Sep 022020
 

Dark Poet, your pen scratches at the heart of life.
~~Antonin Artaud

Nonsense is often the most sensible kind of sense. This is counterintuitive, but trust me for a moment as we proceed. This is no three-card monte. Nor is it like the wonderful magic of Emmett Kelley the clown sweeping his spotlights into a single circle, and then putting that circle in his pocket, patting his pocket and smiling like Einstein after he’d eureka’d light into a corner.

Nonsense reveals all of us—our self, our situation—in a single pop of recognition as we are trampolined from our usual assurances and then forced to regain our footing, to regain our meaning, on the fly. Like an old-fashioned photographer’s flash powder, we are exposed to an extreme of light, with no visible space left for secrets or lies. This is part of the odd exhilaration of nonsense. And, don’t get me wrong, nonsense isn’t some sly encyclopedia where all hidden truths are stored and we must simply discover the index—oh, no. Rather, the puzzles that nonsense reveal are genuinely unsolvable. Gregor Samsa will never come back from being a cockroach; his transformation in the story “Metamorphosis” has simply revealed the pickle he was already in, but didn’t know that he was in.

What nonsense reveals, at its best, are genuine mysteries.

And, like Gregor Samsa, the character in the poem “Nagging Question,” who wakes up with a pile of feathers at his feet after having torn his pillow apart in his sleep, all he can do with a true mystery, once it has been revealed, is to go back into the realm from which the mystery emanated. Gregor cross-examines his family situation, and the character in our poem returns to the realm of sleep and dream. But, with new, perhaps sharper, questions in mind with which to confront the mystery that has been revealed. Or, it may be, with no questions at all, simply with one’s eyes widened.

This process resembles the scientific method, except for the fact that there is no control group. What variables could nonsense ever control for? There may one day be a science of comedy, but never one for true mystery. The only control group we have in poetry is every other poem ever written. Their mysteries abide, and it is into them that we go to confront those mysteries again and again—and to find more of ourselves more truthfully (or at least more fully) revealed.

 
[With] the pillow exploded uselessly between your hands
And what looks to be a chicken carcass
Piled in an inscrutable white mound
Headless between your bare feet [...]
There’s only one place for you to find your answer.


Gregg Glory
August 28, 2017

Sep 022020
 

Once all wilderness was innocence. Later, all wilderness was sin. What does it say about wilderness, that it could be both sin and innocence—a space of condemnation and reprieve—at once? What does it say about us, limber interpreters of vastness? Every day someone takes a snapshot of themselves with the Statue of Liberty on his shoulder, or the moon upheld in her palm, the violent grandeur of the universe turned by metaphor and pixel-flash into a beachball.

Now we find our wildness in suburban glimpses: long weekends away to a campsite, the unwonted sting of a bee. Yet we were made by wildness; we were wolves before we mellowed to dogs. When observation and observance sharpen beyond the roar of words we soothe ourselves with, the tickertape of conscience and prayer unspooled to silence, we can see the action of life plain. The constant taking, the inevitable greed, camouflage, and waste inherent in all things.

The sun knows nothing but to burn. The salmon little else than to breed and feast. Our arteries are red with burning, veins blue with hunger. A paranoid, irascible eye sees many raw things civilization has regretfully gilded; an eager ear—with its vestigial muscle for turning still intact—may yet attune itself to the strangeness of what is. Listen.

Parables are everywhere is our daily doings if we listen, the ear of consciousness arranging random notes and facts into pattern, the flare of consciousness illuminating new mosaics in the old catacombs. Life itself, in all its accident and happenstance, is transformational because our consciousness is partial.

We can’t see all sides of an object at once like a cubist artist. We cannot even experience ourselves consistently across the daily divide of sleep; at best we are strips of stuttering film. We bridge these gaps with memory and imagination. And reality is the perpetual testing grounds of that self-invention—and poetry, at its finest, with its honest looks at what is—is the checklist for that reality. Words are the net we use to draw reality into us. So use that net, anxious to add meaning to your ultimately unknowable life—the omnipresent wilderness.

Gregg Glory
April 1, 2018

Aug 252020
 

Vivid Ovid. His humanizing tales of metamorphosis (if you’ll pardon the pun) in the literally alien context of the interaction of gods and people have drawn the eyes and admiration of readers for eons. How often I longed to trace with my own tongue the temptations and graces of such tales! Who wouldn’t want to be master of a matter so fantastical, so outlandish—and yet still be able to draw homey homilies from the consequences of such fables? Daphne praying to be turned into a laurel tree rather than endure a rape in the god-clutches of a “divinely maddened” Apollo; or the unfaithful Jupiter stashing his part-time squeeze, the ravishing beauty Io, not in some kept-woman’s studio apartment, but in another living form by transforming her…into a cow—albeit a beautiful cow. And Ovid’s touch of detail that makes both god and man acknowledge their wayward foibles, their vulnerability to desire. Such is our condition: half angel, half satyr. What, ultimately, could be more compelling than this poetic recognition of our limitedness adrift in the infinity of our desire?

