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 28, 2010

Robert Kelly: Three poems from “Fire Exit,” with a note in celebration


the nomad always has another planet up his sleeve
bewildering autumn warblers
only the yellow ones get spotted but all of them sing

then rush to meet it in a book
where someone else’s name for this experience
is sold to you and the bird is gone

how long is a line
from silence to silence the shortest word—
that is a line

word, what is a word
across a room the deepest touch
now you’re being faintly fraudulent

romanticism is mechanical
when applied to people,
it is not a reaction to the industrial revolution

it is the industrial revolution,
privileging matter and methods of production
the divine artificer, Jacquard at his loom,

Shelley among thorns
how they make us feel,
sell your soul to the devil

doomed poet can’t even break the light
has no shadow, can’t cast a shape on matter—
because romanticism is all about production

about having some effect, about causing
perturbation in the system, nature and marriage,
about leaving a mark

because romanticism is Roman is Rome
is rule and sentimental grammar
and ego-worship, where Caesar’s god

is Caesar’s self
and god is anyone you pick to pay
your bloody bulls and barley to

or at midnight squealing pigs
to Hecate
pine cones on fire.


There is a letter of the alphabet like a muddy road in Sweden
where Joseph Martin Kraus wept for the king his dead lover
there is a letter like sun rising through smog industrial haze

fold what you know as a self into a letter
and be this letter
so birds fly right through you

you have come near the nesting place
the sources of life
always in the rocks always edge of the sea

they dive all round you
they void their glad cloacas on your hat
if you’re the kind of letter that has a hat,

write yourself a letter and send it to me
or leave it by the apple tree
the last one left at the construction site

yellow helmet hanging from the branch
leave it there or under midnight
give other loves a chance to find it

one letter fills up the whole page
and then I’ll know you, have you,
I’ll tell what I know to no one not even the tree,

nobody knows what the sea’s saying either
because it speaks so beautifully
all form and no information.


The woods green moveless sea
click of wood clirr of leaf
insects at their never-ending plainchant offices

no Palestrina to relieve the rise the flex the fall
of what is permanent
and yet it moves

but how do you know, he said,
what Homer’s ocean sounded like to him
your Latin’s rusty and your Greek’s been repossessed

sometimes you hear what fleshy Virgil heard
sometimes you guess
sometimes you pick a letter and become it

like a girl in a casino tricked to choose a card
by some devious entertainer with more sleeves than arms
says here you are, the Three of Diamonds,

there is no alphabet in wood
in woods
I am alone

in the middle of the alphabet
I came to water
and there was her name beginning

the bitter sea and all its pearls
and the great tower she came from
to meet me there,

follow a line as long as it goes
till it leads to yourself
pick the right letter turn into a god

powerlessly beautiful
no romanticism here
here is yielding here is letting

here is language listening to itself and letting go
so you can have some too
if you don’t become a letter the word will never speak

patch of sun on forest floor
the leaves make faces
a progression of identities procession carnival silence

the leaves are masks
all we know how to see are faces
so the leaves make faces at me

the belongers huddle beneath the shade
an austere text rustles
rebuking every image.

[A NOTE IN CELEBRATION. Robert Kelly’s passionate & prolific devotion to poetry has, for many of us, been a central fact of our lives as poets over the last half century or more. The publication by Black Widow Press of his latest long poem or poem series, Fire Exit, 135 poems that move & turn in multiple directions, finds him still at the top of his powers – a singular event, then, & a cause for celebration. For myself, the inclusion here of these three sections, connects to the theme of romanticism reconfigured as one of the dominant concerns of Poems and Poetics, but the more particular range of Fire Exit comes from Kelly himself: “Towards the notion of ‘fire exit’ three things led me, and might lead the reader. The first is the Buddha’s parable in the Lotus Sutra – existence is a house on fire, and a desperate father tries to get his children out, using any language he can to coax them from the flames. Talking our way out. The second is the sign I used to see in the movie houses when I was a kid – in flaming red letter FIRE over EXIT – it marked the sudden door that led from the world of the spectacle to the world of the actual. The third is the exit of the gods of Valhalla when the world goes up in fire: The end of the divine age and the beginning of the human age, the age where we can actually do something in the world.”]

1 comment:

WAS said...

This project of “reconfiguring romanticism”, as evidenced by this and Palmer’s earlier cited comments on Duncan, is a worthy and vast undertaking, on the one hand (Kelly’s (s)take) relegating the mythic we feel in the romantic spirit to the hard actual of materialistic blindness, and on the other (Duncan’s (s)take) reclaiming the “heretical gnosis,” the secret meaning of all poems in all ages without revealing the unrevealable meaning. Whew! For me, so many fathers, so much wisdom, and only the knowledge that the son is healed as the father is healed to guide me.