Saturday, November 30, 2013

some poems are haunted

Everyone has their own head. Everyone justifiably claims as interesting and preferential what they find inside their heads. Imagine a head that found only stuff inside it that was uninteresting and objectionable to itself! That would be a tragically silly condition. 

I find inside my own head an interest in and preference for poems that, no matter the darkness or bleakness of theme, say themselves with an instinctive nod to beauty. Those dismal-themed yet aesthetically written poems create a complex irony and a spiritual depth. Compressed language can, in certain hands, reach a critical mass of dynamic symbols. Aesthetic energy is released into the reader's head when a poem says what it thinks and feels in terms of something else. 

Why is the transmutation of experience into symbolic substance an aesthetic phenomenon? I'm not sure, or I completely don't know.

But I'll suggest that heightened language -- subtly, even paradoxically beautiful -- is a mode of being sensitive to and then expressing a primal quality of qualities: it's better to be than otherwise. 

Sometimes, I think that language, left to swirl around itself in silent spaces of relation, definition, time, and cadence as such, occasionally dreams ghostly qualities toward and into the poet's trance. 

Some poems are haunted.

August, Departing
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


When I Can No Longer Breathe
by Steve Klepetar

When I can no longer breathe the heavy
summer air, and storm clouds surge
through my blood late afternoons, I dream
of letting go, turning inward with an ancient
gesture, a movement the Sumerians might
have frozen in their icons of cryptic stone.

When nothing trembles across fields, green
settles, that terrible weight of grass, leaves
and gold-speckled shade.  Every color hurts.
Marigolds cut and sting, shrieking jays slash
black branches or nail themselves to blue wash
of sky.  My senses burn with mosquito’s drone.

When words, no matter how kind, batter
my ears and I am drowning in the presence
of too many other lives, I set my own table
with foods I love best, rich red wine, corn
and beans planted by my own hand.  There
in the music of my silence, I always eat my fill.

Copyright © Steve Klepetar  


Friday, November 29, 2013

Very few things...


The steam leaks out and cools. Regard diffuses into particles of once-upon-a-time. It's the way of most things, as natural as wind and water and the modulation of seasons.

But some things are always.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I'm circling around...

...and closing in on an odd way of seeing things. It's taken a while.

And it takes issue with those who find an unstoppable magnificence in the plethora (= too much) of human perspectives. Variety is okay up to a point. But for me, glorification of seven billion solipsisms creates a mass of metaphysical diffuseness, a slow-spreading and implicit abstract horror.

What's the alternative? What am I even talking about? I don't know.

But maybe Schopenhauer was onto something. A blind implacable force of whatever is moving everyone around like fast jive turkeys just for crazy-sake. Seven billion solipsisms jumping around as if jumping around is all there is to say and be about the matter.

Maybe that's why I like some rare poems. Beneath the words, there seems to be a something else: "Just a damn minute. Slow this train down. What and why is going the freak on?"

And in lieu of an answer, the poem (or painting or music) can at least create the inertia of a long and shared aesthetic pause in the traffic of too much unblinking human being.

The poet, the painter, the composer can sit Time down in a rocking chair, scold it for being crazy, and then turn it into a form of sustained metaphysical beauty.

But maybe this blathering of mine is an afterglow of early religious upbringing. I suppose I'm still infected with the sense there must be a Meaning. Not just seven billion little mental-emotional scamperings. If there's no great meaning, the least one can do, I suggest, is gaze around bemused at how so many are immunized against the Strange, how so few are instinctively non-choreographable into The Blithe Dance of Billions.

Yves Tanguy allowed the weird and slowed time down. 

Day of Inertia
Yves Tanguy, 1937 

Lauren Benjamin thinking Bruno Shulz

Lauren A. Benjamin is not abstract, wayward, or stuffy. She ponders Schulz boldly and sympathetically. Ms. Benjamin appears to know just what it is that is going on in the shadows, silences, and uproariously melancholic situations of Schulz's marvelous book The Street of Crocodiles.

"The Likeness of a Tailor’s Dummy: Bruno Schulz’s Recreation of the Human in Sklepy Cynamonowe"

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lazar Berman & Liszt

I consider this to be a desert island recording, even though I only extremely like and not intensely adore the Liszt sonata.

Berman (1930 - 2005) was a Russian. Emil Gilels said he was a finer pianist than himself and even Sviatoslav Richter. Later critical opinion was more circumspect.  