Always it is against chaotic Nature that human success in the arts in measured. Versailles with its to-the-millimeter immaculate gardens, Jesus with his cracking of Lazarus’ catacomb—leading the experienceless child within each of us on to eternal life, the absence of Death. But Ovid’s fables transmute nature to nature, violating the continuity of life within life as it proceeds from the womb to tomb—rather than through some transvaluation of all values via a post-death resurrection, or the living-death deletion of meaning that narcissistic nihilism provides. Ovid’s metaphor is metaphor emphatic, metaphor literally embodied (were such transformations to actually occur anyplace beyond the agile chambers of the mind). This makes him a prankster in some respects, a comedian of life’s myriad deceptions and switcheroos, slips and oopses. Instead of the authority of Justice (or the inevitability of the furious Eumenides) appearing at the end of a tragedy, enforcing cosmic meaning by the rending apart of life’s tender fabric, we have instead the inescapable acknowledgement of a rueful chuckle forced from the aghast reader at the transformation’s literal unreality and too-intimate horror. To be moved at all by the pageant Ovid presents is to acknowledge our own culpability in the lusts and greeds he lampoons. Yes, I, too, would so covet, so fail of my ideals, so mangle my heavenly morality with my mortal mischief. There, lacking the grace of God, go I; every I that I can imagine being or becoming, in all my rhymes of form and story.

Existentialism is one moral response to the nothingness modern man confronts now that we’ve blown the Holy Ghost from the churches—the stained glass left colorless and drained of ecstasy. The bareness, the thisness, of place, of Everyman in every place, replaced the altar that had once signaled the savior’s triumph over the reality of Death. The very sepulcher became the resonant cross, embossed with neither promise nor stoic resignation, but instead enriched with the simple elaboration of emptiness itself. Ever more intricate become our minuets above the void. As Mallarme noted: “The beautiful, gratuitous, turns into the ornamental, repudiated.” Mallarme’s For Anatole’s Tomb is a restful counterpoint to our innate desire’s torturous wish for the infinite, desire’s tensile beauty making every moment its own gravesite, its own elaboration of the endless dust and nothingness we face. I like the moral stance emblemized in the Pagan torch-passing of praise and memory a bit better myself: an endless relay of meaning lit to life by the burn of magnificent poetry. Such a contingent arrangement must strike modern artists as too hopeful, too communal an enterprise after the wick of self-conscious Romanticism was ignited. But, don’t bet on it! Romanticism itself is a response to the stocks and manacles of Kant’s “no you can’t,” the vivisecting separation of object and subject—a spastic cast of empirical dice—and nothing more than that.

Is it any wonder that Shakespeare took up Ovid as a foil for his first funning with verse? Titus Andronicus pushes the dry coracle of black humor into the slick swamp of tragedy in an ever-modern mash-up going nowhere. Existential titters accompany the gruesome and aghast pies stuffed with human flesh as they are served up piping hot and tucked into with an ignorant will. Who does not eat of Life with the same ignorance as the rapists Shakespeare depicted at the table, pinkies up and kerchiefs to chins? I, too, like the wily Bard, love Ovid in all his miracle and mayhem. So much mayhem!

Our current crop of graphic novels and grim heroes are of Ovid’s mold. Think of today’s Batman, the caped crusader, the Dark Knight, transformed by a desire for justice into a nightwinged bat, who turns his midnight vengeance into a secular grail tipping over with blood. Catwoan, Aquaman, Doc Oc—all half-breeds wandering bewildered in landscapes of existential angst. I, too, had wanted to honor with the sweat of inspiration and the grace of rhyme of one of Ovid’s raving fables, but as I toured the crazed slop-house of the Greek gods, the Roman gnomes, as Ovid had carved and enlarged them, I was struck by the fiery violence his tales told of—and, I admit, I was afraid to retail such gory goods in my modest mall of art.

I turned the prized pages of my Ovid over once again. Even the fable of fey Salmacis, I noticed, with her “weak, enfeebling streams,” ends in a dual-sex hermaphroditic unity that is still illegal in many countries. The lovers’ tentative rapprochement has some of Absurdio’s hesitant desire in its outlines—an expression of being’s ignorant need to be, and therefore be loved. So twined together is our self and our sex. Salmacis and Hermaphroditus was almost the tale I re-told. What if Absurdio met a wet, eight-armed Venusian princess in her tidal pool of green chlorine? The denouement was still too horror-genre for me to proceed with that story, but the delicacy of Salmacis and Hemaphroditus’ meeting was a model for Absurdio’s first grope toward hope—the challenge and comfort that concupiscence provides:

The boy knew nought of love, and, touched with shame,
He strove, and blushed, but still the blush became;
In rising blushes still fresh beauties rose;
The sunny side of fruit such blushes shows,
And such the moon, when all her silver white
Turns in eclipses to a ruddy light.
The Nymph still begs, if not a nobler bliss,
A cold salute at least, a sister’s kiss;
And now prepares to take the lovely boy
Between her arms. He, innocently coy,
Replies, "Oh leave me to myself alone,
You rude, uncivil nymph, or I’ll begone."
—J. A.

I settled, perhaps a touch too reflexively, upon the pageantry of Pygmalion’s tale. After all, the story had been exampled brilliantly by Shaw, and there’s even a musical modeled from its bones—though fleshed with sexism and an elitist tone of triumphalism (to which I am not, confessedly, adverse). This story has no goopy, blood-bludgeoned ending, no comeuppance, no disastrous consequence where Nature regains the reins of Justice and executes the feckless nabob who knew well enough into whose guarded garden he had trespassed. No, here Venus stoops to conquer, and extends a merciful pity on her inspired subject. It is the love story of the artist and his object, his sculpted creation, a female mate conjured from pure desire and art’s millimeter-mania for perfection. Yes, a fine tautology to lead me down the garden path. What post-modern word-whittler could resist the inevitable levels of self-reference, the circumference of innuendo bound to grow Falstaff-fat? And, with luck and cunning, perhaps my Absurdio could be as happy a sinning creation as my fellow Ovid-fan Shakepere had managed? To what Mediterraneanesque setting would my gods and goddesses descend? What glamorous goods would press against my alluring shop window?

