A HYBRID NOTEBOOK OF POETICS AND PORNOGRAPHIES

Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.

13.8.11

THE ETERNAL BLINDFOLD

A bell rings in the middle of Dostoevsky's long story about a husband, a wife, and her lovers. Fast, energetic, moody types--and like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky is obsessed with types, the Suicidal Devil, the Crazy Karamazov, the Lovesick Idiot, and so on--I don't know how I've missed The Eternal Husband before, but I'm glad to find it again. It's a quick read to cover the kaleidoscope of human emotion: laughter and death, sweet admiration, friendship, hope, hate, beautiful lost love, fits of passion in a dream, and all as Mucholsky in his brilliant study of Dostoevsky's life and work asserts, in one of the most focused, and in the author's own words, "harmonic and balanced" structures he's ever been able to control.

It's fast and sweet. Boccherini's Quintet No. 4 in D, the fourth movement, a fandango for guitar and strings. Milos Karadaglic's recent recording. You can drink it in a day.

"The object in life of which he had had such a joyful glimpse had suddenly vanished into everlasting darkness."

Which reminds me of Eduardo C. Corral's poem up at Gwarlingo.

Corral's poem recalls Robert Frost's "Desert Places" in that a speaker looking celestially outward, gazing at the midnight external, finds himself staring into the center of the mortal self, into the center of a human night. Simic, while writing about the work of Jane Kenyon in Orphan Factory has said about the short lyric of 10-20 lines that the proof is in its voice. His assessment of Kenyon reminds me of both Frost and Corral: "the distance to her at times appears infinite, and that is the cause of her meloncholy. . . . Lyric poetry for her, to paraphrase Chekhov, is that illness for which many remedies are prescribed and for which there's no cure."

The locomotive night is falling fast, oh fast, and in Corral's little coffin for cut moonlight the speed of the vision, and the allure of the poem, relies on the malleability of his metaphor. Like the poets of the deep image in the 60's, or as Bly preferred, the psychic image, Corral is invested in visionary description, and seeing the crescent moon through the midnight window becomes wringing out a ghostly dishrag on his face. The human fever is relieved by the cold rag, and the field of white appears. Like in the work of great romantics, sickness is sight. Transgressively, we find the speaker looking into this white, bare kingdom, the inner landscape of bone. He plucks the thorn. The only truth available to a poet in search of beauty is death. The distance the poet finds is not cosmic so much as it is infinitely small and inside. Like Corral, one has to climb into his grave, sit cross-legged and close his eyes to see The White Nothing. In its Emptiness, Nature is the white night of the self. Even the voice has no where to hide. The elliptical pace of the poem is as necessary to its success as the metaphor, the deep image, the psychic transformation, but I can't get it to copy here. The speed of Corral's lines, breaths, and image-making is true of most of what I've seen in his forthcoming Yale prize winning collection, Slow Lightning.

I'm going to steal it.

I think I now I'm moving on to some Beckett, something with ominous constellation.

. . . . . . . .

12.8.11

OUR SIZE OF SORROW

Something somber and triumphant at the same time, something like Respighi's "Nebbie" sung by Pavarotti, who I saw at the Met once begin in a whisper, next to a piano, a lullaby that ended in a death cry, a silence that ended in a splendor, a galaxy-sweating supernova, black and robust and pouring painfully, a golden, wound-colored tenderness, enough for all of us. . .

The inevitable downfall of the ambitious, shrewd, daring, practical Queen Cleopatra, Pharaoh and Goddess Isis, who murdered her brothers and her sister and from whom we inherit the 12 hour day and monthly calendar, the census, our economic practice of using denomination marked monies, patroness of the arts, libraries, languages (having spoken 9 fluently herself), her city famous for its diversity and love of the theater and wit and laughter and dramatic celebrations and lavish Ptolemaic processions, its insurmountable wealth, gold and grain, all eventually taken as spoils and adopted by the Romans who wrote her as the historical villain of the ancient world and whose conquerer named the last month of summer after himself to commemorate his victory over her turncoat manic-depressive Dionysus, giving her children to his ex-wife his sister, August.

History is better than literature. Stacy Schiff's biography is a welcome read. It offers a portrait of a murderous family history, the impressive successes of the girl queen who was married first to Caesar and next to the greatest Roman general of his era, Mark Anthony. She was feared and loathed by the Romans, who were a developing nation of dogs, famous for brutality in war and public restraint, their misogyny apparent in both their philosophy and their politics. Monklike and without splendor. Or money. They needed Egypt, and her downfall was the rise of the western world as we know it. A culture that prizes the celebration of libraries, artistry, pageantry--a rebellion-free reign of education--sounds too good to be true, and it's shocking to imagine an ancient community in which 1/3 of all businesses were owned and run by women, in which women had rights to hold position and even take their ex-husbands to court. The difference between a history driven by the Romans instead of the Egyptian Queen is something like the difference between what anthropologists say is a lost evolutionary line--if we had only evolved from the the peaceful, maternal communities of the Bonobo, instead of from the violently territorial, paternalistic chimp.

