Journal, Day Five
And now, this week’s recap boys and girls!
How did I get here?—Talking Heads.
How did we get here?
Ruth Lilly Haiku
one hundred million
lotta moolah to manage
My blogging appointment is nearly over and next up, Joy Harjo! I was looking at her Web site, which I’d visited before—its lovely mix of stories-in-progress, anecdotes, lyrics, reflections, and the occasional picture, and was reminded of her and many others as poets working across media, bridging that oral-literary divide, alive to cultural complexities and the many ways poetries and souls get made—
I’d seen in Harper’s some weeks ago that Christian Bök’s EUNOIA is coming out in a new edition: this book is a tour-de-force, dazzling, a neo-dada punk festival and brilliant: thanks to Jeff Dolven for recommending it a few years ago. Jeff himself is starting a second book, on Renaissance “communities of style,” particularly around the Wyatt/Surrey circle, if I have things right. This matter of “recognizing”-via-style something interesting to ponder, from Henrician to Elizabethan sonnets to langpo to Philip Guston’s late style to all manner of musicians: how does achieving a style differ from repeating oneself? (That very notion of “achieving a style” has a quaint Victorian ring.) And is there any problem with repetition? Eva Hesse, again: “Endless repetition can be considered erotic.”
Gertrude Stein: Let me repeat what history teaches. History teaches.
—“If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso.”
Stein the savant of repetition, its several impacts, comedy, and bathos.
Wordsworth another kind of idiot-savant of repetition:
O Reader! Had you in your mind
Such stores as silent thought can bring,
O Gentle Reader! You would find
A tale in everything.
What more I have to say is short
I hope you'll kindly take it;
It is no tale; but should you think,
Perhaps a tale you'll make it. (“Simon Lee”)
Here WW inviting us as readers to hear/read/ponder and participate in the poem’s making—deepening structures of poiesis(making), of tale-telling, circulating. Thinking a making: Frank Bidart’s Star Dust, its excruciated anatomies of making:
Until my mother died she struggled to make
a house that she did not loathe; paintings; poems; me
Many creatures must
make, but only one must seek
within itself what to make
“Lament for the Makers”
Making out of thinking: consider this from Wallace Stevens, “The Man with the Blue Guitar”:
I am a native in this world
And think in it as a native thinks,
Gesu, not native of a mind
Thinking the thoughts I call my own,
Native, native in the world
And like a native think in it.
Native thinking—how natives think: the title of a book of early 20th C. anthropology: Lucien Levy-Bruhl’s How Natives Think—still notorious and also naming still-active questions about how ‘we’ think about the thinking of ‘others.’
Horne Tooke the brilliant 18th C. linguist who derived “think” from “thing”: as Celeste Langan at Berkeley told me some months ago, in notes she sent on meditating on Olivia Smith, The Politics of Language, 1791-1819:
“Tooke derives ‘think’ from ‘thing,’ an etymology which seems slightly less bizarre when one knows that ‘thing’ is now derived from the Old-English term meaning ‘discussion.’ Res a thing, gives us Reor, i.e., I am Thing-ed. . . . Remember, where we now say, I think, the ancient expression was—Me thinketh, i.e., Me Thingeth, It Thingeth Me.”
Think and thing two crucial Wordsworthian keywords! Get your words’ worth here. Think thing. Things think. It Thingeth Me.
I remember Janice Knight asking me some 20 years ago: Do you think that you speak the language or that the language speaks you?
Is poetry like obscenity? You know it when you see it?
poetry stops before the end of the margin
you can talk about prose without mentioning school . . .
whoever heard of war & peace having the line as a unit of semantic yield
you can call a poem what you want and say its poetic licence . . .
you don’t get prose in anapaestic dimeters
nobody publishes their first slim volume of prose
aristotle never wrote The Proses
if you dribble past five defenders, it isn’t called sheer prose
poets are the unacknowledged thingwaybobs . . .
—Tom Leonard, “100 Differences Between Poetry and Prose”
News flash: lost poem of Shelley found!! The Poetical Essay (1811). See news link on this site.
Big news in the world of romanticists—one of the missing bits of evidence for Shelley’s expulsion from Oxford, and an early statement of his fused poetic and political commitments. Engagé for sure. And, a poem in couplets—unusual for Shelley, though his great later Julian and Maddalo returns to the couplet.
Shelley who signed himself (in Greek) into hotels on the Continent: “Democrat, Philanthropist, and Atheist.” Shelley whose poetry is so outrageously musical, politically radical, intellectually vaunting, ideationally complex and highly wrought that most goes unread, or sniffed at by those irritated with a politics and erotics that to them seemed, as T. S. Eliot put it, “puerile.”
And certainly a radical embrace of Shelley is complicated by certain biographical facts—his habit of ‘rescuing’ women, screwing and then abandoning them; his refusal to grapple with the asymmetries of gender (hello, pregnancy!); his casual aristocratic sense of entitlement; his egotism disguised as high-mindedness; his utopian erotics and harem habits which always seemed to serve his and not his women’s interests/needs—
See Galway Kinnell’s amazing poem on Shelley, and on re-thinking one’s relation to Shelley, published some months ago in The New Yorker—
And yet there he is, shining Shelley—
—who would have been a great poet for/of the space age—indeed was the poet of the space age: BLAST OFF! His characters are always beaming up, zooming down, floating into other dimensions:
My soul is an enchanted boat,
Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing,
And thine doth like an Angel sit
Beside the helm conducting it
Whilst all the winds with melody are ringing.
