Thursday, January 31, 2013
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Monday, January 28, 2013
I have a hunch that many people who sit down to write a poem reflexively think: "Now I shall tumble headlong into the blackest abysses. I must be miserable and word-hector my reader until she tears her hair out and leaps off a pier. All the world must know of my misery or my anger. About who or what done me wrong."
But maybe, at least once or twice, that tendency to dark expression could be turned on its head. In other words, adopt an ironic stance toward one's own dismal psychopathy. Alter that compulsion to say the bleakest, direst things into a different written energy, an unexpected artistic registration. That way, the nightmare and the mental illness might gain some dignity and distance. They can aloofly whistle and sheepishly grin in the background on stools of sublimation. Look out, not in.
I don't know anything, but I'm 60 now. I've reached the age of ostensible insight and confident babbling.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
One afternoon a lotta years ago, I was listening to the FM radio. (Hey, that rhymes!). I heard Russell Sherman's recording of Liszt's Piano Sonata. I never forgot it. And I can't quite describe the effect.
It was almost industrial -- imagine Pittsburgh squeezed down into a piano. Yet the interpretation was riveting, a kind of Cubist construction made out of girders and music.
This Liszt prelude to the Transcendental Etudes conveys the strength of Sherman's fingers, though the interpretation is much less "industrial."
I'm 60 years old, and I enjoy being annoyed. So I'm sending out a special "thank you" to those who, sporadically or consistently, provide me with instances of annoyance.
Occasionally, I come across calls to submit for poetry imprints and journals construed along thematic or ideological lines. This is annoying. But don't get me wrong. I'm okay with publishing houses that, now and then, produce a volume devoted to a given general theme. Nothing wrong with that. Such a thing can be neat-o and interesting (up to a point). What's delightfully irksome are those houses built completely around a literary agenda. Such as:
"We're not interested in the finest written art, as such. No, we're interested in audacity and our program of superior, avant-garde, embittered politics or identity. All poems must be about teapots, and conveyed with shocking verbal gestures. If you write subtly on wombats, we'll sniff and bid you good day."
Someone like Tomas Tranströmer need not submit. Any approaching his caliber of consciousness and poetical élan (merely the finest written art, as such) shall be rebuffed and rejected if theme doesn't pass through filter.
This is not to say that an imprint or journal can't have a particular literary personality or aura. Maybe it wishes to exude a European, Russian, Asian, or American vibe and character. But even that is a little annoying. Artistic vision and quality of utterance should be the only criteria for any serious, self-respecting editor.
Yes, this topic is annoying to me and keeps me fired up. It maintains the flow of my mental juices. Sensibility continues to be sharpened against the coarse surface of pretentious wrongheadedness.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
Ghosts exist who are fully flesh, breathing, and alive. If one gets into your head and soul, consider yourself haunted. And maybe beautifully doomed.
It could be the case that a haunted person is compelled to write something. But you can't squeeze a ghost down into words. Consider yourself, should you be so stricken, a kind of blesséd mute. Rather than language for expression, better to spin around in circles with arms outstretched in the cold or warm rain, until you are soaked with liquid sadness that glistens like gladness.
Friday, January 25, 2013
The waiters are under strict orders
to slap any patrons snickering
ironically on the terrace.
Did Van Gogh hang
these lantern lights glowing
with such jocular dementia?
We take the hours slowly,
drink toasts to all dead clocks.
If you say something serious,
we'll all laugh uproariously.
How nice to be free of dark poets!
This night is filled with our chuckles.
Eyes are twinkling while shadows
jump up to click their own heels.
It's too much trouble getting drunk.
It's best to be sober for waltzing
with abashed Bohemian violinists
still trying to play a forgotten tune
on the nature of old remembrances.
These hours of laughing are better
than what Jean Paul Sartre is thinking
as the large maitre d' rejects him
from the premises and conclusions.
In a little essay the other day, I listed my criteria for the aesthetic: dynamism, shape, subtlety, the uncanny. In the essay linked below, Wittgenstein would accuse my criteria of being nonsense. He says that the aesthetic can't be spoken, only shown. If I decide to agree with him, then I will realize I should not have spoken any criteria. Instead, I should have only shown the aesthetic by posting the Beethoven piece, the Van Gogh image, and the Gillian Prew poem without any commentary.
The Imminence of Revelation
Thursday, January 24, 2013
In the past, especially, the ritualistic was important. Part of ritual had to do with the manipulation of physical things -- candles, wine, scrolls, etc. -- as mediating substances between the human and the divine. With these items and their formal use, the tangible and the symbolic became, paradoxically, one.
