Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Borodin" by Donald Revell

When the world was loveliness I was
A composer, Borodin, my left eye
Level with the floor beside toy men.
Wild work and havoc they made,
Being glad. I could draw a line
Would run straight through the minds of men,
Being a sociable angel,
Music before and after, blushing.

Heaven is a nonsense entirely sensible.
I was a child on the floor beside you,
Making music, becoming small in the rosy
Embrace of God’s best messenger.
I loved your havoc and your hair.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bach: an argument for technology

     Our lives are half-lives, our experience mediated, and so diminished, by technology. So we are told by our age’s best and brightest; and the literature of the varieties of media experience has all the traits of the literature of religious experience, an account of the adept’s valiant struggle with our fallen state - of the struggle to stay afloat in the sea of artifice, the polluted data-stream.
     To this conviction, the recorded music of Bach is contrary testimony. It defies the argument that experience mediated by technology is a diminished thing.
     That is my own experience, at any rate. Though it has come, in my case, almost completely through recordings, this experience of Bach is as rich an encounter as one could hope for in a lifetime. It is as direct, as real, as the experience of a young woman learning to play the piano in a mining town in the Rockies, or a dangling man going about the streets of the city with a song in his heart. It is the thing itself - and often the experience feels more real than the rest of life, not less so.
     And what is the experience? It is an experience that the movement of the music into new formats calls forth and makes obvious. It is of music and art as life’s counterpoint - a presence at the center of our lives, at once personal and objective, that enables us to make sense of the world and our place in it, enriching our lives and helping us to understand them. - Paul Elie

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I am not an artist. - Van Gogh

There is a saying of Gustave Dore's which I have always admired, “J'ai la patience d'un bœuf,” I find a certain goodness in it, a certain resolute honesty - in short, that saying has a deep meaning, it is the word of a real artist. When one thinks of the man from whose heart such a saying sprang, all those oft-repeated art dealer's arguments about “natural gifts” seem to become an abominably discordant raven's croaking. “J'ai la patience” - how quiet it sounds, how dignified; they wouldn't even say it except for that very raven's croaking. I am not an artist - how coarse it sounds - even to think so of oneself - oughtn't one to have patience, oughtn't one to learn patience from nature, learn patience from seeing the corn slowly ripen, seeing things grow - should one think oneself so absolutely dead as to imagine that one would not grow any more? Should one thwart one's own development on purpose? I say this to explain why I think it so foolish to speak about natural gifts and no natural gifts. But in order to grow, one must be rooted in the earth. - Vincent van Gogh

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Henry Green on Prose

Prose is not to be read aloud but to oneself alone at night, and it is not quick as poetry but rather a gathering web of insinuations which go further than names however shared can ever go. Prose should be a long intimacy between strangers with no direct appeal to what both may have known. It should slowly appeal to feelings unexpressed, it should in the end draw tears out of the stone.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mary Ruefle on John Ashbery's Three Poems

I remember my first Ashbery reading, also in college. Ashbery was reading from his new book, Three Poems, and he said that it was a lot like watching TV—you could open the book anywhere and begin reading, and flip around the book as much as you wanted to. I remember hating him for saying this. I remember the word sacrilege came to mind. I remember not liking that reading.

I remember, two years later, reading Three Poems on a grassy slope while across the road three men put a new roof on an old house, and I was in love with one of them. I could watch the men working as I read. I remember that everything I was reading was everything that was happening across the way—I would read a little, then look up, read a little, then look up, and I was blown apart by the feeling this little book was about my life at that moment, exactly as I was living it. I remember loving the book, and that it was one of the memorable reading experiences of my life. - Mary Ruefle

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"The Mango Tree" by Hart Crane / Comment by Donald Revell

                           The Mango Tree

Let them return, saying you blush again for the great
Great-grandmother. It’s all like Christmas.
     When you sprouted Paradise a discard of chewing-gum 
took place. Up jug to musical hanging jug just gay spiders 
yoked you first, – silking of shadows good underdrawers for 
     First-plucked before and since the flood, old hypnotisms 
wrench the golden boughs. Leaves spatter dawn from emerald 
cloud-sprockets. Fat final prophets with lean bandits crouch:
the dusk is close
                                      Under your noon,
                                      you Sun-heap whose
ripe apple-lanterns gush history, recondite lightnings, irised.
                                      O mister Señor
                                      missus Miss
                                      with baskets
                                                    Maggy, come on

