When grief has broken us, the link between what we want of life and what life delivers is strained; daily events take on the tenor of the unreal; dreams grow into rumors of the other realm, and the mind becomes a point of focus where invisible whispers enter the verity of daylight. Mary Todd Lincoln became grief-distracted by the death of her son, Willie, during the time the Lincolns lived at the White House. Rumor and witness conspired to declare her mentally ill or dangerously depressed at this time. Lincoln himself adopted an ever more fatalistic turn of mind about his eventual assassination, the destiny of both his presidency and the nation seemingly carved in marble gravestones. Both of the Lincolns saw and felt Willie’s presence in the White House, hearing his fleet footsteps run down empty corridors, or experiencing other eerie manifestations. Mary Todd became obsessed with wanting to contact Willie and held s
Fats Waller is, for me, an emblem of the creative artist’s response to oppression. First and foremost, what I feel most strongly about Fats is that he is the marvelous, mischievous, creative American Mozart of Tin Pan Alley. He won’t be defined or stopped by anyone. Shakespeare wrote reams of subversive plays that drew implicit parallels to what he thought of the mismeasure and misrule of his own times and society. In Shakespeare, there is an education in our own humanity, if we are open to our own feelings of being alive. The roots of jazz and the blues have the same basic imperative: feel. Understanding is secondary to life, experience is primary. Even if one’s feelings are despair and ennui, as in the broken marches of the Blues, feel them; and, once the gates of perception have been cleansed by honestly feeling what you feel, one must inevitably do more than just feel them, one must sing them. Art is a moral response to being alive. The world is a forest of varying experiences–from the soft subtle Georgia breeze that tinkles against the poor man’s bottletree making a random angelic choir in a dirt yard, to the ‘strange fruit’ of the famous blues tune that describes lynchings in the American South, with dead men and women hanged for no more reason than the color of their skin. Despite such terror and such despair, Waller’s Falstaffian joy for life is as immense as the sun; and that joy bulls through all the bullshit that burdens us.
Dance appears to us in perfected memory as in a dream. The words of neighbors and lovers fade, and only their faces remain; the memory of a loving look, the addendum of a touch. How does dance have such a vivifying power–to remain when all else falls away? The body remembers its emotions; that which moves us emotionally makes us, literally, move. The result of all calculation, and every accident, every spasm or hapless spontaneous gesture, is action; in action, we are revealed. Poetry, as performance, is action; as speech it is famously full of falsity, foil and counterfoil. In some tribes, a poet’s testimony is not allowed in court–poets are considered such expert and persuasive liars. In our own day and age, car salesmen and lawyers (with congressmen running a close third) are our exemplars of dubious speech. But, in the art of dance, however many hours have been toiled away at practice, however ancient the template the ballet or kabuki dancer follows, there lies revealed the truth of the human body in motion, the athletic fact. And this is somehow akin to memory and dream; the power of those totems to remain real to us when all else fades.
There’s a grand old ballad song called “The Three Ravens,” and a Scottish version of it known as “The Twa Corbies.” In each of these songs, ravens in a tree are discussing where they will scavenge their next breakfast. They talk of a brave knight who has been slain, but they cannot get to him because his hound and his hawk and his leman guard him. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” as Thomas Paine is said to have said; the dead knight’s guardians fulfill this role. Tragically, at the end of his life, the last warrior against both the Mexican and American forces’ takeover of the American West died as a reservation-prisoner far from his home; his one regret was that he didn’t “fight to the last man.” For me, Geronimo has always possessed something of the strength of Hercules. He is firm in courage beyond the known. He is brave without an exit. In language, poetry is the inquisitor we cannot evade; the inquisitor whose scars are left on us in tattooed whorls of artistry. The creation of cultural earworms is a cruel and necessary task. Who, besides the poor social outcast of the penniless poet, will do it?
“Sun’s declining ray,” a reference to the old hymn by Charles Coffin, Hymni Sacri, 1736:
As now the sun's declining rays At eventide descend, So life's brief day is sinking down To its appointed end. Lord, on the cross Thine arms were stretched, To draw Thy people nigh; O grant us then that cross to love, And in those arms to die. All glory to the Father be, All glory to the Son, All glory, Holy Ghost, to Thee, While endless ages run.
Onward, world. “The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.” So old John Adams maintained. Such revolutions of perspective in our own day were most deeply effected in the Civil Rights Movement and the landing of the first man on the moon. (The cultural shift of the radical sixties Left is an older game of social priorities that clatter back and forth between the poles of received authority and gamesome anarchy.) All the astronauts speak movingly of a shift in their sense of things when they see the “big blue marble” for the first time. Lewis Thomas likened the globe to a single living cell, its parts are so deeply interdependent; all human endeavor and wisdom balancing like a drop of dew on a single blade of grass, “glad and grim/observant and atheist held in a single prayer.” This essentially poetic insight, though, is a gift adrift when we refuse to see in it both possibility and humility: our smallness and our greatness at once.
