Saturday, September 27, 2014

Samuel Barber's Piano Sonata

John Browning's legendary recording

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Prairie Song" -- a poem by Julie Shavin

I keep listening to this.

Even though I'm an American, this thing affects me with a certain exoticism. It's quietly freaky and compelling, panoramic and metaphysical, moody and bizarre. I hope it also freaks out my foreign readers, who experience the haunted breeze of its old-west quintessence.

Besides all that, I think this is a well-crafted poem, an actual poem. Such things are rare these days.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Beckett & Feldman -- NEITHER

Composer Morton Feldman requested from Samuel Beckett an original text as libretto for an opera (or anti-opera, or monodrama). Beckett sent him 87 words in a text titled Neither. The work, for soprano and orchestra, was completed in 1977.


to and fro in shadow from inner to outer shadow
from impenetrable self to impenetrable unself by way of neither
as between two lit refuges whose doors once neared gently close, once away turned from gently part again
beckoned back and forth and turned away
heedless of the way, intent on the one gleam or the other
unheard footfalls only sound
till at last halt for good, absent for good from self and other
then no sound
then gently light unfading on that unheeded neither
unspeakable home

Sunday, September 14, 2014

about W. G. Sebald

If you'd like, you can click here to listen:

A German Genius in Britain

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

sorry for being silent

A blog is for saying stuff. Silence is weird.

I thank those who still stop by here to flip through the archives.

I'm in week three of recovery from open heart bypass surgery.

I ain't got much to say. I'll post some music instead.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Monday, April 28, 2014

Dark Imagining: The Ecstatic Poetry of Georg Trakl

What's a soul to do when confronted with poems that defy normality, that take you on excursions toward slant time and altered being? I suppose one option is to just be quiet, be content in those moments of aesthetic stupefaction. Or one can refuse silence, do what I'm doing now – try to say something about what's not really sayable.

I'll start by looking at a photo of the poet, as if some clue to the hidden spirits of language might be registered there.

1887 - 1914

It's probably wayward for me to say it, but I will anyway: the face of Georg Trakl is mad with hidden spirits of language. If I were told this picture had been taken inside a locked asylum for expressively coiled savants, I wouldn't be surprised. There's nothing of the poseur in his face. He looks genuinely odd, like the second cousin of some ancient Chaldean wheat god.

The finest poetry, apparently, has something to do with sort of looking, sort of being crazy. After seeing this photo of Trakl, I'm not sure I should expect much from poems not written by (or at least in the spirit of) old dead eccentrics.

Those old dead poets don't appear in their poems as regular-world subjects; rather, they are implicit shapes of wonder, vagabonds of heightened consciousness, doppelgänger mediums through and around which the ectoplasm of deep words comes to presence. Their images and metaphors are unavailable to regular-world poets. Things that are otherwise impossible happen in their poems.

In Hellbrun

Once more following the blue grief of the evening
Down the hill, to the springtime fishpond—
As if the shadows of those dead for a long time were
      hovering above,
The shadows of church dignitaries, of noble ladies—
Their flowers bloom so soon, the earnest violets
In the earth at evening, and the clear water washes
From the blue spring. The oaks turn green
In such a ghostly way over the forgotten footsteps
      of the dead
The golden clouds over the fishpond.

Most poems written today are lifeless things. How strange that certain poems by old dead poets are still so “ambulatory.” But maybe it's not so peculiar after all – those poems remain vivified owing to their dark spirit of creation, to their sense of world as mysterium, to their harrowing of vision into beauty. I think Georg Trakl and Novalis have something in common. Both considered reality large enough to contain itself and more than itself – the mythic, deathly sublime. 

Descent and Defeat
To Karl Borromaus Heinrich

Over the white fishpond
The wild birds have blown away.
An icy wind drifts from our stars at evening.

Over our graves
The broken forehead of the night is bending.
Under the oaks we veer in a silver skiff.

The white walls of the city are always giving off
Under arching thorns
O my brother blind minute-hands we are climbing
           toward midnight.

I suspect that poetic art happens when experience is transformed by imagination, is saturated with ambivalence. Ecstatic melancholy is the distinctive aura of a true and lasting poem. Such poems are treasures that language bequeaths to itself from out of its own eerie matrix.

My Heart at Evening

Toward evening you hear the cry of the bats.
Two black horses bound in the pasture,
The red maple rustles,
The walker along the road sees ahead the small tavern.
Nuts and young wine taste delicious,
Delicious to stagger drunk into the darkening woods.
Village bells, painful to hear, echo through the black fir branches,
Dew forms on the face.

