Archive for the ‘poems’ Category

Between Myth and Modernity

Lee Maracle, an eminent Sto:Loh nation author recently shared a brief story on Facebook in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As it has been widely and freely shared there, I trust I am not overstepping by sharing it here:

I think we should talk to this virus. Once upon a time the viruses ruled the [earth] and the trees walked. Raven and eagle called a gathering what can we do the fragile ones are dying. Cedar stepped forward and said we will be still the invisible beings (bacteria and viruses[)] can live in the dark in our roots. And the tree stood still and the bacteria and viruses lived underground. But now clearcutting is letting them loose. We can send them back. Let us talk to this virus and ask it to return to the tree roots. Asking with a pipe to talk [to] the virus!!!!

I was moved to respond to Maracle’s story and wrote the poem (below in PDF format), all the while painfully cognizant of certain complications I want to address explicitly.

First, a white settler man writing a response to something a First Nations woman writer has written is fraught with complications (such a simple word, for all its syllables!). For this reason, I sought to answer her story with a story or account of my own, rather than writing, e.g., a critique couched in the language and epistemic and social stance of epidemiology. Moreover, I was careful not to pretend to be correcting her error with my truth:  my poem’s third line, “…from what I’ve heard”; I place two stories side by side, rather than try to replace one with the other (however much they disagree). In ancient Greece, for example, competing stories about the gods existed concurrently, peacefully, because the Hellenes understood, as Herodotus tells us, the poets created their gods.

More fundamentally my writing this poem and thinking about and over it the way I have is motivated by my concern (not position on) over the relation of myth and modernity. Maracle shares what to European settler ears is a mythic, premodern mode of apprehending the world. But it wasn’t that long ago, only centuries, that Europe itself underwent what has become known as the Enlightenment, itself only a moment in a process of “modernization” beginning with the Scientific Revolution when mythic modes of thought were slowly and painfully replaced by rational, scientific modes and the world (in Max Weber’s words) disenchanted.

virus infection

This relation between what I call here myth and modernity is far from simple. On the one hand, mythic ways of understanding what is are forced into having to come to terms with this new, undoubtedly powerful way of grasping Nature. On the other hand, if the two are understood as being in opposition, then that opposition is one that self-deconstructs (in the rigorous sense):  painstaking reflection can reveal how each term is a species of the other (as Lévi-Strauss shows at length, myth is a mode of thought every bit as rigorous and possessed of truth as the natural sciences, while the work of Adorno and others reveals the mythological character of Reason…), while not collapsing the two into each other or into a higher, truer unity (sublate them, in Hegel’s word). They remain in fraternal conflict and, ideally, dialogue. Anyone familiar with my poetic or critical work will know this problem is an active and ongoing concern…

How, then, to modernize myth, as it were, so the mythic and scientific can come into conversation? This is what I attempt in my own very small-scale way with my poem:  to answer a story with a story, as a story rather than critique, and in a manner that echoes that of the story being answered, the style of a folk or fairy tale (hers begins “Once upon a time…”).

If only the matter were so simple. After strenuous conversations with friends about the poem and no little rumination on my part, I’m forced to conclude the poem faces a very great danger of being misconstrued (which it is likely to be, anyway) if it’s read apart from Maracle’s story, let alone this blog post. Therefore, I post below the final version of the poem (which underwent countless revisions and incremental emendations) in the context here of Maracle’s text and the preceding apologia. Here, then, seems to be the poem’s final home.

Virus talk (final)

 

 

 

A (post-secular) poem for Ash Wednesday

However much I was raised Catholic (and really enjoy Paolo Sorrentino’s gorgeous series The Young Pope and The New Pope), the Christian calendar orients me more mythopoetically than devotionally. Nor is the poem below as reverent (however elusively, allusively, and ironically) as Eliot’s canonical one, being more light-hearted and spontaneously post-secular. Nevertheless, I post below an Ash Wednesday poem from March End Prill (Book*hug, 2011).

 

Lift the flame

Luciferous hissing

blue out the lighter

Light the incenc

uous resins

crackle in the bowl

Father

Son &

Holy Ghost

Each cardinal direction

dawn morning sun

in branches

orientation

sinister

Southern Cross

Antepod

Abendland

Ol’ Rope-a

accidental occident

all that’s left’s

True North

“I believe”

Lichen yellows

Shady bark

OULIPO now and then

1-LUTygRS_E5EI_AOvFTHaaw

“Oulipo turns 60, but given how much we hear about it these days, it feels more like 150″ says George Murray at Bookninja. To some of us, it seems much older.