The main item in the inventory of Venus and Vesuvius, as you will soon plainly see, is an adolescent male I have dubbed Sir Absurdio. Absurdio is left alone on the planet Venus where he was born, the only son of two intrepid scientists appointed to explore our over-heated solar neighbor. Why he has been left so tragically alone, and at such a crucial age, our tale will unfold. I myself was so ill as a teen with an ulcerative onset conjured by the psychic injuries of my parent’s divorce, that I missed the last two years of my American high school experience. I grok some aspects of Absurdio’s puzzling solitude. No friends from our 3,000-strong clan of Marlboro Mustangs possessed the fortitude to visit a lonely, pimple-ridden writer-to-be in the forested enclosure of his one-boy farm-forest prison. The only friends who favored me with their presence were Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, Phillip K. Dick, J. R. R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, and other luminaries of the imagination’s intergalactic parsecs. They are the reason I placed my Ovidian vale in outer space.

Now, if you’ll strap on your muse-provided jet-packs, let’s zoom to the moon—and beyond!

Gregg Glory, August 2013.

Sep 042019
 
I ask: how do I make my dented self 
         beautiful 
with this old pencil? 
     ~~Daniel J. Weeks, Self-Symphonies

 

Our legs look broken when light bends them in the swimming pool. Once our heads are under, immersed in the experience of wetness, the illusion disappears. Our legs are restored to us in their wholeness, where they can be repurposed as impromptu fins to propel us elsewhere. Which of these sets of legs are our “real” legs? The broken set, the restored set, or the Aquaman set?

Entering a poem is like entering that other, underwater world. We are restored to a wholeness the pain of life and its deceptions has convinced us is missing. But, we can only hold our breaths so long before our imaginations burst! And still we go down like clockwork into the dark otherwhere of metaphor, easing past the shallow end of simile, our imaginations and lungs aching. However dangerous the journey, we will not be denied our diving, our entry into depths.

The act of writing is a way for poets to break the surface tension, to transform and explore with all of their sets of legs at the same time–water-skimmer and octopus at once. The act of, not just imagining, but creating the distortion of a written record, a pool for others to enter, is part of the mystery. This writing things down, however, is not what may be called a clarification; that’s a mistake many neopyhte divers make, arriving back at the deck of their exploration vessel with the bends.

Let me propose that both imagination and reality are equally real, equally imaginary. A grown-up Velveteen Rabbit has a smoking habit, perhaps; perhaps the dourest accountant over-charging on our tax prep is a weekend balloonist– or, more daring yet– a plummeting parachuting enthusiast.

Whether this need for othering ourselves, appropriating the ocean’s indigo, pretending a purpler sky, being winged in imagination whenever we watch a bird in flight, is the result of an evolutionary symbiosis of inner and outer selves or some kind of meshuggeneh co-dependency, I cannot tell. But I know that it cannot be otherwise. Real or unreal, one hand will always be reaching after realness–a stuffed, velvety rabbit dangling from the other hand.

Gregg Glory
July 4th, 2017
 
Mar 152017
 

Emotional suffering gives us access to the real world in a way that ideas, and even love, cannot attain

We turn death and generation into a fable of sacrifice. Plants are buried, and are honored in their going; the Crop King is executed, and from his everlastingly renewed body the spring stalks arise to be culled again. His death is willingly embraced by him, or by his stand-in chosen from among the farmers–and this freely chosen death is overcome, in the Christian story, by God’s intervention. Or the sacrifice is invested with meaning by the very act of undertaking the self-imposed burden of sacrifice. Perhaps the deadness of the death is overcome via the more pagan vehicle of the anti-wish-fulfillment of tragedy–their heroes marching off-stage with a chin-lifted “tragic gaiety.”

At a minim, in these stories of death, the dead have some future existence, some ongoing effect on the living who survive the sacrifice. They are ghosts, legacies, shapers of their children’s childhoods (and thus their later lives), fathers of countries, innovators and stage-managers of the theater of ideas in which our own living decisions seem to occur.

There is, however, a more reductive way of viewing these mechanics of life and death. A way in which immaterial ideas remain immaterial to the whole process of death and generation. In this view, death and life are entirely out of our hands, and are not even subject to some overweening concept, such as Fate. Death and generation are entirely out of our conscious control, contribution, or even comprehension. The grave is a wormy meat-locker, the womb a humid conveyer-belt on auto-pilot, churning and regurgitating material for the low grave’s open door. All the rest, all our imposition of pattern, our self-selecting and seeking of meaning, our elaborate institutions of culture, our games of play and mating, are no more than an con game that we play against ourselves–an inherently deceitful waste of time and effort.

No wonder no one has the time to read poetry books! Thin as they are, they make better coasters than guideposts; they are lies only, not metaphoric (or metamorphic) mile-markers limping off into the mists toward immanence….

There is one thing, however, that binds us to the earth in both of these scenarios. If we are meaning-making creatures who have impact and effect in our deliberate embracing of death, our use of tools, and our active management of history–or if we are simply whittled-down pegs, wooden-headed and wooden-footed as we hop the circuit and then hop off some cosmic cribbage board. And that one thing is sorrow. Grief over what is lost, or for that which is too soon to be gone, made irrecoverable by time and nature. In both cases, what is, is. And there is also that which will not always be as it is–or even always continue to be at all. The result of this fact is the unending sorrow that life presents to us. Tragedy or comedy, we cry at either when the curtain lowers, as the coffin to its silky mud, and the players disperse like invisible ink, all play-acting at an end.

