On Poets and Poetry: Conceits and Revelations – (Essay followed by first three Cantos)

The Soviet futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky once wrote, “I’m a poet. That’s what makes me interesting. That is what I write about.” This egotistic statement of the self-regarding poet is in line with Mayakovsky’s iconoclastic and self-aggrandizing style – “to his own beloved self,” but does it not tell us something about the nature of poets generally, namely, their conceit? After all why should anyone care about the scribbling that a solitary consciousness produces; very often abstrusely or even esoterically, as Eliot wrote, “We expect to have to defend a poet against the charge of obscurity.”[i] But the poet does not just compose verse willy-nilly, and does not just scribble, as in Horace’s phrase, “a book whose different features are made up at random like a sick man’s dreams.” There is method and form and rhythm to this madness. As the critic Northrop Frye tells us “There is no private symbolism,”[ii] and everything he composes is parcel: his dreams, his illusions, his visions, his fantasies, his impressions, his memories, his thoughts, his knowledge, his politics, his loves, his joys, his fears, his delusions and his creativity; he wishes to share.

“the next person at the door

will be a poet.

this one teaches

and that one lives with his mother

and that one is writing the story of

Ezra Pound.

oh, brothers, we are the sickest and the

lowest of the breed.”[iii]

Perhaps, for Bukowski, in his bottommost core, his poems were a kind of therapy – one pictures a madman searching for his “little gems,” divine moments of inspiration in intoxication, even in there, even in Ginsberg, to whatever weird and degenerate gods they summoned between them, there was something of the spark. But then, the factotum dipsomaniac gave perhaps the best defense of poetry ever devised when he wrote simply that “non-poetry is ugliness.”[iv]

While Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, perhaps justly, grew weary of the poets condemning them, “A little lust and a little boredom: that has so far been their best reflection.”[v] As I have read my Bukowski and have read my Rumi and my Nietzsche, who had much of the Dionysian dithyramb in him,[vi] and each of them I loved and each of them I absorbed and outgrew. I discovered Pound and Eliot and Yeats and Keats and Coleridge and Ovid and Dante and the Troubadours and the French Symbolists and the Decadents and the English Romantics and so on. I have always returned to the poets and always found and sought new ones. Why?

Frye once referred to the poet in the modern age as a kind of savage; that is as a remnant of both a literary and indeed a pre-literary time. In an age ruled by utility and a mass cultural apparatus facilitating la société du spectacle, the epic and the comedic forms have long since transcended their original medium, who could care about the individual’s subjectivity – if that indeed is the sum of it – but even if not – what can a poem say that prose or science or the gesamtkunstwerk of film cannot? His scribbling may as well be cave-markings after all. Poets are at once the most useless and anachronistic, contemptible and tatterdemalion of creatures, without purpose or place, existing as it were in some half-forgotten realm between sentiment and learning, impression and form, and because of this, their purpose is also as the most necessary of creatures; because of the nature of their art, the part he shares of his consciousness, both requires and subterfuges the tyranny of reason in a manner entirely its own. For to “wander lonely as a cloud,” in trousers or otherwise, such phraseology produces a connection between the inner experience of poet and the that of the reader, whose internal voice reads the words within the confines of his own consciousness, the reader may not be aware that they too ‘wander lonely’ as that selfsame ‘cloud.’ Within the image and the feeling produced there is something of the mystery of revelation. For Wordsworth, “the poet is ‘a man speaking to men’, and all men have within them the capacity for poetry, or at least for the brightness and unity of perception which may be called the poetic vision.”[vii]

For Bataille this shared inner experience of poetry, “the dark radiance of poetry” is linked to forms of expenditure or excess, it is that which is beyond the law and nature, “it conceals the known within the unknown…. Poetry’s escape, its excess, follows an Icarian path: it drives upwards in a transgressive trajectory only to reach its limits and fall.”[viii]