Experience for this poet in this poem is a composite texture or scheme of time. The perception of given phenomena has, through the dark prism of ecstatic emotion and morbid imagination, been refracted into a spectrum of hallucinatory images. In the throes of poetic trance, a paradox of profane spirit and sacred duration is somehow reconciled.

Beethoven's music happened in that un-repeatable moment when German Classicism and German Romanticism were sewn together in a unique fabric. The Apollonian and the Dionysian – reason and instinct – touched in the mind of Beethoven, and music reached its greatest happening. I have a strong hunch that something deep about consciousness as such and time as such occurs in Beethoven's profound spiritual music. In such fractal moments when sensibility is transformed by paradox and complexity, art realizes a rare potential.

Trakl's poetry happened in that un-repeatable moment when German Romanticism and German Expressionism came together in a tension of visionary forces. Other dynamics were afoot: Trakl's poems also lived in the fold of Symbolism and Surrealism. His consciousness inhabited an eccentric version of time, and written event took on a quality of ecstatic-pessimistic dream. Art realized another, different layer of mystical texture.

Like Beethoven's music, Trakl's poetry allows us a rare glimpse at how an artistic form of language seems to speak from its own riddling, occult depths. Experiencing Trakl is an aesthetic delirium of the finest vintage.

In Venice

Silence in the rented room. 
The candlestick flickers with silver light 
Before the singing breath 
Of the lonely man; 
Enchanted rosecloud.

Black swarms of flies 
Darken the stony space,
And the head of the man who has no home 
Is numb from the agony 
Of the golden day.

The motionless sea grows dark. 
Star and black voyages 
Vanished on the canal. 
Child, your sickly smile
Followed me softly in my sleep.

Poem translations by James Wright and Robert Bly

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bartók -- Concerto for Orchestra

It occurs to me that I run the risk of being depressed today if I don't listen to this:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maudlin or infinite?

Like some paintings and some music, some poems are things of wonder -- dark-dazzling moments of written art. A strange thing can happen to time and space during a poem: regular time gets detoured into sideways dimensions; regular space becomes distended into eccentric volumes of mood that would startle even angels.

Though known for his plays, Tennessee Williams also wrote poems. One of his poems, about his mentally ill sister Rose, can detour and startle a reader of a certain disposition. Other readers will find it hackneyed, clanky, and maudlin. I'll admit that it required a second reading before the scales began to fall away from my eyes and I could see this poem, before I could begin to trace its unusual direction, take the measure of its volume.

The context is crucial. Williams's beloved sister Rose suffered from ever-increasing schizophrenia. Most of her life was spent institutionalized. At one point, she underwent a lobotomy in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

She went with morning on her lips
down an inscrutable dark way
and we who witnessed her eclipse
have found no word to say. 

This poem is either maudlin or infinite, depending on how you read it, depending on whether or not you, as reader, are conventional or strange.  Think how the regular world flows, with its norms and pale distractions. Then consider those rare octaves of being that echo from a different, more eccentric key.

The South (Williams's was born in Mississippi) retains an afterglow of the gothic. I will assume that penumbra was more pronounced in the first half of the last century than it is today.  Mental illness back then and there probably resonated with a more spiritual vibration than it would, say, in New York or even St. Louis.  If one wrote such a poem as "Valediction" in the context of New York or even St. Louis, such a poem would be aesthetic blasphemy, an irresponsible indulgent expression. But vibrating as it does with a Southern gothic, something else happens within aesthetic and expressive space -- the infinite stirs.

She went with morning on her lips

Not only with youth's bloom but with an unspoken redolence of quiet magnolias and a silent verse of early sunlight slanting its eternity.

down an inscrutable dark way

The loss of self as poignant as the amnesia of a lasting grave.

and we who witnessed her eclipse

The gothic observer of a spirit's collapse will never henceforth be normal.

have found no word to say

Sheer infinite significance trumps even gods and metaphors.

This little poem by Tennessee Williams opens up a spatial, existential abyss that swallows normality, convention, and our brusque, philistine hours. In their place is the possibility of art as our noblest shiver of wonder.

1911 - 1983

Saturday, April 5, 2014

my boring hypothesis

Before the internet and social networking, there was, in individuals, a concentration, an intensification of consciousness and being. Since the internet and social networking, there has been, in individuals, a dispersal, a dilution of consciousness and being. 

A possible equivocation: my poems and mini-essays -- this very blog, in fact -- would not exist if not for the internet and social networking. If not for the decanting of worlds and souls previously unsuspected into my world and soul. My stuff took on life and being inside this half-ghostly milieu, this floating reservoir of exotic presences. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that, prior to the internet and social networking, individual consciousness was, perhaps, more of a solid than a liquid or atmospheric substance. 

I suppose I'm having a sort of Walter Benjaminian moment. 