What's even more striking in Schiff's book is the final chapter, in which all our particularly American sensibilities are defeated in the Queen's defeat. Her death is humiliating beyond belief. No amount of hard-work, determination, ingenuity or belief can help her. "The Secret" with its insidious message that your life is the outcome of your desires, that your suffering is your own fault, and that success is a result of your good wishes, the faux physics of the "laws of attraction", fails. Great men of our adored history are here painted in mediocrity and deception. Octavian, a lesser warrior than Mark Anthony, Cicero, bitter and grudgeful, Herod, scheming and weak, make a formidable alliance against the foreign lover queen and the sell-out general. Even Mark Anthony is moody and temperamental. Depressed when he is defeated in battle, even suicidal and in silent exile. The one unsung hero is perhaps swift Agrippa, whose January flight through the Mediterranean surprised Mark Anthony and whose arrow landed fatally at the end of that summer, changing history and making Octavian what he is to us now.

Shakespeare's play, I was surprised to find, is actually very accurate. I'm grateful though for Schiff's account, which abstains from making assumptions about Cleopatra's sexual ferocity, or her romantic desires, offering us instead a portrait of someone whose ambition and success were only matched by a terrific, a tragic, an impossible fall:

"She lost a kingdom once, regained it, nearly lost it again, amassed an empire, lost it all. A goddess as a child, a queen at 18, a celebrity soon thereafter, she was an object of speculation and veneration, gossip and legend, even in her own time. At the height of her power she controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast, the last great kingdom of any Egyptian ruler. For a fleeting moment she held the fate of the Western world in her hands. She had a child with a married man, three more with another. She died at 39, a generation before the birth of Christ."

Shakespeare's words speak just as magnificently for her death-scene as for her entire life:

"Give me my robe, put on my crown. I have
Immortal longings in me."

5.2.275-6

Steal it.
. . . . . . . .

10.8.11

LOBO

Antonio Lobo Antunez, the Portuguese novelist with that Yaqui witch, my great-great grandmother's last name.

A few years ago I read that Faulknerian account of a drag queen and could barely sleep, it was so lush and panicked, disembodied, ranting, flooding, harsh, sublime.

America feels very far away from this account of a young soldier, furious, phantasmagoric, his re-telling of his days as a medic to a dozen or so prostitutes between and during his desperate nights of making love. The haunted and gruesome Land at the End of the World, which was nicely translated but literally The Asshole of the World. Why is the closest we've come to a novel like this Tim O'Brien's account, his Lt. Cross humping through Vietnam, anatomy and exhaustion, automotonic, the zombie-fevered syntax? Or the gruesome poetics of Owen, the sad sensuality of Komunyaakaa, bodies blown up, dismembered, sacrificed, the gruesome realities and painful lyricism of the young veterans who survive? But nowhere--maybe in Mailer's Naked and the Dead is there something angry, pervasive, maddening, something that changes language and sight too--perhaps in some of Simic's poetry--but where are the recent novels of war weathered soldiers, the furious, wailing, desperate, alive, demanding stories that blame us for our disengagement as a nation, for our myopic obsessions with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and our MTV "reality" fetishes, our hiccuping newsfeeds that hide the bloodandguts truth and spin our politics as if they weren't puppeting us against each other, relying on our sheep psychology to take hold and deflect the fires of dormant emotions and call our inherited moral codes all to inflate the 1%, the egos of the powerful, and deflect our rightful rage at the daily hungers, the daily dead.

"Do you believe in upheavals, great adventures, inner earthquakes, soaring flights of ecstasy? Forget it, my friend, it's nothing but an optical illusion, smoke and mirrors, a mere theatrical trick no more real than cardboard and cellophane of the scenery used to create it or the force of our own desire to give it the appearance of movement."

I gulped the whole thing back like a shot of expresso and my eyes lit up like a night H-bombed to shit.

Then I picked up Stacy Schiff's biography of Cleopatra, and started to read about the incestuous bloody chess game of ancient sibling rivalry. . .


. . . . . . . .

8.8.11

MIDNIGHT GREEN

Bach this morning, and coffee.

The Trondheim Soloists' recording of violin concertos, whose recording of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons with Anne-Sophie Mutter, if you haven't heard it, is to die for.

Marine Layer, mountains deep. As in, all the way to Pasadena, white and gray. My face, peeking out from underneath a car tire. Bleak car.

Cars all crashing through redundantly and far, like the sea. The highways heave.

Then a fly wrecks my coffee like a dead asterisk. Exploded star.

Also with Wallace Stevens' last collection, The Rock, which, the more I read it, reminds me of Frederick Seidel. Unexpected arrows. I haven't sat enough, or stared vacantly enough, or walked enough barefoot over the grass, or got undressed and watched the nervous glitter of the leaves on the Chinese Banyan through the window, or lined up the bones of my dead hummingbird, or just sat at the bottom of the helix-hinging wild of the pool with my eyes closed to say exactly what I mean.

