Sunday 22 October 2006
Can you do that? Do you know how nostalgia moves between people and place? Do you feel the same sense of it in Japan? The lost home? Something that won't be? A peace unmatched to a place? I would be honored if you would try, really very honored. Send a link when you've got something. I'm looking forward to it, but more especially to getting a copy of "Current," your new chapbook with Finishing Line Press. How happy I am for you. Congratulations! What a coup.
Allow me to introduce you, dear readers, to an important young poet, Kosuke Miyata. I met Kosuke in Harlem at City College. "Koast" was a young poet, first year MA student. In class, Kosuke bowed his head mostly and kept his voice folded away. When he had something to say, he raised a finger, nodded, paused and said his part. The poetry he shared in Marilyn Hacker's class was not so much clean as it was polished. Stones from the tumbler. I know they reached me that way.
I invited Koast to be a feature in my reading series almost immediately and he did read for City X-Posed, as early as the second month, December 2003. He came to be a regular then. He would position himself cross-legged on a stool at The Night Café in uptown Manhatan, turned away from the audience. Coil the cord, wrap his hands around the microphone, cover it to his mouth. Fling his head back and read out to some dark thing over the island. And there he was, riding the contours of Long Island on his motorcycle, through the rain, through the dark, leather-clad, a black streak in an empty night. If ever Koast broke a smile or laughed out loud, he quickly flattened his expression and began brooding again. He was a hungry ear. A poet who didn't care much about academics, content to be part of the New York scene, to do what poets do, stumble about investigating, drinking beer, lighting lights and shedding art.
Gary Grenell stopped by today. He listened as I gave him a sense of my project. Gary is a distinctly-edged man. Standing square, right there in front of you. Pure noun. Pure function. He offered something of his project. A fine arts photographer, Gary embarked on a Green Lake project 13 years ago. He's still at it, capturing spontaneous portraits around the lake. He calls them "environmental portraits." He calls them his hobby. I think they are more than that. He takes, as his inspiration, Diane Arbus and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Gary is mining Green Lake for humanity, for idiosyncrasy. Cracking stones, outlining flaws, fashioning grottos. Anointing the lake.
Gary's work was just last month on display in Seattle City Hall. Eventually, he will collect his work into a book. For now, he cycles around scoping out subjects, collecting work and exhibiting it every few years.
Gary tipped his bike over into the grass and sat loading his camera. I carried my desk to the edge of Sherwood to where the light was angling down in orange wedges. I had forgotten my folding stool. Four of my tiny nails had fallen out of my desk drawer. Three of my letters were dangling. Gary had me stand behind my desk, lean into it. Look straight into the camera. No smiling.
Joel brought news of the Mayor. Mayor Greg Nickels is just around the corner, at this very minute, attending Washington Cease-Fire's "Day of Remembrance," honoring those who lost their lives by firearms in WA state. We hurried to the Bathhouse. There was a small group gathered, planting bulbs. A pile of mulch, a box of bulbs. Joel approached the mayor. He introduced me with a lovely forward. I followed with a description of my project and handed Mr. Nickels a flyer. I nudged him about the e-mail I'd sent, asking for help in connecting my group of poets with an organization planting trees. After a short conversation, I joined the others in the flower bed and began digging. I planted five daffodils and introduced myself to the others.
By time I got back to my desk, there was a note from Travis who had brought his friends for some poetry. He was sad not to find me at my desk. I too was grieved to have let my reader down.
DEAR TRAVIS, FOR WHOM I WAS MISSING FROM MY DESK
High in the Mountains I Fail to Find the Wise Man
. . . he's gone, they don't know where
I lean my grief
on two or three pines
and walk away.
by Li Bai (T'ang Dynasty, China)
Today was a Richard Siken day. I read his poem "Scheherezade" to the lake. To the deep reds of the sweetgums rouging on the western shore, to the bright yellows breezing in the black walnuts. Richard Siken is inviting you into the pool, "it's not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,/it's more like a song on a policeman's radio." He is sending out a wave which swells and covers a suburban sidewalk. He gives a never-ending poem. Scheherezade, woven into A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, breaking off with the light, doing what he can to save us from the King.
Narrative overlaps narrative, like a shell-pawed shore. Fertility floats past like a wind-blown seed on a helicopter spore. Siken's breaks off a crumb of complexity. From 9th Century Persian folktales to a 14th Century framework, and on to the French language and further still, to a symphonic suite by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Scheherezade now arrives in a post-modern poem by Richard Siken, who writes his own version of Persian history. Fragmented, but discernable.
It is the task of Scheherezade to "never get used to it," to provide "another apple to slice into pieces" every time they kiss. The golden apple, the apple of sin, Snow White, the ever-generating thing, the endless story.
From the many incarnations of Scheherezade, we become aware of how porous our boundaries are. Film, music, poetry, fable and fiction. Indeed, we grow conscious even of how our lives, histories and dreams communicate, how we bring past and present to the plate, unload our symbols into the new century, shine up our ancient loot, develop a context for the past. At the hand of the artist, for always the artist is involved, the past becomes a plastic thing.
"A poet's reach should exceed her grasp, and for Emily Dickinson, the word circumference, a word she used in seventeen of her poems, came to stand for the unreachable goal she was always questing toward – the goal of perfect perception and ideal comprehension." (Minding Emily Dickinson's Business, Scott Donaldson, New England Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 4 (Dec., 1968), pp. 574-582).
