Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Welcome to the second issue of Philly Sound Feature, an occasional blog zine which features the work of a single poet on the Philly Sound Blog. Each of the members of our Blog will alternate editing issues and choosing poets to feature. Our second issue is dedicated to the work of Linh Dinh. Enjoy.
editor of issue 2
Linh Dinh is the author of two collections of stories, Fake House (Seven Stories Press 2000) and Blood and Soap (Seven Stories Press 2004), and a book of poems, All Around What Empties Out (Tinfish 2003). His work has been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000 (Scribner 2001) and Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present (Scribner 2003), among other places. He is also the editor of the anthologies Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (Seven Stories Press 1996) and Three Vietnamese Poets (Tinfish 2001).
A liquid balm for a solid hurt.
A skirt for a holy farm.
Everything balms, then capsizes.
I was two doors past hope.
I had come here for a bit
Of inter-species romance
But found a doorjamb instead.
Smooth-skinned fruit induces shame.
The tyrannical taste of one's own mouth.
Everything is inside out here:
The animals, the houses.
One can even see behind what's behind.
My head now rests on a garrulous pillow
That speaks without verbs.
My wife is muttering in her sleep:
Fuck you, I've heard all it before.
You are neglecting life, my dear.
I miss you so much.
Four Questions for Linh Dinh:
Linh, you dedicated your collection of short stories, Fake House (Seven Stories 2000) to "the unchosen." There is a sense that the unchosen (as subject and/or as voice) is a current working through both your poetry & prose. I was wondering if you could talk more about this.
I've always written for and about the unchosen, people whose lives cannot be encapsulated by national or corporate propaganda. Most of us fall into this category. The more widespread and insistent the propaganda, the more displaced and schizophrenic we feel. Some of us are crazy enough to identify with the slim blonde soaping her mammae in the commercial. I do not have to seek out the unchosen to write about them. I've always been surrounded by them. I go to bed with them.
You've studied as a painter. You're a poet and a fiction writer. While there are evident intersections in your work, it also seems that you maintain boundaries between each medium. To what extent do you allow for integration of your visual art, fiction & poetry? How are the boundaries helpful to you as an artist?
Painting initiated me to creative labor. It takes a lot of preparation. To start with, you have to stretch and prime the canvas, first with rabbit skin glue, then with gesso. The painting process is also labor intensive and costly. When you're painting, you're grappling with a live animal, and at the end of the struggle you may only have a worthless carcass in front of you. Painting also gave me my first intellectual role models, people whose search beyond what is apparent inspire me to this day. There is a mystical component to painting that only the best painters can tap into. As for fiction and poetry, I try to be a good student of each and explore what each form allows, but I also fudge genres occasionally. My next book, Blood & Soap, is being billed as a collection of short stories but there are many prose poems in there. I'm working on a novel right now and I'm aiming to make it a novelist's novel, not a poet's novel.
I think it's important to address the utilization of violence in your writing. You are one of a handful of American poets I can think of writing today that produces serious, thoughtful poems that are often laden with graphic, violent content. What is the role of violence in language as process?
I see violence as a common misfortune and, by extension, fate. It's what awaits each one of us just around the corner. One cannot think seriously about life without contemplating the destruction of the body. Born in Vietnam, I was baptized early into this awareness. As an adult in Philadelphia, I had many opportunities to gather my bloody evidences.
You spent most of your life writing in the United States- a place where writers (particularly poets) take a rather obscure place in the culture-at-large. You moved back to Vietnam a few years ago. There you were considered a national threat. What made you a perceived danger? Was it because you were a writer "from the West?" Did your translation work figure into this at all?
Poets do not show up on the radar in the US. I doubt if any of our current "leaders”-(Bush, Powell, Rumsfield or Rice) can name a single contemporary American poet. In Vietnam, a police state, poets are harassed and monitored. When I lived in Saigon I hung out with all the troublemakers. An acquiescent poet is not worth a pound of shit, in my mind. I brought news and books to my friends in Vietnam, and as a translator, I was a conduit between two literatures (Vietnamese and English), between inside and outside. I felt very useful during my stay and am contemplating a return, if I can get a visa. The attention from the police makes Vietnamese poets feel very important but the truth is the general public pay no attention to them. As with every other country in the world, Vietnam has become a satellite of the USA. People there are learning to appreciate Danielle Steele and Britney Spears. But there are precious messages in cracked bottles riding this tidal wave of scum. You have to take the good with the bad, as they say. I've done my small part by translating Eliot's The Waste Land and poems by Stevens, Dickinson and
Cathartic brutality beats the hell out of longing anecdotes, meaning that if they're not family, they will be -- they come from the same neighborhood. What I get from Linh Dinh's poetry that I wish I got from television more often isn't exactly the truth, as much as aggression, resilience, and an understanding that worst thought is often best thought. Blurbs and short reviews are famously inane, but even when the inevitable special issue arrives to contextualize this simultaneously goofy and unstoppably angry work, there won't be much getting closer than recognizing that all the ways we have been taught not to repeat the tragedies of the last century are in fact hymns to destruction taught by rote. The most beautiful words occur to those lying among the wounded, and they ain't pretty. The righteousness of this work ought to make readers "more wary" of spontaneous reactions. But in the event, you don't get time to trust your reflexes, only to have them. "One is undressed by the whizzing bullets." "We wandered until dawn popping every lit window." "If someone strokes your hair in sleep, open your eyes to see who it is." My reflex is to pay close attention to Linh Dinh.