For almost as long as there has been poetry, there has also existed the defense of poetry, as though the dainty and utility-less ‘excessive thing’ always needed its advocates. In the Ion dialogue, Socrates compares poetry to Euripides’ magnet, the Heraclean stone, that “attracts iron rings inducing in the rings the power to do the same themselves in turn-namely attract other rings, so that sometimes a long chain of iron rings is formed, suspended from one another, all having the force derived from the stone… the spectator is the last of the rings… You – the rhapsode or the actor – are the middle link, and the poet himself is the first.”[ix] Thus, the poet is closer to the Muses and divine nature – “I’m a poet. That’s what makes me interesting,” the Russian futurist is not far removed from the classical understanding of the social role of the poet. “The spectator being the last of the rings” – within the confines of a traditionalist hierarchy of being, the furthest rung is both the most numerous and least individuated; the uninteresting masses. The inartistic, untouched by the muses, catches merely the fleeting secondhand catharsis of the poet’s connection with the divine, if he is lucky. What aristocratic conceits these poets have!

For my own conceits, not merely prolonged metaphors and contrived revelations; as Plath writes, “Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle, Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.”[x] My Cantos is well inspired by that of Pound’s corpus and gods and the style is somewhere closer to that of Eliot in places, and its subject matter tends towards Yeats and Mallarme; for certain it is thoroughly modern verse. And for certain Pound and I worship at the same temple of Western Civilization, longing for its palingenesis – after all, if only in mock jest, “Every woman adores a Fascist.” Contrasting from Bukowski’s sickest and lowest pedigree who is “writing the story of Pound,” my cantos are not merely a retelling of Pound or of an attempt to replicate his style; rather, it is my own, as I am my own. As Pound utilized the conventions, themes, motifs and images of the Canon to relay his own trials; the Ariadne thread runs through mine as well.

[i] Eliot, T. S. Essays on poetry and poets. London Boston: Faber and Faber, 1957. Print. 229.

[ii] Frye, Northrop. The critical path : an essay on the social context of literary criticism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971. Print.

[iii] Bukowski, Charles. Love is a dog from hell : poems, 1974-1977. Santa Barbara, Calif: Black Sparrow Press, 1977. Print. 240.

[iv] Bukowski, Charles. Notes of a dirty old man. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1973. Print.

[v] Nietzsche, Friedrich W., and Graham Parkes. Thus spoke Zarathustra : a book for everyone and no one. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. 111.

[vi] http://www.thenietzschechannel.com/works-pub/dd/dd.htm

[vii] Snukal, Robert. High talk : the philosophical poetry of W.B. Yeats. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print. 91.

[viii] Bataille, Georges, Fred Botting, and Scott Wilson. The Bataille reader. Oxford, UK Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997. Print. 9.

[ix] Russell, D. A., and Michael Winterbottom. Classical literary criticism. Oxford England New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. 7.

[x] Geddes, Gary. 20th-century poetry & poetics. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1985. Print. 443.

 

Canto I: Hortus Conclusus

I invited all the freaks

To a tea party in my garden

And all the world showed up today

So many eccentricities

Spilling into the flowers

Creating new varieties

And through it all

There is you, and there is me

Entwined ever faithfully

In these rosebushes

Mindfully, we move

Careful of the thorns

Impulsive movements

Leaving us

All bloody and torn

Love lost and woman scorn

There is a man with a face forlorn

With The desire to be bathed in the sun

And to die

And be reborn

When his time has come

 

And these roses, do they emerge from Pierian springs

Where the muses bathed

Is there a song to sing?

Of the love of a good woman who saves

A beast in a jungle

A Minotaur in a maze

A dead god’s corpse instructs:

‘A little love is a dangerous thing’

Drink deep, or taste not Beatrice’s spiral spring

 

Mechanistic clocks bleeding grains of sand

Such commotion outside, such arrears

To be paid, to be made, moneychangers

In temples without images – bland

They call it business, they herald its triumph

Over Tradition, above Pound, vulgarities abound

And the pleasures, herein my dear, mingling, are of two sorts:

Either too sterile to matter

Or too germ-ridden to be impressed upon the breast

But we, in here

A hortus conclusus – us

 