Sorrow grounds us, keeps our beings seated on the earth. And it is through this special kind of on-going grief that we enter into our true understanding of life, and of the life of death. Sleep is our small daily adjustment toward incorporating unconscious revelations. When we are awake, it is sorrow that can let us break through the gates that hold the mind’s wild darkness away from day-lit acknowledgement–the gates that consciousness holds shut with our meaning-making, endless cognitions and wishes. Mary Oliver says, in her poem ‘Don’t Hesitate,’ that “Joy is not made to be a crumb.” So, too, with sorrow. We are not meant to sip the deluge. Sorrow, if it comes at all, arrives with tidal force–and the wideness of its bleak realization keeps our feet steady, blows the egomaniac mind down the staircase, and holds our elbows hard so that we must face each other in dire humility.

Poems grown from sorrow can perhaps gives us the momentary clarity to drop our pretense of control, the modern imperative that commands that we impose a single, often literal, meaning. Poems grown from sorrow let us sit abandoned among the dead leaves of grief. Poems can let us see the feather fallen from the raven’s wing, and can let us enter into the long dark tubes of mourning that flow so keenly along the detached shaft–the backbone of a feather that had once been capable of the terrors of flight.

Gregg Glory
December 25, 2015

Feb 022017
 

A belated report from a seer of being

Living with the sea and surf is every New Jerseyan’s native inheritance. There’s a scrim of winning, of life triumphant, that inheres to such wild and wetted borderlands between the ocean and the dunes that no temporary imposition of boardwalk, beach badge, or scootered police force can ever fully erase. Last year one of the big movies was The Martian, based on a sappy book and executed with boku budget and zero imagination. Their Martian was a man stranded on the red planet, its only inhabitant. Do you want to visit aliens? See a consciousness estranged from our fingers and lungs? Look no farther than under salt water. Here are animals and plants endowed with an elemental difference from our landbound neighbors.

And there, of course, under the sea, we began our evolution to becoming the landlords of dry earth–prince of predators and queens of the eating regime of life. At least, of life on land. Is there another us still swallowed by the sea, still wrapped in a tube of fishy muscle and zooming through the blue? Some watery mirrory reflection of the zest to know all and to impose ourselves on all that we humans have?

When I watch a fish twitch at the end of my hook, its face all made at angles to reduce drag and be an engine in service of its Shopenhaur-like will-to-live, I see my own eye going from glassy to arid as it expends its final minutes on the grass. We are efficient in our environment, and strangers elsewhere. When we succeed in life or business beyond the home, after the lame dorm, strong in our suits and boardrooms, or ably outfitted with a plumber’s wrench and toolkit, it is the old world of going home for the holidays where we feel the most estranged from our daily selves. It is there, among the cranberry sauces and filleted turkeys, that we gasp after the mastery the aquarium of work and our married lives provide.

But still we go home. Still we outfit ourselves with our juvenile social graces, or a newfound awkward silence that puts parsecs between us and our siblings at the dinner table–the green skirts of the christmas tree feeling as alien now as once they were the epitome of comfort and safety.

And so, as a species, we are divers and explorers of our personal pasts, of our nations and tribes, of our civilizations, and even of our previous incarnations as beings zinging along under the sea. It is to that cold water we return equipped with diving gear and lights brighter than sunshine, recording new home movies of the old kelp patch, weighted at the belt to keep us on our visit, the old family, finned and eely, nearly unrecognizable.

I am an anemone–as good an underwater emblem for a writer as anything–a colorful eater of facts and dreams, a living sitter waving prayerful tentacles before this mixed magnificence given again and again until, finally, we start learning to see.

And to see, of course, we must first outfit our minds and hearts with open curiosity. Not to know the answer that will be divulged. Life is no simpering SAT test, but a real engagement with what is. And whatever is, is us.

For this voyage, let us be in love with fins and sinuous things; with the starkly sharp urchins, the deep sulfur inhabitants of poisoned vents, the wild things that neither roar nor fly. Let us be baptized in salt water, and raise our heads again from that furious, wet source of being that first broke us out of dim nothingness into suffering and ecstasy.

Gregg Glory
Feburary 14th, 2016

Aug 262015
 

Dear Reader:

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?

—Gregg Glory

Jun 042015
 

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

Oct 182014
 
...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?

Gregg Glory
March, 2014

Nov 252013
 

Intro and Endnote to an afternoon of “Dueling Sonnets” conducted between Chris Bogart and Gregg G. Brown in the Late Spring of 2013.

Intro

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 Glory
[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.

2013
Gregg Glory
[Gregg G. Brown]

Oct 262012
 

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.

F.T.W.

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!

I
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 

II
Both the poet and the reader must come to the poem with the whole of their consciousness and experience.

III
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

IV
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

V
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?

2008

Oct 022012
 
The Ever-Arriving River

How do we know we have arrived?

No gate blows open, no trumpet swings wide
Giving boogie-oogie oogie-boogie to the countryside.
Our horses must feed on grass, or perish.
So, too, our souls.  Having gone down the long defiles
All night, in a night that is not sure of ending,
Our souls paw their bellies and howl.
Even a ghost craves ghostly sustenance.

Have we arrived then, when midnight creaks
And starved souls howl at the wolvish moon?
Or must we still, in our hunger, kneel and pray?
Must a glittering track shiver in the sleepy pines
For the last mile shimmied on our knees?
Bend at that track, and drink with tragic hands,
With hands encased in silver to their wrists.

Drink and drink;  drink deep, O traveler--
Tomorrow we must find this river again.

The themes of this poem can be said to be paradise, pain, and persistence.

The first line of the poem immediately creates the context and then throws it into question.

How do we know we have arrived?

In the title it is the river that is arriving. In the first line the question is about our arriving. There is some confusion between whether it is the river arriving or us who are arriving. What is the relationship between these two arrivals?

What does arriving mean anyway? If the river is ever-arriving how do we know we’ve ever gotten anywhere? If we don’t know that we’ve arrived somewhere what is the problem that creates? These are the sorts of questions that are created by the tension between the title and the first line of the poem.

