To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Christophe Lamiot Enos: Postface to “Un Champ sur Mars / A Field on Mars”

[The following is the critical postface to my new book, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015 (Un Champ sur Mars), just published by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre in both an English & a simultaneous French edition.  Christophe Lamiot is an active poet & the editor of the Rouen press’s Jusqu’a (To) series of books devoted to contemporary American poetry & poets in separate English & French editions.  The complete French translation of my Shaking the Pumpkin (Secouer la Citrouille) was also published under his editorship. (J.R.)]

(...) poetry as elation

A Field on Mars. A field on Mars: this is how Jerome Rothenberg tells of his writings in poetry from the last ten years. A former title was “Divagations and Auto-variations.” “Divagations & Autovariations” now stands as a subtitle. I like this gesture of naming, then renaming—from one of the most prolific, far-ranging, active and successful poets of XXth-century Anglophone America. I like it all the more so, as there is a very remarkable and easily circumscribable echo to naming and renaming, within the work itself. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: Within the text, there are other words, given as substitutes for the ones ending lines, not all lines, but a number of them—enough of them to make the naming and renaming attention-catching and remarkable. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: The ever-shifting correspondence between language and matter, between words and what they are not. To deal in translations, one has to presuppose a matter to be translated. This “To” series deals in translations. It so much deals indeed in translations that it considers “original texts” as translations. It considers words as resulting from the meeting between humans and their surroun­dings. As translating this encounter. One particular language: A way of translating. Another particular language: Another way of translating. Dance, music, cooking, architecture: Other languages, other ways of translating. If the matter to be translated was purely and strictly speaking language only, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties to, or impossibilities in, translating. What has to be translated is already a table of correspondences between matter and humans as represented in their words. In other words, what has to be translated is already a translation. The “To” series is a series in translations. This “To” series is a series in poetry as translations.

(…) Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world
Rothenberg’s career in poetry ranges from White Sun Black Sun (1960) to the present times. This time expanse also gets multiplied manifold by Rothenberg’s special interest in and devo­tion to early poetries from all over the world. Rothenberg writes poems. He also collects poems. He also edits poems—so much so that there may not be much of a difference between collecting and writing, according to Rothenberg. There are indeed so many early poems from so many various traditions that Rothenberg offers us, that any given poem we may now read from Rothen­berg comes with echoes from previous ones, previous harvesting, previous garnering—from layers upon layers of attentions paid to words as collecting and harvesting, then offering human efforts to name the world, or having words correspond to matters; from layers upon layers of poems in translations, telling us just that: We readers, we writers come after layers upon layers of naming and renaming, from which to collect, from which to harvest. This is a teaching we collect from poetry. This is a tea­ching that is gathered from collecting words. This, a teaching of words, from words: Words are traces of a collecting, layers upon layers of harvesting and garnering human experience. To bring forward. To forward. To a vast range of traditions, which he gathers under the heading of “ethnopoetics”, Rothenberg makes us heirs. “To” a vast range of traditions. “To:” a vast range of traditions. Three collections or anthologies, as he calls them, come to the fore: Technicians of the Sacred (1968), Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) and A Big Jewish Book (1977). Shaking the Pumpkin is translated into French by Anne Talvaz at the Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre (2015) and naturally found its way to this “To” series—within the “To” series. Technicians of the Sacred appears into its French translation by Yves di Manno at José Corti Editions (2008). A Big Jewish Book still calls for its translation into French. Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world teach us that a poem is a gesture, or a collecting of gestures, traditionally bearing the marks of harvesting toward sharing what is garnered. There is a celebration: This is poetry, this is books, especially. Books are with us to celebrate the garnering to be shared. While we read, there are shadows that extend before us—shadows of previous harvesters, previous harvests that poetry still celebrates. Such celebrations are reminiscent of words—of the specific celebra­tions that words are.
(…) a heritage in elation (…)
Besides what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, i.e. attentiveness to poetry and beyond it, toward what constitutes poetry and acts it out, I want to stress Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars as a proposition in elation. To Rothenberg, poetry is elation. It enthuses us. It is our heritage. It is a heri­tage in elation. Beyond what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, there are at least two good reasons for elation in poetry, for elation as poetry writing. The first reason is to be able to still write more—write beyond what has already been achieved, rename once more time what has already been named. Writing as never-ending. Writing without an end to writing. Writing from generation to generation. Writing as a process forward. Writing as a way to circumvent death. As it is the meaning of one’s inheritance. As it is comprised already within the heritage. Within poetry as heritage. The second reason for being elated by and reaching elation through poetry, has to do with a special letting go of etiquette and conventions. Beyond attentiveness to poetry, Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars is a proposition in poetry as elation, as humor brings us elation. Poetry is our heritage. Not a thing here, nor a thing there. Not just a fish from out of waters. But the desire and care for making things, not this one or that one—but many, many things, a whole procession of things. Not just a fish out of waters, but the ways in which fish may be landed, i.e. ways to fish and enthusiasm for what has to be done for one’s sustenance. Enthusiasm for the way there is more than one fish in the sea. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. And another. And yet another. There is something of a classic in kid’s literature in Rothenberg’s. There is also a letting go of conventions. Here comes to mind again the very special way in which endings of certain lines go along with possible substitutes in Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars. You would think that a given line wants a specific ending. You would think that it matters that such or such a line ends with this particular ending—not any other. Well, Rothenberg makes you reconsider this assumption. A Field On Mars makes you reconsider it so much, that to a certain extent words become interchangeable. Which is a way of underlining what matters most in words: Their being with us, whatever they are, their being used and re-used, again and again. Words in our hands, words as gestures. As a result of this reconsidering of words, precise lexical meanings as collected in dictionaries fade in importance, as compared to the presence of words in our activities, in our daily routines and actions. Isn’t it elation for us?
A field on Mars: an expanse of grass, from the most impro­bable of places; soil to be tilled, on a planet that does not look like very welcoming to man, or to life in general. “A field on Mars” sounds pretty idealistic. Seems to be very far-fetched, indeed. Could poetry be a field on Mars? Could it finally be that, after years and years of practice and thought, exposition to poetry and striving toward it, poetry equal some expanse of grass from the most improbable of places? What wisdom is there to be derived from such an equation?
Reader, if you’ve not read the work itself, yet, you may at first sight have construed its title as stressing the ever-growing rarity of poetry within our world, or in our societies—how man decides to organize this world, or most men, apparently. Within such a context, poetry does appear as a rarity. Yet, such an inter­pretation does not give credit to the full range of Rothenberg’s meaning. A field on Mars, OK. Poetry as a field on Mars: OK. Yet the meaning of poetry as elation in Rothenberg’s A Field on Mars is that an expanse of grass may grow from it on the barest, most inhospitable of planets. Poetry as elation: despite dire circumstances, there is still hope, through heritage, through poetry, through the enthusiasm that poetry’s task is to convey. Rothenberg does not think about poetry as anything else but a heritage. A poem: a heritage. To write a poem: to inherit. To deal in harvesting: To deal in inheriting. To deal in tradition. To deal in forwarding. What is it that we want to forward our children? This or that? No. What we want to hand over is this handing over, precisely. This is the significance of poetry. This is one of the main teachings of ethnopoetics. With Shaking the Pumpkin, Rothenberg states or re-states the following: We want to forward dynamics, we want to bestow energies, enthusiasm and elation. Poetry as elation.
(…) only sharing, infinite sharing                
A word. Another. A word for another. This one. That one. This. That. One. One and the same thing. What is common to a word and another? What is it that makes them interchangeable? That one can be put instead of the other? Just ending sonorities? Rhymes? There is something that sounds common in between two words. Between this one and that one. Between any two words, indeed? What is it? What about the interest of the rhyme, any rhyme indeed? Taking into account that they can be interchangeable. Perfectly interchangeable. Couldn’t it be assigned to something else than pure sound being repeated? And what if the interest in rhymes did not only pertain to similarities of sound? Did pertain to something that similari­ties in sound only represented? Marked? Suggested? Designated, in turn? To which it pointed? Not being it, itself. This is one of the strongest propositions in and of A Field on Mars: Words are revealed through poetry and its rhyming as not so much separate entities, with such or such a meaning, or even such or such a material signature or composition. Words are beyond the markings that linguistics make them to be. Markings with which linguistics have made us used to considering first, when thinking about words. Rothenberg says: Look, hear, weigh, touch, feel, consider, this is where humans have been, this is the sign and flesh and signature and shadow of our ancestry and lineage, our past, present and future, this is the trail, the human trail, this is where there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear, only sharing, infinite sharing.

