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Recap

I decided I needed to combine language, projective and objective verse. First off I was writing via Levertov, and trying to combine them by going beyond her by resisting the moral impulse. I thought of this as nomadic and anti-confessional. Later, after my MA, I tried to incorporate basic theories of the image / vortex, and the idea of “primary pigments” overlapping, so as to create meaningless sense impressions in meaningful, restless, language. I then tried to pull narrative form out of focus, via ‘grotesque’ as something meaningless: the ideal of atemporal times. Then, a lack of animation to the line. Finally, I went with expressing the sense of not expressing, or thinking. These are arguably all the same thing, perhaps most cogently because the “grotesque” allows for shifting coherences, and I was equating it with meaningless noise as a catalyst toward language.
Aside from that progressive refinement what does it do? I think it allows me to form the poem around rhyme while keeping the line.

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Arguably, it is art because it dissolves the poetics of language that made it: making the original manifesto multiple. Does it get the reader closer to the everyday world he or she inhabits?

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A game to play

Try,

a word to (every) time

plan to ex-press, stop 

“process” to express

to express (that. stop)

… ‘and then shape’

what background says

what was stopped?

The fore captured

the stopping: look!

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The meaning of form in contemporary innovative poetry

A fun selection of topics detailing who to read and who is reading whom, completely addled by the introduction’s insistence that:

“To regard cognition as having independent existence outside the brain, inherent in things in general (or in an artistic form in particular) is not a metaphorical or mystical formulation.”

Of course, that is absurd if taken literally, which Shepppard certainly does seem to do, quoting approvingly Leighton’s ‘form as a way of knowing, not as an object of knowledge’. He later differentiates ‘form’ (both of individual poems and of e.g. the sonnet) from ‘forming’, but it seems muddled at best.

Surely forms do not think on their own, and say nothing without being read: cognition itself cannot “enter” or exist in a real world except when interacting with it, which is not at all the same as actions creating independent physical artefacts.

I liked the chapter on Forrest-Thompson, but felt e.g. the tonal shift of “and they love us so” says something “irrelevant” to form, just not the poem’s meaning (that the shift is being excluded, for the inattentive reader, a sort of doubling up of its formal absence), which Sheppard seemed to miss the possibility of (even-though it changes nothing but the usefulness of her theory of “relevance”). So, it seems much safer for me to think of ‘form’ as how to read the poem. The book showcases how erudition can overwhelm a reading for content only, but not how to read (especially if content is what we already knew). While leaving ‘forming’ as something apt for cynical co-option under ‘innovation’.

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A horse that runs to and fro

The amazon blurb says it is “neither homage nor criticism”, but it feels like both. Presumably the recurring figure of an escaped horse is in reference to Stevens’ claim that “Time is a horse that runs in the heart, a horse / Without a rider on a road at night. / The mind sits listening and hears it pass”. Near the close of this long poem, the authors say “there’s nothing abstract, miracle body of beauty, of power… the mind can barely think it; / it beats and beats deep inside all…”.

It feels like a lament, that time and Stevens’ poems take us away from the “heart” itself, a moral entity

The crux isn’t how I looked in the poem before last

but who I was and whether I still hold myself culpable…

The poem is unusual, wild, willful even, without being showy. Reznikoff seems to be a surprise foil, and Pound and Williams are mentioned in passing “to write about the normal in a normal way’s better”.

The meaning of the poem seems elusive but isn’t; its music – the sound of a horse bolting – the opposite.

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Cane (Jean Toomer)

Long, 100 page, poem in three main parts. Each consists of a mixture of prose narrative (the first two parts have subtitles, often but not always naming women that appear in them) and lineated poems. The first part is set in the – rural – south, to the music of work songs, the second in the – urban – north with a more upbeat jazzy feel, and the third part (‘Kabnis’, named after a character that Toomer identified as himself) returns to the south with a more immediately harder and authoritative form, perhaps derived from increased concision.

It was published in 1923, and was an important part of the “Harlem Renaissance”. One noteworthy quality of the prose was – I felt – the way that the first section treats its women with puzzlement (Louisa thinks “Where were they, these people? She’d sing, and perhaps they’d come out and join her. Perhaps Tom Burwell would come”, as Tom is being murdered by a mob for jealousy killing another of her lovers), whereas in the second the desire of men is more opaque, and the women are called “Dicties”, slang “referring to educated, middle class Afro-Americans who behave… snobbish”. Perhaps the lineated poems can seen as a commentary on these sex roles.

The last section definitely seems to enact narrative and symbolic closure, as the repeating use of ‘song’ becomes ‘soul’ and a peripheral character claims that ‘sin’ is the “lies. O… th white folks… when they made th Bible lie”. It closes with an image of the sun rising for sexual love and consummation.

