Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"The Ghosts"

The poem below by Romanian poet George Bacovia (1881 - 1957) makes me feel odd, in a very cool way. It's not exactly the narrative. Not even the eerie pathos. I think it must be the unusual fading image near daybreak, of those lanterns "in chaos lost." Something about it reminds me of old Japanese ghost tales.

The Ghosts

With red lanterns, yellow, green
The ghosts pass at night over fields of grain
And the dogs bark on in the night at the fields -
The ghosts have entered the loft of an inn,
And the loft is seen to be queerly lit
By red lanterns, yellow, green.

The ghosts have returned to the loft to retrieve
Pledges left long ago in their lives ...
So goes a story that now I've forgotten
That at night, in the inn, there appear silhouettes
With red lanterns, yellow, green.

But when the cock crows toward daybreak, a pack
Of ghosts tumbles suddenly out of the loft,
And across the fields, and in chaos is lost
Red, yellow and green.


Cu rosii fanare, galbene, verzi
Trec noaptea strigoii prin lanuri de grau
Si cainii spre lanuri in noapte tot bat
Stigoii la crasma in pod au intrat,
Si podul se vede bizar luminat
De rosii fanare, galbene, verzi.

Strigoii, din pod, isi iau inapoi,
Lasate din viata, demult, amanete ...
Asa spune basmul ce azi l-am uitat
Ca noaptea, la crasma apar siluete
Cu rosii fanare, galbene, verzi.

Dar cand despre ziua cocosu-a cantat,
Cad buzna din pod gramezi de strigoi
Si-n hau, peste lanuri, strigoii se pierd
Rosii, galbeni si verzi.

Monday, April 29, 2013

on Symbolist poetry

Morning, 1897 -- Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910) 

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted this:
I can't exactly put my finger on it, but there's something about Symbolist poetry. I don't think it actually withered or was supplanted by any worthier aesthetic. I think it's still breathing in a timeless region. I suspect, instead, that sensibility has corroded, reception become coarse. 

I'm going to spend the rest of this rainy day thinking about Symbolist poetry. I might even listen to Sandrine Piau sing Debussy songs based on Mallarmé and Verlaine. Yep. It's something to do.

Someone asked that I suggest an example of a Symbolist poem. So I replied with this:
Here's one by Paul Verlaine, which I think exemplifies several criteria -- a bit of decadence, a dash of melancholy, a sprinkling of mysticism, a pinch of idealism, a dollop of lyricism: 

Your soul is like a landscape fantasy,
Where masks and Bergamasks, in charming wise,
Strum lutes and dance, just a bit sad to be
Hidden beneath their fanciful disguise.

Singing in minor mode of life's largesse
And all-victorious love, they yet seem quite
Reluctant to believe their happiness,
And their song mingles with the pale moonlight,

The calm, pale moonlight, whose sad beauty, beaming,
Sets the birds softly dreaming in the trees,
And makes the marbled fountains, gushing, streaming--
Slender jet-fountains--sob their ecstasies.

Today, I'm still thinking about this stuff.

I think some poems by Boris Pasternak are written with an understated, implicit connection to the Symbolists:

     Like a brazier's bronze cinders

     Like a brazier's bronze cinders,
     the sleepy garden's beetle's flowing.
     Level with me, and my candle,
     a flowering world is hanging.

    As if into unprecedented faith,
    I cross into this night,
    where the poplar's beaten grey
    veils the moon's rim from sight.

    Where the pond's an open secret,
    where apple-trees whisper of waves,
    where the garden hanging on piles,
    holds the sky before its face.

In this poem, phenomena take on a kind of silent speech or a form of spiritual semiotics. There's more happening than meets the eye.

Maybe there are aspects of the Symbolist aesthetic that are less obvious in some poetry still being written. Maybe it's more about a certain attitude than fulfilling a list of surface criteria. Maybe I don't know what I'm talking about or trying to get at. All I know is that so much of today's poetry seems dully infatuated with realism or the quotidian or with poet-as-knowing seer instead of poet-as-metaphysical sleuth.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cultural criticism...

...is tolerable when it's abstract, philosophical, holistic, literary. George Steiner and those French dudes from the 1960s. Stuff like that. 

Whereas too much specificity can make a reader squeamish. Especially when cultural criticism becomes a platform for glamorizing aspects of American hipster culture, which is insipid and banal. Especially hard to take is when ostensibly sober analysis and commentary is actually a Narcissus mirror. Oftener than not, that mirror leaks out a scolding, prescriptive reflection against others. 

But insinuating oneself as a template for behavior arches one eyebrow of the hermit named Xavier.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin

I've got a hankering to get and read this book:


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Poems that are inelegant...

...are a mutant, scaly, bug-eyed species.

