Monday, February 1, 2016

Haiku, Zen & Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson has the self in her poetry dissolve in the paradoxes she creates beyond which she seeks enlightenment. The haiku, which often relies on the teachings of Zen-Buddhism, lives on contradicting the laws of logic. Logical rules limit the scope of human understanding. Breaking those rules allows the mind to penetrate further into the mysteries of the universe. In Zen-Buddhism this is most often achieved by means of the koan, a riddle that must be solved beyond the boundaries of logic. Dickinson takes similar steps into the spheres of contradiction, as for example in the poems “I’m Nobody” or “Much Madness is Divinest Sense.” By transcending dualistic logic, the self advances to a higher level of understanding him/herself and the world. It also succeeds in empathizing with other beings and in grasping the mystery of existence as such. Transcending its own sense of limited self it expands itself into a sense of oneness with the universe. In this context the I is not transcendental in the sense that it constitutes the world. Rather, the world is internalized by the I or, vice versa, the I is absorbed by the world. There is no more dualism between the subject and the object, between the I and the world. - Gudrun Grabher

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

David Bowie and “What if?”

What I found that I was good at doing, and what I really enjoyed the most, was the game of “What if?” What if you combined Brecht-Weill musical drama with rhythm and blues? What happens if you transplant the French chanson with the Philly sound? Will Schoenberg lie comfortably with Little Richard? Can you put haggis and snails on the same plate? Well, no, but some of the ideas did work out very well. - David Bowie

Monday, January 4, 2016

"The Happy Accidents of the Swing" by Jean-Honoré Fragonard / Comment by Robert Walser


A rococo beauty is being swung to and fro in a tastefully coiffed, as it were, charmingly frilly park, while her admirer occupies himself with gazing at her. After all, nothing can be more delightful to one who knows how to live than the pleasure enjoyed by a woman he finds beautiful.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"Jordan (II)" by George Herbert / Comment by John Drury

When first my lines of heav’nly joys made mention,
Such was their lustre, they did so excel,
That I sought out quaint words and trim invention;
My thoughts began to burnish, sprout, and swell,
Curling with metaphors a plain intention,
Decking the sense, as if it were to sell.

Thousands of notions in my brain did run,
Off’ring their service, if I were not sped:
I often blotted what I had begun;
This was not quick enough, and that was dead.
Nothing could seem too rich to clothe the sun,
Much less those joys which trample on his head.

As flames do work and wind, when they ascend,
So did I weave my self into the sense.
But while I bustled, I might hear a friend
Whisper, How wide is all this long pretense!
There is in love a sweetness ready penn’d;
Copy out only that, and save expense.

The experience of writing has rarely been so exactly or succinctly presented as in "Jordan (II)". In the first verse the poet is brimming over with ideas and enjoying the expression of them in "quaint words and trim invention". A slight shadow falls in the last line, where he finds himself in the writer's trap of seeking his reader's approval, "Decking [adorning] the sense as if it were to sell" with ornaments...but the exhilaration of fertility carries over into the second verse, then turns into the business of correction and revision - even this in the same high spirits. One way and another he is carried away: and that is the trouble. The third verse surprises the reader. "So did I weave myself into the sense": surely this is positive, to wind self and sense, poet and his matter, into fusion? Yet it is the height of what he calls mere "bustling". Literary self-indulgence and self-preoccupation, however enjoyable, is precisely not, for him, the point of writing poetry. It should be objective, transitive, and deal with something other. That is what the "friend" indicates in a tactful whisper. And it was there all the time, "ready penn'd" in Holy Writ and particularly in the record there of Christ: yet again, love.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Poetry connecting to the material we're made from

