Monday, June 30, 2008

Yearbook (6.5)

There in a frail unsteady recliner at the edge of a burbling yard party, in the smoky, beefy, livid and thickening air, above green grass and below the muffling lilac sky, was the kind of place he would have to hover in, at an ambiguous juncture in the setting up of a conversation or a flirtation. Before speaking he sipped his beer.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yearbook (6.4)

The car sits on the lawn for months and months with the hood open and the windows rolled down, as the grass gets taller and taller and turns yellow again. That’s life in the fallow accident—hearing the straws struck away by air through these parts called The Unawares, seeing nice homes churn past on glimmer supports, sorry along the foxglove path, crunch the black gravel a mountain’s descent makes as the mind in the mouth gums bits of earth together, threads, leaves, hairs, clay, into lots more nice homes involved in a diffuse war as we nod off. A nice summer hailstorm outside the window. The next morning we finally surfaced from the History of Ideas, and swam to shore—“like an inappropriate monster?” (as Chris said in a different context). A grunt lepidopterist for the summer, I wait in the sun at Transit Island. Wearing a pumpkin pie sweater. I am the twilight glitch homecoming workers try to see through.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recent Reading

Bill Berkson, Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981-2006. True to the title, these are not “essays” at all, just the poet-critic-“art historian without portfolio” being chatty and wise about Philip Guston, Frank O’Hara, Walt Whitman, Dante, and other dead friends. “Rhetoric is a bobbin-tension. Can’t we have a simple active thread?” Most of the talks seem to have been accompanied by slideshows, and one misses the illustrations here. Guston is a major presence in nearly every talk (in company with Piero della Francesca, Cézanne, Chardin), and I kept interrupting my reading to go find a photo of the picture it was telling me about.

Marcella Durand, Western Capital Rhapsodies. I lucked into this at the library, and wanted to read it twice, but now somebody has it on hold. Poems of incredible sharpness and intricacy of visual detail, rendered in a fluid, constantly surprising syntax. Way entertaining. The book balances on two 25-part sequences, “City of Ports” and “Machine into Water.” The former is my favorite, perhaps because it distills so many themes that I’ve been interested in in my own recent poetry (traffic, construction materials, architecture, geology, landscape) with a precision and freshness that humble and challenge me, and a formal grace I don’t even approach. Here’s a sample, “City of Ports 14”:

An annoying noise, a buzz
penetrates miles of quarry rock

and weakens basalt structures:
the flying buttresses think of

falling, taking their grainy wings
and centering angles back

to the ocean floor they first
spilled out of, that and the

meteorites flashing inward,
drawn mothlike to the trembling

blue green glow of a living
atmosphere. In impact the tiny

heavy spheres, drilled by another
thousand smaller bits, spark

off a swell, a wave, an undulation
in the crust of beaten gold, and

speak messages deeper to the inner
planet circling on its own,

wrapped in a field of

Benjamin Friedlander, A Knot Is Not a Tangle. A quick flutter of diaphanous lyrics wrapped in several layers of self-mocking apparatus. There’s a note on the manuscript, which was edited by Kimberley Filbee, then a note from the U.S. Postal Service in Buffalo (“The enclosed article was damaged in handling” etc.), then a prefatory invocation beginning “Dear Poet,” then the poems proper (“Vomit Scape,” “This Is Just to Say,” “Until It Sounds Just Like Philosophy” and “A Child’s Garden of Verses” among them), then the Editor’s Envoi in three parts: A, “Partial Objects” (poems with missing words indicated by empty brackets, á la Davenport’s translation of Sappho’s fragments); B, “Unused Titles” (“From the Mixed-up Files . . .” “Easier Said Than Done,” “In Basil Rathbone’sVoice,” “Rankle” and dozens more); and C, “Facsimile Chapbook Attributed to Bernie Fox,” supposed to be from the sixties by a dead and forgotten poet, with an editor’s afterword that pushes all the Borgesian buttons. The tone of the whole book is bitter, ironic, terse, offhand, funny-but-don’t-laugh, dead-on in its run through all the tones of our depressing cultural moment.