Jacqueline Corcoran and the art of transformation

Here's the link to a Jacqueline Corcoran poem:

"This Leaning Sunflower"

She doesn't use language to leap on your back and stab you with rusty serrated statements or pour a bucket of hopeless gooey tar on your head. Instead, Corcoran uses language to transform experience and phenomena into the open spaces of memory and tomorrow. Both of those spaces are mysterious ones. I like poems that create an aura of recall and expectation, not of airless commentary. Poems that are tremulous and waiting, not obnoxious with knowing.

Image is sufficient to ground a fact of being. We don't need to be told facts of being. Speechy poems are dreadful things. I'm glad Corcoran writes with the subtlety of suggestion, with understatement. Her poems don't give me headaches.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I. must. buy. this. book.

Thanks to author Kris Saknussemm for recommending it.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Composure of Ruins -- my newest e-book of poems

ALERT -- free reading!


An 18" x 24" oil painting I did quite a few years ago. If you look hard, there's a little stressed fellow chained to the white king.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

thoughts with coffee at 4:30 AM

Life is a monstrous uprising within the sleeping mineral realm. And everyone is psychotic, more or less. Wine and dance are necessary but not sufficient palliatives. Boredom and opium lead us back to the dreams of drowsing matter. Death is the great normality, therefore a great horror to the psychosis of sentience bonded to time. 

Have a pleasant day!

Monday, April 15, 2013

a syllogistic epiphany

Blackbirds duckwalk. Other birds bunnyhop. All birds fly (except the weird ones that don't). But ducks don't hop, and bunnies don't fly. Therefore, ducks sometimes wear disguises, and bunnies were never dinosaurs.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

a "new" room

After my daughter moved out, her bedroom became a catch-all for this and that, junk and whatnot. Recently, I decided to do something about that. I kept on display some of her stuff that she hasn't taken yet and then worked in some of my stuff. Now the room is a kind of guest bed, stereo listening, and library. It's very restful, when the lights are dimmed. I like being in there.

I had built the DVD shelves for her a few years ago.

Oops, I forgot to smooth out the wrinkles in the bed comforter before taking photo!

A unit to hold my 250 classical music CDs, which I painted light blue just because.

Another bookcase, in a different room.

new growth

The large sycamore in my back yard is blooming:

A few weeks ago, I pruned back the yellow climbing rose bush and the red hybrid tea rose bush. I gave them some early Miracle Gro for Roses to drink. They are both getting ready to bloom:

yellow climbing

red hybrid tea

Two weeks ago, I transplanted my beautiful white grandiflora rose bush. I wanted it in my front yard flower bed. I think it's going to live -- two buds are now on the stalk. That will be cool for me. My mother's St. Francis garden figurine is watching over the rose bush. I need to weed out some spring clovery-type weeds in the bed and then add some top soil, peat moss, and bark mulch. Both of my front beds need some refurbishing. Then, I'll plant some moss rose and some purple petunias. In the narrow bed where the fairy figurine is watching over the red hybrid tea rose, I'll plant some "Black Beauty" Hollyhock seeds next month.

transplanted white grandiflora

Maybe in the fall, I'll remember to order some tulip bulbs and then plant them. I've forgotten to do so every fall for 20 years.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 2

The first movement of this sonata -- Allegro ma non troppo -- is very special. At least for me it is.

As I listen, I hear wonderful echoes of Schumann's gnomic Kreisleriana. These mini-episodes alter with others of a more Russian seemingness -- as if starlight is dancing its way through birch branches in winter.

Mikhail Pletnev's playing is so natural, so attuned to the spirit of this music.


hypochondria as a deep clue

I read that Kafka suffered from hypochondria. That gave rise to some pondering by me, and maybe some thinking.

Kafka was a profound being -- metaphysically sensitive, intellectually unusual. It's worth paying heed to his hypochondria.

Science and philosophy now say that all is reducible to the physical. Free will is an illusion, and consciousness a fume of brain matter or merely epiphenomenal (not actually there in any kind of instrumental or substantial sense).

But then why the hell are we at odds with our body, a thing brought out exceptionally well with hypochondria? You'd think we'd be all "A headache. Whatever. It's just the physical being physical." Instead of leaping into psychological panic mode: "A headache. Must be a lethal brain tumor coming on, which brings dire aspects of mortality into despairing focus."

Despairing focus. There shouldn't be such a thing, if all is physical. And I just don't buy the epiphenomenal thing. That strikes me as cheap, zany, lazy-logical thinking on the part of those big-time philosophers.

So in my world, that leaves an opening for some form of dualism. Hypochondria makes me think dualism. Something in us is implacably alienated from the body. As if two irreconcilable substances got bottled up in the same bottle. The body is a wild, dark, terrifyingly strange place. The mind is also bizarre but not so viscerally ferocious and gooshingly algorithmic.

Hypochondria is a metaphor or expression of the embodied-soul nightmare. This is a clue. Maybe to the possibility of art -- its making and its appreciation.

Anyway, I think there must be something very wrong with people who are not hypochondriacal.

a poem by Hermann Hesse

Lying in the Grass

Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees' song,
Is this everything only a god's
Groaning dream,
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird's cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
With consolation.
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.

