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Nice Conjunct of Denise Riley’s ‘A Misremembered Lyric,’ Joanne Kyger + George Stanley

By Harriet Staff

John Latta at Isola di Rifiuti wrote recently of Denise Riley, Joanne Kyger, and George Stanley–a lovelier bunch we can’t think of at the moment–it’s, moreover, about the “tender chaos of a momentary lingual void: speechlessness gumming up the works.” More:

Or is it the residual glossolalia of the century itself, its tumult of colliding voices, unsorted, inept, mercurial. Cuttings, unculled, relentlessly bunching up, merging into cranial array only to disperse, no agglutinant rare enough to hold, no grease fine enough to prevent seepage. Rendering gone to slop and fandango: “The rendring reid vhilk bouis with euerie blast.” Saith Frank O’Hara, likely thinking of the impish provocateur Rimbaud: “Art is not your life, it is someone else’s.”

At which point he posts Riley’s “A Misremembered Lyric,” lucky for us. The poem is known for, as much as it can be, invoking the song “Rhythm of the Rain,” sung by The Cascades…Latta writes that it’s a “piece nigh-joyously grubby with its surround, sly in its reconnoiterings, the tearing voices, a musical ‘express.’”

He goes on to consider the new Lost & Found pamphlet edited by Kyger and Ammiel Alcalay, Communication is essential” / Joanne Kyger: Letters To & From.

“From George Stanley (‘I don’t know why the fuck I am here’ in New York) to Kyger (15 July 1960)”:

Part of this is an aesthetic problem . . . my idle mind &c . . . or what do you call it, aesthetic, when it relates to what is happening & abt. to happen . . . I don’t mean critical . . . but I’d begun to take Ron Loewinsohn’s anger at metaphor seriously . . . are ivory towers available & where do we crawl, up? . . . tortuous inner passage. Anyway more of that’s in perspective now & it doesn’t boil down to a straight disjunction . . . as no doubt any of us know in our right minds. What comes is the poem & its rules, the hip reader’s distrust is o.k. . . . it may show wherein the poem has too vainly insisted . . . whether by elaboration, shortcut (metaphor) . . . or false particulars. I mean there is no prior rule (like a constitution)—all easy to say. What I’m writing now is pages of trash . . . aiming only at size / length / inclusion . . . so as to lay myself open to what may come . . . but I don’t want to get on top of my poem & ride it, throwing flags here & there to divert all “casual strangers to the poem”—illustrators wear expensive shirts & carry pencils of all colors in celluloid . . . &C&C.

A reading of this follows:

“Casual strangers to the poem” out of Spicer’s “Dillinger” (it, too, invaded by voices): “The human voices put the angels / Pretty far away. The sleigh-bells / In the distance go / As if we had never seen snow. / Pray for the right of the thing of the universe / The knot which is unknotted by something other than our hands / We, ghosts, lovers, and casual strangers to the poem. / Me, the ghost says.” A piece out of “Homage to Creeley / Explanatory Notes” (The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, 1960) with its “note” reading:

Not anything real. The snowflakes are equidistant from themselves and fall slowly. Almost impossibly.

There is nothing left of it. Not even the water its crystals puddle into. These persons know reality for what they are.
In the letter Stanley (after a report of lunching with O’Hara*) reprises the “colors” motif, using it to posit a New York that is, nearly, “not anything real,” schematic, yielding to the map of its intent:***

The subway is the real fact of New York . . . it means in a way there is no city, only some kind of a diagram printed in 4 colors & available everywhere . . . you have a sense of certain places to go, work, a bar, museum, friends’ apartments, & red or green lines connecting these . . . so that you really don’t have any sense, say of the river you see from your window as being a river that flows from somewhere else (& in fact they change its name in the middle) . . .

The nigh-metaphorical city . . .

Read it all, incl. some footnotes re: Stanley and O’Hara, here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Friday, November 9th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.