George Oppen, Selected Poems (edited by Robert Creeley). I saw Glen Mott read in New York last month, and he prefaced his own poems with three sections (10, 18 and 19) from Of Being Numerous, saying “I think this is absolutely contemporary” and of course it is. I wasn’t prepared for the speed and fluidity and almost hallucinatory quality of late poems like “From a Phrase of Simone Weil’s and Some Words of Hegel’s”—so different from the monolithic, jerky prosody of Discrete Series (which incidentally is underrepresented in this selection—only two short poems!).

John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance. I’m just getting started with this one, my doorstopper for the summer. Pure fun from the first impossible sentence. Of course Powys was a mystic and a crank (Colin tells me he claimed to be a reincarnated brontosaurus to boot!), but he was also a great realist, if that word has any meaning—an imaginer of nature and of human being in all its diversity and complexity, with all the senses, silly, daily, trivial, mythic, what’s there to be communicated.

Monday, June 23, 2008

5 Versions of Dante's Sestina (preemptive e-appendix to forthcoming chapbook)

I’m working on putting together a chapbook of a poem of mine called “Unless As Stone Is,” which I wrote two summers ago and have been revising ever since. (It should be ready and reified in time for my reading on July 13th.) It’s based on Dante’s famous sestina from the “rime petrose” (stone rhymes, or poems for the stony lady). This blog post is brings together 3 English translations of the sestina , as well as the Italian original and a silly homeophonic version which was one of the early drafts of my poem.

by Dante Alighieri

Al poco giorno e al gran cerchio d'ombra
son giunto, lasso! ed al bianchir de' colli,
quando si perde lo color ne l'erba:
e ‘l mio disio però non cangia ‘l verde,
sí è barbato ne la dura petra
che parla e sente come fosse donna.

Similmente questa nova donna
si sta gelata come neve a l'ombra;
ché non la move, se non come petra,
il dolce tempo che riscalda i colli,
e che li fa tornar di bianco in verde
perché li copre di fioretti e d'erba.

Quand'ella ha in testa una ghirlanda d'erba,
trae de la mente nostra ogn'altra donna;
perché si mischia il crespo giallo e ‘l verde
sí bel, ch'Amor lì viene a stare a l'ombra,
che m'ha serrato intra piccioli colli
più forte assai che la calcina petra.

La sua bellezza ha più vertù che petra,
e ‘l colpo suo non può sanar per erba;
ch'io son fuggito per piani e per colli,
per potere scampar da cotal donna;
e dal suo lume non mi può far ombra
poggio né muro mai né fronda verde.

Io l'ho veduta già vestita a verde,
sí fatta ch'ella avrebbe messo in petra
l'amor ch'io porto pur a la sua ombra:
ond'io l'ho chesta in un bel prato d'erba,
innamorata com'anco fu donna,
e chiuso intorno d'altissimi colli.

Ma ben ritorneranno i fiumi a' colli,
prima che questo legno molle e verde
s'infiammi, come suol far bella donna,
di me; che mi torrei dormire in petra
tutto il mio tempo e gir pascendo l'erba,
sol per veder do' suol parmi fanno ombra.

Quandunque i colli fanno più nera ombra,
sotto un bel verde la giovane donna
la fa sparer, com'uom petra sott'erba.
Prose version by George Kay

[This version, from The Penguin Book of Italian Verse, is the source of the title and several phrases in my poem.]

I have come to a short day and a great arc of shadow, alas! and to the hill’s whitening when color vanishes from the grass; and my desire does not, for this, change its green, it is so rooted in the hard stone that speaks and hears as if it were a woman.

Likewise this heaven-born woman remains frozen like snow in the shade; for she is not moved, unless as stone is, by the sweet time which warms the hills and makes them turn from white to green so that it may cover them with flowers and plants.

When she has a grass garland upon her head, she draws our mind from every other woman, because she mingles the waving yellow and green in such lovely wise that Love comes to stand in their shadow, he who has locked me between small hills much more firmly than lime locks stone.

Her beauty has more virtue than precious stones, and the wound she gives is not cured by herb; for I have fled by plain and hill to be able to escape such a woman, and neither mound nor wall nor green foliage can ever give me shade from her light.