The reader and the narrator of the poem both seek reassurance on this point. The second stanza begins with a frustration of that seeking reassurance. Traditional signs of arrival, signs of having completed your journey, are denied the speaker and the reader both. “No gate blows open.”

“No trumpet swings wide,” the horn of Gabriel, the official welcoming at the gates of heaven, is absent from the countryside. There is no sound of welcome available to the traveler. Indeed the silence seems to mock the reader and the seeker. The “oogie-boogie” of 1940s swing music is unavailable to the traveler, and hides another pun in the poem only a footnote can provide.

This lack of welcome, this lack of acknowledgment, this lack of arrival, then create an intolerable tension in the poem. We are not only mocked, we are in peril. “Our horses must feed on grass, or perish.” The horses, representative of purposeful onward motion, must find some sustenance or die. Our sense of arrival is frustrated. We must seek a way to go forward even one more step in this unwelcoming countryside. The analogy to the spiritual context is made explicit in the first half of the next line. Our souls are directly compared to the horses which carry us onward. The long night of the soul is vividly evoked as “the long defiles / all night.”

The spiritual context of the seeking, the lust for Paradise, is underlined in the last line of the stanza “even a ghost craves ghostly sustenance.” So here we are. We are suffering, we are seeking. When will we arrive at this fabled “ever-arriving” river? The ever-arriving nature of the river is reminiscent of Heraclitus’s observation that one may never step into the same river twice. Will the river be the place of our renewal, our welcoming? Is it truly to be the destination that we are seeking?

The hope is set up in the poem that indeed the river will be the paradise our souls are craving. But on what sustenance Olar soul survive in the meantime? Is our desire for paradise itself the sustenance we seek? The third stanza asks these very questions. The conditions of “arrival” are mixed up with the conditions of seeking, the “starved” nature of the spiritual quest is itself considered a sign of arriving someplace. Our hunger for spiritual fulfillment has lifted us out of the ordinary daily context of our lives. We’re no longer simply mortal. We are mortal and spiritual creatures, locked into a quest. This seems a bit medieval and some ways. Like Parsifal with his vision of the Grail, we are beset with a vision of an overflowing, ever-arriving river. Our thirst is great in the darkness of our long spiritual night.

But mere spiritual hunger, mere spiritual seeking, are not enough to fulfill the requirements of arrival. We must still “in our hunger, Neal and pray.” To wish for spiritual fulfillment to seek the river is not enough. We must, even without the grass that are horses require, even without finding anything yet, we must “kneel and pray.” We must, even in the midst of our suffering, be grateful. But this is jumping the gun (or the gate) a bit here. First the poet ratchets up the tension of the seeker’s dilemma a few more notches. The pervasive use of the the communal perspective, “our horses,” “our souls,” draws the reader into alignment with the speaker’s quest. It is not dissimilar to the old preacher’s trick of addressing his disparate congregation confidently as a single community, a united entity, small before the greatness of The Lord.

In the desperation and tension created by the prolonged absence of paradise or the goal to which the traveler is headed, a vision of this final destination appears. In the middle of the woods, in the middle of the countryside a “glittering track” appears uncertainly in the moonlight. Is this the long-awaited “ever-arriving river”? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. But our approach to it (whether it is real or imagined only among the “sleepy pines”) must be prayerfully attempted; we must move forward the “last mile” on our knees. But even here, even in extremis, the mocking humorousness of the situation is not neglected by the poet; this last mile, oogie-boogie style, is “shimmied on our knees.” It seems that we are to chuckle at ourselves in our spiritual seeking, our thirst to arrive. Perhaps there is some nobility in such a sly acknowledgement of our perpetual “shortcomings.”

This uncertainty of our arrival–emphasized from the first line of the poem–is no doubt why we are instructed to drink with “tragic hands.” And then there is the brilliant image of the hands, wet with this very ambivalent arrival, after our midnight creeping, after the anguish of our hungry souls “howling” for sustenance, “encased in silver to their wrists.” Our desire has brought us here, has manacled us to this destiny of seeking. Even in the very act of fulfillment there is to be no satiation; we are locked into a cycle of spiritual seeking. It is a rather grim image of that meditation many traditions label a spiritual practice or discipline.

But what other choice does the howling soul have? Given the poverty of our spiritual circumstances, given the hunger for arrival, we can only continue to seek. But now that we, with sufficient gratitude and desperation, have arrived at this temporary river, we should drink. Tomorrow we may seek, but tonight we drink!

Drink and drink; drink deep, O traveler–
Tomorrow we must find this river again.

Gregg Glory
[Gregg G. Brown]
Oct. 1, 2012

Sep 142011
 

Dear Reader:

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?

Gregg Glory

Sep 022011
 
Oh, Little Wilfred dutifully read 
the Bible with his Mum and walked 
with verse effervescing in his head.

~~Owen in England, Daniel J. Weeks

Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltry. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.
~~Psalm 81

Introduction

Like a father pruning the limbs of his children, I have looked over my creations with a lenient eye. The worst verse has been relegated to the back of the book and is fit only for prurient scholars’ noses. If you wish, this last section of my collected works may simply be lopped off with a kitchen knife. But then, alas, you would lose the redoubtable “triple index,” which includes not only the Titles and First Lines of each of the poems, but the memorable cannon-shot of their final, triumphant line as well. This fixes a deficiency I feel in every big volume of verse my thumb has troubled to fiffle across.

I had long harbored a desire to collect the refuse of my muse, the afterburn of endless nights of wild inspiration, in a volume of collected poems. As the mirror disclosed a forehead growing more and more Shakespearean with the incrementing eons, the tagalong shadow of my desuetude became increasingly intolerable. Mortality would soon collect me and leave my litter of poems to a sadly disordered fate. I must act!

