Friday, August 31, 2012

Guy Debord & Spectacle

This Guy Debord stuff is mostly over my head. In fact, I simply enjoy basking in it more for the odd, daydreamy effect it has on me than for its intended intellectual impact and persuasion.

the text

A video:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

it's something else

Again last night I saw the lost country -- René Daumal

Entirely too much has been written about dreams, and I am not pleased. That stuff rings hollow. Just like consciousness per se, dreams have no explanation. They just are. Whatever they are, they are something else than what has been said about them.

[That's my opening salvo. I might have more to say here about the unsayable nature of dreams tomorrow or whenever.]

"August, Departing" -- a poem by Gillian Prew

Here’s the stain,
heaved out
and an orchard of clouds
sleeping. The crows flee
warm fugitives
on August’s blunt edge. I see
a distant coldness,
the skirt of the sun shirking.
The tide is loud with the drowned
and the windy chains of gulls.
The air smells of salty bone
and the womb forgetting.
By the rotting light I breathe,
counting the pretty darknesses.

Copyright © Gillian Prew
I pasted her poem in without asking permission. 
Here's Gillian's blog page for the poem: Gillian Prew.

*    *    *

Most mornings, I wake up and think I know what's what, when it comes to aesthetic stuff. I even think my opinions vibrate with some kind of unstoppable truth. That's basically ridiculous. Because other mornings I wake up and realize my opinions carry no more weight than anyone else's. After all, I'm no famous poet or whatnot. If a publisher ever accepted one of my poems, the laws of physics would most likely disintegrate, with volcanoes spewing a trillion poisonous and berserk frogs. 

So in my more sober state of perception, I realize that my opinions about poems are merely expressions of how I relate to being in the world. No one else should care that much about what I have to say. If I'm convinced that poems should resonate with a spiritual and aesthetic kinship to poems by the masters, then that is just my isolated and peculiar opinion. Others will feel just as strongly about and give their allegiance to other poems, things that cause injury or illness to my soul.

*    *    *

Maybe a year or longer ago, I stumbled across a few poems by Prew. I was stopped in my tracks. Here was something unusual -- poems that are intellectually and emotionally coherent; poems that actually say something worth experiencing; poems that are written with a sensitive aesthetic touch. I can't quite verbalize the effect those poems had on me. I suppose it's like hearing a piece of music that has a deep, eccentric resonance with something in yourself, maybe like the echo of a half-forgotten dream.

*    *    *

August, Departing

The first thing that jumps out at me is the cadence and the way the line breaks contribute to the masterful rhythm. What a mystery it is how cadence can lend an implicit meaning to image, sentiment, and evocation! Then...

and an orchard of clouds
sleeping. The crows flee

Soon after the opening, we (or I) are smoothly transported to a moment of unusual vision and to the realm of aesthetic mood. It's amazing to me how phrases composed of simple words can, in the hands of a rare poet, effect in the reader an opening onto new space, a realm or moment of surreal texture woven into wan beauty.

a distant coldness,
the skirt of the sun shirking. 

The season is changing. But the poet stands in the altering air with a perennial grief and a continuum of being. The word "departing" in the title is instructive. It carries over into the lines a coloration of and a clue to the hidden spirit of nature. How it is a great and latent coffin always opening to receive the departed and our cooling sense of normality (shadows deepening as time's parade of substance and wing becomes ever more funerary and strange). The image of the sun effectively reveals a quality of weariness behind the hysteria of physical law and phenomenal efflorescence.

The air smells of salty bone
and the womb forgetting.

Water is symbol and riddle, I think it's safe to say. And the sea, viewed or literary, can bring with its waves a tang of the future as well as an intuition about the nature of nostalgia. Is it "womb forgetting," with the womb having forgotten something, or is it a complex unitary phrase -- "womb-forgetting," as a lamentation about and toward the poet's (and our) primal amnesia? 

The poem concludes in a condition of limbo, an equipoise in which one might consider the aesthetics of shadow and the exquisite tones of ennui.

By the way, "windy chain of gulls" is astonishing and brilliant.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

René Daumal on carbon tetrachloride

Daumal (1908 - 1944) experimented with doses of this poisonous substance and then reflected on stuff:

  • You don't have to try this particular and rather exceptional experiment in order that your intuition of the absurd can attain the value of a metaphysical experience. But...the existence of persons and consciousness distinct from yourself, your own existence as an individual and finite creature, all that should, if you really wake up, appear to you intolerably absurd.
  • Remember the day that you tore open the curtain and were taken alive, stuck in the uproar of uproars, in the wheel of wheels. And remember the days that followed, when you walked around like a cadaver bewitched, with the certitude of having been eaten by infinity, canceled and voided by the single existing Absurd.

For Daumal, the absurd consisted in the hysterical multiplicity of phenomena and the moribund of normality. Whereas the Absurd was conceived as the mind-blowing Absolute -- intrinsically not explainable, even to "itself." Yet a condition of being he tried to approach via chemicals, dreams, and poetry.

"I Will Go There" -- Gillian Prew poem

I Will Go There

I feel the words of this poem down in my still-mourning bones. This is the kind of thing poetry can do: layer an eccentric beauty into the surface of sadness, while also opening a space for breath and dark wonder.