Linh Dinh is a visual artist working in words. His name is its own form, a palindrome (reciprocus versus) -- Linh Dinh. He has written: "All the bullets in the world are contained/ Within this skull, the punctured face"; this is true and also manifest in Linh's hair, which is a pitch perfect instrument he occasionally tunes himself. Linh's poems are interlingual, musical, familiar -- they make me nervous and unsafe. Linh once mentioned he felt safer in Vietnam where he was under surveillance than in the U.S. For Linh the lyric is a dead form, but that doesn't stop him from clubbing and flogging it daily. He writes: "But the living, some of them, like to dig up the dead,/ Dress them in their native costumes, shoot them again,/ Watch their bodies rise in slow motion." No, it's not true that Dinh is related to Max Jacob, whom he refers to as Jack Cobb. They were old friends back from Philly along Linh's uncle by blood, Ethridge Knight.
Linh's poetry is exactly that: poetry. Some poems merely look like poems; they hang like jackets on a wire hanger drawn from formal elements that are merely associated with poetry. Sometimes people make the mistake of seeing a person when they are confronted only with a jacket. But what is under the vacant coat, between the wires of the hanger? Nothing. With the explosion of the MFA industry we who struggle every day to find great poetry find ourselves confronted by a sea of overcoats, frocks, suitcoats and slickers. We are awash in a sea of poetry jackets: garments that look like poems, that are easily mistaken for poems, but ultimately are not poems. Linh has the rare gift of being able to tune in some other-worldly poetic voice. His poetry is not a mask and neither is his muse. In his work you will find not the threads and patterns of poetry but the very embodiment of poetry. Like all great poetry, Linh's (work) is unafraid of attitude, evil, or offensive language; like Whitman you may catch his verse by its indirections, but unlike Whitman and perhaps like Catullus those indirections are not so faint. Immersed in the language of crisis and squalor, his poetry forms its own world, and in that way it embodies perhaps the fundamental & darkly comic conflict of poetry: his poetry is at once both of our world and not of our world. It is at once oppressive and liberating, hilarious and depressing. Linh's poetry does not look cute with a vest; it is acutest at its vanishing.
> I met Linh Dinh at one of those marathon open readings at the Painted Bride. He read a poem that had the speaker looking into a mirror. As he shifts slightly, his image lags slightly behind. Fascinated, he plays with the phenomenon. His projected image is not in synch with his actual self. This poem didn't survive posterity, but I always remembered the creepiness of the image. In a recent poem, on describing a woman in a cafe doing a series of self portraits, he comments: "Multiplied by an infinity of angles, the/ human face is really a kaleidoscope, an infinity of/ faces, and
it is truly a miracle we can recognize each/ other (or ourselves) at all." Linh watches himself and the world with morbid interest and incredulity, making notes on his observations, which become his poems.
There is not a drop of sentimentality in Linh's writing. I would almost consider his stance to be clinical but he has too sharp a sense of humor to qualify. His language is impeccable. His vocabulary and usage is brilliant. With fascinated detachment and great control, he depicts places and events, shifting easily between magnified reality and sharply focused surreality. His images are most often harsh and unsettling, even in their eloquence. "I was born astride a suckling pig./ Inside this pig was a fancy mirror/ With instructions scratched into it/ on how to slaughter a suckling pig," he writes in the poem "Nativity".
He is highly attentive but not at all affectionate. It's what rattles you as you read his poems and stories. In an old account of his passage from his homeland during the fall of Saigon, another that ended up on the cutting room floor, he tells about his harrowing stopover in China as they waited for the go-ahead to continue on to the United States. There is an awful self-consciousness of being dressed wrong, in fashions half learned from American soldiers, platform shoes with pants too short. It was obvious to him that he and the people he traveled with were suddenly all wrong. It was embarrassing and infuriating. As his writing, which had always been sharp, became more honed and flawless, he was able to identify this feeling in almost anything he turned his sights to. People are either ridiculous and ill-fitting or they are not worth mentioning at all. Absurdities exist everywhere.
