Monday, January 31, 2005

Sullen Art


G. assembling a list of names for newspapers—sentinel, gazette, journal, &c. So I tell him about Isaac Bickerstaff (dub name for Joseph Addison)’s Tatler. And long of a sudden to write and distribute a daily sheet call’d The Snitch. Articles sign’d by Biggerstiff. (Some wag’s sure now to write in with the suggestive: The Snatch. Quoth th’unlubbable Mr. Eliot: “That is not what I meant at all. / That is not it, at all.”)


Cloud-brow’d and leadish the sky off in the western approaches of a late afternoon amble with the C-dog. Crows sailing by in th’upper reaches, that early hurry to belly up first to the bar. The Crow Bar downtown transform’d into some new pre-planned loss, a write-off against a meagre profit elsewhere. My gone impetus to scrimp together a new magazine, The Crowbar. I admit it: I only saw a cover, neon blare of Main Street signage, a wiseacre crow sucking the bubbly through a straw.


Sudden decision to complete my ergonometrically correct workstation with a slight up-pedic stool construct’d of my old Norton Anthology of English Literature (1968), in two volumes, ending with Dylan Thomas: “sullen art / Exercised in the still night.” One for foot the left, one for foot the right. (In the still recesses of my sullen head, I am exercising my night-memory: one of Aaron McCollough pointing out in the post-coffee wired-up sunlight whilst I paw’d at the snow-melt with my boot’d foot that I am not like my Blogland persona. And thinking to myself: “Whew! That’s a relief!”)



Poetry Review, Vol. 94, No. 4, edited by David Herd and Robert Potts (22 Betterton Street, London WC2H 9BX)

Translation Issue.

Poems by Ch’oe Young-mi, Mahmoud Darwish, Valérie Rouzeau, Piotr Sommer, Fiona Sampson, Jan Wagner, J. P. Nosbaum, Blanca Varela, Arjen Duinker, Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi, Anne Stevenson, Andrew Waterman, Tony Lopez, Sophie Hannah, Ralph Hawkins, Annemarie Austin, Ian Pindar, Nick Laird, Robert Hampson, Mary Michaels, David Wheatley, John Latta, Roger Waterfield, Sally Festing, Simon Carnell, Will Eaves, Paul Stubbs, and Tim Morris.

Essays by Sarah Maguire on the vicissitudes of translation (“Throughout the Cold War . . . the CIA actively encouraged the translation of fugitive East European poetry into English as a . . . means of countering Stalinist propaganda . . . [The CIA] recognized that the translation of poetry could be a political act with significant consequences.” And: “What doesn’t get translated and published is, of course, as fascinating as what does. André Lefevere has noted that, “of all the great literatures of the world, the literature produced in the Islamic system is arguably the least available to readers in Europe and the Americas.”) , and Andrew Jordan on being a resident poet in prison (“I understood the bewilderment that related to me and my residency. Detainees would sometimes be astonished to discover that they had been provided with a poet, when they needed interpreters, legal advisors, etc.”)

Reviews by Peter Manson (on Tom Leonard), Janet Phillips (on Kathleen Jamie), Aingeal Clare (on Frank Kuppner), Jane Griffiths (on Jane Draycott), Michael Murphy (on George Szirtes), Patrick McGuinness (on Peter Robinson), Carrie Etter (on Ruth Padel), Sarah Fulford (on Carola Luther), Jane Yeh (on P. J. Kavanagh, Graham Mort, Andrew Sant, John Fuller, and Colette Bryce), John Muckle (on Jeff Nuttall, Rupert M. Loydell, Robert Sheppard, John Welch, and Ralph Hawkins), Fiona Sampson (on Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Miklós Radnóti, and Kapka Kassabova), Peter Robinson (on The Faber Book of 20th-Century Italian Poems), Andrew Duncan (on Peter Huchel and Ernst Meister), Montserrat Roser i Puig (on Gabirel Ferrater and Justo Jorge Padrón), Jerzy Jarniewicz (on Tadeusz Rozewicz, Ewa Lipska, and some anthologies of Polish poetry), and Alison Brackenbury (on some journals—Banipal, Wasafiri, Orient Express, Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Quarterly Review, and Chicago Review—with recent issues devoted to translation).

Alan Jenkins on the art of William Nicholson.

Art by David Gledhill and William Nicholson.


A slow learner I am when it comes to literary politics, tending to prefer the big circus tent model to the hen-pecking order model (though willing ’s any old blue-tick hound with a namesake biting ’s vitals to nip at the heels of any swayback brokedown nag what git too uppity, or ornery) . . .

A slow learner I am when it comes to literary politics in these States, and to suss the blunder and counterweight of the British variety is no job for me. However, I note that the current editors of Poetry Review report in an editorial that “this is our penultimate issue.” There follow some reflections pertinent to all shores:
When we were interviewed for the position we were asked how we would handle the factionalism of contemporary poetry. We said, boldly (foolhardily), that we would ignore it. Our strong sense, as readers of British poetry of the past decade, was that the categories according to which the territory was divided, the short-hand by which British poetry was routinely assessed, had come to be damaging. The categories—the short-hand terms— . . . of course, can be useful; they can provide an orientation in the world. Critical short-hand, however, can become an alternative to reading, with a poem or poet, once labeled, being forever consigned to one corner of the territory or another.
They continue, calling for an reading-approach of “wilful naivety”—considering “each poem according to its own specific terms and motives, and on its particular merits.”

Less convincingly, Herd and Potts, in trying to pinpoint the source of British “aesthetic diversity,” note:
Quite possibly . . . it has something to do with the fact that in Britain, more than in many countries, there are not, currently, any governing themes, any common stories which people readily agree on. In this we differ, notably, even from America, where for good and ill, themes of freedom and democracy still organize debate. In Britain for very healthy reasons, there are no themes—social, political or religious—that inspire consensus.
Not imperial shrinkage? Not class obsession?


All day trying to recover that phrase that taunt’d me long after midnight, some voidoid spacial gap of significance to it, so blatant in its adverbial squat it seem’d surely it’d last to dawn. Didn’t.


(As for Aaron McCollough’s persona non blogga: just turn yo’ bad selfs around a square one-eighty, dudes and dudettes! Aphoristickal? He ain’t no skinny-down deacon of th’aphoristical, nunh-unh. And he ain’t no half-pint parson of the proper proverb, neither. He big! The man talks in full-blood’d and hot-butter’d, fully justified—left and right—paragraphs! And he gots a vocab that’d go to bat for him in a fourteen hundred dollar suit! Syntactickal finesse that’ll daunt the swivelest ear! That Steelers stuff? Bob’s your mother, mister! The McCollough intimated privately that the idea of contact sports makes him “shuddery.” Quote, even cribbage, unquote.)


The story of the blogger who continually foists off self-promotion onto the sphere of some pub-clearinghouse-sweepstakes-like contestual, as if writing about poetry and poetics should be just another boil on the butt of mercantile consumerist America . . . We do, apparently, “have” a “winner” . . .


Rock dove.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The Count


Remind’d I am by the certain “numb’rous & numerickal” primping, of how Pope treat’d poor Elkanah Settle—“City Poet” of London, he, too, thought he cut a fine figure in the rare sun—in the Dunciad, in a couplet that the normally “sapless” William Hazlitt thought “so exquisite that it brought tears to ’s eyes”:
Now Night descending, the proud scene was o’er,
But liv’d in Settle’s numbers one day more.
One could rewrite that for present mournful circumstance:
Now Poetry descends, its proud scene is o’er,
Silliman lives by “visitors” numbers one day more.

The English language before Johnson’s Dictionary (according to the Doctor himself): “I found our speech copious without order, and energetic without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected without a settled test of purity; and modes of expression to be rejected or received without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.”




Pawing at the bookshelf, uncovering Barbara Guest’s The Countess from Minneapolis and Bruce Duffy’s The World as I Found It (1987). The Guest (1976) ’s got a passage call’d “Activities” what could’ve escape’d out of Ashbery’s Vermont Notebook (1975):
Grain Belt Beer, He Who Gets Slapped, Vikings vs Dolphins, ice skating, fishing, Japanese food, meat, square dancing, collage, Rimbaud, New York Painting, Showboats, Baskin-Robbins ice cream, La Strada, Basement Studios, renting a house, visiting lecturers, tourist flights to Scandinavia, Crystal Court lunches, Dayton’s cotton undies, leather shops, Indian crafts, jazz, blizzards, mosquitoes, Betty Crocker recipes, Lake Superior Poetry, silos, covered bridges, Artichoke Hall, brawls, aftermaths, forecasts, illegal turns, incontinent highways, building, building, building, razing, razing, razing, Milwaukee complexes, abandonment, lost frontiers, height, girth, pride, prejudice, toughness, agoraphobia, agoraphilia, alewifehood, navigations, symphonies, tornadoes, sauna construction . . .

nostaligia for the days when one searched for furniture those pre-Saarinen days. For some the pre-Aalto decade.
Though Ashbery’s lists in Vermont are “purer”—the “punful” items “incontinent highways” and “alewifehood” here would not translate to Vermont.

Duffy, apparently whilst lawyering for the District of Columbia firm, Steptoe & Johnson, wrote a fat fictional re-construction of Wittgenstein’s life, mostly with Moore and Russell in Cambridge. How it begins reminding me of Davenport:
The philosopher loved the flicks, periodically needing to empty himself in that laving river of light in which he could openly gape and forget.
It’s the combinatory punch and diction-register contrapuntal of “flicks” and “laving” that pulls me straight in, and does the reminding.



Thursday, January 27, 2005



Received: (Battling away at th’accumulation, &c. continued.)

Taboo—The Wishbone Trilogy, Part One by Yusef Komunyakaa (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)

Satchmo, USA

Dear Mr. Satchmo,
          I’m on the other side
                    with “Tiger Rag” & “Way Down

Yonder in New Orleans”
          on the turntable, a heart
                    drawn on the soles of my feet.

