what looms down up there. Everything's suppuration and grease. Sky-boil. Sky-pimple. Wen of the December night. Sky-zit. Skeezix the sky-zit. When the cartoons gum up the visuals, you know the junk is good.

I try to see a breast, a bud, sky-nipple, aureole and cannot achieve it. Or can only achieve it by disfigurement, a gapping out. The mind tumbles in its own direction, bileous and unfurling, or it is nick'd out, lift'd off the matte black with a single-edged razor. A cancerous result, the way
metaphor is
a cancer, eating
at the world, and multiplying in daft succor and scorn.


Frémon (with tampering): "At each stage of its evolution, the avant-garde seems at the natural end toward which all previous avant-gardes had been heading, though not completely determined by them. This apparent state of completion, even perfection, is of course fallacious, as it is inevitably obsolete from the point of view of the next avant-garde, which regards the previous one as just a pause along a path that has neither goal nor end, and in which each step is an end in itself.

The italicized words have replaced "a species," "states," and "evolutionary state."


Frémon. The factoidal as novelistic. "They say the hyena is a hybrid, the monstrous fruit of the union of a dog and a cat.

"Aristotle, always a stickler for the truth, claimed that the necrophagous animal was not, however, hermaphroditic. Popular imagination (a charming concept that could prove useful) fitted this animal out with both male and female organs, seeing in this doubled sexuality a confirmation of the beast's demonic nature . . .

"The fact is that the male and the female of the species look so much alike that they are often indistinguishable. The clitoris has the same size and shape as the penis . . ."

Monday, December 08, 2003

List Listlessly


Reading list (University of North Carolina, Greensboro, 4 December 2003):

On the radio (WUAG):

“The Morning News” and
“North Carolina Notebook” from Breeze

At the Faculty Center:

“Mesick” from Rubbing Torsos
“Elogio di Frank O’Hara,”
“In the Margins of a Book by Heidegger,”
“Yaupon, Kouros, Fermata,”
“A Jack Spicer Notebook,” and
“Wisdom Terrestrial and Nigh” from Breeze
“A Photograph” and
“My Voice” from The Joinery manuscript
“Innocent” and
“Romp and Storm” from Some Alphabets manuscript


Met Tony Tost afterwards. A pleasant surprise and a too-short conversation. He’s one of the editors of the excellent new online magazine Octopus. And seemed smart, enthusiastic, and intellectually curious.


Bought (Edward McKay Books, Greensboro, NC):

Genii Over Salzburg by Carl R. Martin (Dalkey Archive, 1998). A book I’d pick’d up in the library a few years back and puzzled over. Apparently (according to cover copy) Martin was born and raised in nearby Winston-Salem, and resides there now again. I asked novelist Michael Parker (who’d invited me there to read) if he’d heard anything about Martin, but he hadn’t. Two tiny samples:


The tired, abused tide
Of custom is a tent of huskies
Each front paw raised in frozen
Dance in Siberian snow.
Umbrellas fall in the blizzard
While violin and jew’s-harp
Play their strange sonata
Where there’s no one at all,
But the shadow of Pushkin
White with contemplation.

(Which becomes, I ask you, more strange or less strange? more affably sleight-of-hand enigmatic or less un-pin-down-ably remarkable? with the knowledge that Martin is black, as was Pushkin. I cannot say. JL)

“We All Crazy Sam”

Dogs have died their bitter death
Following the leaves and
Hemlock of the acerbic elves;
A black wind from the bole.
Car-shaped balloons are waylaid
Flattened home to Miss Droom’s School.
Picked clean by long, interesting fingers
For bad wasps nesting in the earves:
Crown of thorns
In the dustball’s loony bin.

(I can’t with any surety suggest an origin for Martin’s poems, or align them with much confidence in a tradition. There is an earlier book, titled Go Your Stations, Girl publish’d in 1991 by Arion Press in San Francisco. That I’ve never seen. And I think Michael Magee’s Combo’s publish’d others, more recently.)