All I know is that this performance is in a class by itself. Others will get jumpy-in-my-face and exclaim, "You're crazy! So and so's version is much better." I don't want to hear it. I stated my opinion, and I ain't budging one inch. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

the Sebald Effect

The books of W.G. Sebald can be read over and over and not lose their power to enchant the reader. How is that possible? How do his understated, sustained spells of melancholy call to the reader again and again? I wonder what principle is at work here, what eccentric dynamics are active to energize and re-energize these works.

I almost catch myself hypothesizing that Sebald -- via instinct or insight -- was attuned to the world's deep exhaustion from implausible manifesting, to its difficult dreamlike moods within form, substance, and lingering.

a little something about Scriabin

1872 - 1915

Many folks look askance at the fellow, and some are perplexed by his music. Many consider his compositions to be emotionally plethoric, structurally diffuse, thematically unhinged. Reading his biography by Faubion Bowers (Dover Publications), one is tempted to apply those descriptors to his personality as well. Musically and personally, he was assuredly a weird appearance on planet Earth. 

His childhood was spent among women only, who fussed over him and spoiled him thoroughly. All children, up to a certain age of socialization (an integrating of others' existences), are intensely grounded in ego, in complete self-being. I don't think Scriabin ever managed to fully extricate himself from himself -- he remained a child of sorts all his life. Thus, the world was always an aspect or analog of himself. His ego-infatuation eventually turned into megalomania -- a case in point is his Mysterium.

Many baby-boomers have something in common with Scriabin. Parents tended, in general, to lavish attention and material gestures on us. Hence, the emergence of some neurotic hippies. Many of us became crystallized into shapes of self-being. Socialization was iffy, erratic, ostensible, problematic. Estrangement from others causes an aversion to their consensus, goes-without-saying reality. 

For those who couldn't pull off a convergence with the public world and its "sane" forms of being, despair became an option. Or else we drifted into precincts of otherness as such (the world of infinite imagination).

It's about opening up frontiers of fantasy. Even if the impulse is colored, tainted by a certain decadence of self-absorption. However it gets made, the making of aesthetic objects is an alternative to traditional forms of being, to what convention deposits into the space of collective living. 

I dare say that many of us peculiar baby-boomers who are instinctively oriented to the arts, who have a creative impulse should look upon Scriabin as an example of metaphysical possibility (a kind of exotic, ghostly mentor for painting and poetry). 

I respond not only agreeably but also spiritually to Scriabin's music -- how it tilts toward and expresses another way of being than the conventional.  Scriabin opened up unheard-of aesthetic geography. Those "superfluous" worlds he created in sound have, I think, something in common with that dreaming abyss beneath time and substance. Listening to Scriabin's music has the effect of making the word "reality" (nature and norms) a quite dubious thing.

imagination and the city

He liked cities that had water running through them and elevated pavements, cities that made variety of perspective possible. If an ideal city existed for him, it was Venice, the city of Marco Polo. For this reason, Calvino made the great Venetian traveller the narrator of Invisible Cities (1972), that collection of crystalline prose poems depicting imaginary cities shaped by memory and desire, all of them variations on Venice. 

-- from an article on Italo Calvino in TLS

Monday, November 25, 2013

Roberto Gerhard's Violin Concerto

I'm one of the obscure beings who like Gerhard's unusual Modernist music. Somewhat dissonant and atonal, this concerto moves with an undercurrent of beauty. During the first movement, unison strings will occasionally swell from behind and toward the soloist's musings -- the effect sonically is like a shimmering organ note; the effect spiritually is like an ineffable semantics of desire, wonder, and death. 

Gerhard's music orients me toward a somewhere not on any physical map. I also like his sinfonias. 

a Steve Klepetar poem

Steve Klepetar's Home Page

Ha! -- philosophical G-Men

From Prospect Magazine:

"The FBI files on being and nothingness"

Late November

Turned off cold and the wind chime jitters.
Blackbird hysterics in the high flown air.
My hair has stopped growing, how very odd.
But it's about time, or a mystical illness.
Nothing really to write home about, the old 
address has gone off somewhere anyway. 
My cat has been roughly questioning mice,
seeking old knowledge of secrets and voids.
He lets them go afterward, visibly shaken.
My dreams at night are leaking some myth
of magical water and the futility of mops.
They must be trying to spread a true thing
about the paradox of nothing's disappearance.