Here, in the inner sanctum,
          I see you toting buckets of coal
                    to Storyville’s red-light houses.

You are a small figure
          raising a pistol to fire
                    at God in the night sky,

but when I turn to look
          out at the evening star
                    your face is mine. You

are holding a bugle
          in your first cutting contest
                    with fate. From back o’

town to the Sphinx
          & Buckingham Palace,
                    to the Cotton Club

& soccer fields in Africa, under
          spotlights with Ella & Billie
                    one hundred nighttimes sweated up

from Congo Square. Listening
          to your notes across the river,
                    the sea across miles of salt

trees, I hear a birth
          holler pushing through brass
                    at the Lincoln Gardens

in ’22 with Papa Joe,
          the Hot Five,
                    the Hot Seven . . .

the sun on your horn
          makes me think this note
                    can find you, Satchmo.

The Singing Brakeman
          beckoned you to Culver City
                    to cut your deep light

into wax, & Miss Lil
          followed, trying to sew up
                    a ragged seam. When you blow

I feel like you’re talking
          to me, talking about Mayann
                    & Mama Lucy as if

they’re the same person—
          Lucille dancing on the edge
                    of the stage—a loved one

selling fish in the Third Ward.
          In a corner of the naked
                    eye, your smile isn’t

a smile: confessions & curses
          drip from your trumpet,
                    & notes about the FBI

dogging your footsteps
          since ’48, float like ghosts
                    of reefer smoke in an alley.

Ike wanted you to change
          your words about Little Rock
                    as you wove hex signs

into “Indiana” & “Sleepy
          Down South.” By the time
                    the bomb in Memphis

settled into your mind,
          you were already back
                    in Corona blowing triplets

for three or four boys
          sitting on your front steps.
                    If you & your drummer

couldn’t play on the same stage,
          New Orleans was only a bronze statue
                    in a park. Satchmo, I believe

in your horn , how it takes us
          to a woman standing in a cane field
                    circled with peacocks.

Reading around in Komunyakaa’s Taboo for a few weeks, trying to find a way “in.” The book consists of forty or so poems all in the short, jagged, three-lined stanzas of “Satchmo, USA.” Poems of varying lengths—one page to four. Mostly historical material, mostly black. Wide vacillating between rather overstated lines like “your first cutting contest / with fate” or “I believe / in your horn” and overdetermined lines like “Storyville’s red-light houses,” and muted, more apt, shuddery particulars: “a small figure / raising a pistol to fire / at God in the night sky.”

Every poem is a kind of set piece, a documentary demarcated, boundary’d. None of the blurring and Creolization of the “age” is evident—too little weave and tear. Maybe it’s the similarity of “subjects” that elicits that—too many portraits of historical figures, clad in particulars, sung into (personal) relation, and abandon’d. Besides Louis Armstrong: Herodotus on th’Ethiopians, Henry the Navigator bumping down th’African coast, Aphra Behn writing Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave, the “Negro manservant” Tobe in Faulkner’s story, “A Rose for Emily,” Delmore Schwartz deluded that Ralph Ellison’s hitting on’s wife, hard bopper Horace Silver doing “Baghdad Blues” against the backdrop of the current immoral oil war. It’s as if (the “Wishbone Trilogy” pointing, with high ambition, toward a larger structure) Komunyakaa’s deliberately rising to the Poundian epic-challenge of “a poem containing history.”

The Armstrong poem does manage to recuperate “Satchmo” out of the stranglehold (white) image of him as a lovable full complement of perfect teeth, always smiling. If a poem exists to complicate perception, to wrinkle the received, Komunyakaa’s points that way. And, admittedly, most of the pieces make for a tidily-arranged set of vignettes, limned with care. Europe’s (and the Americas’s) dismal history of encounters with African “Otherness”(or Africa’s “erupting” into the West’s consciousness) undersings it all.

I suspect my reading of Taboo gets temper’d by my liking for Komunyakaa’s 2000 Talking Dirty to the Gods, a wheeling carouse of 132 pieces writ each in near-sonnetlike four quatrains—there the formal requirement itself seem’d to allow less deliberation, more kaleidoscopic effect. A suspicion of determinedly ambitious projects pre-announced dogs me.


Notes, “one” supposes, to an apology for a lack of cogency. Notes that suggest that the book’s cogency itself is “at fault.” So it goes.


The story of Samuel Johnson’s putting, in Greek, etch’d into the dial of ’s watch, the words: “That night cometh, when no man can work.” A spur, and little solace. And, too, at the age of twenty, writing: “I bid farewell to sloth, being resolved henceforth not to listen to her syren strains.” (Johnson reminds me of Lisa Jarnot—or vice-versa. As the seemingly perennially upbeat and half-tongue-cheek’d Jarnot says: “A vision statement is a concise paragraph-long positively worded picture of your immediate future and who you want to be and what you want to accomplish. It’s useful to begin by thinking in bite-sized chunks of progress.” And of Johnson, the redoubtable Mrs. Thrale saith that whenever he felt his imagination “disordered, his constant recurrence was to the study of arithmetic.” Or, as the seriously psychified Jackson Bates adds: “It was not only the objective exactness of numbers that his turbulent imagination craved as a means of reducing anxiety. It was also the effort to compartmentalize—to break things down into smaller, more manageable units, so that they cease to terrify and overwhelm the human spirit.”)


The line I heard Mose Allison say in an interview: something about how human life is “one long vacillation between hysteria and boredom.”



Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Completist Slip


Received: (Batting away at th’accumulation of th’unreport’d, in th’interest of completist solace, and an end to bother. I let these slip through my fingers in the seasonal rut of consumerist pile-ups. Or something.)

Selected Prose, by John Ashbery, edited by Eugene Richie (University of Michigan Press, 2004)

On Pierre Reverdy’s poetry (1960): “[It] avoids the disciplines of Surrealist poetry, and is the richer for it. He is not afraid to experiment with language and syntax, and it is often difficult to determine whether a particular line belongs with the preceding sentence or the one following it. The lines drift across the page as overheard human speech drifts across our hearing: fragments of conversation, dismembered advertising slogans or warning signs in the Métro appear and remain preserved in the rock crystal of the poem. And far from banishing poetry to the unconscious, he lets it move freely in and out of the conscious and the unconscious. Since we do not inhabit either world exclusively, the result is moving and lifelike.”

How smart and accurate to apply “discipline” to Surrealism (and all its cohort groupuscules down through history)—think of all the shrill badgerings along the lines of “So-and-so is not automatique enough, pas pour nous.” What Ashbery’s implicitly defending in Reverdy is what needs be defend’d always, the freeing up out of whatever’s prevalent—style, technique, and means. Allowing indiscipline to do its work. That Reverdy ends up in the monastery of Solesmes seems apt.

[Though I turn’d to Reverdy randomly in th’Ashbery book, I pounced on that line about the difficulty of determining where a line fits, to what it attaches. In one of my moribund “quickly failing here” semesters at Cornell, I somehow raked myself out of the hot’ning coals by arranging to translate thirty-or-so Reverdy poems for Ephim Fogel, a large man with whom I associate the words “veal-handed,” “bolster-thick,” and “pedantry,” though I suspect he was essentially kind-hearted. I had no trouble translating the poems, the French’s simple enough. I did, however, trouble about those connectives, and get the distinct idea of some lack, some basic flaw in my work. For one thing: what’d any Reverdy poem do that could’ve possibly caused O’Hara that “heart in my pocket” flourish, the thing that brought, I’d wager, most North American readers to Reverdy’s work to begin with? And which is, I think, what I miss’d in Reverdy—that showy recklessness, a capacity for self-amusement. Next to O’Hara, he seem’d dull’d down, earnest, Gallic, and rather small.]

[Afterthought: is it the French embouchure, that famous pout, that moue, that interdicts the French tongue’s ever getting plant’d firmly in French cheek? In bloodless butcher’s French (le français anémique): Défense de mettre la langue en joue! Meaning: no putting language into play? Possible pun-utterance involving a target, or a screwdriver—need not apply.]


Arts and Letters, by Edmund White (Cleis Press, P.O. Box 14684, San Francisco, California , 94114, 2004)

“Those critics who attacked Brad Gooch’s City Poet, the biography of the New York poet of the ’50s, Frank O’Hara, complained that Gooch had talked too much about his sex life and not enough about the poetry. But in fact O’Hara, the founder (sic) of “Personalism,” (sic) wrote poems to his tricks and had such an active sex life, one might be tempted to say, in order to generate his poems, which are often dedicated to real tricks (who were also his friends) or imaginary crushes. When Joan Accocela in the New Yorker complained that City Poet was too ‘gossipy,’ she missed the point. O’Hara’s grinding social schedule and hundreds of sexual encounters offend people who want his life to be like a straight man’s of the same period. If O’Hara had had one or two gay marriages and had made his domestic life more important than his friendships, then he would have seemed like a reassuring translation of straight experience into gay terms. But O’Hara’s real life was messy and episodic in the retelling, even picaresque—it doesn’t add up to a simple, shapely narrative. It’s all day after day of drinks with X, dinner with Y and sex with Z—not what we expect in the usual literary biography. Biographies were originally meant to be exemplary lives, whether they were written as the Lives of the Saints or Plutarch’s Lives, whereas the lives of most gay men, especially those before gay liberation, were furtive, fragmented, submerged—half-erased tales that need special tools if they are to be rendered in glowing colors.”

Out of “Writing Gay”—originally the Hopwood Lecture, present’d here at the University of Michigan, in 2002—in a book of mostly short portraits / considerations / assessments of a range of artists and writers—Edwin Denby to Vladimir Nabokov, Grace Paley to Joe Orton, Joe Brainard to Cy Twombly. Sorry to see sloppiness in a writer I highly respect. What’s exemplary for me out of O’Hara’s life remains a sense of restlessness and attention, candor and an unstoppable willingness to try different things. That and a noble lack of self-importance, or careerist regard.


