Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day Weekend Three

Before 1967 I was young and unaware of most of the world around me. Like Henry Adams my world was split between winter and summer. The winter was mostly school and homework, but the summer meant the lake. My parents had a summer cottage on a small lake in New Hampshire, and I spent every summer up there living the pastoral life. Nothing of the real world touched our lives there, except maybe for the Red Sox.

But the summer of 1967 brought a change in the air. My brother’s best friend at the lake, Paul, had been killed that winter in Viet Nam. My friend, Paul’s younger brother, was never the same. I don’t think I saw him at all that summer, or after. Paul had been the type of older boy all the younger ones admired. He was athletic, good-looking, and drove a motorcycle. But he was also a genuinely good person, always affable and never mean or condescending to us kids. And his girl friends were always good-looking. I was shocked that such a life could be snuffed in an instant.
The Fall of Avalon on Half Moon Lake
Labor Day 1966

Late Monday afternoon, the summer gone
the way of woodland elves returning home,
I called on folks I'd known since Oberon
conceived that year's delight—within the foam
of April crashing on the shores of June.
Instead of friends in song I heard a tune
at rest. My buddy Nick, his mom and dad,
his brothers, sisters, Puck their beagle pup,
—and Black Hawk motorbikes revving like mad
besides the Falcon wagon starting-up
to take another trip to Lord knows where—
were missing. Emptiness refilled the air.

The lake was vacant also. Rafts and docks
stormed September's beach with hostile lines.
Gone were the curves of bodies, beach balls, socks
and shoes, and sand mandala-like designs.
Harmony disappeared from tarn and wood.
I stood forsaken in a neighborhood
deserted of its June, July, and August.
Longing for that peaceable kingdom’s fun—
if just the father's kicking-up some sawdust
with horseshoes—I went and waited March's sun,
never guessing winter's draft would damn
the spring and spirit Nick away to Nam.
copyright Gregory Perry 2004
Of course nothing was ever the same for the nation after that year. But Paul will always be for me the innocence we lost in that godforsaken jungle of the Viet Nam years. And because of him I will never forget.

grapez v2.0

It's more than 3 months later and time to paint the walls. I've changed the template for grapez, as you can see. Blogger has issued some new templates and I've revised a particular one, rounders4, to fit the print. Unfortunately, or maybe not, because of my desire for other colors, the rounders had to go. But the blocks remain.

I've also disabled haloscan comments and enabled blogger comments, as well as post pages. We'll see how it works. I'll also be tinkering around in the next couple of weeks trying to polish the brightwork. I think I'm about 95% of the way there so rather wait for the summer solstice, the end of May works fine enough.

Now is also the time for me to thank all of you out there. This experiment in blogging has been more than I expected. The breadth of imagination out there is exhilarating, and I know this education is indeed the right step for me personally in my poetry road, despite the mixed metaphors here. Again, thank you.

If anything about this revision doesn't work for your browser, please let me know. Thanks.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

Memorial Day Weekend Two

There was an older man and woman who lived in the apartment below my grandfather when I was just a young boy. I can't remember the names but I can remember the smell of the kitchen. Something was always baking in their oven, at least it seemed like it to me. And often that something was cookies, and often enough I was treated to some with milk. The husband was a nice enough man, but didn't say too much, which didn't bother the taste of the cookies whatsoever. I remember my mother saying something about him being in World War I, and something about mustard gas. I wasn't quite sure about mustard gas but knew I didn’t like that particular condiment on my hot dogs, so I couldn't imagine it being any better in a different state. As for World War I, that was such a distant event: we only played WWII in those days. I know better now of course. No one should play at war, even Presidents or Prime Ministers. We should on these occasions remember the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon:
Suicide in the Trenches

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

. . . .
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Memorial Day Weekend One

When I was in grammar school, we would have an outdoor celebration for Memorial Day. I can remember Flanders Fields and the boy next to me fainting in the hot afternoon sun. I never remember reading Whitman's great poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, but we could have. Imagine if you will fifty children standing in the sun beginning:
WHEN lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
The Civil War seemed so much closer then. I believe our older teachers must have known old Union veterans in their youth so it was a living thing to them. Let me work out the math using 1960 as the fulcrum date. If 2004 was to 1960 as 1960 was to 1916, then a Civil War veteran could have been in his late sixties then. Lincoln would have been in time like Eisenhower today.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Back to School

Upon Returning to the School I Once Deserted
in memory of BC circa 1971

The campus tower looks less bloodshot than my dreams
reveal behind their chronological
revue. There’s not the I see no sepia extremes
of where weathermen protesteding logical cyclical
destruction misfortune. Lotteries will do not decide
the network news and but Nixon’s not still the one.--
(Myour cell phone service wasn’t nationwide;
and no one we failed to exorcised the Pentagon.)
I was a Tudor in some this different life
and split infinitives to build my a fire;
--I met the rent mortgage, andmade each month my wife.
The government wcould finally retire
my number after I discovered Maine.
It felt like Canada without the pain.
Gregory Perry 2004
This is a first second third(thirteen fifteen hours later) draft of a poem inspired by my return to Boston College on Monday, a school I had attended for 3 semesters in the early Seventies until my high draft number was picked and drove me crazy. For the few, if any, that may be interested, any revisions will be posted on my poems blog the must, thanks to Blogger's new templates for my sudden explosion of new blogs and Mike Snider for this particular idea.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Dueling Quotes

Mario Cuomo:
We campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose.
George Will:
If Jefferson provided the essential poetry of American political discourse, Hamilton established the prose of American statecraft.

Writing the Rain

Mary Austin’s acknowledgment of the native subconscious power of Amerind verse must have been a revelation in 1923. It overwhelms me now. There’s a scientific understanding tempered by true respect. In so doing she attempts to reach the Dawn of poetry.
The Amerind makes poetry because he believes it to be good for him. He makes it because he believes it a contribution to the well-being of his group. He makes it to put himself in sympathy with the wokonda, the orenda or god-stuff which he conceives to be to some degree in every created thing. Finally—an on almost every occasion—he makes it to affect objects that are removed from him in the dimension of time and space.

This affectivesness is secured by two processes, by the subjective coordination of the major rhythms involved, into a rhythmic unit, and the objective coordination of the movements involved, by mimesis…

…This faculty of creative imitation must have been immensely more active in the Dawn Man than in us. One supposes a period of mimetic activity similar to the period of mimetic activity in children… The Dawn Man did not understand rain as we understand it, but he had an acute power of appreciating all the visual and auditory accompaniments of rain, and of mimetically reproducing them. This is the content of Aristotle’s “imitation,” a “making” into which entered the three factors which are the essentials of Amerind verse; internal rhythms, coordinated by the prevailing motor habit, external rhythm subjectively coordinated, realization by means of creative mimesis.
This is great groundbreaking stuff. But she continues:
Or if we wish to present these factors in modern American terms we have, as the essentials of genuinely native poetry; a motor habit set up by democratic, constructive labor; subjective coordination of the rhythmic forms of the American scene; realization of the meaning of the American experience in terms of activity.
Here I believe Austin takes a wrong turn in accordance with that idealistic Adamic streak that runs through her (part of our culture I suppose) thought. For example: “democratic, constructive labor:” Was there ever such an animal? An America that had grew wealthy on the backs of cheap immigrant labor? Or the America that was revealing itself in Henry Ford’s factories: mass production with robotic labor. Or maybe it’s the 21st century specialization of service (do you want fries with that) labor? Rhythmic forms of the American scene? Gridlock? Realization of the American experience?