I love to remember the sweet perplexity and then the buoyancy I felt when first I read "The Mango Tree." Here is the purity of child's play in its full maturity. Risibly Rimbaldian in its references to Christmas and the flood and, via those golden boughs, glad to blow a raspberry at its abandoned high modernism, "The Mango Tree" is nevertheless instantly far beyond or far above satire in its immediate permissions: "Let them return"; there's a further paradise in a wad of gum. And there the wonderful hyphens (as in "cloud-sprockets" and "apple-lanterns") spell a new technology of the sacred, as simple, as portable, as freely inclusive as "baskets." A pure poem is unresisting in its inclusiveness, having excluded from itself the arguments that tether its figures to figures of speech. So quickly, "The Mango Tree" accomplishes a sun-drenched purity equal to the most beautiful passages in Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons yet free of that great book's programmatic emphases. "Maggy, come on" is a summons to new circumstance where the poem says, and needs to say, no more.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A poem like and unlike a prayer

What, then, is the difference between a poem and a prayer? It depends on what is meant by prayer. There is prayer and prayer (pace Gertrude Stein). If it’s the sort of prayer that is a kind of plea bargain and assumes an auditor who is capable of answering the prayer, or the pleader wants something material to ensue as a result, then it is nothing like a poem. But insofar as the poet must relinquish a certain kind of control, and attain a kind of self-forgetfulness; must, as the ancients had it, call in the Goddess, the Muse, the power of the imagination - that which must be invited and cannot be commanded - in that sense, in which prayer involves a humbling and earnest entreaty for vision, and creative deepening of perception toward a kind of ease of being, then ok, the difference begins to fade.

- Eleanor Wilner

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The best acts of reading are acts of incompletion

The key issue here is the sense of what cannot be analyzed or explained. A major act of interpretation gets nearer and nearer to the heart of the work, and it never comes too near. The exciting distance of a great interpretation is the failure, the distance, where it is helpless. But its helplessness is dynamic, is itself suggestive, eloquent and articulate. The best acts of reading are acts of incompletion, acts of fragmentary insight, of that which refuses paraphrase, metaphrase; which finally say, “The most interesting in all this I haven't been able to touch on.” But which makes that inability not a humiliating defeat or a piece of mysticism but a kind of joyous invitation to reread. - George Steiner

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Martin Amis on Aging

Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin, but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Situations under which my writing would be less bourgeois

If I hadn’t the money to eat as much as I wanted;
If I had been sectioned;
If I didn’t have a house;
If I were uncomfortable with my sexuality;
If I were suffering religious persecution;
If I were woefully inarticulate;
If I were not allowed to go ice-skating every morning;
If I were a prisoner of the state;
If I were interested in disrupting the relationship between writer and reader;
If I expunged capital letters and punctuation;
If I stopped trying to be funny;
If I were to go on a pilgrimage;
If my sole motivation were not vanity.

- Luke Kennard

Thursday, October 4, 2012

"To disappear enhances --" by Emily Dickinson

To disappear enhances --
The Man that runs away
Is tinctured for an instant
With Immortality

But yesterday a Vagrant --
Today in Memory lain
With superstitious value
We tamper with "Again"

But "Never" far as Honor
Withdraws the Worthless thing
And impotent to cherish
We hasten to adorn --

Of Death the sternest function
That just as we discern
The Excellence defies us --
Securest gathered then

The Fruit perverse to plucking,
But leaning to the Sight
With the ecstatic limit
Of unobtained Delight --

Monday, October 1, 2012

On artists speaking about their work

It is a mistake for a sculptor or painter to speak or write very often about his job. It releases the tension needed for his work. By trying to express his aims with rounded-off logical exactness, he can easily become a theorist whose actual work is only a caged-in exposition of concepts evolved in terms of logic and words…the artist works with a concentration of his whole personality, and the conscious part of it resolves conflicts, organises memories, and prevents him from trying to walk in two directions at the same time. - Henry Moore

Monday, September 24, 2012

It is easy to mistake our life for the world

If in our moments of happiness, mastery, ecstasy, we say Yes to heaven and to earth, and all we need is misfortune, sickness, the decline of physical powers to start screaming No, this means that all our judgments can be refuted tomorrow and that it is easy to mistake our life for the world. It is not obvious, however, why weakness-whether of a particular person or of an entire historical era-should be privileged and why the old nihilist from Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape should be closer to the truth than he himself was when he was twenty years old.