The story of how, early, Dr. Johnson-as-teenager, he translates Joseph Addison’s mock –heroickal poem call’d “The Battle of the Cranes and Pygmies,” writ whilst Addison himself was a student at Oxford.


Johnson: “No poem should be long of which the purpose is only to strike the fancy.”


A possible epigraph:
                  “there’s a chance that I was somewhat
Smarter that Luther Smeltzer.”
                                   --James Schuyler



Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Clouds Theodore


Nathaniel Mackey’s epistolary novel—letters that invariably begin “Dear Angel of Dust—” and end “As ever, N.” or “Yours, N.”—is up to its third volume now with 2001’s Atet A.D. From the beginning (that is, soon’s the first installment, Bedouin Hornbook in 1986), Mackey’s indicated that the work is part of something larger, call’d From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. For whatever reason, the three books’ve been publish’d by three different publishers: the first through Charles Rowell’s Callaloo Fiction Series, the second, Djbot Baghostus’s Run, through Douglas Messerli’s Sun & Moon, and the third through City Lights. I read the two earlier books circa 1994 or so, and even without th’intervention of ten years, I couldn’t’ve muster’d up a plot summary. N.’s a musician, the Angel of Dust is presumably a musician, too, or—at least—well-versed in a variety of musical traditions, though jazz figures biggest, and various other musicians (Penguin, Djamilaa, Aunt Nancy, Drennette, Lambert, Djeannine, et al., most of them part of something variously call’d The Mystic Horn Society, or, here, the Molimo m’Atet) trade riffs of sorts, play together, configure, and reconfigure through an assortment of gigs.

The prose itself is dense, and proceeds by puns, by alliterative runs and ruinations, runic rumination, by analogy and analgesics, tablets uncover’d in the form of jazz standards, jazz ciphers. Easiest to’ve a look:
The word “orchestrated” would appear to suggest as much [he’s referring to an “alarming sense of a conspiracy”] but there’s also the base meaning of “conspiracy” as a “breathing or blowing together.” (Forgive me for resorting to etymologies again, but therein, I’m convinced, lie the roots of coincidence.) What I’m trying to explore is the extent to which the spectre of conspiracy, not so much an omen as a foregone conclusion, may well be indigenous to the notion of a band.

The word “band,” of course, can’t help but carry overtones of “bond.”
That’s mid-Bedouin Hornbook. To say Mackey’s writing proceeds “like jazz” or “like the blues” is probably too easy—though there are plenty-plenty aspects of that that align straight out along a musical tangent. The bending of the blue note: how, rushed against the gri-gri-grid- and fretwork of sound, run becomes ruin becomes rune and returns, all members of the “set” relationally satisfy’d. Or how intimacy intimates, intimidates. The sound patterns traceable on any single page are subtle, multifarious, sensual, and (mostly) work rich veins unforeseen, announced by trace and filigree alone. See mid-Atet A.D.:
Iterative head, it seemed, charted a zigzag, serrate course. It was as if we sought to stitch two pieces of cloth together, to close the rift between Wouldly River’s two banks, to bite thru the element we rode even though to do so proposed its undoing. It was this bite which brought clamp into the picture, a clenched, mandibular coefficient which, even so, left one’s embouchure as open as one could want. One sang thru one’s teeth as lilacs bloomed on both banks. Eels wiggled by below.

Mandibular clench was both a courtesy and a caution. I looked around and saw that everyone’s jaws were a little tight. It was as if we bit back or fought back further expression even as we gave the piece all the expressive propulsion we could. We each, it seemed, had clenching recourse to the old blues line, “Don’t start me talkin’”—a disingenuous disclaimer animating the reservoir it sought to conserve. Consumption and conservation locked hands.
There’re tradeoffs and reversals and taunts in the writing, and a great mashing together of opposites, just to see what’ll out. Think of Little Walter, Muddy Waters’s harp-player, working over the saxophonist, out-doing him in a game of tag, and with that ridiculous little toy instrument with the silly name, the harmonica—Little Walter savvy enough to blow it through a mike and make noises that’d lame a sax.

There’s musical lore by the hatful—and I’m someone without a grand backing in jazz. More often than not I don’t know the pieces Mackey references—I do recall though a comparison of Al Green’s unearthly squeals, those strangulated, choking sobs, to the noises of men being lynch’d. That still makes me shudder in a complicated way, the referents piling in such a way one doesn’t know if humankind is diminish’d or glory’d. Mackey adds the fatback of African, Creole, Haitian traditions into the musical stew, and gums it all together (okra-ingredient) with grand nonchalant dollops of capital T, Theory, out of its glory years, circa 1966-1989. “Make you want to hollar.”


As is customary, La Carmencita and I thrust’d ourselves out into the nocturnal froth. Where immediately C. stands intent, transfix’d, I think, by the moon. Which is doing some cloud-gauzy peekaboo number, marvelously coy mistressing it up in some cloud-teddy (oh stop it!) and I like to look now and again, so I do. At which point the C-dog rockets out in a high rip and low growl, trying to launch herself straight into the tall maple, succeeding only in nearly dislocating my arm at the shoulder socket. What’s up in the tree are two dark furry balls, one hanging out the telltale plumage-y tuft of a coon tail earthward. Grrr.



Monday, January 24, 2005



Only nine inches or so of snow. Shovel’d up a big mound and G. dug out a fort. Model’d on th’igloo a neighbor construct’d last year. We sledded a little in the cutting sun of Sunday, thirteen degrees. And th’increasingly temperamental Lumina need’d a jump.


Where’d I sample a page or two of diary writings, and see:
22 January. ‘Terrible cold and nothing much happen’d.’

23 January. ‘Like yesterday.’

24 January. ‘Nothing much happen’d today.’
My casual attempt to divine what peculiar need one act’d on to continue thus, fail’d.


In post-ablutionary hiatus before the boy stirs, I note the phrasal propriety of “to recompense the want of novelty by exactness” in Dr. Johnson’s Rambler excursus for 24 July 1750. And think: it is a tune for today, when “novelty” in its tired repetitions blooms big, and careful observation is at a premium. So marks the date—24 January 2005—I turn’d with precision toward the conservatism that’ll mock my early years. Heh. Is Merrill Gilfillan the most exact writer I know?


The good Doctor reminds us of Virgil’s “true definition of a pastoral”: “a poem in which any action or passion is represented by its effects upon a country life.” Which must needs at the current juncture be revised—call it a “piss’d-toral” and define it as “a poem whose efficacy and merit is measured by its effects upon a country’s actions, morals, and life.” Or, one misewell publish up another magazine, and call it “The Null Set.”


Such is my post-ablutionary crabbiness in the post-inaugural period of a U. S. preparatory to more mischief-making.


Odd solace in the W. Jackson Bates biography of Samuel Johnson, though the rather easy psychological profiling strikes me as dated, fitting with that brief period when copies of Psychology Today clutter’d many a dorm room. I enjoy’d the characterization of one of Johnson’s school buddies, one Isaac Hawkins Browne, who later acquired “a small reputation as a minor poet”—ouch, that double diminutive sure does some heavy work—by one Mrs. Mary Cholmondeley who said that during the first hour of Browne’s company “he was so dull there was no bearing him; the second he was so witty there was no bearing him; the third he was so drunk there was no bearing him.” Shades of impervious youth!


Solace, too, in the report of Johnson’s “odd habit of not finishing books.” “Balked . . . from reading either for substance or even for style in any genuine sense, his immense curiosity found outlet in independent dipping into books and skimming them. And his habit of instantly ‘relating’ one thing to another . . . enabled him to get a point quickly, to see its ramifications, and to anchor it to a growing corpus of general thought that was imaginatively and fertilely alive. Here, in this kind of reading, simply because it was done without deliberate purpose, and not confined within a conscious program or demand, the inner protest and instinctive mulishness declined . . .”


Oddly enough, all weekend against the snowscape, flocks of robins carouse’d unseasonably and bode, all around the neighborhood, feeding off the blue-black berries in the thickets—a tree I know no name for—probably an escaped exotica, some ornery-to-the-natives ornamental. Brat-packs of plump robins always remind me of Toni Morrison’s Sula--and how Sula returns after her ten-year mystery-absence to Medallion, “accompanied by a plague of robins”—“little yam-breasted shuddery birds.” Yam-breasted! There’s a book it’s hard to dip into without wanting to read again.


Moon dangling down in the clear new air like a single 100 watt bulb in an empty room, boot-rasp against snow, jangle of dog-collar, scritch-scritch of fabric against fabric. Muffled so it’s hard to think.


“The word ‘bustle’ is a favorite of Johnson’s, indicating foolish and ill-directed activity carried on for no other purpose than to relieve tedium or ‘fill up the vacuities of life.’ (He once defined it as ‘getting on horseback in a ship.’)”



Friday, January 21, 2005

No Big Thing


The story about John Lee Hooker and the big sloppy-drunk white woman up in Herb David’s Guitar Studio circa 1969 when one climb’d the worn wooden stairs and found it in a warren of tiny rooms above Bob Marshall’s bookstore, the latter a paperback emporium ’at carried a vasty wash of stuff—I bought a copy of Sumac there. Story that the structure—at one end-reach of State Street—’d shelter’d a dance hall and brothel during some mysterious earlier period. The sloppy-drunk in little more ’n a sun dress kept bouncing up and down on one of the beat-up jalopy couches that Herb David had in the public area of the shop. Which reveal’d some scant-clad nether region that scared up a half-boner “on” me, in brave battle against my basic revulsion. I must’ve been fifteen. And, as in all my few dumb encounters with the famous, I subsequently (now) cannot with any assurance put the whole thing down with anything like certainty. Was that John Lee Hooker? The big-boned angular guy hunched and growling over the guitar?


The story of Moondog in the Viking outfit keeping post for days on the corner of State and Liberty.