Christophe Lamiot Enos, June 2015, Paris[The following is the critical postface to my new book, A Field on Mars: Poems 2000-2015 (Un Champ sur Mars), just published by Presses Universitaires de Rouen et du Havre in both an English & a simultaneous French edition.  Christophe Lamiot is an active poet & the editor of the Rouen press’s Jusqu’a (To) series of books devoted to contemporary American poetry & poets in separate English & French editions.  The complete French translation of my Shaking the Pumpkin (Secouer la Citrouille) was also published under his editorship. (J.R.)]
 (...) poetry as elation

A Field on Mars. A field on Mars: this is how Jerome Rothenberg tells of his writings in poetry from the last ten years. A former title was “Divagations and Auto-variations.” “Divagations & Autovariations” now stands as a subtitle. I like this gesture of naming, then renaming—from one of the most prolific, far-ranging, active and successful poets of XXth-century Anglophone America. I like it all the more so, as there is a very remarkable and easily circumscribable echo to naming and renaming, within the work itself. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: Within the text, there are other words, given as substitutes for the ones ending lines, not all lines, but a number of them—enough of them to make the naming and renaming attention-catching and remarkable. Something in which the “To” series is most highly interested: The ever-shifting correspondence between language and matter, between words and what they are not. To deal in translations, one has to presuppose a matter to be translated. This “To” series deals in translations. It so much deals indeed in translations that it considers “original texts” as translations. It considers words as resulting from the meeting between humans and their surroun­dings. As translating this encounter. One particular language: A way of translating. Another particular language: Another way of translating. Dance, music, cooking, architecture: Other languages, other ways of translating. If the matter to be translated was purely and strictly speaking language only, there wouldn’t be so many difficulties to, or impossibilities in, translating. What has to be translated is already a table of correspondences between matter and humans as represented in their words. In other words, what has to be translated is already a translation. The “To” series is a series in translations. This “To” series is a series in poetry as translations.

(…) Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world
Rothenberg’s career in poetry ranges from White Sun Black Sun (1960) to the present times. This time expanse also gets multiplied manifold by Rothenberg’s special interest in and devo­tion to early poetries from all over the world. Rothenberg writes poems. He also collects poems. He also edits poems—so much so that there may not be much of a difference between collecting and writing, according to Rothenberg. There are indeed so many early poems from so many various traditions that Rothenberg offers us, that any given poem we may now read from Rothen­berg comes with echoes from previous ones, previous harvesting, previous garnering—from layers upon layers of attentions paid to words as collecting and harvesting, then offering human efforts to name the world, or having words correspond to matters; from layers upon layers of poems in translations, telling us just that: We readers, we writers come after layers upon layers of naming and renaming, from which to collect, from which to harvest. This is a teaching we collect from poetry. This is a tea­ching that is gathered from collecting words. This, a teaching of words, from words: Words are traces of a collecting, layers upon layers of harvesting and garnering human experience. To bring forward. To forward. To a vast range of traditions, which he gathers under the heading of “ethnopoetics”, Rothenberg makes us heirs. “To” a vast range of traditions. “To:” a vast range of traditions. Three collections or anthologies, as he calls them, come to the fore: Technicians of the Sacred (1968), Shaking the Pumpkin (1972) and A Big Jewish Book (1977). Shaking the Pumpkin is translated into French by Anne Talvaz at the Presses universitaires de Rouen et du Havre (2015) and naturally found its way to this “To” series—within the “To” series. Technicians of the Sacred appears into its French translation by Yves di Manno at José Corti Editions (2008). A Big Jewish Book still calls for its translation into French. Rothenberg’s special interest in and devotion to early poetries from all over the world teach us that a poem is a gesture, or a collecting of gestures, traditionally bearing the marks of harvesting toward sharing what is garnered. There is a celebration: This is poetry, this is books, especially. Books are with us to celebrate the garnering to be shared. While we read, there are shadows that extend before us—shadows of previous harvesters, previous harvests that poetry still celebrates. Such celebrations are reminiscent of words—of the specific celebra­tions that words are.