They say that digital media is supplanting physical media. Music, movies, and books are increasingly available as digital phenomena. They say that CDs, DVDs, and paper books are on the way out.
I suppose that's the way things are indeed trending. Soon, we'll be a culture of pure convenience. Everything swift and downloadable. But I wonder what that's doing to consciousness? Soon, society will consist of humanoid creatures devoid of ritual talismans. Hell, we'll probably end up with strange clinical people implanting music, movies, and texts straight into our palpitating brains.
But I'm a dinosaur. Yes, digital platforms and delivery are convenient. But I still want the ritual of touching the physical items. I like being in those moments of paradox, when the CD, DVD, and paper book represent a way of touching what is also beyond touching -- the musical experience, the cinematic experience, the literary experience.
The tactile is primal and good.
I like to open the CD case, remove the disc, and handle the booklet. Same with DVDs. And when I'm holding an actual book, I'm in a more intense communion with the text than when reading from a screen. To sense the weight and texture of the real book, to feel the movement of a turning page, to wonder at the mystery of a transcendentalizing object in my hands -- these are experiences I prefer to keep in my repertoire of time and being.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The philosophy of aesthetics is an amorphous, various, and perplexing thing. It can make your head spin. For better or worse, I've decided to just set out on my own little thinking journey. I'm going to write down what the aesthetic means to me.
And for me, the aesthetic consists of four extrusions from my assuming that reality itself is aesthetic:
1) dynamism -- the creation of and movement into a new space
2) shape -- the forming or crafting of time into a discrete object
3) subtlety -- the complex delving beneath phenomenal surface
4) the uncanny -- the bringing out of presence as the destabilized familiar
Music, painting, and poetry should be semblances of the basic aesthetic structure of reality. The world is comprised of the enigma of qualities. An adherence to the principle of quality is a necessary component of the aesthetic -- of the making and appreciation of real art.
All four of the above ideas are alive in the works of Beethoven, Van Gogh, and Gillian Prew. So these three will be good examples of what I'm talking about.
Beethoven's Grosse Fugue (Op. 133) pulses with spontaneous and energetic invention. It transforms time into an expressive mode according to the principle of intuition-guided-by-discretion. It moves beyond the quiddity of circumstance and goes into the fractal grooves of metaphysics and imagination. Finally, it extrudes from musical possibility an effect of haunting ambivalence.
Van Gogh's Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing (1888) gives us color as the dynamic way we humans invest the world with soul and personality. It holds the temporal in a shape of intense and eternal relations. It converts the ordinary into transparencies of the spiritual. Finally, it inspires the finest (most granular) sense of a melancholy eeriness, even in the brightful morning.
Gillian Prew's poem "The Dying Season (for Milo)" opens up much aesthetic space, blooming volumes of contemplative activity. It seizes an hour of experience, re-casting it into contoured lines of rhythm and peripheral dimensions. It allows images to deepen from normal encounters to symbolic fathoms. Finally, it construes the paradox of mortality and loss as horizons of the quiet-breathed ecstatic.
The Dying Season (for Milo)
the fuchsias have fallen open and glad
their plucked tongues fanned still on the wintering stone.
tumbling upon them
with my day-heart and my needle lip
ruffling them to wreathes.
in the quickening turn the run of things
the birds fenced in by fog and wind
the browning days
the dug-in sun.
The dying season. And the rain comes
loud as a twinning sound
pooling in the dents that absence has left.
Copyright © 2012, Gillian Prew
Gillian Prew's webpage
Were I to attempt a formal conclusion of this meditation on aesthetics, I'd probably say something like this: the beautiful is sometimes darkly veiled, but the ugly is always apparent.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Today for some indiscernible reason, this music -- this first movement in particular -- is having a pronounced effect on me. Concepts try to emerge, then melt away. Images try to form but fade. I'm finally left in that Keatsian state of negative capability: of being in uncertainties, mysteries.
Monday, January 21, 2013
I asked my friend Frank Dixon if he would be my first guest blogger here. He agreed. The following text, which is excerpted from his e-book The Several Roads to Serfdom, is his contribution. Frank has previously published another (physical) book titled Spinoza's God. I'm pleased and honored to have Frank appear on my blog.
I do not intend to burden you with long excerpts from the novel, only a small part Catherine particularly enjoyed and about which she made a remark pertinent to the story unfolding here. The words Catherine liked were spoken by my novel’s hero during a disturbing period of his life. He was mourning the proximity of the St. Elizabeth’s asylum and a sewage treatment plant to a beautiful flock of geese he had seen flying in over the Potomac River. His lamentation refers also to a derelict man my hero had seen sitting on the curb, crying into his hands at Laurel Race Course in some distantly prior time. I have to print the excerpt here so you can understand Catherine’s comment, and so I can relate her comment to my inquiry into Hayek’s book.