Blue Rigi: Lake of Lucerne
J.M.W. Turner (1842)

Churchill on the First World War:

“No part of the Great War compares in interest with its opening. The measured, silent drawing together of gigantic forces, the uncertainty of their movements and positions, the number of unknown and unknowable facts made the first collision a drama never surpassed.”

Friday, March 28, 2014

bird feeder

Yesterday would have been my mother's 88th birthday. She loved birds, always kept her bird feeders filled and water in the bird bath.

Yesterday in her honor, I built a bird feeder.

On the back of my property is a dilapidated old shed made out of cypress boards. I got one of those 1 x 6 cypress boards and sawed it into two pieces (for the top and bottom feeder platforms). I cut up a pine 1 x 2 for the upright supports ("weathered" them with some maple stain, some walnut stain, and some smears of gray oil house paint, so they would sort of match the old cypress boards). 

Then I said to myself, "Hey, I have an idea!" 

For the other feeders I've built, I used 1 x 2s for the perimeters, to keep bird seed from blowing off. This time, I cut some 1/2" diameter tree branches to length and nailed them around the top and bottom feeder platforms. 

The birds like it. They enjoy alighting on actual branches instead of on 1 x 2 strips.  In fact, I heard a chorus of them singing in mixed keys:

"Birdbrain went to extra fuss. We accept him, one of us!"

Friday, March 21, 2014

Meet Me in the Alleyway

This song makes me happy. It reminds me of how weird it is in the deep South.

I grew up a few miles north of Louisiana. Some of those Louisiana vibes made their way into my hometown:

hysterical night women, flaming death at the refinery, back road haints, toxic creeks, baptisms everywhere.

Meet Me in the Alleyway
Steve Earle

I had a melancholy malady
Went to see the doctor and the doctor say
Too bad, nothin' he could do
He knew a man in Louisiana if I’m willin' to pay
Laid my money on the barrelhead
Man behind the bar began to shimmy and shake
Can't lie, I reckoned I was dead
When he picked my money up and I heard him say

Meet me in the alleyway minute to midnight
Don't be late meet me in the alleyway
Better come runnin' the spirits won't wait

Thirteen tiger teeth in my talisman
St. John the Conqueror and a black cat bone
Been seen walkin' with the guardians
Now I’m in the alley and I’m all alone
Can't run, can't hide from destiny
Knew this day was callin' nearly all of my life
Been done ain't the only boy from Tennessee
To carve his name in cypress with a jawbone knife

So you wanna be the king of America
Say you wanna know the oracle's mind
Say you wanna see the Marquesses of Mardi Gras
dancin' with the devil at the end of the line

I'm not interested... experimental and conceptual poetry. I'm not interested in any kind of self-conscious, "political"-Dada junk somehow construing itself as poetry. 

What a pretentious waste of time and energy. What a parade of theorizing pipsqueaks! Apparently, the phrase "real aesthetics" would send them into fits of indignant convulsion. Their stuff makes me tense and bored -- quite the odd combination.

I'm interested in luminous soul states, in melancholy symbol states that only a genuine artist can make happen on the page. I'm interested in the poems of Adam Zagajewski.

Unseen Hand: Poems

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some people stroll...

...through cemeteries rationally and socially on late Sunday or Sabbath afternoons in midsummer. They are not of my eccentric tribe.

I remember when I was a boy, walking through a particular cemetery on late Sunday afternoons in midsummer. That space of the dead generated in me a kind of muted ecstasy. The strangeness of it had a texture of the infinite (a poetic, not religious infinity). It opened up a region or vortex of delectable, macabre melancholy.

That haze of atmosphere mixed with a smell of moody grass.

The experience was distinct from any mournful connection to dead relatives there, though maybe that played a role subconsciously. It was more about time suddenly felt as an alien substance, as an exception to an unknown rule, as a something freakish and woven of the sublime -- sublime in the sense of beautiful or wondrous terror.

Perhaps those early-in-life, late Sunday afternoons of strolling through a cemetery contributed to my becoming an outsider being.

It's just a thought. I'm just having a moment of questionable nostalgia.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

a world event

Harvard University Press has published a new book. When I think about this book, which I haven't read, I get a strange feeling in the literary-philosophical-cultural zone of my consciousness. That sensation is, paradoxically, a becalmed mania, as if I'm riding a dizzy Ferris wheel while puffing on a Turkish hookah. Just knowing this book exists pleases me very much. 

Read about it here:

"Walter Benjamin's Afterlife"

And here's something cool:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Schumann -- Piano Sonata No. 2 in G minor

Adam Zagajewski, master poet

Yesterday, I posted a new poem of mine. I tried to put into words a general sense of things, how things look out there in the poignant circus of life. I suppose it was a kind of diffuse hymn to the great irony of being. 