Outside the knackeries, your social niceties

Beyond the apothecaries, and between the abattoirs

There lies a perennial truth beating inside the womb

The birthing of a stillborn, Unicorn

And the paradox drags Truth down through the aestheticized mud

While an Old Ovid writes the Fasti

And Wrether travels to the Eternal City

And the Cantos connects all things to Dante’s metaphysics and Homer’s dactylics

And, and, and, never-ending…

Perhaps there is yet a cliff

On the horizon

With a burning Sun

Given something bitter-sweet

My dear, to come undone

In the company of those who forget by candlelight that love is præy

Ravaged on cliffs of abandon by demons of desire

Pulled along a winding pebbled road by a charioteer

Strumming her golden harp

Then drawn and quartered apart

On each limb – two sets – twin stallions

Two black and two white

Too dark and too light

The Skeptics on the feet

And Utopians on the other

And we non-Manicheans somewhere asunder

Caroused in the dream of the spleen

Caught between

Plato and ‘The Philosopher’

Captured by Raffaello in the vesica pisces swimming in the cloth folds of the masters

Or as consciousness tortured on a crucifix, between a redemptive sinner and one who persists

A whirling dervish, and thunder, a flash of lightening, a cloud bursting into rain and naivety and necessity and madness and a banquet of undulation – the sensory world of transient things, passing through the intestines – golden egg of shit – birthing into ignorant armies clashing –

in the din of the pitch there arises a moment of clarity, of brevity, of epiphany – and one of heroism and one of cowardice and one of deceit and one of interpretation’s cutting distortion and so on and so forth… A lasso, a thread, a throughway

Wherein the reaper makes his rounds

An hourglass without a sound

The field of battle now full of wailing banshees and dark eyed ravens with wolves waiting in the wings

Mournful elegies pouring from her lips

Into her eyes

Blindfolded cupid’s aim

Far away

And now she has been carried away

By an Zephyrus wind

And I have been

Brought to function

Under false suns

My compulsion

Is to run

Into a gaping subterranean hole

Her skirt from which the flora flows

There is death inside the rose

A slumbering dream of repose

A sheltering bosom to uphold

The suckling lips of a youth turned old

And In the room the women come and go

Speaking of things debased and low

What greater glory than to sow

The seeds of discord, the uninvited party guest

Without whom harmony would be subjected to a tyranny of monotony, a garden of earthly delights

Better to reign, than serve

A day; a stalking breast of prey

Than a cento grazing in the meadows

Mere Choices in the Agora of Hesperos

And the meek elongation of shadows

Drawing out the growing awareness

The pair caught in a serpentine bewilderment

Naked and cloven-foot

Tiptoeing around panopticonic surveillance

Wiretapped and pigeonholed

Villages disassembled and we all go

Shuffling under the common roof

His ancestors owned two-fifths of the watermill East of Eden

Drawing liquid-mercury through lukewarm waterways

Pouring it into crystal glasses for the enfranchised masses

Jackasses,

Placid and spellbound as Hylas in Waterhouse

Bewitching gazes longing for

That magic hour

Between her reign and that of Apollo’s

When the dissimilar similarities

Strike us with stupefying profundities

The Lord awoke, reeling with wine

“The overloaded measurelessness of all goods in the one who is their cause.”

The cornucopia everywhere blooming and rotting

Wastrels and beggars

Heroes and kings

The trees of the forest nearst the clearing

Droop and wither

The temperature fallth

And sandy dunes appear

Where once luscious hills shone

In verdant splendor

Has the hour come?

When all things are confused

In their compositions, dimensions and limitations

The binding together of things-strange

In anticipation of her reign

 

Her time come at last

She, holy to the lost and the dead

They too arose, joining a procession

Shuffled earth and withered rose

She, granting oblivion and holy drunkenness

From the gallows of histories hollows

Luminaries, no nobody’s

Ethereal bodies

 

A night vigil and procession

Panther skins, dithyramb limbs

The wild wind sweeps unwelcome’d trespasses,

Whisperings extinguish solitary candles in windswept temples along pathways leading towards a precipice requiring a leap of forgotten naivety

A reshuffling of the deck and few are fallen

There are no roads that lead here now

Laughing madly in her blind alley

Contingencies upon contingencies, upon a throw of the dice

A delicate balancing act, Empress of the world, an acrobat upon her globe, imprisoning between her teeth a cruel absent rose, now departed, now come, now go

She spinning wildly

Into the great unknown, endless coastlines, star-dotted skies

Cythera; summoning the ghosts of milkmaids – piously affecting a way to dictate the terms of his own fate – squatting in squalor, squeezing the royal-purple out of the snails who sunbathe by the light of the moon

hortus-conclusus-roman de la rose

 

