Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Don't Think Twice"

A good Bob Dylan cover:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

coming in January, 2014...

...from Random House: a book of essays by the late W.G. Sebald!

an interference with...

...the silence one wishes to think.

The following is from Will Stone's article "Oradour-sur-Glane: Reflections of the Culture of Memorial in Europe":

Entering Oradour and obeying bold signs to the memorial ruins, I was surprised to find myself in a vast car park, a limitless expanse of tarmac, more suited one would think to a sports complex or shopping mall. There on the sleek asphalt of the car park I observed luxury coaches with their tinted glass and climate controlled interiors spill their chattering cargoes, just as they will now in the newly constructed ‘reception area’ at Auschwitz I in Poland. Cars of suntanned visitors parked obediently between the freshly painted lines, disembarked and moved off all in the same direction, as if drawn by some unspecified magnetic source towards the giant modern bunker of a building that sat in a kind of man-made hollow. I realised as I followed them down the smart new concrete steps to the lower level that this was a relatively new visitors centre, inaugurated in 1999 by President Chirac, a largely superfluous building, the new scourge of every memorial site in Europe, whether merely ruins or formal cemetery. For today it is considered not quite enough to have solely the memorial itself before which to contemplate man’s destructive capability, the intricacies of murderous folly and the resulting nerve straining conclusion. Again and again some shadowy authority slips in between the individual and their private purpose and imposes an artificial construction in their path, which they have to wade through, straddle or circumnavigate before they can get back to the path they thought they were on.

borrowed from Vertigo

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gogol's VIY

"Lake Water" -- a poem by David Ferry

The plane of the water is like a page on which
Phrases and even sentences are written,
But because of the breeze, and the turning of the year,
And the sense that this lake water, as it is being
Experienced on a particular day, comes from
Some source somewhere, beneath, within, itself
Or from somewhere else, nearby, a spring, a brook,
Its pure origination somewhere else,
It is like an idea for a poem not yet written
And maybe never to be completed, because
The surface of the page is like lake water,
That takes back what is written on its surface,
And all my language about the lake and its
Emotions or its sweet obliviousness,
Or even its being like an origination,
Is all erased with the changing of the breeze
Or because of the heedless passing of a cloud.

When, moments after she died, I looked into
Her face, it was as untelling as something natural,
A lake, say, the surface of it unreadable,
Its sources of meaning unfindable anymore.
Her mouth was open as if she had something to say;

But maybe my saying so is a figure of speech.

Gilels & Scarlatti !!

Viviana Sofronitsky -- Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14

Vertigo -- a Sebald blog

I just found this wordpress blog and will be spending some quality time with it:


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nasielsk, Poland -- 1938

Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

This review is so well written and interesting that it was hard to read -- I kept going back over sentences for the pleasure of it.

Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

two Paul Celan poems

To stand 

To stand, in the shadow
of a scar in the air.

for you

With all that has room within it,
even without


Snowfall, denser and denser,
dove-coloured as yesterday,
snowfall, as if even now you were sleeping.

White, stacked into distance.
Above it, endless,
the sleigh track of the lost.

Below, hidden,
presses up
what so hurts the eyes,
hill upon hill,

On each,
fetched home into its today,
and I slipped away into dumbness:
wooden, a post.

There: a feeling,
blown across by the ice wind
attaching its dove- its snow-
coloured cloth as a flag.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gothic and Spring

hard truth

To be put in one's place is a sobering thing. But a necessary thing. A person doesn't belong in a place where one doesn't belong. That's axiomatic. Only a fool presumes beyond the boundary lines of his world.


The old tea rose is blooming
so far past autumn's frost.
A pulse of resin still moves
the memory of full summer.
A stiffening curve of petals
does not yield obstinate color.

The poet carries a satchel of time.
Sometimes he takes out a letter
written on breezes of an old summer
and brushes off the cold of snowflakes.
So many things were caught in sunlight --
a glow on the grass and billowing of fabrics
hung on a clothesline that tingled presence.

Why answer such a letter written by spirits?
It's what a poet does, a rose blooms because.

And Tadeusz Różewicz is still not dead.