When I said that poetry tries and wants to make contact with reality, that is, with uttermost-being (truth, God, whatness, somethingness-nothingness, chaos-order) -- to the Veda seers, the vibrating void; to the eighth-century Chinese poets, that-which-is-self-engendering; to mathematicians, a veil of numbers; to the Jewish mystics, the En-Sof; to Christian mystics, the indwelling of God and emanation of Christ in all things; to the animal kingdoms on earth, the starry night; to contemporary physicists, the excitation of superstrings; to cosmologists, the residue of an explosion of something to whose pre-explosion existence there is perhaps, as my friend Elaine Scarry once said to me, ‘no door’ -- I am referring very specifically and particularly to the material we are made from, this animated-in-us matter which we, in turn, express such a passionate drive to know (and which, in turn, has evolved a way to be known, through us, and is the source and object of our wonder and compulsion). - Gjertrude Schnackenberg

Monday, November 2, 2015

Freedom, Constraint & Emily Dickinson

Merely because poet and modern society are in conflict does not mean art necessarily gains by freedom. It is a sentimental error to think Emily Dickinson the victim of male obstructionism. Without her struggle with God and father, there would have been no poetry. There are two reasons for this. First, Romanticism's overexpanded self requires artificial restraints. Dickinson finds these limitations in sadomasochistic nature and reproduces them in her dual style [Wordsworthian and Sadean]. Without such a discipline, the Romantic poet cannot take a single step, for the sterile vastness of modern freedom is like gravity-free outer space, in which one cannot walk or run. Second, women do not rise to supreme achievement unless they are under powerful internal compulsion. Dickinson was a woman of abnormal will. Her poetry profits from the enormous disparity between that will and the feminine social persona to which she fell heir at birth. But her sadism is not anger, the a posteriori response to social injustice. It is hostility, an a priori Achillean intolerance for the existence of the female version of Romantic solipsism. - Camille Paglia

Monday, October 5, 2015

Our executive ego vs our bodily instincts

By the time most of us have reached early adulthood, our executive ego has had a doctorate education while our bodily instincts may still be in kindergarten. We may have become accustomed to ignoring or overriding our inner instincts, mainly because they do no tally with the grand plan of our executive ego. Our mind may tell us that it's a good idea to stay at our job for exactly three more years, but our body may have other thoughts on the matter. The executive ego tells us to plow through our fatigue even if it's the first day of a difficult period, while the body cries out for an afternoon nap. We may become such experts at living outside the reach of our bodily instincts that we start to navigate our lives purely from our rational minds, leaving behind our gut instincts and our heartfelt desires. Our inner wisdom, which is guided by the body, does not take lightly to this dismissal. Navigating our lives with only one instrument of perception is like setting out on a journey across the ocean with a compass while ignoring the movement of the wind, water, and stars. - Donna Farhi

Friday, September 11, 2015

from "Ready-Made Bouquet" by Dean Young

... Loving someone who does not
love you may lead to writing impenetrable poems
and/or staying awake until dawn, drawn to airy,
azure rituals of space ships and birds.
Some despairs may be relieved by other despairs

as in not knowing how to pay for psychoanalysis,
as in wrecking your car as in this poem. Please
pass me another quart of kerosene. A cygnet
is a baby swan. Hat rack, cheese cake, mold.
The despair of wading through a river at night

towards a cruel lover is powerfully evoked
in Chekhov's story "Agafya." The heart seems
designed for despair especially if you study
embryology while being in love with your lab
partner who lets you kiss her under the charts
of organelles but doesn't respond yet

later you think she didn't not respond either
which fills you with idiotic hope very like
despair just as a cloud can be very like
a cannon, the way it starts out as a simple
tube then ties itself in a knot. The heart,
I mean.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Great Thinkers on Solitude

“In solitude, we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us.” Explained Virginia Woolf.

“Here, in my solitude, I have the feeling that I contain too much humanity.” Professed Ingmar Bergman.

“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” Wrote Charlotte Brontë.

Jules Verne disagreed: “Solitude, isolation, are painful things and beyond human endurance.”

Rainer Maria Rilke encouraged: "Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you.”

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous—to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.” According to Thomas Mann.

And according to Aldous Huxley: "The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

The religion of Henry David Thoreau: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”

Laurence Sterne: “In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself.”

"The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” Albert Einstein believed.

“Great men are like eagles, and build their nest on some lofty solitude.” So sayeth Arthur Schopenhauer.

