Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Poetics Flow

In lieu of actually doing anything productive this afternoon I created this "Flow of Poetics" diagram (inspired by Bryan). Of course, much like Davie's "five kinds of poetics syntax", this is purely based on my experiences with the readings and is completely subjective.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Jaguar and the Tapir

Thanks a lot, Saussure. There was a time when, to me, a cat was just a cat. Furry thing with claws and whiskers = cat. Simple. How na├»ve I was. It is so clear now that the word—those 3 letters C-A-T—has nothing at all to do with the animal that bears the name. Neither does “animal” for that matter. So here we are, as human beings (having nothing at all to do with the bipedal primate that bears the name), living outside of our own existence in this world of language. Try to imagine a purely visual world devoid of language. No, really—try it. It is nearly impossible. You may imagine yourself as a jaguar lurking in the dense rainforests at night, ready to spring on your hapless prey. Or, you may be the ever alert tapir, sensing the jaguar amongst the trees, every nerve telling you to run. Run, tapir, run! But right there are the T-R-E-E-S. Fucking trees.

Unless we were raised by wolves, we don’t have a choice but to live our lives through language. Lyn Hejinian knows this, Charles Bernstein knows it too... We may as well get used to it—and make the best of it. In The Rejection of Closure, Hejinian says, “Because we have language we find ourselves in a special and peculiar relationship to the objects, events, and situations which constitute what we imagine of the world. Language generates its own characteristics in the human psychological and spiritual conditions.” Yep. She quotes Francis Ponge who says, “Man is a curious body whose center of gravity is not in himself.” I pondered this for about three seconds and realized that it is undoubtedly true. I am in my own head almost every waking minute of every day (and every sleeping minute too, come to think of it). Thinking, planning, organizing (or disorganizing), working, worrying, reading, and even sometimes writing. It’s no wonder that so many of the pleasures in life are those things that take us outside of language—those things that connect us to our more primal selves. I can’t name them all but they include sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

So back to getting used to it, making the best of it, and sometimes writing. In the “real” world (that prehistoric, purely visual world before language and gunpowder) I am the tapir. As a mostly hairless mammal with substandard hearing and a lousy sense of smell all I can do is cower in a cave and wait to become lunch for the saber-toothed predecessor of the jaguar. I’ve got nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I do have this enormous brain (relatively speaking). This brain, however, is both the proverbial blessing and curse. In order to survive I had to invent language (okay, I didn’t really invent language—it was some guy named Og) so that I could scream to my family, “Look out! Mastodon! Run up that tree!” pick up a stick and tell my buddy, “Hey, I bet we could kill something with this,” or relay to my mate that, “I could really use a beer right now.” But this invention of language changed everything. We now define our world by the names we give things. But they’re only names. Everything both is and isn’t what it seems. Since we don’t get to go back to that time before language, we might as well try to grasp it. Through my writing I’m in control of my world—I’m the hero of my stories and the protagonist of my poems. Through language, I get to be the jaguar. As I said, “Thanks Saussure!”

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More Darwinian Poetics

In re-reading the Davie piece in order to compare it with Silliman's New Sentence, I was, once again, compelled to draw comparisons between the evolution of language and our own evolution as as a species. Davie says that most people regard syntax as the "mere skeleton on which are hung the truly poetic elements, such as imagery or rhythm." The skeleton, this syntax is a metaphor, a fossilized reminder that something came before. Davie explains that poetry "can be invertebrate" (like Coolidge's Trilobites) taking it back even deeper into a prehistoric past.
This idea that poetry is the basic, most primitive form of language goes back to Shelley's idea in A Defence of Poetry when he says, "in the infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet..." Fenollosa too, talks about the evolution of language, saying that "pronouns appear a thorn in our evolution theory," implying that the further we move from that initial form (the syntax of the thing) the more we lose. This started me thinking about our own species. Ahh, how super-sophisticated we've become, but does that necessarily make us more evolved? For instance, chimpanzees, our closest living relatives (sharing 96% of our DNA), don't seem to share our penchant for destroying the planet to promote their own greedy self interests. The earth itself seems to be increasingly disturbed by us humans, as our self-inflicted climate change is poised to add us to the list of species that, ultimately, wore out their planetary welcome--to end up as fossilized skeletons on the geological junk heap... Wow, that sure seemed like a rant!