I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that this is an important poem. Such an unusual thing to encounter. It's got staying power. Not only is it genuine and composed with aesthetic depth, but it's also coherent, which I consider a form of hospitality toward the reader. Simply put, this poem is really on another level.

kindred spirits

People have their own things going on and time is limited. So when I post a link to a long article, I don't expect anyone to actually read it. Pasting the link is just me being self-indulgent. Besides, W.G. Sebald is not for everyone, only for the clinically melancholy.

I'll just paste in a few things from the article:

  • It remains mysterious, how a book slowly amasses urgency and at the right moment pounces, finding one of its intended readers, who feels as though there are no others.
  • Books that I notice because they confirm me; that extend a promise of futurity that I don’t think I could ever explain to anyone. Benjamin’s Illuminations, Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark, Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, some of the novels of Javier Marías, Nabokov’s Speak, Memory . . . 
  • All this, I kept thinking, from a book. But maybe not a book so much as a heard voice, a sensibility absorbed.
  • When disparate things are brought together—as in a chemistry lab, as here—we allow for higher levels of the unforeseen. There would be, I knew, illuminations of specific historical moments, and insights into the lives of fascinating literary figures. But these did not fully account for my sense of compulsion. Rather, it was as if some powerful built-up need, the psychological equivalent, possibly, of a vitamin deficiency, had me looking for whatever could appease it. It could be that this need had somehow put me in the way of the chances and choices that brought the book to my mind. There was the unexpected trigger of the bookshelf photos, the flaring up of the impulse to find and read. Which, in turn, could only have happened because I had picked up inklings over time—in reading other books by Sebald, in those almost peripheral intimations, gathered during even the most casual inspections, that the tone and pace were somehow in sync with my reading disposition . . . I was confirmed in this quickly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

happy campers make me nervous

When I read books about philosophy or science, I'm struck by an undercurrent of tone that is complacent and too comfortable in those worlds. As if the attitude of the writers grew slowly into their brains like a large and happy fungus. 

When I read books that are a bit more speculative in nature, I'm then struck by a tonality of credulousness that makes me wince.

Maybe the kind of perspective or attitude that would please me -- involving a mixed tone of stubborn equivocation and metaphysical paranoia -- doesn't exist in the authorial or academic world. 

Maybe my desire for a different tone and approach is actually a symptom of my head beginning to dissolve or becoming unstable in space-time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

that certain oomph

René Daumal (1908 - 1944), Pataphysician, Surrealist poet, and author of the books Mount Analogue and A Night of Serious Drinking, said this:

A childhood without religious upbringing put me prematurely face to face with the fear of death. It was, as I finally realized, a tightening in the pit of my stomach, which a simple relaxation of the abdominal muscles could dispel. Then the tightening went up into the chest in the form of a knot of dread, then further up to the brain in the form of a problem: to be or not to be? This tightening turned over and over in my brain, and remained there for a good number of years. It proliferated in metaphysical speculation and almost resulted in complete decapitation.

Oh my goodness. Writers these days just don't measure up to writers in those days. Sensibility in general, it seems to me, has become deflated, flattened out, over-ironized, uninteresting, self-impressed, and missing that certain oomph.

philosophy considered as one of the fine arts

She Spits Melancholy at Him, by artist Janet Snell


When I stand back a-ways from a particular philosopher's work or from philosophy in general, a curious thing happens inside my head. Instead of conception and argument, philosophy begins to look sort of like an art form to me, maybe in these terms:

  • Form, color, texture
  • Melody, harmony, rhythm
  • Evocation, mood, astonishment

Most actual philosophers will look at me, scratch their heads, and then say, "You're stupid." Nietzsche, though, might give me a wink and a smile of sanction from inside his asylum.

A thing is being built up, a shape materializing, a vision offered during the philosopher's movement into his or her intuition about the mysteriousness of reality. That vision is expressed through words colored with an implicit emotional energy -- an abstract or meta-luminous feeling about the world. And the text becomes textured with a desire to brood in bohemian precincts of contrast to phenomenal stupefaction (normality).

In a way, a philosopher's vision is also a sonata. Principle lines of saying sound in the personal region of thinking. Those lines go through development and recapitulation. Layered into those lines are others, raised or lowered to complementary pitches -- echoes of precedent forming a coherent harmony of other timbres to plead subtly into the "score." And one is swept along, as if on eccentric rhythms, to the dark music dancing  toward the horizon of World.

Even the driest of Analytic philosophers evoke in their readers a wonderfully disturbing thing -- the ghost of  meaning that hides within our language. Even they can haunt us with a sense of the not-to-be-taken-for-granted. The others -- the Continentals -- are the true poets of philosophy. They are pulled along on currents of inspiration, and their paeans to the Mystery are written with flair, enriched with metaphor. And with a sensitivity to daemonic moods behind representation and thing-in-itself, between essence and existence. These moods of world and being flow into their thinking about world and being. The rational pulse of a philosopher's questioning and assertion sparks darkly with wonder, arcing unspoken feelings into the atmospheres of ideas.