No. It’s as if she walks towards the edge of the Grand Canyon, but stops to catch a ride to Disneyland instead. Her diagnosis is wonderful (Chris you are right) and is worthy of the tradition of Emerson and Thoreau; her prescription though is that of a Norman Rockwell. I appreciate the former and just will have to go somewhere else, a Canada of poetics so to speak, for the latter.

Related post: It's a Fine Line in America

Wednesday, May 26, 2004


Reuters reports that the Iliad has been translated to instant messenger speak by Microsoft. Book Two has been reduced to 24 words:

Agamemnon hd a dream: Troy not defended. Ordered attack! But Trojans knew they were coming n were prepared. Achilles sat sulking in his tent
Hmmm. What about this?
W H&K oil. Iraq NP. But no WMD & BTW no plan for L8R. W/E ttyl. (EG) WWJD?

And Through the Infield

I am listening to the rhythm in this Amy Lowell poem. Others can discuss the sexual play and shimmering imagery. I'm looking for the cadence and the movement of the strophe.
The Weather-Cock Points South

I put your leaves aside,
One by one:
The stiff, broad outer leaves;
The smaller ones,
Pleasant to touch, veined with purple;
The glazed inner leaves.
One by one
I parted you from your leaves
Until you stood up like a white flower
Swaying slightly in the evening wind.

White flower,
Flower of wax, of jade, of unstreaked agate;
Flower with surfaces of ice,
With shadows faintly crimson.
Where in all the garden is there such a flower?
The stars crowd through the lilac leaves
To look at you.
The low moon brightens you with silver.

The bud is more than the calyx.
There is nothing to equal a white bud,
Of no colour, and of all,
Burnished by moonlight,
Thrust upon by a softly-swinging wind.
One by one I begin to hear some pattern, only a smaller one maybe. But one by one I discern a rhythm emerging from the outer leaves. Then begin to flower. Flower and begin to burn in the low white moonlight. And swing.

Monumental Reflections

Posted on my photoblog:
In that black wall descending into DC soil some of more more than fifty-thousand names of those that died in VietNam reflect the Washington Memorial. They always remember and never forget while others in that city persevere at doing just that.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

May Adriana Rest in Peace

The latest episode of the Sopranos was an instant classic to my mind. Every scene was composed with care, but the killing of Adriana was truly operatic. It was a fitting tribute to the actress Drea de Matteo who has played her role with such wit and beauty. In maybe a ten minute stretch we were pulled in several emotional directions after finally seeing Adriana telling her boyfriend Christopher that she’s been playing along with the FBI the past year.

At first Christopher reacts violently, choking Adriana until she literally turns blue in the face. Then they slump into each other’s arms crying and questioning the possibility of a future in the witness relocation program. But after Christopher leaves to clear his head, we’re made to maybe think that Christopher has attempted suicide. But we also know enough to doubt Tony’s word in his caring telephone call to Adriana. So when we see her escaping on the interstate, we breathe easier knowing her character will live on while this magnificent actress spins away to play her new role in “Joey” (I hope the money’s good.) But when we witness her grief in the passenger seat alongside Silvio, we understand her escape was just a daydream and watch with horror the unfolding of her fate as Silvio turns from sympathy to the devil.

It’s the only television show I watch with any sense of “must see.” Scenes such as these are one of the reasons why. And also the light but evocative moments like this: Christopher explaining to his Uncle Tony why he’s late. And Silvio, played by Stevie Van Zandt of E Street fame, is there to witness this line as well: “The highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.” There’s one episode left this season, and just one more season after that. It is indeed the last chance power drive. And after the murder of such an innocent there's no place left to hide.

The Perfect Swing

From “Preface to Some Imagist Poems” by Amy Lowell, this:
The definition of vers libre is—a verse-form based upon cadence. Now cadence in music is one thing, cadence in poetry quite another, since we are dealing with tone but with rhythm. It is the sense of perfect balance of flow and rhythm. Not only must the syllables so fall as to increase and continue the movement, but the whole poem must be as rounded and recurring as the circular swing of a balanced pendulum. It can be fast or slow, it may even jerk, but this perfect swing it must have, even its jerks must follow the central movement.
and that:
The unit in vers libre is not the foot, the number of syllables, the quantity, or the line. The unit is the strophe, which may be the whole poem, or may be only a part. Each strophe is a complete circle: in fact, the meaning of the Greek word “strophe” is simply that part of the poem which was recited while the chorus were making a turn around the altar set up in the center of the theater. The simile of the circle is more than a simile, therefore; it is a fact. Of course the circle need not always be the same size, nor need the times allowed to negotiate it be always the same. There is room here for an infinite number of variations. Also, circles can be added to circles, movement upon movement, to the poem, provided each movement completes itself, and ramifies naturally into the next. But one thing must be borne in mind: a cadenced poem is written to be read aloud, in this way only will its rhythm be felt. Poetry is a spoken and not a written art.
Cadences, flows and rhythm, rounded and recurring, in strophes whole or parts of poem, variable but completed circles, naturally ramifying other circles, and all read aloud. This definition is woven together with stronger thread then some but the weave is still a loose one. It all comes down to the perfect swing. Ted Williams, the last man to hit 400 in Major League baseball, described it this way:
"It's a pendulum action, a metronome--move and countermove. You might not have realized it, but you throw a ball that way, you swing a golf club that way, you cast a fishing rod that way. You go back, and then you come forward. You don't start back there. And you don't "start" your swing with your hips cocked."
And you don't step on Benny Goodman's cape.

Previous "Twentieth-Century American Poetics" postings:
-Bass Thoughts (J.V. Cunningham)
-On the Other Side of the Line (Denise Levertov)
-That Line is Out of Focus (Denise Levertov)
-Buildings Built for Ghosts (Robert Creeley)

Monday, May 24, 2004

Deja Won't

So I'm supposed to be at the graduation of Beverly's daughter at Boston College listening to Tim Russert go on but there's some deja vu not happening. The first: I saw Tim Russert speak at my daughter's graduation last year. And the second: I was to graduate myself from BC thirty years ago. The latter did not happen due to the draft lottery driving me crazy free. The former isn't going to happen because of the rain. The graduation has been moved inside and there aren't enough tickets to go around, so here I am at the BC library typing this epistle to you. So I'll share the poem I wrote for Beverly's daughter:
BC 2004

Four years of Boston College
Monday morning spells
and Aristotle potions
drunk, the decibels
are ringing now for you.
It's time to barbeque

the fast philosophies
and toast the dollars lost
to youth. Your time is space,
discovery the cost
of all the tests you took.
Now you can write the book.
So I know it's just the weather, but thirty years have passed and I still won't be attending a BC graduation. There's some deja that just won't vu.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Photoblogging (a public service announcement)

Blogger has a cool photoblogging service in tandem with an instant messaging service called Hello. After the software is installed, you can drag and drop photos to something called a bloggerbot, and the photos will be posted on your blog. The files themselves reside on a separate server. And it's all free. I've started a new photoblog called one thousand words. Feel free to visit. But definitely take a look at the service. Here.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

It's a Fine Line in America

Mary Austin's The American Rhythm came in yesterday. I've only had time to read to page 17. Here's one passage of note:
So is all art shaped on systems of oppositions, balance without parity. What we mean by composition in art is simply right and left handedness, one hand and a pot hook. To a three-handed race all our pictures would lack balance, all our rhythms leave the sense suspended.