Riffling the pages of Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium in search of an answer to some ill-made question about “lightness.” How the lightness of Gert Hofmann’s Lichtenberg book—is it “lightness”? what Calvino iterates as th’attempt “to make language into a weightless element that hovers above things like a cloud or better, perhaps, the finest dust or, better still, a field of magnetic impulses” (cf. Pound’s, “Hast ’ou seen the rose in the steel dust / (or swansdown ever?) / / so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron”)—? How is it that what’s perceived initially as lightness, or quickness, suffers a dragging down by mere accumulation, and—in the case of the Hofmann—in an extremely short book. It’s a little like the effect of reading a book of aphorisms or, worse, proverbs—the tack-hard cutting sensibility of a few exempla slurs out into idiocy and randomness after a few hundred: one’s liable to find oneself repeating meaningless forms—“Four laughing jackals’ll bury an irritable elephant.” “Time is the gaoler of no known goal.” “A hiccup in the wind is no sin.” Etc.


And, el doggo walk’d, I go back to Gert Hofmann and find the lightness again, the knack and humor. “There would be an apple lying on the table in his study. ‘In the last few years,’ he wrote, ‘I have eaten something between five-thousand-three-hundred-and-seventy and five-thousand-three-hundred-and-eighty apples, unless I’m mistaken!” A little glass of wine stood by as well, for him to sniff. As he tramped through Göttingen, he carried his stick. He jabbed it into the ground in front of him and ‘holed it.’”

Or: “. . . it was the time of the electric eels. He thought about them a lot. As he did so, he would browse in some book or other, or hunt up or look up something. That’s worth pursuing as well, he thought, and read on in some completely different direction.”

Or the swiftly limn’d historical milieu available in something like: “A speech machine that he built was able to say the words Papa, Mama, life, death, etc.” Follow’d by the story of “Johann Carl Ensden (1759-1849), who was just making his way through Europe with his collection of more than twenty aerostatic figures. These were life-sized creatures, tailored from oxgut and brightly painted—gold, gold! They were suspended from a horsehair, and inflated until they lifted off into the air.” Shades of Vaucauson’s meckanickal duck. Scientific maneuvering to replicate living beings seeming to us as wonderfully odd and inspiring as John Dee’s maniac alchemickal frettings, or John Wilkins’s linguistickal ones.

A fine (and moving) “Afterword” by Michael Hofmann, Gert’s son and translator. He calls Lichtenberg “(1742-1799), as my father might have said”—in a perfect phrase—a “card of the Enlightenment.” “The youngest of seventeen children, most of whom died in infancy. Malformed spine. Studied mathematics and science, visited England twice, in the epistolary swim of the international science of the time . . . a note-taker and heterogeneous scribbler.”

“Ah, to be an heterogeneous scribbler, and in the epistolary swim!”


Submit’d to the “mule” or “muse” annals:

When my baby she left me, she left me with a mule to ride.
When my baby she left me, she left me with a mule to ride.
When the train left the station, man, that old mule lay down and died.


The story of Hound Dog Taylor’s six-finger’d hands.


Koko Taylor talking about a song call’d “I Cried Like a Baby”:
Big Mama Thornton did it . . . when I heard her singing it, I said, “Yeah, this is wrote for me.” Now this particular incident, maybe it didn’t happen to you, but it do happen to some people just like I’m singing this song. You know, well, they man walked off and left ’em and now they lady got a problem about a “What am I gonna do?” So when he left she let him know, “You didn’t do no big thing by leaving me because I made me some good connection. I got a man way better than you and he’s really puttin’ out.” You know, so there you go.

Note to myself: Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Blue Flower is “about” Novalis.


Reading Nathaniel Mackey’s Atet A.D.

Thursday, January 20, 2005



Out of routine. Out with my father to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens out Dixboro Road. To listen to a lecture about birds in poetry by two local writers and birders, Keith Taylor and Macklin Smith. The latter is a medievalist, and ’s accumulated a life list of birds seen in North America that is upwards of 870-odd species. Unheard of. He’s apparently spent parts of twenty years on one of the outer Aleutian islands, undoubtedly a prime spot for strays, accidentals, &c. One thread of the talk: how rarely birds get put into poems as birds. That is, how quickly they get metaphorized. Made to deliver up other information.

Taylor read a terrific prose piece about the Kirtland’s warbler, one of the rarest birds in North America, and one that nests only in Michigan:
. . . only in the blueberry, aromatic wintergreen, bearberry, sheep laurel or sweet fern that grow beneath young jack pines. The stands of pine must be large, at least a few hundred acres, and the birds move on once the pines are twenty feet high and their branches cut off the light that feeds the understory. The birds nest over a porous soil classified as Grayling sand that is found only in thirteen counties in the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan.
The piece is too long to fully quote here. Here’s Macklin Smith, writing to a birder’s discussion list under the subject “Murder and Birds,” and referencing Taylor’s poem:
Priyantha Wijesinge reminds us that Mr. DuPont, just arrested as a suspect in the killing of a world-class wrestler, is the author of two important bird books and in other respects a contributor to our field. Without meaning to generalize or hypothesize, it may be of interest to remember that the discoverer of the first nest of the Kirtland’s Warbler, reported in The Auk, 41, 44-58, was N. F. Leopold, Jr., who shortly after this discovery was convicted of the kidnap-murder of Robert Franks. This was the famous Leopold and Loeb case—infamous as well in being used to foment antisemitism at the time. To quote an (accurate) prose poem, “Life Science,” by Keith Taylor, about this strange coincidence of murder and birding, “They stuffed the body in a culvert by Wolf Lake Park in Chicago. When the police questioned Leopold about a pair of eyeglasses they found near the body, he said he had lost them chasing a Wilson’s Phalarope, a bird rarely seen in that region.”

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
Lhouth after calve cu
Bulloc sterteth, bucke ferteth.
Murie sing, cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes thu, cuccu.
Ne swik thu naver nu!

Sing cuccu nu, sing cuccu!
Sing cuccu nu, sing cuccu!


Riding the Bus with William James

With ut-
Most poise

I aim
To dis-

Card consciousness.
It (or

Any) I-

Dentity needs
A tooth

(Or many)
To grapple

With its
Naming. Part

Of William
James’s argument

Goes: “To
Deny plumply

That ‘consciousness’
Exists . . .” I

Love that
‘Plumply.’ He,

Too, claims
The word

Is used
To “signalize

The fact
That experience

Is indefeasibly
Dualistic in

Structure.” Or,
As Lichtenberg

Put it,
In writing

To Count
Volta, inventor

Of th’Voltaic
Pile, “My

Head is
Not big

Enough for
What lies

Before me!”
That is,

The “one
Long wrangle”

To dislodge
The paradox

That one
Thing (a

Dentifrice, an
Apple) could

Exist in
A mind

And on
A table

At once.
So histories

Collide and
Divvy up

Whatever’s available
As relation.


In the “Hunh?” Column, Reserved for Head-Scratching Signs of Official Disbelief

“The third n makes perfect sense for a man who soon would add an internal y to his name.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Chess, Checker


—Tell me who’s that writing?
—John the Revelator.
—Tell me who’s that writing?
—John the Revelator.
—He wrote the book of the Seventh Seal.

Being near’s I come to some Son House tidbit. Turn’d my work machine into a big blues box yesterday with the aid of some pharmaceutickal company earplugs copped off a tiny radio. Keb’ Mo’ claim’d that the guitar replaced the piano when it went electrickal. I say: what about Otis Spann and the one-finger trill!


Lichtenberg in Blogland:
The merchants have their Waste Book*; there they record from day to day everything they buy and sell, one after the other, without any order. From there the entries go into the Journal* where everything is recorded more systematically, and finally it goes to the Ledger at Double Entrance*. This should be imitated by the scholars. First a book in which I write everything the way I see it or as my thinking tells me to. Then this can be copied into another where subjects are separated and arranged in better order; and the Ledger could then contain the various subjects in their connection and, following from it, their proper discussion.
Of course, in our century’s infatuation with the processual nits, we can, not undutifully, stop with the first article, shouting out “System and order belong to Neanderthals, Republicans, and the other diehard mainstays and categorickal sorters of the neiges d’antan and the violon d’Ingres.” Whateveh . . .

*Lichtenberg writes these terms in English.


The trial blotter of Lichtenberg:
I have the habit of putting down my ideas about all kinds of things, by no means in order to use them at some later time, but simply with the intention of trying out their connection with each other. For in writing down things, one notices a great deal which one is not aware of in mere meditation.

In the flat delta stretches wide of the levee, the pastoralists croon and pack the gunny sacks, the backhoe gets abandon’d, the pangs and pines and black mud and sorrow gets left to sharecropper boogaloo Saturday nights. And the pastoralists yawn out to take up the blander comforts of county seats, or, shock’d by the alignment of funeral parlor and muffler shop, slide up to the provincial capitals, where the rain rains its tins and tines. Or on a buttery dandelion whim the pastoralists jet off to the world’s finest city, there to stroll the lanes and boulevards, there to write the pastoralist odes by which the “pangs and pines” and “tins and tines” ’ll be known. Outside the capital the banlieusards with kitten wives haul they meagre trashes.


The story of Howlin’ Wolf’s size sixteen shoes.


—What conclusion can you make concerning beauty?
—There is no conclusion to make concerning beauty?
—Is that the definition of beauty?
— . . .

Tuesday, January 18, 2005



El doggo is
Plaster’d to bed-
Spread like a

Yellow dog rug.
I paid off
All the bills—

A heap’d up
Hinny of bills,
And now I

Am thinking how
Little I want
To do anything

More just now
’N read Gert
Hofmann and chuckle.

That ain’t the
Way to have
Fun, no, oh.

I ain’t ‘too
Vain to do
A thing badly’

Submitting proof I
Am—good old
Herd-outcast moi.


Gandering at the journals “one” gets the distinct “rub” that everybody nowadays proceeds with scientific care, hordes of sober-minded citizens, ratiocinating with regularity, keeping they smarms and smirks to a minimum, putting out the care-worn words. No sharp edges, no barb to the hook. No mad-for-intoxicants youth. No bust-a-gut whoopee. No fevers, no chancres. No growls, no slops.