Bought (Friends of the Library):

The Benefactor, by Susan Sontag (London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative Society Ltd, 1983, originally FSG, 1967)

Naturalist, by Edward O. Wilson (Warner Books, 1995)



Gam #1 (Fall 2003), edited by Stacy Szymaszek, cover line drawing by Patrick Gulke. ($2, 142 E. Concordia, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53212)

Subtitled “a biannual survey of Great Lakes writing.” Work by Steve Nelson-Raney, John Tyson, Randy Russell, Drew Kunz, Stacy Szymaszek, Robert J. Baumann, Anne Shaw, Kiki Anderson, Bob Harrison, Jennifer Montgomery, Francesca Abbate, and David Baptiste Chirot.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Blinde Mare

On Hauing Playd Wily Beguily with My Selfe

The true proportion
Of a sea-
Crab, as much

Wit—that (old)
Gray goose—and
Manners in a

Blinde mare. No
More stealth. No
More lusting after

The Wooll on
The shorne Sheepe:
I ain't one

Of those wilde
Cattle, that for
The cost of

A red petticote
Ventures the ly-
Ning of her

Placket. And if,
By a mischance
Of my Masters

Making, I should
Fall into ineluctable
And two-heel'd

Timpanie, it'll not
Be ascertainable by
These meane Feat.


Heading out early tomorrow morning for Greensboro, and returning (here, to the Hotel) Monday. A odd lethargy: no desire to juggle "ideas," though I did just now enjoy moving some words around, stacking up le petit tour solitaire above. I love that Camus story that ends with the painting nearly completely scumble'd out, sauf a barely-legible word: solidaire or solitaire. I am with you—please leave me alone.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Erratus, -a, -um

Erratus, -a, -um

Kent Johnson writes:


Your entry on the Erratum card in Houseboat Days is weird, given that you earlier ran a stanza from the "renga" Jack Kimball and I are doing on themes Iraqish and American-poetic. Here is one of my entries, written a week or so ago (just ask Jack!):

"Speaking of Courtyards named 'The Gestures of the Girls,'" said the pubescent girl with brother's brains on her first bra to me, "have you seen the Erratum card for "Fantasia on 'The Nut-Brown Maid'"? I know it by heart: 'Due to an unfortunate typesetting error, a line has been printed in an incorrect position. Line 6 on page 83, "falling back to the vase again like a fountain. Responsible" should be deleted. It appears in the correct place on page 88.'" Then the girl put her flowering forehead against the transparent tree and closed her almond eyes, seemingly oblivious to the gunfire and screams. "The big question we might want to consider," she continued, "mediated as we are by all these elaborately embedded 'quotations' is, 'Does it make a difference'?"


And I reply:



Starships collide over Hotel Point.

In my 1979 Rubbing Torsos an erratum slip is found that reads:

"p.61 l.20, for 'old' read 'dead'"

Post-lunch imbecility setting in,



I, for one, anticipate with pleasure the results of the Kent Johnson / Jack Kimball tornado. Two witty enigmas throwing down the gauntlet over the invasion of Iraq whilst American poets keep stirring the bubbling pots? A sidewinder and a mongoose sidling and goosing on the prosey sands: Atacama! Ashbery! Quotations! Brains! Who was it said: "If'n I ain't funnin' you, I'ma be gunnin' for you"?

Post-lunch imbecility over with.


Pale, Canvas


Biked in under a perfect pale cloudless vault of cold sky, a platter, a lid. Tinge-ing to gold where it made uneven fit with the horizon. Near Allmendinger Park the sun shot forth overweening, a jihad of light. Cf. Locke. "The Conceits of a warm'd or over-weening Brain." And nearing Clements Library, pedal'd through the slapdash sparse Pollock tableaux of hundreds of crows, the dark canvas of the sidewalks loosely beshit'd. A grave ammoniackal stench rose up, ô mon chasseur, myne fylthye reprobate, my scamp and kin!



Explosive #9 (2003), edited by Katherine Lederer, available via Spectacular Books for $6. The "We're All Pals" issue, judging by the cover. Poetry by Monica Youn, Chris Edgar, Elizabeth Willis, Hal Sirowitz, Matthew Rohrer, Brandon Downing, Jennifer Moxley, Jeff Clark, Beth Murray, and Canon Wing. Side-stapled, no editorial apparatus, "just the poems, ma'am."


I've never used the word "trot," as in "used the literal versions of Mustafa Buncombe as a trot."