Tadeusz Różewicz

~ TB, 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

Since no one else was going to bother...

...I finally got around to it: imagining a connection between Bruno Schulz and the Sex Pistols.

Pilgrims -- Bruno Schulz drawing, 1920s


Thursday, February 21, 2013

"5:15" -- The Who

Decadent urban ennui and chemical escape. A slice of the manifold ways of being human. An example of radical freedom and the problem of time.

from Quadrophenia 

tragedy ain't so bad

We are wasting too much damn energy. We are erecting too many platforms of nonsense. Those forms are becoming insufferable -- from New Age woo, transhumanism, ancient aliens, and numerology to the sophisticated blarney of dark matter, quantum strings, the multiverse, and rational inquiry. We are doing entirely too many different things, writing too many damn books about this, that, and what-have-you.  

Collective human consciousness is in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own claptrap and superstitious glomming. Too many launching scaffolds are being built for ostensible escape from tolling of the bronze bell. Replacing the older versions of coping is a plethora of sublimated credulity and desperate optimism. Politics has become an annoying plague. It's as if people nowadays are not paying sufficient attention to the Greek philosophers, to Schopenhauer, to Nietzsche, to Mahler, to the poets.

This increasing hysteria must stop.  

We are not getting out of this thing alive. Instead of projecting one's mortal angst -- "I never want to die!" -- onto invisible conspiracies like the Rothschild-Illuminati threat and other specimens of existential paranoia, consider the Greek tragedians. Or Unamuno.

Miguel de Unamuno's classic The Tragic Sense of Life develops a theme of tension and a kind of resolution within that tension. Reason tells us we are mortal. Subjectivity tells us that can't possibly be the case. So we find ourselves between the two -- suspended in the tragic. There, we might live in the paradox of a hopeless faith. We know we're going to die, but we might live as if we're immortal. I think Unamuno would agree that such an attitude is better than sublimating awareness of death into modes of vocational and avocational panic, into forms of nonsense. The title of one of his plays -- The World is a Theater -- brings to thought a question and a possibility. Where do the characters of a play go after the final act and the actors leave the stage? Perhaps they persist in an impossible (therefore true) state of aesthetic resonance.

Speaking of theater, playwright Maxwell Anderson referred to it as "a religious institution dedicated to the exaltation of the spirit of man." Surely -- and strangely -- ancient Greek tragedies continue to cast a genetic echo into that implied theater exaltation.

George Steiner's book The Death of Tragedy argues that we have lost the ancients' sense of absolute pessimism -- a noble way of being in despair. The gods were a permanent mystery. We were without official ontological papers. We were left to our own forms of meaning and action within the looming context of oblivion. The old tragedies bore such things out and lent to the stage action a heightened sense of coming to human terms with choice and will, with error and consequence. 

The Greek Chorus interjected commentary and information into sequences of dialog and action, perhaps representing the characters' super-egos. Insinuations of fate and persisting. Through the unfolding of staged situations within the context of the choral tragic, audiences experienced catharsis. They left the theater restored to poise.

So...rather than deflect the problem of existence as such into manias and horoscopes, two things are called for: composure and the slow making of melancholy art.

Greek Chorus -- Hildegarde Haas, 1949

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Verklärte Nacht -- Schoenberg

string orchestra arrangement 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

when imagination throve

Debussy's music spreads a beyondness, imagines into bitonality and harmonic slantness. Mahler's 9th Symphony -- fathomless measures. Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps is another example of intense imagining. So are the paintings of Kandinsky and Yves Tanguy. Kafka's The Trial and The Castle stake out an exemplary surreal. The poems of Rilke dilate language to encompass the visionary elegiac. Bruno Schulz wrote The Street of Crocodiles, and an extra month was added to the calendar of being.

In all of these cases, world takes on a deeper, odder dimension, reality clothed in unexpected spiritual garments.

Since that general era, imagination has mostly failed to reappear in such profound intensities. Instead, it has coarsened or become anemic. Latter-day creative imaginers either try too hard (forcing the issue) or are fainthearted (diffuse with irony).

I wonder why.