“Solitude is the place of purification.” Preached Martin Buber.

“Solitude is independence.” — Hermann Hesse.

“One can acquire everything in solitude except character.” Claimed Stendhal.

Rainer Maria Rilke, again on the topic: “I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.”

Robert Louis Stevenson felt that: "There is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect.”

“Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you.” Said Harold Bloom.

Perhaps he was reiterating Marcel Proust’s idea that: “Reading is that fruitful miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.”

“I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’—that wouldn’t be enough—but like a dead man.” Insisted Franz Kafka.

Mary Shelley explained: “Solitude was my only consolation—deep, dark, deathlike solitude.”

Guy de Maupassant countered: “Solitude is indeed dangerous for a working intelligence. We need to have around us people who think and speak. When we are alone for a long time we people the void with phantoms.”

Speaking of peopling the void with phantoms, Bohumil Hrabal once wrote: “I can be by myself because I’m never lonely; I’m simply alone, living in my heavily populated solitude, a harum-scarum of infinity and eternity, and Infinity and Eternity seem to take a liking to the likes of me.”

"Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt in solitude, where we are least alone.” Revealed Lord Byron.

“Solitude vivifies; isolation kills.” The words of Joseph Roux.

Paul Tillich: “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

Or, as May Sarton put it: “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

“One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

“Solitude sometimes is best society.” Admitted John Milton.

“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” Thought Arthur Schopenhauer.

“Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone.” Asserted Octavio Paz.

Aristotle explained: “Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”

Jean-Paul Sartre: “God is absence. God is the solitude of man.”

via The Scofield, Issue 1.1, Summer, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

On Lyric Poetry

Lyric is still pre-eminently the non-social genre: though normative narrative and normative drama require at least two characters and are therefore ineluctably social, normative lyric requires not a character but a voice, one engaged in solitary meditation. Meditation may of course include direct address, so much so that some theorists have called apostrophe the defining trope of lyric; but the person addressed is, in the normative lyric, always silent and almost always absent. Only one consciousness, and that an abstract one, is present in the normative lyric.

No single description fits all lyrics, but I will proceed on the assumption that the purpose of lyric, as a genre, is to represent an inner life in such a manner that it is assumable by others. The inner life of anyone may of course have many aims and thoughts directed to social purposes; but the inner life is by definition one not engaged directly in social life. Rather, it is engaged in a reflective look at its own processes of thought and feeling. Of course it may, in that moment, urge social action on itself. But social transactions as such cannot take place in lyric as they do in narrative or drama.

Because the inner life is partly constructed through legitimating vehicles (myths, social positions, religious dogma, ritual practice, gender roles) which undergo historical and cultural change, paying attention to poetic strategies necessarily entails awareness of the existential possibilities available at a given historical moment. - Helen Vendler

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Redemption" by George Herbert / Comment by John Drury

Having been tenant long to a rich lord,
    Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
    And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancel th’ old.

In heaven at his manor I him sought;
    They told me there that he was lately gone
    About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight returned, and knowing his great birth,
    Sought him accordingly in great resorts;
    In cities, theaters, gardens, parks, and courts;
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth
         
    Of thieves and murderers; there I him espied,
    Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, and died.

Bit by bit the momentous allegory, based on the two meanings of the title, emerges. The first four lines appear to be a matter-of-fact agricultural anecdote. That the landlord's manor house should be in heaven alerts the reader to some religious meta-narrative, but the realism of the poet's dealings with the people at the manor house restores the sense of the everyday. It carries through to the end of the poem. The poet/farmer seeks his landlord in the city. He hears the noise of a mugging, down some alley one imagines: "a ragged noise and mirth". With a shock he recognizes his landlord as its victim, whose dying words change his leasehold just as he wanted. The doubling of a nasty, all too common incident in urban life with the solution of the human predicament in the final, terse climax is astonishing and leaves the reader open-mouthed. The age-old contrast of simple country life with the vanities and squalor of the town was a well-established pastoral convention. As with all conventions, it is how it is used that counts. Herbert does it with a freshness born of sharp observation of both its aspects and the skill to turn them to urgent and deeply felt meaning. - John Drury

It's also likely where John Berryman, having read and admired Herbert, got the idea for the ending of Dream Song 26:

The glories of the world struck me, made me aria, once.
–What happen then, Mr Bones?
if be you cares to say.
–Henry.  Henry became interested in women’s bodies,
his loins were & were the    scene of stupendous achievement.
Stupor. Knees, dear. Pray.