- Czesław Miłosz

Thursday, September 20, 2012

[the minotaur at supper: spare the noritake and the spode] - D. A. Powell

the minotaur at supper: spare the noritake and the spode
from these ungular hands. goblet stems scattered at my hoofs

a spattering of color on my hide. remnants of one youth
another impaled on my horns: I must say grace over his thighs
for there may be no path back to him. the way is dim and twists

myself am halfboy. am beauty and the end of same: a hungry thing
hunts me also: through which passageway do my nostrils sense blood
what aperture brings me air salted with cries of the ancient corrida

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The tone of Bergman's "The Silence"

I reflect on what it was that set Bergman's The Silence apart from other films of its time, thirty years ago, and why so many people in so many countries wanted to see it. It was its tone. That is something that is very hard to put into words but can be clearly felt and is patent during the screening and long afterwards. It was the first Bergman film to be so uncompromisingly personal and uniform in its style, its mode of narration. It had taken seventeen years of work (he began in 1945 with Crisis, and The Silence comes from 1962) for him to grasp that a film's power comes from the unrelenting honesty of its maker, his courage in refusing to retreat by as much as one step. Not from its philosophical construction (The Seventh Seal, which I do not like), its original and beautiful record of dreams and overpowering nightmares (as in Wild Strawberries), its social elucidation of dramatic events (as in Summer with Monika, which I like a lot)–but from its delineation of feelings we all experience and understand, as we tremble incessantly between love and hate, between fear of death and a longing for rest, between envy and generosity, between a keen sense of humiliation and the joy of revenge…I know where the bright trace comes from in this dark film. From Bergman's profound belief in humanity… - Krzysztof Kieślowski

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Shakespeare's paradoxical voice in the later sonnets

Blame of the woman has faded in view of the greater blame with which the speaker castigates himself. The self-lacerating intelligence in the later sonnets produces a voice so undeceived about reality (the truth) and himself (his perjured eye) that the reader admires the clarity of mind that can so anatomize sexual obsession while still in its grip, that can so acquiesce in humiliation while inspecting its own arousal, that can lie freely while acknowledging the truth. To represent such a voice in all its paradoxical incapacity and capacity is the victory of Shakespeare's technique. - Helen Vendler

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A new music is a new mind

If you change the way in which you're proceeding musically, you will move out of the experiences that you already know you know, and begin to have emotions, and therefore perhaps thoughts, and certainly intimations, or even visions of things that you had no access to, except via that music. - Jorie Graham

Monday, August 27, 2012

The liminal aim of art

Why should there be art, why poetic creation? . . . The teeming prodigality of the phenomenal world, its inexhaustible deployment ("thereness") of sensory, communicative energies and forms is such as to saturate even the hungriest appetite for perception, even the most ample capacities for reception. The colours, metamorphic shapes and sonorities of the actual exceed immeasurably human capacities for registration and response. The animate logic of congruent symmetries, of organic motifs in the human body, is of a designate wonder - a wonder of design as we see it in [Leonardo do Vinci's] famous icon of frontal and cosmic man - such as to overwhelm understanding. And it is in this tensed caesura between analytic intelligibility and perception, when cognition holds its breath, that our sense of being is host to beauty. Why, then, art, why the created realm of fiction? . . . [T]here is aesthetic creation because there is creation. - George Seiner

Friday, August 10, 2012

Books that change with us

A real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot's poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. - Lionel Trilling

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lacan and Lynch

For Lacan, a link exists between impossibility and what he calls the real. Within every symbolic order, the real occupies the place of what cannot be thought or imagined - the position of the impossible. The real is not reality but the failure of the symbolic order to explain everything. When seen in this light, the impossible is not materially impossible but rather logically impossible as long as we remain within the current social structure. In Seminar XVII, Lacan claims that "the real is the impossible. Not on account of a simple stumbling block against which we bang our heads, but because of the logical stumbling block of what announces itself as impossible in the symbolic. It is from there that the real arises." What is impossible in the symbolic order is, in the real, perfectly achievable. It is in this sense of the term impossible that Lynch's films allow us to experience it actually taking place. They thus provide a fundamental challenge to the ruling symbolic structure, forcing us to see possibilities where we are used to seeing impossibilitities. - Todd McGowan

Monday, July 30, 2012

Shakespeare's aesthetic manifesto?

'Tis strange my Theseus, that these
lovers speak of.

More strange than true: I never may believe 
These antique fables, nor these fairy toys. 
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains, 
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends. 
The lunatic, the lover and the poet 
Are of imagination all compact: 
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold, 
That is, the madman: the lover, all as frantic,
Sees Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling, 
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven; 
And as imagination bodies forth 
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing 
A local habitation and a name. 
Such tricks hath strong imagination, 
That if it would but apprehend some joy, 
It comprehends some bringer of that joy;
Or in the night, imagining some fear, 
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

But all the story of the night told over, 
And all their minds transfigured so together, 
More witnesseth than fancy's images
And grows to something of great constancy; 
But, howsoever, strange and admirable.