Of course, ten million people would dispute my assertion. They would present a billion examples of stupendous latter-day imagining. I raise a skeptical eyebrow in their general direction. Rather than rebut on a case-by-case basis, I would do something else. And hope, by implication, a wholesale rebuttal to special pleading would manifest.

I will focus my attention on the qualities, degrees, and volumes of imagining -- on the dimensions of consciousness -- that were alive in that earlier, general era. Howsoever it petrified and faded would be a theme for a different essay.

*    *    *

What was that thing happening in those souls back then? What is that thing still happening when we experience their works? I don't want to get too philosophical or strictly metaphysical about this. But surely there is some way of approaching it with thought and words. Something was in the air, so to speak, and spirits were more expansive. What was the nature of that different atmosphere?

Back then and for them, world was more than it seems. With "world" being the complex, ambivalent territory of phenomena, time, and consciousness. World as the fulcrum where sensibility and aesthetics oscillate toward an expressive balance. The very air teemed with and clocks traced hours of latent Art.

Schopenhauer had earlier imagined toward the numinous. Nietzsche probed the abyssal and ecstatic possibilities of the Dionysian. Freud and Jung peered creatively into the unconscious. Wittgenstein explored the limits of the articulate, opening up heightened proprietary space for metaphor. Something large was moving around the contours of consciousness, and it permeated the background for those serious explorers of the aesthetic and the spiritual. A texture of strangeness was perceived and brought to light in their works. Unlike today, their vision was not pipsqueak or saturated with ego.

What were the primary aspects of their imagining?

The main quality was a way of looking outside of self -- a sensitivity to how time plunges into its own pathological moods or spirals around the problem of human presence within it. The main degree was one of boundlessness -- artistic sentience bursting the limits of convention and tradition, of the formulaic and the earthbound. The main volume was a sphere of the mystical -- even if God had been relieved of duty, world as such still "spoke" a theme of austere and puzzling enchantment. The chiefest thing, though, was a breathing in and out again of the universal through a melancholic third eye.

Sergei Prokofiev, Edvard Munch, Walter Benjamin -- they translated large effusions into beguiling forms. Piano, canvas, essay. The Russian wrote beautiful melodies, but he also brought to life eccentric, percussive, entrancing energies. The Norwegian found keys of color and demeanor of moments to haunt with time-stopping élan. The German imbued his paragraphs with a complex blending of the Romantic and the Modern, taking thought into a daydream of enhanced abstraction.

It was an era filled with aesthetic Houdinis. A struggle of magicians with their resources of possible or temporary escape.

The Furniture of Time -- Yves Tanguy, 1939

*    *    *

Marina Tsvsetayeva said "Past is still ahead....." She meant something subtler, more temporally poetic than what I will draw from it to conclude this essay: aesthetic imagination, pronounced and thriving in an earlier era, is still possible; even today, a few poets peer beyond the hedge of their emotional experience, a few painters brush near the enigma.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"A Walk" by Rainer Maria Rilke

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance—

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

When in a certain frame of mind...

...I can be reconciled to the existence of space and substance. But light is a problem. It makes no sense. It seems superfluous, gratuitous, anomalous -- like too much red lipstick on an ostrich.

"River Scene with Swans"

An old painting I like to gaze upon:

artnet Galleries: River Scene with Swans by Alfred Augustus Glendening

Who would win in a symphonic fight...

...Robert Schumann or Johannes Brahms?


Brahms is lauded as a great symphonist. Schumann not so much. Brahms is seen as following in the tradition of Beethoven, adhering to the classical forms of development expressively re-imagined and broadened by the deaf genius. Schumann's piano creations are appreciated more than his symphonies. Some commentators pshaw Schumann for a perceived thinness of symphonic texture and a lack of sustained ideas.

They each wrote four symphonies, so we can have four matches. The best three out of four wins. In case of a tie, the question will be unsettled. The criteria are: musical depth, expressive imagination, deft scoring.

I'm here to referee and judge the orchestral duel.

The Vegas odds favor Brahms. Will the underdog have a prayer of a chance? This is going to be fun. I have buttered popcorn.


