Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Much like zinc

This writing needs to happen daily if it's to have the healthful benefits I know it can have.

I realize that I dismissed Language Poetry too much out of hand last post. Having slept on it I figured that I'd log on and point to some of its virtues, but it's not that kind of noontime; I've been frustrated with most of the poetry I've been reading this morning, which is the first half of James Merrill's Late Settings, and I don't want to redeem his or Language or any poetry that doesn't impel me toward a new realization of some fact, insight, or emotion.

A poet submitted to the ______ Review recently and his work made it into the special committee discussion. This was a particular kind of voice at work in those poems, with a Whitmanic scope in terms of subject and syntax, and the bald confidence that that voice possessed, the trust that the reader would be not only be able to follow the syntax, associative leaps, and turns of diction into humor and pathos by turns, but that to so follow would be a simple, natural matter, and would bestow upon the reader weighty heaps of sadness and pleasure, etc. Death was a common theme, also sandcastles, logos on the trucks of landscaping companies, the sounds black holes make, you get the idea. But for some reason none of the poems worked, none won champions or defenders, none worked.

I believe I know why: at the most practical level, the exuberance of these poems as they ranged hither and thither - with much verve and elan at times - were never leavened with recurrent images, revisited ideas, developed meaning. Although Auerbach's theory of "figura" brooks I think too much devotion in certain narrative-minded writing, in which some primary image accumulates additional and sub-meanings throughout the anecdote-poem until a final reconstitution of that image completes the poem's narrative and imagistic meaning, I also think that a functional version of the expansive / associational poetry I describe and pull for must employ some bastard of figura so to rein in the poem. Such a poem's going to riff on this and that and a half-dozen other things, in dialect here and in egghead jargon there, administering teeming doses of enjoyment along the way, but it will, it must, it has to cycle back if only occasionally on the image, idea, or sentiment that is the poem's raison d'etre.

Images, ideas, and sentiments, however, are not the same. More on this later today, let's hope. I may catch a matinee.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Stereophonic Discrepancy

Low's Secret Name is coming in heavy on the bass and light on the treble. Still as sadcore as ever, of course.

Spent the morning (after classes, errands) with Bishop and the afternoon with Plath. Both have singularities in their speech that make neither one sound anything like anyone else. They are only themselves. Bishop shares some of Lowell's plain-spokenness, which quality, also as in Lowell, is de-rhythm-ified to transcend common speech into a district of speech that is most uncommon. Common speech chipped and smelted and refined into speech like some variety of sterling silver, is one awkward way to put it. And Plath reels from simile to simile - also often couched in formalish metrics, which are enjambed the hell out of until that fact is hard to see, like thus:

Little pilgrim,
The Indian's axed your scalp.
Your turkey wattle
Carpet rolls

Straight from the heart.
I step on it,
Clutching my bottle
Of pink fizz. A celebration, this is.
Out of a gap
A million soldiers run,
Redcoats, every one.

- from "Cut"

Which is thoroughgoingly great. Plath, and Bishop too, have voices that are completely their own;in Plath there's a unified dark consciousness that through consistently arresting imagery and a maintained tambor of bleak reflection that make the jumps less jarring, and the poems themselves cohere.

All of which is on my mind not merely 1) for the upcoming exam but also 2) due to Friday's viewing of "Ray," wherein Jamie Foxx / Ray Charles aw-shucks to Bea that he can sound like this and that blues / jazz / country player but can't quite yet sound like himself, to which I can relate, being able to mime your Goldbarths and McGraths with a reasonable amount of success, but as to when this work of mine will stop being imitation and will start sounding unlike those I follow / unwittingly parody,
and to 3) this desire & need I have to turn this MFA exam project into something more than it its intended to be, namely a manifesto on the poetics of Post-postmodernity. As big a fan as I've been of pmod in fiction (I read each page of the "Rainbow", thanks, and Mr. Pynchon do I have some questions for you), I've never bought into it as a viable poetic method. Language Poetry? Solipsism. A Big Step Backward to the elitism of the French Symbolists. I sniff at it. However necessary a movement it may have been - as a counterweight to the other Step Backward of the New Formalists, or as a reductio ad absurdum of contemporary free verse, pick your poison - I do not believe that it represents the direction poetry might & should travel. It's not the sort of poetics that can best capture the modern American / international condition. "That boy was our last hope," scions and critics like to say of their darling movements, poets, and poems. I say, "No. There is another."

Which is a post for another time. It was shockingly cold, taking out the week's garbage. Two trains whistled by at dusk. The dogs fought, but once again it was only a pretense to getting closer. There is more water in the glass than I can drink in a night.