(…) a heritage in elation (…)
Besides what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, i.e. attentiveness to poetry and beyond it, toward what constitutes poetry and acts it out, I want to stress Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars as a proposition in elation. To Rothenberg, poetry is elation. It enthuses us. It is our heritage. It is a heri­tage in elation. Beyond what may be drawn from years upon years of poetry writing, there are at least two good reasons for elation in poetry, for elation as poetry writing. The first reason is to be able to still write more—write beyond what has already been achieved, rename once more time what has already been named. Writing as never-ending. Writing without an end to writing. Writing from generation to generation. Writing as a process forward. Writing as a way to circumvent death. As it is the meaning of one’s inheritance. As it is comprised already within the heritage. Within poetry as heritage. The second reason for being elated by and reaching elation through poetry, has to do with a special letting go of etiquette and conventions. Beyond attentiveness to poetry, Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars is a proposition in poetry as elation, as humor brings us elation. Poetry is our heritage. Not a thing here, nor a thing there. Not just a fish from out of waters. But the desire and care for making things, not this one or that one—but many, many things, a whole procession of things. Not just a fish out of waters, but the ways in which fish may be landed, i.e. ways to fish and enthusiasm for what has to be done for one’s sustenance. Enthusiasm for the way there is more than one fish in the sea. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. And another. And yet another. There is something of a classic in kid’s literature in Rothenberg’s. There is also a letting go of conventions. Here comes to mind again the very special way in which endings of certain lines go along with possible substitutes in Rothenberg’s A Field On Mars. You would think that a given line wants a specific ending. You would think that it matters that such or such a line ends with this particular ending—not any other. Well, Rothenberg makes you reconsider this assumption. A Field On Mars makes you reconsider it so much, that to a certain extent words become interchangeable. Which is a way of underlining what matters most in words: Their being with us, whatever they are, their being used and re-used, again and again. Words in our hands, words as gestures. As a result of this reconsidering of words, precise lexical meanings as collected in dictionaries fade in importance, as compared to the presence of words in our activities, in our daily routines and actions. Isn’t it elation for us?
A field on Mars: an expanse of grass, from the most impro­bable of places; soil to be tilled, on a planet that does not look like very welcoming to man, or to life in general. “A field on Mars” sounds pretty idealistic. Seems to be very far-fetched, indeed. Could poetry be a field on Mars? Could it finally be that, after years and years of practice and thought, exposition to poetry and striving toward it, poetry equal some expanse of grass from the most improbable of places? What wisdom is there to be derived from such an equation?
Reader, if you’ve not read the work itself, yet, you may at first sight have construed its title as stressing the ever-growing rarity of poetry within our world, or in our societies—how man decides to organize this world, or most men, apparently. Within such a context, poetry does appear as a rarity. Yet, such an inter­pretation does not give credit to the full range of Rothenberg’s meaning. A field on Mars, OK. Poetry as a field on Mars: OK. Yet the meaning of poetry as elation in Rothenberg’s A Field on Mars is that an expanse of grass may grow from it on the barest, most inhospitable of planets. Poetry as elation: despite dire circumstances, there is still hope, through heritage, through poetry, through the enthusiasm that poetry’s task is to convey. Rothenberg does not think about poetry as anything else but a heritage. A poem: a heritage. To write a poem: to inherit. To deal in harvesting: To deal in inheriting. To deal in tradition. To deal in forwarding. What is it that we want to forward our children? This or that? No. What we want to hand over is this handing over, precisely. This is the significance of poetry. This is one of the main teachings of ethnopoetics. With Shaking the Pumpkin, Rothenberg states or re-states the following: We want to forward dynamics, we want to bestow energies, enthusiasm and elation. Poetry as elation.
(…) only sharing, infinite sharing                
A word. Another. A word for another. This one. That one. This. That. One. One and the same thing. What is common to a word and another? What is it that makes them interchangeable? That one can be put instead of the other? Just ending sonorities? Rhymes? There is something that sounds common in between two words. Between this one and that one. Between any two words, indeed? What is it? What about the interest of the rhyme, any rhyme indeed? Taking into account that they can be interchangeable. Perfectly interchangeable. Couldn’t it be assigned to something else than pure sound being repeated? And what if the interest in rhymes did not only pertain to similarities of sound? Did pertain to something that similari­ties in sound only represented? Marked? Suggested? Designated, in turn? To which it pointed? Not being it, itself. This is one of the strongest propositions in and of A Field on Mars: Words are revealed through poetry and its rhyming as not so much separate entities, with such or such a meaning, or even such or such a material signature or composition. Words are beyond the markings that linguistics make them to be. Markings with which linguistics have made us used to considering first, when thinking about words. Rothenberg says: Look, hear, weigh, touch, feel, consider, this is where humans have been, this is the sign and flesh and signature and shadow of our ancestry and lineage, our past, present and future, this is the trail, the human trail, this is where there is nothing to hide, nothing to fear, only sharing, infinite sharing.
Christophe Lamiot Enos, June 2015, Paris

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Steven Kushner’s Cloud House on the Move