Translated by James Wright

A person can read this poem and say, "Well...that was nice. Next."

Or one can read it as a thing perturbed by the ghost of Schopenhauer, disturbed by the Weltschmerz of German Romanticism.  

Some phrases leap off the page:
the quick delusions of flowers
cradles you in an evening radiance
this one sweet hour in the summer
the fragrance of the red clover

One can read this poem as a thing containing aesthetic energy. As a lyrical bringing to light a moment of waking dream -- a duration of shadowed pause in angsty time.

Coetzee on Benjamin

I printed out the New York Review of Books article years ago. Now it's only accessible in full by paying money. I found the complete article at this blogspot:

"The Marvels of Walter Benjamin"

The Holocaust Chronicle


I obtained this large, important book ten years ago. It's physically heavy and thematically weighty. The horror evoked by the text and photographs makes one tremble at the actual horror experienced during those years.

The entire book is online here:


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


...so contemporary poetry should be infused and reinvigorated with bile, spleen, satire, realism?

"The bitter fool"

I'm not so sure about that.

For me, the basic criterion is other than adopting a social, political or psychological attitude. Other than a necessarily sober presentation of phenomena and event (realism, I guess). In fact, the idea of a general shared attitude for poem making seems odd to me. Whatever those classic guys wrote about in Rome way back then was a reflection of their world. And even they strike me as squeezed down into a conventional form of soul -- too wrapped up in boring people, boring ideas, boring shit.

There happen to be a few good poets alive today, though I doubt the article writer would have much use for them. He's too caught up in poetry-as-commentary.

There happen to be a few good poets who write things of startlement. It's about language as a way of distilling the truly surreal or beautiful or unnerving from time and time's dream. The deepest stuff of life finds a way, through the rare poet, to make language a strange dance of being.

The remarkable and laudable poem is not the one that spits, grimaces, deflates, confronts; rather it is the one, in effect, that is a questioning of being.

Satire? How trite.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

a very early poem

Two years ago, I went to Blue Springs, Missouri for my mother's funeral. While there, I rummaged through the old, large cedar chest, filled with mementos. All kinds of old family stuff. I brought several boxes of that stuff back home with me to Arkansas. Only recently have I felt like going through it. This morning, I found a poem I had written, probably from when I was in the seventh or eighth grade.

The Sky

The sky is a strange thing
     When observed from below.
It seems so tranquil in the daytime
     Its largeness makes it bold.
And I cannot describe
     What the sky means to me;
Its downy clouds and blueish shades
     All seem to be
A picture or a scene for us
     To look upon amazed,
And ease us from all toil and fuss
     Throughout our own cloudy days.

O sky, so high and so vast;
     Tell me of thy ageless past.
Only you know what has been before this time,
     And only you will remain,
Till the last church bells chime.
     I endeavor only to ask you
One favor and that's all;
     That you will cause your warm breezes and blue skies
To shine on my grave,
     When I shall die!

Reading that denouement, I had to smile. The poem is a pleasant rhyming meditation on the sky. But then (cue the Fate motif from Beethoven's 5th), a poem must conclude with...the GRAVE!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Holly Holy"

Ralph hung himself in 1969. I was a junior in high school, and he a senior. I barely knew him. Can't remember if I ever had a conversation with him. He lived on the "aristocratic" side of town. People with old money. The clique he ran with was the kind of guys who partied suavely and were members of the country club. They considered themselves innately cool. That general attitude -- conceited, smirky -- struck me as alien and dreadful. They were the kind of guys who would make fun of poor people. They were bored bullies. Maybe Ralph wasn't that bad but just ended up running with those of his station in life. Who knows?

Rumor was that Ralph hung himself and died as a result of auto-erotic asphyxiation. So maybe an accident. The principal let anyone out of school who wished to attend Ralph's funeral service. I barely knew him, but I went. Any excuse to flee the soul-crushingness of that scholastic prison for an afternoon. The service was at the large, surreal First Baptist Church. I sat in the balcony. That church had, for me, an oppressive Gothic vibe. It contained unknown rooms beyond rooms beyond rooms. A muted pathological labyrinth. And the light was "funny" there. The whole place creeped me out, with its architectural too-muchness and its metaphysical wrongness.

After the funeral service, I drove home while listening to the car radio. Neil Diamond's song came on. I liked this song, though I could never make heads or tails of the lyrics. But ever since that day, the song has been associated in my imagination with how weird I felt at Ralph's funeral service, in that freaking large church. The song does have a quasi-religious feel to it, and the melody seems to have some black-spiritual inflections here and there.

It's actually a damn good song. I think it's a paean to a female whose presence in his head gave him a transcendent sense of life. That life, because of her, contained a quality of the magical-sublime. And because she existed he was inspired to crawl toward the light of experience. And then fly.  

Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun’s gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can’t walk upright
And that lame man, he’s gonna fly
And I fly 
And I fly