Thursday, February 27, 2014
...like 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
...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
|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.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
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
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
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
|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
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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
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.
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
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.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Monday, February 3, 2014
In Dostoevsky's novel The Possessed (variously Demons), you will find the character Stepan Trofimovitch Verkhovensky. He's an older fellow, an intellectual. He lives mostly inside his head, where the ideal, the abstractive, and the theoretical quiver in consciousness. He lives, therefore, just beyond the actual, in a more liquid or gaseous state than the solid.
In that respect, I see his intellectualism as a kind of artistry. On the impetus of allusive and expansive thinking, he floats toward possible spheres of interpretation. The life of mind has, over time, opened up a tangential space for this critic at large, for this spirit known as Stepan Trofimovitch. A peripheral "geography" is where the artistic abides. But let's not get carried away. He's an intellectual, not an artist per se, even if his musings and one famous work change time into different substance.
We find Stepan Trofimovitch in the novel during his later years, when he's a chronic free boarder with the aristocratic Vavara Petrovna. In her manor and with dramatic flair, he soliloquizes perceived slights and gesticulates intrinsic egoism. But he's more eccentrically charming than insufferable. Just a fading candle flame from an older era.
In Part Three of this novel, there is a Chapter 7: "Stepan Trofimovitch's Last Wandering." After a falling out with Vavara Petrovna, he sets out on the road. Dazed, feverish, and crestfallen, he yet proceeds with a misty hopefulness -- a Don Quixote on a not quite firm mission. Here's an excerpt:
The cart reached him; it was a fairly solid peasant cart. The woman was sitting on a tightly stuffed sack and the man on the front of the cart with his legs hanging over towards Stepan Trofimovitch. A red cow was, in fact, shambling behind, tied by the horns to the cart. The man and the woman gazed open-eyed at Stepan Trofimovitch, and Stepan Trofimovitch gazed back at them with equal wonder, but after he had let them pass twenty paces, he got up hurriedly all of a sudden and walked after them. In the proximity of the cart it was natural that he should feel safer, but when he had overtaken it he became oblivious of everything again and sank back into his disconnected thoughts and fancies. He stepped along with no suspicion, of course, that for the two peasants he was at that instant the most mysterious and interesting object that one could meet on the high road.
“What sort may you be, pray, if it's not uncivil to ask?” the woman could not resist asking at last when Stepan Trofimovitch glanced absent-mindedly at her. She was a woman of about seven and twenty, sturdily built, with black eyebrows, rosy cheeks, and a friendly smile on her red lips, between which gleamed white even teeth.
“You . . . you are addressing me?” muttered Stepan Trofimovitch with mournful wonder.
“A merchant, for sure,” the peasant observed confidently. He was a well-grown man of forty with a broad and intelligent face, framed in a reddish beard.
“No, I am not exactly a merchant, I ... I ... moi c'est autre chose.” Stepan Trofimovitch parried the question somehow, and to be on the safe side he dropped back a little from the cart, so that he was walking on a level with the cow.
“Must be a gentleman,” the man decided, hearing words not Russian, and he gave a tug at the horse.
“That's what set us wondering. You are out for a walk seemingly?” the woman asked inquisitively again.
“You . . . you ask me?”
“Foreigners come from other parts sometimes by the train; your boots don't seem to be from hereabouts. . . .”
“They are army boots,” the man put in complacently and significantly.
“No, I am not precisely in the army, I ...”
“What an inquisitive woman!” Stepan Trofimovitch mused with vexation. “And how they stare at me . . . mais enfin. In fact, it's strange that I feel, as it were, conscience-stricken before them, and yet I've done them no harm.”
The woman was whispering to the man.
“If it's no offence, we'd give you a lift if so be it's agreeable.”
Stepan Trofimovitch suddenly roused himself.
“Yes, yes, my friends, I accept it with pleasure, for I'm very tired; but how am I to get in?”
“How wonderful it is,” he thought to himself, “that I've been walking so long beside that cow and it never entered my head to ask them for a lift. This 'real life' has something very original about it.
So much other stuff goes on in this whole novel that someone might ask, "Why are you focusing on this little scene with the two peasants?" It's because I find myself on occasion wondering about the further and farther lives of minor characters.
The two cart peasants are confronted with the riddling presence of an...intellectual! They are also being unconsciously influenced by the intellectual narrator. And behind him, the artistic intellectual author, who has placed those two peasants in an unusual circumstance. They must be feeling ghosts!
Will they later laugh or whisper about that preposterous stranger on the road? The appearance of Stepan Trofimovitch will surely alter, in the weeks ahead (especially for the woman), an opinion that things are firmly quotidian.
The world is odder than it appears. How thoughtful of Dostoevsky to bestow on non-intellectuals an extraordinary encounter with someone from the life of reading and thought. The shock will surely vibrate into their own later years.
And how will brute nature -- rain, snow, wind, stone, stream, wheat -- extruded into the human shapes of two cart peasants affect Stepan Trofimovitch? Will his last dream as he soon lies dying spiral around the weirdness of a contrary mode? Will he sigh out his last toward the enigma of peasants, those who eyed him with suspicion?