Archive for the ‘poems’ Tag

Condensation as Recomposition

Like many these days, I’ve been passing the time enjoying various televisual entertainments, most notably very carefully rationing out my viewing of Paolo Sorrentino‘s The Young Pope and The New Pope. Among these series’ many pleasures is the soundtrack, which introduced me to the British cellist and composer Peter Gregson.

Gregson, along with Max Richter, have both written what they term “recompositions”, Gregson recomposing Bach’s cello suites and Richter Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Gregson’s and Richter’s reworkings are not without precedent:  it’s an old compositional trick to take a phrase or theme from another composer’s music as an element for a new work of one’s own. These recompositions are, however, admittedly more radical and thorough reworkings of the original material.

In my own way, I’ve been writing recompositions for a long while. 779px-Electret_condenser_microphone_capsulesOne form, inspired by Pound’s found dictum that “dichten = condesare” (roughly, to write poetry is to condense), I termed “condensations”. The simplest compositional procedure, a manner of erasure avant le lettre, was to reduce a given text according to a rule.

The example I share below compresses H.D.’s book Sea Garden into a single poem, rendering each of the volume’s poems as a couplet made of the poem’s first and last line. I retained H.D.’s original capitalization and punctuation as a tacit way of  indicating my recomposition was in a no way a unified, straight-ahead lyric poem. The results of this poetic compositional procedure strike me now as being very aesthetically similar to Gregson’s and Richter’s musical recompositions, which is why I share the poem “Sea Garden” from Ladonian Magnitudes, below.

 

 

Sea Garden

after H.D.

 

Rose, harsh rose,

hardened in a leaf?

 

Are your rocks shelter for ships—

from the splendour of your ragged coast.

 

The light beats upon me.

among the crevices of the rocks.

 

What do I care

in the larch-cones and the underbrush.

 

Your stature is modelled

for their breadth.

 

Reed,

To cover you with froth.

 

Whiter

Discords.

 

Instead of pearls—a wrought clasp—

no bracelet—accept this.

 

The light passes

and leaf-shadow are lost.

 

I have had enough.

Wind-tortured place.

 

Amber husk

as your bright leaf?

 

The sea called—

The gods wanted you back.

 

Come, blunt your spear with us,

And drop exhausted at our feet.

 

You are clear

of your path.

 

The white violet

frost, a star edges with its fire.

 

Great, bright portal,

still further on another cliff.

 

I saw the first pear

I bring you as an offering.

 

They say there is no hope—

and cherish and shelter us.

 

Bear me to Dictaeus

and frail-headed poppies.

 

The night has cut

to perish on the branch.

 

It is strange that I should want

as the horsemen passed.

 

You crash over the trees,

a green stone.

 

Weed, moss-weed,

stained among the salt weeds.

 

The hard sand breaks,

Shore-grass.

 

Silver dust

in their purple hearts.

 

Can we believe—by an effort

their beauty, your life.

 

A Sonot at Easter: “Come out of the cave…”

Back in the early Nineties of last century (!) when I wrote this poem, the fashion among many Canadian (at least) poets was to write sonnet sequences. By chance, one day, I wrote a poem (“I know the Aurora Borealis” in Grand Gnostic Central) that happened to have fourteen lines. That chance (which to my ear happily rhymes with ‘chants’) occurrence began an ongoing, half-satirical series of accidentally-fourteen-line poems I called variously over the years “soughknots” (literally “air-knots”) and here “sonots” (so not sonnets!).

Its being Easter Sunday brought to mind the opening line and title of another sonot from Ladonian Magnitudes, “Come out of the cave…”, a poem marked by if not marking the emergence of sociality with the warmer days of spring. Of course, now, with the social distancing imposed by Covid-19, getting out into the warmer sunshine is more delayed than it was in 1992, but, then, the poem wanders through art and memory, too, where we can all sojourn until we emerge from this present staid-of-emergency.

 

“Come out of the cave…”

 

Come out of the cave

Spring’s first cold night

After an afternoon on the Thing with George

Embryons desséchés and six Gnosiennes, followed by Sonatine bureaucratique and Le Picadilly in the air

This time the third

I think of the natural periodical ecstasy

We call sleep

And consequently dream

Washing and drying the dishes

After the red cabbage, letcho, and potatoes sour-style

Everything put away in place for tomorrow

I pour the hot milk into the yoghurt jars

Remembering measuring solutions in Chemistry

Certain of the results

For the love of Dante

Every Easter I read through Dante’s Divine Comedy, and when I’m teaching, the Inferno holds centre spot in a course I try to give every Winter term, “Go to Hell!”.

That love for Dante and the Commedia Dante_Lucamakes its way into my poetry, too. A reader sensitized to this fact will fill a big basket of easter eggs reading through my books, published and unpublished.

Rarely, my love for his work is expressed outright, like in this short poem, “The book I can’t read closed beside me…”, that you can hear, here:

 

Of course, you’ll get even greater pleasure reading through the Commedia outloud over Easter week:  the Inferno, Good Friday through to Easter Sunday morning; the Purgatory, from Easter Sunday to Easter Wednesday; then begin the Paradiso Easter Thursday and ascend at your leisure!

You can hear the Commedia in Italian and English translation, at the Princeton Dante Project, here.

 

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

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