I have seen her dressed in green, so fashioned that she would have inspired a stone with the love I bear her very shadow; so that I have wished her on a fair meadow of grass, surrounded by highest hills, as much in love as ever woman was.

But well may the rivers return to the hills before this soft green wood catches fire, as fair woman is wont to, for my sake; so that I would choose to sleep out my life on hard stone and go about feeding on grass, only to look where her garments cast shade.

Every time the hills cast blackest shade, it makes this young woman disappear amid fair green, as a man hides a precious stone in grass.

trans. James Schuyler
[I think this is a lovely translation. I didn’t look at it when I was writing my poem, but I think it was the first version I ever read this poem in, in one of Kenneth Koch’s anthologies.]

I have reached, alas, the long shadow
and short day of whitening hills
when color is lost in the grass.
My longing, all the same, keeps green
it is so hooked in the hard stone
that speaks and hears like a woman.

In that same way this new woman
stands as cold as snow in shadow,
less touched than if she had been stone
by the sweet time that warms the hills
and brings them back from white to green,
dressing them in flowers and grass.

Who, when she wreathes her hair with grass,
thinks of any other woman?
The golden waves so mix with green
that Love himself seeks its shadow
that has me fixed between small hills
more strongly than cemented stone.

More potent than a precious stone,
her beauty wounds, and healing grass
cannot help; across plains and hills
I fled this radiant woman.
From her light I found no shadow
of mountain, wall, or living green.

I have seen her pass, dressed in green,
and thought the sight would make a stone
love, as I, even her shadow.
And I have walked with her on grass,
speaking like a lovesick woman,
enclosed within the highest hills.

But streams will flow back to their hills
before this branch, sappy and green,
catches fire (as does a woman)
from me, who would bed down on stone
and gladly for his food crop grass
just to see her gown cast shadow.

The heavy shadow cast by hills
this woman's light can change to green,
as one might hide a stone in grass.

Sestina of the Lady Pietra degli Scrovigni
trans. Dante Gabriel Rossetti
[The standard Victorian version, which I failed consult earlier, and now I wish I had. (Natheless?)]

To the dim light and the large circle of shade
I have clomb, and to the whitening of the hills,
There where we see no color in the grass.
Natheless my longing loses not its green,
It has so taken root in the hard stone
Which talks and hears as though it were a lady.

Utterly frozen is this youthful lady,
Even as the snow that lies within the shade;
For she is no more moved than is the stone
By the sweet season which makes warm the hills
And alters them afresh from white to green
Covering their sides again with flowers and grass.

When on her hair she sets a crown of grass
The thought has no more room for other lady,
Because she weaves the yellow with the green
So well that Love sits down there in the shade,–
Love who has shut me in among low hills
Faster than between walls of granite-stone.

She is more bright than is a precious stone;
The wound she gives may not be healed with grass:
I therefore have fled far o’er plains and hills
For refuge from so dangerous a lady;
But from her sunshine nothing can give shade,–
Not any hill, nor wall, nor summer-green.

A while ago, I saw her dressed in green,–
So fair, she might have wakened in a stone
This love which I do feel even for her shade;
And therefore, as one woos a graceful lady,
I wooed her in a field that was all grass
Girdled about with very lofty hills.

Yet shall the streams turn back and climb the hills
Before Love’s flame in this damp wood and green
Burn, as it burns within a youthful lady,
For my sake, who would sleep away in stone
My life, or feed like beasts upon the grass,
Only to see her garments cast a shade.

How dark soe’er the hills throw out their shade,
Under her summer green the beautiful lady
Covers it, like a stone cover’d in grass.
I'll Poke a Journal
homeophonic version, by me

I’ll poke a journal, grand search I adumbrate’s
on June, to lasso! and I’ll be on, cheered equally,
quondam. See paired a low color nail air; but
all my odyssey operates on changing verity,
see a barber to nail a door a picture:
cheaper, licentious, come, fosse donna.

Similarly, quest a nova, dawn, ah
see, stodgy lot, a comb, a nave of lumber;
chain on the move, say anon come aperture,
eldritch tempo, cherries, cold and calling,
itchily faught, ornately beyond, coinvaded,
perchingly, copper of florets aid Araby.