The profoundly conservative Cyril Connolly, similarly: “Today [circa 1943] our literature is suffering from the decay of poetry and the decline of fiction, yet never have there been so many novelists and poets; this is because neither will overcome the difficulties of their medium. Irresponsible poets who simulate inspiration trample down the flower of a language as brutally as politician and journalist blunt and enfeeble with their slovenliness the common run of words.” Earlier, he notes: “it is only the thinking which begins when habit-thinking leaves off, which is ignited by the logic of the train of thought, that is worth pursuing. A comfortable person can seldom follow up an original idea any further than a London pigeon can fly.” Later, in a grand wallop, he pooh-poohs “Flaubert, Henry James, Proust, Joyce and Virginia Woolf.” (Who’s Joyce Woolf?)


Ah, who wants to be a village alarmist? Where’s Georg Trackl?


Gert Hofmann: “He showed her his books and folders and told her about what was in them. This is where I put the world under the magnifying glass. And under the minimizing glass too, for that matter, he said. He wanted to make a note of the expression which had ‘leapt upon him in the course of speech,’ but then he let it go.”


Georg Lichtenberg: “In this town a certain happy dullness of intellect has always been endemic.”


Douglas Oliver, from “The Diagram Poems”:
In Pando the Tupamaros seized the police and fire stations, the telephone exchange and three banks, before trying to escape as the police closed in on them. These movements could be plotted on to paper, already with some inaccuracy. As the diagrams were plotted, they moved farther away from reality into pictures which both reflected the actual events but were also permitted an infection from personal British fantasy, such as the dead son and your worries about political judgment. Poems emerged, more distorting even than journalism. The final job of this deliberately impure art was to recreate emotional urgency out of fantasy.

She roll’d her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying ‘cockles, and mussels, alive, alive, oh . . .’

Monday, January 17, 2005

Backwards City


Number 2

Pinty in Hungarian means “bird.”

Ponty means “carp.” That kind

Of thing’s bound to please!



Backwards City Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, edited by Gerry Canavan, Tom Christopher, Don Ezra Cruz, Patrick Egan, Jaimee Hills ($7, 2 issues / $10, P. O. Box 41317, Greensboro, North Carolina 27404)

Poetry by Joyelle McSweeney, Ander Monson, Karri Harrison Paul, Greg Williamson, Marcus Slease, Paul Guest, John Latta, Tony Tost, Erica Bernheim, Sarah Manguso, Kristin Hall, Arielle Greenberg, K. Silem Mohammad, Johannes Goransson, Kent Johnson, and Gabriel Gudding.

Fiction by Michael Parker, Alix Ohlin, Cory Doctorow, and Adam Berlin.

Nonfiction by Stephen Kuusisto.

Comics by Tom Chalkley, Peter S. Conrad, and Jim Rugg.

Envoi by Kurt Vonnegut.

I rather like th’unapologetic editorial stance: “We birthed it. It wasn’t easy. We got moody. We worried about money. We fought over what the font should be. And now that it’s out, breathing on its own, we’re going to take a nap.” I like how it leaps in (where angels fear &c.) to put a whole gamut (a musical term, lowest note in the mediaeval scale of music, and hence the whole series—“spectrum is to the eye what the gamut is to the ear”), out there, comics and all. The poetry (moreso ’n the fiction) sets out—to alter the metaphor—a mixed batch of bulbs: it ranges from the full-tilt flarfista playa-dub (to deliberately mix traditions) of K. Silem Mohammad (see “Demerol Chillout”: “Kitten Natividad brought her nipples / and latched on each content / to bring wildlife productions falling from grace / / when she did that she nearly levitated”), to the “objective correlative” (“now, there’s an old notion”)-laden beginning of Paul Guest’s “Poem in which I Seek Consolation in the Etymology of a Word” (“Not even in buxom could I find solace today, / traipsing backward through mouth / after mouth, through muck and mire and Middle / English to end in all the words deemed Old . . .”), to the Surreal reprise, name-calling “tendency,” and blog-flogging fun of Kent Johnson’s “Poetry Blogs in Zurich” (it reminds me, too, of Corso’s “Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway”—“I said: ‘Bald killer! Bald killer! Bald killer!’”) which memorably ends “. . . I could give a shit,” said Gertrude Stein. “Pass the butter.”

All to suggest that the editorial gang of five at Backwards City Review could proceed in any of a number of directions in coalescence, that inevitable narrowing, definition. Or, attempt to remain “open, eclectic, a wide-eyed purposeful innocent.” What should one make of an announced contest to be judged by Fred Chappell for the next issue? While I doubt Chappell would likely see “Demerol Chillout” as “awardable” material, I suspect he’s less predictable than “one” ’d imagine. He’s writ, after all, a huge and varied corpus, in the (mostly) Southern tradition of doing so (think Robert Penn Warren).

I like th’inclusion of comics (more point’dly, the various styles mimick’d in Jim Rugg’s “The Stoned Ape Theory”). I like the fiction—full disclosure: Michael Parker, author of the story “Results for Novice Males,” “served” as best man at my wedding. He’s the author of the terrific novel, Hello Down There, and of the recent Virginia Lovers (originally title’d Virginia Is for Lovers before the lawyer-impact’d Commonwealth of Virginia rose up in one grand trademark-infringement claiming body and struck it down. Tant pis.)

Somehow, rattling around with Backwards City led me to pull out the first issue of Chiaroscuro, a poetry magazine I publish’d (and print’d) with th’assistance of Chris Henkel. It managed six issues in ten years, and heav’d a sigh of relief and regret circa 1986. These words were written in the summer of 1976:
Our Golding Jobber 1914 press, whereabouts beknownst & undisclosed, is just snookers. Unhappily, we aren’t, but we’ve arrived. We apologize for our tardiness-only a broken jaw and a broken heart could have shackled us thus.

In handprinting this issue, we declare our commitment to “the book as objet d’art,” the pure word on the pure page, the poem-having-grace gratified by the page’s final stateliness.

We seek poems—the bright red Communist, the blindly moribund, the static Other, the persistently aberrant. In addition, we actively ferret reviews, translations, manifestos, polemics, bombast—anything that will fill a wet sail. Surely, just as a forest fire’s heat opens pinecones, thereby freeing seeds for reforestation, any conflagration of insults and feuds only fuels and de-mystifies the daily search or higher truths, perfect forms.

Our “editorial policy” rides protectively, Indian style, between a horse of Irrepressible Scoffing and one of Final Amazement and Awe. We would rather be falteringly eclectic than eclectic to a fault. We recognize in Language our common stockpile and turnstile—moving, we move through it.
My co-editor, Chris Henkel, making a living by delivering Domino’s pizza’s that summer, ’d got whopped in the jaw—right through the window of the little Datsun pickup—by a fist holding a full can of beer in an apparent robbery attempt. He’d gunned it and come away “otherwise unscath’d” but spent the summer with ’s jaw wired shut, getting the requisite calories from a combination of loads of beer and Campbell’s potato soup. (I love to use authentic product names in my writing: it makes me feel so Anne Tyler. Or is it so Ann Beattie? Th’indistinguishable Annes trouble my sleep . . .) The broken heart? Oh, there were many . . .

The “bright red Communist”? I just loved the way a tough-looking woman with jet-black hair repeat’d a line outside a movie theatre there—she selling the Cuban “Diario Granma” I think—and calling out “Bright, red, Communist, newspaper!”


Reading, between slothful (soulful!) naps and irritable (fetching!) barks, Gert Hofmann’s Lichtenberg and the Little Flower Girl, breezily melancholy:
Because the wig was a little big for him—“look,” he said, “my head’s shrinking!”—he tugged at it from time to time. Under his arm he carried a bunch of books “that double, if not treble, the significance of the world.” And now I’m going to bring the world back to manageable proportions he cried, and tore out a few pages.
As he climbed the steps, he called out: Slowly, slowly! I’ve got something in my brainbox that I mustn’t lose! Once in the lecture room, he drew himself up to his full height and said: Here comes erudition!
Something of the Russian Absurdists to it, Daniil Kharms, or Yuri Olesha.


Lovely Cyril Connolly line: something about “autumn bliss” “the equinoctial study of religions.” Bus reading: The Unquiet Grave. Lunch reading: its namesake.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Landmark Mutual


Pinty in the Hungarian is

“Bird,” ponty’s “carp.” The kind

Of thing that pleases everybody!


“It is difficult not to notice a curious unrest in the poetic atmosphere of the time, a loosening of old landmarks, a softening of oppositions, a mutual borrowing from one another on the part of systems anciently closed, and an interest in new suggestions, however vague, as if the one thing sure were the inadequacy of the extant school-solutions. The dissatisfaction with these seems due for the most part to a feeling that they are too abstract and academic. Life is confused and superabundant, and what the younger generation appears to crave is more of the temperament of life in its poetry, even tho it were at some cost of logical rigor and of formal purity.” —William James, circa 1904, though he wrote of philosophy rather than poetry. And in a footnote: “The notion that our poems are inside of our respective heads in not seriously defensible, so I pass it by.”


A little one-sentence story by Dwight Ripley: “Hervé le Saindoux had at the age of 26 already published three books: ‘Au Large’, a stirring saga of life aboard a windjammer; ‘En Marge’, an acrimonious study of the contemporary scene; and ‘Barge’, the autobiography of a godwit.” Courtesy of Douglas Crase’s Both.


Isn’t it always like that? How, just now, skimming a list of new books e-mail’d my way by SPD, I read, under an announcement of Merrill Gilfillan’s Small Weathers, newly out—“Jim Harrison said of Gilfillan’s most recent book of essays, Rivers & Birds, “If anyone writes better prose in American I am unaware of it.”—and my very head suddenly jumps up off my shoulders: I had a dream about Jim Harrison last night! A dock, a fishing boat, he couldn’t stop eating, jokes about appetites. My very head.