~~Gregg Glory 2010

Questioning Is Questing

Poetry is my Kingdom, Phylum, and Species

Western civilization is in a cul-de-sac. At the end of that cul-de-sac is a guillotine. Beside that guillotine stands the hulking executioner in his greasy black hood. Through that hood peer two red, maddened eyes. Below those eyes, as through a lazy tear, shows a long, slavering wolf-thin grin. Lightning stitches knots in the dead, leaden skies. Thunder interrupts the prayers for the dead. Doom. DOOM. DOOM.

Even so, my life is filled with primroses and wishes. I sit here—or lie, rather, languid as an American Oblamov rolled in his snoozy comforter— building my empire of words.

I’ve spent long, sad years loving people I never could come to know. Strangers whose alien minds lived other lives, pattering after petty pursuits I never really could come to understand. Now I fear that my own kindness and lack of company has led me, in an easy dream of desperation, to see Helen in every barmaid’s face.

Cold are the coals I have gathered, betrayed by a generous impulse that led me to love first and question second. Over evil rapids I have roved, slouching to the salt dissolution of the sea, who should have been climbing heavenward with Manfred—my eye upon some solitary cloud-wracked peak where every subtle shifting shape suggests a new, unborn greatness (or an old noble greatness renewed) to the seeker’s keen and lonely imagination. Instead, I have sunk my mind among warm elbows at a crowded table, seeking fellowship in banal company and dissipating what genius drifts to me in shrunken rounds of tavern talk. Few have been the companions time has tested true. I recall my Mom, downed in her home hospital bed and not the bed of her marriage, pointing at my nose with a red, imperious finger, demanding first and foremost (loved son or no) that I “tell it true.”

To that improbable pipsqueak queen, crippled yet proud as the devil in her flowered hospital gown—and to her regal charge–I keep my pledge.

I do not condemn others for my misjudgments, but, looking at the litter of years, I begin to perceive that there was something of method in my mismeasure. Questioning is questing. Leaving a question open encourages all comers to the query to have the experience of exploration; each hypothesis is happy to go unconfirmed, as long as the hypotenuse is mutually traveled by writer and reader in the coracle of a quatrain. There is something of Emerson in this energy of questioning, but none of his faith in God’s final ground, the rock of reality.

Lewis and Clark stood equally on the grass banks overlooking the Missouri. Who could say with assurance, seeing them leaning into the wind with their hands shading their eyes, which of the equal pair could see the coming settlements most clearly? Who invoked a vision, and who merely scratched a map? It is only now, with time, that I recognize that there is a necessity underpinning every river’s haphazarding. That, somehow, only a drunken Lewis who shot out his heart in dread despair could have whispered the new world aright into an impatient Jefferson’s ear.

May such dubious wisdom as my pain has gathered serve me well henceforward. May the narrowing of possibilities sharpen my focus, as when a saltine’s pinhole, brought close to the eye, removes the blur of distant things, clarifying every tiny difference and shutting out peripheral static.

In the poems that follow, however, it is the sharing of experience, the open stance of questioning without conclusion, that is most in evidence. And, in the extreme case of “Rehearsing Repetitions on the Rappahannock,” a meditative stance—at once open, aware, and inconclusive, is instantiated without the rhetorical crutch of a question mark.

My old compatriot in the arts, Lord Dermond, fondly dubbed me “the questioning poet,” and steadfastly refused to call me anything else. At the time, and still perhaps, since I myself am no settled question, I took delight in the name, seeing all things as things in flux, and enjoying the jouncing ride of the rapids, the variegation and contrast of the speeding banks. Dan Weeks, assembling a selected works of mine some years ago titled “The Death of Satan” also came to find merit in my querulous habit of mind.

It is only now, as this labor of years surrounds me on every desktop, that I am coming to feel that the best strength of my youth has been wasted elaborating a maze of quizzes instead of attempting to soar, however falteringly, into the omniscient sun. Was it a deficit of pride that had me prefer puzzles to plumage? Or some more insidious hidden desire to be touted and touched instead of respected and feared? Well, here I am again, ending each sentence with my shepherd’s crook (?) instead of the thunder god’s triumphant stab and pang! So much of our humanity is mist and mystery; so many of our hours slide by in incapable ignorance. But what makes our lives worth the sinning that created them is the moment the mirror comes clear, as if in a revelation, and every face confronts the tragedy of its character.

Miles to Go

This poem has no details 
If you won't carry water 
100 miles in your hands.

Break through the skim of ice 
In December, right behind that silent glass factory 
All one tall shadow on the Raritan.

Watch your hands shiver. 
Feel your wet cuffs the first 20 miles 
Until the sky is a shard in your palms,

And you fret about cutting your wrists 
Accidentally.

 

Why the Title?

Well, my original idea for the title was “Welcome to Mt. Olympus.” This warm, generous, applauding pat-on-the-back hand-up welcome to my potential audience reflects well my open nature: I’m a born patsy. My book of verse plays is called “A Million Shakespeares” in the same spirit. It has always been my conviction that there’s a spark of greatness in each of us—waiting only for a willing wind or closely blown kiss to fan that spark to flame. My friend and fellow-poet Dan Weeks had an instructor at Washington and Lee who was always gesturing to his class to “Join me up here on Mt. Olympus, people!” And I share that spirit of invitation and incitement. In a humorous mood, the title’s blandishment reminded me of postcards, bent and abandoned in their twirling black wire racks. And, as I frequented rock clubs in Asbury Park for several eons beyond my youth, postcards made me think of Bruce Springsteen’s famous debut album cover; a simple postcard with the words “Greetings from Asbury Park.” Inside each letter is a montage of vistas and perspectives, snipped snapshots. I certainly hope my words are so amply packed.

