Thursday, April 17, 2014

Keats and Lacarrière on Stripping Conditioning

As to the poetical Character itself (I mean that sort of which, if I am anything, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself - it has no self - it is everything and nothing - It has no character - it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor. . . . It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the cameleon Poet. . . . A Poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence; because he has no Identity - he is continually in for - and filling some other Body. . . . I am ambitious of doing the world some good: if I should be spared that may be the work of maturer years - in the interval I will assay to reach to as high a summit in Poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer. . . . All I hope is that I may not lose all interest in human affairs - that the solitary indifference I feel for applause even from the finest Spirits, will not blunt any acuteness of vision I may have. I do not think it will - I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the Beautiful even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning, and no eye ever shine upon them. But even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself: but from some character in whose soul I now live. - John Keats

No knowledge, no serious contemplation, no valid choice is possible until man has shaken himself free of everything that affects his conditioning, at every level of his existence. And these techniques which so scandalize the uninitiated, whether they be licentious or ascetic, this consumption and consummation of organic and psychic fires...these violations of all the rules and social conventions exist for one single, solitary purpose: to be the brutal and radical means of stripping man of his mental and bodily habits, awakening in him his sleeping being and shaking off the alienating torpor of the soul. - Jacques Lacarrière

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why publish poetry?

Poetry is the oldest established form for the written word, and it is a necessary embodiment of language, a vehicle by which we are able to express and explore even the most complex concepts and emotions. Poetry is a mode of expansion and play, a mode of questioning and affirming. It allows for discovery and meditation. The quiet and most intimate act of holding and reading a collection of poems - especially these days when our brains are overworked and we are inundated with noise - should be protected and kept sacred. - Carey Salerno

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Emily Dickinson’s Ars Poetica

Shall I take thee, the Poet said
To the propounded word?
Be stationed with the Candidates
Till I have finer tried -

The Poet searched Philology
And was about to ring
For the suspended Candidate
There came unsummoned in -
That portion of the Vision
The Word applied to fill
Not unto nomination
The Cherubim reveal -

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The adherents of the central are mystics to begin with. - Wallace Stevens

The poet is constantly concerned with two theories. One relates to the imagination as a power within him not so much to destroy reality at will as to put it to his own uses. He comes to feel that his imagination is not wholly his own but that it may be part of a much larger, much more potent imagination, which is his affair to try to get at. For this reason, he pushes on and lives, or tries to live, as Paul Valéry did, on the verge of consciousness. This often results in poetry that is imagination as a power within him to have such insights into reality as will make it possible for him to be sufficient as a poet in the very center of consciousness. - Wallace Stevens

Thursday, March 6, 2014

“The Reluntant Kabbalist’s Sonnet” by Peter Cole

It is known that “desire” is, numerologically, . . .“the essence of speech.”
—Avraham Abulafia,“The Treasures of the Hidden Eden”

It’s hard to explain   What was inside came
through what had been between, although it seems
that what had been within remained the same
Is that so hard to explain     It took some time
which was, in passing, made distinctly strange
As though the world without had been rearranged,
forcing us to change: what was beyond
suddenly lying within, and what had lain
deep inside—now … apparently gone
Words are seeds, like tastes on another’s tongue
Which doesn’t explain—how what’s inside comes
through what is always in between, that seam
of being    For what’s within, within remains,
as though it had slipped    across the lips of a dream

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Départ Malgache" by Kenneth Koch

Madagascar, why are you leaving?

I don’t know.
But I do know this is two hundred fifty MILLION years ago,
And I have to go.

Lemur-filled and enormous island, where will you go?

I don’t know — I think just out there in the sea — 
To save my lemurs I have to go . . .


(MADAGASCAR floats out into the Indian Ocean.)

O addio, dolce Madagascar!

(Malagasy music)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Poetry's Complex Pleasure Principle

We like to say that poetry takes time. But where does it take it? How?

Beyond the real time poetry takes to read and to write, there’s the deep historical time that has gone into the making of the tradition out of which it emerges. And then there’s the time it took us to prepare ourselves for the reading or writing in question. Or the way in which time made us ready as readers and as writers — through study and trial, hesitation or maybe precipitous or precious action, through exposure to musics and voices and registers of various sorts, to sensual and not-quite-sensical experience, to distinctions made between cups of tea and the tiniest waver in a friend’s mood in a room or a letter, or on the phone, to weather and hunger, the timbre of one’s recovery from pain.

All that goes into the surface tension of a poem — becomes it.

