"Evolution is too slow a process to save my soul." ~~Darby Crash "I'd rather be a poet any day and live on guile and beer." ~~Dylan Thomas I with all my winding torch of days Kept trust, kept flame; The runner's green wand I passed on "The past" my only name.
There is a magic to poetry; it cannot be all puzzle boxes and puns. The big-browed scholar of Finnegan’s Wake must finally be frustrated. And, as important, the child in Joyce’s choices, and the kid in ourselves, must feel like we are genuinely playing. Billy’s roar behind the bushes must be the Snark’s flabbergasting cry. The bread and wine must be the blood and body. Let all the magic happen, or no poetry really is.
Poetry explores the world without and the door within. It raises the hackles on the beast in your soul, and sends you out with the naturalist’s net and bottle to catalog the thousand mysteries of the backyard. Objective experience, and the subjective registering of that experience, and the transformed re-voicing of craftily chosen, artfully deployed, mosaic bits of that experience is a process common to all art. We discern subtle connections (Eliot’s “objective correlative” perhaps) by walking this worn path with fresh eyes; connections assert themselves in our flesh and consciousness, connections hang from the flowering tree like butterflies.
These connections, discerned, touched and exploited in creative expression, are never fully understood. They are not a blueprint, a thesis, or a theorem. But, they are closer to our living consciousness and our daring dreaming sleep, than any other sort of ordering that humans do. They participate in the gift of inspiration, and play in the new fields discovered there. One reason they remain so open is because of the interrelated nature of imagination and invitation.
Imagination fluoresces at borders. Like auras or fronds, its edges are fuzzy. The inspiration that leads (or is followed to) a new invention or a new formulation of scientific principle is different from poetry only in degree. In many ways, Dante even followed poetic inspiration far down this path–but his material was religion, the divine, which is essentially poetic in its ability to seek expression (as distinct from science, which seeks manifestation and demonstration); making the invisible world visible is an endless search for correspondences. Poetry stays in the tidal pools of an ocean of possibilities; it opens the door. This is how it maintains a true connection with the human on-looker, with human desire, with the all-too-apparent limited nature of our existences. Even Dante was not his own guide; his great poem needed Virgil’s invitation so that we could experience Dante’s wonder and awe as God’s design was increasingly revealed canto by canto, Purgatorio to Paradiso.
The more stretched we are, the more connected we feel; that is one secret. The stretch increases contact in both directions–through the door of the self, and out into wider experience. Whitman stretches with his lists and variation–his emphatic empathy declaring that “thou art that.” Tat tvam tasi. Emily Dickinson stretched by the wild length of her rocket flares–making one thread of image encompass the earth and on into the afterlife, yet still be pulled from her own worn, homely shawl; the robin was her auditor, the buttercup her confessor. My own, more formal (and more manic), declaration of this principle might be: “Oceans in acorns my strumming mermaids are.”
Every break of a line is a border; every rhyme is a border; every deliberate ambiguity. And poetry, like the noble intestine, like the manifold folds of the brain, maximizes the numbers and unencumbered extent of those borders–so that the subjective feeling of crossing borders, of inspiration, is maximized. The monsters in the mist must be real; the saints must be accessible to our human appeals.
Gregg Glory May 20, 2014
A DISCARDED LYRE
Below a T'ang moon hanging, On double dragon smoke I take fleet flight to Wales
To the tut-tutters among my myriad readers, I say–yes, there’s a bit too much strutting, too many bones, too many graves yawning gravely in the poems here. Luminous moons number in the millions, and ghosts gather at the dinner table in a feast more featly attended than Banquo’s banquet. But, so what? There are whole necropoleis of vampire literature illuminated from where Stoker’s lightning struck. I much prefer the “rage for order” and the orderly rage of accreting the viable language of our day–rather than continuing to execute in blind rote the wilding attacks after “the new” that distorted so much of the early modernists’ efforts. As Browning puts it in the underrated Balaustion’s Adventure (which is itself an example of historical imagination, and the value of transmitting (via memorization) the words and virtue-values of earlier artists), where Sophokles is described as contemplating re-telling the story of Admetos and his wife Alcestis, which subject had been famously treated by Euripides in his play Alcestis,
They say, my poet failed to get the prize : Sophokles got the prize,--great name! They say, Sophokles also means to make a piece. Model a new Admetos, a new wife : Success to him! One thing has many sides. The great name! But no good supplants a good, Nor beauty undoes beauty.