Finally, my mind wandered to Wallace Stevens’ (whose book I uncomprehendingly purchased with several weeks of paper-route pay as a 16- year old, and God know why) “Postcards from the Volcano”—a jewel of meditation on inter-generational sharing. Well, now you know something of how my knobbed and hobbled mind spins its dials and generates the green lightning of its associations, touching together black earth and blank sky. I hope it is just roadmap enough to encourage and ward your roads’ wandering more, well, let’s say more, rewardingly.

….. Here’s a million words. If only they were nickels, I’d be rich!

Aug 312011
 

Preface to The Timid Leaper

Catastrophes and Trophies
Report from a Victor and Victim

This collection is actually the combination and slight rearrangement of four separate volumes of verse; almost all of these poems were written in the calendar year 200I. It’s not much to show for a year of human life–that rich mystery we are twisted into by such a resolute hand. The main emphasis of this collection (as I hope will be quite clear) is Nature. Nature and Naturalism are not quite the same thing, however, and I have always had my own disagreements with those who took too dogmatically Thoreau’s painful premise “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” The Timid Leaper sets the keynote of this mixed approach. I hope this collection achieves some grace while trying to attain such goals. It is the beauty of man’s reach exceeding his grasp. The Timid Leaper leaps, not from any discernible goal he might attain, but from some more subtle cause, some interpenetration of events that defies analysis and germinates poesy. The sub-title is “inner nature poems,” and that is to help show that the weather for humans is never merely a matter of what’s over our heads it’s what’s in our hearts as well.

A victim of depression during the composition of these verses, I noticed an inability or unwillingness to assign purpose within myself. I was lax and ready to suffer unmitigated disasters with little more than a shrug and a tear. This is really a rather hopeless state of affairs, as a number of the poems outline. I remained staunchly impressed, however, with Dame Nature’s capacity to excite the recognition of meaning within myself. As meaningless and adrift as I may have been, I could not help but notice that Nature still evoked in me the wry acknowledgement of a more masterful hand in the pictures I kept seeing both before me and within me. “No Wood to Sing Through” shows the adaptability of natural instincts and impulses. It was inspired by my observation of a catbird still thriving without its native habitat, and by my own reflection that I was seeing something meaningful even when my depression had revoked my self as any inherent source of meaning. Something was helping meaning to survive even in the brain of someone who refused the acknowledgement of meaning. Something in me wanted, at least, for meaning to survive or, more exactly, for the expression and acknowledgement of meaning to continue happening, despite my conscious wishes. This is a form of nature’s nurturing weather that is both harsh and humbling. Can’t I be meaningless if I want to? Don’t take that shred of self-definition away from me! But, opposite of Sartre perhaps, it seems that meaning remains contiguous with essence, even when that essence wishes to exile meaning. It is this co-created weather of inner and outer that is charted in this volume of verses.

Full of wily wit and a bastard’s bravado, The Sword Inside was the first burn and purge preparing a place for a new self to take up residence. I had to be rid of old hopes that I had harbored too long. Hopes are the white lilies of the soul, and when their time is past, they fester as fast. There were reconciliations to be made here as well, and rueful acknowledgement followed hard upon the heels of aptly rapid self-wit. Well-rooted weeds and lingering things were burned out, or hacked at with a saber. Some villainy of habit and temperament had to be acknowledged and integrated, a black sheep returned to the fold. Such traceries of whim explored and displayed in The Sword Inside were the iron rungs I used to clamber back from the void.

The section entitled “The Soft Assault” stands apart for its being the documentation of a very severe personal storm and so shows the purely human side of the weather. Nature purists and vegans of nature poetry may safely skip this section if they do not want their nature poetry too irredeemably mixed up with the human roots of that poetry in the poet. This section is the fever chart of one of love’s bitterest victims. The natural phenomenon of the “inner weather” gives these poems their place in this collection. My retreat into nature, and nature’s “soft pursuant touch” of my capacity to keep seeing meaning no matter what, are a direct result of the catastrophes alluded to within these poems.

Indeed, it was nature’s “soft, pursuant touch,” that I could not shake off, and that led me back to myself as more than a recording barometer of outside events. Nature creates great art, but she uses dirty fingers. Soon enough, I was actively pursuing designs and meanings of my own in the material that Nature had fauceted upon me. I was ready to assign parts to clouds and prompt the trees with dialog. When this hubris expressed itself too heavy-handedly, the poems themselves rebelled and those poems have been expelled from this collection as a complete botch. But, as I now think significant, I was saved. And more than saved, I had become a victor from being a victim. Out of my personal catastrophe, I have extracted this volume of verses, which will serve as well as anything for a trophy.

Gregg Glory
[Gregg G. Brown]

Aug 212011
 

Innumerable inchoate feelings all seeking expression and definition contemporaneously are here encoded for the reader. But with myself, and with that art which I most highly value, understanding precedes expression if what is made is to be art at all. In these poems I was caught in a curiously Edenic mode. I was surrounded and imbued with a richness of griefs, and still had not one syllable to name them. I had all the full feeling a human art could cry to posses and none of the sensibility through which to express it. The chaos of my grief had borne its lapidary apple, but I had yet to eat of it and understand. Cynicism is the crassest shortcut between a full heart and an empty mind-empty but well-ordered. It is no coincidence that minimalism is the reigning contribution of the latter half of the 20th century to expression’s vocabulary. It is comprehension without being comprehensive; it comprehends through vital exclusion; it is a supreme form of denial and, as such, never makes a positive, uncynical stand, and can never be ‘proven’ wrong. Invulnerable and vapid, its objects glare in diminished insistence. Ashamedly, I must say that this twerpy type of cynicism makes its debut in lines of what follows here as well. Mostly in the toothless conclusions of the poems there is the oversimplification of a scab, and not the long-thumbed memory of a scar. Perhaps the elision of a decade will help to sort my inner chaos into outer order; perhaps selective forgetting and cowardly crowding-out of old memories with new heartaches will perform the aesthetic grunt-work that poetry demands and that my sensibility exhorts. But oh how my heart cannot wait the decade out! Ruptured, not enraptured, I ululate before my auditors-more full of sighs than songs.

