Tuesday, July 28, 2015



                                                                               to Whalen , wailin away
Thy song wheels round as does the starry frame,
End and beginning evermore the same,
And what the middle brings we clearly see
Is what the opening was, the end shall be.

- Goethe, from the West-Eastern Divan translated by Edward Dowden

I don't expect to ever fully grasp whatever it is any poet hopes to achieve. Life is grand (or not.) The imagination is grand (or not.) I suppose that's enough. (But) What if it's not?

Equal parts lack of empathy and sustained good cheer, I approach the business of the poem with impassioned deliverance which I in turn have little interest in. Both taker and denier, I'd rather spurn the chalice than fail admire its lush allure.

 + + +

Poetry is a rough and tumble business no matter current etiquette dictated by abstract commitments to terms such as "community" and "justice" keeps everybody pleasantly ahum to each other's commentaries.

I'd rather be ignored (and often am) than cater to anything or anybody.

  + + +

I write what I enjoy reading. What I wish was already written. What I'm not finding to be already out and about at present in the record.

  + + +

I consider myself a Religious Poet. That is, I consider poetry to be primarily a religious observation and practice with accompanying orders of necessary discipline and commentary.

  + +  +

If cleric, rather Catholic than anything, of Gerard Hopkins' range say, his declaration:   

I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;

("I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day")

& yet with such bounding:

Disremembering, dísmémbering, ' áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ' whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ' damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ' Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind
Off hér once skéined stained véined varíety ' upon áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds – black, white; ' right, wrong; reckon but, reck but,
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ' twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ' thóughts agaínst thoughts ín
     groans grínd.

("Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves")

  + + +

The composing poet with words is ever turned back upon the language's desire to bounce, tra la la, along without care or, in cases of youthful yearning, succumb to the conscription of its maker's own desire for meaning: sense-making.

This, of course, should be refused. Even if, that is especially when, catered to.

There's much which must be discarded and ignored along the trek of life.

  + + +

Terrific tenor of terror in the face of turnover. One generation's nightmare enlightens another's boring endeavor.

   + + +

Not stupid. Just sad. Holding on while the whole thing sails toward certain disaster. It's nothing personal just the destined result of human desire. Which is never moral, either.

  + + +

These outposts where I grew up; I didn’t do that
I have no ... identity, and the love is an object
to kick as you walk on the blazing bare ground, where ...    
sentimental, when what I love, I ... don’t have that one
word. This fire all there is ... to find ... I find it
You have to find it. It isn’t love, it’s what?

- Alice Notley, "This Fire"

  + + +

A poet need make no apology
Because his works are one anthology
Of other poets' best creations
Let him be nothing but quotations
(That's not as cynic as it sounds)
The game is one like Hare and Hounds
To entertain the critic pack
The poet has to leave a track
Of torn up scraps of prior poets.

- Robert Frost , an example of his having "reduced poetic influence to a joke" (Harold Bloom)

   + + +

Poets be as green as the leaves turning in wind, rustling all summer until the fall burnishes them to orange and brown beauty. Let us be seasons each to each running together in ceaseless cycle.

~ Patrick James Dunagan

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Noticing 4 [ from July / 2010 ]


"Since we have had the telephone removed, the interrupted spirits of the household have begun again, or we hear again their story telling.  In these counsels of objects, animals and ourselves, these concentrations and exfoliations of language, we have our source.  When silence blooms in the house, all the paraphernalia of our existence shed the twitterings of value and reappear as heraldic devices."

             -Robert Duncan, Letters
The Voice of the Turtle, John Fahey
‘For lo, the winter is past, and the rain..’
Playin’ Possum, Maureen Tucker
Bo Diddley rhythm ‘in b/t diapers’
New Generation, Albert Ayler
‘I lowly strive to keep thy law, to bow no knee to the Baals with what jewels, ...’
Peter: “Not just the redness of red but the alienated, uncanny sensation of recognizing yourself in the mirror & then sensing that recognition percolate with dissonance.”

“By extension, we might propose that narcissistic melancholy is divine gnosis.”
“I am a worm
that I may learn what earth is”

               -Pam Rehm, Gone to Earth
The Swan’s Rag, first issue
‘For I lull nobody..’
Joys & Perplexities, Lou Harrison
‘The swinging dance lifts words to melody..’
Selected Poems, Stephen Jonas
‘ah would that
                                      life were the long-
       est side Getz
                                              ever cut & Death
                                                                          an ex-
                        tended play’
“Do you know what hu means? No, you don’t.  You don’t know what it mean.”