For my part, I learned about the OULIPO and composition by means of a generative device in the early nineties, thanks to Joseph Conte’s goldmine of a study, Infinite Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry. Not that long after (or so it seems this morning), Christian Bök’s Eunoia appeared to equal acclaim and, well, annoyance (a book, for those who don’t know, is composed by means of a generative device, after the OULIPO).

For me, the controversy was tiresome, having read Conte’s work and, more importantly, Ernst Robert Curtius’s classic oeuvre, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, which details ancient and medieval modes of composition which quickly dispel any illusions the OULIPO and its epigones are avant garde. (Though I do know that matter is more complex than I allow for here).

I expressed my impatience with the whole matter, boiling Curtius’ excurses into the following poem from Ladonian Magnitudes, one among several that got up the nose of that book’s most notorious reviewer. The poem is four quatrains and a concluding line, despite WordPress’ formatting constraints…

 

Liposuction & Related Procedures in Antiquity

 

Lasus Pindar’s master made a poem sans σ and a millennium later

Nestor of Laranda in Lycia wrote an Iliad each book less a letter Tryphrodorus Aegyptus did the Odyssey

So from Baroque Spain via Peter Rega

From Fabius Planciades Fulgentius’ De aetatibus mundi et hominis λειπoγραμματoς

 

Hucbald’s Charles the Bald eclogue beginning every word with C one-hundred and forty six lines

Late Roman grammarians’ παρόμoιoν

O Tite, tute, Tati, tibi tanta, tyranne, tulisti a scolia for a Caracalla’s Banquet

where as Aelius Spartianus has it from his brother Geta every dish alliterated

 

The so-called “figure poems” τεχνoπαίγνια in the Greek Anthology

Porfyrius Optatianus rendered in Constantine’s Latin

Alcuin, Raban Maur, Sixteenth Century Hellenism followed

Pre-Alexandrian Persian lines in trees and parasols

 

Eusonius follows Plato’s for the Sophists logodaedalia in his Technopaegnion

Each line of one poem starting and finishing with one syllable and the last word’s the next’s first

Catalogues of single syllable limbs, gods, foods, questions “yes” or “no”

A myth crib every line turning on one syllable

Grammatomastix’s monosyllables amputated prefixes lifted from Ennius and Virgil

 

The “versos de cabo roto” Urganda chants before “…a certain village in La Mancha…”

Corpus Sample: the poetic Wittgenstein

A friend recently got a hold of the first and only book published during philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s lifetime, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I don’t know what prompted my friend to order in a copy, but he was understandably perplexed; even Bertrand Russell famously failed to understand his student’s work. Philosophically, despite its immediate fame among the Logical Positivists, the Tractatus is, today, a “dead dog”, repudiated most famously by the author’s own reflections, published posthumously as the Philosophical Investigations. Nevertheless, a friend of my friend sought to console him, assuring him “the Tractatus is pure poetry.” Creative writers have tended to agree:  Jerome Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman included sections from Philosophical Investigations in their assemblage of outsider poetry, Barbaric Vast & Wild, dramatist and novelist Thomas Bernhard published Wittgenstein’s Nephew in 1982, and Canadian poet-philosopher Jan Zwicky’s first book Wittgenstein Elegies appeared in 1986.

I don’t remember when I first encountered Wittgenstein, but it was surely before beginning my undergraduate studies. Those (eventually) were devoted to philosophy, and I wrote my honours paper on the private language argument in the Philosophical Investigations. To pass the time (four days) driving from Regina to Montreal, where we were going to study, a friend and I read through the Tractatus, doing our damnedest to make what sense of it we could. And my graduate studies resulted in a number of poetic texts, all engaging in various ways with the early and late Wittgenstein. Even more recently, a compositional method shared here takes an ironic inspiration from his remark that “meaning is use”.

I post below, then, two poems now included in my first trade edition Grand Gnostic Central. The first is a prose poem, borrowing liberally from Norman Malcolm’s memoir; the second is a poem that tries to come to terms with the Tractatus.

 

Wittgenstein

 

[from “Grand Gnostic Central”]

 

The walls are bare and the floor scrupulously clean.  In the living-room, two canvas chairs and a plain wooden one around an iron heating-stove.  In the other room, a cot and card-table, books, papers and pen.  A man sits at the card table.  His face is lean and tanned.  He wears a flannel shirt and light grey flannel trousers.  His shoes are highly polished.  He looks concentrated and severe, striking out as if arguing.  He stops, sits still.  He remembers swimming—a small boy, the ease of floating, the sun and water in his eyes, closing them tight.  He remembers how hard it was forcing himself down, down deep to the mud at the bottom, the water always pushing him back to the surface, his needing air pushing him back to the surface.  He has written a treatise on logic.  He knows those who do not know him think him an old man, irritable and obscure.  He remembers writing his thoughts for the book in small notebooks he carried around.  He remembers writing “If `the watch is shiny’ has sense…”  He remembers the flash on the watch-face that gave him the example.  It had rained and only now the sun cut through red clouds.  The field’s mud is soupy and slick.  He crouches down in the water at trench-bottom, once almost standing to keep his balance in the muck.  He hears the sharp tiny ticking at his wrist.  He dates the entry 16.6.15.