Well, that sounds pretentious. And that's what happens to a poem not anchored to the weight of everyday experiences and given through palpable images. That's what happens to a poem not written by a real poet. You end up with a vague un-textured mood that makes a reader scratch his head: "What...?" The metaphysical has traction only according to its subtle supervention on the tangible.

Adam Zagajewski is a master poet. Sometimes, I wonder why so many people (especially me) still write poetry, when Zagajewski's poems make most other poems appear pale, self-indulgent, hectoring, tone deaf, amateurish, disposable. 

A real artist is so rare that we hoodwink ourselves into thinking mediocrity is somehow remarkable. A grading curve misdiagnosing quality. The mediocre should never be mistaken for the brilliant. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that anyone who loves poetry should not hesitate to buy Zagajewski's books. His stuff is the real deal. In fact, his poems, like Beethoven's and Schubert's music, open up the ordinary onto textured dimensions of aesthetic experience. That's true brilliance. 

If my recommendation encourages a few people to buy his books, I will have accomplished something important, done my part to enhance the world.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

True Detective

Evil thinks of itself as badass, but Evil's about to meet Rust Cohle.

Someone please slap me...

...with enough force that I'm able to understand why this stuff is considered to be poetry:

"Five Poems from It's No Good"

(I'll let that book title go by without a snarky remark from me.)

In my un-slapped frame of mind, I wonder why this fellow -- Kiril Medvedev -- chooses to harm poetry with whatever it is he's doing. Why doesn't he instead blather and complain into regular paragraphs? Why is he breaking up prose into arbitrary lines?

Worse still, this fellow thinks poetry and politics go hand in hand. That's a form of artistic psychopathy. Or merely a spiritual coarseness on his part. Read and be abashed:

"New Emotion: On Kirill Medvedev"

Sorry, Mr. Medvedev. I have to call em like I see em.

I have a friend...

...who was born in the coal-dark and liquor-weird geography of West Virginia.

My friend is admirably self-sufficient. She's flown over the ocean to live in a land where they speak an incomprehensible northern tongue. My friend is remarkably independent. She's bootstrapped herself into dimensions of old and new culture, appreciating extraordinary literature and cool music.  

One thing in particular must be emphasized. It has to do with the music of Johannes Brahms.

It's not every day you run into a person who is drawn to Brahms's music, to his spiritual sound world. There's a distinctive emotional tonality that runs through his music, a diffuse yet cathartic atmosphere that haunts his wordless speaking. It's hard to describe. 

Most people can't be bothered to be amazed by the quality of Brahms's music. Different strokes. But I'm pleased to report that my friend is a friend of Brahms's music. I'm pleased both by the strangeness and the depthness of this phenomenon reflecting my friend's discrete, sovereign soul.   

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Bernard Malamud

Cynthia Ozick reviews Malamud's collections in Library of America:

"Judging the World"

...his aesthetic is instinct with the muted pulse of what used to be called moral seriousness, a notion gone out of fashion in American writing, where too often flippancy is mistaken for irony. Malamud, a virtuoso of darkest irony, refuses the easy conventions of cynicism and its dry detachment. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Every three years...

...I will think about pianist Ivan Moravec.

I will think about the distinctive tone he elicits from a piano. I will think about his clear articulation and about his poetic séance with a composition. When I'm pondering Moravec, Chopin usually shows up.


a quiet sophistication

Some people -- through an unknown law of nature or magic -- stick in your consciousness. It's really an unusual phenomenon. I say "stick," but it's more like an elastic echo returning at random moments across various segments of duration. Even weirder is that those who are the quietest conjure the profoundest echo.

I have a friend who lives in Norway. What a country! Ridiculously sublime mountains and waters. From my perspective here at a secret outpost in Arkansas, Norway is as exotic as Old Japan.  

My friend is Russian. How in the world did my friend end up in Norway? It's one of life's great mysteries.

My friend impresses with a quiet sophistication and a tendency to subtle mirth. Seeing into things with unusual vision and smiling at the occasional absurd are cool ways of being.

My friend is more sophisticated than I am. Whether a text, a painting, or a vocalise, my friend extracts from them a nuanced essence that is beyond my Arkansas detection equipment.'s really a fool's errand, trying to describe aspects of a being who is sensitive to seasons in Norway, who pays attention to eccentric moods of Nordic flowers, who is elusively Russian, and who is preternaturally not a nihilist. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Amos Oz & Natalie Portman

I read that Natalie Portman has written a screen adaptation for Amos Oz's book A Tale of Love and Darkness. I read that she's currently directing and starring in the film, shooting on location in Jerusalem.

