NaPoMo (5): Some Praises of the May King

What’s Lebendig’lightwaves-09

Welcher Lebendige, Sinnbegabte, liebt nicht vor allen Wundererscheiunungen des verbreiteten Raums um ihn, das allerfreuliche Licht—mit seinen Farben, seinen Strahlen und Wogen; seiner milden Allgegenwart, als weckender Tag. / What living person, gifted with any sense, doesn’t love, more than all the wonderful appearances of spread-out space around him, the all-joyful Light—with its colors, beams, waves; its gentle presence, as waking day.—Hymnen an die Nacht, trans. Dick Higgins

 

Marks in, walking home, looking

in the used book store,

stroking the one friendly, fluffy

cat, intervening in a theological

dispute at the cash quoting

 

Spinoza in Latin and Daisetz

Suzuki summing up an evening’s

philosophical chit-chat:   “That’s what

I like about metaphysics—nobody

wins!” —stopping by the last

 

independent English-language bookstore, browsing

the poetry and philosophy, weighing

whether to buy a volume

or two but resolving just

to get the book I

 

ordered, paying off the dentist

for the new gold crown,

noticing Spring’s first green lush

after two weeks rain now

in intense sun, shaking up

 

a double martini or two,

commenting cante jondo on Facebook

to buck up a heartbroken

friend, priming a new withering

blog post “our postmetaphysical age”

 

sending me to Metaphysica Alpha

One:  “the senses are loved

for themselves, especially sight,” reading

Hymnen an die Nacht aloud,

Du kommst, Geliebte—” as Petra

 

opens the door, parsing that

first sentence together (…who doesn’t

love over and above appearance

spread out light, its colours,

rays and waves, gently everywhere

 

like the dawn?), philologizing Lebendige,

he shewed himself to them

alive”, “Son of the ever-living,

the senses of Sinn in

Sinnbegabte, allgegenwart, (omnipresent) everywhere.

 

 

 

NaPoMo (n+4): an occasional satire

First Night in Toronto

 

In the Royal York’s Library Bar next table

the retired scholar with wife and two old friends

from New York discussing Trump quotes Yeats

What rough beast… In our hotel room

the front page of the complimentary copy

of The National Post features a full-page, colour ad

for Mizrahi Developments’ luxury condo tower project,

a column by Lord Conrad Black The inability to lead

on pipelines will be the Prime Minister’s ruin…

We will find out soon enough if climate is changing…

In another Rex Murphy sings back up with thesaurus.

 

NaPoMo (n+3): a clarification

The two or three poems inspired yesterday by a Guardian interview with social scientist Mayer Hillman (see the two previous posts), also prompted one reader to comment on the poems, two of which use Mayer’s own words expressing the sentiment that, given civilization is doomed, we’d be better to attend other, more pleasant matters, such as music, love, education, and happiness.

The comment inadvertently touched on the issue of the truth of poetry and the poet’s relation to the thoughts expressed by the words of the poem, that yesterday’s three, impromptu poems might suggest some agreement with Hillman’s gloom and prescriptions.

Five years back mulling over the same matter I composed an ironic indictment, which, Luitspelende jonge manafter some little fiddling this morning, turned out, spontaneously, to be the fourteen-line poem that follows. Whether it provides any clarification as to my own stance on the issue, I leave to the reader.

 

Chance Sonnet: 

“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 homocidal and/or ecocidal

tendencies cease to present.

NaPoMo (n+2): Two for Mayer Hillman

Two for Mayer Hillman

 

1.

So much depends

upon

 

fossil fuels except

music,

 

love, education, and

happiness.

 

Focus on these

things.

 

 

2.

Asked what he would do were the world to end

next day, Luther replied, “Plant an apple tree.”

NaPoMo (n): a serendipitous poem

Combing through with no small pleasure the Seculum trilogy of Peter Dale Scott, HP Lego yarn twister 01preparing a talk I’m to give at a humanities conference at the end of May, I wound up at the same time in a short Facebook thread back and forth with a teaching colleague, which inspires the improvised poem, dedicated to him, below:

 

So many aspects of life

For Shawn Bell, composer

 

We read the same Guardian article

this morning, though you chose to share it.