Go on, dell a haw in, test ungarlanded herb, a
trade I lament and a straggled tread on a
perch, easy mischief, crisp yellow a lover’d
see, belch Amor, leave any star all umbrage,
aim us erratic in trapeze, a shoal ecole,
peal forte, assay shellac, all seen, a picture.

Law, sue a belle, it’s a happier virtue; chap it raw,
I’ll cope or sue anon, pose an arbor herbal,
choose a fugitive per peony, percolate
perpetual scamper at a coattail, don a
dolls aluminum hippo far under a
porch, honey, marry me, never undiverted.

Yellow vied outage, a vestigial verity.
See fate arch elaborate mess in petrol.
A more choppered opera, lasso a number,
undo a locked chest in umbel, perturbed.
Enamored, come on, confute on a
choosy internal dull (Tease me!) colly.

Maw, bend, return-around, O I fume, I call, I
prime a check west, O lignum olive, earth,
so inflame me, come, asshole, far belladonna,
day me; chain me, torrid or mere in Petra;
toil me, O tempo, eager posse in dolor, be
sole pervader, do swipe any penumbra.

Conned on cake, a leaf in punier amber,
sot unbelievered, a large eve on a dawn, a
lawn for sparrow, come warm petra, soft erba.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Yearbook (6.3)

He did not even shave daily, but it was a downy young beard he had and a shining, sharkish, rubbery and resilient respectability that could have cartilage, no bones, and swim frictionless amid whatever. (Crum speculates that to the acute hearing of a dolphin, a snowfall on the surface of the water might sound like “a huge damn thunderstorm.”) The brittle opening chords, the one rude elbow of an unforeseen entirety, the law of these woods. I am a pirate, I have a hook, the gravel is shark-infested waters. Glowing and remote, a moat of darkened heads between. As paragraphs I try to light saying contrail stirring air ribbons for the noon passage now, at solstice, out of summer’s rise. Could inch along like talking to himself in American, out here and talking himself west with another “and then,” another great problem with the wind coming up screwing with him and the plan, him and me, him and the shore, old gray cedar shakes here and there in the sand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Correspondence

John Cowper Powys, A Glastonbury Romance:
Nothing was negligible to this despiser of the sun once he was out-of-doors. There was no weed that lacked interest for him. But it was not a merely scientific interest, still less was it an aesthetic one. The master-current of the man's passionate West-country nature found in a thousand queer, little, unattractive objects, such as mouldering sticks, casual heaps of stones, discolored funguses on tree roots, dried-up cattle droppings, old posts with rusty nailheads, tree stumps with hollow places full of muddy rainwater, an expression of itself that wide-stretching horizons failed to afford.
And George Oppen, "World, World—":
Failure, worse failure, nothing seen
From prominence,
Too much seen in the ditch.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Correspondence

Paul Klee (from a teaching notebook):
In abstract terms, what we have here is the irritated point as latent energy. At the slightest impetus, the point is about to emerge from a state in which its mobility was concealed, to move onwards, to take on one or more directions. It is about to become linear. In concrete pictorial terms: the seed strikes root, initially the line is directed earthwards, though not to dwell there, only to draw energy thence for reaching up into the air. The next effect of contact with the soil is that the seed rises, and this effect is often followed by a split (dicotyledons). This division becomes the beginning of further upward motion. The spirit of this form-creation is linear.

And George Oppen (from "Return"):
And we saw the seed,
The minuscule Sequoia seed
In the museum by the tremendous slab
Of the tree. And imagined the seed
In soil and the growth quickened
So that we saw the seed reach out, forcing
Earth thru itself into bark, wood, the green
Needles of a redwood until the tree
Stood in the room without soil—
How much of the earth's
Crust has lived
The seed's violence!
The shock is metaphysical.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Yearbook (6.2)