All the knobs & softness of, my god,
the ducking & trouble it swarm on Henry,
at one time.
–What happen then, Mr Bones?
you seems excited-like.
–Fell Henry back into   the original crime: art, rime

besides a sense of others, my God, my god,
and a jealousy for the honor (alive) of his country,
what can get more odd?
and discontent with the thriving gangs & pride.
–What happen then, Mr Bones?
–I had a most marvelous   piece of luck. I died.

Friday, July 24, 2015

"We grow accustomed to the Dark" by Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darkness –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Not a Leg to Stand On" by Brenda Goodman‏


As with so many of my paintings I started with marks all over the surface such as those on top and the right sides. The smaller figure emerged first and the painting just evolved from there. What was amazing about this painting was that while looking at it when it was done I said: "Wow, this was my childhood." My mother was very dominating and overwhelming and throughout my life I have often felt that if i didn't have a leg to stand on she would devour me (emotionally) and there it was in front of me with only one leg and my mother demanding the whole space. A meaning as strong and clear as that doesn't always reveal itself but it did in this painting, and when that happens it's so fulfilling and significant. - Brenda Goodman

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Teaching on behalf of, rather than in scorn of, humanity

The business of teachers is to discover and then to demand all the authority that flows from their obligations as teachers. That is their given style of exemplary engagement. An understanding of that authority will arise when the self-interest, mutual but not identical, of teacher and student in the civilization transmitted is known. To foster consciousness in this sense is one business of radical research. Vastly more courage must be exhibited by all of us in our purely pedagogic roles. Teachers must seek authority as members of an academic community, whether to stop teaching, to teach this and not that, to protect students from destructive grids of requirements and moronic sanctions, to foster self-possession without preempting criticism, and above all to understand and say clearly what they are about – so that they do not commit the final pedagogic crime of conferring the problem unsolved upon those who have come for something else. Teachers, radical or otherwise, exercise their role among their peers and toward their students no by abdicating their role, but by defining it. Above all, I am suggesting that the business of the literary teacher is to understand her civilization as it is the life-space of the person: consoling, redemptive, but also treacherous, abhorrent, arbitrary, absurd. To administer civilization on behalf of rather than in scorn of humanity now appears to be the hardest problem that has ever confronted mind. - Allen Grossman

Friday, June 19, 2015

Nietzsche’s three stages of the spirit to reach original creation

Part of any good artist's work is to find a right balance between the independence born of willing solitude and the ability to speak for and to others. Nietzsche’s “Three Metamorphoses” offers some insight into how this is done. The philosopher describes three stages through which the spirit must pass before it can truly serve. First it must become a camel, then the camel a lion, and finally the lion a child. The camel, who feeds on acorns and grasses and the hunger for truth, is a being who has agreed to bear the weight of the world, to carry the difficult forward by her own obstinate strength. For a writer, this stage represents the willingness to be instructed by things as they are, to enter into tradition and culture and be affected by the issues and hardships of common human life. Having accomplished this task, Nietzsche writes, the spirit needs to turn lion-like and say the dragon of external values, whose every scale is a golden plaque reading “Thou shalt.” Here, a writer steps outside received opinion and enters creative freedom, beginning to find his resources within. It is a stage described also in a saying from Zen: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” But rebellion and independence are still not enough. The lion too must give way, and become a child: only in a child’s forgetting and innocence can a truly new spirit come into the world. This is the beginning of genuinely original creation, the moment in which the writer can turn at last toward the work without preconception, without any motive beyond knowing the taste of what is. - Jane Hirshfield