December 8, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I don’t normally like to preface something I post here, but I feel like I should here. This is adapted from the “Work in Progress” I occasionally excerpt. It occurred to me today, though, that the portion below might be sectioned off from the narrative and all in all re-envisioned. It is, as the title indicates, a sermon text, of a sort. What serves as a kind of choral frame for a chapter is . . . well, something different here. My first — certainly in a long time — longer-form poem. In close, I’ll say this: I do love the economizing effects of poetry.
* * *
The taste of you makes me nauseous –
I know what you have done,
that you have been neither cold nor hot.
Would that you were one or the other;
would that this world fractured,
swollen by… . . . . . . . . sin,
its and all the others,
might somehow be soothed;
would that you be hot or cold,
for now, now you are no better than the water you siphoned from your sisters.
You, in whose aqueducts the cool of Colossae’s wells become warm
and heat of Hierapolis turn tepid,
you, who are undeservedly satisfied,
are deservedly damned.
Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,
I will spit you out. But make no mistake,
you are not merely a bad taste
spat from the tongue –
a too quickly sharp sweet or a long lingering bitter, the pubic fuzz of mold, or a gland-swelling allergen –
nor the phlegm of a season’s sinuses discreetly deposited in pocketed tissues and workplace sinks.
Few of us, then or now,
would judge you noteworthy.
We may at first, when a beverage never freezes or a shower doesn’t steam;
but we are, if little else a resourceful people,
we learn to adjust to and to marginalize as
the consistencies of life
we otherwise find unpalatable.
But it is not taste alone, we judge,
or I might have the choice of avoidance –
of pursing my lips against a different cup.
Yes, like Christ in the Garden asking no,
yes, there is no choice to be made.
For you have been contaminated,
You are are now the contaminate,
at one with and indistinguishable
from the fetid stench that precedes you
and follows you
It’s all connected, understand.
Oh, for you must, before it is too late,
before this sensual symphony, that you will at last hear,
the music of life
fit for these final hours before death
turn dulceted delusion:
“I am rich,” you say. “I have need of nothing.”
You must know, there is no truth here.
You who possess nothing of your own have nothing to offer me.
For you whose self-reliance is a lie, sufficiency a fraud,
whose every word is a plagiary, the only thing true
is . . . . . . .
How many times have I stood here?
Would it not be better if you committed your crimes knowingly?
For such are against your kin, and can be compensated or undone.
But yours, your offense is worse for being ignorant, you,
who have no recourse now to excuse.
You who are,
in spite of yourself,
in spite of all things
all this is a self-deception, your avoidance of shame,
that only shame itself can resolve.
This bliss of ignorance is a fragile thing.
The borders are barely fortified, and when they are breached
they are tore down from the inside.
You now are like the poor man who thought himself rich.
When true richness is revealed, you and he
alike lose even that wealth you never had.
The gold refined by the fire of judgment is a revelation:
for the first time you may see! You catch a glimpse of what you really are:
an object of pity to others and scorn to yourself.
The renowned powders of Phrygia may promise you vision,
the oracles of Apollo portend the unseen,
but I tell you this, cast your eyes
not outward upon the world, its offers and threats,
or even toward one another, family or foe;
cast them downward,
beyond the neck and below the waist, to your unfortunate exhibition
of doughy bits, dangling pieces and folds.
Don’t just stand there, naked ones, cover yourself!
She’s outside that door! Do you dare to look?
and there is no turning back. Your eyes may now see
what before your ears before but faintly heard.
The one for whom you’ve been waiting is here:
if you would but open your door to the knock . . .
if you would but open your ear to the desire of her heart . . .
this one wishes to dine with you. And those with whom she eats
will never hunger of themselves again.
Oh, repent, Laodicea,
and let her come.
November 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
There are many examples of wonderful alliteration like these: “We would live in ice like a little bit of lost light.” “He scissored when he spotted superstitions singing like sirens . . .” And many dazzling examples of assonance like: “That barren patch grew like a scratched rash.” I’ve encountered many editors who are put off by such sentences. How do you manage to get away with it?
Well, I don’t. They punish me for it. They don’t like it at all, and I love doing it because I know they don’t like it. I was taught all this, but it was so bunk, and it was all held back. It was okay if I followed a certain form in poetry, as long as I didn’t write like [Gerard Manley] Hopkins, whom I adore, or Stevens. God. But if you’re writing prose, you can’t have any rhymes in them—you have to get rid of it; you have to get rid of sound patterns and alliteration, and so forth. But alliteration was one of the first structural things in English. Anglo Saxon poetry is alliterative poetry. I have always argued that the difference between prose and poetry in our age is quite different. Some of the best poets are prose writers, that is, they do everything that poetry used to do and doesn’t now. Poetry is prosy now, and not as interesting as prose, I think—not even close. I’m also reminding people that this is a homemade object—the cuckoo clock, it says something, things speak themselves as well. That’s because I’m anti writing as merely written. I want the oral tradition. You go back to John Donne’s prose, or any of those writers, you get plenty of that, you get rhyming, alliteration, you get all kinds of other connections, all other devices of suggestion, and echoing, and so forth, because they were talking to hundreds, sometimes a thousand people in a church. Their sermon had to go out verbally and they had to use all the mnemonic devices they could, because they wanted to embed the so-called message. It was the word, it was the living word,” and all that, that they wanted to stress. It was the same time the opera begins, masques and so forth. They were trying to figure out how music and its nature, and language and its nature, could cohabit. It is for me a great moment because of that.