 

Holy Crow Channels LW

 

We know no sensations

give these propositions sense.  Questions

that exact innocence free from naivete

demand a rigorous ignorance of the evident

apparent given as the one condition

for their initial

stuttered utterance.

The long tautology that bends say

the blade of a jet engine

to just the angle of most force

turns on this

when the need for further thrust

draws inertia from the potential

for doubt, unbinding concepts and arguments

and baffling mathematicians

just this side of mathematics.

We need our end to be

the final determination

of the rule that keeps stasis

appearing repeatedly, that blesses with some semblance

of regularity frequently enough

to let us see this

and hear that

completely unsurprised.  These things we know

are hardly thought, for the common

is the category entered most

easily.  We can count, yet,

to ask what numbers are

reveals the path that eases

the passage everywhere but where

the answer you expect to desire lies

and leads you to question

again the writings that made you

conclude the first proposition

that defined one doubtfully.  For them

a mere analysis, for you

something more that flails you

to what is truly necessary.  The clear thought

expressed as clearly as the fabric of language

will strain it

fascinates you with its immaculate muteness

that finally becomes a song so mythic

you are bound from it, fast,

and your hearing is filled

with what is spoken

in innocence, naively.

 

 

September 13 Synchronicity

For me,  September 11 is often shadowed (if not overshadowed) by the Dawson College shooting of 2006, which (as a teacher there) I witnessed, from a fortunate, safe distance.

Today, however, reflecting on the work, I opened Ladonian Magnitudes by chance to the poem “Epistle to Zsolti”, a versified missive to my friend, Hungarian sound artist Zsolt Sőrés. The letter, as much as it overtly expresses a desire to correspond and communicate with a distant friend, as a poem, has other motivations, one of which was remarked by the “Gefin” in the poem (Hungarian-language poet Kemenes Géfin László, a close friend at the time), namely, the death of another friend, writer Daniel Philip Brack (DPB), September 13.

DPB reads

In acknowledgement of this manifold synchronicity, and in warm memory of DPB and the other friends in the poem, and the attachment that motivated it in the first place, I share it here.

 

Epistle to Zsolti

 

been on a Tom Waits

immersion course

for weeks now

buying him all up

latest and lastest

new or used

listening to just one new song

a day

carefully

these days Foreign Affairs 1977

like Blue Velvet’s soundtrack

reminiscent of Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch

 even a couple of “One-eyed Jack’s” in the lyrics:

our cinematic interests

our show’s DAT I’m so eager to hear

because of a heightened self-consciousness about Performance

teaching again now two weeks

Primal Shamanic poetry and poetics

that is “magical”, “sacralizing”, “holy-ing” “aestheticizing”, “estranging” language-act

& “The Truth is Out Where?! Exploring the Unexplained”

eager to get you a draft of our interview (!)

write up a short article on why my favourite books today are Hungarian,

namely yours and Gefin’s

Poems for Jolanta urged me

around high noon today

to likewise edit the literary remains of dear departed DPB

Yes! He in the Budapest Suites

hopfrogging with me a parodic waltz

through that night empty streetcar subway hub under intersection of those big utcas

loud and lively red eyed Bacchic old electric blue shark skin suit skinny black tie 50s grey hat

who one Friday

September 13

overdosed OD’d

in San Francisco LA

right out of rehab

he who made

our furious correspondence

into spontaneous pseudonymous

“heteronyms” like Pessoa’s?

Kierkegaardian personae?

serial surreal literary works

whose literary remains

but for one

now lost?

novel on old 5-inch floppy

now my care

hardly able to pick them up

for grief

for guilt

the years since

so really should get together with Cronenbergian croney and computer design wiz and get to it

Did I ever send you photos of the Trabante?