So, working now toward what I think may be a longish poem about conduction and sonship, paranoia, tradition, and the dynamic of 
inhabitation. One waits, or tries to wait, as with every poem, every piece of writing, until the right moment. Not sufficient knowledge (Frost — “The poet must always begin with insufficient knowledge”), but sufficient pressure. One broods and jots things down as they come. But at what point do they form themselves into figures that might become poems? Often (ideally) it just happens, but as often (realistically) there’s a delicate preliminary dance and courtship, much scribbling, thinking, attraction, repulsion, and noting the irritation of obscure 
intuition — when to push, if ever? How hard? Where? The nudge 
toward form isn’t the only sort of direction involved; curiosity has its own engine, and that requires fuel and maintenance as well. Now it’s pleasure. Now torture. There are, to be sure, many poems that emerge in-full and of-a-sudden, and then there are those that I’ve lost, in part or altogether because I started shaping them before they were primed. But there are more, and maybe the most charmed of them, that wouldn’t exist without that delicate or not-so-delicate agon. The push doesn’t bring one to the magic — but it might bring one to the place where the wall or floor of false or encrusted feeling gives way. And that drops one into the magic. Then it seems to happen at once.

An afterthought about the aesthetic of conduction: Pleasure, certain psychoanalysts have noted, is experienced with the greatest intensity in the momentary dissolution of the ego, physically through orgasm and socially and emotionally through a lower-intensity (sublime and sublimated) love — which is to say, not in isolation from the ego, but in its giving way to something larger, which might also be smaller.

That’s not a bad place to start when it comes to what one needs to know as a writer, or even as a reader or scholar or serious seeker, though of course one comes to such things only long after the start.

Then again, one is always starting.

- Peter Cole

Thursday, February 6, 2014

“Individuality” by Paul Klee

is not of the substance of elements.
It is an organism, indivisibly
by elementary objects of a divergent character:
if you
were to attempt division, these parts
would die.

for instance: an entire dramatic company.

Enter an ancestor, prophetic;
enter a hero, brutal
a rake, alcoholic, to argue
with a learned professor.
A lyrical beauty, rolling her eyes
heavenward, a case
of chronic infatuation —
enter a heavy father,
to take care of that,
enter a liberal uncle — to arbitrate….
Aunt Chatterbox gossiping in a corner.
Chambermaid Lewdie, giggling.

And I, watching it all,
astonishment in my eyes.
Poised, in my left hand
a sharpened pencil.

A pregnant woman!, a mother
is planning
her entrance —
Shushhh! you
don’t belong here
are divisible!
She fades.

Friday, January 24, 2014

De Kooning's Paradoxical Process

De Kooning, like Gorky, lacks a final incisiveness of composition, which may in his case, too, be the paradoxical result of the very plenitude of his draftsman’s gift. Emotion that demands singular, original expression tends to be censored out by a really great facility, for facility has a stubbornness of its own and is loath to abandon easy satisfactions. The indeterminateness or ambiguity that characterizes some of de Kooning’s pictures is caused, I believe, by his effort to suppress his facility. There is a deliberate renunciation of will in so far as it makes itself felt as skill, and there is also a refusal to work with ideas that are too clear. But at the same time this demands a considerable exertion of the will in a different context and a heightening of consciousness so that the artist will know when he is being truly spontaneous and when he is working only mechanically. Of course, the same problem comes up for every painter, but I have never seen it exposed as clearly as in de Kooning’s case. - Clement Greenberg

Yet does not Greenberg say that facility, the product of learned skills, leads to easy satisfactions gained by working mechanically, that is to say, repetitively? And that emotion, in contrast, demands singular, original expression, found only in being truly spontaneous? These general assertions, albeit said to de Kooning’s advantage, are not supportable; it takes only a moment to think of the many historical exceptions, and only a careful look at “Painting” to see that the artist did not renounce “will . . . felt as skill,” but that he summoned the will to produce a skill that was unconventional but no less the product of great facility than one more conventional . . . de Kooning painted by repetitively redoing the same strokes, waiting for the self-consciousness of the performance to collapse in the arduousness of its rehearsals, and for the epiphany to come . . . the spontaneous mark itself could begin with and then surrender will, even as it was being made.

