To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
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

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

James Cook: From The Croatoan Song Book "If You Wish To Become an Owl, Movement I" (an excerpt)


                                                (Mule Stable Gray)

“One day the demons of America must be placated. The ghosts must be appeased, the Spirit of Place atoned for…” – D.H. Lawrence

Sources of creeks and rivers. Earth humid black and rich. On the river ahead not far distant. The wind was hard and against us. Passed through a broken country. Wood pumice stone lava. Mule stable gray…

They brought balls of cotton thread and parrots and spears. Maps rotten and spoiled with rain, armor almost eaten through with rust.

(One day in the old times when we could still talk with other creatures)

Soon the news went around that the terrapin had killed the wolf and was using his ears for spoons.

The spirit of absolutism is everywhere apparent. Shouting his name to the echoing solitudes. Intrepid conflict with obstacles without. Because he had thought he had seen a great beehive.

They take the form of stones full of living blood and flesh. The rabbit inside kept singing…              

                        a cloud in the shape
                                                  of an old woman

                                     arms extended toward the moon

                        You, I’ve known you from old

                         hair full of fish

                        thighs a woven rumor of feathers

                                     & I’m out walking sleepless

                                   scribbled in the snowy margins
                                                              like an insomniac’s
                                                restless prose

                        on a street where I imagine
                                                  ghost-horses haunt
                                                   the weird cosmologies
                                                                  of some kid’s dreams

                                      (no riders
                                                                   just manes passing
                                                                  behind black branches
                                                                           in tiny yards…)

                                                (just apocrypha drifting
                                                                            off the city’s edge)

                                     & a moon up there
                                                                made of wire                        

                        while shoppers
                                    go on shopping                         

                                    with dark coats
                                                              at Christmastime

Of the book rubb’d away
            Of the lines of the sun and the wrist

                                     the wounded schematic

                        to a muddy path
                                    that disappeared down into the creekbeds…)

                                                            By the persuasion of some of them we went
                                                                        into ye great river
                                                                                       that divides itself in 2

by flashlight light he recognized
            the woods from his dream

            where Anna left her dress
            on the riverbank

                                         & where he’d gone looking for her
                                                       out in the old incunabula

                                                                        ( here is the great tree
                                                                                    we carved
                                                                                    our masks from )

                                    …sweated out the fever
                                 in a room
                                    above a dusty hardware

                                                 & all of this was
                                    as a notebook
                        lost in a dream 

                        & if you wish to become an owl
                                                            yr little radio’s got 

                        all these ghost songs

                                    & if you wish to become an owl
                        spell the movie of this forest
                                    with yr eyelids shut 

            listen how water          

                        shapes itself                       

                                    in the falling 

                        & snow takes these figures
                                    into its secret

                        if you wish
                        to become an owl 

                        sit in the swamp
                                    ten nights
                                                to become an owl…

[NOTE. With "The Croatoan Song Book" James Cook makes his entry into the tradition & lineage of American epic poetry ("a poem including history"), the focus here on the "lost" Roanoke colony in 16th century Virginia.  The notes that follow speak eloquently to his sense of time & structure.  (J.R.)]

The Croatoan Songbook: Notes for Jerome Rothenberg 


A prayer for & hymn to America.
A psychogeographical exploration.

An elegy. America as Loss, as Enigma.

DH Lawrence’s ‘one day the Spirit of Place must be atoned for…’

A work whose primary purpose is to exult the handmade, the homemade, the simply felt & created object as against the mass-produced, the cheap, the homogenous.
Reclamation of language from above.

Affirmation also of the vatic function of the poet. Of his role as a conduit.
Of the poem, as well as the chair or the dulcimer, as well  as America itself, as a manifestation of the tension between the inner world & the outer world.

The Croatoan Songbook as a piece of American folk art, like the Watts Towers or “The Cuckoo Bird” or an embroidery sampler.

Focus on the Local as a key to the Universal.

An attempt to map the ‘Dream-Time”, the Songlines of America. An attempt to trace a ‘spiritual’ map of America through the contours of history, including typically marginalized cultures, indigenous peoples, etc. in order to locate the moment of essential loss.

A response to Robert Kelly’s imprecation in his book In Time that : “It is the true annals of magical time that need to be compiled – or if not compiled then duly & accurately transcribed at each moment, in overlapping palimpsestical overlays, vast collages of magical time in the dark & light of which we will be able to perceive authentically as in books of ‘history’, the true history of our race.”

The poem will consist of 32 movements, with each movement broken up serially or composed of fragmentary gestures toward a lost wholeness.

A movement itself can consist of several individual sections or one long section=fragments on a charged field of white space.
Picture each movement as a tectonic plate. The location where two plates meet forms a tension which expresses itself as a geological event. The tension in the poem results from this boundary. This boundary is also the boundary between planes of experience, between cultures, between periods of history, between lyric and narrative, between Phanopoeia, Logopoeia and Melopoeia.

1 comment:

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