Thursday, January 13, 2005



Jules Verne: “. . . the zartog Sofr-Aï-Sr acquired, slowly, painfully, the intimate conviction of the eternal recommencement of things.”


Clement Greenberg call’d E. M. Forster “the nicest fellow writing the English language.” Today that rôle is filled by Marjorie Perloff.



The bic

Amer al


es of

starark pr.

My cn



e ofusion of.


r ing up.


Is the kind of thing that
In a stunny regress
Farra slick’ned oud
Musickal and bode.


Materiality kill’d a cad.


Michel Butor: “We are used to distinguishing modern painting from painting of the past by considering that the latter is “from nature” and that the former “away from nature.” We say that the invention of the camera has “freed” painting from the obligation to reproduce reality. Now, this is an entirely erroneous perspective . . .
           The notion of a canvas painted entirely “from nature,” entirely “from the model” is something quite recent; strictly speaking one might even say that such an attitude was provoked by the advent of the camera. Of course, before that, painters made “studies” from nature which we ourselves may regard as admirable works, but which were not enough for them. They were merely notations, details, a vocabulary that then had to be worked into speech . . . As for landscape, there is no doubt that in was photography which forced the painters to leave their studios, to work en plein air in order to compete with it. It would have been so simple for them, it seems, to stay home and work in a realm where this new technique could offer no competition, for instance in the realm of the romantic imagination.”


“The perfection of new forms as additions to nature.”


Out late with el doggo into the snow-begone night. Period of vasty water wring-out. Forty-some degrees in the midnight hour (as the wicked Mr. Pickett reminds “one.”) Gutters running full under the streeplamps (les lampadaires, period of “one’s” writing not being able to “progress” without putting down—at each and every shift and maneuver—some random indication of the world’s sad accumulation of facticity—“Et, les nouveautés, est-ce qu’elles existent malgrès tout, où pas?”) The light braiding a thin filigree ever-unbraiding to resume in electric quickness to hold the water in place. Now, sitting in the reading chair—penning the word “penning,” the word looks like “penury” in my laze-lustre’d sass-scratch—handwritten word’d materiality of a pork rind wrinkling in the sun, that’s how it looks down here in the boonies, the toolies, on the Sasquatch side of sufferin’ succotash, I need a reminder right away—my right hand scritchering around el doggo’s neck-undersling, where the jowls hang wet, the cou-slack’d skin dry. Or up to tousle the velveteen ears. She narrows her eyes in delight.


Just ’s soon get a tenth orifice drill’d out ’s monkey with a comparable niggle’s ’s that, is what I thought (think) encountering David Melnick’s PCOET out in the “old” Ithaca House, the one in the village of Forest Home. Sounded like a cemetery. Though, delightfully, down the road a piece a stone-structure stood with words and décor stuck to it, a kind of miniature modest version of le Palais Idéal of le facteur Cheval at Hauterives. Still there. And the broad flat rockage sluiced by waters of Cascadilla Creek!


And yet: adventurous (obtrusive, nutty, bête not to say “bestial”) orthography ’s got to be consider’d a similar (sidelong, coeval, coddling) impulse, no?


I pass’d along—some years back—to my brother S. that Williamsesquerie about “new forms” adding to “nature” and he related a story about irradiated cows in Missouri, the “Show Me” state. Cows that glow’d palely green as luna moths in the milking stalls. “There’s a new form in nature,” says S. and, unwittingly plucking a line like a stray hair off the scrubb’d and wrinkle’d collar of Philip Levine, add’d, “you can have it.”


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Distinct, Revamp’d


Taxonomists, apparemment, come in two varieties: lumpers and splitters. The ones that lump tend to long to stuff disparate species all into a single genus—they claim similarities where none exist.

The ones that split do th’opposite—they count difference big, and want to make countless genera, pile by pile, genus after genus. The perfect splitter would do away with genus completely, color variance become equal

to morphological trait. All difference generic, and only species exist. Grouping (any attempt) is fake and forlorn, a misguided attempt to quell a right disorder. If similarities and differences depend on lineage (and they do), then

what taxonomy does is build history into naming—all the Acer (maple) species stem out of a prior source, saccharinum (silver), platanoides (Norway), rubrum (red). The old taxonomy is dying out—

replaced by DNA sampling, genetic strings that align with other nearly identical genetic strings that bring order to the system surer than an eye’s able. If only one could do the same for poets: draw a plug of tissue out of the thigh of each claimant

to a lineal descent from, say, Wallace Stevens, and untwist the sheeny helicals to lay the strings of truth straight. No more poetickal lumpers needed, no more caviling splitters required. (I welcome nominations for the profligate desperadoes

in both “fields.” The lumper who, surveying the gulls (Larus) at the landfill (dump), is apt to shout out, “Lookit all them seagulls!” Simultaneously butchering the nomenclature and overlooking—minimalizing—

distinctions: one call’d Thayer’s (thayeri), one call’d Bonaparte’s (philadelphia.)


Arm muscles slung fat-bellied
’S trout, almond-scent’d. Oh
To be up and talking
Back at the motorcade, with
A grimy helmet, and goggles.
Clean stubble rosins a chin.


Lieu of big to-do:
Push’d against the sleep-envoi
And demanded a speedy exit.
Because my son’s name is
G. I honor him by
Making my nickname Abu G.


Noted: The Gig ’s got a revamp’d home. And an interview with Nate Dorward up I don’t recall reading before, though it is (originally) dated 2002. It point’d me to A Various Art, edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville (Carcanet, 1987). The date there is probably not terribly indicative of content—it appears most of the work—“other” tradition British mostly—first got publish’d in the ’seventies. I expect’d (long’d for) a more contextualizing anthology—trying to figure how the various “other” British and Irish poets “fit”—what A Various Art provides, though, is ample samples of the work. Of: Anthony Barnett, David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, John Hall, Ralph Hawkins, John James, Tim Longville, Douglas Oliver, Peter Philpott, J. H. Prynne, John Riley, Peter Riley, John Seed, Iain Sinclair, and Nick Totton. A fine Prynne, call’d “Love”:

Noble in the sound which

marks the pale ease

of their dreams, they ride

the bel canto of our

time: the patient en-

circlement of Narcisus &

as he pines I too

am wan with fever,

have fears which set

the vanished child above

reproach. Cry as you

will, take what you

need, the night is young

and limitless our greed.
It’s the “Noble” and “ride” what does it, I know, and I shouldn’t go shooting off in specious directions, but why do I try to think about Prynne and Wallace Stevens? Clearly got a bad case of the rainy day Stevens is why.

Too: a fine page of Guy Davenport lines at n+1, compiled by Sam Frank.



Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Scritchering Like a Mandrake



Some Mountains Removed, by Daniel Bouchard ($10, Subpress, 2005). Available here through SPD.

Normally, I try to write something about a book the day I haul it home, or pull it scritchering like a mandrake out of th’envelope it arrives in. Such celerity likely results in some half-baked assessments, carousings that miss th’obvious, kowtowings of the eager familiars, und so weiter. Or, it could result in a need’d congruity, a single thread like Ariadne’s follow’d through the labyrinth (every book’s a labyrinth) in Theseus-easeful wonder, meaning: no second thoughts, no doublings-back, no lapse and resumption. Because, I find, the air gets rarify’d but once—in that initial assault. Later: entanglements, knottings up—the higgledy-piggledy of “style” settles in (and one’s forced into making interrogatory ruckus like “one” is doing here, just to clear a little running room).

Bouchard’s book’s got a cover photograph of a spent missile carcass on a flat expanse of sand and small rocks, no greenery, no hill, no dip. Even without the accompanying title—Fait, by Sophie Ristelhueber, 1992, a chromogenic print—Bouchard’s title, Some Mountains Removed, gets stripped of any possible whimsy. Fait is done, and the world’s unmade: the date identifies the detritus as likely Gulf War I wastage, and deposits one right into the present immoral U.S. blundering adventurism in Iraq. (Sudden clarity: what the phrase “some mountains removed” is trying to remind me of—with its rather cruel understatement—is the unattributed Army-speak line out of the Vietnam War: “We had to destroy the village to save it.”)

Bouchard’s is a poetry made defiantly political by a near-constant awareness of something like “global context”—a refusal to discount the “something bigger” behind any individual’s doings. Even a seemingly innocuous piece, the friendly and graceful thank-you note of “Leaving the Northeast Kingdom,” recounting, apparently, a drive home across unfamiliar terrain after visiting William Corbett (in Vermont?) admits a large extension of world:
The hills rose soft and tough, like a baseball mitt
or a sack packed with bedfeathers,
they dropped off again steeply, the highway was empty
once off the backroads, no radio to speak of, a church
broadcast beckoned sheepish listeners “come back”
into the fold. Putting miles and clouds
behind me, pick-up trucks driven by kids . . .”
There’s a bumpy morphing of softnesses here: the “hills” like “mitts” or feather-stuff’d “sacks” almost becoming the sheep that the radio-listeners are (or would be, if only they’d heed the call, that “sheepish” implicating the driver, too, who seeks grace on ’s own terms by hightailing it out, leaving “clouds” behind). As Bouchard writes earlier in the poem—“all of greater Peacham / is a splendid topographic coil,” and apt, possibly, to pull one into it. At the end: a memory of Corbett “at the kitchen table” with dictionary, “pepper shaker and vase,” items of evident satisfaction along with a recognition of “interminable variations / of light and air.” There’s a New York School ease and delight amongst objects—“comfy”—I’m thinking James Schuyler at ’s gladdest. Against which: a flux and intrusion of world and its necessary concerns, here, less than wholly ominous; elsewhere, contemptuous, seething.

See “Christmas Is Bombing”:
                 Melville tells us there is nothing
more insignificant
         than having a book of poems published.

Skimming with easy vituperation,
       the reading seethes. Sees?
“He had a dream and it shot him.”