Brahms took a long-ass time getting around to his first symphony. He was oppressed by the giant shadow of Beethoven. And it shows. This first symphony is a trial of endurance for this listener. It's lacking in musical élan, imaginative flair, and inspired instrumentation. It's as if the composer is more focused on constructing formulaic phrases and blocks of motifs than in bringing forth a living, breathing thing from his soul. It's as if he's trying to impress the ghost of Beethoven.

Schumann's "Spring" symphony is a gust of musical fresh air. Gust upon gust. The phrases and motifs unique, unexpected. This work pulses with ideas, one growing organically from another. The sense of written coherency and soulful vision is pronounced. This thing is alive. Rather than being thin on orchestration, it is lithe and not oppressively dense.

Point to Schumann.


Brahms recovers nicely with his 2nd symphony. Beethoven has been shaken off, and Brahms himself emerges. A sense of the pastoral is effectively conveyed via musical materials here. There is warmth, and the confidence of a personal vision burgeons. Things flow instead of being forced into shape. The finale especially is rich and engaging.

Schumann's first two movements are mostly noodling around, with sections of statement dully morphing into others; all lacking an overarching sense of thematic vision. The third movement though -- Adagio Expressivo -- is captivating. The finale seems more busywork, going through the paces toward conclusion.

Point to Brahms.


Brahms's score is mostly delightful and effective. But the second movement -- Andante -- is a missed occasion for injecting the composer's characteristic melancholy. Instead, it's a diffuse amalgam of unremarkable gestures. I do like this symphony.

Schumann's "Rhenish" symphony is scored with aplomb, the sections balanced yet surprising, textures just right. The melodic inventions and transformations are masterfully conceived and realized. In the fourth movement, an evocation of the old and poetic Rhine flows past our ears. Or at least how this composer felt about its various liquid moods. The finale is full of swirling spirits and rustic light.

Point to Schumann.


Brahms is in complete control of his expressive materials here, and he brings the quality of his soul to light through them. The first movement is a wonderful thing to hear. A poetic and spiritual intelligence pervades the second movement. The third is uplifting and dynamic, with an undercurrent of peasant-village frisson in the woodwind intervals. In the final movement, Brahms gives us a riveting passacaglia, dramatic and fluid and moving through various moods of a lost-to-us era.    

Schumann's first movement is an astonishing thing to hear. It transfixes with vivid orchestration, exuberant demeanor, and artistic depth, bringing an aspect of the Romantic ethos to aural presence. The second movement is a beautiful dappled mood. A surging, churning musical spirit in the penultimate movement transitions to graceful fairy waltzing, then back again, until the closing measures come strangely, pensively, wonderfully. The last movement seems a failure of aesthetic imagination. It doesn't seem to sustain or build upon the previous movements; rather, it seems a kind of uninspired and conventional treading of water to the end.

Almost too close to call, but...

Point to Brahms.

*    *    *

Depending on the work, both composers meet the criteria of excellence in the art of symphony.

It's a tie!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Encounter" -- by Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago.Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Czeslaw Milosz

This poem blasts consciousness apart -- into constituent "molecules" of experience and memory. And then reassembles it as a timeless moment, as a depth of contemplative being. That might sound like a bit too much from me. But I stand by it. This poem is remarkable.

Leonard Cohen's "Book of Longing"

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I was fascinated for chunks of duration by this concerto (composed 1881). By how indelibly Polish sounding it is to me. It seems to express a characteristic quality of consciousness. There is nothing Germanic about this thing. It's imbued instead with spirits of polonaise, waltz, and mazurka. And maybe with the way rustic light in the afternoon felt on a face not reconciled to the word "Prussia."

There's a certain poet...

...on Facebook (not a FB friend of mine) whose poems I like to read. I like to read them because they entertain me in a kind of twisted way -- I marvel at their consistency of thematic repulsiveness. All of his poems are about angst, despair, the world's inherent ugliness and malignancy. As if the word "poet" must always mean "I'm dark and so should you."

But where is it written that a poem must always face-suck out a reader's liver and rip it to bleeding pieces? Good grief.

Of course, everyone occasionally becomes a monkey on a pogo stick on the edge of an abyss. But the world has other things in it besides precariousness and abysses.