Reading the Between the Lines-published John Ashbery in conversation with Mark Ford, surely the longest (and most biographically-oriented) interview with Ashbery I know of. Is there really an "early nineteenth-century playwright Pixérécout, the inventor of the spooky melodrama"? (There is. Apparently the author of the mot, "Un livre est un ami qui ne trompe jamais," [Deliver me a friend who trumpets not in pyjamas.])

Ashbery: "I've never had anything to do with rock and roll."

Ashbery's fastidious and phenomenal memory and wide-ranging references (Barney Oldfield to Alexander McQueen), dates and titles and names at the tongue-tip. "I've always been anti anti-art. The fact is that it doesn't work, as Dada has proved--once you've destroyed art you've actually created it. It just has to be changed and chopped up a bit to take on a new beauty--like an Alexander McQueen frock." (On McQueen's designs: "a fantastic mix of utterly unwearable avant-garde pieces and beautifully tailored ready-to-wear.")

Diction-shifts used for gentle self-mockery, as in the poetry. "My father was very fond of musicals so we'd tool over to see the latest Busby Berkeley." (Or, I suppose, here, father-mockery. That "tool" is loaded.)

Ashbery (the kind of thing that makes one always suspect--when Houseboat Days first appear'd with an errata slip indicating that such and such lines'd been print'd twice, once in the correct place, once wrongly, a friend of mine thought maybe Ashbery'd done it purposefully, pulling the game leg of a growing readership): "I've always read English poetry much more than American poetry, and I feel that English poetry is more important to my work than American, though the English themselves don't seem to think so."

The book (part of a growing series, edited by Peter Dale, Philip Hoy, and J. D. McClatchy) includes two Ashbery poems, several pages of photographs, a lengthy agate-typed bibliography (including an overall index of poems appearing in Ashbery's English-language collections), and selections of reviews of each of Ashbery's books.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Fister Germanes


Some terrific news in Benjamin Ivry's New York Times appreciation of Hugh Kenner. "The archive of Kenner's papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin holds a number of intriguing unpublished projects by Kenner, including "Zukofsky's Eye," a study of the modernist poet . . ." Calling Wesleyan University Press.


Love and Fear Are Two

Love and feare are two-
Fister germanes, one is conjoyned
To the other like Hogges
In the mire, and dirt
Of carnall se|curity, or like
Frogges prating and slandering with
Eyes ore-vayled with clowds,
Or with catracts and webbs.


Title Swap

Titles currently available:

Novel Memories

The New Rural Intercruralisms

A Long Shallow Afternoon

Scrawl’d Amenably in No Margin

Well-Sung Assumptions + Manly Entitlement = The Usual Pseudo-Accommodationist Indiscretions


Hooey Subvert’d Again


Overheard via G. watching "Arthur." Fern, the tall, skinny, "odd" girl, bookish without glasses (I think):

"I think shopping is a waste of time better spent reading poetry."

And G. smirking about it (in agreement?) when I enter'd the room.

Trytophane Breakdown

Tryptophanic weekend, uncontrollably dozy.
Tryptophanically weaken’d, thanatopically rosy.


A Barrage of Stein Notes I

Stein: “Whenever words come before the mind there is a mistake.”

Which Dydo interprets with: “Writing by unthinking habit, relying on usage rather than consciousness, is wrong.” Which assumes that the mind could function without language. Which assumes that words fall first into patterns defined by usage before they fall into sound patterns. Though Stein is everywhere working with sound, rhythm, music.


To rid oneself of grammar. In a letter to Elliot Paul, Stein says: “. . . by way of grammar you do get rid of sight and sound in a very intimate kind of way and it leads to a strange sort of liberation . . .” Does she mean that grammar dominates the shapes and sounds of the stark material of individual words to such a degree that only by systematically undoing grammar is it possible to see and hear words as words? Yes, Mr. Latta, I think so.


In Georges Hugnet’s “Préface” to the 1929 translation of selections of The Making of Americans, a book titled Morceaux Choisis, he writes “Le langage . . . lui semble un engin dont on peut tirer autre chose qu’une simple pensée.” Dydo glosses the sentence adequately enough as: “To her, language is a tool which can create more than mere ideas.” My question is: what’s the relationship between Hugnet’s formulation and William Carlos Williams’s “a poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words” (circa 1944, in the introduction to The Wedge)? Hugnet’s “engin” could be rendered “utensil,” “apparatus,” or “tool,” but would more readily be translated as “machine,” or “engine” by a speaker of English.