[note.  Since 1970 Steven Kushner (“Kush”) has been known to many of us as the founder & sole proprietor of Cloud House, an amazing & constantly expanding archive of contemporary American poetry, largely audiovisual & equal in size to most institutionally sponsored repositories of kindred materials, or even greater.  As his life work he has come to view Cloud House as a poetmuseum (or, as he likes to say, a “poetmusée”) of the spirit, carrying it with him from New York City to what has been its ongoing residence for many years in San Francisco.  To this he has also contributed as an ongoing chronicler & video artist, catching the likenesses & voices of most poets of note on the west coast & of those from elsewhere who have passed through his territory.  As I post this he is preparing to move again: a return to the east coast where this all began & a new residence & revitalized project in Catskill, New York.  The search for funding & a permanent home for this extraordinary treasure continues into the present, for which Kush’s description that follows is explanation enough.  (J.R.)]
The Cloud House/”Walt Whitman Breathes Here” is a poet-driven cultural & audiovisual archive, a poetic research center and performance space with programs of screenings, literary-historical art installations and poets theatre, engaging the greater community.
Bi-coastal in its storefront emanations, the Cloud House is a vital experiment of cultural imagination, challenging conventional forms by exhibiting poets work, mind and voice. For more than 40 years, the Cloud House has been a poetic sanctuary for the creators of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissances and nomadic poets from around from world. Integral with this archival vision is the field-documentation of poets performing in their native communities or as visitors to the fabled venues of the Bay Area, week by week, month by month, year by year for decades, creating a detailed record of contemporary poetry practice in the tradition of Paul Blackburn. The Cloud House has built an unmatched audiovisual collection, including historic recordings of poets at the core of the anti-tradition such as Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima and Gary Snyder.

The scope of the Cloud House is open-ended beyond what passes for poetry in the accepted genres/norms, ranging from the avant-garde to the indigenous, from the historic cutting edge to the timeless individual, from the acknowledged to the wild unknown. The Cloud House Poetry Archives encompass poets of all ethnicities, their lineages, legacies and linkages on a planetary scale and especially poet-discoveries from ethnopoetic fieldwork. The Cloud House is a center for investigatory poetics, exploring roots and branches, the origins of poets and back stories of their work. Our mission is now to establish a living museum and research center, a poetmusee based on its audiovisual & multimedia collections, to preserve and transmit the unending breakthroughs of all the East & West Coast Poetry Renaissances. This Cloud is a poetic genius toolkit and a laboratory for the formulation of a new culture, a new consciousness where poetry is at center of life and community, embodying the creative word of truth, beauty and imagination.

 The Cloud House is in the process of a establishing a new home at 452 Main Street, Catskill, New York.

Go Fund Me link:
https://www.gofundme.com/CloudHousePoetry   

Facebook Page Link:
https://www.facebook.com/CloudHousePoetry/

Sunday, May 8, 2016

From Technicians of the Sacred (expanded): Genesis One

[In the course of expanding & revising Technicians of the Sacred, still in progress, my attention landed on the following – one of the opening poems in the original book – which had appeared there in a shorter version of my own devising.  Nearly fifty years later my new strategy is to give it in Pliny Earle Goddard’s full 1909 version (more than twice the length), & I would add even more, if I ever felt free to do so.  The additional quote from Gertrude Stein, not in the original edition, puts it even more firmly in place, for now as well as for then. (J.R.)]

Genesis I

Water went they say. Land was not they say. Water only then, mountains were not, they say. Stones were not they say. Trees were not they say.  Grass was not they say.  Fish were not they say. Deer were not then they say. Elk were not they say. Grizzlies were not they say. Panthers were not they say. Wolves were not they say. Bears were not they say. People were washed away they say. Grizzlies were washed away they say. Panthers were washed away they say. Deer were washed away they say. Coyotes were not then they say. Ravens were not they say. Owls were not they say.  Buzzards were not they say. Chicken-hawks were not they say. Robins were not they say. Grouse were not they say. Quails were not they say. Bluejays were not they say. Ducks were not they say. Yellow-hammers were not they say. Condors were not they say. Herons were not they say. Screech-owls were not they say. Woodcocks were not they say. Woodpeckers were not they say. Then meadowlarks were not they say. Then Sparrow-hawks were not they say.  Then woodpeckers were not they say. Then seagulls were not they say.  Then pelicans were not they say.  Orioles were not they say.  Then mockingbirds were not they say. Wrens were not they say.  Russet-back thrushes, blackbirds were not they say. Then crows were not they say. Then hummingbirds were not they say. Then curlews were not they say. Then mockingbirds were not they say. Swallows were not they say. Sandpipers were not they say. Then foxes were not they say. Then wildcats were not they say. Then otters were not they say. Then minks were not they say. Then elks were not they say. Then jack-rabbits, grey squirrels were not they say. Then ground squirrels were not they say. Then red squirrels were not they say. Then chipmunks were not they say. Then woodrats were not they say. Then kangaroo-rats were not they say. Then long-eared mice were not they say. Then sapsuckers were not they say. Then pigeons were not they say. Then warblers were not they say. Then geese were not they say. Then cranes were not they say. Then weasels were not they say. Then wind was not they say. Then snow was not they say. Then frost was not they say. Then rain was not they say. Then it didn’t thunder. Then trees were not when it didn’t thunder they say.  It didn’t lighten they say. Then clouds were not they say. Fog was not they say. It didn’t appear they say. Stars were not they say. It was very dark.
                                                                       (Cahto [Kato] Indian)

     Source:  From the complete literal translation in Pliny Earle Goddard, Kato Texts (University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology [Berkeley, 1909]), vol. 5, no. 3: 71–74.  After the Kato narrator Bill Ray.

     What’s of interest here isn’t the matter of the myth but the power of repetition & naming (monotony, too) to establish the presence of a situation in its entirety. This involves the acceptance (by poet & hearers) of an indefinite extension of narrative time, & the belief that language (i.e., poetry) can make-things-present by naming them. The means employed include the obvious pile-up of nouns (until everything is named) & the use of “they say” repeated for each utterance. In Cahto (Kato), this last is a quotative [yaєnɪ], made from the root -nɪ-n, “to speak,” & the plural prefix yaє. (Cp. use of Japanese particle -to; of tzo = “says” in Mazatec. While yaєnɪ is undoubtedly less conspicuous in Kato than “they say” in English, it still gives the sense of a special (narrative or mythic) context. The editor’s use of Goddard’s literal over his free translation is based on such considerations; also from a feeling that “they say” plus other repetitions add something special to the English &/or American tongues. In brief: there’s something going on here.