Here we see an instance of editing to improvement rather than dismembering to impairment. “No beauty undoes beauty.” Have humans changed in 20K years? Not much. The “farmshed’s [still] full of wisdom.” The latest diet fad has its adherents eating as all people did back in the paleolithic era. Perhaps I’ll have to eat my words, but at least my words carry the old nutritional value they had when we sang in caves, hopping in firelit gratitude around a broken bear’s skull.
Gregg Glory May 5, 2014
...of lovers and friends I still can recall
Neuro-science and linguistics have found, more and more, that the portion of ourselves that we recognize as uniquely our own, that we carry with us as the turtle his horn-bone home borne upon his back, is the story of our life that we continually create and edit. It is this most portable portmanteau companion, this kitchen gadget of enlightenment and self-definition, this word in our own ear, that is us to us. In Shakespeare, the most vile Iago gets in-between the naive Othello and his perception of what his love is, what his love means; Iago takes the place of Othello’s own consciousness by his whispered innuendo. If Othello had been more mature in love, as he was in war, he would not have been so malleable to another’s voice, another’s vindictive agenda. He would have recognized Iago’s stratagem for what it was–Iago’s implanted concept of love was simply war by another means. And so we are all vulnerable to the virus of other voices, other selves. Indeed, we change ourselves through the same methods that Iago infects Othello, but usually with less ulteriority in our motives. (As an aside, a situation in which this is not the case, in which we self-consciously adopt a new posture towards our current reality, is when one voluntarily submits to the re-programming of a twelve-step, diet, or other self-help or self-improvement campaign.)
We live in a mist of continual whispers. And these whispers bring us news of the world, and arm us, Galileo-like, with telescopes to view our inner landscapes: our pasts, our nattering presents, our dreams and desires–all at once, or in a movie-montage series that takes on the serried wheels of the kaleidoscope for its deployment and re-deployment of pattern in the search for meaning. Childhood faces, lovers breathing intensely close, the lick of an insistent pet, all compete for their place in the panorama, their time in our arms at the square-dance of selfhood. What fiddler calls the tune? Will we always respond, stomping in time to the quibbling ifs that life presents? This is all process, the creation of context from which our daily self emerges: the hourly display of faces from which Shakespeare chose his masks, and where Dickens lived amid Pickwickian semi-visionary laughter.
Layer on layer of this-was and what-ifs bring us the twists of our private narratives–not the blatant debasement of power-narratives and privileged perspectives and voice that Derrida derived, but the rich exploration of ears of the self, the continual God-slog of “the examined life” that Socrates instilled into the DNA memes of the curious West.
The parable of the parable teller is simply this: that our attention, our focus changes, and the parable-teller, like Chaucer chuckling gently from on-high, remains aware that the change is occurring. Coleridge in “Frost at Midnight” demonstrates well the process of place and inner space. First he is alone in a frosty midnight; then, looking at the fire, he recalls other scenes, and in one of those recalled scenes, he remembers wishing for yet another presence, another context. In “The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Coleridge imagines the walk his friends are taking and describes that walk. Similarly, Stanley Kunitz imagined the first moonwalk–and when hearing and seeing reports of that walk in actuality, Kunitz claimed he didn’t need to change a syllable of his poem since he had “already walked on the moon” in his imagination. In this same way, we invent the self we are and the details of our lives that stand out for us and become incorporated into the currently active self we are always oh-so-busy experiencing. In poems that follow here, there are usually at least two stories told side-by-side–a current context of speech in which the narrator is speaking or being caused to write, the context of the person being addressed as imagined by the narrator, and the remembered details of events experienced in the past by the narrator (often a past memory of being with the addressee). And all this symphony of whizzing whispering brings the speaker to new views of the self he could be, the creature he is creating in his lab of solitude.