Once we were hanging out at the bar and he became enraged because someone at the next table was wearing gold chains on top of a button down shirt. "Look at him. He looks so fucking stupid. Why the fuck would he wear that shit?" I laughed and told him to calm down. "Since when are you the arbiter of fashion?," I asked. He always wore the uniform of the avant garde, painted-up jeans and a serviceable shirt. His head was closely shaved. He squinted behind his unrimmed glasses. He sat at the bars most frequented by artists, McGlinchey's, Frank's, Fergie's, and drank cheap beer.
At a certain point, his intensity as a writer and artist was bolstered by a new interest in professionalism. How was he going to navigate his way towards supporting himself without painting houses or cleaning apartments? He asked me to co-edit a literary and arts journal. Although we both had misgivings about the title, we called it the Drunken Boat in order to placate the publisher, a bartender at his latest watering hole. The primary mission of the project was to publish and promote our own work and to connect with other writers on our own terms. It would serve as a calling card to gain us entry into the literary world. We also ferreted out other poets, published essays and found writings, and printed black and white reproductions of artists' images. A year into publication, with six issues under our belts, Linh decided to abandon the project in favor of moving forward with his own work. I was disappointed but it was so clearly his aesthetic that it would have been fruitless for me to continue it on my own.
At times I worried that he was teetering on true insanity, swinging between sleepless euphoria and a deep dark brood. He either lived "in the house of light" or "in the dumpster." I would show up for work in the morning and find him sitting on my doorstep. "What time do you open this place? I've been here since 5 o'clock." Then he would hand me poems to read or tell me some revelation. Once he was all excited that he could suddenly read Spanish, as if a light had been shed on the page. When he won the Pew Fellowship, he became intensely involved in painting large canvasses, which were not received well, and finally spent most of his time in bars drinking and stewing. He referred to the Pew as subsidized alcoholism. We began to grow apart during this time and, with an air of superiority, I wondered what would happen to him, as I lit out in favor of a domestic lifestyle that would later erode beneath me.
Even as Linh became more respected in the arts community, he grew more disaffected. It became gradually apparent to him that the source of his discomfort was a matter of race and racism. He felt alienated from both the predominately white arts community and the immigrant Vietnamese community. He was noticeably different than the other immigrants, his countrymen on 8th Street, with their tight pants, bright shirts and layered haircuts. The proprietor of the Vietnamese pharmacy where he bought a certain salve for his hands, dried and raw from the chemicals in paint, called him "The Professor," because his intellect was so apparent. He jokingly told people that he had given up his squatting rights. At the same time, he became more ill at ease as his drinking buddies from PCA, where he was a painting student, would eventually leak some offensive slur in a barstool conversation. I, who consider myself above all that, have always called him "Lynn," being too self-conscious to use the Vietnamese pronunciation, the soft ng at the back of the throat. Of the two camps, I thought of him as one of us.
In 1995, he returned to Vietnam for 5 weeks, his first time back since his escape when he was 11. He described it as an exhausting experience. There were no boundaries between people and events, none of the neat delineations we have here. In my smugness, I figured he had returned to the U.S. for good, that he had gotten something out of his system. He seemed indigenous to my city. I wanted him to stay.
In establishing an aesthetic framework for the Drunken Boat, Linh often used the word provincialism. He meant this in a literal sense, rather than the derogatory sense that I naturally attach to it. "About being provincial," he explained to me in a recent email, "I think that a writer should have an intimate relationship with a place, let it get under his skin, know it over time." It's interesting how words are filtered through our own experiences, how they take on nuances. I tend to associate provincialism with a sort of snow globe image of the world. This place, Philadelphia, is where I exist. For me, it is both finite and infinite. The rest of the world is a story that I am told, a fairy tale. Linh's reading of the word is more accurate to the dictionary definition. "I am not advocating provincialism over cosmopolitanism," he went on to tell me. "I'm only emphasizing that a writer should know at least one place really well."
In 1999, Linh moved back to Viet Nam. He became part of the literati there, married and lived with his wife, Diem, in a 7x11 foot room. His career as a writer gained momentum here in the States, but his work was considered to be too decadent or reactionary to be distributed in Viet Nam. His first book, Fake House, was confiscated at the post office when he went to pick up his author's copy. "In essence, the Vietnamese are not allowing me to read a book I wrote," he told a friend. "I'm an author without a book!"
He and Diem have since moved to Certaldo, a small town in Italy. He continues to write prolifically and sends me poems so quickly after I ask him for them that I imagine he is constantly at his keyboard. It is his third country, third continent of residence. In "The Self-Portaitist of Signa," he is "leaning against the bar holding a Peroni, my fourth or fifth, and surrounding me are middle-aged men in rumpled suits downing shots of amaro. The potato chips and peanuts are actually free." In his poem Costa San Giorgio, he reports that "The thin sky provides the only relief from claustrophobia." He also sends me found poems culled from internet chat rooms, ridiculous in their loneliness. The world is infinite and microscopic. The world is a ridiculous and lonesome place.
