Alfred Corn's mentions of Mandelshtam in this week's poem ought not be made too much of, since it's a name dropping vanity to mention the great Russian poet in a poem that he, Corn, is writing about his own fears of being forgotten as an artist in the event of a catastrophe that would eradicate his name and the words he wrote. It would one thing for a poet to compare himself to another writer if that nervous one-to-one resulted in work that surpassed the fragility of the author's self-image and touched on matters that involved a readership larger than those who are entertained by the poet's version of mirror-gazing. Norman Mailer is notoriously obsessed with his fame, influence and his position among the writers of his generation and the generation before him, but he hasn't been disingenuous about his craving for influence and praise and has worked hard to make that liability into a problematic asset. Fraught with peril, the self-advertising resulted in all the same with memorable books that transcended the neurotic center of Mailer's ego and got him to engage events larger than himself, whether massive antiwar marches, political conventions, Moon landings. The scheme was simple, effective more often than not; there were Mailer's expectations of how he would change things when he wrote about personalities and events, and then the realization of what was actually underway; Mailer got beyond to best DosPossos and Hemingway and Faulkner at their own games and became, instead, a voice unlike any other of his generation. Not well-liked by many folks, yes, but undeniably the author of several brilliant books that flourished despite his worst habits. The secret was that Mailer knew, usually, when to get out of the way of the story. Mailer might not be the best comparison so far as realizing that it was time to let the tale unfold, but a large part of me enjoyed that writer's verbal side roads and off-subject variations, if only because, in his prime, he was a writer who was a pleasure to read. Alfred Corn has the charm of dry rot and does not know when to step aside. though. The constrictions of the sonnet make his subject a swim in the muck that comprises a writer's vanity that cannot transcend itself. His poem "Windows on the World", nominally about 9-11, was a distanced recollection of cranky ironies that were whimsical rather than resonant with the solemn associations we would term "poetic". Horrible attacks were reduced to being mere finger exercises for the poet to limber up the writing muscle. This week's poem again works a similar airplane/bomb equation, and there is poor Alfred Corn, prisoner of text, scribbling away the words of his own epitaph as if this page would be discovered, identified and applied to posthumous notices if the worst that happens indeed took place. The silliest thing of this whole poem is that Corn wants the audience that would read him after he's nothing but splattered body parts that he read Mandelshtam. It's comical; if one cannot be remembered for their work, they can at least be remembered for their good taste.
Saturday, September 28, 2019
Hayden Carruth, as fine a poet who has ever taken a drink and recovered from the culminated grief of the fact, died at the age of 87 in 2008 after a remarkable run of years and poetry writing. Not a serene soul nor a seeker of quick exits from a line of inquiry, Carruth had what James Dickey called “a kind of frenzied eloquence, a near-hysteria” . Carruth's range of interests was, to use a quaint usage, flabbergasting, and there was in his work an effort to penetrate the convenient shells that disguise the things of the world and to sense, instead, the orbits friends, occupations, ideas keep around each other.
Perhaps influenced by a personal philosophy informed, in large part, by European existentialism, his poems, and his critical writing resisted the temptation to arrange or discourse upon scenarios that would finalize an idea or an arrangement of images. His view was broader, his view was that something happens after we read the last line and raise our eyes from the page if only to see what is in front of us now and how we might consider the complexity with our own nested recollection. He was a fine stylist, with a command of the speaking voice that could cut to the quick, serve up the essence, isolate rich sediment of association with the inspired riff, the punched-up phrase. Plus he wrote one of my favorite drinking poems, this one:
Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey
by Hayden Carruth
Scrambled eggs and whiskey
in the false-dawn light. Chicago,
a sweet town, bleak, God knows,
but sweet. Sometimes. And
weren't we fine tonight?
When Hank set up that limping
treble roll behind me
my horn just growled and I
thought my heart would burst.
And Brad M. pressing with the
soft stick and Joe-Anne
singing low. Here we are now
in the White Tower, leaning
on one another, too tired
to go home. But don't say a word,
don't tell a soul, they wouldn't
understand, they couldn't, never
in a million years, how fine,
how magnificent we were
in that old club tonight.