* * *
The idea of “Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop’s” seems like an inversion of the admonition at the end of Willie Masters’: “YOU HAVE FALLEN INTO ART. RETURN TO LIFE.” All this leads me to ask, if you could enter a sentence, what would it be?
Well, it would have to be in English, though there are some sentences of Rilke’s that I know well enough that I could say it in German, yes, but it would have to be in English. I’m not sure, but I know that one of the candidates would have to be a Gertrude Stein sentence, like “It looks like a garden but he had hurt himself by accident.” I love that sentence. Another that I’ve used several times is from [Laurence] Sterne: “A cow broke in (tomorrow morning) to my uncle Toby’s fortifications.” Now that sentence is interesting because it breaks, because there’s an ontological crack, but the Stein, when you unpack it, is pretty straightforward, but it’s like the rose is a rose model, which is always quoted out of context, and the full context is something about a civilization is a rose is a rose is a rose, and it’s the same contrast that she’s talking about in that other sentence, it looked like a garden, that is to say, it looked cultivated and planned, intended, but in fact his injury was not that intended thing but just happened by accident. There’s nothing ontologically crazy about that sentence, really, but what it does is change the kinds of concepts that are being used to say this. Then you have all kinds of other things that those sentences do. There are sentences which I couldn’t quote, but there’s one I do use in an essay on Henry James that’s from The Golden Bowl, and it’s one of my favorite sentences, a sentence albeit a paragraph long. It’s when they’re in the shop where they buy the golden bowl. I’ve actually done an architectural diagram on that sentence. It’s so magnificently organized in every respect. He’s just looking for something. Everything that he’s offered in this shop is basically tasteless, tawdry, cheap, touristy, which says a lot about what else is going on. But there’s one sentence there, the sentence that leads you into the shop, goes down a spiral staircase. The sentence goes down a hill, using “old” as the riser. You have a table or a tablet. It’s the kind of sentence you read and then applaud and think, “Oh, that son of a bitch, he’s just done it.”
– from John Madera’s interview with William H. Gass (via)
November 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
There is a kind of horrible beauty from which, I hope, some find reason & cause to endure the beautiful horror that living often is. It’s not always — or even normally — poetry. But, oh, sometimes it is . . .
“Wanting to Die”
Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.
Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.
But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.
Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.
In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.
I do not think of my body at needle-point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.
Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.
To thrust all that life under your tongue! –
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad bone; bruised you’d say,
and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.
Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit, pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,
leaving the page for the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.
– Anne Sexton (1928-1974) « Read the rest of this entry »
Every bit of this friendly inconsequence is meant merely to preface my intention for writing at all.
November 13, 2013 § 2 Comments
You once said to me — in response to something vague I’d said about wanting to take pride in my work, and that if I were ever asked to confess my ambition, that this would be it — well, I won’t quote you, as I don’t quite remember the words, and your economical choice is always greater than my verbal buffet, but I vividly recall you bristling at this idea, of pride itself, not merely mine or whatever semblance of such I might find. Our cups were drained and the time against us, so we didn’t at the time explore this further. Indeed, though we have never since, I think, continued this conversation, it has stayed with me. Sometimes as a corrective, other times a challenge.
Yesterday, I found myself in a similarly themed give and take, without the tea and scone, about the distinction between pride and self-satisfaction. I wondered aloud, as I’m wont to do, often to the annoyance of people who’d prefer to wander away, about the fact that pride isn’t something one simply “has,” like a favorite chair or pen, but something one can, illicitly even, take. Or, for that matter, something one might even chance to “give” — to loan away, like a favorite book, and maybe never see unsoiled again. Self-satisfaction, though, I continued, without even the aid of alcohol (it was midday after all), doesn’t it, I wondered rhetorically, come overburdened with a sense of something terminal — in the various senses of the word I won’t needlessly list — all of which, though, indicating one’s arrival at a destination and nowhere else to go?
(Mind you, I was also recklessly weaving in a sexual metaphor, about masturbation, but I’ll leave your imagination, should it wish, to trace the rabbit trails blazed, and whether they lead only to yet more rabbits.)