Linh Dinh online:
from Tool: a Magazine
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
COLLECTED POEMS, by Tom Raworth
A HANDMADE MUSEUM, by Brenda Coultas
SAVOIR-FEAR, by Charles Borkhuis
THE SLEEP THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING, by Lee Ann Brown
SKY JOURNAL, by hassen
5 POEMS: LIGHT'S DRAWN THROUGH, by Joseph Massey
MON CANARD, by Stephen Rodefer
sKincerity, by Laura Elrick
31 MGS., by Susan Landers (beautifully illustrated by Gary Sullivan)
TWO POEMS, by Daniel Bouchard
INDETERMINATE NONLOCALITY, by Ric Carfagna
POLLEN MEMORY, by Laynie Browne
CUSP, by Jocelyn Saidenberg
AUGUST LETTER TO MY WIFE AND DAUGHTERS, by Joseph Torra
Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) in Fellini's 8/12
From the rain you come
to stand here in silence
and find it all out.
from Joe Massey's chapbook Center of a Room
When Joe appeared at La Tazza in November* it was perfect. He read beautifully despite he could barely stand at the mic without folding on himself. Why not.
it's all said
(from Light's Drawn Through)
Rather than by erasure or allusion he creates with negative space. Gestural? His selections perfectly direct silence.
Been saddened by the lack of listening (key to everything) everywhere. We're frantic to op-ed, perpetually threatened with insignificance in the Info Age. Rather than opt out occasionally. Don't know how many times I've griped about persistent disrespect of silence in every freaking nook of the human world. I'm not whining any more, grateful for these (also mindful of the irony of this post). I've wondered if my delight with his work is mostly reactive to commercialism & mind-numbing mediocrity or if it would be as appealing to me if I were ignorant of these &/or pop culture. I suspect the latter, mostly because it's not the simplicity alone of the work that captivates but its intimacy, music, keen perception...
On the floor
your black sweater.
(from Center of a Room)
Exactly an oasis. Though I guess some would slap labels Imagism, Minimalism or even Orientalism etc. yet I don't want to mention it any more than this because these ideas/references are useless & diminish the experience. (While I might hear echoes of rock ballads in my head, if I ever obnoxiously respond to an intimate word by referring to similar expressions in poetry song experience or etc. I'm begging lop off my head without delay.) There're those terms, quick reflex, & then it's only his careful poems in my hands/eyes.
Been thinking of frustrated Artaud again lately & how sadly ineffective his efforts (but who am I to say). How many profess a social or artistic desire to wake up humanity but are grossly counter-productive. Anais Nin said of Artaud, "He wanted to make people aware that they were dying, to force them into a poetic state."
I wonder that Massey, on the other hand, makes us aware we are living, to force us into a poetic state.
(from Minima St.)
If u want any of Joe's delicious chaps u can probably get them via firstname.lastname@example.org
*Joe read with Cori Copp, whose work was also a delight
Monday, December 29, 2003
Here is the poem:
Sunday, December 28, 2003
One of their most recent projects was to organize a boycott of Disney because of their "promotion of a homosexual agenda." According to the AFA, Disney is "the biggest promoter of the homosexual lifestyle as well as the homosexual social & political agenda in America today." Who knew?
Now, they are conducting an online poll about gay marriage & they plan to show their results to Congress. Awhile back, the results said 80% oppose same-sex marriage and civil unions, and that 17% were in favor. Now, with the help of people like you & me, the poll reads 32% against gay marriage and 59% in favor (8% in favor of a "civil union.").
Let's make sure that the liberal (and humane) voice is heard, people.
The word "family" has many definitions, and they're all worth honoring.
Go here: http://www.marriagepoll.com
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
The times are never right.
A skin of air is over
everything. The sun
flows like a liquid,
all the universe we see
has never happened.
There is no truth to time
except for birthdays.
In a city under siege
This morning I read a total free-flowing, enjoyable, & intelligent interview Marcella Durand did with Kevin Davies in the latest issue of Daniel Bouchard's the Poker (3), (of which Marcella and Kevin are both contributing editors). Marcella talking of Allen Ginsberg says:
MD: ... One time I went to his apartment and went to the bathroom, and Writing from the New Coast was on the toilet. Obviously, he was sitting there trying to puzzle it out.
KD: "What the heck is this?" I think I did the same with that volume, and I was in it!
MD: I hear you are a Buddhist.
