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

Friday, October 12, 2018

from “Eclipse” by Joe Safdie, with a note on its poetics by the author

A sunrise, the sun’s course, a sunset are marvelous to no one because they occur daily. But solar eclipses are a source of wonder because they occur seldom, and indeed are more marvelous than lunar eclipses, because these are more frequent. Thus nature shows that she is not aroused by the common ordinary event, but is moved by a new and striking occurrence. Let art, then, imitate nature, find what she desires, and follow as she directs.
– Frances Yates, The Art of Memory
6 August: New York Times
On the morning of August 21,
the moon’s shadow will appear
over the Pacific Ocean and move
swiftly toward Lincoln Beach Oregon,
making landfall at 10:16 A.M. local time.
If the morning fog has lifted by then,
and if the weather is clear,
viewers will see something in the sky
that most have never seen:
a black hole where the sun should be,
and around the edges sinuous flames
radiating in all directions.
Stars and planets will come out,
winds will shift, birds and bats
will behave strangely, crickets will chirp.
I stood on a crowded beach in Turkey
and waited until, at the allotted time,
with a chorus of screams and cheers
and whistles and applause, the sun
slid away, and impossibly, impossibly,
we saw above us a stretch of black sky
and in the middle of it a hole, blacker
than anything I’d ever seen, fringed
with a ring of soft white fire. My heart
jumped up to my throat, and my eyes
grew hot with tears. I fell to my knees,
feeling tiny and huge, and as lonely
as I’ve ever been, but also astonishingly
close to the crowds around me.
Totality – that point of a solar eclipse
when the sun is entirely covered
by the moon – is incomprehensible.
Your mind can’t grasp any of it:
not the dark, not the sunset clouds
on the horizon, nor the stars;
just that extraordinary wrongness,
up there, that pulls the eyes toward it.
I stared up at the hole in the sky
and then at the figures around me,
and became gripped by the conviction
that my life was over; that I was
kneeling in the underworld
with all the shades of the dead.
A 260-day Aztec calendar stone
may depict the death of the sun god Tonatluh
at the hands of an eclipse monster,
whose claws clutch at human hearts
Full moon in Aquarius, the event now
just two weeks away, “96% of everything
is dark (matter or energy); it is sight itself
that has blinded us to nearly the entire universe”
darkness keeps us in place     dark energy
dark matter     “He reveals mysteries from the darkness,
And brings the deep darkness into light" (Job 12:22)
God is Light, yet the scriptures tell us that
He makes darkness His secret place.
Oh, the wonders of God! Who can know His mind?
Let men pry, but His ways are past finding out,
and one of those things men cannot find out is
the mystery of light that comes out of darkness.

9 August
OED: OF eclipse, esclipse, ad. L. eclipsis, Gr. eclepsis
literally “to forsake its accustomed place, fail to appear”
which would imply what matters is that the sun
lets itself get eclipsed, an act of generosity . . .
1. An interception or obscuration of the light
of the sun (moon, or other luminous body)
by the intervention of some other body, either
between it and the eye, or between the luminous body
and that illuminated by it; “These late eclipses
in the Sun and Moone portend no good to us”
2. obscuration, obscurity; dimness;
loss of brilliance or splendor, the eclipse
of reason and decency: the eclipse of truth.
the Newport, Oregon police
were recently alerted to a cat
who appeared to be armed,
possibly with a semi-automatic weapon,
who had situated itself high in a tree