One of the ablest spaces for this refreshing and re-experiencing of the self is in our nests, our tidy homes, with the latch shut and the world feeling far-off and safe. Here there is no imperiling snap and swap of swordplay, no train bearing down on our vulnerable colony of cells. Home means comfort, and ease, and feet up on the couch as we break out the stereoscope and review what wisdom is given to us as our portion of the greater mystery. There’s a warmth in the hearth, a harvest in the home, that no other domicile can quite capture or match, whatever its majesty may be. Niagara Falls or zip-line volcano tours will have to stand beside and wait in memory when the yellow light of a suburban home beckons the leg-tired jet-lagged traveler home. Home to zoning-out, home to the spatter of expected talk, home to regular rounds of coffee, the simple fellowship of your nearby hand, denizens of ease in winter’s sparkling twilight.
And so the parable perpetuates itself in an onslaught of ontologies, tabulations, diaries, vivid minuscule distinction upon distinction without end. Frame within frame, story within story, the multiple perspectives switching with an effortless turn of the tongue, the change of metaphor made flesh, the story made bone and standing up, a stacked skeleton that had been rummaging the veldt on all fours. Do we remember the perspective of the lungfish, the metaphor that had us leap to land, grow hand and hoof, still carrying the seas within us?
Intro and Endnote to an afternoon of “Dueling Sonnets” conducted between Chris Bogart and Gregg G. Brown in the Late Spring of 2013.
This “duel-to-the-deaf,” cooked-up at Chris’ instigation, is a good moment to reflect on the combative nature of poetic friendship. There is the dare, the challenge, of two eagles sparking each other to higher cloud-cliffs, or the raucous oboe-music of two bullfrogs boisterously bellowing out their over-proud self-renown in the echo chamber of a mud pond. Always there’s a glance at “what the other guy is doing” when writing, when flirting with Fame. The current crop of rappers and “slam” poetry contests takes this energy for what it is–an evolutionary imperative. Be we bullfrogs or banded eagles, we expand or soar to what loudnesses and heights our time of trial allows.
May 22, 2013
[Gregg G. Brown]
Secrets of the Sonnet
Anguish gives us that to call our own–our littleness in the immensity. And it is this littleness that we, still reasoning with fate, sing. And it is in the sonnet that this “anguish of reason,” of needing to need reasons, finds its singing voice. So congenial is the sonnet for the purpose of striking off an attitude of thought, and then briefly turning it around for consideration, that it is itself an essay-in-little, a quantum of human sensibility, a unit of our vast humanity.
A sonnet holds a pillow’s-worth of dreams, a santa’s-sack of infinity. How could it be otherwise? Like Dr. Berhen’s execrable x-rays, the sonnet shows a lump of heart amidst a ghost of bones.
The sonnet is an able instrument. At times, it seems a wispy lyre, no more than an adolescent’s inaugural mustache. At other times, as with Milton, it seems a pocket cannon, Dirty Harry’s .357 magnum blasting out Justice. Often the form seems to encourage the play of quickened wit, thrusts and parries, both of image and of sound, with much more variety and activity than so small a string quartet seems like it should be able to provide.
The sonnet has been the library of such scintillating variation and is, I think, the closest that English verse has come to a jazz form–open to all subjects and moods. The very fact that it drips with unstated implications (because of its enforced brevity) and, at the same time, demands careful development of a theme (because of its long history of use, and not just in english), no sonnet sings in a vacuum. Even Robert Lowell’s unusual fourteeners of blank verse play out their game in the context of sonnetry, so wrestler-wiry is the tradition.
Sometimes a sonnet is a plain pocket of worsted poesies, a very dry handful of desiccated violets. Like a compact mirror, it is portable enough to show any face; a pocket kaleidoscope of Lon Chaney faces. In argument, the sonnet has “a sting to do his foes offense.” In loving, no tool but the lover’s native virility is more efficacious in making fruitful the demurest vale. It is a Caliban of enmity, and an Ariel of loveliness. It cannot be sung, properly speaking, but is best composed as a sort of talking-song, often with a very specific, even singular, audience in mind. In Wordsworth’s hands, it has amplified private meditation and carried out loud that part of public discourse.