KD: Kind of an anti-Buddhist Buddhist, plus a commie and the commie thing take precedence, but yeah. I practice Zen in the Korean tradition. I did the precepts and everything. I got into it through Alan Davies.
"2003" - A list from Tom Devaney:
went to the dry cleaners 22 times
laundry 45 times
took the bus 270 times:
40 Bus 99 times, 21 Bus 121, others 50
biked 277 times
called grandmother 12 times
saw her 5
spoke to brother 2-3 times
read newspaper The Inquirer: 131 times
NYTimes online 302 days
looked at Phila. skyline outside livingroom window 30
typed at desk 300
liked what I wrote 4-5 times
cereal 188, yogurt 202, oatmeal 40, eggs 91
turned on the heat 18 times, the air 12
listen to piano 177 times
classical piano 70, jazz 105
755 cups of tea
(two a day X's 365 + 25 more)
read Paul Krugman 20 times in the Times
wrote on blog 5-6 times
culture jamming, four
Oyster House 4 times
favorite Chinatown restaurant 4 times
favorite coffee and tea House 5 times
other favorite tea house 5 times
(with students reading Sparrow 1 of the 5)
New York City 7 times; seen Dean 5
walked in the rain 52 times
with umbrella 39 times
looked at the falling snow 14 (everytime)
post cards 17 times, letters 44, emails 4,824
LA 1, Paris 1, Baltimore 1, Bucks County 6, Montgomery Co. 7
rented a car 5 times
parking tickets 1, $15
staged puppet shows 1
watered plants (fern, & so-called lipstick plant) 118 times
used calculator 19 times
rocked out to classic rock 50 times
read books ??? 200-300
went to the movies 14 times
rented 27 times
conversations about movies 473
wrapped gifts in tissue paper 24 times
cried 39 times, laughed 1,516 times
laughed and cried 19 times
sang 144, for others 5 times
danced (i.e., shaked my shit) 100
bought fish 39 times
cooked spinach 53 times
* * *
At Harry Watt's old place
above the Allegany River
Leo Cooper tells me:
"I could have been the first
"rabbi were it not for my love
written circa 1972, Salamanca, NY (Seneca Nation of Indians), previously unpublished
warm greetings to all for the years to come
Jerome & Diane Rothenberg
back when i was posting to the Buffalo List about
Green Party members being harassed at airports
by police, Jerome Rothenberg put me on his list.
it's e-mails like this that make me glad to be on it.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
some fan mail has come in, which was forwarded to both women. Edwin Torres sent something that i feel the need to share:
I haven't read this yet but look forward to it! I enjoyed
your special issue on Carol, and I think women bring a
sensibility to what's considered avant-garde which men sort
of run over with a 16-wheeler...men just have louder voices
so they might be heard first, but women make works that have
lasting power...there I said it!
am wondering what others would respond to this statement by Torres? i wrote back and told him about something i found myself in the middle of on the WOM-PO LIST when Alicia Ostriker was asking if there were men who felt a debt to women poets. my list began with Cid Corman, who always sited Lorine Niedecker as an inspiration. Jonathan Williams considers Mina Loy a powerful influence. Ron Silliman always talks about the importance of Barbara Guest. but then i got tired of talking about these other men, and mentioned my own list of names of women poets.
just when i was about to send the post off to the listserv i realized that ALL the names mentioned would be considered part of the avant-garde (i'm taking Kaia Sand's lead from her BANJO conversation when she talks about her feelings about the difference between "experimental" and "avant-garde"). so i added to the post this observation, that it's in the fringe writing where women seem to have much more room, and much more acceptance.
well, the back channel of vitriol i received after that was unexpected. this really touched a nerve, using the opportunity to SLAM anyone and anything considered avant-garde. but my point was that, for the most part, the women poets on the WOM-PO LIST tend toward the mainstream poetry, where the roadblocks met are really institutional in nature, old school. i told a few of them my experience this summer, having the rare opportunity to hang out with poet Mark Levine in Iowa. i asked him who his favorite poets were. the list was a dozen or so names, all male. when i asked, "what about Jorie Graham?" knowing that he had worked with her, and he piped-up, "OH, of course, Jorie!" but he needed to be prompted.
am i saying that ALL men studying in Iowa (for instance) are going to only site men as influence and/or inspiration? no, of course not. they have their Louise Glucks, etc. (by the way, i happen to like much of Gluck's later work, most especially her remarkable book ARARAT. i also like--to the amusement of some friends--Mary Oliver. she's great, so fuck off!)
am i saying that ALL the men on the Buffalo List (for instance) would site women as influence and/or inspiration? no, of course not. but i DO believe that women have much more room in such an environment, and frankly, have had. Stein, Loy, and many other women have made the landscape of the avant-garde a place where they can create and push the poetry forward without having to ask (at least too often) the question Alicia Ostriker had to ask on the WOM-PO LIST.
i hope the generalizations i have made here will spur discussion.