                 -Sun Ra, Hambone 19
Thomas Creech died and his lines
(out of Idyllium VI):
“in a wild Amaze, / Look so’er the Flood; and whilst by Shores he strays, / His shadow in the quiet Water plays” thinking O’Leary on “Falconress”/”Narkissos” and Scholem’s Kaballah

“habits either are or turn to diseases”

           -Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy
Cento Nuptialis, Ausonius
‘simile ut dicas ludicro, quod Graeci ostomachion vocavere’
Preston:  “arval fond”       “the eyes of my minde helde her beames”

                                   -Ralegh, the Ocean to Cynthia
“Plato, as you may remember, gives a hint that, like all other visible things, the very trees—how they grow—exercise an aesthetic influence on character.”

             -Walter Pater, Plato and Platonism
Touch Yourself for Art, CAConrad
‘Take notes, there must be a concentration in note-taking in your pleasure-making.’
Mock Orange, Joseph Massey
Pausanias, I.ii.3, transd. W.H.S. Jones:
“But Hesiod & Homer either failed to win the society of kings or else purposely despised it, Hesiod through boorishness and reluctance to travel, while Homer, having gone very far abroad, deprecated the help afforded by despots in the acquisition of wealth in comparison w/his reputation among ordinary men. And yet Homer, too, in his poem makes Demodocus live at the court of Alcinous, and Agamemnon leave a poet w/his wife. Not far from the gates is a grave, on which is mounted a soldier standing by a horse. Who it is I do not know, but both horse and soldier were carved by Praxiteles.”
“The life of the Dodder Vine [Cuscuta gronovii] reads like a horror story.  A mysterious seed is carried to a faraway place by an unsuspecting bird, animal, or person, where it falls to the ground and germinates.  Taking root, it sends up a shoot that develops into a climbing vine that twists itself in tight coils around other plants.  Containing no chlorophyll or leaves from which to produce food from sunlight, it sends out suckers that penetrate the flesh of its host plant, robbing its benefactor of needed nourishment.  From here, it climbs onto additional plants, creating a tangle many feet long. Eventually, the roots and lower portions of the vine dry up and die, as it now parasitizes everything it needs from the other plants.”

-Leonard M. Adkins, Wildflowers of the Blue Ridge & Great Smoky Mtns
Someone named Gail Cleere writing:
(in A Magnificent
Old Conflagration)
“This time around, the mysterious wanderer
can hardly slip in and out
******* *******

Monday, April 27, 2015

Noticing 3: Whit Griffin's "Summerland"

There are few poets at work at present making with such consistency so many uniquely strange and wisdom-packed poems as Whit Griffin.  They seem to emanate from some endarkened sibyl yet their creation is doubtless formed from an attention to all available luminous muscle--whether in book, mind’s movements, common tongue, sage occult data earth’s riven up; the infinite storehouse.  Stitched to shine or grieve as pristine scrolls.  Architectures of careful labor.  Twists & Shouts.  The joke and grim rune, homely anecdote and unveiling trouble psalm, all together in one space.  E.g.*:

Pilgrim’s Choice

First you need an Ethiopian
scale.  Just as the geranium
needs the bee’s buzz.  Sounds
bounce around this contemporary baffle-
ment.  The unmoved mover continually
shapes the world with a purpose.
Radical even in a time of ferment.
Eat the fruit and let others misconstrue
the meaning.  Gather rose hips to stave
off scurvy.  Gather ye oak galls
while ye may.  Who was it
who thought the written word would
be the death of memory?  Compose
a list of deadly inhalants.  As
the freeway goes the way of the
Roman road, so the rose has
lost its scent.  Gilded with
bruises.  Cleansed with fire.  Hosed
down by King Neptune’s disturbance
regime.  Heretic is a title conferred.
Kindly stand out of my sunlight.

Several books are filled with such poems, the tone immediately recognizable.**  


Key mentors to keep in mind when reading Griffin: Ted Enslin, Thomas Meyer, and, perhaps looming largest, Jonathan Williams, for whom the younger poet worked as secretary for years.***  The tradition found itself well-given in these relations; from each a wealth going back to the most ancient of Orphic consciousness.  A sense for a complex music of verse from the first****; from the second an encounter with a disciplined attention unmatched among living poets; and from the third an ability to respond no matter the source of the numinous--Williams published Duncan’s Letters and Mina Loy as well as Ernest Mickler’s White Trash Cooking.  From all three an unshakable love of beauty and furious hatred of any “nation ruled by Ares.”†  

I mention these for context--a study could be made of each relation.  Here’s not the place.  Saying Surrey and Wyat knew one another means much.  