Friday, August 24, 2012

another poem by Guillaume Apollinaire

Autumn Crocuses

The meadow is poisonous but pretty in the autumn
The cows that graze there are slowly poisoned
Meadow-saffron the colour of lilac and of shadows
Under the eyes grows there your eyes are like those flowers
Mauve as their shadows and mauve as this autumn
And for your eyes' sake my life is slowly poisoned

Children from school come with their commotion
Dressed in smocks and playing the mouth-organ
Picking autumn crocuses which are like their mothers
Daughters of their daughters and the colour of your eyelids
Which flutter like flowers in the mad breeze blown

The cowherd sings softly to himself all alone
While slow moving lowing the cows leave behind them
Forever this great meadow ill flowered by autumn 

a poem by Guillaume Apollinaire

Mirabeau Bridge

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
       And lovers
     Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

       The night is a clock chiming
       The days go by not I

We're face to face and hand in hand 
       While under the bridges
     Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

       The night is a clock chiming
       The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
       Love goes by
     Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

       The night is a clock chiming
       The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse 
       The past remains the past
     Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

       The night is a clock chiming
       The days go by not I

two morning thoughts

1. I manage to keep despair at arm's length when I remember that people of quiet depth exist -- those on the other side of spectacle, narcissism, convention, and all systems of thinking. 

Despair begins creeping up my spine again when I remember how loud, preening, deluded, and opinionated I am myself.

2. Books by certain authors -- Thomas De Quincey, Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, W.G. Sebald -- are not to be interpreted and understood. They are to be experienced and absorbed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

an unknown season

That park bench is empty.
Beyond it leaves scatter
toward the curling river.

New and old airs of autumn
move this noon beyond me.

In its place around that bench
a clockless time and you appear
out of nowhere sitting under an elm.

If you were really there
I'd sit down beside you.
I would think of nothing to say.
I am completely out of words.

Just the miracle of sitting in silence
beside you and saying nothing at all...

friends don't have to talk, just be.

So much waiting would find its moment
of brilliant airs in this unknown season.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The horror! The horror!

I had a dream when I was about 35 years old. I was standing in front of and compelled to enter a building that looked exactly like this place.

The building in my dream contained a vast, invisible, and implacable spirit of unspeakable metaphysical horror. The kind that would blast your brains out of your head just being so close to it.

I woke up before entering that building. It was one of the best dreams I've ever had. I'll never forget it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

imagine if Facebook...

...invaded the real world, out there on the street, as it were.

You used to only see or phone a few friends once or twice a week, or less. You used to exchange letters with a distant friend once a month, or less. You used to quietly reflect on things or have a hobby. Or worry about UFOs.

But now...Facebook.

If the behavior there was transposed to the street -- omg!

Friends swarming friends every five minutes, round the clock. Until everyone was basically nuts. Hundreds of people shoving posters and pictures in the faces of  friends and vague acquaintances. Non-stop political or positive-thinking blatheration. Emotional meltdowns and megaphone insinuations in naked public view. The sidewalks would overflow with unbridled expression, the cacophony spilling out into traffic lanes. A million poets causing the very sky to quake and boil.

Cops and psychiatrists would be called in. To arrest and counsel the newly unhinged.


early change

Summer has sunken into the black walnut,
and a yellow flutter is leaving
ennui on the grass.

Yves Tanguy -- a depth of intuition

Yves Tanguy
Surrealist painter
1900 - 1955

I Await You

I think Tanguy was obsessed with painting the symbolic modes and contents of the hippocampus. He was about going down, via intuition, into consciousness. As far as you can go into the substratum. And then he painted what he found there. 

The hippocampus is a region of confluence and extrusion. Flooding across the threshold of that organ are impressions of phenomena that then get sifted into emotional and functional perceptions. I think Tanguy's art happens on that threshold. One eye is trained on the phenomenal, the other on its becoming transposed into affective and proto-conceptual forms (in other words, spiritized).

But these intuited concretions are not representations of phenomena and perception. Rather, Tanguy's ambiguous shapes within uncertain environments are images of organic/mental strangeness, symbols of deep interior happening. They are intuitions into paint of the numinous and the bizarre lurking within or behind phenomena and perception. The mysteriousness of being actual trembles in his painted visions. 

It's more than surrealism. This is an audacious science of mental objects.

Some yogis yammer about higher consciousness. About aspiring on the spiritual pathway to knowledge and truth. Toward and into the super-real. But maybe the truth of things lies implicit in the lower depths, the infernal zones. Where only art of a certain genius can reach, explore, and make symbolically manifest. 

Most religion and mysticism are about trying to find God out there and up there, in some transcendent beyond. And trying to take the pulse of the Other, of the Absolute. About the soul adrift, desiring harbor and anchor. But maybe the sea and soul are the same. Something like Atman. Or Schopenhauer's Will. Perhaps the noumenal and the phenomenal flow together as an immanence that can be intuited as happening deep within the hippocampus. Maybe Tanguy has given us visions of that "lower" profoundest space of spiritized being. Granted, it is a disturbing zone, where the enigma of time is apprehended and made hyper-peculiar.

A lot of art is about superficial representation or expressive distortion of the world. Or about angsty egoism amid shapes of experience. Schopenhauer held art to a higher standard: to be the quiet "ground" upon which the hidden depths of things might appear, and as a metaphysical refuge from the horror of the situation. 