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Landscape Reverie: Frederick Goddard Tuckerman and Gerard Manley Hopkins
By Brenda Iijima
Landscape is hardly allocated a significant proportion vast enough to generate its former ambient qualities. Old growth forests have long ago given way to fields and tracts of land that in turn gave way to strip malls: adjacent sprawl of suburban and urban build up found ubiquitously now, where ecosystems once thrived. Steadily, clumps of housing are overtaking even the most fragile remnant vestige of free flowing growth. Both Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1821) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (born in Stratford, Essex, England, in 1844) embedded their concerns in the landscape, in nature. Their poetry is a manifestation and evocation of what is steadily fading. Their songs came forth from the verdant terrestrial world that may be soon relegated to text only—hypertext, for that matter and designated to a defunct imagination. Threatening beyond a poetry is this relegating of the growing panorama to an outmoded way of life. Nature will no doubt be taken up as object trouvé and this will lead to a poetry of oblique generalization, a state devoid of dynamic actuality, devoid of flux. The visceral rush and pursuit of metabolic pathways remain tentatively in a niche without much room for inquiry.
Both Tuckerman and Hopkins’ pastoral reveries are linked to an ineluctable gleam of spirit. Perhaps they had already shunned a contorting title as nature poet in their time. Intense focus on phenology and the land unraveled their understanding, so elucidating the vitality of a spiritual realm. Both strove for the intrinsic qualities revealed in the natural object, so inner connected and connected up with all else. Hopkins coined the term inscape, “for that natural energy of being by which all things are upheld, for that natural (but ultimately supernatural) stress which determines an inscape and keeps it in being—for that he coined the name instress” as W.H. Gardner’s 1952 introduction to the Penguin Classics collection of Hopkins’ poetry explains. Gardner suggests that instress is akin to what Shelly (following Plato) called ‘the One Spirit’s plastic stress’, which sweeps through the ‘dull dense world’ of matter and imposes on it the predestined forms and reflections of the Prime Good. But what is illuminated is not necessarily a moral chart, rather, ‘instress is not only the unifying force in the object; it connotes also that impulse from the inscape which acts on the senses and, through them, actualizes the inscape in the mind of the beholder (or rather ‘perceiver, for inscape may be perceived through all the senses at once). Instress, then, is often the sensation of inscape—a quasi-mystical illumination, a sudden perception of that deeper pattern, order, and unity which gives meaning to external forms.” again, a continuation of W. H. Gardner’s essay.
Tuckerman’s numinous sense is a bit more subdued, but very present as evidenced in these final four lines of his Sonnet XI, from Part II:
“Look where it burns, a furlong on before!—
The witchlight of the reedy river-shore,
The pilot of the forest and the fen,
Not to be left, but with the waste woodland.”
The transcendence at hand is a transcendence not of a concrete dualism where one distinct thing or state leads to another, different distinct thing or state. These conditions are bound up in their being, in their growing, in their catalytic, generative states—offering up and partaking in experience. Perhaps what their poems arrive at is a binary condition much like Daoism. Opposites affirm. Positive and negative charges stabilize atoms. Theirs is about things and their relations. As Jung would have it, the binaries of alchemy and Daoism are ultimately insights not into matter, but into mind. I would add, by extension, spirit. The landscape doesn’t differentiate between high and low, base and graceful. The lush, varied ambient splendor and wonder that the landscape holds and generates is gleaming. It is much like Deleuze describes. This, from his essay, “Dualism, Monism and Multiplicities (Desire-Pleasure-Jouissance)” found on the Internet at http://www.usyd.edu.au/contretemps/2may2001/deleuze.pdf:
“…from becoming intense to something yet again which is a kind of becoming molecular, as if the disorganization of the organism in favor of a body living in another mode, again implying something more. And that’s clairvoyance.”