I wonder if this fellow is capable of taking his cosmic chagrin and transforming it, via self-irony and sublimation, into a different kind of work: of some wonderment at the manifold presences and possibilities of being? Probably not. He most likely prefers his role as Oracle of Perpetual Misery. And people keep applauding his chronic darkness. Like I say, it is entertaining, in a bizarre way -- like watching a vampire try to bite his own neck. But this kind of thing really shouldn't be encouraged.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Many pop songs from the early-to-mid sixties were wonderful, so full of life, naïveté, and me-lo-dy.  

For me, some tunes never got old:

Monday, February 11, 2013

those who have been dreamed

The people I meet in dreams have an idiosyncratic presence more remarkable than that of people in real life.

Besides fully inhabiting their dream personalities, there's also a trace or an aura of the forlorn about them. As if they know, quasi-subconsciously, that they are figments. To compensate for not being real, they bring to their dream roles an indelible quotient of pseudo-being.

It's very weird.

It perplexes me...

...that so few people who write poems are also interested in thinking and writing about poetics. When I use the word "poetics," I'm not talking about prosody and boring, mechanical analysis. I'm talking about the aesthetic and spiritual aspects of poem-making.

For me, the art of poetry is a fascinating thing.

What is going on behind the scene, so to speak, to bring a wonderful poem to presence? What are the latent, formal energies in language and consciousness that, on rare occasions, emerge as the compressed lines of a resonant poem? How is it that aesthetic and spiritual space is opened by the interplay of cadence and image? Where did this poem come from, and why is it special?

A poet not interested in poetics is like a duck that is not like a duck.

I like some things that Seamus Heaney wrote about poetics. He took poetry seriously enough to be interested in poetics. He contemplated the mysterious processes of poem-writing that lead from the subconscious to the disciplined and resonant utterance:

Technique, as I would define it, involves not only a poet's way with words, his management of metre, rhythm and verbal texture; it involves also a definition of his stance towards life, a definition of his own reality. It involves the discovery of ways to go out of his normal cognitive bounds and raid the inarticulate: a dynamic alertness that mediates between the origins of feeling in memory and experience and the formal ploys that express these in a work of art.
Technique entails the watermarking of your essential patterns of perception, voice and thought into the touch and texture of your lines; it is that whole creative effort of the mind's and body's resources to bring the meaning of experience within the jurisdiction of form.
                                                   -- from Heaney's essay "Feeling into Words"

Technique as the reconnaissance, recovery, and formal handling of a personal Weltanschauung. And might I even suggest: the expression, indirectly, of a self-mythologizing ethos? After all, isn't it a kind of godly endeavor to move into and inhabit regions of the aesthetic, to become a living heresy against the mundane?

Further, I continue to be self-persuaded that imagination plays a significant role in the process of a masterly poetics. How imagination works with, bonds with memory and perception to form an arcing trace onto the written page. I suspect not enough has been thought about and said about imagination. Certainly not enough of it goes into the poem-making of very many poets.

But it really won't do, I guess, to approach poetics from a prescriptivist angle: as if pondering this stuff would or should lead to the writing of better poems. Rather, I just think it's worth probing the art of poetics for the sheer delight in confronting and talking about the phenomenon of language-as-art.

If a work of art is compelling, shouldn't it inspire the contemplation and exploration of the aesthetic resources from which it sprang? Not trivial or mechanical resources, but what resides in dimensions of being just this side of the inarticulate.

To me, thinking and writing about poetics is not only a form of art appreciation. It's also an intensely spiritual activity.

Blüten in der Nacht  (Blossoms in the Night-- Paul Klee, 1930

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"In Durance"

I am homesick after mine own kind
And ordinary people touch me not.
                                    And I am homesick
After mine own kind that know, and feel
And have some breath for beauty and the arts.
Aye, I am wistful for my kin of the spirit
And have none about me save in the shadows
When come they, surging of power, "DAEMON,"
"Quasi KALOUN." S. T. says Beauty is most that, a
         "calling to the soul."
Well then, so call they, the swirlers out of the mist of my soul,
They that come mewards, bearing old magic.
But for all that, I am homesick after mine own kind
And would meet kindred even as I am,
Flesh-shrouded bearing the secret.