Turned off cold and the years are now vagrants.
Too many suicides occurring since Shakespeare
invented self-awareness, made now too forever.
We need more carnivals and Tom Waits songs.
He touched that joke shy in dark burrowing --
it jumps out rabbit wild and laughs a moment.
Love is strange weighs fogs' frightful tons,
but winter comes soon antidote to gravity.
My heavy ghost will float over great ruins,
over graves, over ocean's horizon of beauty.
Turned off cold why not go outside now?
Walk in leaves of a tongue-tied sycamore.
Late November and I smile into bathos. 

~ TB, 2013

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Benjamin on Proust

From Walter Benjamin's essay "The Image of Proust":

In the last century there was an inn by the name of "Au Temps Perdu" at Grenoble; I do not know whether it still exists. In Proust, too, we are guests who enter through a door underneath a suspended sign that sways in the breeze, a door behind which eternity and rapture await us.
The eternity which Proust opens to view is convoluted time, not boundless time. His true interest is in the passage of time in its most real -- that is, space-bound -- form, and this passage nowhere holds sway more openly than in remembrance within and aging without. To observe the interaction of aging and remembering means to penetrate to the heart of Proust's world, to the universe of convolution.
A la Recherche du temps perdu is the constant attempt to charge an entire lifetime with the utmost awareness. Proust's method is actualization, not reflection. He is filled with the insight that none of us has time to live the true dramas of the life that we are destined for. This is what ages us -- this and nothing else.  

Man with Cuboid

If I'd been asked to provide a title for this engraving:
Form, Consciousness, and the Tangled Paradox

M.C. Escher
1958. Wood engraving. 64x64 cm

A musician!

Read all about it -- The Telegraph.

Maria João Pires is one of my favorite pianists.

The kind of poems...

...I find myself having written seem to be comprised of two basic elements:
imagination as a form of being and of wonder; 
aesthetics as a form of time and of melancholy.

Occasionally, I happen on certain poems by others that seem to incorporate one of both of the above elements. I find myself liking those poems, especially when the poet projects himself out of himself, especially when an obvious attention to craft is manifest.

Like the poem "Baltic" by Wrexie Bardaglio that I posted here yesterday. It was made and made well with being and wonder, time and melancholy.

So my preference appears to be based on a kind of spiritual kinship, as well as an appreciation for those trying to create written art -- the compulsion toward making an aesthetic object.

So my aversion to other kinds of poems appears to be based on those poems' different criteria of inspiration and way of being made.

Others will like poems I don't like. Others will not like the poems I like or the poems I make -- will view them as peculiar, old-fashioned objects, as heresies against the contemporary models of confession, diary, sermon, speech.

I don't know why I'm writing this post. I suppose for two reasons: 1) a half-assed apology for my previous arrogant statements about what is and what is not a real poem; 2) an attempt to assess my own poems as things with a possible consistent aura and meaning.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

desperate measures

I'm labeling, indexing this post as: "dreams, life, science."

"Science" -- Ha. 

I have a hypothesis about dreams. 

The phenomena that occur in dreams are less striking to me than the tenor of dreams. I can only speak from my sleeping experience about a general dream atmosphere; maybe others would have different experiences of "climate" (variable instead of consistent?) and have alternate opinions about the nature of dreams. 

Does the more-or-less uniform background aura of dreams that I encounter -- pensive, tragic, hyper-existential -- also contain a tentative, experimental feel to the ambiance? And signify anything that can be talked about coherently, conceptually?

Darwin basically gave us this: creatures trying not to die and in the process becoming different things. Sort of a Great Escape. Living and dying are quite serious concerns for an organism. But humans have gotten so abstracted into realms of social mediation and cultural metabolism that the instinctive "mind" gets shoved aside or turned down to a barely audible volume. The biological-subconscious frenzy of being doesn't get fretted over very much by us while awake. It's left to operate on autopilot, so to speak. But when we get very sick or when someone dies, we are then briefly shocked into confrontation with Darwin's creature mantra -- "Live, live!" 

If Darwin and the neo-evolutionists -- including evolutionary psychologists -- are right, then all forms of behavior are adaptive techniques. So what kind of adaptation is involved with dreaming? Merely a sideshow for the mind while the brain reboots itself at night? Or something stranger and cooler?

I prefer the strange and the cool.