Their ecstasy has religious fervor, and in Hopkins’s case, a closer awareness of that which is intrinsic is a connecting awareness of a resonating spiritual dimension, a connection with God and a revelation of the mystery of the spirit. He suffered the paradoxes as a Jesuit priest, of what was at once sensation, brought to hedonistic heights and of soulful epiphanies imbued with sensual beauty. His early work he had burned, thinking it counter to the intentions God had for a person entering the priesthood. His passions would not be squelched, for he continued writing poetry that fused his spiritual intensity with the passions of the sensual world. Tuckerman abandoned his city life and career as a lawyer in order to find solace emanating out of the rolling hills in and around the country town of Greenfield, Massachusetts, where he relocated his family. There, his interest in literature, botany and astronomy sustained him. He became evermore reclusive and grief-stricken after his wife died in childbirth. Witter Bynner, in an essay published in the 1931 Knopf volume of Tuckerman’s sonnets wrote of his work and person: “He is isolated in an intense integrity toward nature, toward his own mind, and toward the unknown God. The austere melancholy that dominates the sonnets is tempered throughout, let me stress, with his sense of natural beauty, which heals even while it wounds:
“Yet Nature, where the thunder leaves its trace
On the high hemlock pine of sandstone bank,
Hating all shock of hue or contrast rant,
With some consenting colour heals the place.” *
Truly, a main aspect of both Tuckerman and Hopkins’ reverie is a tugging along of grief, quite ponderous and gravity stricken, through a landscape where sustenance and relief is infused by, and thus transmitted in each adjacent thing. The centerpiece of Tuckerman’s sonnet XXVII:
“…Or grudge one hour of mournful idleness.
To idle time indeed, to moan our moan
And then go shivering from a folded gate,
Broken in heart and life, exheredate
Of all we loved! Yet some, from dire distress,
Accounting tears no loss and grief no crime,
Have gleaned up gold and made their walk sub-
Hopkins was vividly aware of nature’s distress and demise and often lamented the potential loss of so much more of its grandeur (manifested, as in weeds and wilderness). The last stanza of his poem, Inversnaid hails the landscape:
“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
And presently, Gerrit Lansing’s new book, A February Sheaf, just out from Pressed Wafer, arrives to me by mail. Within, Lansing hails Tuckerman’s poetry. For me it is a first— to spot praise and admiration for Tuckerman’s work in a contemporary setting.
*This fragment is taken from one of Tuckerman’s poems, which mysteriously does not appear in the Knopf edition I have. Bynner has presented it, to make his point, but he fails to give its title. Collections by Tuckerman are exceedingly hard to come by in libraries or bookstores. There are no books of his poetry in print. I was lucky to come across this volume, on the Internet at abebooks.com. The most readily available title containing Tuckerman’s work is The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, New York, Oxford University Press, published in 1965.
Monday, December 15, 2003
The Tiberino compound is a must-see for anyone who makes it to Philadelphia in the Springtime. Relation between art & life is as seamless as I've seen. The sculpture garden is laden with artwork from wall to ground to studio to chapel. A member of the family gives tours of the houses/studios that comprise the museum.
At openings/gatherings on Hamilton St. throughout the years, there was a likelihood you'd run into sculptor Phil Sumpter on a jaunt from Puerto Rico, or painter/sculptor/poet Jerome Robinson. Maybe you'd see the poet Chris Stroffolino, or mosaic artist Mike Smash. You may have met Salvador Gonzalez Escalona, a Cuban Santeria muralist who collaborated with Joe in the garden. It was possible to meet any of these folks, but never as a hard-boiled network session. It was always a byproduct of generosity & celebration. Cheers to the Tiberino clan, family & friends. Visit them in 2004.
Friday, December 12, 2003
I have not yet decided who I will vote for in 2004; my favorite among
the democratic candidates is Dennis Kucinich, but given the media's very
sad decision to withdraw from his campaign trail (along with Sharpton's
and Moseley Braun's), he does not have much of a chance to win the
Dr. Dean, I am very interested in your candidacy. However I am troubled
by your position that the U.S. should remain in Iraq. I hope you will
consider the position that Kucinich advocates, which is "U.S. out, UN in."
I voted for Nader in 2000 and I don't regret it; Al Gore is a
shareholder of Occidental Petroleum and he supported sanctions against
Iraq throughout his term as VP. Those details, among others, made his
candidacy unacceptable to me. But, like many people, I want to see Bush
lose this next election, and you say a lot of good things, Dr. Dean. I
am glad you opposed the war in Iraq. Please oppose the occupation as well.
& here's some compelling media on why we need to fight to get the u.s. out:
anyone wanting to respond to this post,
write to THEPHILLYSOUND@hotmail.com
and i promise to forward your e-mail.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
media activists who had been to the recent
National Media Reform Conference in Madison
here's the shortlist of the hard work for reform
for Democracy's sake
Center for Digital Democracy
Free Press Media Reform Network
Reclaim the Media
what the FCC has to say about media ownership
Philadelphia Community Access Coalition
"Information is the currency of democracy"
pass the word,
Wednesday, December 10, 2003
1852- Owenite utopianist & scandal maker Frances Wright dies
1911- American poet & steelworker Kenneth Patchen born, Niles, Ohio
Saturday December 13, 2003
Gary Sullivan & Sofia Memon
La Tazza 108
108 Chestnut St. Philly
7pm cocktail hour
Readings at 8pm sharp
Gary Sullivan is a poet and cartoonist who lives in Brooklyn with the poet Nada Gordon, with whom he often collaborates. He is the author of How to Proceed in the Arts(Faux Press) and SWOON w/ Nada Gordon(Granary Books).