Hold-ups began on our return in July

when installing Flashcard reader jammed access to my Office Suite

& December saw the whole house of cards come crashing down

Just when the Raelians announced they’d cloned a human being

& BBC Radio 4 Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung feuillton Times Higher Education Supplement all wanted my opinion

now I’m waiting for the cheques and checking my expectations that something poetic might come out of it

Sleeping, eating,

& now working

are all I’ve been able to do since December 3

But now apparently energetic enough to send out some feelers

which seems appropriate for someone who aspires to be

the antennae of the race

 

 

Corpus Sample: Materializations II: “Gloze”

Last week’s “materialization” sought to concretize the language by collaging snippets of decontextualized conversation. This week’s tightens the knot, making “the language speak” about the language itself.

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein is remembered for remarking that “meaning is use.” Taking this maxim literally, I collaged together examples of every use of the word ‘gloze’ drawn from the examples supplied by the Oxford English dictionary under the word’s entry. The word is thereby lexically if not semantically “emptied out” in a cubist fashion, putting Wittgenstein’s contention to an ironic test. The poem is further self-reflexive, because the word means to glare or inspect closely; therefore, the title can be taken to be the imperative tense, instructing the reader to gloze, gloss (another meaning), or otherwise attend to the word itself. The word has the added bonus, aside from its polysemy, of being a pun on the plural of the substantive ‘glow’ and the third person singular conjugation of the verb ‘to glow’ among other things. Attentive readers will also note the poem is a chance fourteen lines….

Though this compositional procedure held promise, I exploited it only two more times, to write the poem “Gnarled Box” (along with “Gloze” included in Grand Gnostic Central) and a longer, much more complex, intertextual work that develops a passage from Lautreamont’s Poesies fittingly entitled “Poesies”.

‘Gloze’ is also the name of the first, self-published chapbook, that served as my calling card in Germany during my first European tour in 1996. And, like “Elenium” it inspired a videopoem by Ty “Jake the Dog” Hochban, viewable after the poem.

Gloze

 

Gloze

 

No more men maye glosen withouten text

Than bylde materles.  With fals talkyng

Many gloses are made.  With Retorike,

Ne glosed eloquence, some to opteyn

Favour will flatter and glose, with new Glozes

Tainte the Text, and vnto you a fayned

Tale will gloze.  Give a good glose from thy strain’d

Goggle eye, peep from the watry Humour,

And glow upon any word you may gloze,

The parasite glozes with sweet speeches,

With the tongue of flattery glozing deeds,

Known only to those who have glozed over

An illusory glozing of light dismally

Glimmering, glosing with the glory of day.

 

 

 

Corpus Sample: Materializations I: “Elenium”

elenium

Ironically, at a time when text is at its most material (as something to be cut and pasted, or mindlessly composed or translated by software) it is at the same time most invisible, the sign a mere window onto its meaning, disposable as a paper coffee cup once the latté is finished. Poets have, understandably, especially in recent decades, worked against this trend.

“Elenium” (aside from the elusiveness of its title) slows down the too-ready consumption of the language by complicating its logic. The poem collages overheard bits of conversation without any indication of which words belong to which speakers or even how many speakers there are. However old (and it is very old) this device is, it caused no little consternation to the most vociferous of the reviewers of Ladonian Magnitudes (see the “Product Description” at the book’s page at Amazon.ca) from which this poem is taken.

Happily, the poem inspired a video interpretation (by Ty “Jake the Dog” Hochban), viewable after the poem itself.

 

Elenium

The isle is full of voices

 

a tiny little yellow oval pill

Judy Garland ravaged by her phantoms

it’ll all be alright

 

they’re all pretty full—one’s puffed up

hashish, port, and In Memoriam

we must have some music, some more to drink

 

and then we are ready for “Shades of Callimachus…”

late night calls for coke are disturbing and boring

I always bring him something from Holland

 

what have we done yet? —I can see

the flower in the bud—and she is a bud!

let’s remember hysteria was thought to be a migrating uterus

 

you having sex would never look good

a colony mongrel hand-me-down genes

yet eyes are the guides of love still

 

that must have given you a twitch or two

with the Xanax I don’t feel like I need a cigarette

though you wouldn’t say you have beaten out your exile

 

 

 

Corpus Sample: “A Visitor from Jerry-Land”

Last week I shared a poem a little more complex and elusive than what I’m wont to compose of late. Whatever difficulty it presented was more logical than anything.

