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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jerome Rothenberg: After Gorky’s “The Betrothal,” Poem & Autovariation, 1966 & 2014

Arshile Gorky, "The Betrothal," 1947
[Using the procedure of “variations” that I began with The Lorca Variations (1993) I turn it again toward my own earlier work & show, below, both a poem from 1966 & the corresponding autovariation from 2014.   In the present instance I’ve gone back to a poem written & published as part of a book called “The Gorky Poems,” and, as in the  “variations” I’ve done from other poets, I systematically remove all nouns from the original & use them as building blocks or what Jackson Mac Low used to call “nuclei” in the construction of an otherwise “original” poem.  For this the directive is from Henri Matisse, in an exchange with Gino Severini: “One should be able to rework an old work at least once – to make sure that one has not fallen victim – to one’s nerves or to fate.  And again: “When you have achieved what you want in a certain area, when you have exploited the possibilities that lie in one direction, you must, when the time comes, change course, search for something new.”]

the betrothal (1966)
from The Gorky Poems 

     How they began it.  Dead bodies
     moved in the flowerbed, a finger stopping & turning, showing
     a page & an ocean, a longboard covered with stars.  In the great night
     my heart will go out, will be scooped from me, swept thru the water
     follow the plane’s route, a place
     where boats meet like lovers
     in couples, the heart of the diamond, the cyclotron’s heart, its spaces
     cleaving me, leaving me dead.
     I was dead.
     Who steps from the sea to meet me?
     Another dead body, a heart like a cucumber
     cold, green, in the ice-covered room, receiving my heart
     the taste of my blood in her mouth.
     Her dead mouth.
     The passage into her darkness, a gutter
     a rainpassage
     country of clouds & the blue lips of women.
     A hand slides under his shirt.  He grows hard.  The dancers
     forget where the light is
     & fall, the dancers forget
     they falter
     their hands break the glass
     a finger stopping & turning, showing
     a skull.  Lift the hammer
     & over your head lift the icecap.
     Smash thru the air.  The air freezes &
     freezes against you
     covers your hair & your teeth, slits your gums, draws bile thru your nose.
     To the sound of drums, the cry of walruses, the beating of a heart
     not my own
     to the beating of a heart not my own
     I was turning.
     In the trunk I was turning.
     Among crushed hat I was turning.
     Under a crushed sun I was turning.
     I turned with the sun.  A faucet
     was turning
     black water spilt from a glass.
     Starting & turning, returning
     & starting.  A penny.
     A seal.
     An umbrella.
     An American flag.
     A wishbone.
     A derrick.
     A place.
     We called it a place by subtraction.  

the betrothal (2014)
from The Gorky Variations 

he points a finger
at the stars
a cyclotron of racing bodies
like a plane in flight

a darkness in which
lovers struggle
women’s hands
grow hard

the country hides them
hammers strike the air
blood turns into ice
the way the dead do 

there is more bile in this
than heretofore
the cry of water
when the sun comes out

crushed hats
will suit no head
no heart beat
like a drum

a black umbrella
place determined by
sealed & sold 

the skull has lost
its gums & lips
deprived of air the dancers
search a passage

leading to a passage
where the sea waits
with its boats
a taste for breaking free

leaving his bed behind
to test the water
set the ocean shining
like a diamond

flower for a heart
the places & the spaces
that a heart fills
vacant    heartless

blue cucumber
frozen    rain
that falls so hard
his mouth can’t hold it

ice forms on my shirt
my cap    the beating
of my heart
a feeble sound

teeth clenched
a faucet dripping
pennies clinking in a glass
a trunk half full

where a derrick lifts
the bodies of the dead
abandoned couples
line the route

they watch & wonder
turn a page
that leads them to a room
at night    bewildered 

heart in mouth
& hand aquiver
clouds reflected in a glass
sun in the gutter

the hair atop my head
inside my nose
has come alive
my wish is fatal

wounded    split
a false betrothal
ice invades their bodies
down to the bone

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