- A Midsummer Night's Dream, V, i

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"The Woods by the Epte" by René Char

That day, I was only two legs walking.
Eyes blank, at the empty center of my face,
I set out to follow the stream through the vale.
Flowing slowly, that dull hermit failed to intrude
On the formlessness through which I journeyed.

From the angle of a ruined wall scorched by fire
Two wild briars full of gentle inflexible will
Plunged suddenly into the grey water.
They seemed like a communion of vanished beings
At the moment of proclaiming themselves again.

The hoarse blush of a rose striking the water
Reawakened the first face of the sky
With an ecstatic questioning,
Woke the earth in the midst of loving words,
Thrust me into the future like a famished and feverish tool.
Further on the Epte woods followed a further bend.
But I did not have to traverse them, the dear seed-store of increase!
I breathed, on the heel of a half-turn, the musk of meadows
Into which some creature merges.
I heard the gliding of a timid snake;
I felt – don’t think harshly of me – I was fulfilling all your wishes.

Monday, July 23, 2012

From "The Book of Questions" by Edmond Jabès

     "He who lives within himself, beside his God, beside the life and death of God, lives in two adjoining rooms with a door between. He goes from one to the other in order to celebrate Him. He goes from presence in consciousness to presence in absence. He must fully be, before he can aspire to not being any more, that is to say: to being more, to being all. For absence is All."
     He died for each second. He gathered a strength from beyond the grave. He was a fraction of the desert and an inflection of the wind. He stripped the untouched page of its leaves.
     But the word is a triumphant sower. Dawn and dusk are written, as is race. When he got back to his neighborhood, to his house (a nomad had taken him on his camel to the nearest control post where he caught a military truck to town), so many words urged him. He was, however, bent on avoiding them. They were still too much in love with space for him to think of fixing them.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"I heard, as if I had no Ear" by Emily Dickinson

I heard, as if I had no Ear
Until a Vital Word
Came all the way from Life to me
And then I knew I heard.

I saw, as if my Eye were on
Another, till a Thing
And now I know 'twas Light, because
It fitted them, came in.

I dwelt, as if Myself, were out,
My Body but within
Until a Might detected me
And set my kernel in.

And Spirit turned unto the Dust
"Old Friend, thou knowest me,"
And Time went out to tell the News
And met Eternity.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Abstract art - a fertile faith

     Abstract art is a symbolic game, and it is akin to all human games: you have to get into it, risk and all, and this takes a certain act of faith. But what kind of faith? Not faith in absolutes, not a religious kind of faith. A faith in possibility, a faith not that we will know something finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.
     From this field of not knowing, from our ignorance, from our dumbfoundedness and disorientation, artists get us into the history of our culture, make our culture go. They produce from the form of things defamiliarized, from our refocus on the things we thought we knew, from the banal, from the points between A and B, from all those momentary interstices where we have no category and no form of understanding. They produce our fresh understanding of the world of culture as separate from nature, as separate from the clock of events in the rest of history: separate by moving faster and stimulating us to change when we least expect it, and slower by linking us to traditions in the past, different from the clocks that tick away in our own lives. - Kirk Varnedoe

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Distraction" by Henry Vaughan

O knit me, that am crumbled dust! The heap
             Is all dispersed and cheap;
        Give for a handful, but a thought
                   And it is bought;
                    Hadst thou
Made me a star, a pearl, or a rainbow,
             The beams I then had shot
             My light had lessened not,
                    The world
Is full of voices; Man is called and hurled
             By each, he answers all,
             Knows ev'ry note and call,
                    Hence, still
Fresh dotage tempts, or old usurps his will.
Yet, hadst thou clipped my wings, when coffined in
             This quickened mass of sin,
         And saved that light, which freely thou
                    Didst then bestow,
                     I fear
I should have spurned, and said thou didst forbear;
             Or that thy store was less,
             But now since thou didst bless
                     So much,
I grieve, my God! that thou hast made me such.
                     I grieve?
O, yes! thou know'st I do; come, and relieve
         And tame, and keep down with thy light
         Dust that would rise, and dim my sight,
             Lest left alone too long
             Amidst the noise and throng,
                    Oppressed I
Striving to save the whole, by parcels die.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Progress is not the aim, but circulation

Approach to the poem must be from afar off, even generations off. A reader should close in on it on converging lines from many directions like the divisions of an army upon a battlefield. A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written. We read A the better to read B (we have to start somewhere; we may get very little out of A). We read B the better to read C, C the better to read D, D the better to go back and get something more out of A. Progress is not the aim, but circulation. The thing is to get among the poems where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do. - Robert Frost