I came across the long, marvelously korubantic “Summerland” perhaps two years ago, the poem at the center of The Sixth Great Extinction.  Here’s one section (p. 47):

Flying nutcracker an absence of jurisprudence
leaping in a whisper yellow branches lukewarm
obtuseness gargling westward fury cause
to be late evening primrose linseed delphinium
inverted itching comma natural strangle water
lily breeding buried azure bib crow behind
magic fallow deer rose-water sun-fish chamomile

The work “struck me”, as they say.  The syntax disturbs; diction estranges; the sound at times holds the sense together, at others the on-rush of disparate image and abrupt turns of verbal motion rasps the limits.  

A few allies in form come to mind:

One of my favorite books, Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers, a book of like liminal confrontations--poems like “Aster”:

A star tow ash stow
rote crowd mickle mass daisy
frostflower lazytongs lightning aster risk
your fire anneal generous gentle
baited shadow some moss-burn’d summer
evergreen-winter connect a cut clay
aurous quick gnomon he’ll mellow
lucre head purple black study

The language is similarly wild yet exact, measured as carefully as any poem ever written.

On asking the poet about the origin of the poem he wrote back:

‘Summerland came about after I found an old Turkish-English dictionary at an antique store.  The definitions were alphabetical by the Turkish, with their English equivalents, so the English words had no rhyme nor reason to their arrangements.  They read on the page like lists of random words.  So Summerland was really me "shaking words off each page."  I went page by page and just let my eye and hand catch what appealed to them.'

“Let my eye and hand catch what appealed to them”: attention.  “Shaking words off each page”: the musical shake of word--Plato’s “correct editing” of the music the world offers.  

Where Zukofsky scanned virtually the entire corpus of available literature--whatever he could get to--for quotation and collage, reading botanical texts (Theophrastus, Gray’s Manual of Botany, Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, etc.) and Shakespeare as the flowers grew up, physically, about his apartment, Griffin focused on one dictionary.  This fact in turn called to mind another work by Zukofsky, “Thanks to the Dictionary”, which took its vocabulary from the words and definitions of those words found in ‘a 1930 Funk and Wagnall’s and a 1917 Webster’s Collegiate’.‡  These two texts seem uncles to “Summerland”--hopefully readers will search them out if they have an interest in the poem.  

Other forces seem relatives of “Summerland”: the Ginsberg / Kerouac “spontaneous bop prosody”--emanations of fertile mind set to a music deeply affected by the jazz improvizations of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, and others‡‡; the care-full syntax-attentions Clark Coolidge registers in books like Space and The Maintains; the automatic writing of the medium: a spirit channel often verging on Babel-tongue fits for the spirit comes at times eruptive from the Aether.  

Proper to this Aether-space, the title “Summerland” comes from the name of an occult-theosophical conception / place of the afterlife, described by Helena Blavatsky in her Theosophical Glossary:

'SUMMERLAND. The name given by the American Spiritualists and Phenomenalists to the land or region inhabited after death by their “Spirits”. It is situated, says Andrew Jackson Davis§, either within or beyond the Milky Way. It is described as having cities and beautiful buildings, a Congress Hall, museums and libraries for the Instruction of the growing generations of young “Spirits”. …’

The occult and pagan is a field of perennial concern for Griffin.  The cover illustration of Pentateuch is “adapted from a frontispiece engraving” in a book by Joannis Agricola.  The titles of poems often contain occult, pagan, and alchemical elements, the poems themselves scattered over with the sort of obscure lore one might find in Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, yet condensed to soul-spark formulae one imagines murmured over a cauldron for the health of the earth and cursing of the wicked.  One gets these here, because of the difference in the method behind the poem, more as ‘atmospheric’§§ feeling than straight talk (as in what might be called Griffin’s “periodic poems”§§§--”Summerland”, like 80 Flowers, contains no punctuation).  The experience of the reading itself replaces the deliverance of unburied wisdom.  We find ourselves in a foreign language in our own tongue as the poet found himself among an antique Turkish lexicon.  (Something similar happens in the later sections of “A” and in 80 Flowers, as well as, though different in kind, Zukofsky’s rendering (“cutting, breaking, peeling”--OE rinde, “bark of a tree, peel of a fruit or vegetable”) of Catullus’ poems.)  An arranged bewilderment here; a dizzy glow.  
Reading the whole of The Sixth Great Extinction, “Summerland” can be seen, felt, as transport: the poem as dense thicket, on either side of it poems more tonally recognizable as Whit Griffin poems, i.e. they read comfortably alongside the poems found in Pentateuch and A Far-Shining Crystal.  “Summerland” the aether on either side of which worldly matter--the other fine poems in the book--grows to and from.  As such the poem reads as a revelatory innovation of form in Griffin’s corpus.


