Saturday, May 25, 2019

Autumn Pantomimes

I have just published Autumn Pantomimes, my fifth book of poetry. I like this one a lot. Autumn has always been the season when I return to myself, when I am most energetic and alive. After the sluggish stupor brought on by August and September heat, the return of the clouds, the coolness, the breeze through the changing leaves stirs my mind back into a more creative mode.I like spring with its returning green and promises, but the sadness of autumn has always seemed more like home.

I like my other books too, though perhaps not equally. I worry that One Nine Twelve Three is too much a collage of modernist and postmodernist philosophy texts. I worry that it is too male and too white. I like the first section quite a lot, and Three, I think is quite good. I think Nine and Twelve are uneven with good and not so good. The book fulfilled several architectonic notions I had been playing with for decades, and so is an accomplishment in that way.

Of the 52 sonnets Fifty Two, I would say about a third of them are quite good. I kind of wished that I had written the sonnets over a run of say 5 years and then chosen the best from the lot rather than publishing each one I wrote. The virtue of the way that I did it, if there is one, is that it provides a diary of a very distressing year.

Etudes I am proud of. It represents decades of work in reading and translating ancient Greek. I think the quality and variety of the translation are good overall, and by the last bits that I was adding, particularly the epigrams on Heliodora, I was reading the Greek with as much fluency as I ever had. Unfortunately, no one seems much interested.

Outrages was another experiment in form and journaling. The structure of each poem reflects the date on which it was written. Each poem begins with a stanza of 17 words for the year 2017. The next stanza has 1 to 12 words representing the month. The third stanza has 1 to 31 words representing the day.This form was much more flexible than the sonnet, and, since I was doing one each day, I had 365 of them to choose from. I chose a little over half of them for the book.

Currently I am working on an SQL textbook for Franklin Beedle. I also have, as usual, too many poetry projects. I have at least three that I am working on now, and a fourth that I may start soon. But more on that later.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

George Oppen

I usually read several books at once, though they each occupy different spaces in my routine. I usually have a book I only read on the train during my commute. These tend to be non-fiction, philosophy, biographies, literary criticism. I have one or two books, usually science fiction, that I read odd times during the day, mostly on weekends. And I always have a bedside book--usually poetry--which I read just before bed.

My recent bedtime reading was the Collected Poems of George Oppen. I had read them before, but it was a long time ago and the reading had been casual, just getting the feel of the poems.

Reading the poems this time, I read only a poem or two each night and tried to give them some of the attention they deserved.

I liked the early "Objectivist" poems with their straight forward, slightly Marxist images, and simple statements of the poet's observations or feelings. Here is an excerpt from a poem called "Product."

There is no beauty in New England like the boats.
Each itself, even the paint white
Dipping to each wave each time
At anchor, mast
And rigging tightly part of it
Fresh from the dry tools
And the dry New England hands.

Clear clean observations. "Objectivist" was Zukofsky's word for it. A new poetry movement based on the facts, the objective experience, of the poet in his place and time.

But, I actually like his last poems better, particularly the volume Myth of the Blaze. In these poems, Oppen abandons the clear syntax of the earlier poems. He composes in phrases and even sentences are broken up and distributed across stanzas. Here is an example from "THE BOOK OF JOB AND THE DRAFT OF A POEM TO PRAISE THE PATHS OF THE LIVING."

of the sea's surf    image   image

of the world its least rags
stream among the planets    Our
lady of poverty the lever the fulcrum
the cam and the ant
hath her anger and the emmet
his choler the exposed
belly of the land

There is still a sentence here, but it twists and winds its way among phrases. Punctuation is abandoned for the most part with spaces and stanzas used to separate clusters of related materials.

I find this more powerful and more interesting than the earlier poems, though I do like them. There seems to be more emotion, more mystery. They require more attention to follow and digest--a good thing I believe. (Jameson argues in Marxism and Form that modern poetry is difficult in order to force people who--haveing become conditioned to not pay attention to words and images because of advertising--to pay attention.)

Attention is the price you pay to enter the poem.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


Janus, the god of gateways, of doors and transitions, two-faced--not in the sense of being a liar, but having literally two faces--one looking back, the other ahead. He is the god of the New Year, looking back and looking ahead. Guardian of thresholds. He doesn't really have much personality, more of an abstract concept than a fully developed deity, appropriate perhaps for a god who is never really there, always staring behind into the past or ahead into the future.

It occurred to me that we are invisible to him. He can see the things we left behind us, the things we shed like a snake sheds skins. He can maybe see some of our potential acts, possibilities for tomorrow or the next day. But we, ourselves, are always in the threshold, always between any past and any future.

Janus is blind to the now, to what is in the threshold itself, the perpetual transition that is us.

The doorframe slides along an infinite string of nows. We are not in the past. We are not in future. We are always and forever in the doorway, hidden from the two-faced god.