Monday, June 18, 2012

Georg Büchner - the action of his art

     Büchner’s theme may indeed be the hopelessness of social and political life and, even further – as we shall see in Woyzeck – the degradation of the self in a world of outrage, but the action of his art has nothing to with categories like pessimism and optimism. His art is in fact a testament to an indestructible, if “impractical” and non-utilitarian, confidence.
     The point is that to make imagination speak like this in the face of despair about life is to perform an action that is as much a part of life as any other, and is therefore, in the most paradoxical-seeming way, an act of faith. More than that, Büchner’s alternative to history – which is what imaginative art might be thought of – constitutes his triumph over the very forces that on the level of sheer physical experience cause him to despair. In writing Danton’s Death Büchner added to life a new fact which is both a recognition of disaster and a cure for thinking it all there is. Like the classic writers of tragedy, he leaves us not in despair but in possession of a means for confronting what would otherwise have killed us behind our backs. - Richard Gilman

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The gaze we knew as a child

“People who look for symbolic meaning fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the images,” writes René Magritte, and I could not agree more. Nevertheless, this requires some clarification. There are really three kinds of images. First, there are those seen with eyes open in the manner of realists in both art and literature. Then there are images we see with eyes closed. Romantic poets, surrealists, expressionists, and everyday dreamers know them. The images [Joseph] Cornell has in his boxes are, however, of the third kind. They partake of both dream and reality, and of something else that doesn’t have a name. They tempt the viewer in two opposite directions. One is to look and admire the elegance and other visual properties of the composition, and the other is to make up stories about what one sees. In Cornell’s art, the eye and the tongue are at cross purposes. Neither one by itself is sufficient. It’s that mingling of the two that makes up the third image. - Charles Simic

Monday, June 11, 2012

The phenomenon of stickiness

An infant, plunging its hands into a jar of honey, is instantly involved in contemplating the formal properties of solids and liquids and the essential relations between the subjective experiencing self and the experienced world. The viscous is a state half-way between solid and liquid. It is like a cross section in a process of change. It is unstable...soft, yielding...the boundary between myself and it. Long columns falling off my fingers suggest my own substance flowing into the pool of stickiness. Plunging into the water gives a different impression. I remain solid, but to touch stickiness is to risk diluting myself into viscosity. - Jean-Paul Sartre

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Art & Spiritual Practice

Human beings fall rather easily into the consciousness of purposeful action: "I want this, so I will go get it." "I need this." "I have to do that." "If I don't do this, something bad will happen and I will die." Such is the basic murmur of mammalian consciousness. Spiritual practices (along with other basic lineaments of human culture, of course) are in part a set of techniques to free a person from unquestioning enslavement to that imperative mind. They allow us to look around, to step back and see things as they are, to apprehend thoughts, impulses, concepts as part of the larger whole. Art does this as well, and art plays a role in a human life that is probably not unrelated to spiritual ritual. Both stop you in your mammalian tracks and let you see and know your life through larger eyes and ears.

- Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rhythm as so much of art (and life)

Ex. the first stanza of The Second Coming by Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

vs it rewritten in regular iambic pentameter:

The falcon turns and turns in a wider gyre.
He cannot hear the cry of the falconer.
The center of the cosmos cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is let loose on the world.
The tide that's dimmed by blood is loosed.
The ritual of innocence is drowned.
The best have lost their firm convictions.
The worst are full of fierce intensity.

- via Carl Dennis

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Three by Reverdy

The Book

The white paper leaf new-grown on the fence. One climbs up and climbs down.
     The mountain is a book whose heroes travel the wind. The pages turn. Words often fall.
     The sound of thunder rolls over the paving stones. That’s where the accident happens. The book is done. Men climb up, one section of it under each arm.
     Leaning against the wall, the anxious author watches the world live and does not follow.

Fruit Bowl

A hand reaches toward the arrangement of fruit and, like a bee, hovers over it. The circle where the fingers glide is drawn tight as a trap – then they resume their flight, leaving at the bottom of the dish a bright red scar. A drop of blood, of honey, on the fingertips.
     Between light and teeth, the web of desire weaves the bowlful of lips.


The bottle in the middle of the fire, at arm’s length or on the table. In the shape of hands, in the source of pockets – there is silver and gold – there’s a spirit up the sleeve. When color runs freely, when air is tangled in branches. The heart goes farther than the eyes, flame is reborn from ash. Between the flowing thread and the stroke of light, words stop making sense.
     No more need of words to make ourselves understood.

- Pierre Reverdy
Translated by Dan Bellm

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Two by Borges

Borges and I

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

- Jorge Luis Borges


Everything and Nothing

There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an elemental rite of humanity, and let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once -the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamberlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur's admonition, and Juliet. who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words "I am not what I am". The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.