Thus if we go back far enough into the origin of simple poetic rhythm, we find the gesture by which In the Days-of-the-New the earth was conquered. If we look for the resolution of intricacies of rhythm called classic, we find it in the dance, and if we go back in the history of the dance we find the pattern by which men and women, friends and foes, welded themselves into societies and became reconciled to the Allness. Here we find economy of stress giving rise to preferred accents, and social ritual establishing the tradition of sequence.

Given a new earth to live on, new attacks on the mastery of time and space, and a whole new scale of motor impulses is built into the subconscious structure of the individual. Given a new experiential adaptation of social mechanisms, and all the emotive and cognitive processes set themselves to its tune. Given, as happened in the United States, an emotional kick away from the old habits of work and society, and a new rhythmic basis of poetic expression is not only to be looked for, but it is to be welcomed as indubitable evidence of the extent to which the American experience has "taken," among the widely varying racial strains that make up its people. (pp 8-9)
It's always tempting to look at ourselves through this Adamic interpretation. It's often dangerous too. But there is much truth in the concept. I doubt that Lincoln could have been Lincoln in any other country. But neither could George W. Bush. The American Adam is a double-edged sword. It can shape a new line or destroy the whole work.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Dr. Bono

Monday, Bono of U2 received an honorary degree, and spoke at the University of Pennsylvania graduation. Some excerpts from (and read the whole thing at)
“There’s a truly great Irish poet; his name is Brendan Kennelly. He has this epic poem called ‘The Book of Judas.’ There’s a line in that poem that never leaves my mind. It says, ‘If you want to serve the age, betray it.’ What does that mean to betray the age? Well, to me betraying the age means exposing its conceits, its foibles, its phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths. Every age has its massive moral blind spots,” Bono pointed out.
“I know idealism is not playing on the radio right now. You don’t see it on TV. Irony is on heavy rotation, the knowingness, the smirk, the tired joke. I’ve tried them all out. But I’ll tell you this: outside this campus and, even inside it, idealism is under siege beset by materialism, narcissism, and all the other isms of indifference. Baggism, shaggism, raggism, notism, graduationism, chismism — I don’t know. Where’s John Lennon when you need him?” joked the U2 singer.

Springtime for Greg and Massachusetts

I can’t remember a spring as green as this in New England. It’s been some years since trees have leafed so early in the month of May. I myself haven’t seen this kind of lushness since the Columbia River Valley eight years ago this month. Its good to stop and smell the maple trees and maybe write a springtime verse or two.

This green is like no faith
I've ever confessed before.
Lust-filled landscapes wheel
around a curvature
of worm and vegetable
reserves. It's audible,

this unexpected well
of infinite appeal.
I hear the ministers
and comic tramps get real.
I listen to the trees
produce parentheses

(we know that by July
the sky wears Panama)
and birdsong. Day assembles
gasoline algebra
and moonlight whys of beach.
Nothing is exxed from reach.

Gregory Perry 2004
We now return to our regular programming.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

This Great Green State

In our great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, gay lovers are getting married amid an almost too beautiful greening springtime landscape. I’ve never been more pleased with this state since that time it was the only one to vote for George McGovern in 1972. I had a bumper sticker then on my old Celica that read: “Nixon 49, America 1.”

Of course, our governor has to make his political hay with a 1913 statute that disallows out-of-staters to wed in Massachusetts if their state doesn’t recognize said kind of marriage. It’s appropriate that this political opportunist would use a law that was meant to discourage interracial marriages in order to appease the right wing zealots of his party. He joins the likes of Governors Faubus, Barnett, and Wallace in their infamy. He just doesn’t get it.

But America sooner or later does. It may be a costly way to stumble through this world, but the history of this country is a dialectic of unabated greed and a slow revelation of its munificent ideals. Sooner or later, the peoples' eyes become unclouded and perceive that some particular emperor really has no clothes. It may be a long, harmful, and exasperating fight, but history has her ultimate say. And that my brethren is the real final judgement.

In this week that we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v Board of Education and the implementation of Goodridge v Department of Public Health, it’s appropriate to remember the words of Langston Hughes in his poem ‘Let America Be America Again.’ As they say, read the whole thing, but here’s the telltale ending:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

For an Animal I Did Not Know

Putting Down Amber

The dog was old, as such existence will
be relative to dogs, but to Valerie
her dog was younger than her teen-aged son.
And nothing’s lost, though aged eyes can't see,
so Amber wagged her tail just as the vet
plunged the needle. Now she will forget.

Gregory Perry 2004

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Sleeping Well in Quietude

As I was saying about J.V. Cunningham, he was a fulcrum of 20th century formalist poetics. More than that though, he was no apologist for his verse, and in fact would answer Ron Silliman and his quietude dis with no uncertain acknowledgment. In fact, he did, and in verse:
For My Contemporaries

How time reverses
The proud in heart!
I now make verses
Who aimed at art.

But I sleep well.
Ambitious boys
Whose big lies swell
With spiritual noise

Despise me not!
And be not queasy
To praise somewhat:
Verse is not easy.

But rage who will.
Time that procured me
Good sense and skill
Of madness cured me.
I'm not seconding that emotion although I do believe he touches on a third rail of truth. There is a certain ponderous psychosis in some contemporary American poetry, a well-earned lunacy albeit, but one that needs a little tempering with, if not quietude, then calm, sometimes.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Will 35mm Please an Audience

The UK Evening Times reports that a film deal on a movie about the life of Scottish poet Robert Burns has gone down in Cannes this week.
A New film on the life of Robert Burns has been given the green light after years of planning. The movie will star Glasgow-born actor and heartthrob Gerard Butler who starred in Dracula 2000 and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.... It had been suggested that Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jnr, Bobby Carlyle or Ewan McGregor would play Burns, but the producers have decided on Butler.

The film focuses on the early period of Burns' life when he went from ploughboy to playboy to become the toast of the Edinburgh establishment. Along the way he fell in love with Jean Armour, Highland Mary and Agnes McLehose. The film has been scripted by Scots writer Alan Sharp who wrote Rob Roy. The original title, Clarinda, has been changed to Burns.
They will need to tone this down a bit in order to get it past the censors.
Or as Nat Edwards, general manager of the Burns National Heritage Park puts it, "It would make Eminem blush." The rap artist has attracted controversy for lyrics of the sort which your mother definitely wouldn't like. Recent recordings of Burns's lesser known works, however, have also been deemed worthy of a "parental guidance advised" sticker on the front.

Burns was not shy of using "industrial language" in his work, notably the "Merry Muses of Caledonia." The sexual appetites and bodily functions of both men and the women with whom Burns consorted with are plain to see in poems like "Nine Inches Will Please a Lady", "Hoo Can I Keep My Maidenheid" and "My Girl She's Airy".
And tinseltown won't do.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an a' that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine -
A man's a man for a' that.
For a' that, an a' that.
Their tinsel show, an a' that,
The honest man, tho e'er sae poor,
Is king o men for a' that.
At least they didn't choose Brad Pitt. For auld lang syne!