One secret of the sonnet that I know, is its approachability. No writer fears the sonnet, and almost all writers try their hand at taming or maiming it. A mistake is more easily forgotten than forgiven–and especially so with the sonnet; the bad ones die off without a murmur, and the good ones maintain a freshness unique to the form. Look at Millay’s triumph; her voice in the sonnet is out of tune with her time, but the goodness she put in her sonnets is still seen as good. A counter-example are Robert Frost’s lengthy Horatian declarations–quite good, really, (and perhaps, of their type, present-day exemplars) but unforgivably out of key with the times, and so they lack a sympathetic audience beyond a few ruminative souls.
Another good secret is how a sonnet, with all its twists, can be held in a single contemplation or experience of it as a performance in such a way that the content and form are balanced in the reader’s mind. It is small enough and open enough to invite your own further speculations; in fact, its success depends upon your participation. And so, when a sonnet catches you, it is like an answered prayer; you remember the deity of your own percipience. A sonnet can draw a picture, or snip a snapshot, but you supply the vital memory that brings the thing to life. The sonnet demands this of you, talks you into dreamy collaboration with its therapeutic life-process; it is the “talking cure” writ small.
[Gregg G. Brown]
The Old Truculence
A note concerning the basic arc of this book of poems–to re-register grace and freedom as America’s primary metier.
Freedom breeds elegance. Not the inbred elegance of aristocracy, where beautiful ladies eventually come to resemble their Russian wolfhounds. Nor, simply, the truculent elegance of that sly Benjamin Franklin who, as ambassador to the French Court, refused to bow before King Louis the 16th or doff his coonskin cap.
Freedom breeds the desire to create one meaningful action with your entire life–the effortful elegance of the artist that James Joyce defined as the willingness to gamble your whole life on the wrong idea, a bad aesthetic, or, it may be, a genuine triumph. And America has created, and can still create, a unique scale of opportunity for such elegant “throws of the dice,” as Mallarme might say. A natty Fred Astaire (originally Austerlitz), gliding with the ease of an ice skater as he backs Rita Hayworth (a gal from Brooklyn) into immortality to a tune penned by the jewish Jerome Kern in an industry patented in the U.S.A. is but one example of the scale of that opportunity.
When you are free to do anything, a desire grows in the breast not to do just anything, but to do the best thing–and that is an aesthetic dilemma. The mere accumulation of capital, or the arbitrary exercise of petty power by minor government regulators, are two classic examples of the desire for a meaningful expression of life-status that lack the aesthetic instinct. Such timid ambitions grow most strongly where the full range of light is narrowed, and the blossom of selfhood must twist around corners to open its ruby glory in a thinning patch of sunlight.
Gregg Glory March, 2013
As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where there was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing at a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back (Isaiah lxiv.6; Luke xiv.33; Psalms xxxvii.4; Habakkuk ii.2; Acts xvi.31). I looked and saw him open the book and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and not being able any longer to contain himself, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, “What shall I do?” (Acts 11.37).
~~ John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
PREAMBLE: WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU
The comet of my divine intent has come to earth. Only this undistorted wish is sacred. It is sacred in you too. “I am well; the world is ill.” Fuck-the-world and For-the-world are equivalent statements.
I will never accept your self-imposed limitations. That kills the individual that I shall always be. It is an imposed distortion that must and will always fail.
Tyrants from time immemorial have always gone about asserting irrelevantly the inability of liberty to manage itself. Today it is the tyrant of the superego or a perversely construed conscience.
I will have none of it! So fuck you.
Humanity only encompasses the greatness that I can make out of myself. What else is there? Only the worn-out sickness of a will too timid, too afraid to trust to its already manifested effectiveness, as per Plotinus.
“Re-invent all the n-o-o-o-o [new] ways.”~~Richard Hell
When I create myself, I enlarge the world. I discover what only I may uniquely possess and then release.
I want a million Shakespeares. I'm part of a divine revolt Our world is new Our vision is true I'm part of a divine revolt: I revolt from you!