I wish Ms. Portman much success with this project. I think the project is in capable hands.

Having said that, I'm ambivalent about this 2014 film. I liked Oz's book a whole lot. When I like a book a whole lot, the book lives vividly in my imagination, and I want it to stay there as a book. So that makes me ambivalent -- a preference to keep the narrative inside my head and a curiosity about how it might be brought to cinematographic life. 

When the film is released, I'm sure I'll watch it. And I'll probably appreciate it as a thing existing in its own right.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Saturday, March 1, 2014

One day, it came to pass...

...that I began to appreciate paintings by the Impressionists. 

About 30 years ago. Half my life ago. I'm sure that others, from a more cultured background, came to those paintings at a much earlier age. I don't think I even knew those paintings existed until I was around 30 years old. Why did it take so long? It's all hazy.

I'm still asking myself the question: "What's the deal with Monet?"

I don't mean: "What can be said about the formal characteristics and rendered effects of his works?" I'm not interested in dry academic commentary on technique and theory of light. 

I'm interested in thinking about Monet's artistic unconscious.  

Impression Sunrise

I think all great artists -- painters, composers, poets -- are fantasists. Their works are much less about documentary compulsions taking place in the real world (landscape, structure, diary) than they are about unconscious retrievals of substance from the far side. That's why great works have an unusual effect on us. Unconscious mood has come to presence in palpable shapes, and we are confronted with objects -- painting, sonata, poem -- that are infused with an otherworldly aspect.

I think Monet did more than accomplish a flecky capturing of natural transience. I think his fracturing of light and mardi grasing of shadow also transported into this world a metaphysical substance from somewhere beyond the waking mind.   

Under the Poplars, Sunlight Effect

With Monet, fantasy -- the extraordinary -- comes to spiritual presence and combines its fibers with those of the ordinary -- the French scene. Like the painter, the composer is also a fracturing artist. The composer disintegrates time, re-imagines it as melody, harmony, and rhythm. Recasts time into new light and shadow, allowing an otherness to leak through. Like the painter and the composer, the poet is also a fracturing artist. The poet opens up language, re-energizes it into metaphor and cadential gesture. Recasts language into new light and shadow, allowing an otherness to leak through.

Perhaps at night, that fantastical unconscious substance latent on the far side of dreams filters into our dreams, creates that disquieting and wondrous background aura to our dreams. Then in the moody trances of great artists (Monet for this blog post), that fantastical unconscious substance makes its farther way into the created works.

The Artist's House at Argenteuil 

Isn't there an aura of the ideal, of the farfetched, of the fantastic in a Monet canvas? What's deeply ironic about all this is that fantasy just might be the psychosis of the actual Real. The actual Real can't possibly be but is. Might not the impossible-actual be a suitable region for artistic appropriation? 

Whatever the unconscious is, I think it's safe to say that it's connected to, rooted in all the subtle dimensions of being. Our DNA is most likely a mute semiotics, a chemical raconteur of the infinite weird. Monet, I suggest, painted in such a way that the psychosis of the actual peers out at us between painted flecks.

Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge

A great work of art is a palimpsest of the fantastic occurring upon the actual.

Now, don't get me started on Van Gogh, the Post-Impressionist. He did more than unconsciously dream fantastic substance from the far side into this side. He wrenched it from there and exploded it into here, revealed it in all its shocked, hysterical, naked coloration. 


Sometimes when I watch a ballet, something happens. 

Set, costume, character, and story begin to dissolve. In place of those things, something else begins to appear: a bodily flowing of syntax as such, a wordless gesturing of semantics as such.

It's like staring into a moving x-ray of embodied language. It's like staring into a mystical kaleidoscope of symbolic speaking.

That dissolving and appearing comes and goes, comes and goes. It's a fickle state of mind and won't stick. It's an episodic abstract delirium. 

And other times when I watch a ballet, I just watch the ballet.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

composer Mieczysław Weinberg

A webpage with some info about him:

"The Composer and His Music"

My hair always grows... a monkey-shrieking jungle.

I got a haircut in October. My hair stopped growing.

November, December, January -- my hair refused to grow a smidgen. I thought it meant I had some terrible physical or symbolical illness. Why did my hair stop growing?

A few weeks ago, my hair started growing again, like a mystical occurrence. Almost overnight -- Poof -- there it was, with no explanation.


One way of looking at it is to think there's a lot of poetry out there. Another way of looking at it is to think there's hardly any poetry out there.

For me, a poem is a thing with the artistic power to move a reader into another dimension. The reading soul is disoriented, rather amazed. An actual poem is open, strange, and timeless. A poem is profound, is spiritual, is as momentous in principle and in presence as Beethoven's music.  

Otherwise, it's just someone saying something -- blather, blather, blather.