Ever since Joanna [the hero’s current lover, not another name for Catherine] seduced from me the words describing that broken man, a thought has started recurring, unbidden. It’s of the birds and their sunlight, and of the asylum. Maybe this stretch of road also helps the image appear. When I pass this way I’m turned from my internal gears and pulleys and shoved out into the world of feeling things. I start thinking thoughts far different from those of the machine who sees numbers and bets accordingly.
We’ve deluded ourselves into believing the birds and the morning light atone for the stench of Blue Plains and for the depressing idea of St E’s. We believe the beautiful things of the world are somehow separate from the ugly things, that pure, God-like forces and evil, satanic forces, working apart from each other, create separately identifiable molecules of reality; and we believe that if we can make ourselves rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, or numb enough we can completely surround ourselves with the products and notions of goodness, and all ugliness will disappear.
Artists create similar illusions. The painter isolates a flock of geese, takes it up out of the world and sketches it on canvas. The edges of his picture separate the beautiful scene inside from the horror beyond. Framed there, the birds exist simply as a flight of geese, elegant and unconcerned. But in the artless world of horses and men, the real geese appear in the same frame with the metaphorical geese cooped up behind the fence at St E’s. Only one picture exists, only one world, the beautiful and the grotesque kept apart by a kind of blindness. And no matter how many mechanical routines I put into place to insulate my life, I cannot separate the ugly and the beautiful. They’ve fused into an amalgam of themselves, destroying the possibility of parts. The bright shining wholeness that contains geese-geese and human-geese as beings occupying the same universe, pours over the edges of the frame, into everything outside, dazzling and stunning the frail view of prettiness to which the simplicities of the eye fasten our gaze. Staring into the light of that brightness, I cease my existence as an imperturbable machine and enter the world of sorrow, not simply brother to the man crying on the curb, but substantially, actually, him.
Catherine reminded me of the persona confusion the passage may create in its readers. “I do not normally think of horse players as people who speak that way, or think that way.” But I let that part of her comment slide. Persona relates primarily to matters of style; it typically has nothing to do with meaning. That part of her comment was, in any event, only an oblique mention. The important thing she said about the piece had nothing to do with style, and everything to do with meaning.
“You’re a Spinoza freak, and that explains the dual aspects you have given the asylum, the sewage plant, and those ‘beautiful’ geese. You’ve made St. Elizabeth’s and Blue Plains sound like bad things, when actually they’re good. Try to imagine all those crazies running loose, all that sewage piling up in the streets. And those geese! God, but they sh_t a lot! [She actually deleted the profaning letter.] You clever devil! You’ve taken those beautiful institutions, and those ugly geese, and have shown how our minds can be made to tremble back and forth between the two different ways those things, and all things, can be made to appear, the beautiful and the grotesque together, their physical reality overlaid by feelings.”
Compliments come my way too infrequently to be cavalierly cast aside, so perhaps I should not tell you that Catherine gave me credit where none was due. But truth is too dear to be shucked for a kind word. I may not know what Neil LaBute had in mind when he wrote The Shape of Things, but I swear that Catherine’s thought was nowhere near the mind of Frank Dixon when he wrote that lyric. I had actually traveled the Anacostia Freeway. I had actually seen that man sitting on the curb at Laurel. I had felt the recurring, pulsating depression. The scene was not created. It was reported.
But Catherine was right. I am a Spinozista. I should have been conscious of the way the eternally reverberating appearance of things and thoughts about things distorts reality. I should have seen that everything that attracts our attention comes packaged in an envelope of emotion. And even as I write these words, I begin to see that even if the scene from the novel were reported, it was not merely reported. The words of the report—each individually selected—were products of an emotionally driven process. I may have intended to write an objective account of a series of phenomena, but more than the objective world made its way onto the paper. I could not separate the words describing the things I intended to report from the ocean of feelings in which they swam. As the piece makes clear, all is One, even those things which seem isolated from the rest.
Copyright © 2012, Frank Lonzo Dixon, Jr.
I am self-educated, having graduated without honors from Murphy High School in Mobile, AL in 1949. I worked many jobs at gradually increasing pay, and retired in 1994 as a computer security guru. I live now with my dear wife Bonnie in the Virginia Blue Ridge. I look vaguely like the attached pic which was taken about four years ago. The date of my death is not scheduled.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Cocooned in a cheap nirvana
of twilight and huddling in my car.