There is still the indeterminacy of whether “Jesus” is a lie or lied about. Part of the first section titled ‘Esther’ ends with a man, Barlo, whom Esther has spent much of her life obsessed with, recognizing her from a religious fit or trance he underwent when she was a child; at this point Esther suddenly finds Barlo repulsive, and she leaves him and her pursuit of him ,”steps out. There is no air, no street, and the town has completely disappeared”.

It’s shape / music is not immediately appealing, and its closure frustrated what was a sense of importance for the just mentioned scene and its universality.

However, there are moments to enjoy independent of those narrative tensions, such as the gradually more self conscious use of rich diction, the poetic / universal feel to some of the later lineated poems, and the sense of impermanent / threatened beauty in lives and ways of life (which his letters remarked on), especially the interplay of characters coming to terms with racism: “I came back to tell you, brother, that white faces are the petals of roses. That dark faces are petals of dusk. That I am going out to gather petals” (Bona and Paul).

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See By So (Prynne)

Highly fragmentary work (I used most of its punctuation as dividers) which I couldn’t find a unitary meaning of except perhaps for the motif of hypocrisy.

(I spent a fair time trying to parse things into a manageable set of repeating settings, and the closest I got included an argument about falling over: “foot path step overseen / declaim, abjure by foresworn…”).

It could be just what I wanted to see, but feel that, in different ways, each fragment (“up sticks effective”; helping swallows nest; ‘time off’, etc.) expresses middle class hypocrisy. The satirical punchline on that might then be in the last phrase “in later willing spooned”: I would suppose that our willingness (literally, to agree to do something that can’t be expected as a matter of course) is ironic, stating the normality of it, though I can’t place the sense of ‘spooned’ (it could be used figuratively – perhaps for Englishness and cricket – ‘a possible pun on one page mentions ‘wet wicket’ – and be about the language that preceded it).

If a viable reading, its conclusion is both reassuring and forcefully reached; another interesting short collection.

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Lopez, False memory

The poems here are a lot easier to crave up when you stay focused on the people that inhabit them. E.g. the start of Blue Shift:

You can tell by the landscaping we’re off the route.

Two Sundays a month except for film shoots

And special picnics…

This is something that comes up in The New Sentence, how coherence is limited to repeating protagonists. If you do, you can make out landscapes, approaching something like Surrealism: clashing goals anchored in the reader’s will for community.

I’ve also been reading some early Levertov poems today, and wondering how and why her subjects appear and disappear, at turns a diarist or more engaged, as if she were pacing herself. I have a collection of her essays, and maybe there’s some overlap with Hopkins there: diction a slave to perception, or artifice. Difficult to know what her better poems are here, but I have a preference for the ones that reminds me of Moore.

Lopez’s is obviously an open poem, both in its difficult coherence and in its “gaps” (arguably well thought in terms of ‘belonging’). I wonder, is Levertov’s process (meant in the general sense)?

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Ideology

The problem with ideology is not the belief that we get it, and not, by extension, a sense that there is nothing we can do about it; that is a simplification. Rather, it is a bad faith, so that our ideology offers no room in our role for our opposition to anything we encounter (in the everyday?).

Art attempts a closure of art.

So if I am not drunk on the poems of some friend, I am dissolving the modernist manifesto; make it multiple!

And evermore inclusive…

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Fetishes

If the innovations of modernism were truly radical but we deny any social or artistic autonomy to their development, then we are fetishizing art

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‘Duets Infer Duty’ (Prynne)

A long poem in ten parts, each titled Deck 1 to 10. Like ‘Of Better Scrap’ these sound like lyric instructions, which raises the question of what the lyric subject is actually doing (let alone what the symbolism is). The first word of the first poem is ‘Sycamore’, and by Deck 4 I was fairly sure he was pruning a tree:

coppice afforded flight manifest once only sent satiric offended child-light yours inclined: –

With that, each line can perhaps be unpacked. E.g. being unsure that the local birds aren’t as if mocked by the pruning. Though, even if this is reasonable, there are still asides:

principal aeon nothing ventured same to win, den skillful dwell ready parable agreed condition: –

Here, does the subject contemplate the age and its passivity?

We may wonder what tree is being cut back. The last line reads:

catch as can swim toil swung deputed carbine plum far drove limit eastern upswept on.

Which suggests, if not a sycamore maple (other plants or trees are mentioned, spurges, wattles), then perhaps – fitting with the poem and the sweetness of its diction as a whole – then Prunus mume, the Chinese plum tree, especially with its rich history in poetry (and it was someone else’s plum tree).