When you find an actual poem, it will be a homecoming. The poet, from a shadowy matrix of haunted seasons, metaphysical events, and historical consciousness, returns reading souls to the bourne of symbols, to the region of early wonder. The poet is a subtle fantasist discovering textures of the uncanny and artistically layering them into an almost familiar substance. 

Otherwise, it's just someone saying something. Otherwise, it's not Adam Zagajewski or Ilya Kaminsky.

No one will agree with me about this, and that's okay. I realized some months back that my mind has become an alien eggplant darkly curving in an outskirt, outlaw garden.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Miles Davis

The album Kind of Blue was released in 1959.

About a month ago...

...something came to me from who-knows-where-or-how. I had a little "vision" of a young Cesar Chavez. He was a teenager picking crops in some large California field. The fleeting image I had of him included his teenage consciousness. It was an outside picture and an inside picture. 

He would occasionally stand up and look out at the vast field. He would be thinking: "Every year, crops and these low wages, as if it's written forever into the roots of the world." He would sigh fatalistically as he stooped back down to continue picking. But in the back of his mind was the radical thought that maybe something could be different, that maybe people someday could be paid a human wage for their labor. The seed of an uncertain dream took on faint moisture and dim light in his young consciousness.

I wanted to write a poem about this. I can't because I'm not a good enough poet to write such a poem. (I had posted a new poem of mine a few days ago. I thought it was an okay poem. Last night, I realized it sucked so bad it could cause the formation of a black hole on Earth. I removed that poem.)

It occurs to me that I know someone who could write such a poem. All of the above radical stuff about workers' rights would have to be subtly cast, only ooze through the poem indirectly. Because politics ruins a poem, has no business elbowing itself into art. The poem would be less about a future UFW than about something metaphysical -- how the impossible might dream itself into possibility.

The poem would be mostly a series of images -- field, crop, sunlight, laborers (their clothes, expressions, postures, ironic asides). How could a poet write this poem about low wages in such a way that low wages aren't even mentioned? How could a poet make this poem in such a way that warm breeze on skin and complex smell of soil in the air come to written life? I don't know how.

Would it have to be a poet with Hispanic roots to write such a poem? Not necessarily. It would have to be a poet with imagination and nuanced talent. If such a poet happened to have Hispanic roots, then so much the better, I suppose.

I wish Lisa Alvarado would write my "Poem for Cesar Chavez."

1927 - 1993

Monday, February 24, 2014

"The Sound of Silence"

The Dvořák Method

1841 - 1904

Czech composer Antonin Dvořák wrote music that can, I think, tell us something worthwhile about poetry.

Where is it written that poems must be depressing? Do poets think the word “serious” is automatically synonymous with the word “miserable” or the word “ugly” or the phrase “Life sucks”?  

Listen to Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. The attitude of that glorious thing is noble and stoic. Listen to Dvořák's Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, especially No. 1 in C major. The attitude of that wonderful thing is sublimation of the tragic into gypsy whirl of “Life is better than not.”

*     *     *

This topic (this sermon directed at myself) makes me get all aphoristic:

Melancholy is the bronze tone of being, therefore a worthier pitch than the dissonant clang of despair.

Poetry is about aesthetics and deep symbolism, not mental and emotional disorders.

Poetry should be keyed to spectral octaves of the unconscious, not to barking noises of the ego. 

A poem not haunted with at least 100 years of world history is likely to be banal, is unlikely to be noble, stoic, and strange.

Music is the purest fantasy, and a poem should try to be its cousin – to write one's soul into the vast worlding dance of the unusual.

Tchaikovsky !

Sometimes, I forget to speak about how marvelous his music is and how much it means to me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

For a Few Dollars More

Guy driving, guy in the passenger's seat, two of us hiding in the trunk. Four for the price of two on a Friday night at the drive-in movie theater. To see a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western.

The early autumn's night air has a chill. The early autumn's night air is filled with girls -- in other cars, at the concession counter, or as some kind of vague possibility. We're watching Clint, and we fire up our own cigarillos.

Ennio Morricone's score begins to haunt the blasty, hollow, low-fi speaker.

We realize we have entered a certifiable alternate reality.

We even get to see the peculiar Klaus Kinski as Juan Wild, the Hunchback.

Monday, February 17, 2014

László Lajtha

The music of Hungarian composer László Lajtha (1892 - 1963) is stuck in my head. Keeping in mind the adage "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," I still want to know and express how his music affects me. 

But it's as untranslatable as twilight and as elusive as elsewhere. So I guess I just won't say anything.

Some info about the composer: Heritage House

I'm a-gettin' steamed!

Essays these days.