Goodridge v Dept of Public Health

For all who celebrated love and democracy yesterday in our Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the continuing unfolding of our nation's Bill of Rights, and for the never-ending resistance against the bigoted, afraid, and deeply ignorant, a poem by Walt Whitman:
These, I, Singing in Spring

These, I, singing in spring, collect for lovers,
(For who but I should understand lovers, and all their sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?)
Collecting, I traverse the garden, the world—but soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side—now wading in a little, fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences, where the old stones thrown there, pick’d from the fields, have accumulated,
(Wild-flowers and vines and weeds come up through the stones, and partly cover them—Beyond these I pass,)
Far, far in the forest, before I think where I go,
Solitary, smelling the earthy smell, stopping now and then in the silence,
Alone I had thought—yet soon a troop gathers around me,
Some walk by my side, and some behind, and some embrace my arms or neck,
They, the spirits of dear friends, dead or alive—thicker they come, a great crowd, and I in the middle,
Collecting, dispensing, singing in spring, there I wander with them,
Plucking something for tokens—tossing toward whoever is near me;
Here! lilac, with a branch of pine,
Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pull’d off a live-oak in Florida, as it hung trailing down,
Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage,
And here what I now draw from the water, wading in the pondside,
(O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me—and returns again, never to separate from me,
And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades—this Calamus-root shall,
Interchange it, youths, with each other! Let none render it back!)
And twigs of maple, and a bunch of wild orange, and chestnut,
And stems of currants, and plum-blows, and the aromatic cedar:
These, I, compass’d around by a thick cloud of spirits,
Wandering, point to, or touch as I pass, or throw them loosely from me,
Indicating to each one what he shall have—giving something to each;
But what I drew from the water by the pond-side, that I reserve,
I will give of it—but only to them that love, as I myself am capable of loving.

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Last Elbow on the Left

Maria at 'alembic' is posting a work in progress, and in doing so, she touches upon that eternal conundrum of poetry: when to end.
So often I don’t write far enough into the poem, or I write way past the ending, in search of closure, instead of that pivot point in which my poem ends for me and at the same time opens up for the reader....
I like her take on the ending of a poem as a pivot point, the poem as one piece of a puzzle. The ending is not an ending then, but an elbow, knee, or some other joint: a smoky seedy bar on a late Friday night leaning precariously towards the person next to you while barstools tip towards an intoxication of words waiting for another round of calls and a last chance weekend of responses.

Bass Thoughts

You may have guessed already that I'm not an intellectual. Neither am I a specialist. I try to be a jack of all trades and master of none, and on my better days say I'm a Renaissance man, and on my worse, admit to possessing a lazy left brain. That's why the little things I discover please me so much.

You may have known this piece of information, but I just learned it. J.V. Cunningham is the fulcrum of 20th century formalist poetics, the pivot point between Yvor Winters and Timothy Steele. Winters was very much an influence on Cunningham; he helped the younger poet get into Stanford University. And one of Cunnigham's better students while teaching at Brandeis was Timothy Steele. Isn't this a delicious tidbit?

So here's a taste of Cunningham from his essay "The Problem of Form":
For this is the poet's Poetics: prose is written in sentences; poetry in sentences and lines. It is encoded not only in grammar, but also simultaneously in meter, for meter is the principle or set of principles, whatever they may be, that determines the line. And as we perceive of each sentence that it is grammatical or not, so the repetitive perception that the line is metrical or that it is not, that it exemplifies the rules or that it does not, is the metrical experience. It is the ground bass of all poetry.
Mr. Cunningham is logical to a fault I'd say, but that last point, that meter is the ground bass of all poetry, is a superb one, especially for someone, like myself, who requires a little music with his thought.

Previous "Twentieth-Century American Poetics" postings:
-On the Other Side of the Line (Denise Levertov)
-That Line is Out of Focus (Denise Levertov)
-Buildings Built for Ghosts (Robert Creeley)

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Rightful Woodsman

Beverly and I took a ride yesterday and stopped at the birthplace of Daniel Webster. It’s a small structure on a back road on the side of a ridge in a still-rural part of New Hampshire. The land is being lost in that state to development, along the lines of Disney. The strip malls and ballooning construction sites are reminiscent of the rural but it ain't. Along those lines I wrote this poem a few years back.
The Maine Woodsman

In upper Maine the locals trek to town
to drink and draw a bead on tourist folk,
who, after shooting rapids, try to drown
their soaking-through in Cuervo Gold and smoke.
They like to speculate, these native sorts,
on where each visitor has traveled from.
"From Massachusetts?" drawls a man who sports
a flannel vest to one that's drinking rum
and coke, and wears a silk Hawaiian shirt.
"You don’t appear as smartly wrong as those
brand-new New Hampshire ones." He forced a curt
but rueful smile, then furthered his complaint:
"They fancy that they live in woods, I s’pose,
but rightful woodsmen I know they sure ain't."
Anyways, it appears that Daniel Webster was the real thing built from the land(although my townsman Whittier may have something else to say.) For those whose history may be a bit rusty, there’s a synopsis of the man and his career here. Emerson said upon Webster's death:
Last Sunday I was at Plymouth on the beach....I supposed Webster must have passed, as indeed he had died at three in the morning. The sea, the rocks, the woods, gave no sign that America and the world had lost the completest man. Nature had not in our days, or not since Napoleon, cut out such a masterpiece. He brought the strength of a savage into the height of culture. He was a man in equilibrio; a man within and without, the strong and perfect body of the first ages, with the civility and thought of the last.
There are times in this nation when nature cuts out such a masterpiece. But there are also folks out there who play at being woodsmen, clear cutting the breadth of the world without thoughtful concern.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Catullus Redux

Did I tell you I loved Catullus. Well, I love blogging on the internet also. I love serendipity too.

In my posting three days ago I mentioned that I had been reading a review regarding a new translation of the poems of Catullus by Josephine Balmer in the Times Literary Supplement. I had hoped to include a translation by her but couldn’t find any in my google-ing so included one by Charles Martin instead. I had also wanted to include a snippet from the review, but without the poem had decided against it. This one:
Her translation will prove very useful, partly because it offers a wide-ranging introduction, explanatory notes and bibliography. But it is more important that reading this often brutal material, with its phallic obsession and torture imagery, becomes far more enjoyable in a translation by a middle-aged woman. The effect of inserting a female subjectivity between Catullus and the reader is to take the seediness out of a world dominated by notions of sexual degradation.
But today I received an email from Josephine Balmer herself, telling me a friend had told her of my comments, and informing me further that a few of her translations are featured on-line on the pages of Brindin Press (an unbelievably great site by the way worth investigating and worth a posting of its own in the future.) Here’s one of Balmer’s translations:
Catullus (Gaius Valerius Catullus)
tr. Josephine Balmer

Time to live and let love, Lesbia,
count old men's cant, their carping chatter,
cheap talk, not worth one last penny piece.
You see, suns can set, can rise again
but when our brief light begins to wane
night brings on one long unending sleep.
So let me have a thousand kisses,
then a hundred, a thousand gratis,
a hundred, a thousand, on increase.
Then, when we've made our first million,
we can cook the books, just smudge the sums
so no evil eye can spy, sully,
by reckoning up our final tally.
Not being fluent in Latin, I can’t really say if it’s a wonderful translation, but despite being middle-aged (which I believe is neither pertinent to the writing or appreciation of this work,) I will say it’s a wonderful poem. The language is alive with rhymes, wit, and alliteration. I love it.

Did I tell you I loved Catullus. Well, I love blogging on the internet also. I love serendipity too.

