Let’s go — much as that dog goes,
intently haphazard. The
Mexican light on a day that
“smells like autumn in Connecticut”
makes iris ripples on his
black gleaming fur — and that too
is as one would desire — a radiance
consorting with the dance.
Under his feet
rock and mud, his imagination, sniffing,
engaged in its perceptions — dancing
edgeways, there’s nothing
the dog disdains on his way,
keeps moving, changing
pace and approach but
not direction — “every step an arrival.”
Our professor snuck in this poem at the tail end of Levertov’s essay “Some Notes on Organic Form” – a good read for you poets if you have the time.
Much of what moves me here in this particular poem – the juxtaposition of senses and sensibility, how the poem insists on perception after perception, leads from word to word in an engaging manner – is discussed in that essay in terms of meditation and breath.
I have been much involved in another kind of meditation and breath, one that centers me after teaching. Here’s a quote that has followed me into my inner space the past two days:
All the world is a dream, not because it isn’t there, but because we each attach different meanings to it.
Reading the following poem I realized that it would be interesting – to me, to you, to who? – to periodically share a snapshot of what my writing desk looks like. With that in mind, here is what it looks like this week:
This view is from the surface level – what the page would see if it could do a sit-up. I’ll try different angles next time.
(Points if you recognize the haiku in the kanji.)
The following poem by David Ignatow moves me in how it goes from negating the usual expectations of looking at leaves – the symbolic view of leaves, what the mind does, where it takes them, what it takes them to mean – and then goes in the opposite direction, the prose working to slow the pace of thought and let the realization gradually dawn on both poet and reader: how man becomes more leaf.
My Own House – David Ignatow
As I view the leaf, my theme is not the shades of meaning that the mind conveys of it but my desire to make the leaf speak to tell me, Chlorophyll, chlorophyll, breathlessly. I would rejoice with it and, in turn, would reply, Blood, and the leaf would nod. Having spoken to each other, we would find our topics inexhaustible and imagine, as I grow old and the leaf begins to fade and turn brown, the thought of being buried in the ground would become so familiar to me, so thoroughly known through conversation with the leaf, that my walk among the trees after completing this poem would be like entering my own house.
In reading Jim Harrison’s novel The English Major last month, I came across the following and it brought tears – I have been much for tears these days – and mainly because I have been slowly going over poems I have memorized, seeing what stuck and what fell off, and was suddenly surprised to recognize the poem referenced below:
I was saddened by the idea that I might not finish the work before I died, a natural enough fear. Keats wrote, “When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain…” That was throwing the raw meat on the floor in a lovely way.
That phrasing throwing the raw meat on the floor – that’s it isn’t it – what it is a poet does no matter the how we use to do it. We are not in the business of poetry if the raw meat isn’t on the floor.
Realizing I had let the poem slip after a few years, and then coming back to it, memorizing it again – more than an old friend, I felt like a piece of myself was returning, that something understood once was being reconciled in a big, new way.
There’s a lot of history in the poem too: Yeats borrowed the phrasing of high romance, and John Berryman references the end of the poem in the title of his book Love and Fame. I myself am tempted to borrow and manipulate the phrasing for something called: The Fool-ripened Grain.
Here is the poem below – you can see for yourself how awful and sacrilegious my idea is.
When I have fears that I may cease to be – John Keats
When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, Before high-piled books in charactery Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, That I shall never look upon thee more, Never have relish in the faery power Of unreflecting love – then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Til love and fame to nothingness do sink.
Had to read and discuss Allen Ginsberg’s Howl this week in one of my classes. Kinda went like this:
I have gone back and forth on the poem Howl since I first read it at eighteen. I shared with my classmates how I went to San Diego on spring break once and spent five days straight following this routine: wake up, do tai chi, read Howl aloud.
All. Three. Parts.
I was young and weird, to say the least.
The whole time I did this I felt like I was throwing myself upon the poem and asking: why is this considered such a great poem? what can I learn from it? did Ginsberg really have as much peyote/sex as he says he did?
Borges said that Walt Whitman the man spent his writing life wanting to be more and more like the Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass. Both Ginsberg and Whitman were larger than life.
Both were also very diplomatic and American. Our professor shared with us that, while in Spain, he would run into people who, though they knew nothing of American poetry, they knew Howl.
And that’s Ginsberg accomplishment. Not everybody loves The Wasteland, but it is a mountain between Leaves of Grass and Howl (this is in keeping with American poetry being a mountain range which is something I realize now may only make sense in my head).
Howl is one of those poems that is in the blood of American poetry like it or not, it is that family member that crashes the party with great stories but bad breath.
I won’t excerpt Howl here – you gotta take that ride yourself, y’all – but instead will share a poem that has much of what I love about Ginsberg – the humor and the heart.
A Supermarket in California – Allen Ginsberg
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for
I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache
self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went
into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families
shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the
avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, Garcia Lorca, what
were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber,
poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the
pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans
following you, and followed in my imagination by the store
We strode down the open corridors together in our
solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen
delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in
an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the
supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The
trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love
past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher,
what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and
you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat
disappear on the black waters of Lethe?