Sofia Memon is a poet and welfare rights lawyer who lives and works in Philadelphia. She's read at The Khyber, the Asian Arts Initiative, and the Kelly Writers House.
January 24- CAConrad presents Brenda Coultas & Charlie O’Hay
February 7- kari edwards & Ron Silliman
Kyle Conner hosted the MoveOn.org benefit reading. He introduced Joe Massey first, who loosened up with some of Leslie & Tammy’s adult beverages pre-reading. Massey’s subtleties were poems lodged under a wave, surfacing with gradual revelation. He defended the short poem as a practice& called me on a past “no more rhodedendrons” rant.
Corina Copp read from her new chapbook Sometimes Inspired by Margueritte (Open 24 Hours Press). Her poems were sharp takes on the blur, & her direct reading style kept everyone on board. Her poems are lesson plans on how to go to bed still human.
The crowd stayed late, where there were wandering hands, threats of auto-defenestration, dancing & threats of dancing in the basement. We retired back to a happening Dirty Frank’s, then 260 for a nightcap. Sunday afternoon, Corina went to see her reflection in Duchamp’s urinal at the PMA, while Joe did the same on a Greyhound back to Delaware.
check out: http://www.phillyimc.org
See you Saturday.
Looking at the photos made me think of a poem by Carl Rakosi from his "Americana" series; the poems in the series feature a host of voices and characters that have a colloquial bite.
FROM RAKOSI’S AMERICANA SERIES
I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts
the Vincents hit us tonight.
The village chief just took off,
claiming he had business in Danang.
I’d like to take off myself,
all the way to Flint, Michigan.
For openers I’d show up at the airport
with a big sign, GET THE MARINES OUT OF VIETNAM.
Under that in smaller letters:
starting with me.
This weekend Jen Hofer has organized a two day Carl Fest in LA.
A CELEBRATION OF CARL RAKOSI'S WRITING ON THE OCCASION OF HIS 100TH BIRTHDAY
681 Venice Boulevard
(slightly east of the corner of Shell & Venice)
12 December, Friday - 7:30 PM
A CELEBRATION OF CARL RAKOSI'S WRITING ON THE OCCASION OF HIS 100TH BIRTHDAY
With Carl Rakosi, Wanda Coleman, Tom Devaney, Patrick Durgin, Jen Hofer, Jerome Rothenberg, and Paul Vangelisti. Carl Rakosi, born in Hungary, moved to the U.S. in 1910. A key figure in a group of poets who came to prominence in the 30's, known as the Objectivists - including Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, and Louis Zukofsky (who regarded Rakosi as the lyric poet in the group) and later Lorine Niedecker - Rakosi's poems first appeared in The Little Review, where Joyce, Eliot, Pound, and Hemingway were first published, and in Pound's The Exile. Wallace Stevens said about Rakosi's work: "What excites you most of all is real things. . .actual objects and people... In short you view the imagination as a foil, something for contrast." Rakosi has won many awards, including 5 NEA Awards and a PEN Literary Award and has published 15 books, most recently The Old Poet's Tale and The Earth Suite (Etruscan Press, available through Small Press Distribution); Poems 1923-1941 (Ed. Andrew Crozier, Sun & Moon Press), and The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi (National Poetry Foundation). He lives in San Francisco, where he continues to write poetry and essays.
13 December, Saturday - 1:00 PM
A CONVERSATION WITH CARL RAKOSI AND FRIENDS
It's not often we have the chance to talk in person with a writer who has been alive - ardently, voraciously, attentively, keenly alive - for an entire century. Join poet Carl Rakosi along with Tom Devaney, Patrick Durgin, Jen Hofer, Jerome Rothenberg, and Mark Salerno for a conversation about a wide range of topics limited only by our imaginations.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
While I'm here, thought I'd mention some fine books I've come across lately. Sarah Mangold's "Household Mechanics" has plenty of fresh, engaging moments, and I'm especially taken with the longer sequences. No surprise: Rosmarie Waldrop's new one, "Blindsight," is a fine one. And Brenda Coultas's "Handmade Museum" has many an interesting moment, although I think I'm the one person who's read it who prefers the poems outside of the Bowery Project which is included there. Wish I had time to write about them all in more depth here. Alas.
Congrats to Conrad on the Carol feature - great use of the blog format, and chock full of smart words on one of my favorite poets. This blog has been put to good use, I think, which gives me hope for a technological tool that seems to be used primarily to complain about people in a format where they can't really talk back - where do people get the time to type up their po-biz gripes and whimpers in such detail, anyway? Sheesh. Anyway, time to make the donuts.
Carry on, my wayward sons (and daughters),