Note: edited Greek out of there, what the %^&# was I thinking. Sorry. Thanks to a commenter at Doctor J's.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Say Amen

The current state of international affairs has me downright depressed and feeling that if we thought the 20th century was full of madness, you ain't seen nothing yet. I think Yeats was channeling these times when he wrote the following lines in his poem The Second Coming:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Furthermore, nationally, there is a divide that is growing into something like a political civil war. I'm beyond speech. But some thankfully aren't. Like Dr. Omed. Read him (see his page for the italics in the following quote and more) and be healed:
Hatred isn’t just for conservative fundamentalist Christians and Moslems, anymore. They are teaching the world to hate, in perfect harmony. I have learned hatred from the righteous; in the words of Psalm 139, “I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” I don’t like hating people, but I do. Another occasion of sin, courtesy of Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush. In the end, it could be that Osama Bin Laden's Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29 "Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart") was to set off not a war against terror but a war of terrors, a war of shadows made real, fear vs. fear, us vs. them, Neocons vs. all comers, a psy-ops civil war waged via the internet and mass media. I don't think it's too strong a term to call it civil war. If my wife were awake, she might look over my shoulder at this point, and say, “It’s all about dicks.”
Amen brother.

Words on America's Stonehenge (the end)

Musings on Mystery Hill

There’s something in the mix
and disarray of stone
that coalesces on
a lifeless hill, this zone
worth scrutinizing twice,
which speaks of sacrifice

of early Celtic monks
who wandered mystic seas,
or Amerindian
s, once the freeze
of glacial shock was past—
scenarios are vast.

An astronomical
divide extends between
its megalithic end
and dawning now unseen
—the sum of equinox
and solstice times these rocks.

Spirits cloaked in flesh
and earth tones pray for grass
to overthrow the dark
and fund the middle class.

This is the end of this series, an experiment of sorts in writing and posting. I decided to write one stanza per day for three days, and post its progress daily. Today's stanza grew to include a coda (or an additional 2/3 stanza.) I made some slight changes to the first and second stanzas for continuity sake. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Maximus to D.C.

There was an article in a local paper a couple months ago concerning a documentary being planned by filmmaker Henry Ferrini on Charles Olson and his ties to Gloucester, Mass.
Though Olson was one of the key literary figures of the last century, Ferinni says he is hardly known in his beloved Gloucester. Olson, who died in 1970, had a real interest in a sense of place -the focus of many of Ferrini's films. Olson seemed to "change the landscape," Ferrini says, with his writing. His masterpiece, "The Maximus Poems," is all about Gloucester: "The geography which leans in on me, I compel backwards I compel Gloucester to yield, to change."
I visit the port of Gloucester often and often think of Olson when I do (although the past few years I always think of the crew of the fated fishing boat from the Perfect Storm.) But I’m sure there are many that live there that never have even heard of him. So I applaud such an effort to bring the city and poet together.

But as I was reading the article, I came across a piece of information, a scrap of data, that stopped me in my tracks. Stop here and look:
Olson was trained as a scholar and taught at Harvard in the '30s. He gave John F. Kennedy a C in his class, remarking he hadn't yet learned to express himself.
I was aware of Robert Frost’s connection with Kennedy, but had missed his connection with this poet. That C must have made some kind of impact on young JFK, for if there was ever a president that could express himself in exquisite and no uncertain terms, he was it.

So I too am like those residents of Gloucester, unaware of serendipitous events that surround me. Now, I know that our current president received a few C’s in his academic career; I’m just wondering what star-crossed poet was the teacher responsible for one of them.

Words on America's Stonehenge (continued)

Musings on Mystery Hill

There’s something in the mix
and disarray of stone
that coalesces on
a lifeless hill, this zone
worth scrutinizing twice,
which speaks of sacrifice.

Some early Celtic monk
who wandered mystic seas,
or Amerindian
ascendant, once the freeze
of glacial shock was past—
scenarios are vast.

Blogger Talk (Post Pages, Comments, and Old Permalinks)

So Blogger has comments. Cool.

But to turn them on you have to turn on Post Pages. Post what?

Post Pages. Well that allows each posting to be its own page with comments on that page (no pop-ups.) OK. But what about old permalinks? Will they be busted?

Well, blogger help is no help on this one. But this from 'Known Issues' doesn't sound promising. "Post Pages publish to year/month/filename, in the same directory as a blog's index file. This location setting isn't configurable."

Hmm, lets be google-ing. Well, I found this and as I suspected, old permalinks are broken. But furthermore, it doesn't sound fixable. From justinsomnia:
i've just republished my entire blog with blogger's new "page per post" feature turned on. click "permalink" in the lower-right to see what i mean.

this is good because now you can link to a single post! but is bad because it changes all my old permalinks--breaking my own links to my posts and anyone else's links to my posts. number of posts with old links to other posts: ~15.

luckily all the old links have the word "archive.html" in them. of course so do links to other people's blogger archives.

fixed. (30 minutes later)

crap. since "page per post" files the individual post pages under directories for the year and the month, all the relative URLs to my images are broken. err.
Not that I'm linked all over the web. But still, it's an issue that Blogger doesn't actually mention.

I'm mulling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Catullus Lector

I love Catullus. I love that earthiness and the raw side he's willing to show. There’s no classical nuances here. Jealousy is jealousy and revenge is revenge. Emotions are not hid and language isn't either. I read a review on a new Catullus translation by Josephine Balmer in the Times Literary Supplement and searched to find some of her translations online. I couldn’t find anything but needing a fix by then, I looked for some by Charles Martin, my preferred taste at the moment. Here’s his translation of No. 11. This is not for the queasy so caveat lector.

No. 11

Gaius Valerius Catullus
Translated by Charles Martin
Aurelius & Furius, true comrades, 

whether Catullus penetrates to where in
outermost India booms the eastern ocean's
wonderful thunder;
whether he stops with Arabs or Hyrcani, 

Parthian bowmen or nomadic Sagae;
or goes to Egypt, which the Nile so richly
dyes, overflowing;
even if he should scale the lofty Alps, or 

summon to mind the mightiness of Caesar
viewing the Gallic Rhine, the dreadful Britons
at the world's far end--
you're both prepared to share in my adventures, 

and any others which the gods may send me.
Back to my girl then, carry her this bitter
message, these spare words:
May she have joy & profit from her cocksmen, 

go down embracing hundreds all together,
never with love, but without interruption
wringing their balls dry;
nor look to my affection as she used to, 

for she has left it broken, like a flower
at the edge of a field after the plowshare
brushes it, passing.

There's so much here that would have been wasted if not for that last stanza. But he knew that.

Afterword (3 hrs later): I just want to remind myself that the connection here between empire and love is so overwhelmingly spot on that maybe it should be on the Secretary of Defense's reading list. That is, if W (i.e, Laura) would let him read it (just a joke Rummy good buddy.) But beyond the early double entendres and the later shock and awe, that last stanza that leaves the soldier of fortune broken is a warning for all empire builders, classical or postmodern.

Words on America's Stonehenge

Musings on Mystery Hill

There’s something in the mix
and disarray of stone
that coalesces on
a lifeless hill, this zone
worth scrutinizing twice,
which speaks of sacrifice.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Tribal Verse Forms

Chris Murray supplies some quotes and thoughts on Mary Austin and her essay "American Rhythm". I've never heard of Austin but what I see here is fascinating. From Austin:
To understand how verse forms become fixed in tribal life we must go far enough back in the period of the Dawn Mind to be able to reject the Freudian premise of the primacy of the sex urge and the hunger urge as factors of self-realization, and boldly assert that the absorbing business of the Dawn Man was the realization of himself in relation to the Allness.
Chris finds her choices of appellation intriguing, concepts such as Dawn Mind and Allness. I agree. And the concept of tribal verse forms is also captivating. I may have to hunt this essay down.

