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KERNELS IN VERNAL SILENCE

Another short Prynne collection (I bought a set). Should probably stop blogging about them.

I can identify a few themes, and I guess that there is something of a ‘lullaby’ to that. The word, its root the imitation of “la la la”, is never used, I think. It reads a bit like a “I did this I did that” poem by someone housebound.

The sensation is of a heartfelt dedication to someone else, absent, not least due to lines like “the clouds I care for, reminded me of you”.

At first I was appalled with the collection, as it did seem trivial, not even nonsense. But I stuck with it, and was rewarded by the sense of the author pausing for a moment, as if too cross to keep on.

It is formally interesting. Though I didn’t unpack every quatrain (the poem is composed of a series of them, each preceded by a colon), I suspect that is achievable, and I was often looking up words, which was uniformly interesting despite not really revealing anything hidden from sight (nothing new).

Ultimately I found the collection quite joyful, rather than say satisfying or cathartic; perhaps a good thing. It seems allusive, both to poets and his own previous work (if that’s reasonable)

The following stanza made it for me, partly due to the loveliness of its start, partly due to the obvious yet smart figure of a hot room with hot water (the last word in the series is ‘wet’, though that probably shows nothing), and then the shift followed by rhyming ‘apace’ (a strange word from French a pas: step by step, slowly; quickly; and ultimately from the latin for spread and dried: it took my head off!)

no orchids no sundew yet all simmer mild
at angle blandish, damp course replace
to align the ensemble now so even clear
before the window pane, drones apace

Which is all fairly self explanatory if you ignore ‘drone’: a kettle?

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Averno I

I picked this up in a small uninteresting bookstore: the book won the Nobel prize 2020, though confusingly it is first published 2006. Technically it is good. There are I think psychological (“the soul is divided / ego, superego id”) strong points, e.g. “the tale of Peresphone / which should be read / as an argument between the mother and the lover – / the daughter is just meat”, but Gluck’s wit (“Longing, what is that? Desire, what is that?”) cannot I think mitigate for the narcissistically matter-of-fact tone in places.

The sequence seems to seek closure.

At times it seems ordered by her take on confession. There is a point of violence in ‘Fugue’ which seemed to pick things up

11.

Then I was wounded. The bow

was now a Harp, its string cutting

deep into my palm. In the dream,

it both makes the wound and seals the wound.

But the sequence is soon over, enacting its attempt at closure, which is surely by definition a success, by introducing the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The problem I have with Gluck here is that she seems to lack empathy, which is reflected in the smallness of scale to her interest in place, despite the language, which does keep things fairly novel, avoiding focus / concision presumably for the benefit of line break torque.

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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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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).

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Solved?

For the past three to four years, I’ve been – slowly – trying to find a way to combine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Projective, and Objective poetics, and then go beyond them, so as to work with something meaningful.

More recently, I though the ‘grotesque’ might be a theoretical hinge to do this, and specifically the idea that language should be restless, unlike Images, which collapse into meaninglessness, with no parallels to the “primary pigment”, when grotesque. I noticed that when using theories of the grotesque to begin to get away from what’s there, in shaping a poem, the whole (always fictional) seems to recede, and form is pulled out of focus, and that this makes names at the beginning of a line more meaningful – something that the poem can be shaped around, in place of arbitrary constructions (I often felt unable to edit a poem constructively for so long as I had no focal point).

I intend now to write so that each moment in the poem is contained in the others (there is no narrative development) and its shape – the rest of its features – reflect that, so that there is the suggestion of additive content: the whole – created by devices that are coherent and shift the semantics of the poem but leave the whole unchanged – is formed from parts as parts only, is just their sum.

Then the language does not shift our reading of the whole: so the form is just out of focus, as grotesqueries are:


There is a felt contact with experience beyond words, the text is open, does not enact narrative resolution (New Criticism), but not due to “gaps” to be filled by the reader’s ideology (Hejinian), nor coherence being limited to the combination of adjoining sentences (Silliman), but because the poem is inorganic, just the sum of content.