For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of being so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theatre. Within.. a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to the others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be 'someone: he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament known to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.

History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: "I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself." The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: "Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one."

- Jorge Luis Borges 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amoral poetry vs moral prose

Prose is all about accumulation (a morality of work), while poetry as it is practiced today is about the isolation of feelings (an aesthetics of omission). Among other things, prose is principally an ethical project, while poetry is amoral, a tampering with truths which the world of prose (and its naturalistic approach to mimesis) takes for granted. Poetry creates its own truth, which at times is the same truth as the world’s, and sometimes not. Whatever the case, its mimesis is always a rearrangement, at a molecular level, of that axis between the “seen” and the “felt” (that coal chute which connects the childish eye to the Socratic heart), which, were it not for poetry, with its misguided elenchus, would remain obscured.
- via Martin Earl and the Poetry Foundation

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In a Chinese Encyclopedia

Animals are divided into:

(a) belonging to the Emperor
(b) embalmed
(c) tame
(d) sucking pigs
(e) sirens
(f) fabulous
(g) stray dogs
(h) included in the present classification
(i) frenzied
(j) innumerable
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
(l) et cetera
(m) having just broken the water pitcher
(n) that from a long way off look like flies

- via Michel Foucault via Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Different Schooling

Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance - nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city - as one loses oneself in a forest - that calls for a quite different schooling. Then, signboard and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest.
- Walter Benjamin

Monday, May 14, 2012

Our idealizing power that beautifies

Leave a lover with his thoughts for twenty-four hours and this is what will happen: At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they pull it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smallest twig, no bigger than a tom-tit's claw, is studded with a galaxy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable. What I have called crystallization is a mental process which draws from everything that happens to new proofs of the perfection of the loved one. - Stendhal

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Our mixed-up condition

Something now leaves me; something goes from me to meet that figure who is coming, and assures me that I know him before I see who it is. How curiously one is changed by the addition, even at a distance, of a friend. How useful an office one's friends perform when they recall us. Yet how painful to be recalled, to be mitigated, to have one's self adulterated, mixed up, become part of another. As he approaches I become not myself but Neville mixed with somebody - with whom? - with Bernard? Yes, it is Bernard, and it is to Bernard that I shall put the question, Who am I? - Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Introduction" by Anne Carson

Early one morning words were missing. Before that, words were not. Facts were, faces were. In a good story, Aristotle tells us, everything that happens is pushed by something else. Three old women were bending in the fields. What use is it to question us? they said. Well it shortly became clear that they knew everything there is to know about the snowy fields and the blue-green shoots and the plant called "audacity," which poets mistake for violets. I began to copy out everything that was said. The marks construct an instant of nature gradually, without the boredom of a story. I emphasize this. I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An entranceway into a more complex and vertiginous scope of being‏

It's in my nature to question, to look at the opposite side of a story, a theory, a leaf. Whatever is present, its opposite is almost always present as well. I believe that good writing also does this. Great literature does not take sides. It is not partisan, small minded, or narrow. Art tells us that where there is sorrow, there will be joy, and where there is joy, there will be sorrow. A uni-dimensional poem would be unbelievably dull and boring. Sometimes the other side is so deeply buried, you really have to part the grasses of the poem to find it, but in good poetry, that second dimension is always there. The poems we remember hold in themselves something startling and unexpected, some undertow, some magnetic pull toward a fuller, subtler truth. This offered entranceway into a more complex and vertiginous scope of being is why good art thrills. - Jane Hirshfield

Friday, April 6, 2012

What being is for philosophers, beauty is for Joseph Cornell‏

All day long, week in, week out, I look across from my studio table at the forbidding drab gray façade of the huge Manhattan Storage and Warehouse building with its symmetrical row after row of double metal blinds, every night, promptly at five, uniformed guards appear simultaneously at each of the myriad windows drawing in the ponderous rivet-studded shutters for the night. But this summer evening at the appointed time the ethereal form of Fanny Cerrito, breathlessly resplendent in gossamer of ondine, appears in each casement to perform the chores of the guards. So guilessly, with such ineffable humility and grace, is the duty discharged as to bring a catch to the throat. Her composure and tender (slow fade-out) glance rebuke regret as she fades from view. - Joseph Cornel

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Between official and unofficial views of being

In the space between literature and politics, or between poetry and history, the possibilities for meaning and action are much less determinate and much richer than either construction allows. For unlike politics or philosophy, art offers what Stevens described as “an unofficial view of being.” One might also call this an individual view or a personal view, but with the emphasis on a shared reality in which the official and the unofficial views communicate. These “unofficial” worlds made from local, intimate objects have a rhetorical power. One function of poetry might be to bring that reality out of the official (normative, collective, general, abstract) and into the unofficial (eccentric, individual, particular, sensate) view, then send it back again. - Bonnie Costello