Staring at the Dollar General Store,
a shabby image in fluorescent glow.
Customers going in, coming out.
Moving laxly to some odd law
unwritten above the premises --
"Shop here if you're superfluous
and your clothes are a mish-mash."
They -- we -- are locked
in an unsuspected solidarity.
A shabby psychedelic version
of renowned people shopping.
It's as if a hex had fallen on all our heads
and the Fates all three thrown up their hands.
The memory of fluorescent lights
glowing so strangely at twilight
will illuminate later nightmares
better than would chandeliers.
Friday, January 18, 2013
The literature is vast in scholarly appraisal and sensitive perception of Van Gogh. I also want to say a little something.
Besides the startling colors and expressive forms, I detect something else in Van Gogh's works -- the uncanny. According to Freud, the uncanny occurs when what is familiar begins to seem unfamiliar. We are momentarily detached from the usual mode of experience and from the normal matrix of connections. You might say that we are, briefly, un-metabolized within the body of being.
“The Uncanny is something hidden which ought to have remained missed but which is brought to light.” – Freud after Schelling
Freud characterizes such an episode as a frightening one. Among other things, he postulates "the double" as an instance of the uncanny, harking back to the macabre stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann.
I think the uncanny can also manifest in a way that is not exactly frightening but that has more of an eerie quality. Or maybe a heightened ambivalence (with the root-sense of a split, a subtler mode of doubling than a Romantic phantasm or doppelgänger; yet, how strange and unsettling it is sometimes to be looking into a mirror!).
I think Van Gogh was seeing and then painting the double of the world.
But not in any sense of mere representation. I'll not elaborate at this point on what, exactly or vaguely, I mean by this. I'll simply let the statement stand as it is, for better or worse. Maybe later, I'll continue. And attempt to write about how -- in what ways -- I think the uncanny is urged to presence in the art of Van Gogh.
|The Sower, Arles 1888|
Jo Ann Kelly (1944 - 1990) was an English blues singer. Had she followed the urging of industry people and come to the US, her career could have been on the magnitude of Janis Joplin. Instead, she remained close to the English blues scene. She was humble, genuine, and massively talented.
My heroes in popular (as opposed to classical) music are few. They must have deep-rooted soul and/or striking originality. Also some eccentricity. Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Björk. Now I add another name to the list.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
''I work on a writer like Kafka because he opens for me, or opens me to, moments of analytic intensity. And such moments are, in their lesser way, also a matter of grace, inspiration. Is this a comment about reading, about the intensities of the reading process? Not really. Rather it is a comment about writing, the kind of writing-in-the-tracks one does in criticism.''
-- J.M. Coetzee
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
At first glance it's not poetic,
what unfolds on this winter drive
through morning streets of Jonesboro,
partly withered urban, partly tired woods.
Yet it's having a way of making me wonder.
Each new curve through a spirit
spreading its gentle delirium.
Voila! -- here an old Dutch memory
sleeping under Jan van Goyen's varnish;
there a quality of far dead grandparents
keeping quiet vigil on their descendant;
and a moment ago blackbirds lifting
a shroud from melancholy eeriness;
finally a riddle of hushed branches.
You just never know when to expect
the muted ecstatic coming to the road.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Sunday, January 13, 2013
I imagine an aristocracy of editors.
Literary editors of a refined, almost mandarin sensibility. Editors who look back to the great writers and poets as examples of, well, greatness. Editors who when presented with stuff written these days would experience an intense aversion. Palpable symptoms of shock and horror would nearly hospitalize them.
This aristocracy of editors is comprised of literary aesthetes, who will reject nearly everything, certainly my own work. Yet because they exist in imagination, they perform a salutary service: they place upon the aspiring creative mind an extreme self-critical awareness; upon the blank page, a memorial texture of literature's best ghosts; upon the trembling pen an obligation to leak out the least amount of irksome ink.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Oh, this morning is cold bright.
Spring hiding around the corner.
What is the meaning of February
and who are these people drinking
small cups of coffee in a literary cafe?
If déjà vu happened in the next moment,
I'd send reason packing on a long vacation.
This great city of monuments a web of streets.
Oh, language, I thought I knew you.
Logic of grammar, gesture of syntax.
How somewhere in you implicitly
time spills its leafy arabesques
of world from an antique vase.
But what do I know?
Those two young women at a table,
their eyes the color of Danube water
when late sun brushes the surface
making dreams of light on liquid jade.
Their lips moving on the very edge
of hushed horizons, full lips moving
as a flourish of paradox and revelation.