I won’t venture here a “reading” beyond these small relations I found pertinent for a reader coming to the poem for the first time.  Endless dilation could be made from such a work.

This piece another advocation.  


Some other sections for an ending:

Lapis-lazuli let go wishbone
alluvial soil nonchalant rice pudding
picking figs pancake dialect lemonade
lilac stork signboard chamber pot lynching
holding ether fickle sugar Sodomite metaphysics
goat’s milk Meerschaum cloudiness choked
combustible scissors magnolia windsail


Scorch the connection December retreat
alphabet chill a present the return
of which is demanded six goldsmiths
useless but harmless topsy-turvy
intentional cousin soiled with love
safe capable of journalism marsh
mellow midwifery literate unbound
pharmacy will-o-the-wisp mummy


Balance the minister so that licensed
prostitutes make a present of varnished
blood vessels gulp down food in
accordance with the astute hypotenuse
utter abuse in his presence spacious
keepsake desert importance a squawking
visa purple without a middle
clearness to be in love with thunder
notorious ointment you are in luck
halfway between juiciness and a raceway peninsula


“CLEARNESS TO BE IN LOVE WITH THUNDER”.  Dictionary Aether--one might imagine a soul in Yeats’ Dreaming Back phase babbling such bright seeds into the eternal frieze.  
* This poem can be found on page 113 of The Sixth Great Extinction (Skysill Press, 2012).
** Vide: Pentateuch: The First Five Books (Skysill, 2010); The Sixth Great Extinction; and A Far-Shining Crystal (The Cultural Society, 2013).  ‘Tone’: I use it in the sense Hugh Kenner does in The Art of Poetry (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1965).
*** You can find a selection of Whit’s poems on the Jargon Society “Musings” page here: http://www.jargonbooks.com/whit_griffin.html.
**** I think here of Pater, in Plato and Platonism: “For him, music is still everywhere in the world, and the whole business of philosophy only as it were the correct editing of it…”.
The last words of “Benign Violation”, on page 17 of The Sixth Great Extinction.  I do not mean these three gifts as limitations--to list what any poet is given from his precursors, especially when known personally, would likely exceed the mammoth size of the O.E.D.  Nor do I mean the poet had no sense of these things before he found them in others, but that in the meeting the faculties dilate, a word I associate with Emerson having read it in an 1838 Journal entry some years ago.

Poem can be found on page 348 of the Collected Short Poetry (John Hopkins University Press, 1991).

Readers interested in the poem might look to Mark Scroggins’ The Poem of a Life: A Biography of Louis Zukofsky (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2007) and Michele Leggott’s Reading Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers (Johns Hopkins, 1989).  See also: http://www.z-site.net/notes-to-poetry/80-flowers-1978-and-gamut/.  To hear Zukofsky read some of 80 Flowers go here: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Zukofsky.php.

Email to author (14/Aug.’xiii).

Vide pages 137-38 in Scroggins.  The relation of Zukofsky and Mallarmé there discussed.  Dice-games.

‡‡ Listen to some of the lines: “purple bear bowels fresh / vermicelli five bushels hashish vowel”; “Erotic acrobat botanical bovine / Arctic spice hoodwink hemlock / dealer in honeymoons”; “Fine drizzle sigh Red Sea wild pear / spooky octopus squinting spittle / birth tree eunuch wisdom tooth I”.  I can hear these in Kerouac’s mouth.

Vide Coolidge’s comment: “I once wrote a whole book using a similar meditation on the dictionary, although I don't think it was inspired by Kerouac. I think I found it or it was an unconscious influence anyway, a book called The Maintains which I almost dedicated to this section of Desolation Angels.” Found here: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/kerouac-per-coolidge.html.

§ Wonderful (bloody) name.

§§ 1630s, atmosphaera (modern form from 1670s), from Modern Latin atmosphaera, from atmo-, comb. form of Greek atmos "vapor, steam" + spharia "sphere". Greek atmos is from PIE *awet-mo-, from root *wet- (1) "to blow" (also "to inspire, spiritually arouse;").' (Found at the Online Etymology Dictionary.)  The sphere inspired. 
§§§ Meaning poems with period-stops as found in “Pilgrim’s Choice”: there’s a prosody going on involving the punctuation--Meyer’s work here may be pertinent as influence or comparison--; a shifting rhythmic order too intricate to be covered here.