It must be ennobling. Negative images and thoughts may be included as part of a poem or poems, or as essential draft matter in one’s life-work, but these negative images are not the ultimate goal or purpose of poetry. Baudelaire is a perfect example of this principle in action. Only the greatest disappointment, in life and art, with his contemporaries and with himself, could let so religious an imagination blaspheme with such a gloried ease of voice. His “disappointment” is ultimately the result of having such a monstrously high opinion of mankind’s potential; a potential which he, like Nietzsche after him, saw everyone all around him so sickly disregarding. Today one might speak, new-agey-wise, of a responsibility to live in your power. It was his noble hope that empowered his verse, made his racket into a rocket, even in its most negative moments. Without love of such magnitude, without vision of such vicious width, the loss of love is itself belittled.
Is it Heaven or Hell, dear Beauty, which drives you here? Such eyes--infernal and divine!-- Spill martini evils, olive magnificence. I come to gulp both vine and wine. You walk with the dead shooting scornful glances, With careless hand stew Joys and Horrors, candies and spankies! Moth-souled transients, short of breath, still sigh, Whirl at your flame, and die--spack!--"Ah! Orgasmic Death! Bye!" Stark Heaven or velvet Abyss, iwis? Dear Infinite! From Satan or from God? Holy or Vile! O soft-eyed Queen, my sprite, my Kate, O rhythm, perfume, light--who cares?--so that you beguile! Cheat lazy Time awake, spin old World from Hate! ~~Charles Baudelaire
Both the poet and the reader must come to the poem with the whole of their consciousness and experience.
The artist creates the world in his own image—his supreme vision of his own humanity as it exists, indivisible from the universe. The poet never sees the universe as separate or “other.” It is always with him and in him, as a whole, because of his conquering imagination, which lets no jot of experience escape his grasp. The universe is just barely large enough to contain the imagination of a single individual; it is his proper playpen, as it is in Emerson’s essays.
Thus to him, to this school-boy under the bending dome of day, is suggested, that he proceed from one root; one is leaf and one is flower; relation, sympathy, stirring in every vein. And what is that Root? Is not that the soul of his soul?—a Thought too bold–a dream too wild. Yet when this spiritual light shall have revealed the law of more earthly natures,—when he has learned to worship the soul, and to see the natural philosophy that now is, is only the first gropings of its gigantic hand, he shall look forward to an ever-expanding knowledge as to becoming CREATOR. He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal, and one is print. ITS BEAUTY IS THE BEAUTY OF HIS OWN MIND. Nature then becomes for him the measure of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet posses. And, in fine, the ancient precept “Know Thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study Nature,” become at last one maxim.
~~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The poet has a moral duty because what he truly imagines will become the new reality. Reality and the individual imaginer of reality are never separate. Any poet who knows this knows that when he imagines the universe again from the crowning heights of his mind, he creates that universe in the truest way that any single consciousness can. Since no man, poet, or audience, can escape his consciousness and still be human, the consciousness-reality of the poet has a very real conduit into the world as a whole through the minds of his readers. Once a beautiful thought has pinned itself in your brains, you can never escape its loveliness.
For example, when Shelley sent off his little balloon from the dead fields of Ireland with a poem in tow announcing his savior-consciousness to the world, alone and in the mist, how else did he know that it would land in these very pages, floating still in our minds?
Sonnet: To A Balloon Laden With Knowledge Bright ball of flame that through the gloom of even Silently takest thine aethereal way, And with surpassing glory dimm'st each ray Twinkling amid the dark blue depths of Heaven, --Unlike the fire thou bearest, soon shalt thou Fade like a meteor in surrounding gloom, Whilst that, unquenchable, is doomed to glow A watch-light by the patriot's lonely tomb; A ray of courage to the oppressed and poor; A spark, though gleaming on the hovel's hearth, Which through the tyrant's gilded domes shall roar; A beacon in the darkness of the Earth; A sun which, o'er the renovated scene, Shall dart like Truth where Falsehood yet has been. ~~Percy Bysshe Shelley
A poet must reach his center without resentment. Each poet’s center is both his lodestone and his steering star. What one essentially is is what one desires to become–or such on-going becoming is what one is–if one does not fib or filter the flip-book time-cursed consciousness presents to itself. A key to avoiding this fibbery is to act without resentment. This can mean having a “clear conscience” in terms of one’s relationship to imposed reality. If outer, objective reality and one’s own inner creative reality form a consonant pair rather than an engine of argument, one can dance the figments of his dreams into the kitchen at midnight rather than dash the self to shredded syllables against the unforgiving rock of given reality. Either way, what one imagines into existence does come to be, but only when resentment is kept in check does the reality your dreams wake into welcome them to the cotillion. As Yeats famously declared “in dreams begin responsibilities.” And if one responsibly creates the reality one participates in, of what use is resentment? It is merely the blindfold we tie around our eyes to refuse the truth of our oncoming execution. Embrace your death, embrace your life.