Spontaneous moments are not cold ideas.
They linger mystic as splashes shimmering.
In spring, I'll purchase a buttonhole bloom,
a sprig of pale sigh from Vienna's woods.
Sunday, January 6, 2013
Bare trees and evening.
A bronze bell not chiming
spreads distance as mystery.
The flickering of early stars
could be flametips of candles
over this gathering of souls
in an old house of poems.
The door opens a tragic smile.
My baggage of memory and worry
left outside the winter threshold.
What country have I fallen into?
A dark cat on the wooden floor
considers the shape of my aura.
Sofiya and others greet me warmly,
gesturing as if through time, speaking
a tongue I don't know but understand.
I drink something that tastes of forever,
then sit on a love seat sighing its fabric.
Sofiya stands, opens her new book,
her dark hair hiding consciousness.
Ghosts gather round -- Akhmatova,
Mandelstam, Tsvetayeva, Brodsky.
They quaver between her open lines,
breathing out uneasy atmospheres.
Ah, listening as a way of vision!
So much held back, so much thus given.
Lines declaimed, some words whispered.
I hear of love that is far and burning
or waits where shadows hold starlight
and meaures of some lost music.
I hear of a god looking for knowledge
of seasons, mirrors, and gravestones.
Midnight comes, the walls are melting.
Faces like wax from candles are falling.
Sofiya tells me to come to my senses.
I'm not really here, it's past time I go.
She hands me a candle of Blue Light burning.
|Blue Light: Selected Poems, by Sofiya Yuzefpolskaya-Tsilosani|
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
[Photos from the George W. Cushman Collection]
Who would sleep for escape
into avenues of rich dreaming,
when this morning holds the eye
in such wakeful mystification?
The city waits, and the walker must go.
Almost a god hovers
over the meaning of girls
on sidewalks of a city,
where shadows and sounds
go unheeded and unheard,
while laughter and chatter
make such infinite music.
This moment a shape of life
no philosophy understands.
Never would take a while
and still not be long enough
to chart the labyrinths of air
and volumes of bright light
hanging as space amid fables
of architecture, as temperatures
of feeling on shoulders of people.
Symbols are everywhere, quaking the day!
It is too much to hope for.
One grows dizzy with poems.
Even this water has such energy!
The old country is now seeping its bad tales.
But here time has appeared to gather
the floating exile, despite his ignorance
of a language made from slang and beauty.
Tears of happiness and memory
fall down muted like autumn's
rose petals and touch the pages
of a book brimming with nightmare.
Roots will be sunk deep and home
to be where harbor horns go faint
at night while day is breathed out.
Tomorrow is alive as a rhapsody in blue.
A prairie lifts the wind and wildflowers catch light.
But no openness compares to lavenders closing in
on city evenings, when lonely thoughts compress
to points of shuddering desire and notes of jazz.
Al's Barber Shop just closed, and all is well.
We are woven together by aromas
and vague kinship in this district of bricks,
where shouts are almost prayers and where
eyebrows are surprised by news on the street.
If illness comes and angels wither,
it doesn't matter -- we once walked.
Damn these eyes!
They've turned this vision
of city into the fabulous
moods and manifestos
that brook no job going
but are a wish to linger
with an unexpected painter
surrealing from silence.
Ah, but the day is ordained
for this moment to vanish,
and the paradox is persistent.
The women don't notice me,
and that in itself is so poetic.
I see them and their curving
through sunlight that wakes
colors of fabrics to flowing, while
voices under the influence of being
so alive consider ways of children.
Façades of buildings are astounded
matter has risen to such speaking
and to such nonchalant gestures.
There is nothing for it but to find an early establishment.
A drink in this city to charge empty pages.
To write souls from shadows is also living.
I could stay here forever
or at least long enough to sing
the fact of these clear moments
when death seems so absurd.
If I found the perfect girl
in this building of absences,
the sun would blush at my luck.
I believe I love her madly.
I could stay here almost forever,
among ghosts of possible hours.
The city is so close to revelation.
A name is suspended on evening.
and this building hold another ghost.
Something is afoot.
Someone said a miracle
is in Uri Rostov's apartment.
Here from the Ural Mountains,
a pianist performing tonight.
Streets are abuzz, solid rumors.
Scriabin sonatas to undim the day,
to burn unending illuminations
over two late Slavic hours!
Who believes in such miracles?
It takes a god to dispel tired labor,
to play a new paradise for grasping.
But I remember stories of hillside gods...
I'll bring vodka and roses and maybe
the Rostovs will let me stand in the foyer.