Hugnet says: “Il s’agissait d’etre exact . . . Avant tout, avant la pensée qui est ce qu’il y a de plus facile à traduire, je me suis attaché à rendre le plus fidèlement que j’ai pu, le rhythme, la vie du vocabulaire, le grouillement des consonnes et des voyelles, . . . à restituer aux mots leur volume, luer poids, leur son . . .”

Which Dydo translates as: “It is a matter of exactitude . . . More than the ideas, the easiest to translate, I have tried to render as faithfully as I could the rhythm, the life of the vocabulary, the dabbling [I would quarrel here: I think Dydo might mean “babbling”—grouillement is commonly used for the noise ‘murmur’ or ‘hubbub’?—of crowds] of consonants and vowels . . . and to restore to the words their mass, their weight, their sound.”

WCW, in a series of similar remarks, also puts emphasis on poetry’s precision: “poetry is the machine that drives it, pruned to a perfect economy.” And rejects the importance of “la pensée”: “It isn’t what he says that counts as a work of art, it’s what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity . . . What does it matter what the line ‘says’?” And: “There is no poetry of distinction without formal invention, it is in the intimate form that works of art achieve their exact meaning, in which they most resemble the machine, to give language its highest dignity, its illumination in the environment to which it is native.”


Out after lunch Sunday across the buckthorn-shorn fields to the pond.
Duckweed and oak-rot. Across Seventh to the thickets behind the high
school, cut by paths. A possible Cooper’s hawk drifts above the thicket
line into the sun-glare and gone. On the back-weave back into the grid of
street, the fifties ranch houses, the unreal greens of Chem-lawn’d lawn,
and barberry tangles bare of leaf, the berries shining like teeth.

How many American poems go like that? Out to brave wilderness, back to the corrupt city.

Walking El Doggo

Out Sunday across buckthorn-
Shorn fields and stubble,
The dog and I
Make for the pond.

Duckweed and oak-rot.
A possible Cooper’s hawk
Drifts above the thicket-
Line into sun-glare

And gone. Back-weaving
Back into the grid
Of streets, 1950s ranch
Houses, th’unreal parasitic greens

Of Chem-lawn’d lawns
And barberry tangles bare
Of leaf, blood-red
Berries shining like teeth.


A Barrage of Stein Notes II

Dydo’s conclusion re: Stein’s ‘unsuccessful’ translation of Hugnet’s poems: “The experience led her to distinguish between poetry as spontaneous utterance and poetry written to order, following a model. The former was genuine poetry, written ‘from inside,’ but the latter a form of fakery, written ‘from outside.’ She associated true poetry with roughness, ambiguity, and irregularity, whereas poetry following a model was smooth, regular, and lacking in vibration.”

I’m not certain all that follows from an argument with Hugnet over the translations which mostly amount’d to whether each (Hugnet and Stein) would get equal billing (in terms of type size) on the title page of the proposed volume. And how does “spontaneous utterance” relate to “writing by unthinking habit,” which Dydo’s pointed to as “wrong”? “Spontaneous utterance” is an expressionist’s dictum, rather distant from the constructivist experiments of much of Stein’s writing.

More startling perhaps, in Dydo’s conclusion here, is how the translations of Hugnet (retitled, after the quarrel, Before The Flowers Of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded) and what Stein learned about “poetry written to order” thereby, led eventually to that supreme “audience writing” The Autobiography Of Alice B. Toklas. Dydo: “That work, which she was careful to write in the name of another, brought her readers, fame, money—and cost her her voice. She finally gave in and wrote brilliantly and seductively to a blueprint for success. Once she understood where her great need for audience, publication, and fame had led her, she recovered a very different voice.”