Yves Tanguy opened up environments of the silent elemental. Panoramas of substance as brooding metaphor. He went far beyond the other Surrealists. His work is existential mysticism on artistic peyote.

Friday, August 17, 2012

some Prokofiev

philately and a mood of abstraction

I may very well have misplaced my mind, ages ago (into some tangential dimension). What I want to write about here might not make any sense, to sensible people. I will attempt to describe a phenomenon that might very well be peculiar to my form of consciousness. I will attempt to write about an aspect of stamp collecting that is quite odd, even odder than the intrinsic oddness of stamp collecting per se.

I don't really know why people collect stamps. I think, among the serious and knowledgeable philatelists, there must be an active energy of compulsive neurosis at work. Of course, some dull people collect them as mere investment. Among the casual, non-obsessive type, it's probably about the pretty, evocative squares, rectangles, and occasional triangles. Maybe even a kind of romance is afoot in the contemplation of how these perforated images have the power to magically transport letters and postcards across the wild and woolly globe.

For me, it was something else, a thing that is almost impossible to describe. More about that below.

Serious and semi-serious stamp collecting is expensive. For a kid back in the '50s and '60s who wanted to go beyond stamps removed from letters by soaking, the costs were prohibitive. A kid who wanted to order neat stamps from companies located in exotic places like New York City had to be mostly just a dreamer. Stamps would come from those companies as "Approvals," in small plastic envelopes. You paid for the ones you could afford, then mailed the other stamps back to...New York City! This whole process sent you into spiritual disorder and early sorrow when you realized you had to send back the wonderful expensive ones.

I saved my allowance and eventually purchased a much larger album -- an impressive "Ambassador" manufactured by H.E. Harris & Sons, Inc., located guessed it! Buying older, cooler, "mint" stamps cost a lot. But you were hooked, by some vague allure, so you must keep trying to get stamps for your new album.

Stamps from the 1920s really had something going for them.

Oh...I almost forgot. Some old guy died. His wife, Mrs. Burnside, who was my watercolor art teacher, gave me Mr. Burnside's old stamp collection. I still have this large stamp from Ecuador that was in his album:

When I was a kid, I would stare at it forever, through a special lamp/magnifying glass my Daddy got for me.

Okay, now it's time to get down to cases, to why I wanted to write about stamp collecting. But this is going to be hard to describe. Because the actual, physical stamps themselves play a subsidiary, superficial role. It's about something else.

When I was a kid, something began happening to me with this stamp stuff. I didn't understand what was going on. My little consciousness was being re-cast and transmogrified into a bizarre new shape while involved in the whole stamp thing. It was turning me, unawares, into a creature of eccentric and beautiful abstraction -- opening up space for uncalled-for and far-fetched moods. A force "stamping" me with a quiet, exquisite, and lugubrious effect. A hyper-insularity began to take shape in my young soul.

Maybe you had to be from south Arkansas. Maybe if you lived in St. Louis or Phoenix or Seattle back then, you didn't turn into something strange. I just have no way of knowing about that.

It was about the stamps I did not have and would probably never have that caused this moody effect. It was about the indefinite sense of longing toward a somethingness. And about how those black-and-white printed images in the album (onto which you mounted the actual matching stamp) cast such a haunting aura of abject difference onto my world of circumscribed experience.

And knowing that if I ever did get those actual stamps to mount on the printed images (using adhesive "hinges"), I would have to go through...New York City. Into and through all the alien impressions stimulated by that distant, magical place. That city of large buildings and men in dark suits. Men who like sophisticated wizards moved in swirls of esoteric wealth and arcane stamp knowledge! That city -- portal to the beyond, to decadence, to Europe and the wild world.

The black-and-white printed images in the album had to do with actual far-flung countries, some of them celebrating important real people. Some from other real times. But I had gone beyond all that normal stuff. I was inhabiting a personal environment of fantastical imagining. The countries of those potential stamps were no longer real countries. The important people on those potential stamps were no longer members of the terrestrial clan. And the older times depicted in faint printed tones were temporally dubious. Those printed album images of stamps had abstracted into half-real moments of insular wonder. They induced a condition of gray-shade alterity, of equivocal reality.

Well...that's the best I can do, as far as trying to describe my unusual stamp experience.

Postscript: when I was in my thirties, I had an outburst of nostalgia and renewed compulsion about stamps. It didn't last very long, but it sent me into a spiral of nerdy research and moody contemplation. Yes, I wanted to step things up a notch, get into real philately. Like a New Yorker or something. But I was still poor. Couldn't pull it off. Yet...that old magic of stamp abstraction into a world that didn't exactly exist still had some power to affect me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

some images of Romania

A map:


Girl decorating an egg:

This guy -- Decebalus -- smacked the Roman Legionnaires upside the head, three different times:

Romanian troops in Transylvania -- Unification 1918:

Image from otisarchives2 at Flickr

Bucharest "Old Town" (I happen to think this is wonderful):

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Poetic Reason in Thomas Mann"

Essay excerpt by Vernon Venable, appearing in The Virginia Quarterly Review (Winter 1938):

But the feeling of mystery which characterizes authentic poetic response is not, I believe, merely this feeling of freedom of reference. The problem is less simple; it is probably not a technical one at all. Poor poets fail to conjure up mystery even with methodical mystification, yet it often flourishes in classical poetry in the full light of logical reference from symbol to meaning. I suspect that mystere is to be sought rather in the aspect of experience comprehended in a poem than in the form of its elaboration. At this level there is essential, not artificial, mystery, deriving, perhaps, from the nature of experience itself. Both the nuance of private feeling, the "immediate experience" of the symbolistes, and Mr. Mann's "infinity" where, "in a matter of eternal contraries," harmony lies—both of these are, in the last analysis, quite un-understandable, and hence, unsusceptible of totally adequate communication. At the level of mystere, the mediated experience is no less valid a poetic object than the immediate one.