13 August
Solar and lunar eclipses are significant events
at a spiritual level. There is an increase in Raja-Tama
which has negative effects on humanity . . .
the environment becomes conducive
for negative energies to amass black energy.
Black energy is a type of spiritual energy
that is the primary weapon of attack of ghosts
[who] utilize their black energy to harm humankind
during the period of the eclipse
as well as to sow the seeds of destruction . . .
Of course                                                                                  shore wind will dissipate the fog and warm the air,
                                                                                                   so attention to the eclipse-day forecast
will tell whether to stay or whether to move
to an inland trans-mountain location.
What is the meaning of a solar eclipse?
To the ancient Chinese, solar eclipses meant
that dragons were devouring the sun.
To the Czechoslovakians, they meant that ice giants,
bitter enemies of the sun, were conquering it.
To the Romans, they meant that the sun was poisoned
and dying. To the Jews, solar eclipses meant that the moon
was passing between the sun and the earth . . .
Many eras in history have been dark for us.
But during these times, we should remember
that G-ds light has not been extinguished;
it is merely in a state of hester panim,
hiddenness. And just as the sunlight always emerges
from its eclipse (sigh), so too are all situations
of hester panim only temporary, destined to be
followed by the light of G-ds redemption.
Even during the darkness of a solar eclipse,
all is not entirely in gloom. The sun is
four hundred times further away from us
than the moon, but it is also four hundred times
larger than the moon (secular scientists call this
a "grand coincidence") . . . while the sun
is essentially obscured, shafts of sunlight
may appear around the edge of the moon
as they shine through the mountains
on its surface. When Yosef’s brothers sold him
to a passing caravan, we are taught that
G-d arranged matters such that the merchants
would be carrying sweet-smelling spices
instead of their usual foul cargo.
Now, this would appear to be of little comfort
to Yosef. He had just been betrayed
by his brothers and sold to heathens as a slave.
What was the consolation in his prison quarters
having a nice smell? The answer is that precisely
because this was the lowest point of Yosef’s life,
G-d wanted to show that He was still with him.
This minor but significant gesture strengthened
Yosef’s spirits during his long ordeal.
Such is the message of the shafts of light,
which we perceive during the darkness
of a solar eclipse. They are literally "rays of hope,"
and they remind us that even during
the dark periods of life, we are to look for
those small signs that tell us that G-d is still with us.

15 August, Sacramento Airport, New York Times Again
a jungle in Mikongo, Gabon
the top of a mountain in Tianhuangping, China
the frigid wilderness of Svalbard, Norway

and Ferris Jabr’s text: All life on earth
depends on a luminous umbilical cord
eight minutes and 19 seconds long,

the time it takes light to travel here
from the sun. During a total solar eclipse,
this lifeline is temporarily severed.

At the moment of totality, a tide of darkness
briefly swallows the land. Life responds
instantaneously. Most living things have

biological clocks – constellations of genes,
proteins and neurons – synchronized
to the sun’s rhythms . . . Earth’s surface temperature

drops by as much as 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
The very chemistry of the air changes.
Certain molecules produced by

light-activated reactions, such as ozone,
suddenly dwindle . . . A total solar eclipse
is not just the momentary theft of day.

It is a profound interruption of the world
as we know it, all the more terrifying
in its transience. Imagine what would happen

if we altered the planet’s relationship with the sun.
An eclipse of our own making.
A new era of twilight with no promise of dawn.

August 21, 9:36 AM
found a spot near a river
just east of Corvallis
two bikers from Seattle here first
eclipse glasses working
sun about one third occluded
slowly growing from the northeast
at about 1:00 . . . clock metaphors?
river     sun     moon
the new moon is the only chance
for the yin principle to assert herself
the world 88% yang
foggy by the coast when we left
we wanted an ocean but this will do
9:45 about 40% covered
the right brain slowly taking over
sweet blackberries     elemental
Sara on her cell phone     checking
to see how our cat was reacting
conversation with the bikers
9:52 perfect yin-yang circle
balance is not “totality”
zen master shrugs her shoulders
flight home in 3 ½ hours*
watching the river flow
right to left     Mahayana
not Hin9ayana     holding Sara’s hand
*this line was wild exaggeration

24 August
            after the eclipse
                        endless poetry
     (the name of a Jodorowsky movie

but this may be one of those times
     that I follow
Marianne Moore’s example

and the movie’s pretty damn good
the singing mother
     and the strawberry cake

hope and no hope
     poetry and cynicism
            endlessly recycling

but on the last day
     of Endless Poetry
at San Diego theaters

my poetry class got cancelled
            for lack of interest
“it’s not required”

     “poets and muses
meet there every night
maybe you’ll find yours”

     I really gotta read
Nicanor Parra again
poets don’t explain themselves

after the eclipse
everything was new again
and Orpheus is here too!