—(Prometheus Unbound, II. v. 72-7)
And “Adonais,” his famous elegy for Keats, Shelley sending his vehicle into space, outsoaring night into the “abode where the eternal are”—
Poet of transfiguration/possibility/futurity—
One feels Shelley would have liked 20th C. physics, and would have warmed to string theory.
Cleary there is a poetics/combinatoire to be found in the possibility of many dimensions! Vibrating strings!
Yeats drew a line through Blake and Shelley and Samuel Palmer to himself—a vatic, visionary line. And Ginsberg drew a similar one to himself, via the Whitman highway.
This past spring’s exhibit of Palmer’s paintings at the Metropolitan Museum: the early “blacks,” as he called them, thick and dark beautiful rural landscapes, the dignity of rhythmic work and rest in the fields viewed slant; the shepherd trudging home; the beautiful moss-laden cottages and carts—the peculiar oranges and pinks of his great “Orchard” and “Pear in a Garden” paintings—
The amazing media of those paintings: gum Arabic—and truly the black gum shone, inviting you to touch—
The experience of going “off” a writer, a singer, a friend—
To realize one had been so attached to someone or something and now—
Shelley an affair of adolescence, Eliot declared, to be gotten over.
Well well well.
Who gets to have an “adolescence,” or a youth? Who has to get over it, and when? Göran Therborn’s remarkable book, Between Sex and Power: Family in the World, 1900-2000, in which he divides the “sex-marriage system” into five regions: of one, encompassing South Asia, he observes that girls “have no youth”: child marriage the rule.
Protracted youths an index of socio-economic plenitude etc.
Poetry an affair of youth?
Yeats who got the Steinach operation (was that monkey gonad implants? what was that operation? youza) to revitalize his sex life after fifty? Yeats the famously raging incandescent great old man?
Yeats: spokesman for Viagra?
Erectile Dysfunction Haiku
Move over Bob Dole
Yeats is back, offering George
In the hay a roll
By George I mean of course George Hyde-Lees, Mrs. Yeats, not George Bush, #41 or #43.
Though perhaps congress with a reincarnated Yeats would broaden the president’s outlook.
We have now thoroughly tuned in to “random channel”: cf Anne Carson, “The Glass Essay,” as Mother elects “random channel.”
Wordsworth, from “Resolution and Independence”—the “poem of the day” on this site earlier this week. As Amy Johnson noted the other day, a deeply peculiar poem! Why do you keep hassling that leech-gatherer, Wordsworth? This is another one of WW’s “I met a fellow on the public way” poems.
We Poets in our youth begin in gladness
But thereof come in the end despondency and madness.
He is thinking of Chatterton, the “marvellous boy,” prodigy, Bristol poet, sensation, hoaxer, suicide at 17; also of Robert Burns, perhaps the great under-read romantic poet, from whom WW learned (some would say stole) so much—Burns dead in grinding poverty age 37.
Burns under-read because the Scots poems in particular require enormous concentration for native speakers/readers of American English: not quite requiring translation but almost. Is there a taxonomy for that spectrum?—what it takes, say, to read Chaucer “in the original” as they say, or Shakespeare, or even some English Romantics, many of whose works remain opaque for contemporary students/readers?
Sometimes I feel I teach poetry in translation though ostensibly I am teaching poetry in various forms of English.
On losers in the historical sweepstakes: Celeste Langan has nominated Walter Scott’s Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805) as the great unread poem of romanticism. Has anyone out there read it, other than those of us who feel a professional obligation? It’s pretty great! Celeste shows how Scott invents TV before the fact!—or rather, how Scott’s tele-visual hallucinations in this poem (and elsewhere) give us a media allegory that looks mighty like TV. Again, I may be botching the many fine points of this argument. But there it is.
Do you have a nominee for great unread/under-read poem?
Most irritating poem recently read? Ever read?
On poet-losers in the life sweepstakes: Chatterton, Burns.
No need to list the famous early flame-outs, suicides, etc littering the late 20th C.
I have so many students interested in Sylvia Plath: a generational wave? A resurgence of interest, it would seem. A fine enough interest to have. “Ariel” is brilliant. “Daddy” now hard not to hear as camp, esp. if you’ve heard SP’s recitation thereof. Yet there is inarguable power there. Jacqueline Rose on The Haunting of Sylvia Plath absolutely dynamite: sophisticated, head-and-shoulders above most of the drivel, pathography, etc. Also Rose’s psychoanalytically-alert political analyses of politics, esp. of Israeli politics, are bracing and illuminating—see her several essays in the London Review of Books. British Freudians with big brains and keen hearts: she, Adam Phillips.
What more I have to say is short.
I hope you’ll kindly take it.
I’d like to thank the Academy for giving me this opportunity . . .
I’d like to thank the folks at PoetryFoundation.org for the invitation, especially Nick Twemlow, and Emily White for working with these entries—
orts scraps and fragments
as fragments they are, clearly, since I opted to go with a “first thought best thought” Ginsbergian mode, aided by my computer and google and friends in looking things up, turning things around—
through smoldering ocher shards in a witch-puce riverbed, we dig for scraps reflecting Us.
(Alane Rollings, “bozos, bimbos, scapegoats, scum”
—from her new book, To Be In This Number)
and to thank those who wrote in and who are writing in—
Go make you ready.
Maureen N. McLane grew up in upstate New York and was educated at Harvard, Oxford, and the University of Chicago. She is the author of World Enough (2010), and Same Life: poems (2008); and This Blue (2014); as well as the poetry chapbook, This Carrying Life (2006). She has also published...