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Journal, Day Two
1. On revelation and the willed oracle-ism of certain kinds of poetry, as against the recognition of the given, the electric arc of moment-to-moment existence, see William James’ “Pragmatism:” “The whole notion of truth, which naturally and without reflection we assume to mean the simple duplication by the mind of a ready-made and given reality, proves hard to understand clearly. All our thoughts are instrumental, and mental modes of adaptation to reality, rather than revelation or gnostic answers to some divinely instituted world-enigma.”
2. Prophecy in poetry isn’t divination or wooga-wooga nostrums. It’s the quiet restless scrutiny of the inner life as it’s lived in public actuality and history. Interiority pressured constantly by the ordinary pains of circumstance—physical and otherwise—put in language fresh enough to be real yet not so vociferously fresh as to sound “achieved” or worked up for the mere occasion of writing a poem.
3. What it’s sometimes like: Writing back into the cave, deeper now. You hear rushing water overhead somewhere, you’re losing time faster. Enthusiasm means being rushed and flooded by a river god. Flooded being, though, doesn’t guarantee poetry that’s really real.
4. A poet writes essays to respond to life with life, to counter-pressure reality’s press and communicate what it feels like to have thoughts, to look at images, to worry over words and their truths. An essay is life’s fluidity momentarily shaped into a provisional, free-standing solid. It’s always ad hoc or on the wing, because the inner life keeps changing, troping along with whatever reality deals us, with (in William James’s phrase) “the strungalong sort of life we actually lead.”
5. Ongoing transformations, multiple manifestations, gods and goddesses with many arms and avatars who themselves change into yet other avatars. Hindu consciousness, as it flows through the major texts, is fluid, labile, horrendously violent. Many rivers with infinite tributaries and branches. In KA Roberto Calasso describes the figure of Prajâpati—Lord of the Creatures, Progenitor, antecedent of Brahmâ: “Prajâpati was mind as power to transform. And to transform itself. Nothing else can so precisely be described as overflowing, boundless, inexpressible.” All’s change. Change itself is a changing entity, assuming different processes, mechanics, evidence. Readers maddened by Whitman are maddened by his Hindoo self-ness. One state changes to another without explanation. He’s himself, Walt, one of the roughs, among us, yet also among the dead who lie beneath the leaves of grass, whose hair is those leaves, and Walt’s there, too, in the leaves a-growing. Look for him on a ferry, eyeing a young bargeman, and under the soles of your feet. Now you see him, now you don’t.
Is the characterization in Monster of Aileen Wournos, the truck-stop prostitute who killed several of her johns, accurate? Who knows? (Charlize Theron’s performance is the kind of Ratso Rizzo stunt-role actors love.) But the moviemakers get her milieu right: smoky honky-tonks, trailer parks, truckers’ cafes, and hooker motels. It’s the only world she knows how to inhabit—her interview for a straight, skirt-and-heels office job is catastrophic—because she more or less understands the rules, but the rules are really the misrule of instinct, unreason, action without thought of consequence. Combine heavy boozing, crummy job, sexual appetite, and the hope of not having to think about tomorrow (because it induces despair or revs up delusional hopes) and you end up with bar scuffles, quick rough-and-tumble sex, and drunken proclamations of keen ambitions and fresh starts—independence, travel, fat city. I knew a man (both of us in our 20s), clever but feckless and without prospects, who drank. He conceived an ambition to become a stand-up comedian, since he could, when sober, make people laugh. He’d hit the clubs and wait to be called to the stage but drank so hard so fast that when he finally made it to the mike, he was incoherent and tanked every time. I was at the time freeloading off a family in a bucolic suburb kind enough to let me sleep on their sofa, where the would-be comic and his wife, one of three daughters in the house, also lived. I was tossing in my own disorder. I’d had a rheumatic illness that put me in the hospital for months and left me slow and gimpy. I had no “prospects.” Pain kept me awake most nights, so I was usually there to catch my friend when he came home from the clubs, very stiff, in the deep A.M., and sat heavily on the kitchen floor, begging me to stay up with him because he had great new jokes to try out. “I pick up my best gags in bars,” he said. Then he passed out. At a birthday party for his wife (where I was drunk and quite cunningly, I thought, wooing the two other sisters at once without either one knowing) they got into a hissy spat. She threw champagne in his face and ran from the house. He gave chase down a country lane, shouting so loudly that we all could hear. Come home. I’ll be good. I’ll change.
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