Thursday, September 27, 2007

More underlinings from Barbara Guest

Barbara Guest's book,
Forces of Imagination
is a series of talks, essays and poems pulled together by Kelsey St. Press. It has been a treat to read this book partly because of the various writers and thinkers she draws upon for insight. So I'll keep compiling underlinings from this book for a while yet.

Not the thing, but the effect it produces.

The poem is the unburdening of ghosts of the past who have come to haunt the writer...These are ghosts not words; they are the ephemera that surround and decorate the mind of the poet, a halo rescued from life.

Mandelstam heard the inner sound "spilling into his fingers."

Imagination is the spirit inside the poem, a nostalgia for the infinite, louder than silk.

Stevens wrote in a poem:
Poetry is a finikin thing of air/That lives uncertainly and not for long/Yet radiantly beyond much lustier blurs.

Details can distract, according to Delacroix. Tending to them:
the artist whose sole urgency is his subject matter neglects the depth rendered by Imagination.

Words without vision are deprived of stability. They cling desparately to a mirrored surface in an effort to attach themselves to a surface because they have no direction and no stabilized vocation.

Words contain their own beauty of face, but they desire an occupation. They cannot exist on beauty or necessity alone. They need dimension. They desire finally an elevation in space. The poet of vision understands the auditory and emotional needs of the words and frees them so that the word becomes both an elemental and physical being, and continuous in movement.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


More from Barbara Guest's
Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing

Respect your private language.

Plasticity, strive for noble Plasticity.

Never "negotiate" with the reader by projecting the reader's aims into the poem,
such as a "desirable subject."

When in trouble, depend upon imagination.

Picasso, when facing his inquisitors: "Subject matter? You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea."

what Picasso said about subject matter: "It's always something else in the end."

I underlined and marked up a great deal from this next essay by Guest. When I get carried away, I might as well underline the entire thing. It's titled, "Mysteriously Defining the Mysterious: Byzantine Proposals of Poetry," and it opens with a short description of the author purchasing yards of beautiful silk at a bazaar in Turkey. The silk was then turned into curtains and "began to lead a domestic existence, its history asleep, much as a poem enters into an anthology. (Who knows when those Mersan curtains rustled and their sound entered my poetry.)"
I'm struck by the idea of the exotic silk becoming something domestic and then again becoming something mysterious. How that needs to happen in my work.

Underneath the surface of the poem there is the presence of "the something else." Mallarme said, "Not the thing, but its effect." The "effect" is what I have been leading to with my curtains from Mersan. The "thing" is the poetic process which lends its "effect" (the silk of the curtains) to the poem. Process and effect, each go about in disguise. They must be uncovered, these other realms Keats discovered "When First Looking Into Chapman's Homer."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fall is in the air

from Eurydice

So you have swept me back,
I who could have walked with the live souls
above the earth,
I who could have slept among the live flowers
at last;

so for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I am swept back
where dead lichens drip
dead cinders upon moss of ash;

so for your arrogance
I am broken at last,
I who had lived unconscious,
who was almost forgot;

if you had let me wait
I had grown from listlessness
into peace,
if you had let me rest with the dead,
I had forgot you
and the past.

At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervor of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;

and my spirit with its loss
knows this;
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;

before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.


Barbara Guest led me back to H.D. This is an excerpt from the longer poem that appears in H.D. Selected Poems. Jorie Graham has a Eurydice poem that is full of broken color too. I didn't include H.D.'s middle stanzas (I'm wary these days of blogger's weird way with poetry.)
But the colors she throws are worth reading, like a Joan Mitchell canvas.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The end of summer

A Voyage to Cythera

My heart, like a bird, went flitting with joy and soared freely about the gear;
the ship sailed on under a cloudless sky, like an angel drunk with the sun's

What is this sad dark isle? —This is Cythera, we're told, a land famous in
song, banal El Dorado of all the old bachelors. Look how after all it's only
a miserable tract.

—Island of sweet secrets and of hearts' festivals! a superb phantom of
ancient Venus floating above your waters like a perfume, spirits heavy with
love and languor.

Fair isle of verdant myrtles, full of flowers in bloom, forever venerated by all
nations, where the sighs of hearts in adoration waft like incense over a garden
of roses

or the eternal cooing of ringdoves! —Cythera nothing now but waste terrain,
a stony desert racked by shrill cries. But a singular object caught my eye.

It was no temple in a shady wood, no young flower-loving priestess, body
candescent from a secret heat, loosening her robe to partake of passing

but there, as we skimmed the coast, near enough for our white sails to disturb
the birds—what we saw was a gibbet with three arms, etched in black against
the sky, like cypress.