Canto IIArchipelagos

A cult of beauty blooms
Venuses on the shells of former selves
Airy and light, whimsical delight
An intonation wilting, too soon

Too soon,

Respighi perfectly captured the essence

Speaking low

Visual

The sea arches in images

As many shapes as Proteus

Winged youth and drowning Pegasus

Vessels upon her unstable aqua-heath

Periplum’d voyagers

Ithaca in liquid modernity

Genoese for hire

Nowhere, somewhere, everywhere

A brave new world

Hovels in New York, Moscow, Bangladesh

Similitudes of “insecticide refineries”

“Chicago Semite Viennese”

Negro Siamese Canadian

Misanthrope – in a small boat

Great industries of coiled seaweed

Passing mirages, flickering gills, selfish shellfish

The solitary angler, the waterbeds he comes to know, casting out

Still the great plethora lost in the shadows of working waifs – driftwood and time’s immortal wages

Octopi, barnacles –swampage – city dwellers

Never waves – just hello’d goodbyes

Journeyed wide-eyed tourism

Cultic purism

He stops to sip

Spellbound prick

Peering into the exquisiteness of his own tortured midnight, not eyes, not mirrors, both and neither

Solid, buried marble – the tide reveals

The sculptor, who drowned in love

With forms held above

From his own hand, fashioned

What he could not withstand, a passion’d

Beauty; the frailty of being

She, an appendage of the shell

Bivalvia, Sally sells

The shore is distant now,

And he recalls dimly

A garden abounding with pleasure

A rose snatched from the bush,

But still the new day is bright

And the water rumbles

Coughing up from her recesses

Upon powerful horses, a chariot and a trident,

A great flowing beard, upon a great knowing air

What say Poseidon, Lord of the hour, who has dethroned his brother and the Other upon a grey murderous sea?

He made the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof were still

And a great valley of time separated the words uttered as though each carried the weight of ages

“Herein, the waters coalesce, some flow towards the Northern and some towards the Southern Gate, but all who pass, whether in ascent or descent, drink of oblivion…”

With that the sun darkened

The roaring wave, towered, glassy skyscrapers, tumbling

A dizzying tempest washed him far-flung ashore

The salt water; putrid and inebriating

Heady spins, myriad colors – puke

Nineteen Sixties lotus eaters – Egyptian nymphs – desert sacraments

Fumigations, one-eye-blind, sails set against the wind, piglets, priapic wand-erings, curses, invocations, black magic, temptress, enchantress, forgetfulness, Dreams

 

Birth_of_venus.jpg

 

Canto IIIWestern Skies

Under the Bodhi tree, awakening towards the East

Passive nihilism, illusion, maya, laissez-faire, nothingness

No reason to get worked up, go to work

Zen

 

Koan, Koran, Kalm

Sand, Oriental, Monsoon

Citadel Rising

 

Awakening towards the West

Meadow lands – God’s bounty – Monad

Kipling and the Saxon

Bloody sacraments

Man; alt-colossus

The sneaking serpent Ove­­­­rthrown,

Masters of our own House

No mere mild humility

Giants upon the Earth

Made in the Image

Approaching now

Towards the Eternal Flame

Marbled balustrade and patient travail

The sinew, the muscle, the fortitude

Unmatched

Prodigious toil

Cursings and blessings upon thee

Our hour has not yet approached the nihil

We are not yet soft cushioned bed-rested geriatrics

We are still men of the West

And we ascend the immortal steps

Resurrected Gods

In dialogue with Hades’ snakes and Olympus’ ladders

Never a child’s game grew so severe

As yet, the fateful hour draws near

“Thou art a dreaming thing”

Pythia, in the House of Snakes

Mandarins teaching half-learned things,

Pharisees, Sciolism; litterae nihil sanantes

We have no place in this place

No room in these rooms

Dusty recesses of the mind’s visions

Borne old too soon

Hyperion rising

In the Evening Land

Pillar of fire, cleaving the azure of the Western skies

No chiaroscuro, everything illuminated in the glow of sheer fanaticism,

Overcoming

 

30209096681_8149def35f_b.jpg

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