These, however, are properly questions for aesthetics rather than for literary criticism. Here I have been concerned less with the latent content of poetry, with its mystery, than with that other quality which is often forgotten today but which Mr. Mann has so richly remembered—the quality of lucidness, of intelligibility, by whose virtue the incommunicable seems, at least, to be communicated.

[Reading this excerpt in isolation might give one the impression Venable is evaluating Mann as a poet. Whereas, he is actually writing about the poetics of Mann as novelist.]

Pan -- by Mikhail Vrubel

Found on Biblioklept:


I usually have to say something about whatever. So I'll say something about this image of Pan.

That whole mythic vision of Arcadia involves an undercurrent of strangeness. Almost surreal. This picture of Pan gets it. That face is elemental and earlier than human. It is the appalling spirit of ancient eyes having burst into a previous mode of only stone and flora. All forms of organic consciousness go too deep to have any possible explanation. Hence, the elusiveness and utter strangeness of the gods.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"I was ready to get in my car and go 100 miles in any direction...."

cool essay in the Virginia Quarterly Review

Eugeniusz Tkaczszyn-Dycki -- a Polish poet

The excerpts of poems in this review appealed to me. I can't exactly describe the effect they have on me. But I'm drawn in by the flow, the images, and the world-weary character of the lines. I would like to read an entire book of poems by this fellow.

Eugeniusz Tkaczszyn-Dycki at Contemporary Poetry Review


I've written about this before. I've confessed my own sins of commission. But it's such a fun thing to write about that I can't stop myself. When I read hyperbolic blurbs or reviews, I sort of enjoy the absurdity of it.

What's going on with this stuff? It's baffling and must be crushed, with all the calm words at one's disposal.

The intention of the perpetrators is obviously to share an appreciation of and bestow acclaim on the subject at hand. But some of these blurbs and reviews are so over-the-top as to be almost a new, appalling art form. They are comically inflated and as such do their subjects no favor. Nothing could live up to some of these pronouncements.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

mirror sequence

Oh my god...that creaking cane guy!

people believe...

...the most far-fetched things. Why? I don't know for sure, but I have my peculiar hypothesis.

All the weirdo stuff that is being believed is, at root, an unconscious expression of the Great Paranoia.

The sheer, brute, naked fact of actuality would be a shudderingly uncomfortable thing to confront. So deflection happens, the unanswerable question gets subsumed into various belief systems. The mind frays itself into strands and fibers of nonsense. As a way to keep the soul-blasting riddle from appearing in consciousness.

All this stuff -- religion, atheism, the Illuminati, sports, UFOs, capitalism, ghosts, Marxism, mermaids, positive energy, Wicca, analytic philosophy, Big Foot, luck, the Singularity, agnosticism, TED lectures, Carl Jung......the list goes on and on.

Anything and everything to keep the pulsing shadow of incomprehensible thatness beat back with a bamboo cane. It's about our many symptoms of existential paranoia.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yael Tomashov-Hollander, a special poetic voice

Unknown Sea

Yael is a poet and literary editor in Tel Aviv. Her book of poems Unknown Sea (in Hebrew) was published last year. The poem "Apocatastasis" appeared in that collection. Below is the translation from Hebrew to English by Shir Freibach. I will have a few words to say after the poem.


"Only, I don't believe in Apocalypses. I believe in Apocatastases. Apo-cata-stasis. What it means: 
1) Restoration, re-establishment, renovation. 2) Return to a previous condition.
3) (Astronomy) Return to the same apparent position, completion of a period of revolution"
Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean / Signal To Noise

I am remembering a record of a children's story. The swan freezes or is forgotten
or dies of loneliness. I am seven and the pain wounds me
each time it's played.

Summer is ending right now. A fan turns slowly,
propelling the air that's cooling outside the window.
The sound of a deep, distant thunder gargles above the city that darkened early,
I live one hour backward.
My rain forests are piling up on the table.
As long as I shall read them
I will not die.
The swan freezes or dies of loneliness
and I breathe shallow breaths, growing to a medium size
and kick the transparent door of actuality. Behind it is the blooming garden of emotions;
my little hell.
Maybe there was no swan. But something in that story got left behind
and Death sat with Autumn on the spinning vinyl disc
like two mice, silently.

Right now, summer is reaching its end. The fan keeps stubbornly
turning back the pages.
There, in the white condensed space before the first word,
an error.

Copyright © Yael Tomashov-Hollander
Translated from Hebrew by Shir Freibach

Okay. This is me again. With a few words. 