 

Mayer Hillman, 86: We’re doomed

…making a case for [re?]cycling…

 

is almost irrelevant. We’ve got to stop

burning fossil fuels. I commented

 

you’d forgotten his most important words:

Standing in the way is capitalism

 

Your reply in its current form

and though I am not unacquainted

 

with Isaiah’s singing the lion shall lie down

with the lamb and I’m the first

 

to remark the confusion of first

and second nature in Adorno’s

 

If the lion had a consciousness

his rage at the antelope he wants

 

to eat would be ideology

I answered The dream of postwar

 

social democracy that capitalism

could be tamed by the rule of law

 

is as realistic as thinking

a lion can be trained to be vegan

 

And though we continued twisting into

that thread strands of current models


of socio-economic organization

in particular capitalism and socialism

 

big data and AI

The Communist Hypothesis

 

and the Enlightenment’s faith

in its overcoming its own

 

fateful dialectic Hillman’s words

free of the snarl

 

of our disagreement

need here be repeated

 

So many aspects of life

depend on fossil fuels

 

except for music

and love and education

 

and happiness. These things

we must focus on.

 

 

 

 

 

NoPoMo 2018 (4): something cheeky

tofu-sichuanais-1160x650-BS005624-pub-67290-01

she was coming for supper

 

he sliced two fresh avocado

egg yolk lemon wedge squeeze dribble

& dill then olive oil drizzled in & whisked

sauced over slices fanned out

over one side of the plate the other

halved boiled little new pink potatoes

tossed in chopped purple onion

grape seed oil red wine vinegar

 & a tsp Dijon

 

the main dish cubed pears

eggplant Szechwan  marinated firm tofu

chopped celery & ground ginger

sautéed in olive oil with a drop of sesame

dripped in for a hint of the Orient

a big bottle of Uncle Ben’s

Sweet Soy Sauce dumped on

all served on Shanghai noodles

 

he wore his nicest apron

but no pants having plucked

each fine wiry glossy black hair

from around his anus washed

oiled & perfumed so its folds

and puckers glistened in the candlelight

 

From March End Prill (Book*hug, 2011)

NoPoMo 2018 (3): A Post-secular poem avant le lettre

Lift the flame

Luciferous hissing

blue out the lighter

Light the incens

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

 

From  (Book*hug, 2011)

NaPoMo 2018 (2)

A poem from Ladonian Magnitudes, one of the favourites of its most inspired reviewer, 15069538677_a64d3603e0_bMatthew J. Trafford.

 

I HATE POETRY

I hate poetry readings polite in bookstores or schools or café bar open mics

every year’s unreadable thousands of slim volumes of verse inane formulaic inoffensive backcover blurbs filed filling booksupermarket-bookshelf ghettoes

poetry journals quarterlies annuals reviews anthologies handymuseums artcrypts a magazine (sb. 5. b.) should be a magazine (sb. Mil.)

I hate Spoken Word Slam poetry uniform monotonous Pop music spectacle theatrics

old faux Boho poetry yeasty anecdotes Al Purdy dumping a mug of beer on Margaret Atwood’s head for being too academic

antiAcademic Poetry poet poetry professors

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets sniggering at mainstream poets other L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets over their own writing “innovative” as Industry dumping a number of a local periodical with a bad review in San Francisco Bay

I hate Work Street Regional Peoples New Formalist National Minority poetry

I hate creative writing program workshop voice polish

poetry in complete correctly grammatical punctuated sentences

lines and stanzas typographically regular miming lyric epic voice strophes

poetry preciously le mot juste metaphoric gridding universals of human experience

personae all the poet’s voice nothing anybody’d think or say

 

Hear a live performance:  from States of the Arts Conference, Saarbrücken, Germany, 23 October 2008.

 

 

 

NaPoMo 2018

“Rupi is the new Rumi”

The mind is struck dumb

April is the cruellest month

 

“Ahi, quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura…”: a note on the postmodern Dante

Any visitor curious enough to view the reading that launched March End Prill might have selva oscurabeen in equal parts mystified and amused by my describing Cervantes and Homer as “avant garde, reflexive, or postmodern”. If so, then they’d be equally quizzical  of my describing Dante as postmodern.

I’ve made it a ritual to read through Dante’s Commedia every Easter Week “in real time”, The Inferno Good Friday and Holy Saturday, The Purgatorio Easter Sunday through to Wednesday, and The Paradiso as I will, as, having left the earth, terrestrial time no longer applies to the Pilgrim Dante or, in this case, his reader.