        ~ Ezra Pound

[Note: "S. T." is Samuel Taylor Coleridge.] 

I'm thinking about Ezra Pound this morning

I suspect he was the poetic equivalent to Mozart in music -- an aesthetic savant, a natural genius. I suspect that, like Mozart, Pound rarely revised. The words most likely flowed with perfect pitch and effortless cadence. Nothing superfluous or clumsy in the execution of his intent. Whether or not his poems mean anything thematically significant to a given person, I think the fact remains: Pound produced exemplary lines, moving with aesthetic assurance and containing metaphors as brilliant and spiraling as the notes of a magic flute.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

oh my god...

I'm 60, and I've just discovered the Russian lyric poet Sergei Yesenin (Esenin). Why am I such an ignoramus?

This is a poem the title of which I don't know, and it reaches me:

Beloved country! The heart dreams
The heaps of the sun in the lap of the water
I would like to lose
In your green space of a hundred bells
In the wake, the bulge of the earth,
There reseda and there is the role of clover.
It resonates with the rosary
The willows - myths monachine.
The marsh smoke clouds
Smell of burning in the balance of the sky.
With a quiet mystery to someone
I hid in my heart thoughts.
I welcome all, I accept all,
Content and happy to donate blood.
I came on this earth,
To leave as soon as possible. (1914)

This is the kind of poem that makes me want to write a poem about this poem. I'll try my best to restrain myself.

And here's an essay at THE INK BRAIN.

As I read this poem...

...I'm thinking of my mother and father.

I found this poem on an Italian website that is apparently a kind of Russian/Italian thing. The poem was written by an exiled Russian princess -- Elena Wolkonsky -- who lived in Rome.


Poor body, covered with wounds,
If scalpel or time
It does not matter ...
Poor soul, in which we
So much suffering,
Not knowing why.
Abyss of pain
And Spirit immense
That penetrates us
And we won and we are born
And yet we are born and reborn
Sublimating any time
In a sigh.
With a smile or a frown on his face
We dream, unaware, another life ...

Elena Wolkonsky, 2003, dedicated to Natasha Stepanova

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


might be where the body and the mind come together -- the physical and mental/emotional nexus where both argue against the other's formal and legal existence. That's as good a place as any for them to meet up, since their meeting up at all is a philosophically intransigent problem (see David Chalmers).

Think about it.

Out here, we get all involved in the out here: politics, flying saucers, spaghetti. As if that's the only place where anything happens. But consider the weird chambers and textures of things inside: enzymes, tissues, marrow, and junk. Even farther afoot -- freaking molecules doing strident things. We have no idea about the existential standing and compulsions of the stuff inside our own skin. Surely though, it's a dark and macabre territory.

Now consider the unconscious! Whatever it is, when it meets up with slumbering aspects of body in that  tavern called "dream," all hell is going to break loose. Hence, brooding nightmares, depressing atmospheres, miserable ecstasies, forlorn exigencies. And surreal paintings by those dire psychonauts in the early 20th century.

Dreams are just too bizarre to think about.

But they do suggest to me a renewed appreciation for the primacy and potency of the unconscious. Just as our body parts are a swirling, squishing mass of improbable beingness, the unconscious must be even more centripetal, deranged, and impossible.

It's a miracle we aren't always exploding into shrieking confetti.

"Belief is a matter of choice."

Someone said that. I will give that person the benefit of a doubt. I will suspect it was said in a moment of off-handed, lax thinking. A thing mumbled out with little attention to what was being uttered.

A belief can't be chosen, selected. A belief only happens. It's something that emerges from the Hippocratic humors of the body and as dismal effusions from the unconscious. Perception and temperament are intertwined. You believe something because you believe it. It might be occasionally influenced by logic, evidence, and persuasion, but it's not a thing subject to conscious decision.

Ha! As if someone could flop out of bed onto the floor one morning and declare: "Yesterday I believed that. But today I choose to believe this instead."

To Build a Fire

Jack London's story of desperate struggle with nature is instructive -- fire as a necessary element and condition of being.