Fierce birds were settled on their prey, furiously demolishing a hanged man
already rotten, each planting its foul beak like a tool in any bloodsoaked cranny
of that decay;

his eyes were two holes and from the ripped belly the heavy guts hung down
over his thighs and his tormenters, gorged with hideous delicacies, had with
their beaks quite gelded him.

Below, a pack of jealous quadrupeds, muzzles lifted, twisted and turned; a
larger beast in the middle leapt about like an executioner surrounded by his

Inhabitant of Cythera, child of so fair a sky, silently you suffered these
outrages, in expiation of some disgraceful worship and the sins that denied
you burial.

Ridiculous hanged man, your pangs are mine! I felt, at sight of your dangling
parts, the long bitter river of old sorrows well to my teeth like bile;

before you, poor devil of precious memory, I felt all the beaks, the bites, of
the jabbing crows and the black panthers that once so loved to gnaw at my

—The sky was lovely, the sea was smooth; but for me it was, alas! all dark,
all bloody, my heart, as in a heavy shroud, buried in this allegory.

In your isle, O Venus! all I found erect was a symbolic gibbet hung with my
image . . . —Ah, Lord! give me the strength, the courage, to contemplate my
heart and my body without disgust!

Charles Baudelaire

translated from the French by Keith Waldrop

The Flowers of Evil

Sorry about the line breaks...Blogger is a pain! In the
preview, all looks right, but published, the lines are all wrong.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What I'm Underlining

It's September. Time to shop for supplies with G. Back to school time. List time. Fall projects time. Which leads me to this post--an inventory of underlined passages in the books I'm reading.

This habit -- the underlining-notes-in-the-margin habit -- is left over from too many years of school. I can't read without a pen, without making some kind of mark as I make my way through the book. A star in the margin, a line under a sentence or phrase, an exclamation point or brief commentary. I tend to especially do this with non-fiction and poetry, less with fiction though the pen comes out when I'm especially fond of what I'm reading.

So my books are filled with markings. When I die and my books are boxed up and given to the library or local prison, some reader may come to know me through this marginalia, just as students of Dickinson learned of her love of Milton through the jottings she made in the margins of her copy of Paradise Lost. Not that I'll have students. But strangers who want to get a cheap book will encounter me through my underlinings.

So I propose: to make a regular, ongoing compilation of what I've underlined. To account for the markings so they don't get lost. To offer an overview, a perspective, a way perhaps to see themes or future projects or patterns.

From Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing by Barbara Guest

There is always something within poetry that desires the invisible.

Ideally a poem will be both mysterious (incunabula, driftwood of the unconscious) and organic (secular) at the same time.

The reader is converted to the poem. (Invisible magic also passes between poet and reader.)

...but arrives from tensions placed on the poem's structure: variability of meter, fleeting moods of expression, trebled sound.

Each poet owns a private language. The poet relies on the pitch within the ear. The ear is also a private affair, and so is pitch. Much poetry betrays a tin ear.

Pitch and ear are the servants of language...

Quoting Cezanne: "the contour eludes me."

Mandelstam once wrote of "sound spilling into fingers." That could be the noise of a poem when it experiences an ecstasy of recognition.

To keep the poem alive after its many varnishings.

A sense of timing.

Mallarme regarded poetry as an art dedicated to fictionalization, an "art consacre aux fictions" where the concrete object is "bathed in a new atmosphere," lifted out of itself to become a fiction.

I want to emphasize that the poem needs to have a spiritual or metaphysical lilfe if it is going to engage itself with reality.

We have learned that words are only utensils. They are inorganic unless there is a spirit within the poem to elevate it, to give it "wings," so that the poem may soar above the page...

Words contain their own beauty of face, but they desire an occupation. They cannot exist on beauty or necessity alone.

And flesh of a poem. Even as a painting has flesh. The vibrancy of its skin.

De Kooning is telling us to beware of description or "subject matter." In other words to think of the poem itself.

Andre Breton said, "to imagine is to see."

She has even trained us to look for the apparitions of ourselves.

The poem's concealed autobiography.

An astonishment throughout the poem at the vibrations of its ego. "I" becomes the bystander and the poem is propelled by the force of the "person" stripped bare.

...the center where the writing rocks back and forth before taking its plunge into space.

Hidden arms are stretched pointing to the variations, the hollows, the deliberate judgements of time within the work of art.

Quoting de Kooning: "You have to keep on the edge of something, all the time, or the picture dies."

Design: extraordinary
color: cobalt blue

Painters are the revolutionaries to whom writers turn in their desire to break from the solemnity of the judicious rules of their craft.

Henri Bergson in Paris said: image is a locus between intuition and concept.

H.D was beginning her own struggle with what Williams in "Asphodel" calls "the tyranny of the image (wonderful phrase). Pound had firmly stressed that you did not work up to the image--no reflections, hesitations, equivocations, hints. The image strikes once with its full force--and brilliantly, "it occurs in an instant."