I Often Wish
I often wish I could pry day-like spaces out of second-long openings, cracks between Wednesdays and Thursdays. There would be a kind of low rumbling over my wrist as the escapement of my watch accommodates the wormhole. Weeks and months are even shorter than days, looming like large warehouses over my sense of broken efficiency. I really only have time to do one more piece before we all turn in our green stamps at the A&P on Saturday. So I thought I’d talk about some of the things I would have written about if April – cruel beast of a month – had been a little longer. Here are a few:
- An adequate explanation of Coleridge’s distinction between fancy and the imagination as laid out in Chapter 13 of the Biographia Literaria and how it relates to I.A. Richards’s analysis of metaphor in terms of tenor and vehicle, with an eye towards altering the syllogistic nature of the equation, perhaps moving more towards an atomic model; i.e., the manner in which outer shell electrons influence the chemical properties of the atom. My idea is to maintain something like metaphorical frisson (but not necessarily insisting on similitude in difference), something that might be analogous to the Portuguese Plain Style in architecture, which is hardly plain. This style broke away from the Manueline style and was characterized by structural transparency, smooth and open surfaces accentuated by white stucco and decoration reduced to the minimum. The Portuguese persisted in this style in opposition to the Spanish Baroque as much to reinforce their separate identity as a people as for economic reasons. (I like the idea of poverty as an aesthetic construct).
- Something on the consequences of prioritizing (due to circumstances) a second language; using it in one’s professional life as well as one’s personal life, thereby nearly eliminating the casual use of one’s mother tongue, which I reserve almost exclusively for literary purposes. Gertrude Stein talks about this, but differently. She spoke English at home with Alice. She also refused to read French and I really don’t think she bothered much about speaking or writing it correctly. The main point is that she kept English for herself. I think she considered the French language something of a nuisance. But what happens in the more severe cases of linguistic permutation: Beckett, Nabokov, Conrad, Julian Green, Harry Mathews…
- Something on the new corporate model for Poetry and its relationship to the university: how this parallels the growth in America of so-called “big science”. The MFA/MLA/MFA poet-bashing procedure, analogous to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva (not to be confused with the Hardon Collider, a somewhat smaller machine, the size of your average household dehumidifier, used in workshop settings to elicit criticism from the illiterate).
- Write about not giving to charity; not taking up a cause; not belonging to any political party, church, board, council, club, literary movement or gym; not reading poets under the age of fifty; only reading fiction that I’ve already read; avoiding poetry readings like the plague (during the Black Death many Londoners camped out in Hyde Park to avoid infection – find the literary equivalent); stop upgrading my computers (my Powerbook G4 is still powerful, but won’t take any of the new software…so say good-bye to new software); don’t do digital photography – I don’t anyway – but don’t even be tempted – and stay away from Fuji Velvia – it’s far too saturated; don’t have children; don’t stop drinking or smoking dope; never “buy” a pet, but remain open to adoption; drive as little as possible; don’t try cognitive therapy; only write poetry when you don’t have anything to say; never publish work that is not paid for; avoid teaching as a way to make your living, or for any other reason; travel as little as possible and only in the line of duty (seeing friends and helping the old ones); never stay in a city where you don’t know anyone; avoid Asia, the mid-East, Africa, South America and North America, if possible; in Europe travel by train – avoid plane travel unless it is necessary to cross the Atlantic ocean (allow yourself only one ocean to cross and stick to it); avoid experimenting with any drugs you have never experimented with (and even some that you have…that is, keep addiction simple); don’t even contemplate moving from the city you’ve lived in for twenty-seven years, nor the house you’ve lived in for fifteen years; take at least two photographs each day in the proper light; at night if you develop a craving to put something down in poetry, paint instead; stay out of debt but never make more money than you need.
- On poetry contests and the tragedy of selecting winning books by consensus.
- Write on the dangers of leisure: 1) leisure as a substance similar to wax which gathers in the working ear; 2) high levels of leisure in the ground water; leisure as a greenhouse gas; 4) leisurely criminal activities: leisurely murder, leisurely arson, leisurely bomb construction, etc.; 5) leisure as the trans-fat of cognitive life; 6) leisure tolerance – including the leisure stepping stone theory: how leisure leads to holidays; at first just long weekends, then whole weeks and sometimes even months, eventually calling for the use of leisure-delivery systems: cars, cruise ships, airplanes, etc.; 7) Avoid leisurely reading in places like dentist waiting rooms and airports (which should be avoided even if you’re not planning any leisurely reading).
- Poet rest homes. Where poets whose talent has died, but still have long lives to lead, live in peace and harmony with other dead poets engaged in activities which aid poets whose talent is still alive and well. For instance, bad-book basket weaving; workshops in which dead poets learn to un-write a lifetime’s worth of bad poems; learning to legally redistribute prize money from bad poets to good poets; outing ex-student poets who were brainwashed, in North Korean-style settings, into believing they had potential; staging telephone book read-a-thons outside English departments.
- Something on writer’s block: a sickness, like tuberculosis, which was thought to have been largely eradicated, especially in the developed world, but is now reemerging with new and stronger strains. It is chiefly brought about by ignoring W.H. Auden’s advice about keeping a good stock of cooking tools in your mental kitchen, labor saving devices, as he called them: alcohol, coffee, tobacco and Benzedrine. I would update this kit with the modern poet’s Cuisinart, which includes the full gamut of neurotransmitter reuptake inhibiters – interchangeable blades. The symptoms of writer’s block (chief among them, not writing) will quickly disappear once these tools are reintroduced into one’s daily routine.
- On marrying, cohabitating or having sex with other poets. This should be strictly forbidden, since there is a high incidence, among the poems of such couples, of solecisms, verb-crime, internecine line theft, dead metaphor, stanza-stall, etc., all of which can be categorized under the phrase “inbreeding depression.” When this state of decadence spreads beyond the offending couple and begins to attack the general population of poets, poetry enters into a period of decline. This state of affairs is sometimes referred to as the “House of Habsburg Horror.”
- On Ephemera: Poetry and the Internet. I have a fairly crumbling edition of Byron’s complete works, published in 1824, the year of the lord’s death, when he fought for the Greeks against Turkish dominance, at his own expense. As he was about to attack Turkish-held Lepant, he became sick, and in the following weeks his good doctors, according to the medical practice of the day, literally bled him to death. He died of sepsis (bacterial infection, probably from a wound). One of the things about this edition is that the 1824 pages themselves and the bindings are in excellent shape; they rival my Kindle for ease of reading. Oh yes I will quote! The last two lines of the first stanza of the “Age Of Bronze:” I know not if the angels weep, but men / Have wept enough – for what? – to weep again. As I said, very old paper.
Martin Earl lives in Coimbra, in central Portugal. From 1986 until 2001 he lectured in English, translation, and American culture at the University of Coimbra. For the last ten years he has worked as a translator and a journalist. Earl has blogged on Harriet, and his translation of Antonio Medeiros’s...