Journal, Day Two
Raspberries ripening some perfected each day and blueberries one beat behind—
Strawberries now past; daylilies saluting in orange—
Bluebird eggs found in the houses nearby—
Katie Peterson writes in from the desert, Deep Springs (see the Comments): “We must begin to touch more all the time all things and refuse not to be touched.”
How to touch without appropriating; how to be in contact, in relation; to assess how and when a touch mutates into a blow, a caress—
Or to know when the touch wanted is a harsh thing—
Robert Creeley, from his last book, moving via thought toward and through touch, its transitivity:
When I think of where I’ve come from
or even try to measure as any kind of
distance those places, all the various
people, and all the ways in which I re-
member them, so that even the skin I
touched or was myself fact of, inside,
could see through like a hole in the wall
or listen to, it must have been, to what
was going on in there, even if I was still
too dumb to know anything . . .
—When I Think
—to be “fact of” skin; the membrane permeable, rendable; and the subject on both sides of it
—the staggering effect of Creeley’s syntax, to be made no more—
What first struck me, reading his earlier “The Language” and “The Window”: the micro-attention to syntactic position, breakage, possible ambiguities, tensions created, sustained, dispelled:
love you some-
eyes . . .
from “The Language”
Position is where you
put it, where it is,
did you, for example, that
large tank there, silvered,
with the white church along-
all that, to what
“Position is where you/put it”: for sure!
And some called him a merely domestic poet! As if that in itself were a self-evident insult!
Verse is born free but is everywhere in chains: true or false?
The amazing palpabilities in Wordsworth: thinking a touching, a making: lending a hand to “Simon Lee,” inviting his sister to touch in “Nutting”—
The equally remarkable sensuous contact in James Schuyler’s “Hymn to Life”:
The wind rests its cheek upon the ground and feels the cool damp
And lifts its head with twigs and small dead blades of grass
Pressed into it as you might at the beach rise up and brush away
The sand . . .
Christian Wiman nominated “Hymn to Life” as one of his “poems that should be famous” in his “Canon Fodder” contribution on this site, July 10th—
How does Schuyler do it?! The stunning ingathering of this poem, seemingly effortless, its ongoing capacious expanding, the unspooling lines easing open one’s own ribcage—
“Hymn to Life” a poem of spring and depression (cf Wordsworth, “The Prelude”: Spring returns, I saw the spring return / when I was dead to deeper hope); of persisting regardless (Wordsworth again, his “Immortality Ode”: We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind); even Schuyler’s daffodils remind one of WW’s—though Schuyler’s are not forced to work so hard:
Garden now daffodils stand full unfolded and to see them is enough.
A poetics of sufficiency—of enough—which rejects nothing: extraordinary—
—versus the occasional forced-labor-camp quality of Wordsworth’s imagination: in which daffodils, recollected,
flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude
(Great lines contributed by Mary his wife!)
And then my heart with pleasure fills
And dances with the daffodils.
(“I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud”)
To see daffodils is not “enough” for Wordsworth; they must participate in the human logic of compensation.
I am being grossly unfair to Wordsworth, who is, as they used to say, “of permanent interest,” and I send preemptive apologies to Ann Rowland, Wordsworthian! And to Wordsworth in the great orthodox Anglican beyond—
Wordsworth who inspired my Oxford tutor to rouse himself from torpor and declaim:
“Wordsworth could walk twenty miles in an afternoon! Wordsworth is the very model of the masculine!—as opposed to Byron, who always smacks of the bisexual.”
Smack that back at ya!
And when pressed to expand further on his notion of “the masculine,” said tutor warmed to his topic: “The masculine is about the thing itself, whereas the feminine is about the attitude or feeling toward the thing.”
But back to Schuyler, less celebrated than WW: Schuyler with the watercolorist’s eye and delicacy of touch, the everyday transformed by simple attending. Schuyler whose letters William Corbett brought out in an edition this past year – bringing us their notational brilliances, sociability, charm, subtle unobtrusive blips of perfection: “just the thing,” Corbett called his book, after one of Schuyler’s own lines I believe.
Attune yourself to what is happening
Now, the little wet things, like washing up the lunch dishes.
(“Hymn to Life”)
So what is happening now?
The city is out there, and you
are a citizen—What’s
—Eleni Sikelianos, “Captions for my Instruction Booklet on Naturally Historical Things”
Politics of touch, erotics of touch—again thinking along K. Peterson’s lines: actively vibrating lines of thought especially now given an essay I am working on for Boston Review re: battles over sex education and the right-wing uses of same. Sex-ed: the gift that keeps on giving! Insta-hysteria! Just say no etc.
I remember in the early 90s going with a group to a school health-and-jobs fair in Chicago; I went with the Coalition for Positive Sexuality, a direct-action sex-ed group that distributed a cheery green pamphlet, “Just Say Yes!”, along with condoms. In the school gym that day they had the Blood Drive, the Fire Department, the ASPCA, etc. and they had us, with our condoms, dental dams, pamphlets and posters.
—Like, what’s this?
A girl lifts up a large latex sheath on our display table.
—It’s a vaginal condom! (forced effervescence)
—I thought it was for a horse!
The girl and her friend laughed, lingered, glanced at the pamphlets—
—Hey you’re too late. (Gestures toward her friend.) She’s pregnant.
And she was—probably five or six months. What impasse, what possibility, here.
"Life is, generally speaking, a blessing independent of a future state": Thomas R. Malthus. True or false?
Materials: Eva Hesse, her latex and fiberglass works: rigidity/opacity/translucency/temporality.
Arthur Danto recently quoting Hesse in The Nation: “Endless repetition can be considered erotic.”
Thinking of the burkha as a sheath.
Am I offending someone?
Clothing a variegated skin. But for whom and by whom is one “fact of” such skins?
Had considered looking for a burkha on eBay for a performance piece—wearing it, stationary, in Harvard Square: what would be the reactions? How would it feel to wear such clothing? In that context? A cheap provocation? An openness to some illumination?
Had also wondered: is it possible to write blasphemous poetry in the US? Do we, like the British, have residual blasphemy laws? And if not, will we soon? Or rather, do we now: i.e. The Patriot Act and addenda?
Sighting: two pileated woodpeckers.
Sighting: Governor Pataki strolling down a driveway nearby; he has a summer place up here.
Governor, a poem of current policy interest:
I really enjoy my same-sex
marriage almost as much
as my same-sex
sex. It may take lots of work
to keep this same-sex
thing going don’t think
I don’t know any day
it might come out
different and what then
to do with my new license
to practice my same-sex
stuff before my fellow citizens
of any all or no sex
Maureen N. McLane grew up in upstate New York and was educated at Harvard University, Oxford University, and the University of Chicago. She is the author of five books of poetry: Some Say (FSG, 2017), Mz N: the serial: a poem-in-episodes (FSG, 2016), This Blue (FSG, 2014—Finalist for the National Book...