            love will always
get corrupted by purity
9“I am not a faggot”

     said Enrique Linh
“nor poets into teachers”
            adios poetas

The Poetics of “Eclipse”
This poem was clearly a collaborative enterprise: joining me, in addition to the cited and uncited sources here, were writers who had posted on social media about the forthcoming eclipse, cable news broadcasters, weather forecasters, baseball commentators and a few people I don’t remember. Indeed, most of my recent work seems like assemblage, and I remember an earlier poem, “Against Romanticism,” when I quoted Walter Benjamin:
            This work must raise the art
            of citing without quotation marks
            to the highest level,
            its theory most intimately linked
            to that of montage.
So perhaps it was ever thus. Still, it might be one way to navigate our post-truth or post-fact age, when politics and technology have converged to make the line between fiction and non-fiction porous indeed. Can any of us be sure what’s meaningful or meaningless anymore, what’s relevant and irrelevant? David Shields, in a book I’ve come to value highly called Reality Hunger, wrote “Our culture is obsessed with real events because we experience hardly any.” And yet we hunger for them. This poem charts that hunger.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg: Talking with David Antin, the First Accounting of a Friendship

[Remarks prepared for presentation at the conference “David Antin: Talking, Always Talking” September 27, 2018 at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, in connection with the revival of Antin’s 1988 “Sky Poems” as an exercise in the poetics of sky-writing.]

I know that this is not intended as simply a memorial for David Antin, but rather to discuss his very great achievements and maybe to point to some aspects of them that may not be immediately obvious.  For me, my sense of David goes back further than that of anybody in this room and, for that matter, probably anybody in the world today.  We met in June of 1950 – or was it 1951? – at an end-of-semester party in the apartment of one of our professors at City College of New York, an amiable and charmingly pretentious expert in Romantic and Victorian English literature.  For David and me, however, our meeting was an immediate turn-on, a recognition from the outset of what we already had in common (and conversely, I suppose, of what we didn’t).  So, we made plans to meet again in the fall, by which time David had gone from a strikingly blackhaired and swarthy teenager into the early stages of an alopecia totalis that would deprive him of all his facial and body hair before the year was over. 
And so, the first months of our friendship were colored by crisis for him, at the end of which we found ourselves bonded forever.  And from the start talking was at the heart of our friendship – in person or by telephone – and an overwhelming sense of poetry as the medium by which we would explore the world and, if it came to it, would define or re-define that world as needed.  So, David was freely talking (always talking) from the start, but also listening (always listening), far more than other talkers I would come to know thereafter, and in his presence I felt myself to be a talker also.  It would be three decades or so of preparation before the talking and the poetry came together, with results we all can talk about tonight, but the preparation, the readiness, as someone said, is all.
Two things (or more) to make note of, then.
At the heart of David’s intellectual and artistic world was a sense (which he also attributed to me) of contrariness & skepticism: to overturn the bad hand we (and so many others like & unlike us) had been dealt as young poets in the reigning literary world of that time, & to search (after we had nearly succumbed to it) for an avant-garde practice across the arts against the demands of a reborn artistic/poetic conservatism. And along with this came a distinct desire & need to redefine the inherited poetic past in terms of the vital present – a desire showing up, as we later found, all around us.  (He also wanted, and was better equipped than I, to shake off the mystical in poetry, then and now, in favor of a more rational, even scientific mind-set & writing practice, while I found a kinship in the old mystics and shamans to what would be my own non-mystical poetic practice.
The contrariness, then – to call it that – manifested in David early, as in his contention, when we were still in our very early twenties, of Thomas Campion’s superiority as a poet over the likes of Shakespeare and other more expansive (more wordy) poets.  (Shades of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Poetic Principle”!)  Something like that didn’t last very long of course, but it gave a foretaste of his later willingness to go deliberately against the grain (all sorts of grains), and even closer to home, by calling into question – but not quite – such matters near and dear to me as deep image, ethnopoetics, imagination, poetry-as-music – while collaborating with me and supporting my own involvements therein, in all of which he was and remained a curious but vital ally and co-creator.  (I would cite him here as a marvelous translator of André Breton and an intimate of Nico Calas, a later spokesman for Breton and Surrealism, then living in New York – and prior perhaps to his more important engagements with Wittgensein & Cage.)  In our collaboration on our magazine Some/Thing in particular we brought these disparate but solidly avant-garde elements together, starting our first issue with a series of Aztec Definitions from pre-Conquest Mexico and with the image of a northwest coast shaman as our logo: a reflection of his enthusiasms as well as my own.
His later turn to talking was also a jab at a song-derived approach to the origins of poetry, as in his dispute with Gary Snyder at the First International Ethnopoetics Symposium in 1975, which might have been with me as well, but wasn’t.  For myself I saw the talking gambit as a brilliant extension of what was possible as poetry, but I would also turn the tables on him later, by viewing the Talk Poems, perhaps his greatest and most original achievement, as most interestingly a form of writing, for it’s in their written form that the structural/visual nature of the poetry, its immediate recognition as such, is in full display.  (A kind of concrete poetry, much like his sky poems, which we’ll get a chance to look at shortly.)
And finally, I want to speak about his take on dreams or the absence thereof, as a contrarian escape perhaps from his earlier surrealism.  Here his decade-long challenge was to the experiential core of Surrealism and of many other schools of poetry, but he put it in negative experiential terms of his own -- that dreams were phenomena to which he could pay no serious attention because he in fact did not dream and therefore had no experience of dreaming.  So, in the talk poem called “how long is the present” (1978) we get the following assertion:
i am somebody who doesn’t dream    in the significant sense    you could probably get rapid eye movement measurements and electroencephalograms to produce a plausible case that i have occasionally been dreaming    and you may believe it and i may believe it     but you cannot prove it to my satisfaction that i dream because i simply have no memory of it    so phenomenologically it is not possible for anybody to say that i dream because i have no experience of dreaming   except for one time there was this one dream   i dreamt that i was dreaming    but then i woke up and found out    that it wasn’t true
It’s to be noted of course that after several years of unwavering denial, David followed his renewed interest in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and other Freudian writings into frank discussions of his own experiences of dreaming.
About all of this I may someday write at greater length.  But for now – with the short time allotted to us this evening – I’ll close this presentation with a couple of poems addressed to David as both a non-dreamer and a dreamer, and will let it go at that.