Will you, won't you Will you, won't you Won't you join the dance?
As talking apes, we handle the matter of urgent mating in a way quite different from our hairier cousins. For us musing humans, loving someone seems to be equal parts artifice and fascination.
We love someone, first, not for who they are, but for whom we make them out to be through the mists of dim recognition–across the roomful of phony fog and the pulsing rainbows of the disco ball. This fascination, combined with the artifice of who they present themselves to be, is just the initial sauce of the gourmand’s smorgasbord of attraction and affection we term “love.”
And where the imagination latches its mollusk, it secretes its magic–transforming the rottenest rowboat into Cleopatra’s bejeweled barge.
The courtship between two adult humans contains, on average, one million words–roughly 100,000 more words than Shakespeare’s complete plays. This is the titanic effort that the imagination brings to bed with us. And from this art, we weave the dreams of our sexual lives, our tenderest expressions of affection. And, indeed, we weave our own families.
How we imagine love is important. To be raw, to be vulnerable, to weave our dreams of love in utter nakedness, is important. It’s what we talking apes do. We do it incessantly and, in all the animal kingdom, we do it with an artifice and fascination compounded mainly of words.
This human intrusion of the heart and cock into one’s interpersonal affairs can be awkward, embarrassing, and nearly impossible to winningly negotiate.
This assemblage of sonnets is neither a trumpet of blind praise, nor a morose ogling of the pains of passion. It is more on the order of an exploration of the situation of love. Of being subjectively in love, and, more objectively, of loving someone besides oneself. So, there are eager rehearsals of coming joys and somber reappraisals of old impious passions both in this collection.
The biographical circumstances are simply that I had an intuition that I was on the cusp of some new union with love; there was a dating service, fresh faces and swaying ladies; a kiss occurred, other details.
Spring has arrived with its brash boings and raindrop doings!
GGB March 15-April 15, 2012
Let me elaborate (without belaboring) my point in print. Let’s say one questions the status quo: Hey Quo, what’s up with that, yo? The question, by its very nature, throws doubt upon the validity and durance of the status quo, or things as they are. Maybe things should be arranged otherwise, maybe other arrangements or interpretations would be more penetrating and correct, or would open avenues of action that would be grander or more satisfying. Questions, in this respect, are like headlights that can help us sketch out the dimensions and "give" in the fog that surrounds us.
What questions, in and of themselves, cannot do in these circumstances is prove anything about the validity of the status quo one way or another. Because one can formulate a question about the status quo does not, in itself, undermine things as they are in any way. Hey Quo, are you sure that the ground is under my feet? This question does nothing to remove the ground from under your feet–it is simply a question–a question that can start a process of discovery that itself should be questioned and not simply assented to because it undermines current understanding. This is what I meant about "questioning the questions."
A question is simply the first step on a path that may eventually lead to the heady heights, and vast new perspectives, of disproof of the status quo; but the question is not the map, the donkey, the traveler, the sweat and the path all in one. The ground under your feet is solid until physics comes to eventually prove–through assertions and demonstrations (the sweat and donkey, etc.)–that in fact the ground is mostly made up of empty space between those tiny head-spinners, atoms.
Questions start the discovery, but the doubts are only worth paying attention to when evidence begins to solidify their guesswork with a bridge to a new reality, a new solidity. This goes on forever and ever, and even our views of bridges past begin to be swallowed up in the present fog and our next new journey can be to re-tread the paths of discoveries "past."
But then, what is Time, really?