I think a thrips just walked across this page. A bicycle with no seat leaning on the wet chainlink fence, dripping, or a proposal that flowers from the root-tips upward and out, white nervous lace, but I don’t solve those kind of problems. In my dream, my job counting camas fruits and withered flowers combined with Agamben’s account of Cavalcanti’s erotic pneumophantasmology, so that we were looking for seed-heads that contained a love potion or something, but discovered that some plots had been sprayed by an evil scientist to prevent the fruits from growing. A weird cold rainy day. Redwood I never noticed in the corner of the yard. Another gloomy pale day. Dare matter on.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Yearbook (6.1)

This is abstract because a line break’s a split end where lunge discovers its lurch already furnished. It has a jokey-psychedelic cover to which was affixed a pebble painted blue (it was light—maybe pumice or just foam plastic) which fell off when I touched it. It was upon this rosy toy that the word “oolite” now fixed itself, like a label on the surface of a red moon, and although the Jobber’s stony island was hidden from their eyes at that spot, the tutor had the sensation that the whole of Portland, with all its people and all their passions, was no more solid than this airy, floating, ephemeral balloon. And today Dirk and I learned from Wikipedia that “There is no such thing as ‘Chocula lore.’” All we have to rest on are jeans-ad certainties. And lots of thimbleberry in bloom. For she did bloom, if blandly, under their bland parentage, like some great soft whitish flower topping a low strict herm of a cactus along some desert freeway.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Recent Reading

Giorgio Agamben, Infancy and History: On the Destruction of Experience, and Laura Moriarty, Ultravioleta
I took these two very different books with me on a trip to New York a couple weeks ago and read them alternately. They are both, among other things, fussy investigations of the pronoun I. Agamben interrogates it discursively, with reference to the history of philosophy, and Moriarty allegorically, with reference to the history of poetry, using standard science-fiction tropes as a scaffolding. (In her novel, "the I" are a semi-disembodied alien race that feed on human and Martian emotions—perhaps by entering their poems—and that have colonized the solar system—"it was like an invasion of therapists.") Both make reference to Descartes's "I think therefore I am" and Rimbaud's "I is another," and both seem to conclude that "I" is a creature of, a creation of, a convenience of, language: the thing that speaks, the thing limited by language. Which throws a new light on Wittgenstein's dubious "The limits of my language are the limits of my world." I never cared much for poets' and philosophers' pronoun anxiety, but now it's starting to get interesting.

Clark Coolidge, At Egypt
A long strange trip through a solider cosmos than Moriarty's. One theme is the infinite gradations of blue sky:
But the blue now, the blues through the roof they intended
is a coal blue, as if radiation rates a mineral explanation
that hue of blue darkening past sunset seen through
sandstone gaps, in temple, past navy blue dye of a fountain pen
a metallic crystal I lost like its sickle to the earthshine
slice of the moon, near Islamic sun, and its one pilot star
its second one in reddish conjuction, such stellar cycles
I time through masterful space, sandstone laps
metered to meet on this silver against feather night
brought to plumb downtown under weight of no words
George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things
A meticulous little treatise on the methods by which we learn from and categorize human-made objects. Full of brilliantly offhand examples drawn from the whole history of art, craft and architecture (Kubler also wrote a book on 16th-century Mexican architecture), all illustrating rather sketchy schemes of categorization. There's also a beautiful index: Talent, Taste, Taxco, Tedium, Temperament, Teotihuacán, Text editing, Time, Toledo, Toltec-Maya, Tomb-furnishings, Topology, Trait, Tree-rings, Triviality, Twain, Mark, Typology.

Benjamin Friedlander, The Missing Occasion of Saying Yes
A disorienting poet. I'm just beginning to get my bearings. Scary, strained lyrics for a scary, strained America.
Oh it calls to me where I've gone
araft. A reft in the never placid
water wrapped out of tune.
In the picky lap of luxury.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Peaches and Bats #2 recently became available in New York City at Saint Mark's Bookshop, and in Seattle at Elliott Bay Book Co. And it's still available at Open Books in Seattle, Orca Books and Dumpster Values in Olympia, and Reading Frenzy and Powell's-on-Hawthorne in Portland. Or at Or by emailing me.


I'm going to be doing a reading with Jennifer Bartlett on Sunday, July 13th for the Spare Room series. Details to follow. Please come.