What gets to me is that Carruth gets the imbibing culture precisely because the poem deals not with the drinking itself , the confessional rants as to what drove one to the bottle, or the good glory of one's drunken vision of a spiritless present the arch romantic is imprisoned within; there is no mythology, but there is the idea that the camaraderie one thought they'd achieve the night before at bars, with toasts and the buying of many founds is now fading with the rise of the sun.
The geniuses, the wits, the beautiful company one kept under bar light and streetlight now seem wizened, human, full of aches, wrinkles, slight limps, and all are united by hunger and encroaching hangovers. It reflects my history of all-night drinking; the bare fact that the next morning comes and you haven't been to bed yet and the only real question to ask yourself after the bent-elbow heroics and bravado on the barstool, once you're on the street, looking for your keys or loose change, is "now what?" This is space being the dying buzz of the booze and the accursed remorse that will settle soon enough, too soon enough.
Friday, September 27, 2019
Thomas Hardy finds something beyond his idea of reality that gives him hope despite the rigors of crisis and tumult in his poem "The Darkling Thrush". . The scenario here is that the planet is colored by the dourest of moods, seemingly shrouded and engulfed in a corrosive, soul-killing pessimism. And yet, amid the foul weather and declining mood, comes a hint of something lighter, a clear whisp of clean air. Hardy seems to have learned that perception is not, by default, fate.
I leant upon a coppice gate
…..When Frost was specter-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
…..The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
…..Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
…..Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
…..The Century's corpse outlet,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
…..The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
…..Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
…..Seemed fervorless as I.
At once, a voice arose among
…..The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
…..Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small
…..In blast-be ruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
…..Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
…..Of such ecstatic sound
It was written on terrestrial things
…..Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
…..His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, of which he knew
…..And I was unaware.
Confronted with a gray, rainy day, a terrain of alienating spires and barren trees, the funeral day is suddenly lit up with the swelling song of the oddly-placed bird. One feels hope, optimism from an unexpected source. It is a perfect poem for the day as we anticipate the forthcoming Presidential Inauguration.
Optimism isn't the most straightforward matter to get across convincingly in a poem, but there is something about the arrival of Obama in Washington that calms me more than a little. The reason might be that the new president is willing to stop arguing all the distinctions without differences that obscure our dilemma and instead confront our national and cultural issues straight on, without flinching. The point here is that there is some hope from an unexpected source that we may soon have leadership that an older guard was unwilling or unable to produce; whatever happens through this, we seem ready as a country for whatever comes after the collapse of the status quo.
Hardy's ode convinces with its uplift fairly much because his lines are melodic. They swing rather loosely for such a constricted form--there is that feeling, as we catch the beats and the galloping rhymes, that one might get as they struggle forward in a wrestling match; one senses an advantage looming, an opening about to gape widely, and this sudden expectation charges you hard, pumps a bit more adrenaline, takes you over the finish line. Through it, one is exhausted, sore perhaps, but more potent, more confident, in a state where one does not take anything for granted. Hardy seems to point out that nothing gets better without change, and change is invariably a struggle.
Hardy seems to be talking about the fact that creatures other than man, who has nothing invested in thinking their species unique or blessed in any way, can withstand and transcend trauma and ironically appear firmer, nobler for the struggle. The song of the thrush is theatrical, a tad melodramatic, but for the poetic effect, it does serve to remind the author, lately suffering a depressed mood, that life isn't about all of the existence between in place only to confirm, challenge, or test the philosophy he has developed from the gathered wisdom he has read; there is sorrow, of course, but life goes on separate from expectations, and personal bitterness and beauty are not only possible despite awful events and traffic circumstances, but in fact exists, plain, clear, unselfconscious. We have the poet here at the moment when a small perception gives rise to an ongoing re-examination of ideas and relations that have sustained one so far and to appreciate the truth that what a cosmology should be a loose-fitting suit rather than a tight fit.
Which is to say that Hardy finds himself awakened to the possibility that even as life goes on, it needn't be a grudging trudge, and that one can experience the wider variety of emotional and aesthetic life than before when one found himself sure of their ideas and knowing everything without experiencing a tenth of what the world has in store.