The consistent aura of my dreams suggests to me that the soul (that impossible nexus of biology and spirit) is taking desperate measures. It's making nightly attempts to save memory per se -- a whole life -- not just memories in particular. And is trying to circumvent time and space by projecting the self's being into other, possible worlds. A futile nightly act of bio-meta-mythic survival. 

The phenomena of dreams -- events, interactions, predicaments -- are the residue of memory per se refined into new substance. And from this dark material is extruded quasi-experience as a something palpable enough to be projected toward a tentative, potential-eternal situation.


Deep interior self is alerted to, reminded of eventual death as it succumbs each night to the metaphorical little death of sleep, as consciousness involuntarily goes away. That triggers the mania to construct an after-world. But the spherical architecture of the dream won't permanently cohere. The bubble eventually bursts into a lingering mist only of frustration or sadness.

And nightmares? The specter of extinction, despite great substance and process to the contrary, is eating its way through the tissue of our survival-sphere. We wake, and a perspiration of horror is residual on our spirit. 

Our biological-subconscious soul has made a desperate and exotic effort on our behalf, for a continuance after the day of our bell's tolling. That gesture is doomed to failure. But I think it's extraordinary to consider the vast resources of instinctive art and experimental elan -- those actualized holographies, those populated narratives -- our consciousness musters, brings to bear against mortality while we're sleeping.

Beneath the waking mind is another mind that broods and plots the coordinates of symbolic escape toward further and farther experience.

I Saw Three Cities
Kay Sage (1944)

Monday, November 18, 2013


A beautiful and remarkable poem by my friend Wrexie Bardaglio:


Night deep black outside, 
Stars blinding in the dome of heaven, 
South of Lake Ontario, and Canada, beyond. 
Wind moans around old cornices 
Comes blowing from the northeast, 
Brings a vision so mysterious, time and place a blur, 
Wind susurrating sibilance into feeling, then to words. 

From across the fearful maritime, 
Across the North Atlantic, 
Where steppes roll deep and frigid 
Into vast and nothingness 
The gypsy wraps her fringed shawl tight, 
Clasps a volume of her verses, 
Words on desiccating pages, 
She’s been writing all the evening 
In the small hut’s candlelight.
She hurries toward the fireplace glow
That flickers through the window 
From a cottage on the shore; 
Lonely on the "zinc-gray" Baltic 
Brodsky pours some vodka there,
And there they read together, 
The frozen world forgotten, 
In their rich and blending tones
Reading verses in a language 
I do not know but understand.

I’m organic in this fabric I created out of nowhere, 
Their stanzas transcending my prosaic here and now, 
And as quickly as it came to me, 
That slice of life from somewhere 
Long ago and just imagined 
Dissolves into the curling wind,
Fringed shawl no longer tangible, 
Dark eyes shuttered, voices quiet, and 
The battered covers closed. 

The firelight fades, the hearth grows cold,
And real although it was for some long and 
Vibrant moments, Brodsky’s dead, his gypsy vanished, 
With nothing left but timelessness,
Visitation inexplicable and fading.
Outside now the wind picks up, 
As I strain to hear faint tolling bells 
From an old church on some far and blown cold shore, 
And coming from the Maritimes, 
I pause, I sniff the air 

The memory smells of salt.

Copyright © 2013, Wrexie Bardaglio

Murray Perahia -- Schubert/Liszt

My friend Regina BOu...

...lives in Greece. She reads actual literature and listens to deep music. She writes strange stories and living poems. Regina compels me to form a hypothesis and then make a declaration:
I'm only able to read and appreciate stuff that flows from a background in or a context of actual literature and deep music.

Her consciousness comes to light, to a certain extent, in the environs of this blogspot:


The religious attitude... psychological circumscription. It's drawing around oneself a circle of exclusion -- a protective gesture to ward off the Unthinkable. 

Whereas, psychological nobility requires the attempt to think the Unthinkable (an attitude of wonder). The only tool of leverage for this attempt is poetry, not the inscribing compass of complacent dogma.

thinking for and being oneself

An intellectual runs the risk of disappearing into his fascination with exemplars of the cultural mosaic -- whether of art, music, literature, film, whatnot.

The quality manifestings of great sensibilities are implicit forms of questioning. One mustn't get so transfixed by and identified with the aesthetic interrogations of reality by others than one forgets to question the questioners, so to speak. One should make the effort to glimpse beyond the fine probings of others.

One should stand just a little outside of outstandingness. 

Quality manifestings of great sensibilities should become the foundation for a possibility of having a unique metaphysical thought, emotion, question.