Will is exercised, then it is willfully surrendered. And then this process of exercise and surrender of will becomes a habitual part of painting. The surrender is not, however, the passive submission to chance of, say, Marcel Duchamp dropping a straight horizontal thread that twists as it pleases to fall on a horizontal plane. It is the decisive impulse of a sudden, last-second release from a strictly learned and structured system into the instinctual unknown; but not a release from human agency itself. De Kooning’s ability to perform quick gearshifts between the rational and the transrational should not be confused with what has been called “de-skilling.” When moving into a state of negative capability, he did not surrender skill along with will, but relied on it in order to trust what could be gained by being in uncertainty - and the ability to shift gears required its own kind of skill, which de Kooning made into a habit. - John Elderfield

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Paradiso" by Kenneth Koch

There is no way not to be excited
When what you have been disillusioned by raises its head
From its arms and seems to want to talk to you again.
You forget home and family
And set off on foot or in your automobile
And go to where you believe this form of reality
May dwell. Not finding it there, you refuse
Any further contact
Until you are back again trying to forget
The only thing that moved you (it seems) and gave what you forever will have
But in the form of a disillusion.
Yet often, looking toward the horizon
There—inimical to you?—is that something you have never found
And that, without those who came before you, you could never have imagined.
How could you have thought there was one person who could make you
Happy and that happiness was not the uneven
Phenomenon you have known it to be? Why do you keep believing in this
Reality so dependent on the time allowed it
That it has less to do with your exile from the age you are
Than from everything else life promised that you could do?

Friday, January 3, 2014

"Poem" by Paul Klee

The big animals : despondent 
at table : unsated. 

But the small cunning flies 
scrambling up slopes of bread 
inherit Buttertown. 


There is 
only one 
true thing :

in the self 
a weight, 
a small 


An eye 
that sees. 
Another eye 
that feels. 


Man-Animal : 
Clock of Blood. 


The moon 
in the railway station : one of the many 
lights in the forest ; a drop 
in the mountain's beard : 
that it doesn't trickle ! 
that it is not pierced by the cactus thorn ! 
that you 
do not sneeze, and 
this bladder !

(From his diary, written in 1914, probably soon after war had been declared.)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"Prayer (I)" by George Herbert / Comment by Carl Phillips

Prayer (I)

Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age,
         God's breath in man returning to his birth,
         The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth
Engine against th' Almighty, sinner's tow'r,
         Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
         The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

In George Herbert's entirely associative (and entirely fragmented "Prayer (I)," it is the method of association itself that provides the poem with its argument. If the poem is a list of definitions, it is more accurately a list at war with itself. On the one hand, we have a list that works inclusively - that is, the gesture is one of defining prayer and constanly elaborating on that definition, finding it necessary to keep expanding it, as if the more one understood about prayer, the more one had come to realize the impossibility of including everything that prayer apparently includes. And on the other hand, we have a list whose gesture is one of constantly rejecting, in search of exactness of definition: prayer is X; no, prayer is Y; no, keep trying. And in that final definition, "something understood," the poem seems to argue that the human impulse to define (in a sense, to impose pattern, which is what the sonnet form seeks to do here with the information that keeps threatening to overwhelm it) is itself the problem, and that prayer is finally that which is understood as itself utterly. Inclusive of everything, and like nothing that it contains.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

"Conversion Figure" by Mary Szybist

I spent a long time falling
toward your slender, tremulous face—

a long time slipping through stars
as they shattered, through sticky clouds
with no confetti in them.

I fell toward earth's stony colors
until they brightened, until I could see
the green and white stripes of party umbrellas
propped on your daisied lawn.

From above, you looked small
as an afterthought, something lightly brushed in.
Beside you, blush-pink plates
served up their pillowy cupcakes, and your rosy hems
swirled round your dark head—

I fell and fell.
I fell toward the pulse in your thighs,
toward the cool flamingo of your slip
fluttering past your knees—

Out of God's mouth I fell
like a piece of ripe fruit
toward your deepening shadow.

Girl on the lawn without sleeves, knees bare even of lotion,
time now to strip away everything
you try to think about yourself.

Put down your little dog.
Stop licking the cake from your fingers.

Before today, what darkness
did you let into your flesh? What stillness
did you cast into the soil?

Lift up your head.
Time to enter yourself.
Time to make your own sorrow.

Time to unbrighten and discard
even your slenderness.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The particular privacy of exile

The last thing that most human beings seem capable of trusting naturally - instinctively - is themselves, their own judgment. It is the result, I think, of an early training away from imagination, imagination being the means by which we think of a thing unconventionally - outside the norm. Those who raise us want the best for us - they hope to protect us from exclusion. But exclusion, at some level, is required in the making of the artist - art begins in the particular privacy of exile. What is required to be an authentically original artist is an inability to think conventionally - this, coupled with a for-the-most-part unconscious unawareness that one is thinking differently in the first place. It helps to have a sense of nothing left to lose, nothing therefore in the way of our speaking honestly; what's to fear, if no one is listening anyway, or if we believe that no one is listening? Or if we believe that the listeners can't hear, ever, what it is that we hear? - Carl Phillips

Friday, November 8, 2013