There are lots of questionmarks in these lines, as befits my ignorance. A friend of profoundly poetic tenor pointed out to me the other day that I also enjoy employing negative statements that imply or outline a positive poetic feeling. If I were to have written Hamlet, for instance,
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Might have sounded something like this instead:
Not to be or not not to be, is that the question?
In the poems that follow there is much that is doubted, and many an assertion will not come unattended by its qualifier. After all, what king would step forward into such august company as you yourself provide without his page? Good my page, let us go forth like Wenceslas and provide for our poor and hungry souls the wine and meat of poetry, cibum et vinum . Notwithstanding all the misfires and queries contained in here, I know with severe certainty, as if gripped by a divine hand of lightning, that the feeling is true.
I will not wait for some un-looked-for good to come, but will make my present its own sufficing memory.
Gregg G. Brown
Jan 1, 2005
A. Romance, Love i. She = landscape; love and desire explain our place on the earth ii. Landscape is just beyond lovers' concern and understanding; address to Noelle iii. She = landscape; stars in her hair; harmonious completion on nature by imagination in tune with desire; night has a human warmth iv. Landscape = she; desire leaps out, coloring what is v. She is missing; object of desire dies, yet desire remains; memory transforms moment to sadness B. Futility, Repetition vi. Landscape is self-contained and repeats itself; will this be enough without her? vii. Seeking after cause of all; trapped in objective world viii. Organizing separated consciousness; imagination takes in what is, maps it ix. Difficulty of saying what is in terms of self; repetition calms, gives clues, reduces chaos of what is x. Despair, repeat of moods, is our weather; links self to reality by sharing repetition and circularity C. Speech, Words xi. Listen to outer reality; it too speaks as self speaks to itself xii.Words are not just human; they are an expression of reality as it is as well; refrains of wind xiii. Silence sources the mis-match of words and reality; failure of final correspondence xiv. How does speech work to encode our desire to connect with reality; do these words interact with what is real or not? xv. Questioning of what is heard; is it real, or mere self-projection? xvi. Speaker finds his identity in writing down gestures of what is in a way that sharpens inner feeling; feelings are the inner reality that matches objective reality D. Aging, Death xvii. Time marches on; self will die one day xviii. Desire for contact with the real inside the limit of time xix. Loss of attractiveness; but not death of desiring; this is aging; our hearts are less supple in response to reality, tempted to be didactic xx. Mundane reality is insufficient to the spirit's deepest needs xxi. Age focuses desire; its force grows as its time diminishes xxii. Nothing new in outer reality is available to be learned; connection with the spirit of imagination replaces reaching out into the real xxiii. Wish for certainty; weariness at the insufficiency of what reality has delivered xxiv. Speech continues to express imagination's desire even in age's lengthening ennui E. Meditation, Creative Urge xxv. Imagination is considered as capable of tying together inner and outer reality xxvi. Meditation = motion in the world.; the poem is an object xxvii. Creativity is in all actions of the mind, shaping and even creating the reality we experience xxviii. Reality changes; we carry its impact with us even when reality is not directly accessible xxix. Experience, approached by imagination, can continually refresh the spirit xxx. Figurations of reality do not deform that reality; what is continually re-asserts its completeness independent of imagination F. Final Sequence xxxi. Humility before the self-sufficiency of reality's self-creating process of Life xxxii. Self in the now can be content in contact with reality xxxiii. River reflects both reality and our wishes as they project into reality; something there is that is deeper than words or desires xxxiv. Reality dances on, we with it; reality is enhanced by our questioning of it, and our re-imagining it; experience is sharpened xxxv. Reality comes to an end; and, with it, the imagination completes its project of creation
Gregg Glory [ Gregg G. Brown ] has devoted his life to poetry since happening across a haiku by Moritake, to wit:
float back up to the branch–
He runs the micro-publishing house BLAST PRESS, which has published over two dozen authors in the past 25 years. Named in honor of the wild Vorticist venture by Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, BLAST PRESS is forward-looking and very opinionated.
He still composes poems on his departed father’s clipboard, which he’s had since High School.
Published in: BlueLINE, Exquisite Corpse, Blunderbuss, Monmouth Review, Asbury Park Press (60K circulation).
Co-Host of the long-running River Read reading series in Red Bank, which features NJ and national poets.
Associate Editor of the literary magazine This Broken Shore.
Founder and CEO of BLAST PRESS, a literary mirco-publisher that has published over a hundred poetry and literary titles over the last quarter century.
Two-time Asbury Park Poet Laureate awarded by the Asbury Music Awards.
BLAST PRESS is always looking for chapbook-length single-author poetry book submissions (30-70 pages).
My Amazon Author page: http://amazon.com/author/gregglory/
BLAST PRESS 324B Matawan Avenue Cliffwood, NJ 07721 (732) 970-8409 firstname.lastname@example.org