Anyway, back to language..."Sentences integrate into higher levels of meaning," Silliman says, "toward the paragraph." And yet, these "primitive" sentences are, all by themselves, poetic. So then, back to my analogy, perhaps modern linguists are like today's proponents of creationism (or the more PC "intelligent design") and that's why, according to Silliman, "the sentence has been shoved back into the domain of non-investigation." Rather than acknowledge the obvious (that we're simply sophisticated beasts--uh I mean that, with regard to language, more isn't necessarily better) they have overlooked those basic structures in favor of more complex systems. Silliman (and Davie and Shelley and Fenollosa and Pound, et al), like an archeologist, sees the beauty in all of those other bits of language that climbed out of the primordial soup and attempts to reconstruct the skeletons to better understand poetry (chimpanzees).

Monday, May 7, 2007

Poetry Finds Static (A Manifesto)

In honor of Gertrude Stein here's the manifesto I wrote last quarter...

Poetry Finds Static
(A Manifesto)

Poetry rides shotgun on a highway going nowhere anyhow. Let’s just get that straight out front. You just want to find a station. Let’s get that straight too. I can’t remember the last time poetry put in. It can tell a story. That is true. But it’s no friend. Don’t make that mistake. Sometimes poetry shakes you to wake you. That is true. Poetry always turns to the station you don’t want to hear no how. Is that true? Poetry never finds it anyway. It gets stuck between stations. Poetry finds static. You can almost hear what it’s trying to say. That is true. But it can drive you mad. That is true too. Two tunes at once. Can poetry be both? What isn’t really? That might be true. Poetry takes its time or no time. Depending. What is poetry but language? What is language but the scenery? The same images shifting perception, each of us interpreting but not really knowing. As if you could. As if it could. What is true? If nothing else, that is. It makes sense to look at poetry this way and that. Drip comes close. Buzz is closer, but that’s about it. Whisper and sizzle and clang too I guess. There are more of course, but no more are needed. Buzz Whisper Sizzle Drip Clang. Drip Whisper Clang Buzz Sizzle. How can that be true? No, true, of course, is meadow horse lake love nightingale God. So true yet it certainly doesn’t seem so. The road is what we decide. Get that straight if nothing. Poetry finds static.

Gertrude Stein said there ain’t no answer. She also said there ain’t gonna be an answer and there never has been an answer. That, she said, is the answer. Poetry is as good an answer as any. Or not. If poetry claims to have the answer it is lying maybe. Maybe not. How do you know? Gertrude Stein says so, that’s how. Poetry finds static. That is the only true thing. Poetry will smoke your last cigarette. It sits beside you or behind you. It sleeps a lot. Poetry can be ahead of you sometimes always anyway. That may be true or not. Don’t ever let poetry drive. For that you’ll be sorry. If you only take one thing away from this or that let it be. Poetry is not dependable. It barely looks at the road ahead anyway. It gawks at the rabbits and the tumbleweeds and the lines behind. It will leave you in the ditch or worse. That is true. Out of gas and out of cash listening to static. Believe it or don’t—it doesn’t matter much anyway. An old, drunk poet said there are worse things than being alone. That may be true. But he didn’t say what. He also said that friendship means sharing the prejudice of experience. That of everything seems true. So maybe poetry is your friend. Remember, it can tell a good story if you let it. You can let it. But you have to be willing to listen to both stations at once.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Sarcasm and Sentimentality in Davie Does Dickinson

Much like Bryan, I was beginning to feel that these guys we’ve been studying—especially Fenollosa, Pound, and Zukofsky—were trying to strip away some of what, to me, makes poetry “poetic” by turning it into a science. The idea really appeals to me on one level (particularly in the case of Fenollosa) but then along comes Davie with another prescription for what makes “good” poetry. When he starts a line in an essay “In fact, I distinguish five kinds of poetic syntax, as follows…” you know you’re in for a long read. I was beginning to feel the walls closing in until I read Kasey’s example in his response to Bryan’s post where he contrasts Frank O’Hara’s verse with Jorie Graham’s. It really crystallized what I’ve been thinking for a while now—I already kind of know good poetry when I see it. I think Frank O’Hara gets away with it because he is being self-consciously ironic while Jorie Graham is being disingenuous (and, yes, calculated and maudlin). O’Hara is clearly having fun while Graham seems intent on manipulation. I can trust O’Hara—he’s giving it to me straight (because he’s so obviously being tongue-in-cheek). Maybe that’s what all these guys are saying about poetics, “just give it to us straight” but unfortunately it takes ten pages of mathematical calculations to get there. That’s why Emily Dickinson was so refreshing. It would be interesting to know what kind of “surgery” Higginson had performed on her poems and whether she took his advice or not (I kind of suspect that she did not). You can tell by her wonderful sarcasm and wit that Dickinson obviously knew good poetry when she saw it. She was writing what she wanted to write even though it bucked the conventions of her day. Maybe when the Fenollosas, Zukofskys, Pounds, and Davies of the world tell us how to write “good” poetry we can simply say “thank you for the surgery” and then strive to make our own poetry as fresh and as honest as O’Hara’s and Dickinson’s.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Regular Situation

Goldrush Acid Meltdown

When I wrote this I was on a goldrush acid meltdown.
Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been up to ‘cause I do.
It’s not as if the world twisted itself like a wet dishtowel all on its own.
It didn’t and neither did you.
Poetry is like that sometimes.