Monday, May 10, 2004

On the Other Side of the Line

Although Levertov's exposition of measure as perception lacks clarity, her take on inspiration I think is sublime and answers the question why write poetry in no uncertain or futuristic terms.
I think it’s like this: First there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech. Suppose there’s the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received, the memory of some long ago thought or event associated with what’s seen or heard or felt, and an idea, a concept, he has been pondering, each qualifying the other; together with what he knows about history; and what he has been dreaming—whether or not he remembers it—working in him. This is only a rough outline of a possible moment in a life. But the condition of being a poet is that periodically such a cross-section, or constellation, of experiences (in which one or another element may predominate) demands, or wakes in him this demand, the poem. The beginning of the fulfillment of this demand is to contemplate, to meditate; words which connote a state in which the heat of feeling warms the intellect. To contemplate comes from "templum, temple, a place, a space for observation, marked out by the augur." It means, not simply to observe, to regard, but to do these things in the presence of a god. And to meditate is "to keep the mind in a state of contemplation’’; its synonym is "to muse," and to muse comes from a word meaning "to stand with open mouth"not so comical if we think of "inspiration"—to breathe in.

So—as the poet stands openmouthed in the temple of life, contemplating his experience, there come to him the first words of the Poem: the words which are to be his way in to the poem, if there is to be a poem. The pressure of demand and the meditation on its elements culminate in a moment of vision, of crystallization, in which some inkling of the correspondence between those elements occurs; and it occurs as words. If he forces a beginning before this point, it won’t work. These words sometimes remain the first, sometimes in the completed poem their eventual place may be elsewhere, or they may turn out to have been only forerunners, which fulfilled their function in bringing him to the words which are the actual beginning of the poem. It is faithful attention to the experience from the first moment of crystallization that allows those first or those forerunning words to rise to the surface: and with that same fidelity of attention the poet, from that moment of being let in to the possiblity of the poem, must follow through, letting the experience lead him through the world of the poem, its unique inscape revealing itself as he goes.

Previous "Twentieth-Century American Poetics" postings:
-That Line is Out of Focus (Denise Levertov)
-Buildings Built for Ghosts (Robert Creeley)

That Line is Out of Focus

More Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry by Dana Gioia (Editor), David Mason (Editor), Meg Schoerke (Editor).

Denise Levertov's "Some Notes on Organic Form."
In organic poetry the metric movement, the measure, is the direct expression of the movement of perception. And the sounds, acting together with the measure, are a kind of extended onomatopoeia—I,e., they imitate, not the sounds of an experience (which may be soundless, or to which sounds contribute only incidentally)—but the feeling of an experience, its emotional tone, its texture. The varying speed and gait of different strands of perception within an experience (I think of strands of seaweed moving within a wave) result in counterpointed measures.
I'm not exactly sure what to make of this: " In organic poetry the metric movement, the measure, is the direct expression of the movement of perception." Previously Levertov had described how an experience leads to a poem, a brilliant description of inspiration and its route towards written speech. But this definition of measure as an expression of perception is way too fuzzy and comes very close to being some meaningless New Age poetics.

Previous postings:
-Buildings Built for Ghosts (Robert Creeley)

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Words on Mystery Hill

Beverly and I visited America’s Stonehenge yesterday. Located on a hill in southern NH, it’s an archaeological site complete with megaliths, an Oracle chamber, and a sacrificial table. Carbon dating indicates that some of the stone work may reach back to 4000BC. Supposedly the hill was used as an astronomical observation structure for both solar and lunar cycles. There’s much speculation on its origins, Amerindian, Celtic, European, or some other combination. Stone walls and carved rock interweave along the hill like lines of verse and ancient metaphors. But no one knows its meaning.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Abu Ghraib

I try to stay away from politics on this page but every now and then I need to speak, because I speak in these pages on other matters, so I need to know I've spoken on those critical issues when they arise, just to know I've spoken. Most issues of policy are beyond my authority, although I know what I believe and vote accordingly. But Abu Ghraib is beyond authority. It is evil and as a nation we must say so.

I've read so much from both sides of the political spectrum in the past few days that sicken me. And the madness is beyond the pale. It mostly follows this pattern: Abu Ghraib was wrong but...

There is no fucking "but" to this, and to even for one minute entertain that there is implicates your very soul in the madness. I don't care if you're Linda Chavez or Rush Limbaugh or Joe Lieberman. As a nation we cannot abide these actions. Every rationalization is a pebble in the beginning of an avalanche towards insanity.

I am proud that as a nation we are disgusted with these actions. I am proud that as a nation we wish to investigate and punish (and rehabilitate) the wrongdoers (and hope we don't stop at just some fall guys.) I am proud that there is a national sense of shame about these incidents. I am hopeful that as a nation we can recognize that the potential for evil is not just in the other, but even in ourselves.

But I worry we end our condemnations with "but." I worry about the future of our nation (and our children, [my daughter]) if we allow our national argument to include such rationalizations to enter its heated debate. As that great cartoon character Pogo (I date myself I know) once said: "we have met the enemy and he is us." Long live democracy (no irony intended.)

To all Iraquis and to the world, I am heartfully sorry and apologize. May God forgive us.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Wicked Good Bloggings this Week 19

awake at dawn on someone's couch on Billy Collin's defense of his popularity
Tooting what he calls "the loud horn of the vernacular" is a reaction to the kind of poetry he says he was writing in college. "I was brought up on the Mount Rushmore of modern giants." Anyone who has slogged through the allusions in Ezra Pound's Cantos or puzzled over the tangled knots of meaning in a Wallace Stevens poem will sympathize.

"I committed those sins of obscurity myself," he says. "I bought the connection between difficulty and value that was involved in these very difficult poets."

"It took to my 30s to get rid of this."
     and their concern with its implications
Not the first time in the last few months that an author has stepped into the podium and spoken FOR a bastardized populist literary agenda, and against the perceived "difficulty" of reading outside of one's comfort zone. I can say I feel certain this is NOT a good thing.

But also, probably, not entirely on the shoulders of these authors. If one is attacked for one's simple, approachable writing (as a sign of intellectual or academic failing), perhaps it's forgiveable to do a little lashing-out in return.

Languagehat on John Ashberry's poem (included in posting) in the 3/25 NYRB:
That's what gets to us all, if we have any feel for the world outside ourselves. It drives our comics to unwonted seriousness (Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, even Woody Allen, unable quite to extricate himself from his Upper East Side solipsism but somehow aware that Ingmar Bergman had access to something he would like to have for himself), and it's driven Ashbery to communicate with a directness he once might have raised an eyebrow at, appropriating the gravity of a Sophocles to his own ends.

HG Poetics comments on poetics held my interest this week:
yes, the characteristic quality of poetry is its reflexivity (its way of being something rather than simply pointing to something); but the shortcoming of so much postmodern poetry is that it simply turns this into a dichotomy ("poetry must not be mimetic since it is reflexive, self-mirroring"). What happens then is it gets further and further from ordinary experience & feeling, accenting its function as intellectual game.

The real puzzle, it seems to me, is how poetry can be both mimetic & reflexive.

On a political satirical note, Healing Iraq on the misunderstood media, Al-Jazeera and Fox News:
Is it because of its self-describing motto which says 'Opinion, and the other opinion' which is never ever the case? Is it because it claims to be objective and unbiased when it clearly refers to thugs and criminals in Iraq as 'resistance fighters'?

Is it because of its self-describing motto which says 'Fair and Balanced' which is never ever the case? Is it because it claims to be objective and unbiased when it clearly refers to mercenaries in Iraq as 'contractors'?