      Summary & Addenda.  (1) Repetition & monotony are powers to be reckoned with; or, as the lady said to M. Junod after having heard the tale of Nabandji, the toad-eating girl, “I should never have thought there could be so much charm in monotony.”
Charm, in the old sense.

(2) “There is the important question of repetition and is there any such thing. Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no such thing as repetition. And really how can there be. … And so let us think seriously of the difference between repetition and insistence. … It is very like a frog hopping he cannot ever hop exactly the same distance or the same way of hopping at every hop. A bird’s singing is perhaps the nearest thing to repetition but if you listen they too vary their insistence. That is the human expression saying the same thing and in insisting and we all insist varying the emphasizing. …  When I first really realized the inevitable repetition in human expression that was not repetition but insistence …”

—  Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition,” in Lectures in America, pp. 166-169

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Scott Ezell: ISHI, from “Songs from a Yahi Bow”

for the hundredth year anniversary of ishi’s death

                                                                       Die into what the earth requires of you.                                                                                 —Wendell Berry
1.

square tongues   speak brick words
      that couple into nothing,
      surrounded by hair and flowers.

decay of fruit and love and sex,
      all subside
                              into chemical contemplation,
            alcohol and buzzing bees,
              sweet sticky scents.

                  police machines  chop the sky                                    
                  into thistles of noise and fear—

I pick up and carry a river on my back,
a cloak of home
              to drape across
                  the shoulders of the world,
                   enfolding streams and stones.

glaze of bone
across my eyes,
a hood of silence,

  my tongue of salt
  dissolving into words
  I speak to you.


2.

secrets of myself
I discover and discard a thousand times
      flower from your skin,
        seeds of me grown
            from the soil of you.

I am a benevolent bear,
wasted with circus tricks.

I am iron claws,
      and seize you with
        die-cast hands.
      we are chains and cages,
              we are free.

3.

I am an adze of bone,

and scrape at refinery

                  dross and efflux,
            the slag of engine heat.

wild birds fly sky trails
            beyond my vision.
      reams of light stack page by page
            across the slush and bray
                  of slaughterhouse corrals.

I am a scaffolding of planed horizons,
ghost mountains rise within my veins.


4.

I drop a cigarette in the gutter
                and flow
    crustacean to the sea.

scull the sky with matchsticks,
                                                               scratch and flare
             but compend to nothing,
                        pass a flame
                              to a newspaper,
                              to a forest fire,
                                    to a cock or cunt
                                         to singe the earth
                                       with zygote need—

                              manzanita
      grows gold and gnarled
            from ash and char,

chikakatee, chikakatee,
quail gather and alight
in the cut lawns of city parks.


5.

I am a gravel truck of tar and meat,
petroglyphs of diesel brain.

flicker and glare
of tv memory,
      my tongue is obsidian 
                        arrow blades.

I am a butcher’s apron
      laid between two mountains,
   a blue river flows
            from my stains and folds.


6.

white noise brainwaves
   bleed the sky,
robot sun
      stands from a crack of stone
            into a void of girder ribs,
                  conduits pulse
                                          and circle through.

                  I miss the mouth to the interior of you,
                  the cleft of hair and skin
                        where I recline with boneyard flowers,
                              half-drunk
                              half-happy
                              half-dead,
                                                 and drink soil soup,
                                 broth of toenails and beards.
           
—condom wrappers
along the morning sidewalk,
torn silver lining, pale
lubricant sheen—

a million engines
crumple and rust
across my skin,
I am a
scrap metal wilderness,
a myth of one,   
a heart spindle
coiled in wires of
      memory.


7.

monolith skies
      sift discount coupons
      across a blur of freeway speed, concrete furrows 
            plowed by gasoline.

                        pubic middens
                        of pottery and teeth
                        aggregate into engines.

        insurrection thoughts
                  hang out on corners
                        in baggy jeans
                          and black bandanas,
                        bailbond ads smile from the backs of
                                    bus stop benches,

                                     bottles break into blades,
                                          power lines dissect the sky.

8.

take a bucket of turpentine and
      a wire brush,
abrade
      the surface of the sky,
reveal
      reflections of yourself
like the scratched and dented tin
      of a subway station mirror,
like the aluminum glint
      between four fingers
holding two dozen nickels worth
      of brownbag beer.

now
I am the city,
radio static within
            a bottle heart,
            ruled components of
            breath and stone.

rainbow oil, primer gray
      suburban streets,
susurrus of
      broken leaves—
peel electric skin
      from clouds and rain,
strip
      to bulbous core,
America, sink
      your longiphallic soul
into the sea,
      let the world
begin
      again.


9.

I am ursine hibernation,
      dark and matted      ,
      I reek and sleep
      through storms of steel decay.

you are the further shore
      across a sea of metal brine,
      petrol flowers bloom
      from the burrow of your womb.

distance shellacs the wholeness of me,
currents of plankton flow between us.


10.

dust trails across a bath of sperm,
      I am abstraction     seized.

headlines slice the streets
open into purple flowers,
sirens unzip the sky and
            beneath the blue it wears a suit and tie.
  old bums with birdnest beards
                        suck wine and nicotine
                by the back doors
                                of strip tease matinees—

a man in rubber gloves
   whistles a tune,
sprays corrosion
   onto the green that grows
from sidewalk cracks.

outside a bar,
an american flag is
stuck to a wall
with chewing gum—
by a silvered window
a polyester girl
worries a diamond ring,
mouth painted red,
hair bleached white,
eyes of plastic blue.

grease and alcohol
  brayered into
          approximations of self,
      the asphalt hush that
day after day I drive—

      photographic visions
                 washed in a stop bath of departure,

            die at home wherever you may be.