When I wrote that I was on an upswing desert slip ‘n slide.
Chance meetings happen according to procedure.
But I guess you already knew that ‘cause you’re here.
Paying a bit more notice would have been in order.
Too much attention to distraction and none at all to the slow burn.

But, as I said, I was on a Machiavellian late night talk show when I wrote this.
Wrung out and all that’s left is insincerity.
How could it happen that I’m so unconcerned even when I am so aware?
You knew the cost right up front and you smiled anyway.
Reality is like that sometimes.

When I wrote that I was on a nationalistic huntdown light brigade.
Brutality is often cheaper than governance.
The standard perpetuates the myth that it’s not.
You made us all think you didn’t know when you did.
Now we’re here and you’re still here and then what?

Of course, when I wrote this I was on an online dating trampoline.
Sex is sometimes more fun than activism.
So many people arguing semantics over agenda.
Over and over—overpopulating the margins.
Poetry is like that sometimes.

A Nod to Frank O'Hara...

Guy's Night

I’m going out with the guys on Friday
and Pete says there’s too much Orange Juice in the house
So I say we should make screwdrivers for the guys on Friday
And Pete agrees, but first we need to come up with some vodka
But it’s okay cause there’s some cheap POPOV in the liquor cabinet
So we go to The Peev’s house and the guys are there
The Peev, of course, and Abraxis, Goa, Will, Nate, Pete and me
And we drink cheap screwdrivers
Which is fine cause they’re loaded with vitamin C and carbs
And we talk about the miraculous healing powers of hallucinogens
But we don’t do any
But we do drink some more screwdrivers
And talk some more
About Nate’s brush with a stump while biking which was more than a brush
Because he had to eat tapioca pudding through a straw for a few days
But he was okay now and could eat chips and salsa and drink cheap screwdrivers
But I think he was just drinking beer
So we’re talking some more when
Abraxis mentions the DEPARTMENT OF WOO WOO
And we know exactly what he means
Because we know that shaman prefer tobacco as a conduit to the gods
Even over orchids and pot
And now we’re drunk enough to think we can save the world
So we complain about the government and the oil companies
But just as we’re about to solve global warming we decide to go bowling instead
Cause we’re drunk enough to think that bowling is a good idea
So we go to LAVA LANES but they’re having some kind of PBA tournament
Because apparently Medford is a big bowling town
And Marshall Holman is some kind of local celebrity
And they can’t be bothered with a bunch of guys
Whose combined average is around 94 even though one of them is a guitar hero
So they send us to ROXY ANN LANES instead
But the place is so packed we have to wait in the lounge
And everyone in the lounge is smoking except for us
I can’t remember the last time
I was in a place where everyone was smoking and singing Karaoke
And we can’t even make fun of them, because they sound pretty good
So we drink beer and they come in to get us cause we finally have a lane
And almost everybody prefers the gold ball ‘cause somebody says it has magical powers
But the magic wears off before the ball hits the lane
Because we all suck, except Abraxis who is some kind of ringer
The french fries are too good and Pete’s cup is the one that’s 7/8s full
And Goa is sending photos to his honey with his phone
And she’s out with our honeys and it’s some kind of a game they’re playing
So she sends photos back and hers are better because
Hers are of beautiful girls and girl parts
And his are just a bunch of guys in dorky bowling shoes
So we go back to The Peev’s and we drink some more screwdrivers
And talk some more but now I don’t even remember what we’re talking about
Just that I’ve had way too much to drink
I can’t even remember the last time I drank this much
So I stumble to the bathroom
Just in time too
And then I think that this might be a good place to lie down
Here on the gold bath mat, which really does have magical powers
I ‘m so comfortable I don’t even consider pubic hair dust bunnies
And then they come and get me and there are some girls and I’m grinning like an idiot
And then I’m home
And, still grinning, I slip into bed with Velvety Goodness

Tuesday, May 1, 2007