Each poet has her distinctive voice. But some voices are curiouser than others. They elude a confident description. Those rare voices have a way of pulling you into a poem and holding you there. By virtue of something you can't quite put your finger on. You're not sure what's happening to you while you are reading or listening.  

Yael's is a special voice and one that will last. It's not the kind of voice that is usual, or that will make your brain ache with boredom. It will last because there is something in it that is already old. Yet a quality always fresh. You have to slide back to the Russian poets of the last century to find a possible trace of this tonality, of this depth of utterance. To when they wrote in a general atmosphere resonating with aspects of Surrealism. It's a tonality sounding within the quiet vortex of spirit moving around memory and symbol. You have to glance back peripherally at those earlier instances of speaking nakedly before the masks of being (which makes things go sur-real) to find an artistic and psychological analog. And I'm talking about sound and sounding, not necessarily thematic similarity or characteristic focus.

The lines above are "spoken" with a pleasing variety of length, yet I'm struck by how a quality of succinctness and compression is dominant. Pieces of memory and presence vibrate in stark moments of decanted saying. The effect is uncanny. A declaiming register blends into an aesthetic attitude, and the result is a poem approaching the condition of eccentric (yes, surreal) music.

Of course, a voice has its truest effect in the original language. I don't know Hebrew, so I must rely on translation. All I know is that the above translation delivers to me a subtly powerful and meaningful poem. One that will last.

I didn't go very far here into the what of this poem. I'm concentrating here on the aurality of the poem. I'll leave the what-experience for the reader.

gobsmackingy awesome, man!......

One of those moments that stop you utterly in your tracks. You must simply look on and be stricken with amazement.

Here's the deal.

"Eternity" is about to zap Doctor Strange to smithereens. But there is an intervention. The deceased Ancient One (the doctor's old mentor), who has become one with eternity, grasps the forearm of Eternity himself. Thus preventing a cosmically rash act.

From page 26 of Doctor Strange #13 (1976)

Eternity, by the way, is the all-powerful personification and reification of, well, eternity. Everything that ever was or will be is somehow contained within his spacey, metaphysical provenance and unusual depths (even when they're standing outside his bizarre figure).

Here he is being all powerful and stuff with Dr. Strange:

the empty, yammering phrase...

...that you hear constantly from Republicans about President Obama is "failed leadership."


To put it succinctly and truthfully, that is a lie.

President Obama has shown nothing but leadership, despite the blocking by Republicans of his reasonable ideas for the nation. Thank god, the President leads us away from the knuckleheaded, vicious, and bizarro-world ideas of Republicans. The economic and social theory of the Right is indefensible, pathetic, screwy.

"Vysotsky would get upset...

...when friends would attempt to tune his guitar, leading some to believe that he preferred to play slightly out of tune as a stylistic choice." (from Wiki)

Sorry, Vladimir, but an untuned guitar is not stylish at all. It is the worst musical thing that could ever happen. Worse even than bagpipes or a harpsichord. An out-of-tune guitar destroys minds and souls. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dr. Strange does not...

...think about and worry about the kinds of stuff we think about and worry about.  

His thought and worry prepare him against invasions into our reality by dire mystical forms from planes of equivocal being, from inhuman presences desiring to crush our collective sanity. Thank the gods that Dr. Strange is on perpetual introspective duty! 

And we all owe him a cape-sweeping bow of gratitude. 

Page 2 of Doctor Strange #10 (1976)

Panel 1

"Doorways...can it be that I've opened too many of them?

"For days now -- yes, and most especially nights -- I've felt the shadow of some lurking fear...

"...falling Stygian across my shoulders!

Panel 2

"Only I could have sensed its sinister presence. For only I am the Sorcerer Supreme...and yet...

"...the Sorcerer Supreme is but a man, treading warily through the unknown realms of gods.

"I have my many arcane artifacts, to serve as staff and shield...

"...but even the best are imperfect, for they spring from the known realm of man...

Panel 3

"...and any may turn against me, should my will ever wane...

" happened with my Orb of Agamotto!

Panel 4

"I am a Master, but in arts neither I nor any other man can ever fully understand...

"...surrounded by the illusions men call reality...

"...and the reality men call illusion...

"...and though I know many doorways to connect the two...

Panel 5

"...I must always remember that doors swing both ways!

"Others know them as well as I, and so...

"...I must stand eternal vigil!

Panel 6

"Even now, something evil seeks entrance!

"I am certain of it!"

me tryin' to catch a train

Thursday, August 9, 2012

the poetry of Gillian Prew

I would like to bring a poet to your attention. But doing so involves a problem, a paradox, a referential entanglement -- I must first write something about myself.

I am drawn to poetry that is artistic. Poetry in which a deep aesthetic awareness is implicit. That kind of poetry is almost impossible to find. Occasionally, I will come across a poem containing a line, an image, a moment that is striking, that is artistic. Usually though, such an instance is situated in a poem that is, overall,  dull or lacking cohesion and coherency.