Occasionally, you come upon an especially peculiar shape of non-questioning -- the intellectual hipster. 

He unwittingly or intentionally has folded himself into an edgy Beat role or style of being. As if life is only This Way of considering it -- an extravagance of phenomena, a spectacle of relations, a peyote immanence. In doing so, he not only blinds himself to unexplored worlds (the non-hipster visions of, say, Bruno Schulz), he also becomes a walking, talking amalgam of the already-thought. Such role playing of radical outlook is, to the outside observer, a wincing-yet-boring contradiction.

In the manner of

No, tell me something in the manner of yourself. I'd prefer, occasionally, to not read about your reality as strained through the mesh of others' impressions, others' questions. I'd prefer, occasionally, to read about your unique manifesting under the vast field of impossible stars and paradoxical fate.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

the gusli

my friend Olga...

...abides and flourishes in that wonderland known as Norway. She reminded me of a musical work of art that Stravinsky composed -- The Firebird.

Homophobia... not cool. It's a kind of violence perpetrated on the mystery of being. It is unethical.

We find ourselves inside a thing called Nature. Most of biological nature functions as a closed circuit of reproduction. So forms of tribal code centered around totemic, fetishistic reproduction sprang up as part of the human efflorescence. That led to present-day cultural and religious pathology toward, against homosexuals.

I suppose it's understandable, even if wrong.

It's wrong because something else sprang up with human beings. It led to stuff like Shakespeare. We humans are unfathomably different than other beings that operate according to deterministic, functional criteria and constraint. Something opened up in us, and it led to an infinite spectrum of consciousness, of being-possibility.

If some human beings fall in love with people of the same sex, that is an expression of our radical freedom from the closed-loop machinery of biology. To worship reproduction is to kow-tow to matter and mechanical process, is to hereticize living, infinite, spontaneous possibility.

No one has the least clue what reality is and what human beings are in essence. So to pass laws, policies, prohibitions against forms of love is not only a great and foolish presumption, it's also a demeaning of the human miracle and mystery.

before it changed

It began to change in 1967. Rock and Roll. That's when the hippies, poets, philosophers, and serious folk began to have their way with it.

Before then, Rock and Roll was raw, primitive, oozing a natural cool. I don't think it was trying to be a something through which a something else comes to light. It was just itself. All of a piece.

Percussion, bass, chords, riffs, and words happening spontaneously, off-the-cuff. A certain celebratory je na sais quoi, an extrusion of glandular and fidgety youthfulness into acoustical shape, tight spectacle.  

Before around 1967, Rock and Roll didn't take itself so damn seriously. It was about "Hey, this sounds good, and it makes folks bop around and snap their fingers!"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Benjamin's way of thinking poetically

Yesterday, I read again Hannah Arendt's introduction to the Walter Benjamin book Illuminations. I was especially struck by some things near the end:

To him, therefore, language was by no means primarily the gift of speech which distinguishes man from other living beings, but, on the contrary, "the world essence...from which speech arises." 
Thus there is "a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate secrets which all thought is concerned with." 
What else does this mean than that he understood language as an essentially poetic phenomenon? 
All of which says no more, though in a slightly more complex way, than what I mentioned before -- namely, that we are dealing here with something which may not be unique but is certainly extremely rare: the gift of thinking poetically.

Okay. This especially struck me not only for its putting Benjamin into deep perspective but also for its possible application to my thoughts about the art of poetry.

There are some -- rare -- poets out there in time and space whose poems are very strange and wonderful things. Those poems are as different from most poems as night is to day. Not different approaches but different species or something.

Certain remarkable poems seem to implicitly -- subconsciously -- acknowledge the Arendt-Benjamin view of language -- how it's not the same as speaking or writing. Rather, language is the silent essence of the world. Behind words -- nouns in particular -- is the fathomless and mysterious vibration of whole tones, so to speak. This unheard sounding of the world takes place, as Benjamin put it, within a "metaphysical acoustic."

So, we have a few poets whose work stands out for its special relation to language, for its reaching into metaphor as an act or expression of (even despairing) wonder. These poets allow the world to "sound" through trance-moments of refined figures of speech and through the open, questing attitude of their lines.