               From where beyond the inky afterburn
do the scholars and scripters come? Disaffected
         by profit, a thesis scrawled with a cube
of sharpened blue chalk:
         ”Walt Disney in Cryogenic Hell”
measures aginst the hulk of the waterlogged Walter Scott
         that Twain saw as a cause of war, the casus belli,
   belies the volunteering of Huckleberry Finn,
dead at Antietam; his boyhood friend
   lived to see Buster Keaton in
The General.

               I bet the president knew how to get seriously
fucked up; I bet he knew how to do some
                         serious damage.

                   The national tele-drama will have us believe
a series of intelligent, honorable people
   making honest mistakes in democratic endeavors.

         Forcing myself back
over lengthy paragraphs I spaced on
               while imagining my own death out
of those sentences, with comedy in kind
         but lacking the chivalrous notions
“the house full of men, yonder, with guns!”

               But where is the genuine humor toward the war?
     If the slogans of abolishment are gone
like horses and wagons from these streets
         or the stagnant vocabulary of an obsolete trade

what seer dulls our grief with delicious irony
       and raises mirth first when the missiles whistle?
I don’t do the book justice. You’ll have to get it and read it for yourself. Missing is the recognition that—as Douglas Crase put it, regarding another matter—there exist whole “systems of discourse and self-regard that disdain . . . to notice the natural world at all”—and Bouchard’s determination to combat that. One of Bouchard’s primary turns is ecological: again, any fine delineation of the “natural” world ’ll not spare the inevitable human refuse and garbage we’ve heap’d on it. See “Even Song for the Lost Pollinators.” See these lines (“Driftwood Bits and Plastic Applicators”):
Jagged pieces of jar
retain a bit of lip,

a thread, a letter or word.
Peach pits, peanut
and pistachio shells

among the hollow half-shells
of dead crustaceans.
Fiddler crabs face off.

Sanderlings romp.
Seaweed flaps in long
thin strips like shredded paper.

Jet exhaust visible
streaks past the three-quarter
moon . . .
In an exhaust’d world, garbage itself begins to exhibit an uncanny resemblance to what it replaces, the place it occupies. Debris on a half-shell. Shreds of sea wrack, or paper.

Stylistically, formally, Bouchard’s poems range rather widely. One sees the lapidary cut of, say, a Ted Pearson, in a stanza like,
Four door.
Wheat beer. (“Look”)
One recalls Kenneth Koch’s discourse—circling, mostly bemusedly—in Bouchard’s “Sleeping With Muses”: “Let’s sleep / in the museum of enormous windows.” Frank O’Hara bounds forth de temps en temps: “Autumn is declared / Precisely at 1: 27 P.M. / I will meet it for lunch / At Fort Washington, the oak / Leaves not even beginning / To turn . . .” Classical epigraphy draws its keen blade in “Knives of the Poets”: “Juvenal , you’re a shit, a misogynous prick / And this makes it very difficult to love you.” And, there is, too, what I’d call a kind of hip-hop syncopation driving lines like:
If confused, collaborate.
If at a loss, dissociate. Never hesitate
Amid revision, stress emotive gestures
Not concision. No paucity, or lack of probity.
Cognate wise to reciprocity.
Give pause to gerrymandered clarity.
Solicit recidivists
For blurb austerity.”


More on Sophie Ristelhueber’s Fait here and here.


Monday, January 10, 2005

History, Discontent


If that ain’t the lamest of all the gramps-gimpy excuses for not reading a writer, I ’on’t know what is—that he review’d books for William Buckley? And Hilton Kramer? Oy vey. I intend cutting Hugh Kenner right off my list of allowables, too! And the right-leaning Jacks—Spicer and Kerouac—forfend and begone!

Erm, I didn’t think one judged another’s oeuvre by one’s own rampant-rabid political-imaginary (howeversobeit) and to see it done here (and to somebody ’s complicated and genial as Davenport), strikes me as more than deplorable. It stinks. To dismiss another’s work on the basis of mere association is more ’n simply dishonest, even when one’s got a history ’s long ’s an elephant’s trunk of making aesthetic choices and pronouncements based clearly on one’s own stumbling social configurations going back, oh, thirty (or so) years—tell us the one about Robert Grenier’s poem titled “Joe” again, oh, please, Mr. Silliman. You know, the one that starts “Joe” and . . . ends “Joe.” I love that poem. (Hell, I love any poem.) Though, in the besmirch and besmear tactic of the present moment, one’s nearly moved to propose an identity out of th’annals of nefarious history for that “Joe.”

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a member . . .”


Truth is, Silliman’s and Davenport’s uses of Pound’s poetics come startlingly close. What Davenport, in ’s fictions, builds with the paragraph—non-syllogistically, non-narratively, a many-angled construction—as the unit of composition (or measure) is akin to what Silliman purports to do with ’s New Sentence constructions, using the sentence as unit. Both pulling off Pound’s image-as-unit juxtapositionings as Pound spawl’d the notion off T. E. Hulme.

The difference is that one is arranging sentences collect’d by a man of average intelligence riding a bus around the Bay Area, the other is arranging paragraphs largely historical, telling of the doings of the heroic high modernists—though the latter—a man who some claim’d he never forgot anything he’d read or heard or witness’d—seem’d capable of putting down anything he’d ever encounter’d, and the range of references goes incredibly wide.

Thumb around in The Death of Picasso: John Wycliffe of the first English Bible; Kafka dreaming of “Ionic columns in a field of flowers in Sicily”; Goethe reciting something incomprehensible; a rabbit eating a mullein (that mullein is not preciosity as Silliman would have it, it does not reek of the least refinement, nor fasten itself to fastidiousness—it is precision, the result of unblinder’d, alert, joyous looking and learning for its own sake); W. E. B. DuBois’s “Lions have no historians” parallel’d against Wittgenstein’s “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him”; Buckminster Fuller’s geodesics, Paul Klee’s notebooks, Bach’s partitas, “I found the poems in the fields and only wrote them down.”


Interlude with G., verbatim:

—Is Ezra Pound the same as Ezra Jack Keats?
—I didn’t think so.


Not to be overly contentious (at what point I can hear my brother N. with ’s signature noise of disbelief—“Ppssshhhuurrre!”—calling me out all the way down out of the Upper Peninsula), but: the kind of self- and era- mythologizing that goes into a line like, “these people were extraordinarily important in opening up the imaginations of an entire generation of students—everything from the counter-culture of the sixties to the dot com boom of the 1990s can be traced back to the anything-is-possible approach these folks proposed . . . in profound contrast to the likes of Robert MacNamara (sic) & Richard Nixon,” offers up little more by way of analysis or insight than a false gigantism compounded by a false parallelism—(I don’t think Nixon ’ld claim any interest in opening up th’imagination; it’s doubtful he’d’ve understood what that could possibly mean.) It continues to (do I say amuse or infuriate?) me to see the portentous lengths Silliman’ll go to on behalf of ’s own version of history. As an aficionado of juvenilia (aren’t we all? And isn’t it all?—juvenilia, I mean, except for the most recent “grow’d up” piece of pyrography we’ve just burn’d (do I say into or out of?) our brows?) Saying: as an aficionado of juvenilia, I clamber’d into the archives for a glimpse at the early alignment of the Ronald Silliman / C. H. Hejinian stars (as report’d by Silliman) “on facing pages of Arts in Society, a cultural mag.” I liked, particularly, the wistful “my, my, that man knew us better than we knew ourselves” touch of Silliman’s claim: “Lyn & I have sometimes wondered what exactly Morgan saw in our writing that caused him to place us in such proximity. He was right long before either one of us suspected it.” All ver’ magickal, man. Ver’ magickal.

The only problem is: it’s not true. If one looks at Arts in Society Vol. 4, No. 3, 1967, an issue devoted to “the geography and psychology of urban cultural centers,” what one finds is a poem head’d “(3) Florence” by C. H. Hejinian on page 516, and an untitled poem (“Two hands, one calloused”) by Ronald Silliman on page 525. Hard to avoid—in leafy green and a rather stiffer, high textured stock—between the two, is a fold-out page numbered 517-524 cover’d with seven “Eden Poems” by one Peyton Houston (“Author of Descent Into the Dust and Sonnet Variations . . .”) Sample: “Before you named the animals they came. / Lions could be gentle, wolves were tame. / Bedazzling zebras galloped for your joy, / The lordly elk ate green leaves from your hand . . .” Illustrated with pen and inks made of execrable swirling dots, the sort of Rapidograph’d galactica—every creature’s eye too large, too moist, a looking-glass tear blubbering in the corner—that defined many a schoolgirlish doodle of th’era. And the perp’s poem itself? Oh, dear reader, I hain’t got the heart for it.

“One could look it up.”


Jeez, I hate to bring up the subject of Proust (between you and me, I think I fail’d Steve Evans’s course), but: I enjoy’d a stretch in Douglas Crase’s Both about how well Rupert Barneby, amateur botanist and systematist, more or less independently wealthy (partner Dwight Ripley poured money into Tibor de Nagy Gallery and help’d out the Living Theatre crew), recognized the limits of personality. Crase:
Sometimes I think Rupert could have described no discovery more provocative that the combination he made in his own life of Marcus Aurelius and his beloved Proust. The poet Kenneth Rexroth once observed that Marcus Aurelius is Proust without the narrative. Proust, by reverse analogy, is Marcus with a sense of humor. Both are, in an exalted way, self-help [Big cringe. Though apparently Alain de Botton’s made a similar argument, and, admittedly, there were moments in the-Proust-I-read wherein a tinny moth-voice in my brainpan perk’d up with an unstoppable patter of “How true! And how useful! And how true!” to the point that I want’d no more than to dash . . .], and a lesson the two together teach is the same distinction Rupert always taught, of character versus personality. One way to read Proust is as the triumph of artistic habit over personality, and one way to read Marcus Aurelius is as the triumph of duty over personality . . . Rupert in his life had seen much spectacle and much personality. He knew the circle around the [Cyril] Connollys in England, the Huxley and Heard in California, around Peggy Guggenheim in New York. He witnessed the same dynamics being played out all over again in the circle around the Tibor de Nagy Gallery, and he had good reason to conclude that personality alone does not get you through. Personality has hopes, deep plans and defeats. Character has habits. Here was the extended insight behind his now widely quoted comment on the Millennium Botany Award, which was to be presented to him at the International Botanical Congress in 1999. The ceremony was in St. Louis, and Frank and I had been scheming to get him there. But Rupert wouldn’t go. “I’m conscious of the prestige of the medallion (gold),” he wrote to explain, “but hideously aware that it’s an award for survival rather than merit. It’s part of the dismal cult of personality that started in Hollywood and now has infected the entire planet.”