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Creating an amenable circumstance

We are preoccupied with events, even when we do not observe them closely. We have a sense of upheaval. We feel threatened. We look from an uncertain present toward a more uncertain future. One feels the desire to collect oneself against all this in poetry as well as in politics…Resistance is the opposite of escape. The poet who wishes to contemplate the good in the midst of confusion is like the mystic who wishes to contemplate God in the midst of evil. There can be no thought of escape. Both the poet and the mystic may establish themselves on herrings and apples. The painter may establish himself on a guitar, a copy of Figaro and a dish of melons. These are fortifyings, although irrational ones. The only possible resistance to the pressure of the contemporaneous is a matter of herring and apples or, to be less definite, the contemporaneous itself. In poetry, to that extent, the subject is not the contemporaneous, because that is only the nominal subject, but the poetry of the contemporaneous. Resistance to the pressure of ominous and destructive circumstance consists of its conversion, so far as possible, into a different, an explicable, an amenable circumstance. - Wallace Stevens, “The Irrational Element in Poetry “

Monday, March 19, 2012

Our door is open to the ferocious curiosity of the celestial bandit

...I slowly raised my mournful eyes, ringed with great bluish circles, towards the inverted bowl of the firmament, and dared to try and penetrate, young as I was, the mysteries of heaven. Not finding what I was seeking I raised my [terrified lids] higher...higher yet...until at last I perceived a throne built of human excrement and gold upon which was enthroned with idiot pride and robed in a shroud made from unlaundered hospital sheets, that one who calls himself the Creator!
     In his hand he held the decaying trunk of a [dead] man and he lifted it successively from his eyes to his nose and from his nose to his mouth, where one may guess what he did with it. His feet were bathed in a vast morass of boiling blood to the surface of which there suddenly arose like tapeworms in the contents of a chamber-pot, two or three cautious heads which disappeared instantly with the speed of arrows; for an accurate kick on the nose was the well-known reward for such a revolt against the law, caused by a need to breathe the air, for men are not, after all, fish!
     Amphibians [at the very most], they swam between two waters in that unclean juice! And when the Creator had nothing left in his hands he would seize another swimmer by the neck with the two first claws of his foot as in a pincers and raise him up out of that ruddy slime (delicious sauce!). - Comte de Lautréamont (his first view of God)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Praise of Obsession

     A real diehard, indestructible, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing.  The poet with an obsession never has to search for subject matter.  It is always right there, welling up like an Artesian spring on a piece of property with bad drainage.  It is a pressing subject that subjectively expresses; it will infiltrate the innocent description of a cloud and inveigle its way into the memory of a distant city.  Emily Dickinson's critics say that death was her "flood subject," the theme that electrified her language whenever she approaches it.  A poet without a true obsession, a foundational fracture, a mythic would, may have too much time to think.  The poet without a compelling, half-conscious story of the world may not have a heat source catalytic enough to channel into the work of a lifetime.
     Passion is the greatest gift a poet can have, and nobody is mildly obsessed.  Violence of feeling can compensate for many other weaknesses in a writer.  Stanley Kunitz advises young poets to polarize their contradictions, which we might translate to mean, "cultivate your obsession." . . .
     In the work of a good poet, it is usually possible to discern one or two characteristic emotional zones in which he thrives: melancholy, rage, pity, vengeful rationality, seduction.  A mature poet may not know how to command obsession, but understands how to transfuse material into it and then to surrender.  The obsessed psyche knows unerringly where to go, like a Geiger counter to uranium, or a dog to his master's grave.  Lucky dog, to have a master. - Tony Hoagland

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Sailing to Byzantium" - drafts of the first stanza

Original draft according to Curtis Bradford:

This is no country for old men – if our Lord
Is a smiling child upon his mother’s knees
And in the hills the old gods / Those – I know now
What names to call them by – still hunt and love
There is still a love for those that can still sing
All / For all the
Forever sing the song that . . . you have sung

Original draft according to A. Norman Jeffares:

All in this land – my Maker that is play
Or else asleep upon His Mother’s knees,
Others that as the mountain people say
Are at their hunting and their gallantries
Under the hills, as in our fathers’ day
The changing colours of the hills and seas
All that men know or think they know, being young,
Cry that my tale is told, my story sung.