American Digest on Thom Gunn as a teacher:
I remember the craggy, pitted face easily moved to laughter and a sensibility moved to kind despair when he was forced to experience a particularly bad line. I remember that the class was formed of about 12 students and that on any given day at least ten were baked to a crisp. But that didn’t mean Gunn didn’t get our attention. How could he not? He was not only an elegant poet, an inheritor of the Tennysonian tradition in English poetry, but he was an elegant man.

And thanks to a fool in the forest for some comic relief:

3mt-6: The Poetry of Passaconaway

After the death and devastation from the Algonquin apocalypse, some of the Indian villages along the Merrimack River were completely wiped out and the ones that weren’t struggled to remain active communities. Maybe because of their distance from the coastal epicenter of disease, the Pennacook Indians, whose village was far upriver in what is now Manchester, NH, were less affected. Accordingly their chief, Passaconaway, became the great sachem of the entire Merrimack Valley, the first leader of what historians call The Pennacook Confederacy.

William Wood in his "New England Prospect" describes Passaconaway’s extraordinary talents:
The Indians report of one Passaconawaw, that hee can make water burne, the rocks move, the trees dance, metamorphise himself into a flaming man. Hee Will do more; for in Winter, when there are no green leaves to be got, hee will burne an old one to ashes and putting these into 'water, produce a new green leaf, which you shall not only see but substantially handle and carrie away; and make a dead snake's skin a living snake, both to be seen, felt, and heard. This I write but on the report of the Indians, who confidentially affirm stranger things.
This may be the mythological world view of the Algonquin, but nevertheless it describes a powerful man, yet one who could not resist the European invasion. Charles Edward Beals, Jr. relates in his “Passaconaway in the White Mountains” the great man’s final speech:
Hearken to the words of your father. I am an old oak that has withstood the storms of more than an hundred winters. Leaves and branches have been stripped from me by the winds and frosts-my eyes are dim-my limbs totter― must soon fall! But when young and sturdy, when my bow-no young man of the Pennacooks could bend it-when my arrow would pierce a deer at an hundred yards-and I could bury my hatchet in a sapling to the eye-no wigwam had so many furs-no pole so many scalps as Passaconaway's! Then I delighted in war. The whoop of the Pennacooks was heard upon the Mohawk―and no voice so loud as Passaconaway's. The scalps upon the pole of my wigwam told the story of Mohawk suffering.

The English came, they seized our lands; I sat me down at Pennacook. They followed upon my footsteps; I made war upon them, but they fought with fire and thunder; my young men were swept down before me, when no one was near them. I tried sorcery against them, but they still increased and prevailed over me and mine, and I gave place to them and retired to my beautiful island of Natticook. I that can make the dry leaf turn green and live again―I that can take the rattlesnake in my palm as I would a worm, without harm―I who have had communion with the Great Spirit dreaming and awake-I am powerless before the Pale Faces.

The oak will soon break before the whirlwind―it shivers and shakes even now; soon its trunk will be prostrate―the ant and worm will sport upon it Then think, my children, of what I say; I commune with the Great Spirit. He whispers me now―'Tell your peopie, Peace, Peace, is the only hope of your race. I have given fire and thunder to the pale faces for weapons―I have made them plentier than the leaves of the forest, and still shall they increase! These meadows they shall turn with the plow―these forests shall fail by the ax―the pale faces shall live upon your hunting grounds, and make their villages upon your fishing places!' The Great Spirit says this, and it must be so! We are few and powerless before them! We must bend before the storm! The wind blows hard! The old oak trembles! Its branches are gone! Its sap is frozen! It bends! It falls! Peace, Peace, with the white men-is the command of the Great Spirit―and the wish―the last wish―of Passaconaway.
Although there is some doubt as to whether these are actually the words of Passaconaway, there is little doubt they were his sentiments. And so fell a mighty oak that dwarfed our maple trees.

three maple trees
-part one
-part two
-part three a
-part three b
-part four
-part five

Thursday, May 06, 2004

But Isn't Brad Pitt a god

I was really looking forward to the movie "Troy" although I realized there was a very good chance it could be a bomb. After all, there was Brad Pitt dressed in his best Rambo. But Orlando Bloom was running a lucky streak with Lord of the Rings so I allowed myself to think optimistic thoughts. But reviews are beginning to appear (the movie gets released May14) and things just don't sound too good. Now I understand that reviews are merely personal opinions but the Iliad without the gods! From Reuters:
"Troy" is "inspired" by "The Iliad," Homer's epic poem about the Greek siege of Troy. The filmmakers chose that word carefully. Not only does much of their story derive from ancient literary sources other than Homer and the script often take extreme liberties with Greek mythology, but Petersen and writer David Benioff jettison Zeus and the whole Olympian cosmos. Yes, this version of "The Iliad" is godless.

Admittedly, it's virtually impossible to simulate onscreen the wildly dysfunctional family of self-centered immortals that compose Greek polytheism. But to remove the gods from what is, after all, a Greek myth is to gut your story. By playing down the divine, you lose the story's sense of fate, destiny and tragedy.

These people believe in their gods. When a hero fights "like a god," many genuinely wonder if he might not be born of a god and therefore undefeatable. And a leader who heeds seers and omens looks foolish rather than wise, as he does in Homer. This is a key element of the ancients' psychology, and it turns up missing here.
I guess I'll have to wait for the sequel: Odysseus' Most Excellent Adventure.

eXTReMe Tracking Poem

From top 15 keywords in search engine referrer totals for this blog (in descending order)

the poetry sunshine
eternal pope
alexander rocas

las poem spotless
mind your grenacha
san alejandro

Buildings Built for Ghosts

In my quest to lead my poetry to water, I’ve been reading Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry by Dana Gioia (Editor), David Mason (Editor), Meg Schoerke (Editor). I first came across this work at the Powow Poets workshop: an essay by Rhina is featured in the book. I perused the table of contents and was intrigued by its breadth and scope. So I purchased it. Warning: I might be commenting on some of the essays as I read them, not in any manner of analytical review but merely in a note-taking and questioning way.

Robert Creeley in ‘Poems are a Complex’:
I think I first felt a poem to be what might exist in words as primarily the fact of its own activity. Later, of course, I did see that poems might comment on many things, and reveal many attitudes and qualifications. Still, it was never what they said about things that interested me. I wanted the poem itself to exist and that could never be possible as long as some subject significantly elsewhere was resolved. There had to be an independence derived from the very fact that words are things too. (p279)
I guess this is the fork in the road. The poem no longer is an extension of human communication, no longer attempts to sing in words what cannot be said in words. It is now an object first and foremost created from things. Comments (not communications) are secondary. Architecture has it lucky. No matter how modern or postmodern it needs to get, people still have to inhabit the building in some fashion.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Henry V in Baghdad

Josh Marshall brings Shakespeare into the national political conversation:
But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

So Dawn Goes Down to Day

Oi! Already spring declines and leaf subsides into leaf while the peepers in the wetlands consider closing shop on all that razz for yet another season. Boats are gathering in the Merrimack and just this weekend humidity paid a visit for a couple of days scouting out locations for its inevitable summer run. And tonight Robert Frost called. What a wanker. “Nothing gold can stay,” he said. “Bugger off,” I answered in my best impersonation, and hung up loudly. I can’t listen to him right this minute go on and on about her early leaf's a flower but only so an hour. Yadda yadda yadda. Rubbish I’d say. Look at all the red maples blooming on the Point and talk to me next week when Main Street’s paved in the bloody things. Look I got to go and watch some BBC America; ‘The Office’ is on. The previews said that Eden sank to grief while Gareth pondered seconds and David discovered that vibration is her hardest hue to hold. I wonder: do they even have spring in Slough and if nature's first green was gold in Swindon, what's first gold? 300 quid? But yeah, I agree with that philosopher, our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we spring.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

One of the Oldest and Most Intensively
Studied Forests in North America

In Harvard Forest, trees
eye each passerby
in silent scholastic gloom—
such focus could petrify
the strongest folk that walk
this earth—and when they talk

they sway the continents
in every branch of life.
They carve initials on
our breath with just the knife
of photosynthetic science.
Their roots in self-reliance

turn worlds green with envy,
driving arms to the axe
—there’s nothing left to do
but raise the property tax
on every acre of wood.
There goes the neighborhood.