However, a more persistent concern with no less complex consequences for that linguistic art whose medium is essentially public has been a struggle with how to maintain individuality in the face of all the forces that would liquidate it. During my undergraduate studies, “the Death of the Subject” was a hot topic. Today, the Subject is, again, dissolved in various identities, whether gender, race, class, or something other, or, even more gravely, as mere data, profiling a pattern of consumption.

singularity

 

In this poem, from Ladonian Magnitudes, that most public of things, language and text, is folded around the singularity of intertextuality and personal allusion to create a space for individual thought and, paradoxically, dialogue and expression. “A Visitor from Jerry-Land” answers an unpublished poem by the dedicatee (though included as an appendix to Ladonian Magnitudes). To further complicate things, its field of reference is unapologetically personal. Nevertheless, in this nearly hermetic space, it remains possible to engage urgent poetical, ethical, political, and existential matters at the site where they all in fact come into play, the individual person.

 

A Visitor from Jerry-Land

to Daniel O’Leary

“The makar must a wanderer be”

 

The chance

97% in my favour,

as even the hooligans

who stoned blind

Homer knew,

is the nether lands’

weather is variable

as the garden’s flowers’ colours’

pleasures under its lights.

 

Sloth, sallow, must swallow

its name’s root’s in Sanskrit

He-Who-Causes-To-Fail

 

Ferret out and squirrel away

what you can quoth

Master Ant smugly

even before his widescreen TV

where the Albanians’ Lada

is shot to shit and first one

on the scene’s no medic but

a cameraman focussed

on the slumped driver

his passenger’s shock-eyed begging.

 

The gravy, this meat’s juices

heat-pressed by kinetic attention.

We drove here in a Peugeot,

right away downed two Stoli shots,

and now, hours later, one makes

it up as he cooks supper while

the other scribbles his version

at the dining table. The sheer volume

of spirits swallowed and inspiring here

prevent the endless end of ill-fare.—

 

Look: the light waxes every morning

and night argues its obfuscations so

we might see its numbers plain.

In this light

an 18th century volume

of Juvenal with French crib

beside the new reading-chair upstairs

aside the modern English

concurs.

Corpus Sample: “After a Legend of the Prior of Urfort”

My stylistic trend of recent years has been asymptoting to a “poetry degree zero”, a language stripped of overt figuration or texture, relying, instead, on metonymy, allusion, and, what in classical rhetoric might be termed, arrangement. But recently I’ve been hankering for a more complex poetry, not unlike some of that included in my first trade edition Grand Gnostic Central and other poems (1998).

One poem there that embodies what I have in mind is a slightly cheeky retelling of a story about the medieval German mystic, Meister Eckhart, awhile the Prior of Erfort. Eckhart is referred to only paraphrastically, and the spelling of Erfort is modified, as well, for, well, poetic reasons. Whether the poem achieves the sophistication of thought and expression it aspires to I leave, of course, to the reader.

Too, thematically, it touches on the concerns addressed in my last Corpus Sample, since, one way humankind has traditionally attempted to tame the chaos of the wild ride of being alive is to impose a mythic pattern or order, as we’re told the Prior of Urfort seems to, here.

mystic

 

After a Legend of the Prior of Urfort

 

No soul

Has effect

But by the body held

 

What you know

What two no one can hold

Weave in a scuffle

 

These

The plottings

The subtle wishes

 

Sung by one

An inbred family

On a mountain top

 

These in one

Divine

He said

Avant le deluge…Rising up against that sinking feeling

sinking feeling

A bitter example of how vested interests (William Burroughs named them “the Nova Mob”) pervert reason, choke compassion, and stymie sane responses to global warming played itself out at this year’s Pacific Island Forum. Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, refused to endorse the Tuvalu Declaration proposed by the Smaller Island States group, “which acknowledges a climate change crisis, encourages countries to revise the emissions reductions targets and calls for a rapid phase out of coal use.”

“I am accountable to the Australian people, that’s who I’m accountable for,” Mr Morrison said.

Tuilaepa-Sailele

Tuilaepa Sailelethe

Not a year ago, Tuilaepa Sailelethe prime minister of Samoa, delivered a speech in Sydney, Australia, 30 August 2018, wherein he said that “Any leader … who believes that there is no climate change I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement, he is utter[ly] stupid and I say the same thing for any leader here who says there is no climate change.”

By serendipity (if not synchronicity), the year the world was supposed to end (2012), I composed a chance, fourteen-line poem in harmony with Sailelethe’s sentiments. I’m not sure it’s much of a poem per se, unless a linguistic expression that fuses topical pertinence, heart, and complex irony is enough.

 

“BE IT RESOLVED…”

 

BE IT RESOLVED that

whereas public officials

who deny the reality

 

of Anthropogenic Climate Change

and hinder efforts to mitigate

its destructive effects present

 

a clear and present danger

to themselves and others,

said public officials should be

 

removed from office forthwith

and placed under a physician’s care

until such time as their suicidal

 

and/or homicidal and/or ecocidal

tendencies cease to present.