One of the things that makes Dante’s epic a classic is that even returning to it annually in this way, even the most familiar passages give up hitherto unnoticed features and meanings. Such was my experience this year, rereading the opening lines of The Inferno:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!
Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte;
ma per trattar del ben ch’i’ vi trovai,
dirò de l’altre cose ch’i’ v’ho scorte.

Midway in the journey of our life
I came to myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard it is to tell
the nature of that wood, savage, dense and harsh —
the very thought of it renews my fear!
It is so bitter death is hardly more so.
But to set forth the good I found
I will recount the other things I saw.

A simpler, more literal rendering of line four would be “Ah, how to say what was is a hard thing…”.

Arguably the most immediate way to take this line is that the Pilgrim-Poet Dante, recounting his experience relives the fear he felt lost in that wild wood (delightfully, in the Italian, esta selva selvaggia), which causes a moment of reflection wherein he (reflexively) writes, not about the wood or his fear, but about his writing about the wood and his fear. That is, “it is difficult to write about so fearful an experience, because writing about it requires I in a way relive that fear”.

But, of course, the persona of the Pilgrim is a mask worn by the poet Dante. Considered from this angle, the poet is writing about writing his poem. This admission of the challenge of the epic task the poet has set for himself and the demands that this project place upon the poet’s talent is a pattern that recurs throughout the Commedia, most immediately and movingly in the next canto, where the Pilgrim questions his worthiness to follow Virgil through Hell and Purgatory and receives so tremendously a moving, eloquent pep talk in reply that, in all sincerity, it never fails to move me to tears. However much such an admission of humility is a rhetorical ornament common in Latin literature, it is no less moving, such is Dante’s genius. It is as if, then, the poet were admitting, “Ah, how hard it is to write this epic poem in this noble style I invented just for this purpose.”

The rich complexity of this line, however, is hardly exhausted in this near cliché example of the “postmodern” text’s referring to itself in however a sly, metapoetic manner. A quick glance back at the English translation of this line and its tercet reveals a curious pattern:  as the tercet progresses the translation becomes more literal. The Italian grammar of the line is, or so I have it on relatively good authority, somewhat counter intuitive to an English speaker, for ‘qual‘ that I translate as ‘what’ is a word that can function as either a relative pronoun or an interrogative, closer to English ‘which’. Moreover, the line conjugates the copula in both the past and present tenses:  “era è“, “was is”. Why various English versions of the line depart from the Italian as the syntactic demands of the remainder of the tercet demand is understandable. But it strikes me, perhaps only because of my depending on English translations and a casual commentary on the Italian grammar, that the line, describing difficulty, is, itself, linguistically difficult, a stylistic device that recurs in The Inferno. Here, then, the artistic awareness of the poet extends into the very syntax of his language.

Nevertheless, there is no small irony in the progression of the tercet. On the one hand, the Pilgrim-Poet admits to the emotional and poetic difficulty of presenting what he wants to present, but that “hard thing” (cosa dura) is, in a sense, dispensed rather too easily with three conjoined adjectives selvaggia e aspra e forte, savage and dense and harsh, followed by the simple, frank admission that remembering it renews his fear. For something so dura, hard, it is performed with a strikingly easy fluency. On the other hand, though, it could be that the remainder of the canto that deals with the Pilgrim’s encounter with its famous three beasts, the Leopard, Lion, and Wolf, and his being forced by them into darkness and despair is just that “hard thing” whose memory so frightens him (and fear is an important theme in these two cantos and throughout the Inferno), or it might be the Pilgrim-Poet rushes over that memory to pass through it and leave it behind to get to that more heartening good his being lost and finding his way through Hell and Purgatory to Paradise provides.

That Dante’s poem should display such deft and complex linguistic self-consciousness, a metapoetic dimension literary scholars have pegged as characteristic of postmodern literature, really shouldn’t be a surprise, for the work of literature that is at the same time about itself and literature was first theorized and intentionally explored over two centuries ago by the German Early Romantics, die Frühromantiker, in their journal The Athenaeum (1798-1800) and in their criticism, letters, poems and novels. Indeed, the three characteristically “modern” writers for the Jena romantics were Goethe, Shakespeare, and Dante.