From March 1979
by Tomas Tranströmer

Weary of all who come with words, words but no language
I make my way to the snow-covered island.
The untamed has no words.
The unwritten pages spread out on every side!
I come upon the tracks of deer in the snow.
Language but no words.

trans. Robert Fulton

Thursday, November 14, 2013

odd communion

I like Bartók's music. So it's groovy to discover that young women would gather in an apartment in New York City in 1952 and put on his records. I feel an unusual kinship across time and space. 

stupid Freemasonry

High officials in the Russian Provisional Government (before and after the February Revolution) were in secret Freemasonry alliance with high officials in the French government. Their mutual weirdo oaths of support precluded the Provisional Government from seeking a peace treaty with the Germans.

So the war continued, which led to heightened unrest, which led to Lenin and his ilk gaining popular support. And the displacement of the Provisional Government.

What led to the February Revolution and the transition out of tsarism? Mass poverty. What exacerbated that condition? War. With the war ended, the Provisional Government would have had the military at home for civil discipline, social order. Deprivation and desperation would have eased somewhat. There would have been a certain amount of time for new a institution of governance to cohere, to have strengthened in the popular imagination.

With great social unrest at home, Russia didn't have the luxury of time and resources to continue participating in an international military adventure.

If the Provisional Government -- Kerensky and his ilk -- had sued for peace with Germany, then the nascent quasi-Democratic/Republican crowd would have retained power. That would have precluded the eventual rise of Stalin.

The mass atrocities of Stalin can be laid at the feet of those air-headed, lisping Freemasons.

[This stuff was brought to my attention while reading Nina Berberova's The Italics Are Mine.]

concerning Adam Zagajewski

Can writing -- prose and poetry -- be objectively good and interesting? As well as vice versa?

I think so. I think I've figured it out. The prime factor is profound sensibility. 

About the vice versa: skim through what's offered at The Paris Review and other high-brow literary journals. Skim through until your brain turns to gypsum dust. Almost all the prose stylists and poets featured in those places are pretentious, boring, unreadable. Whatever it is they're doing and are concerned with, it's not good and interesting.   

Now, Zagajewski.

When he puts pen to paper or opens his mouth to speak, the results are good and interesting. And here's why:

there is always an implicit metaphysical wonder within his words, always a silent counterpoint of Schubert and Mahler as aesthetic subtext, always a faint Old World irony and cultural humility informing his attitude to thought and expression.

This is a rare thing. The above qualities make Zagajewski's prose and poetry open, hospitable, compelling.  

Although I will state that metaphysical wonder, deep-music aesthetic, and selfless attitude are objective correlatives to the creation of remarkable literary works, I have no idea how one goes about systematically learning these things. It can't be taught in a classroom. Maybe it's a matter of mysterious, innate brilliance.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet

1820 - 1892

Regarded as the greatest lyric poet of Russia, Fet was a pronounced influence on the Russian Symbolists.

Way back when, Yakov Polonsky wrote this about Fet:
What kind of creature you are, I just can't understand. Where do you produce those unctuously clear, idealistically sublime, reverentially youthful verses from? Could Schopenhauer or any other philosopher help you see the origins of this lyrical mood of yours, the psychic process behind it? Explain it to me, or I'll have to suspect there is some other being, unseen to us, mere mortals, lurking down there, amidst glowing light, with eyes azure, and wings behind!

Tolstoy wondered:
What could be the source of this inexplicable poetic daring, the true characteristic of a great poet, coming from this good-natured, plump officer, is beyond me.

Something Fet himself said:
The notion that poetry's social mission, moral value or relevance could be superior to other aspects of it, is nightmarish to me. 
[Right on, right on -- TB]

This poem of his is melancholy, strange, and good:


I wake. Yes, it's a coffin lid.-With effort
I reach my hands out and I call
For help. Yes, I recall the tortures
Of dying.-Yes, this is no dream!-
And without effort, like a spider web
I push aside my casket's rotting wood

And stand. How bright the winter light appears
In the crypt's doorway! Can I doubt it?-
I see the snow. The crypt's without a door.
It's time to head for home. How stunned they'll be!
I know this park, I cannot lose my way.
But oh how different it looks now!

I hurry. Snowdrifts. Frigid boughs
Of dead trees poke deep into the sky,
There are no tracks or sounds. It's still.
The realm of death in an enchanted world.
And here's my home. But what decay!
I'm shocked by this heartbreaking sight.

The village sleeps beneath a snowy blanket,
There is no path in all the boundless steppe.
Yes, there it is: upon a far-off hill
I see the ancient belfry of the church.
A frozen traveler in the whirling snow,
It stands out clear against the cloudless span.