Take "The Green Plant":

Silence is a shape that has passed.
Otu-bre's lion-roses have turned to paper
And the shadows of the trees
Are like wrecked umbrellas.

The effete vocabulary of summer
No longer says anything.
The brown at the bottom of red
The orange far down in yellow,

Are falsifications from a sun
In a mirror, without heat,
In a constant secondariness,
A turning down toward finality--

Except that a green plant glares, as you look
At the legend of the maroon and olive forest,
Glares, outside of the legend, with the barbarous green
Of the harsh reality of which it is part.


I wish I could think of a Seidel poem to read along side of this, because I feel the echo of it everywhere in his Collected, in his declarative end-stopped lines, his qualifications, his prepositional repetitions, juxtaposed with the momentum of that last 3 stanza sentence. . . Stevens predicted something like Seidel's work, if only by writing "the grotesque is not a visitation. It is / Not an apparition but appearance". Seidel appears, and plenty of critics have said how frightfully. He does murder well. He does it so it feels like a beautiful hell. But my favorite of his poems relate a cosmic brutality to some tender vulnerable weakling.


"Midnight"

God begins. The universe will soon.
The intensity of the baseball bat
Meets the ball. Is the fireball
When he speaks and then in the silence
The cobra head rises regally and turns to look at you.
The angel burns through the air.
The flower turns to look.

The cover of the book opens on its own.
You do not want to see what is on this page.
It looks up at you,
Only it is a mirror you are looking into.
The truth is there, and all around the truth fire
Makes a frame.
Listen. An angel. These sounds you hear are his.

A dog is barking in a field.
A car starts in the parking lot on the other side.
The ocean heaves back and forth three blocks away.
The fire in the wood stove eases
The inflamed cast-iron door
Open, steps out in to the room across the freezing floor
To your perfumed bed where as it happens you kneel and pray.


. . . . . . .

6.8.11

STURM UND DRANG

"I've been sacrificing so to strange gods that I feel I want to put on record, somehow, my fidelity--fundamentally unchanged after all--to our own. I feel as if my hands were imbrued with the blood of monstrous alien altars--of another faith altogether."

If the first 200 hundred pages were a difficult ascent, like the strain of the roller coaster as it locks and raises inch by inch upward, straining toward that briefest star-like peak, as the eye spills forward and the heart prepares, as the clock is felt and there is time to wonder that you're still there at all, the last 2hundred 70 pages completely fall out from underneath you as the floor imminently blushes, the angle slams, the blackness trembles from that supernal and mortal height--the body falls, and the mind is in flames. You yourself feel that you're a manifestation of the "sacred rage" of Waymarsh. (Or maybe the Adagio from Mendolssohn's Fmajor sonata for violin and piano. I'm obsessed with Anne-Sophie Mutter's 2008 recording this week!)

At the finish of James' The Ambassadors it feels as if everything in the world were at risk, all is lost, and yet nothing happens. It's as if we're creatures made of anticipation and failure, and that's the sad thrill of humanity. The comic dimension of the tragedy of feeling. Like that contemporary, if no less broken, Ophelia-haunted Maria Gostrey, who plays the part of the reader, the attentive inquirer, patient, even omniscient, who like us finds herself, protected as she was, singed now with a desire she's kept secret, perhaps even from herself, and willing, ultimately, inevitably, to reduce herself now for its fulfillment, to give herself to love as if to servitude, whom with, by the end of the novel, we "sigh it at last all comically, all tragically, away", mumbling as much to ourselves in the mirror of self-denial as to the myth of true love, "I can't indeed resist you." And there it is. The uncompromising, sensual Lucretian truth of it.

Steal it if you can.

. . . . . . .

5.8.11

THE HAPPIEST ENEMY

So you wake up, and the light is there, like a bit of Mendelssohn's violin drilling sweetly from the other side of the black leaves in Eminor.

Stevens: "The fiction of the leaves is the icon of the person" but really he wrote: "poem".

This daylight's too concerto.

Started Henry James' The Ambassadors, last night, the first of his last three great novels, before the Dove's Wings and the Gold Bowl, and read until his sentences got so far ahead of me I was spilling into them. The dream came like a chess move and the other player was faceless. I'm somewhere between the winning Chad Newsome and the wiser, more useless, Strether. And then a few lines from Ashbery come again out of the breaking dark:

"Now it's years after that. It
isn't possible to be young anymore.
Yet the tree treats me like a brute friend;
my own shoes have scarred the walk I've taken."

The weather inside is controlled and bleak. It's a delight, really, to be safe here on the other side of the Chinese Banyan and watch the sunlight cut the throat of the street. I don't care how Eliot that is of me. Coffee in exile and basil. I could boil an egg.

I think I'll sit here and YouTube mens synchronized 3M springboard diving in Shanghai instead.


My photo
I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.