So, you're thinking about writing a poem and making it public? You will need to gather combustible materials and have nimble enough fingers to strike the living flame. Just because you're fired up yourself doesn't mean the poem will be an illuminated text.

A poem is -- should always be considered -- an attempt at producing a work of fine art. A something that burns with the flame of aesthetic significance. Say you want to compose a sonata or paint a vision. Deep absorption in the historical heat of those expressive disciplines should come first. A personal expression should appear in public only after the kindling of talent has cured to a proper stage of ignition (note to self). Rhythm, form, tonality, balance -- those elements also go into the complex and chemical making of a poem. As well as the mercurial power of suggestion over obvious statement. Those are all artistic elements.

If someone manages to create an aesthetically (spiritually) significant poem, that should be an occasion for global astonishment and international breaking news. Profounder than a scientific discovery, a true poem mysteriously burns through layers of perceptual occlusion, opens up a prospect onto farther moments of being, intenser reality.

Joseph Brodsky's Venetian Stanzas. Here, the glow of written art comes to us from the crucible of heightened sensibility. The chemics of experience and imagination react in these stanzas, heating up images into metaphors of time and moods of substance. The trivial is not spoken here. World momentarily un-dreams itself from the sleep of matter and heavy duration. It begins to spark and glimmer through the phosphorescent poem:

                           And in pawnbrokers windows
               jewelry catches fire.

               The window's sentient gauze gets fluttered by both exhaling
               and inhaling. A pale, silky foam lashes stiff armchairs and
               the mirror -- an exit for objects, ailing
               locally from their brown dead end.

                                                   -- from Venetian Stanzas II
London's protagonist perished in the Klondike. He was unable to build that primal fire. Perhaps he should not have put himself in such a perilous circumstance in the first place.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

open letter to Sofiya

Dear Sofiya,

I've been thinking a great deal about poetry for quite a long time. Mostly I'm perplexed by what I read here and there. I don't know why those poems are being written. I don't want anyone to tell me about their life or about life in general. Life is already there, in front of everyone.

What I like about your poems is how the lines are like spoken spells. They constitute an act of indirect conjuring. In the openness of your lyrics, the more-than-life peeps through. The mystic unsayable that Wittgenstein alluded to or pointed toward is given space to breathe.

I would like to think that a few of my own efforts also allow something of the metaphysical (for lack of a better word) to shyly appear between the lines.

Whatever it is that is beyond the quotidian and the pathetic of experience lives in the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer and a very few others. It has a quality akin to waking dream and to the suggestions of ambivalent music. It creates haunting atmospheres of reading. It chants (like Brodsky) with images subtly conveying the spirits of things behind phenomenal and ordinary appearance. As if the soul of time and the ghost of space commingle just beneath the script. Metaphor as real magic -- a transforming into presence.

I don't want to read poems that rehash experience, that are hung up on mere situation or nostalgia. I prefer poems composed with aesthetic elements reaching into the uncanny and tremulous moods of being.

All my best,

Czech Literature Portal

Vengerov and Sibelius

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I can't afford it, but...

...maybe you can.

I somehow found myself on the webpage of the Berlin Philharmonic. Then I found myself on their "Digital Concert Archive" page. It said to register for free and then some of the videos would be available free. I did so.

Turns out, the free ones are only interviews related to the main concert videos. Of course, you do get a free concert preview -- three minutes of brief excepts from the main concert videos. Looks like you can pay for various degrees of access to the main concert videos. Full access for one year is $185, which also includes some live concerts.

The videos are in superb filmic and sonic quality. It's the Berlin Philharmonic, for crying out loud!

Here's the main page link:

Berlin Philharmonic

Here's the link to the "Concert Hall" --

Concert Hall

Here's the link to the "Digital Concert Archive" --

Concert Archive

Brodsky -- language as encounter

from Lev Loseff's Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life 

Poetry was not something to be "gotten," mastered, and regurgitated in paraphrase. It was not something notched on the belt of attainments. It was, rather, a struggle waged in fear and trembling, an encounter with the very stuff of language that might put our core assumptions about existence into question.  

                                                                               – Sven Birkerts, a Brodsky student 

Brodsky in Venice