[note.  The 100th anniversary of Ishi’s death brings to mind the publication several years ago of a small book, Songs from a Yahi Bow – really a mini-anthology of writings on Ishi – assembled by Scott Ezell & including poems by Ezell, Yusef Komunyakaa, & Mike O’Connor, along with Thomas Merton’s 1968 essay “Ishi: A Meditation.”  Ishi (the Yahi word means “man” or “human”) is well known through the writings of Theodora & Alfred L. Kroeber as the last known survivor of a small Indian community that suffered displacement & genocide during the final European conquest of America.  That memory of course is a warning of dangers & holocausts to come, and much of Ezell’s work is concerned with a range of non-state cultures & a chronicling thereby of globally diverse crises & survivals. 

        Scott Ezell is a Pacific Rim poet & multi-genre artist with a background of  independent study with the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, China, & Southeast Asia. He has published three volumes of poetry & over a dozen albums of original music, & has exhibited paintings in the US & internationally, as well as being involved in installation & performance art projects.   His recent memoir, A Far Corner: Life and Art with the Open Circle Tribe (University of Nebraska Press), explores indigenous Taiwan through immersion in a nonconformist community of aboriginal musicians & artists.  Since 2010 he has been working on a multi-volume poetry project, Zomia, about marginal landscapes & communities in the China-Burma-Laos border region. (J.R.)]

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Antin’s “Notes for an Ultimate Prosody” Revisited

[note, for the record. Originally published in George Quasha’s magazine Stony Brook (number one, December 1968), Antin’s essay on prosody was accompanied by the following note from the editor: “Mr. Antin wrote these Notes as a paper, originally, which was not amended for publication. I persuaded him to publish it, though he is not happy with the presentation, because I believe it raises crucial questions. It is coherent if not thorough, and it may succeed in bringing about some relevant discussion, hopefully in future issues of STONY BROOK. Part Two of the Notes will begin to investigate the poetics of that area inhabited by himself, Rothenberg, MacLow, Cage, Duncan, etc.”
      There was no followup, however, nor is it certain that one was intended.  The essay, never republished in a print edition, is a clear indication of Antin’s ongoing thoughtfulness in these matters.  It was posted in two segments on the blogger version of Poems and Poetics in 2009 and is here carried forward to Jacket2. (J.R.)]

1/

The Contribution of Meter to the Sound Structure of Poetry is and has been Trivial

Most discussions of prosody begin and end with metrics, but the contribution of meter to the sound structure of all poetry that was neither sung nor intended for musical
accompaniment, when it has been at all specific, has been trivial. Yet because most writers on prosody would probably dispute this, and since some recent poets have worked out sound structures on the basis of implicit defects in metrical theory, it's probably worth taking a look at the metrical background.      

Almost all writers on metrics agree that meter is a compositional constraint. In this theory a particular meter is a pattern of distribution of some phonological feature over stretches of language.  A particularly simple example is iso-syllabic verse.  The pattern prescribes that for each language stretch called "the line" there must be an equal number of syllables. The syllable is a phonological feature of most European languages. Even in English, where it is not always possible to determine syllable boundaries, it is usually possible to agree about the number of syllables in an utterance. But "the line" is another matter and has no linguistic existence. It is therefore a matter of metrical convenience where the line is broken. If there were no additional constraints preventing the poet from ending lines in the middle of words or from ending or beginning poems in the middle of lines, the only constraint on the poet would be the requirement that he either count while composing his poem or afterward when arranging it on paper; and the preceding sentence would class as a kind of didactic isosyllabic verse.
  
it is therefore
a matter of
metrical con
venience where the
line is broken

This little poem is extra-formal in that the total number of syllables is an integral multiple of the permissible number of syllables per line. While this is a clear-cut example of a compositional constraint (at least insofar as setting down the poem on paper), it is not at all evident how such a constraint enters into the sound structure of the poem. For this to occur there must be some manner of marking off line endings in an unequivocal fashion, say by rhyme, or sounding an instrument, or by some theory of recitation, however arbitrary, by which the line endings could be made audible. Even this would not ensure the perceivability of the number of syllables per line, though it would establish unequivocal line endings. A fairly large number of syllables per line would make it virtually impossible to listen to the words and count the syllables at the same time. Naturally it is possible, when there is a written text, to inspect the line endings and then read the poem with the conviction that one is "hearing" the syllable count. This is something like a music student at the opera, reading a score of Tristan and using the orchestra as an auditory aid. It may be enjoyable but it is not listening to Tristan. Now I am perfectly aware of the visual and conceptual fascination of printed texts, musical scores and architectural plans. That is the way of concrete poetry. But printed lines are no more verbal poems than drawn lines are architecture. Up till fairly recently the printed text has primarily been a notation for some language utterance, which must be audible. In his history of German prosody Andreas Heusler mentions a poem of Rueckert's which was composed entirely without the phoneme /r/. Is it reasonable to suppose that this constraint enters into the sound structure of the poem?      

It may be suggested that this is an unreasonable analogy, that English poetry, for example, is typically written in syllable-stress meters and that syllable-stress is distinctly perceivable in English, but that "our ear is not accustomed to estimate line lengths simply by the number of syllables." This is quite true but not especially relevant, since the ear is not accustomed to estimate line lengths by counting anything at all. It is no more a part of normal linguistic behavior to count syllable stresses than to count syllables. In fact counting is simply not a normal part of linguistic perception.
 
Moreover English "syllable stress" meter is complicated still further by the circumstance that no one can be quite certain what phonological feature is distributed, whether it is a single phonological feature, or whether it is a phonological feature at all. For a more or less thorough discussion of this problem it is worth looking at Seymour Chatman's A Theory of Meter. The metrical theory he advances is not convincing, but his review of the phonological problems is fairly up to date.  Briefly, the main difficulty in identifying the metrical ictus of English poetry with English stress is that it is now by no means certain how we are to identify English stress. Traditionally linguists and grammarians agreed that there was a feature of emphasis marking either prominent syllables or their syllabic vowels. Formerly this emphasis in the Germanic languages was believed to consist of increased intensity of articulation resulting in increased loudness or acoustical intensity. Experimental phonetics has indicated that increased loudness is by no means the most significant factor in the perception of this emphasis. Most work in speech
synthesis has suggested that the main factor in perceiving stress is increased duration of the syllabic vowel, and that vowel quality and pitch deflection are also of considerable
importance. These results do not lend support to the acoustical intensity theory of stress, but it is quite possible, nevertheless, that syllable duration, vowel quality and pitch deflection are simply cues to recognition of the increased articulatory force required to produce the emphasized syllables. Moreover it now begins to appear that stress within word boundaries -- lexical stress, may have to be distinguished from phrasal accent, the relative prominence of a syllable in phrasal grouping. The most convincing descriptions, which are still no more than tentative, suggest that phrasal accent.results from the interaction of lexical stress rules with rules for pitch contours.