That's why the poems of Gillian Prew are important things to me. They are many notches up the continuum. For me, they are much better than most of the stuff published by big-time poets in big-time journals. Not only are the poems composed with subtle artistic flair; they also hold together, make a worthwhile impression. If a poem doesn't create an aesthetic mood, then I will leave that poem for others to appreciate. I'm drawn to poems that are as moody and strange as the beautiful torment of a dream, or the caressing ennui of a graveyard. And I like poems that take poetry seriously, that echo in a context of the masters who have gone before. So I like Prew's poetry.

Okay, enough about me.

Gillian Prew writes with images. These are not artificial or boring constructs. They have evolved organically in consciousness and exist via a deft artistic congruence of word to vision.

And she writes with images that take the reader into nature. You don't feel that you are strangulated inside some narrow garret. You are out there, somewhere, amid textures of limb, wing, grass, and wind. The forms of nature moving in and out of her images become artistically imbued by virtue of talent and sensibilty. So these natural images are not descriptively banal, not just stage-setting props. They vibrate with the supple resonance of hidden metaphor. As such, the worlds of her poems are places that involve something faintly surreal.

Thematically, many of her poems are concerned with somber experience. Yet somehow this dark quality -- because of quality -- brings the reader into a kind of paradoxical light or lightness of being. In other words, there can be a form of beauty and frisson even in regions of shadow. A reader can float on the art and be enriched, not depressed.

To experience poems that are aesthetic happenings like these is a rare thing. Prew's haunting existential lyricism is unique.

I haven't asked permission to put one of Gillian's poems here on my blog. So I'll just provide a link to a page containing links to her published poems.

Gillian Prew poems

I'll conclude with something else about me: damn, I wish I could write poems that go as deeply into the real and into the surreal as do those of Gillian Prew.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dance of the Furies

Here's a review of this book about WWI: book review

I came across this photo...

...several years ago. I came across it again yesterday. This little girl was murdered in 1911 in Chicago. This is such a strange and haunting image.

Elsie Paroubek

my dream last night...

...was complex and miserable. It would crack open the soul of a saint. It would make rocks moan lamentations. It was unusual. I enjoyed every minute of it. But I can't remember what occurred.

hidden spring

To the Marian waters of Lourdes
go pilgrims limping their wounds.
At the mineral spas of Baden
idlers wager on soaking bones.

But a warming vision appears
as wet as time through her hair.

To speak with me of silence.
To heal by breathing near.
To stand in holy moments
not in this life to be real.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

a living painting

So many coming to that oval room
where Paris hovers over waterlilies.
Eyes splashed with petals dissolving
into pure hues then going immaterial.

There she stands, a living painting.
Monet's art sinking, fading, failing.

Her beauty a pool of dreams
more liquid than any water.

Joseph Smith: Outsider Artist

Although it might be true, it is too boring to think that Mormonism was founded by a con man.

Here's what happened, on the surface of reported events:

As a young fellow in New York state during the 1820s, Smith was led by an angel named Moroni to a hill near his home. There he uncovered a buried book of golden plates, with an accessory set of silver spectacles (lenses made of seer stones that he called "Urim and Thummim"). In 1830, Smith published a translation of the plates -- the Book of Mormon. He said the characters on the plates were etched in "reformed Egyptian" around the year AD 400.

When he later invented his church, he established the reigning order -- Melchizedek Priesthood -- with him on top as sole prophet. The empirical whereabouts of those originating golden plates is no problem: the angel took them back from Smith (you'll just have to trust Smith on this).

Here's what Wikipedia says about the Book of Mormon:

The Book of Mormon has been called the longest and most complex of Smith's revelations. The Book of Mormon is organized as a compilation of smaller books, each named after its main named narrator or a prominent leader. It tells the story of the rise and fall of a religious civilization beginning around 600 BC and ending in 421 AD. The story begins with a family that leaves Jerusalem, just before the Babylonian captivity. They eventually construct a ship and sail to a "promised land" in the Western Hemisphere. There, they are divided into two factions: Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites become a righteous people who build a temple and live the law of Moses, though their prophets teach a gospel that is explicitly Christian. The Lamanites battle the Nephites year after year, and after a thousand years, succeed in destroying the Nephites. The book explains itself to be largely the work of Mormon, a Nephite prophet and military figure who leads his people in the twilight of their existence, and whose son, Moroni, buries the records written on golden plates.

Hmm...and in this "history," Native Americans are the descendants of the winning wicked Lamanites. As far as theology and cosmology go, the gist is this: God was a man who became, well, a god. Anyone can do it and win himself a planet, if he does what Smith says to do.


But maybe there was something going on beneath the surface of ostensible revelation and apparent tomfoolery. Something afoot that had more to do with wounded consciousness leading to visionary construction. It's just too easy to stand back and laugh at all the nonsense of this stuff. The sheer imaginative scale and audacity demands another look.

Something about it all reminds me of Outsider Art. Something about it reminds me of Henry Darger (1892 -- 1973) and his In the Realms of the Unreal.

In both cases -- Smith and Darger -- a unique visionary world was created out of mental whole cloth.

Smith grew up in a family of eccentric scoundrels and religious hysterics. That was a form of unintentional child abuse. It was bound to affect the boy, screw with his brain. Darger was placed in a boy's home, where he was miserable and where he was thought to be not quite right in the head.

My hypothesis is that a similar tension toward catharsis and apotheosis led both fellows down a road of artistic dynamism and surreal boldness.