~Gregory Perry 2004

mepoetics 1

mepoetics is all about me (an amateur poet attempts to answer the voices in his head)
Why I Will Never Be a Strict Formalist

So what is it about formalist poetry that stops me from embracing it with all my soul? Is it me? Is it the Groucho Marx syndrome, the Hawkeye Pierce pattern, the Abbie Hoffman disorder, the Walter Mitty condition, the Maynard G. Krebbs disease, or a number of other clinical issues that I carry around with me in my everyday common and uninteresting psyche? Is it political, or some socio-economic dysfunction? Or is it just the rules?

I’m fine with the technical aspects of meter, especially as outlined by Timothy Steele. Meter operates on the micro level and to me is much like the notes of music. It’s a rhythmic tool. But those established forms and their strict regulations, whether it be some pantoum, sestina, or even sonnet: I can’t abide by them. I can read them and appreciate some, but I can’t make myself write them. I’ve tried. But when I do, I really don’t. My sonnets aren’t really sonnets.

Not that I don’t write in form. I’ve played with the idea and discovered schemes that make sense to me, forms that answer my needs in writing, or my plain ideas concerning poetry: the Dylanesque Sestet, the Desolation Sonnet, the Gregorian Sonnet. But I’m certainly not a literary theorist; my forays in that field never take themselves too seriously. These nonce forms of mine are really small-f forms.

But Forms: they’re much too much like religions to me. Ah! That’s it: the lapsed Catholic complaint.

Monday, May 03, 2004

To Enfield, Greenwich, Prescott, Dana

Beneath the Quabbin Reservoir, four towns
no longer meet each spring to regulate
their rainbow trout, or tax that flow which drowns
the valley in its undercurrent state
of long-forgotten history. Let’s drink
their health from rusty taps we’ve filtered first,
before we finish the dishes in the sink.
There’s something in that blood to quench our thirst.

~Gregory Perry 2004

The Weight of Water

Beverly and I visited the Quabbin Reservoir on Saturday. It’s located in Central Massachusetts and is the water supply for Greater Boston. The reservoir was created in the late thirties by damming the Swift River and letting the valley fill. It was quite an engineering feat. One thing though: four towns were literally dismantled and the populations resettled to make way for its creation. The area around the Quabbin is park land now and home for all kinds of wildlife including eagles, but every time I visit, I think of those towns and how they were erased from the map of Massachusetts by the fine thirsty citizens of Boston. Talk about audacity.
Beneath the Quabbin reservoir, four towns
no longer meet each spring to regulate
their rainbow trout or tax that flow which drowns
the valley in its undercurrent state.
That's the beginning of a work in progress.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

And Now Today's Sermon

Sunday sermons should require brevity (reminds me of an associate’s comment this week concerning a new slogan for meetings: brevity not levity!)

Speaking of sermons, I pulled a Munch a couple of days ago on Eric Ormsby's state of poetry piece in the New Criterion. Mike Snider commented yesterday on Poetry's editor Christian Wiman's comments on the
dire condition of both poetry and our culture at large, about whether poetry can survive in the image-ridden, short-attention span mess television has made of our world. It's a version of the argument recently made by Camille Paglia, and supposedly leant some scientific rigor by this study, in which five questions on a survey diagnose attention problems. I'm not impressed by any of it.
Me neither (it's ironic that Wiman is concerned that "the great bulk of our experience... come from the top down. It is institutionalized, generic, and monolithic." and then seems to be searching in the heavens for that "great poet--to shock us out of the bad habits.") But I was impressed with one thing concerning Hank Lazer's opinings on the state of the art in Boston Review:
The critics have a point. Contemporary American poetry is atomized, decentralized, and multi-faceted, and the range of poetries and audiences is too varied to capture in a compact or singular history. It is difficult to know exactly what’s going on now in American poetry. But maybe this dispersion, this so-called loss of direction is a good thing. Perhaps, contrary to the laments, we are now living through a particularly rich time in American poetry—an era of radically democratized poetry.
I may not agree with any of the selections he praises, but that's his point (and prerogative) after all. It's the same point people make when extolling the democratizing influences of the internet. And since I happen to be participating in that effort by blogging this in the first place, I think he's onto something. This optimism may be a result of my recent self-induced purging due to that Ormsby horror, but I hope not. Go in peace.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

You Turn Me On I’m a Radio

This week I’ve been listening to Joni Mitchell’s “Hissing of Summer Lawns”. It’s an oldie but a goodie, although of course to me it sounds like yesterday. I can remember listening to it in late 1975; at the time I had been disappointed with its music. It had been almost 2 years since “Court and Spark” had been released, a record I must have worn out playing it several times a day (ah my old Dual turntable and Advent loudspeakers,) and a work that still qualifies as one of my favorite all-time records. If I created a top-five list of pop albums it would need to be included.

But Joni Mitchell has never been an artist willing to stand still, and she was in the middle of her seventies transition from folk to rock to jazz-influenced music and 'Hissing' was a beginning in the turning of that corner. I wasn't, but that's another story. On re-visiting it this week, I was impressed not only with the music, but the lyrics. They are sensitive yet astound. There’s a feminist thread running through the work, especially in titles such as “Edith and the Kingpin”, “Shades of Scarlet Conquering,” “Harry’s House,” the title song, and “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow.”

That last one has taken up residence in my mind this week. I’ve been repeating “Anima rising” and “He says ‘We walked on the moon / You be polite.’” over and over and over (I’m doing it now in fact.) I know that lyrics separated from music do not do them justice (there’s a great bass line that leads you through the meter in an alluring serpentine rhythm.) But still these are some fine lyrics and deserve a reading:

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
In flames our prophet witches
Be polite
A room full of glasses
He says "Your notches liberation doll"
And he chains me with that serpent
To that Ethiopian wall

Anima rising
Queen of Queens
Wash my guilt of Eden
Wash and balance me
Anima rising
Uprising in me tonight
She's a vengeful little goddess
With an ancient crown to fight

Truth goes up in vapors
The steeples lean
Winds of change patriarchs
Snug in your bible belt dreams
God goes up the chimney
Like childhood Santa Claus
The good slaves love the good book
A rebel loves a cause

I'm leaving on the 1:15
You're darn right
Since I was seventeen
I've had no one over me
He says "Anima rising-
So what-
Petrified wood process
Tall timber down to rock!"

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says "We walked on the moon
You be polite."
Don't let up the sorrow
Death and birth and death and birth
He says "Bring that bottle kindly
And I'll pad your purse-
I've got a head full of quandary
And a mighty, mighty, thirst."

Seventeen glasses
Rhine wine
Milk of the Madonna
He don't let up the sorrow
He lies and he cheats
It takes a heart like Mary's these days
When your man gets weak