 The most recent work pointing in this direction is Chomsky's The Sound Pattern of English. But the earlier work of Kenneth Pike and Dwight Bolinger also tends in this direction. In any event we are no longer confronted with the single syllabic emphasis of lexical stress or even with the marvelously complex but symmetrical theory of four independent stress phonemes and four equally independent pitch phonemes hypothesized by Trager and Smith back in 1951. Since the problem of assigning ictus in English syllable stress meters is the problem of comparing immediately adjacent syllables for relative prominence regardless of word boundaries, phrase boundaries, or even discourse boundaries, it is more reasonable to assume that any available sign of relative prominence will be used. What is in fact distributed is then "syllable prominence," which may result from a variety of phonological, syntactic and discourse factors. This is apparent if one merely looks at the standard account of the conventions for distributing metrical accent in typical English meters. One degree of accent is recognized, so that there are only accented and unaccented syllables; and the accent is determined by comparing immediately adjacent syllables in a left to right direction in sets of two or three (according to whether the meter is duple or triple) for relative prominence. The process of comparison is abruptly terminated when the "line ending" is reached. Generally it is quite possible to reach agreement in comparing syllables, but there are certain cases in which the comparisons are, to say the least, difficult and others in which they are probably nonsensical. Within a word it is always possible to determine which of two adiacent syllables is more prominent. In a phrase group, given an understanding of the domain of the speaker's emphasis, it is also often possible to agree more or less unequivocally. But when the comparisons of relative prominence have to cross phrase juncture or sentence juncture boundaries, it is frequently impossible to reach any meaningful decision. In a phrase like " . . . in chase of him . . . " when the central accent falls on "chase" and the pitch contour begins to fall from "chase" and falls smoothly to "him," where the fall in pitch is abruptly cut for what Trager and Smith used to call "single bar juncture," who can say with certainty whether "of" or "him" is more prominent? Or in the sequence "He left me: I called after him." who can with any assurance assign relative prominence by comparing "me" and "I". That there is a convention that legalizes such successions of two unaccented syllables ~ the pyrrhic foot) or in some cases two accented syllables (the spondee) is not the point. The introduction of successions of this sort makes it impossible to rely on the number of prominent syllables to determine the location of the line ending or to count the feet by adding up the number of accents. It is usual to refer to these substitutions as occasional variations on a well established pattern, but they are not occasional and what metric pattern is established in a passage like the following, from which they come?

…quickening then the pace  (line 131)
of the unwieldy creature he bestrode,
He left me: I called after him aloud;
He heeded not; but with his twofold charge
Still in his grasp, before me, full in view, (line 135)
Went hurrying o'er the illimitable waste,
With the fleet waters of a drowning world
In chase of him; whereat I waked in terror,
And saw the sea before me, and the book
In which I had been reading, at my side. (line 140)

I doubt that anyone will deny the brilliance of the checked music of this passage from the Fifth Book of The Prelude, but it is hardly a metrical pattern that determines the musical effects. In order to scan these lines as "blank verse" we must assume at least two pyrrhic feet in line 132, two more in line 133, an inverted (trochaic) foot in 134, another one in 135, two more pyrrhics and one anapest in line 136, two more pyrrhics in 137 plus a possible spondee, a probable pyrrhic in 138 and an additional unaccented syllable at the end of the line, a pyrrhic in 139, and two or (conceivably) three pyrrhics in line 140. Add to this that while 7 of the lines have some clear junctural breaks at the line endings, there are at least 7 junctural breaks within the lines, so that the caesura, which is the basis of the sound of the passage, cannot be used as a clue to the line ending. For the sake of clarity, this is my conjectural scansion of the passage:

… quíck  ên/îng thén /thê páce (line 131)
ôf thê/ûnwiél/dy créa/tûre hê/bêstróde,/
Hê léft/ mê:  Í/ câlled áf/ têr hîm/â lóud/
Hê héed/ êd nót,/ bút wîth/ hîs twó/fôld chárge/
Stíll în/ hîs grásp,/ bêfóre/ mê, fúll/ în víew,/  (line 135)
Wênt húrr/ yîng  óer/ thê îl  lî / mî  tâ/ blê wáste,/
Wîth thê/ fléet wá/ têrs ôf/ â drówn/ îng wórld/
În cháse/ ôf  hím;/ whêreát/Í wáked/ în térrôr/
Ând sáw/ thê séa/ bêfóre/ mê, ând/ thê bóok
În whích/ Î hád/ bêen réa / dîng, át / mˆy síde./ (line 140)    

But this seems like a foolish exercise, since it could not be resolved by any ear. It hardly seems likely that the lines were composed with the metrical restraints in mind. The poet like the centipede would have too many options for the "metric" to provide him with an unequivocal way of going on. Nor is the passage atypical.