Smith's visions and wild invention of a parallel world expressed an emotional sublimation of familial weirdness and existential paranoia. Darger's complex and illustrated environment sought, via transference, to gain the upper hand against a conspiracy of reality.

Smith, it seems to me, became so enamored of and convinced by his artistic delusion, that he began to believe it was actual experience and history. That it was efficacious enough to attract and control congregants.

Joseph Smith (1805 -- 1844)

Here's a link to a website with artworks by Henry Darger: Artsy

Sunday, August 5, 2012

other situations

It's best to turn yourself into a ghost or phantom. If you want to explore the oddness of other situations.

Okay. Do it now.


Now float inside your head. Until you see some people gathered in a room. The center of this gathering is someone you know or don't know very well. Maybe an internet friend. So you want to sense what it's like to be in that person's milieu. You don't really want to know what it's like as such. Rather you want to experience, hypothetically, how pleasurably tragic and odd it would be to not be an integral part of that milieu.

If I were a French philosopher, I would frame it with special words, like "difference." I would make up phrases like "abyssal frisson" or "null spectacle" or "the opiate of infinite separation" or "exquisite cruxness of unbelonging."

Think of it!

It would be like walking into a strange house that smells like a strange house. This is not your house.

While you are floating invisibly on the ceiling, you look down and observe the others. Their gestures would be almost extra-terrestrial. A semiotics of dreamy insularity. The conversation would be in words you know, yet the meanings would be dubious or unavailable. You will feel wonderfully miserable, wincingly fascinated. Aloof and adrift, almost illicit.

Well...the above is what I was thinking about just now.

Mitt Romney...

...lives in a partly real world of weird privilege, weird wealth, weird religion, and galloping egoism.

He is not a serious human being. Just a bizarre oily mist in unnerving bipedal form. His most substantial characteristic is mendacity. Apparently for him, politics and life in general are a kind of game. To me, he represents a smiling, creepy nihilism.

And this one speaks for itself...


Saturday, August 4, 2012

oh no!...

If that bubble triple-gun turret is also magic, then there is no solution -- no offense, no defense, no hope. Only acquiescence in the inevitable, followed by utter despondency.


raise your hand...

...if you think this Italo Calvino thing is swell:

"The Flash"

I first came across this thing at Biblioklept, but I prefer the format linked above.

this is just wrong

Bunnies are not like that at all. No way. 
This is warped and visually slanderous!

it's remarkable

In other words, I find it worth remarking on. It's a kind of mystery. I don't know what it means.

Almost all the poems I encounter on Facebook and on personal blogs range from not very good to astonishingly bad. Some instantly alter my brain chemistry, filling the space between my synapses with sulfur dioxide, making my eyes sweat and burn.

Almost all the poems I read by people who get published in journals and in small presses range from not very good to astonishingly bad.

Almost all the poems I read by prize winners and laureates range from not very good to astonishingly bad.

A great poem is a rare thing. Even a really good one is unusually hard to come upon.

What's going on?

Why write poems if those poems are not on the aesthetic level of Keats's To Autumn or something by Pavese or Tranströmer?

I don't buy the argument that it's all a matter of subjective taste. That those poems I deem sucking can still be good or great poems if someone else thinks they don't suck. I may not have amounted to much, but I have, gradually, become this (more so recently, for some reason): hyper sensitive to what is on the highest level of aesthetic creation. That will just have to suffice as my counter argument.

I do realize that writing can have an experiential meaning, regardless of the quality of work. Falling into the trance of words while making a poem can bring a sense of adventure, fantasia, and color to a consciousness.  But after writing the poem, a certain aesthetic judgment should kick in to prevent inferior work from entering public space.

I wish I had thought of this two or three years ago. I would not have sent my own poems into the public arena. But what's done is done. And I'm way too lazy to withdraw my poem collections.

The mystery persists: why are so many people writing so many poems that aren't great or even good poems? It almost seems like a mass contagion of poetic hysteria. Or a tsunami of lines and stanzas coming ashore with unflappable, unrevised determination.

Only the most well-crafted and aesthetically astounding poems should be written. Or at least only those should be publicly offered. Otherwise, I don't understand what's happening at all.

Friday, August 3, 2012


my brain nicely twinging

Over the years, I have made certain things my own -- a private relishing and treasuring. Then my brain would palpitate pleasurably to later discover that certain remarkable writers had made those same things their own, in a deep way. Even though I'm not a remarkable writer, I feel remarkably connected. In a kind of redemptive way that is hard to explain.

So I was pleased yesterday to come across this quote by Thomas Bernhard about Demons, which has for a long time been my favorite of Dostoevsky's novels:

Never in my whole life have I read a more engrossing and elemental work, and at the time I had never read such a long one. It had the effect of a powerful drug, and for a time I was totally absorbed by it. For some time after my return home I refused to read another book, fearing that I might be plunged headlong into the deepest disappointment. For weeks I refused to read anything at all. The monstrous quality of The Demons had made me strong; it had shown me a path that I could follow and told me that I was on the right one, the one that led out. I had felt the impact of a work that was both wild and great, and I emerged from the experience like a hero. Seldom has literature produced such an overwhelming effect on me.