[Reads from “Seneca Journal: The Dreamers” and three sections from “The Mysteries of Mind Laid Bare in Talking,” as follows:]

from Seneca Journal 7: “The Dreamers” (1972)

that couple sitting
in splendor of old houses
Albert Jones & his wife Geneva
were old before my time
he was the last of the Seneca diviners
died 1968
the year we first stayed in Salamanca
with the power to know dreams
“their single divinity” wrote Fremin (S.J.) 1650
as we say “divine”
the deva in us
like a devil
or a divus (deus)
when these old woods were rich with gods
people called powers
they would appear in words
our language hides them
even now
the action of the poem brings them to light
dear David
not in the business man’s
but asking
“who is Beaver?”
forces them out of the one mind
in mything
mouthing the grains of language
as David that sounds like deva
means beloved
thus every Indian once had a name

from “The Mysteries of Mind Laid Bare on Talking” (2017)

who does not dream
dreams deeper
by not dreaming

until the door
swings open
draws you to
sleep within

what forms
assailing us
the scattered dreamers

curtains closing
on our eyes
in frantic bursts
lights streaming

take the shape
of birds & stars

move across the sky
the eye in love
with tentacles
in mauve & amber

the new year
without you

then the rest
is dream
whether the images
arise or not

the screen goes blank
foretold by you
the dreamer

here is the death
we feared
infinite space
to every side

absent all light

After Wang Wei
O my friends! there is no friend.

at Weiching
            morning rain
                        the fine dust damped
a guest house
            green among
                        green willows
urge a friend
to drink a final
glass of wine
west of Yang Pass
            there is
                        no friend

except the memory
the loss   a dream
that will not stick
but comes & goes
as if we hadn’t
dreamed it

for which I name you
poet of the dream
in whose denial
dreams come forth
the word “desire”

pleasures first
a place as large
as Prospect Park
where others
feast & bathe
some sleeping

& the dreamer
kicks his shoes off
wades into a pool
the north branch of
an old estate
its master far away

then goes from room
to room in search
of shoes   as prelude
to a silent movie
buried like his life
too deep for tears

for which the word
the woman
throws at him
is hog (he says)
not out of shame
or fecklessness

but turning
subject into object
echoing the master’s
words   the world
is everything
that is the case

waking & dreaming
much the same


[NOTE. The dream covered lightly in the final section, above, is from David Antin’s “On Narrative: The Beggar and the King,” published previously (2010) in Poems and Poetics.  The full poem as it appears here was published February 1, 2017 on what would have been his 85th birthday.]