2/

"Metrical irregularity" is more normal than exceptional throughout the history of blank verse. Shakespeare provides as good examples as Wordsworth because there is no neat single convention of syllable - stress meter in English. The reason for the very complicated set of options available to poets writing in these meters is that from the start there were two conflicting conventions, one of which was an iso-syllabic convention adapted from Romance practice and the other a quantitative convention adapted to English with the substitution of accent for quantity. This conflict is apparent in the first essay on prosody in the English language ~George Gascoigne's Certain Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse or Rime in English. It is clear that Gascoigne regards the number of syllables as the measure of the verse: "I say, then, remember to hold the same measure wherewith you begin, whether it be in a verse of six syllables, eight, ten, twelve, etc." At the same time he defends Chaucer's "failure" to observe the syllable count on the grounds that Chaucer's lines are isochronic: "Also our father Chaucer hath used the same liberty in feet and measures that the Latinists do use, whosoever do peruse and well consider his works he shall find that, although his lines are not always of the selfsame number of syllables, yet, being read by one that hath understanding, the longest verse and that which hath most syllables in it will fall to the ear correspondent unto that which hath fewest syllables in it; and like wise that which hath fewest syllables shall be found yet to consist of words that have such a natural sound as may seem equal in length to a verse which hath many more syllables of lighter accents."

The earliest English blank verse was, of course, strictly decasyllabic, as was Gascoigne's own The Steel Glass. But with the adaptation of blank verse to the theater there was no possible significance in the purely page oriented, strict syllabics and the poets on grounds of expedience abandoned it and presumably justified the expedience on grounds of a "Classical" practice in which the "long" and "short" syllables of Greek and Latin were identified with the "accented" and "unaccented" syllables of English, Even Milton, whose blank verse in Paradise Lost is clearly decasyllabic, has lines which can only be resolved by some accent-counting convention.[1] The historical situation resulted in a situation of an illusory blank verse metric; whenever one convention acted as a compositional constraint the other convention provided the loophole. The situation with rhymed verse was essentially the same, except that rhyme is audible and the use of terminal rhyme made the line endings distinctly perceivable. This did not establish "the meter," but it did mark off the stretches of language separated by rhyme as equivalence units regardless of how they may have been varied in duration, accentual weight and so on. Consequently rhyme, as far as the sound structure was concerned, was of far greater importance than meter in the history of English syllable-stress poetry.

If we extend the meaning of rhyme to cover alliteration, it has been of far greater importance than meter throughout the entire history of English poetry.[2]  The effect of meter seems to be either visual or moral. Either it is a page image of regularity and pattern, something like capital letters at the beginning of verse lines, or else an imaginary sense of constraint that has allowed certain poets to sleep at night. Given its largely fictitious existence one might wonder why poets felt any need to liberate themselves from it. Why free verse? The reason is more or less obvious. The image of meter invariably refers to other poetry. It is a visual framing effect and places whatever language is set within the frame in a context of "literature." It is not a musical device, it's a sentiment. "Metrical poetry" normally comes in a bundle together with syntactical and lexical habits that are much more effective in establishing the presence of the past, but this is not necessary. Whitman is able to embed the sound of a full-blown "folk song" in the free verse of Lilacs without the appearance of metric:

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I'll perfume the grave of him I love.

O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls
To adorn the burial house of him I love?

And it's possible, like Auden, to come on as Noel Coward till somebody counts the long and short of the syllables and decides "My God, it's in minor Alcaics!" Which is terribly chic. And poetry that is not at all scannable may still appear metrical if it is sufficiently conventional in its attitudes. Thus Yvor Winters decided that "Gerontion" was written in "Websterian blank verse." This isn't incorrect, it's nonsense. Neither Eliot nor Webster are scannable in any reasonable way, and to say that in Websterian blank verse "the blank verse norm is feeble" is such a grotesque understatement it sounds like a joke. Anyone who scans "Gerontion's" seventy-some lines and finds a handful scannable -- by applying conflicting analyses of the hypothetical pattern -- is not entitled to write "in defense of reason." All that Winters meant to say was that "Gerontion" sounds like Webster, which is neither accurate nor a prosodic statement. Anyone with a perverse sense of humor or a morbid interest in literary criticism can compare Winters' attack on Eliot in In Defense Of Reason with Harvey Gross's defense in Sound and Form in Modern Poetry. What emerges is the conclusion that the briefest suggestion of scannability is a gravitational center around which prosodists cluster like moths around a light. Eliot is, however, partly responsible for this sort of discussion. It is the kind of inanity he made possible by his 1917 essay on free verse: " . . . the ghost of some simple metre should lurk behind the arras in even the freest verse." When Polonius is summoned he always appears.

NOTES

1. The idea of a blind man composing poems in a purely page oriented syllabic measure is so unlikely that alternatives ought to be suggested. Either Milton’s blindness was mythical, which doesn’t seem likely, or he was not responsible for the final page arrangement of the poem he dictated, in which case the metric of Paradise Lost was largely due to the editors.  This may explain why the irregular lines were never corrected.

2. I am aware that there are a number of very elaborate and ingenious theories of old English versification. but the only one that can count as reasonably "metrical" requires the hypothesis of either musical accompaniment or some special recitation technique which would allow for isochrony, and the evidence for this is slight. The more commonly accepted Five Type Foot Theory worked out by Sievers and subsequently rejected by him may describe fairly accurately the phrasal rhythms of Beowulf, but it is hard to see what that has to do with metrics. As a compositional constraint the theory supposes an immense variety of options. There are really six types of "foot" and numerous loopholes that constitute subspecies. It is not really clear what is excluded by this theory and, if significant Old English phrasal rhythms are excluded by it, and whether this is due to the rhetorical habits of the Beowulf poet or Old English poetry in general. (It is worth pointing out that an observer of chess games might wait a very long time before ever seeing White open by moving his king pawn to king three; it is nevertheless quite legal. Moreover the Sievers theory depends upon the existence of "lines," and there are no lines in Beowulf that were not established by editors. And the lines established by the editors are not satisfactory and require the assumption of numerous "hypermetric lines," which then require still more explanation. It would seem much more economical to assume that there is no "metric" and there are no "lines," that there is a continuum of language punctuated by alliteration, a habit of bipartite phrasing, and perhaps a consistency in placement of the caesura. If we accept the oral formulaic theory of composition for Beowulf there is even less reason to suppose a metric, especially a metric so laughably complicated as Sievers'. It seems extremely unlikely that the theory of Old English meter is based on anything more solid than nineteenth-century expectations.