Third draft via Marjorie Perloff:

This/ Here/ That is no country for old me – the young
Pass by me/ That travel singing of their loves, the trees
Break/ Clad in such foliage that it seems a song
The shadow of the birds upon the seas
The leaping fish, the fields all summer long
The leaping fish/ The crowding fish commend all summer long
Deceiving [?] abundance/ Plenty, but no monument
Commends the never aging intellect
The salmon rivers, the fish/ mackerel crowded seas
Flesh/ All/ Fish flesh and fowl, all spring all summer long
What/ Commemorate what is begot and dies.

Final version:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

- W.B. Yeats

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Here I am" - the turning point of Martin Buber's life and philosophy

     Martin Buber's I and Thou philosophy is based on a moment when Buber failed to say “Here I am” to one of his students.  Buber, the towering giant of modern Jewish philosophy, had just finished his morning studies and was still absorbed in his own thoughts when a young man knocked on the door of his study.  Buber was known as a wise counselor to many young, seeking souls.  Buber did not know Mehe, the young man at the door; nonetheless, he invited Mehe to come in.  Buber was far from rude to the man.  He listened politely to Mehe, but Buber’s mind and heart were very far from the conversation.  Buber failed to discern the urgency of Mehe’s visit.
     Two months later, one of Mehe’s friends came to see Buber and told him of Mehe’s death and what the young man had hoped his talk with Buber would be.  Mehe had come to Buber not casually, not for a chat but for a decision.  The decision was one of life and death.
     Buber was devastated by this revelation.  This young man had come to him out of burning need, but Buber was too absorbed in his own thoughts and in his own world to truly notice.  Buber’s life was changed forever by this encounter.  Buber’s life and philosophy were permanently redirected because of how he had failed to respond.  He wrote his new philosophy of religious living in a book called I and Thou. - Richard Jacobs

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Refreshing the Beautiful with the Grotesque

The modern muse . . . will realize that everything in creation is not humanly beautiful, that the ugly exists beside the beautiful, the unshapely beside the graceful, the grotesque on the reverse of the sublime. . . In the idea of men of modern times . . . the grotesque plays an enormous part. It is found everywhere; on the one hand it creates the abnormal and the horrible, on the other the comic and the burlesque. It fastens upon religion a thousand original superstitions, upon poetry a thousand picturesque fancies. . . How boldly it brings into relief all the strange forms which the preceding age had timidly wrapped in swaddling clothes! . . . We need a little rest from everything, even the beautiful. . . The grotesque seems to be a . . . starting-point whence one rises toward the beautiful with a fresher and keener perception. 
- Victor Hugo 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Yeats's Recipe for Timelessness

If the real world is not altogether rejected, it is but touched here and there, and into the places we have left empty we summon rhythm, balance, pattern, images that remind us of vast passions, the vagueness of past times, all the chimeras that haunt the edge of trance; and if we are painters, we shall express personal emotion through ideal form, a symbolism handled by the generations, a mask from whose eyes the disembodied looks, a style that remembers many masters, that it may escape contemporary suggestion; or we shall leave out some element of reality as in Byzantine painting, where there is no mass, nothing in relief, and so it is that in the supreme moment of tragic art there comes upon one that strange sensation as though the hair of one's head stood up.

Nor have we chosen illusion in choosing the outward sign of that moral genius that lives among the subtlety of the passions...

Monday, February 13, 2012

David Lynch on Eraserhead

Henry is very sure that something is happening, but he doesn't understand it at all. He watches things very, very carefully, because he's trying to figure them out. He might study the corner of a pie container, just because it's in his line of sight, and he might wonder why he sat where he did to have that be there like that. Everything is new. It might not be frightening to him, but it could be a key to something. Everything should be looked at. There could be clues in it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Time Pieces" by Rachel Wetzsteon

Eden time

They spent every day,
blissfully ignorant, in
amorous delay.

Temp time

Will I be alive
when the twelve-headed jailer
announces it’s five?

In a parched time

Clouds make this appeal:
the more you wait, the wetter
the water will feel.

Intermission time

Guilty admission:
this plunge from art to life’s a
painful transition.

Sleep time

Quick nap—but it seemed
an ocean of joys, a sea
of griefs that I dreamed.

Reunion time

Days passed like drugged snails.
I met you at the station,
laughed at their faint trails.

Just give it time

Though I frankly feel
better, there's nothing sadder
than starting to heal.

Retronym time

Cheering: it was done.
But soon the Great War would be
renamed World War One.

Lately I haven't had the easiest time

has me asking clouds if they
know where my ex is.

The Marshallin returns for the third and final time

Ja, ja, so it goes:
I've got memories, but she's
got the silver rose.

Ahab time

Though I do not thrive,
I confess I've never felt
so purely alive.

You get lucky from time to time

Once, in a mad rush,
I painted a blizzard that
blew away my brush.