They're so pipsqueak. They lack spirit, imagination, and flair. They're so comfortably cocooned inside a Paris-to-New York milieu of mincing trope, namedropping erudition, and goes-without-saying self-importance.  Also thematic banality -- writing stuff just to be writing stuff. 

A proper essay thinks by the seat of its freakin' pants. It goes somewhere unexpected. It makes your reading brain blink, astounded by paragraphs happening as prose art. 

An essay should vibrate with originality. An audacious essay is, oddly, an act of humility: a willingness to appear somewhat nuts in the compulsion to explore dubious territory by relying on sheer wits.

Thomas De Quincey wrote real essays:

Thomas De Quincey essays

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Charlie Kelly versus World Order

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly 

First, let's stipulate that everyone is unusual. The spectrum runs from highly functional people with a few quirks to stark raving madmen and madwomen. Then, there's Charlie Kelly. He has completely sidestepped the spectrum.

Objects have meanings bestowed on them owing to consensus of experience. A hammer is for affixing a nail. A window is for staring out of. A pizza is for being round. So on and so forth. But in Charlie's head, all objects are free-floating, a-historical phenomena.

As with objects also with behavioral conventions. Every social construct is, for Charlie, a region of stupefaction and always already beside the point. His impatience with the usual, the agreed-upon-by-society expresses itself as an almost physical spazzification.

Try to imagine Charlie Kelly running for elected office, becoming an entrepreneur, writing depressive poetry. It's not possible. Outsider artists interred in insane asylums would consider Charlie one step beyond. This fracture of normality precludes his participation in ordinary non-verbal codes. Inflections, nuances, winks, and nods don't mean for Charlie what they mean for the rest of us. This is not solipsism on his part. This is about him moving around as best he can inside our collective solipsism.

Charlie is preternaturally tuned in to a frequency of "I wasn't consulted beforehand about being born, therefore...rabbit." This is non sequitur as the manic law frothing beneath all philosophies of Being and Time.

Charlie Kelly is the embodiment of something on the tip of the tongue. He's the living reverse of the Freudian Uncanny -- with Charlie, things have no chance of ever coalescing into the familiar. Charlie is permanently un-housed.

Watching Charlie Kelly on the TV series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is to encounter primal spirit set loose in the world. He's a stray mercurial juggler of semantics performing unlawfully inside our thick categories.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

"Under the Boardwalk"

This song goes out to my friend KB.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

some Ravel piano music

colors from somewhere else

I think I've read that color has to do, scientifically, with light. Something about a prism and the word "spectrum." I really can't be bothered with that kind of thinking. It makes me tense and rebellious. I prefer rummaging around in the fractal cracks and seams of things, where spirit moves and the poetic happens.

I want to talk about Jack Cardiff's use of Technicolor in the 1947 Powell and Pressburger film Black Narcissus

I bought the DVD several years ago, owing to Cardiff's color. It's the most beautiful film I've ever seen. The plot and characters are beside the point.

I want to talk about Cardiff's color in this film, but I'm not sure what to say. Even if I knew what to say, I doubt I would know how to say it. Whatever it is I want to talk about is something different than what this article has to say:

Jack Cardiff: Painter's eye view

Cardiff said his filter palette was influenced by master painters. That's one way of looking at it -- his. I want to look at it my way.

I've read about the effects of peyote. I've read that colors from somewhere else are transposed onto or interfused with objects. A chemical transcendence in which vibrancy itself is made manifest as tones of metaphysical color. It's an entry into a dimension unsuspected by everyday consciousness. 

As with peyote so with Cardiff's colorology -- we're getting as close as we're likely to get to thingness-in-itself. An impossible depth of presence somehow also possible.

Jack Cardiff's cinematography in Black Narcissus happens as a convergence of hallucination, substance, and aesthetics.

1914 - 2009

Sunday, February 9, 2014

as if a manifesto

Why do we love certain symphonies, while merely appreciating or tolerating others? And when we listen, is it for evocation of images, holography of emotions, drama of gestures, or efflorescence of structures? Maybe a blending of all four?

I love Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 (1806). I can't quite put a decisive finger on why this symphony affects me the way it does. It's not about image, emotion, gesture, or structure. I've been pondering this thing for many years.  If I don't figure it out soon, my head will continue to explode in slow motion until there's no mind mass left.

I have a suspicion that I love this symphony because it sounds like the formal release of the Spirit of Aesthetics. And how it wordlessly suggests a manifesto: deepest art always moves with an aspect of beauty. 

That Beethoven fellow was exceptional. 

the splendor of false memory

I have a recurring image of a house set back from a certain strange street in El Dorado, Arkansas. A recurring image from my adolescence. The front yard was vast, with a curving driveway. I have a recollection of the interior of that house. I've never been inside that house. 