No winter birds or midges dot the snow.
I understand: the earth has long lain chill
And dead. For whom do I conserve
The breath within my chest? To whom did death
Return me? What's my mind
Connected to? And what's its final purpose?

Where shall I go if there is no one to embrace?
And time has lost itself in space?
O, Death, return! And hasten to assume
The fatal burden of this final life.
And you, stiff corpse of earth take flight
And bear my corpse on the eternal path! 

Canto di Speranza

for cello and orchestra, 1957
Bernd Alois Zimmermann, composer

I had never heard of Zimmermann until I read a post at The Threepenny Review blog.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

If you happen to own a piano...

...why not go ahead and kidnap a Russian? The rewards will, for you, justify your crime and eventual punishment.

my three children

The birth of a child can suddenly displace one's thoughts of ultimate meaninglessness. The birth of a child can have a lingering effect, for months and even years. An effect of persuasion that a fact deeper than nature and philosophy has happened, a fact connected to something behind the veil of the world.

The tropes of biology, philosophy, and religion are insufficient to describe or contain this mystery. A glow of the uncanny is on the brow of a child.


Don't think for a minute...

...I can be dragged into a poem that uses certain infuriating pronouns. Maybe on rare occasions, "I" is okay, if used as a self-absurdity.

Don't use the following pronouns, these words like a sweaty arm slung around my shoulder, these words with a conspiratorial inflection that try to lure me into some boring personal experience or impression:


I don't know your "you", and I don't care about your "we" and your "our." Get over yourself and write beyond a mincing, self-absorbed pronoun reality.

It's presumptuous and an affectation. Don't use this technique on me. Don't get pushy or cozy with me.

Good god! You'll find these obnoxious and aesthetically dead pronouns in all the "prestigious" poetry journals these days. When did this awfulness become fashionable and ubiquitous? It must stop. Right now.

Monday, November 11, 2013

concerning Kafka

From an article in Haaretz comes this:

Why create, why write, in an aimless world for an aimless humanity? Kafka clearly had no choice. In one of his more than 500 letters to Felice, he wrote, “I am literature,” meaning that he was made of nothing else.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

a Mozart violin concerto

Melody, harmony, and rhythm combining as a discrete phenomenon. No metaphysical angst shoved into it. No dark, ponderous subtext. No psychological hysterics. Just music....

Zagajewski taking about Gombrowicz

Poet Adam Zagajewski on Witold Gombrowicz from on Vimeo.

Friday, November 8, 2013

an opera that touched me

I'm not sophisticated enough to be an opera aficionado.

But several years ago, I read a CD review of an opera by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928 - ). It's titled The House of the Sun, and something in that review attracted me. I bought the CD.

The booklet introduction, written by the composer, is titled "The House of the Sun and the mystery of time." Based on actual events, this opera is about a pair of Russian sisters, who lived in the same house in Finland from 1917 to 1987. The Russian Revolution had displaced the family, and after their father's, brother's, and sister's suicides, as well as their mother's natural death, the twin sisters secluded themselves in Solgårten (House of the Sun). Sustained by mutual childhood memories more real than the impossible reality of their situation, they luxuriate in wafts of Russian melancholy, which forms into visions for that wounded pair.

The libretto recounts attempts at more grounded visitation by hopeful suitors and others. All to no avail. The sisters could not be released from the magnetic grip of a utopian past, either through an act of their own wills or by the influence of outsiders. I found the performances riveting and the music beautifully sad.

The denouement especially haunts me and will be with me for the rest of my life. The ghosts of two old suitors appear and prepare the sisters for their approaching apotheosis:

"When it is time, when the time comes,
Understand this: in your most important moment
A bird stops and looks at you, at the moment when you understand
The pond reflects the entire world,
And the brook says: now it is time, here, now and always
A red leaf floats on the stream,
Carried by the water into oblivion."

At the very end, reality is thoroughly overtaken by dream and fantasy…by the promptings of apparitions, who lead the twins, finally, outside the House of the Sun:

One after another, they dance
through the open garden door into the moonlight.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

two more Ladinsky poems

Translated by Jillian Parker.