Maybe there’s just some clumsiness here in employing “voice,” but I remain skeptical regarding the tidiness of this conclusion. Writing writes its writings and intent tags along. And voice limps down the inroads made by accumulation and perseverance, it doesn’t spring full-blown into the wind, it isn’t doused by a freshet. Dydo’s expressing a preference for the more “difficult” Stein texts by this means: effectively assigning the Autobiography to the scrapheap of “a form of fakery.” Which may be the case, but is not to be claim’d convincingly thus.


Gertrude Stein call’d herself (once) (to Virgil Thomson), a “fattuski.”


Dydo’s model of reading: “across” pieces (several written near simultaneously as witness’d via the carnets and, to a lesser extent, the cahiers) versus “down” pieces (strictly chronologically, within the “completed” pieces). Crossword puzzle reading styles. The genius of the book is in the care of detecting the weave. Threads repeating, reused, often across years in different writings. Stein: “Think in stitches. Think in sentences. Think in settlements.”


Arrangements versus directions. Still life versus movement. Polarity. Reader-made meaning. Love.

Stein: “This is a sentence as an arrangement.”
Stein: “A sentence is primarily fastened yes as a direction, no as a direction.”
Stein: “A sentence is made up of whatever they mean.”
Stein: “A sentence is made by coupling meanwhile ride around to be a couple there makes grateful dubeity named atlas coined in a loan.”


Add to Albers versus Stein:

Stein: “The sky is blue. Very blue especially through the trees which are
made to make it blue.” Language studies, color studies.


Stein’s dog Basket.

“Basket is sweet and melodramatic . . . it would appear he has a sluggish liver, which makes for the most constant of sentimental melodramas, I am doing it it is called Basketing.” (in a letter to George Platt Lynes, 1929)

Or “G. Basketing.” Which piece becomes “Saving the Sentence” and ends abruptly:

“I made a mistake.”

(Charming the strictures posed for Stein by notebook lengths. How often a text ends just at the last available line of the cahier. As opposed to The Making of Americans, referred to as The Making of Never Stopping.


Stein: “A great many things further than mentioning.”


On the self-important (Hemingway).

Stein: “A man is a person if he has a reputation to fulfill.”
Stein: “I neither look nor am solemn.”


Stein: “Music is nondescript.”


More grammar. “A Grammarian.” Increasing use of periods to slow reading, break sentences. Wholes and parts. Pieces of the continuum. How to count. How to “attend to distinctions” and avoid the abstractions made by sums. Stein:

“Grammar little by little is not a thing. Which may gain.”

“The part that grammar plays. Grammar does not play a part.”

“The essence of grammar is that it is freed of following.”

“She said that the only way you could count with dignity and then use the money that had accumulated was by counting one one one . . . If you kept counting by ones and had purses in which you kept the separate ones you could always keep everybody well fed and well dressed . . .”

“Think closely of how grammar is a folder.”

Or a purse. Odd to see talk of distinction and particularity subsumed by metaphor. As elsewhere (in Madame Recamier. An Opera.) she writes: “Avoid the suggestiveness by association, make your suggestion by words which do suggest.”


Note: look for Hugh Ford’s Published in Paris.


Brillat-Savarin, he of the Physiologie du Gout was born in Belley, near Stein’s Bilignin. Which reminds me of a bar in Ithaca, New York called the Dugout. Which a French woman new to the place took for a French restaurant. In truth it was a shabby wrackline of a place, where sad drunks got stranded nightly. I never much “attended” the place, but fondly recall once getting a ten and three ones back on a ten dollar bill, put down to the soggy bar for a two dollar pitcher.


Stein (in a letter to Henry McBride): “No. I am not interested in autobiography messages experiments. I am interested in literature and I happen to be the first American since Whitman who is making literature.”


In “Forensics,” Stein: “A title is made for defense.” (And thought of Peter Gizzi’s layers of titles, including “Forensics” in the recent Some Values of Landscape and Weather.)


Two final lines. I’m something like 150 pages shy of finishing The Language That Rises but’ll have to turn it over to another (petulant, impetuous?) reader tomorrow, and it’ll likely take a while to get back. Pshaw. But the book’s a fine and ensconcing thing, and it’ll be a relief not to be so trammel’d by it. Nodding at the Gizzi, I’ll record one Stein:

“It is of great use to be able to like to look at the clouds.”

And another: “That is astonishing a narrative and I would so much rather
be poetical.”