Dwight Ripley, collector of plant names: “For years zanahoria has struck me as the loveliest word in the Spanish language, but one can scarcely moon around repeating ‘carrot . . . carrot . . . carrot’ to oneself,—at least, not if there’s anybody within earshot, and in Spain there usually is.”


Friday, January 07, 2005



Ah, “the cache that comes from being simultaneously in and outside of academia.” Thanks to Christopher Brayshaw.



Longish, dogged, snowy day. G. join’d me at the library throughout the afternoon and bussing home. And (return of hoofer Thursdays) buzz’d off in the icy Lumina immediately. Tap. Donc, found myself battering around the cinder block remainder’d books emporium, killing the hour whilst G. work’d to refresh’s paradiddles, hoy!


Samuel Johnson: Selected Poetry and Prose, Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Frank Brady and W. K. Wimsatt (University of California Press, 1977)

The good Dr. Johnson in all’s patience, scrofula, and rectitude:
Easy poetry is that in which natural thoughts are expressed without violence to the language. The discriminating character of ease consists principally in the diction, for all true poetry requires that the sentiments be natural. Language suffers violence by harsh or by daring figures, by transposition, by unusual acceptations of words, and by license which would be avoided by a writer of prose. Where any artifice appears in the construction of the verse, that verse is no longer easy. Any epithet which can be ejected without diminution of the sense, any curious iteration of the same word, and all unusual, though not ungrammatical, structure of speech destroy the grace of easy poetry.
Harumph. Though, later, Johnson does recognize that it was “pursuit of remote thoughts” that led the metaphysically “wit”-besotted Abraham Cowley into “harshness of expression.” The chimera of the “natural” will, of course, persist—see Strunk and White, see Fowler, see the scads and scatters of immense numbers of wholly inconspicuous-seeming North American poems . . . And the recognition that a poem is a made thing, and may be “used” to investigate the ways a mind can be put down like a chair in a room . . .


(Scrumming about in selections out of Johnson’s Rambler and Idler blog-post-like sundries gave me a fleeting notion that what’s “needed” now is a similar chore and conglomerate undertaking, call it, if you please, The Googler. Instanter, my intend’d edifice got dash’d though, cut low by the memory of my scoutmaster, a tiny and compact African-American named “Archie” who refer’d to “it” as a “goog”—‘It’s a wonder my goog’s not drop’d off, it’s so cold”—and quick concluded that, comme titre, it sound’d rather too masturbatory.)


Both: A Portrait in Two Parts, by Douglas Crase (Pantheon Books, 2001)

It befalls me to read everything Douglas Crase writes? I recall liking (largely for “formal” reasons—another ‘bag into which everything dump’d ends up belonging’) Amerifil.txt: A Commonplace Book. Reading it with lunch during that brief period circa 1997 when I temp’d as glorify’d office help to the department of radiology—I think someone’d retired after about one hundred years and’d apparently carry’d off all the trade secrets to her filing systems sunk deep in th’amygdala or somewhere succinctly irretrievable—to me, at least. One “primary researcher” ask’d me about the book, and look’d alarm’d when I drop’d out th’idea of the commonplace book—I suspect’d he fear’d the random array.

Both—meaning Rupert Barneby, taxonomist of Astragalus and curator at the New York Botanical Garden, and Dwight Ripley, poet, aesthete, artist, and the (mostly) New York School circle they inhabit’d. Index’d (cull’d off a random page): Willard Maas, Herbert Machiz, Jackson Mac Low, Gerard Malanga, Judith Malina, Alfred Leslie, John Bernard Myers . . .


The Battler
The Rattler
The Scoffer
The Ambusher
The Lunker
The Red Licorisher
The Butter
The Butter-Upper



Thursday, January 06, 2005

Guy Davenport, 1927-2005

When light has foundered wild in death
And the wolf has come to love the dog,
The red left hand of the moon upon October
Kinles the savage grass where the children played.
They seemed by day so grave and handsome there
In the uncut wheat, cornflowers or eyes
We knew not which, or hair or sedge.
How the stillness whispered of their cunning.
Jerusalem! sang the oven bird. Ulro, spoke the crow.

Poppies at their knees, autumn in their eyes,
They stole through the wheat so fat, so brown,
As the wild sad odor of leaves steals inward,
A quietness, a gathered hush, a slyness of eyes,
And charm of voices half birdsong rang
Where left-handed honeysuckle wound her spiral
Under the yellow right hand of the sun.
The year is a winded lion, arrows in his back,
Dying, like the sun, in ripened wheat.

Un insecte, monsieur, l’homme n’est qu’un insecte,
Tall as Apollo, casque polled, ringed and chained
Like starlight walking, die cut and resolute of piston,
Wearing the tresour all and riches of Sidony,
Tined of leg as any high-kneed grasshopper. O
Caro, in satiry and fawny, butternut and buck musk . . .
Being the opening lines of the unobtrusively named “Flowers and Leaves,” a book-length poem by Guy Davenport, first publish’d in 1966 “by the Nantahala Foundation / Jonathan Williams.” Reprint’d in 1991 by Bamberger Books, in Flint, Michigan, the dying General Motors city. It’s an odd opposition, and one that Davenport (who detest’d th’automobile) though not primarily an ironist, surely must’ve appreciated. (Of the car, Davenport argue’d it the thing that’s “gradually cancelled” nearness —that is to say, walking distance—and ruin’d the ancient homely notion of the city’s being “a conglomerate of components within easy reach.”) If it’s not irony that Davenport sought in juxtaposition and quotation, it’s a noting of how a succession and pose of unlikes makes a thing recognizable and new. Is “Flowers and Leaves” made odder by the plaintive insistence of the it’s dedication: “To the memory of / CHARLES IVES / 1874-1954 / Whose portrait, / Republican, Intelligent and Shy / Here imagine / A / Photograph / Taken in 1910, / framed / in an oval / of / Lilac and wheat”? Not odder, more robust.

Or, the glut of signifiers (images!) forces one out, into the snow-jazz’d light, a skirl of it enveloping anything that claims itself as a center. The paucitous muffle of the dog, padding along insouciant, burying its muzzle eye-deep in a drift, a shrew-seeker. Didn’t I once note (or got told) that Davenport’s worktable in’s impeccable writing room was built to Ezra Pound’s elegant specifications and design? (See the cutaway sketch in Kenner’s The Pound Era.) Kenner:
That furniture registers a habit of mind. [One surely shared betwixt Pound and Davenport: one part of the loss is the loss of a connection to Pound.] It is nailed together but owes its rigidity to the design, not the nails. (The amateur who puts his faith in nails will find his joints wobble under shifting weight.) At the junction-points of a long worktable which Pound constructed as late as 1958, nails pointing without redundancy in three directions hold snug economical three-way overlaps of impeccable rectilinear geometry. Like Jefferson’s plough these junctures can be reproduced by anyone, using wood unmortised just as it comes from the lumberyard, and the artifact they sustain is elegant, concealing no secrets.
That refusal to conceal: Ian Robinson (in Shearsman, No. 7, 1982) quotes Davenport’s “Ernst Machs Max Ernst”: “My diction is labored and chiseled, out of a Shakerish concern for the built, and out of a desire to make it as sensitive as I could to ‘the pat of a shuttlecock, or the creaking of a jack’ (a phrase recorded by Johnson in the Dictionary.)” Which Johnson line points one squarely “back” to Pound: “the unwobbling pivot.” Which, too, is the kind of series of recognitions / connections that Davenport flourish’d at making.

He drew with precision and care. Tiny crosshatchings. Look to th’illustrations, drawings of Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett, each in’s natural habitat, for Kenner’s Stoic Comedians. Look to the grids of tinier drawings—another way of making a series, bringing together the disparate / belonging. Or in “decorative” profusion throughout: in front matter to Flowers and Leaves, Davenport notes: “The decorations for this volume are all quotations. The flute player is a Benin bronze. The striding cow is from the Tassili frescoes in the Sahara. The two horsemen are from rock engravings in the Camonica Valley . . .” Also included: “a pocket toy made by Gaudier-Brzeska for T. E. Hulme,” “the Trois Frères sorcerer,” and “a bâton de commandment, Aurignacian, two phalluses and a vulva executed in reindeer horn.” And a “bronze owl” which is “Chou.” Renewal emerges in selection and ordering and mix—of drawn (or paint’d) images, of prose “blocks,” of historical “fact”—the recognition and claim being, as Davenport wrote about the work of Stan Brakhage, that: “‘narrative’ . . . is a succession of images that do not tell a story but define a state of mind.”


In “What Are Those Monkeys Doing?”—ostensibly “on” le douanier Rousseau, though a sedentary scan of the page propped open here in Every Force Evolves a Form, I see mention of Charles Ives, Joel Chandler Harris (of Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit), Robert Delaunay, Pierre Loti, and Baron Coubertin, “founder of the modern Olympics”—Davenport writes, under the heading “Style”: “Tradition is a genetic code. Its persistence in a culture certifies its function, however tacit that function is.” The implication (the fold) of everything Davenportian: look to the past to renew the present. A task that is never completed. Says Davenport: “Finishing involves a stupidity of perception . . .”


“I hate it that he’s dead.”