As the sun stood over Rome--
A cold and rosy sphere,
So to barbaric chills and winters
Steam has gone to meet breathing,
Separated from a marble mouth.
In this way a Roman ship perished.
So, to a perishing world the Poet
Said farewell, yawning indifferently.
We have hazily compared a woman
To a rose. 
During the plague
At  the hot banquet, the glassy
Goblets clinked winter.
In the birch forests--radiance
And angelic silence,
But laboring over the coffin, sobbing,
Stood Natalia, his earthly wife.
Blok lived among us. Out in the chill,
Bonfires crackled on the corners,
And crystal tears slowly congealed
On winter's beautiful eyes.
Blok lived among us. And, sighing,
A man collapsed into a snow-drift
And fell, and fell from heaven
Onto the Russian huts, the sifting snow.

[Now take a visit to an older snowy Russia! -- TB]

In Winter

All is rimmed with frost. The Express flies
Through the firs and larches of Siberia.
It glides! The ever-green forest,
As if in a hunting jacket,
Is glancing at the mirror of winter.
A dear, with marvelous eyes
gazes at the horizon, and we,
Like children, play with snow-balls.
The train lands in a white garden
And the best in the land, rosy-cheeked
Young Siberian soldiers, it
Carries, just as in a northern novel.
They sing to the tap of the wheels
And play with harmonies.
Beneath this music, the frosty trees
Dream of a kingdom of roses.
Under the music, among the woods
Swoop squirrels, as if along rigging,
Magpies ornament the forest
Like black and white bows.
Fox wriggles its ears.
And the Bears ponder deeply,
With the cunning fox in the fable,
(They are neighbors in Krylovsky).
A bird perches on a branch
And from the branch a handful of snow
Suddenly drops. As in a dream!
All of this Russian winter,
With its freezing and glaciation,
Is not despair and darkness,
But a good night's sleep before awakening.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Island of the Mad

I feel an unusual and, as it were, inchoate attraction to this former insane asylum (now museum):

San Servolo

Yes, there's something wonderfully dissonant for my head about this image of mental collapse and emotional hysteria in conjunction with beautiful water, evocative daylight, the onlooking "sane" buildings from the shore.

three Antonin Ladinsky poems

Translated by my friend Jillian Parker.


Leaning over me, mother used to 
Tell me the fairy tale of a fox, 
How the sly fox dragged the geese off,
About the great bear living in the forest.
I remember many tears and strange sighs,
And nights my mother would not sleep.
The brightly polished tin soldiers
She bought for me in the city,
And in the creaking blue snow-drifts
she pulled me in a fur oven
A sullen boy with a large forehead
Brought to lively children on a visit to a noisy home.
But it was boring to me amid the bustle,
Amid the strange blonde girls
To watch the puppet shows,
Drink tea from  tiny gold (children’s) cups,
And, hidden in the corner behind the chest,
I listened, deaf to the commotion of the far-away room,
As heaven with the terrible tenderness of thunder
First fluttered over me,
When a large grand piano opened,
With one black lacquered wing beating,
A great swallow in a white hall
Beating above the waxed parquet.

We are bored here on earth as in a cradle

We are bored here on earth as in a cradle
Dreaming of celestial trains
We sat there at the way-stations
Like passengers in knots.
But behold the beautiful voice of the Pacific,
And, clapping our wings above us,
We fly into air with a drawn-out cry,
We hang between heaven and earth.
With the hissing cloud of vapors, ever higher
We clamber into the heights of night.
And my head is spinning at its roof --
Not knowing, where is above, where below
Everything spins, we know not ourselves,
We need to become  accustomed to the height of our homes
Wondering whether the black is the sky above us,
Or whether the earth is blue?

Well, now we’re here, the horses are foaming

Well, now we’re here, the horses are foaming,
the earth wobbles like a cradle,
I said, worrying about the luminosity
That rises every day from their land.
The Muscovites chuckled good-naturedly --
It’s winter here, we’re blinded by rays--
Then saw how proudly hung the domes of the 
Kremlin, and the height of fabulous men.
And the sun! --A rose in earliest morn--
Near enough to touch! What beauty!
This is why in the eyes of the Moscow dames
Burns a wave of blue heat.
How I fell in love with Russian tunics,
Over tea, and talking about the people.
Under the windows, frost crackles, and cups
are steaming, and a voice in my chest is singing,
And the bell-tower, interrupted by a choir
With all the tenderness of velvet bells, 
Like a marvelous yearning of the heart
Onto the lush snow-drifts of wintry dreams.

1896 - 1961

To me, this fellow looks so dang cool. Maybe the coolest dang face I've ever seen. Sort of like Dracula's unfanged third cousin twice removed.