Why am I sharing this with you now? Oh, I don’t know . . . I really don’t. Every bit of this friendly inconsequence is meant merely to preface my intention for writing at all.
I hope you are well.
“unsure whether she was filled more with pity, for the effects of a war not her brother’s fault, than she was with hate, for the flaws that decidedly were,”
November 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The house’s fall into disuse was quick, with Batey slipping almost immediately into dementia upon its completion. With Batey confined mostly to his second-floor bedroom, and his nurse comfortable with hers by the kitchen, several rooms newly painted remained closed until his death five years later. At which point, unsure if she was filled more with pity, for the effects of a war not her brother’s fault, than she was with hate, for the flaws that decidedly were, Batey’s sister signed over the property to a Methodist minister looking to open a sanitarium for drug and drink addicts. The Price Hill Sanitarium, or as it was known by some of its patients, Delirium Hill, stood high above the city for over two decades, and at its height was a regional destination for bottoming-out, middle-class alcoholics. It wasn’t until the cocaine and codeine addicts began arriving that the neighbors began feeling aggrieved and grumbles grew that with them came crime. When the mutilated body of Billy Ray Robbins was found in a nearby ditch, his eight-year-old blond hair matted with blood and prepubescent sex removed, who better to blame — other than the actual perpetrator that is, his step-father’s brother — but the junkie who, after finding the body, had inquired about the advertised award. The sanitarium’s Methodist overseers wanted nothing to do with this public relations nightmare. The Eighteenth Amendment was but months away from ratification, and narcotics were already officially controlled substances, so they reasoned any intoxicant use henceforth was not only spiritually abuse but truly illegal — a criminal matter maybe best attended to by the justice system. This was the rationalization, anyway, affirmed by their denominational bishop, when they shuttered and then sold the sanitarium for the shockingly low price negotiated by the non-denominational representatives of the newly-formed Cincinnati Seminary.
October 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“then he forgets what he even wanted to inquire about within himself, and slips out of his sandals and straightens his robes, as if he were about to go into the main entrance; but he doesn’t head up the steps what would take him there, instead — he himself doesn’t even know how — he stands on one of the lower steps, he looks around, no one is in sight, everyone is in the zendō, so he sits down on one of the steps and he remains there, the early spring sun shines on him, at times he shivers in a stronger breeze of the chill air, but he doesn’t move from there, he just sits on the step, leaning forward a bit with his elbows pressed onto his knees, looking ahead, and now at last he is able to pose the question to himself: what in the world was he doing here, he is able to ask himself, he just can’t find the answer, or rather he cannot understand: even if what he hears there within his soul does exist, it all adds up to just this much: nothing, he is doing nothing at all in the entire world, he just sad down here because he felt like it, to sit here and know that, there inside the hondō, Amida Buddha is now enthroned upon the altar, and he sees what no one else but himself can see, only and exclusively he, he sits there on the steps, his stomach growls, he scratches his bald head, he stares into open space, onto the steps below, the steps of dried-out old hinoki cypress, and in one of the cracks he now notices a tiny ant, well, and from that point on he only watches that ant as it goes about on its funny little legs, climbing, hurrying and then slowing down in this crack, as it starts forward, then stops, then turns around and lifting up its little ball of a head, hurries off again, but once more it comes to a dead halt, climbing out from the crack, but only to crawl right back into it, and starts off again, then after a while coming to a halt again, it stops, turns around, and just as sprightly as it can, goes again backward in the crack, and all the while the early spring sun shines on it, at times a draft of the wind strikes it, you can see the ant struggling not to be carried off by the wind, little ant, says the abbot, shaking his head, little ant in the deep crack of the step, forever.
– László Krasznahorkai, Seiobo There Below
October 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The rhetorician’s art in its glory and power has silently faded away before the stern tendencies of the age; and if, by any peculiarity of taste or strong determination of the intellect, a rhetorician, en grand costume, were again to appear amongst us, it is certain that he would have no better welcome than a stare of surprise as a posture-maker or balancer, not more elevated in the general estimate, but far less amusing, than the acrobat, or funambulist, or equestrian gymnast. No; the age of rhetoric like that of chivalry has passed amongst forgotten things; . . . . So multiplied are the modes of intellectual enjoyment in modern times, that the choice is absolutely distracted; and in a boundless theatre of pleasures, to be had at little or no cost of intellectual activity, it would be marvellous indeed if any considerable audience could be found an exhibition which presupposes a state of tense exertion on the part of auditor and performer. To hang upon one’s own thoughts as an object of conscious interest, to play with them, to watch and pursue them through a maze of inversions, evolutions, and harlequin changes . . . proclaims at least a quiescent state of the public mind, unoccupied with daily novelties, and at leisure from the agitations of eternal change.
– Thomas De Quincey, “Rhetoric”