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, January 1, 2009

Robert Kelly: Two Unpublished Poems, with an accompanying tribute

from CHESS section 5, a serial text composed in Germany, December 2001
(read for Jerry and Diane, their night at St Marks, 12 December 2001)

Maine maybe. Down there
lost in a guess of blue lights.
How lost I am
in a night of things,

things I can name.
Pressure. The no
name numbers
I can’t take home.

No one can own a number.
Rule of Dada. The king
stands still, the castle moves.
ar-Rukh, the tower the

elephant. We saw a camel
thick for winter
munching oats below the Roman wall

and by the steps beside the overpass
an altar to Mithras, the god
yanking the bull’s head back

the god killing the bull.
And next to it another stone―
here the bull is dead.

But who is that standing above him?
Is it still the god?
Or is he only a god when he kills?

Mithras, the good mate,
the soldier’s friend. Comrade.
Pawns in horror house marching north.

And here, after twenty-one years campaigning
Dulianus fell, something like a sergeant
he had been in all those years, those wars,
fell fighting the Chatti, the Suevi,
the Alemanni, the Americani, the Nazis, the Taliban,
so many people to fight against
until you’re dead
and here he lies
in German land. Here he is dead.

Who is it that stands above a dead one,
animal or man? Who is an altar?

Among all these altars I wanted
to remember what the sacred meant.

Be sacred
as a sock is
wet with your own
sweat shaped
to your occasions,
the flex and fall and lift
of foot, the pressure
of it all.

When something matches something else,
matches the situation so perfectly it makes you laugh:
that is the sacred.

A pair of pants flat on the bed.
Mary talking back upside down to God.

10 December 2001


Jerusalem estranges reality, overcomes masculine embarrassment repeat­edly. Or thermally hovering, engages narrow beauty. Everlasting renegade, glad Jeremiah? European raptors over mountain enfilades roar ontological truisms. Hands enlace Nirvana, bodhisattvahood entails rigorous generosity. J’en rêve. Outre-mer et rare, orfèvres tiennent huppés emérauds. Naufrages brisent éventails réligieux, galvaudés.


What it’s trying to say. Commentary is a city. Verb and response. Let’s get married. Only my mother and my father were married longer.

In a city built on a rock, conflict. Conflict also is a rock, enough, to hold, a house. When the man is tired of the man, he floats above himself almost beautiful. Though no song says Beinahe schön.

jEmptiness. jEager. jEnlightened. jErotic. jEarnest.

Beauty (the text is trying to say) is the slimmest distance between here and Jerusalem. Slimmer than the gap between candlewick and candleflame. Patent pending.

Hawks, that’s what I mean. Their hawk held me up, lifted me, brought me to the place of work, washed me with the waters of his well. Till I was Araber than new.

When you know these people, you become somebody.

The French say: Jewelers, to them are precious stones a-plenty, but lacking to them is furniture not hackneyed. Furniture is comfort, not glory. Furniture is cliché. Only space knows how to laugh.

“If you want to make God snicker, make a plan.” If you want to make God cry, tell a story. We tell so much (Americans especially), no wonder there’s so much grieving.

So he cuts away and cuts away and cuts away the story, till all that’s left is a little girl dressed like a general, dressed like an admiral, a little boat speaking the weirdest Spanish. And we’re free to go.

He attacks everything we ever stood for. To make us stand.

12 December 2001

with Pierre Joris

"Write everything / the oracle said ..." & thus the decision at 23 to spend his life in the service of saying: "To write every day was the method. To attend to what is said. To listen. To prepare myself for writing by learning everything I could, by hanging out in languages and enduring overdetermined desires ..." The harvest is major: over fifty collections of poems (as well as four volumes of prose works & a novel), representing but a fraction of the total output. As skilled practioner of the long poem — Axon Dendron Tree (1967), The Loom (1975), & more recently, Mont Blanc (1994) [still more since this tribute was written] — Kelly is heir to both Pound & Zukofsky in his vision of the poet as "scientist of the whole ... to whom all data whatsoever are of use / world-scholar." The title of his 1971 collection, Flesh Dream Book, writes Kelly, "perhaps sets the priorities straight," locating "the three great sources of human information: the flesh of sensory experience, dream & vision, & the holy book of tradition & learning, shared through time." If everything is of use in the alchemical conjunctio that is the poem, the process of composition will be that of "finding the measure" where (so Jed Rasula) "measure is musical base (or bass), and any trope is a turning in a universe continually returning to its utterance of measure, or scale and proportion." The clearest statement remains his "(prefix:" to the 1968 volume Finding the Measure, which opens with these lines:

Finding the measure is finding the mantram,
is finding the moon, as index of measure,
is finding the moon's source;

if that source
is Sun, finding the measure is finding
the natural articulation of ideas.
. . . . . . .

[From Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris, Poems for the Millennium: The University of California Book of Modern & Postmodern Poetry, volume 2, 1998. Since then, for Kelly, an even greater harvest of books & poems.]

1 comment:

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