This recurring image is a false memory.

In my false memory, my cousins Judy, Janet, and Terry lived in that house. In reality, they lived two or three miles away. They never lived on that street of overhanging elms and moody time.  

There's a unique texture to this false memory. It's not like a stray piece of dream. It's even cooler than that. Wherever it came from and however it is that it keeps appearing behind my third eye are questions having to do with a dimension tilted away from reality. 

This isn't past-lives stuff, isn't supernatural or Jungian. It's way more interesting than all that stuff. Somewhere deep in my head, a wrong house has decided to exist containing three wrong cousins. I really don't want to know how or why. I'm just glad it's there.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Why not some Jean-Philippe Rameau?

From Alfred Schnittke's unusual soul...

...comes this Yellow Sound:

empty zones

Poetry makes nothing happen.
~ W.H. Auden

That seems to say poetry is impractical, not utilitarian.  For sure, poetry with a political agenda is artistic waywardness. I think Auden's statement also says something else, and deeper.

From Joseph Brodsky's poem "New Life" comes this:

                                    Ultimately, one's unbound
           curiosity about these empty zones,
           about their objectless vistas,
           is what art seems to be all about. 

Poetry that brings neutral abyss to presence -- the great unanswerable question behind and allowing phenomena -- has an indelible aura of the artistic about it.  

Reading a poem that's not an implicit question toward the metaphysical ("curiosity about these empty zones") is like reading a bucket of rusty nails being shaken -- it grates on sensitive nerves. Even love poems can injure the reader's mind, when those love poems are unaware of "objectless vistas" as the backdrop for Eros.

In the depths of language, where artistic poets ponder and write, it's almost as if language is quizzing itself -- the status of its nouns, the time of its verbs, the drama of its syntax -- in order that an opening onto universal context might occur, zoneness per se. 

Some people who write poems declare stuff. But rhetoric evaporates poetic ectoplasm, leaving stanzas ghostless and brittle. Art doesn't like it when that happens. Art likes it when zones appear supple with time and ghosts, emptied out of neurosis and opinion. A painting by Yves Tanguy might clarify what I'm talking about. Tanguy isn't declaring or confessing in paint; he's making nothing happen

I Await You (1934)

Back to poetry.

In Brodsky's diptych "Venetian Stanzas," we find the poet moving through the difficult questions of a waterlogged and watermarked city.  

When I try to read these two poems with a focused attention, I get lost in Brodsky's figures of speech. I can't quite get or visualize what he's saying in particular. But when I read them in a half-focused state, letting the stanzas wash over me, I get a sense of them in general.

Behind and within Venice's material presence lurks a hollowness -- a volume of time haunting stone, fabric, people, everyday objects, and water. These stanzas pry open a melancholy space through which the poet ambles physically and spiritually. Into zones of decadent substance grieving the inscrutable weight of the word "is." A masquerade of exhausted history. Our poet is a medium translating the city's perplexed old moods into shapes of human irony. Structure as gesture of always facade, perception as zone of never knowing.

At night -- walls, windows, and the intrigue of rooms. In morning -- shadows just so beneath harbor sunlight and bird wing, the recoil of sentient flesh from the moisture of too much immanence. Venice and the poet both wearily cling to paradoxes of land and water, time and space, substance and being. Those paradoxes form into the empty zone of presence and a possibility of written art.

Eventually, the poet questions his own physical and metaphysical situation as such, honing in on its status of extraneity:

          I am writing these lines sitting outdoors, in winter,
          on a white iron chair, in my shirtsleeves, a little drunk;
          the lips move slowly enough to hinder
          the vowels of the mother tongue,
          and the coffee grows cold. And the blinding lagoon is lapping
          at the shore as the dim human pupil's bright penalty
          for its wish to arrest a landscape quite happy
          here without me.  

In Wallace Stevens's poem "The Idea of Order at Key West," we find the poet under a shore singer's spell of evocation, bringing to thought the "veritable ocean." The sea is a vast phenomenon of symbolic energies:

          The meaningless plungings of water and the wind, 
          Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped 
          On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres 
          Of sky and sea.  

But something else has washed into and fused with consciousness -- that song toward a vaster empty zone beyond. A vocalise of mysterious beauty. And from this comes awareness that the profoundest role of poet is to sound the uncanny question:   

                                      It was her voice that made 
          The sky acutest at its vanishing. 
          She measured to the hour its solitude. 
          She was the single artificer of the world 
          In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea, 
          Whatever self it had, became the self 
          That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, 
          As we beheld her striding there alone, 
          Knew that there never was a world for her 
          Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

*    *    *

City and Sea as analogs to open abyss, empty zones filled with enigma and latent with death.