Gregg G. Brown

Nov 2, 2004

 

Aug 172011
 

Poetry is like a Dear John letter or your baby’s first word–more is being said than you can understand all at once. Thus it was on my early Spring vacation to a furiously, fragrantly blossoming California, and especially during my visit to famed Yosemite–I was beautifully confused. In Yosemite the strange experience of grandeur is evoked, perhaps for the first time, and this new territory takes some time to be mapped and civilized into the acknowledged borders of our being.

In Yosemite, you can see God’s thumbprint on His creation, the signature of an artist who has otherwise removed himself from his work. But in Yosemite, His grandeur is too manifest, too manly, too vividly veridically vibrant, to remain unacknowledged. And while I was on vacation, sipping beer in the shadow of God, as it were, I began to have a feeling for the identity behind the whorls of that triumphant thumbprint.

I walked from whorl to whorl while Spring broke from the earth in blossom after blossom.

Aug 112011
 

The gift of speech

Sentiment is the key. If the reader can be thrown strongly enough in a certain direction, or into a certain mood, then that feeling can create a connective web or atmosphere that holds the whole poem together: the web transformed into a nexus of human-centered meanings.

As with Wordsworth or Coleridge’s conversation poems, the reader is hip-checked by direct statements of strong feeling in the direction of the mood in which the poem will actually function as a poem and not merely a collection of statements. It is a wrestler’s work and no mistake. It is not the aesthetician’s golden ladder of words, nor imagination’s grand view, nor the jeweler’s precise chiseling of a potential diamond. It is a gross and direct appeal to the self-pitying piggy heart of common humanity that gives such poetry the emotive energy to soar. It’s the last weeks of an intense political campaign where rhetoric and competition have roiled winner and loser in a single vat. It is five seconds to go on the fifty yard line. Desperation, excitement, and commitment are all called up from the slop bucket of survivor’s guilt of evolution which has hazarded us this far.

But how to achieve this peanut-cracking rhetorical gore and gong-show ga-ga excitement in the current age, when rhetoric, speechifying, and fine sentiments have been frowned from the field of human communication? Only in television ads, charity appeals, and the Sunday sub-culture of evangelical shtick are such techniques still commonly employed.

Unless I was going to print my poetry on the side of a collection tin underneath the photo of an abused puppy, I was S.O.L. I thought to myself, How would Gomer Pyle propose to his lady-love and manage to be heard as more chivalrous than cartoonish? A proposal of marriage is a domestic moment of high drama in our reproductive lives, with a long shadow of consequences that hang from the act, casting back from the future a certain darkness or atmosphere upon the proposal’s moment. So, in imagination, I put myself into Gomer’s size twelve army boots and bent down on one knee. And shazzam! I saw Polly Pureheart a-blinkin’ down at me–so unbearably lovely in the moonlight near the babbling cr’k. And as much as I wanted to marry that Pureheart, and cherish and care for her, and hold her in my clumsy arms under the sighing weeping willow tree . . . . I, I, well, I just couldn’t say anything at all. I had been struck dumb by the immensity of the moment, and the intensity of my own feelings. The fear of rejection and the vulnerability of showing my truest soul were there as well, like a lump of flour in my throat. Yet, for all that, my intentions were clear to her, and Polly in her pity looked down with love in her eyes, and a simple, life-altering “Yes” on her lips. I was blessed.

What I took from this hillbilly vision was that clear intention–or direct statement of strong feeling– followed by silence, or a break from the intensity of that intention or feeling, can moisten the wry eye of the reticent reader, and cattle-prod a passive Polly into action. I wondered, with my personal penchant for potent possibilities and alternative scenarios, if a rhetorical question, sincere in the motivating gears of its feelings, could work as well as a bald blurt of hurt or happiness to create this space of silence in a poem– and which would then invite the reader to lean in and leer– not as a vampire umpire calling strikes– but as one of the dusty boys in pin-stripes ready to get dirty and knock some mud off of his cleats. I’ve tried this approach in the following poems too. (How’d I do?)

A question, such as

      How can we talk about love when everything's wrong?

creates a silence of need and self-doubt projecting from the speaker. If the reader has ever felt a similar doubt or moment of confused longing, then, I figured, a space of receptive silence and co-creation will occur. The poem just may succeed its way into meaning.

A direct statement of strong feeling, like

      It's going to take a very great person
      To just stand there and love me.

creates a similar silent space. The adjoining observations about a menacing sky, an aggressive squirrel, and some quietly patient horses all give that sentiment its fertile dung in which to blossom. Exacerbating or contradicting–both–can call that statement into greater relief. The squirrel and horses have nothing directly to do with the feeling the speaker is bludgeoned by– and yet, in the explosive silence of embarrassed eavesdropping the criminal reader has been plunged into– these props take onto themselves all the concomitant feelings that the words of the poem refuse to provide. They are the willow tree and moonlight to Gomer’s gulping proposal, his brown eyes swimming with unsayable sentiments that must still–somehow–be understood if he, and, downstream, the species is to survive.

Will you take my hand?


GREGG GLORY
Feb. 14th, 2009