When Bells stop ringing—Church—begins
The Positive—of Bells—
When Cogs—stop—that's Circumference—
The Ultimate—of Wheels.
The search for the perfect is plastic too. And has been taken up by many artists throughout time. Performance artist James Lee Byars, film maker Andzei Tarkovsky, poet Emily Dickinson...
The quest of art is understanding. Processing. Answering. Perfecting. Homecoming. But is there such a thing as The Perfect Search? Tarkovsky, in his film "Nostalghia," leads us to a room, a room where our questions, our deepest darkest wish, will be answered, and we have to assume these will be perfect answers to perfect searches. And what happens? No one can bring themselves to go into the room. Why not? We can't fathom the perfect answer. We don't even want the perfect answer. We don't have the perfect question. We'll never have the perfect question. We are light years from formulating it and farther still from embarking on the quest. We are too far removed from our true design, place, society, desire, needs, connections...
The Perfect Search must be the search we ourselves undertake. It is as individual as we are. It is how we deviate into new selves, that is if we intend to progress. It is how inventions are born. How collaborations form. The perfect search, the perfect question, the perfect answer, uniform and rigid, will end all variation, end all flaws, strip the dimensions of art. Just ask an artist. Ask James Lee Byars, who was "relentlessly pursuing perfection" with works such as The Perfect Silence and The Perfect Smile. Out of devotion to this search, he formed The World Question Center, whose goal it was to pose the most important questions about life.
But if all perfects are one. If there is but one truth. One common home. One light, one path. If all perfects are one, the search is the same as life, as dinner, as relationship, as night, as apple, as boat. All are one. The way we live our lives. The way we move. What we're moving towards.
Is it too soon to ask, what about the imperfect requires destruction?
Is anyone searching for the perfect anymore? What perfect-seeking poets must we read and know? Richard Wilbur? Li-Young Lee? Tomas Transtromer? Wyslawa Szymborska? Glyn Maxwell? Marilyn Hacker? And who is getting the fruits, eating this pie? What part of the public is privy to this meal?
An excellent poet wrote a book
And an excellent book it was.
But nobody gave it a second look
as nobody often does.
"Allelopathy is a complex phenomenon which Pliny the Elder, a Roman natural science author, first wrote about in 77 A.D. In his writings he noted the toxic effects of black walnut on neighboring plants in the landscape. Allelopathy involves a plant's secretion of biochemical materials into the environment to inhibit germination or growth of surrounding vegetation. Allelopathy enhances tree survival and reproduction. Symptoms of "allelopathic effects" include leaf wilting and yellowing, or death of part or all of a plant." (Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech).
Consider Green Lake in lieu of Aurora. What is being secreted by our walnuts and sweetgums, the milfoil in the lake, what Green Lake Ooze inhibits Aurora? Can The Perfect Search counter the notions of allelopathy? Are allelopathy and perfection at odds or are they striving towards one end? If Aurora dies to save a grove of walnuts, well perhaps this is perfection being met?
10:48am. Bells. From the church that is falling to pieces. From the banished home of God. Banishment has taken a turn. Now the crowds are in the world and those in the box are suffering. The old mission is in a box. Living out "a banishment not seen in the centuries since lepers were belled" (Kenneth Fearing).
SOUND = LANGUAGE (VIA KENNETH FEARING)
On standing by Green Lake verses watching telelvision, verses sitting at a computer, verses submitting work to a poetry magazine, verses attending a local reading--
Speaking for the old media, poem in hand, hand over desk, voice over poem, I can attest to the fact that my audience, call them old-fashioned, are most interested in how and why they receive their messages. My audience participates and demands.
"Basic differences between the new and the old media have not generally been understood, perhaps because the audience is no more interested in how or why it receives its public messages that it is in what drama, song, or guided tour is on the program of those messages" (Kenneth Fearing). This is not the Circler at the lake. This is the man behind the curtain. This is the tail of the dog.
Once released into a hand and read, once recited and remembered, the poem is forever planted and remains countless seasons, exhibiting multiple blooms, in quiet ways, through tortured days. They say the electronic message comes and goes and is soon forgotten, but the poem stays. "Once transmitted, the electronic message is gone forever, and for most of its audience, gone beyond recall" (Fearing).
What would you pay for a dream? For a poem? For salvation from a hundred days of disquietude. For your own release from the box? "All time and all space in every medium is merchandise" (Fearing). Are daydreams a valid medium? Can we count the dream in time and space? Reward the daydream merchant for her work?
"There is very little flow of simplified bulletins that would move anyone to second, longer thoughts. The artless messages are uniform. There can be no surprises in them, for they use the language of subtraction from which every discordant thought and detail has been skillfully oared and removed" (Kenneth Fearing). There is little flow indeed. No more than a trickle. And it's city water. Treated. Second thoughts are locked up behing the dam. Can poetry be the dam-breaker?
"The signs, the classic situations, the covering language designed for an adult kindergarten are too familiar" (Kenneth Fearing). Go ahead. Try your radio. Try your television. Your newspaper. Let's see your church, your classroom, your dinner table tried. Try your mantra. Joel says, Beware of words. I say, Hear hear! I say, Take off your language! Take off your cloak. How many layers are you now? I say, Be more and less than words. I say, resignify your words and then, then I say, Face the fear of words that mean.
"It is a world that does not really need a scale of values; money is better" (Kenneth Fearing). And the road home is paved with pennies.
"It should be apparent that creative writers, those not primarily moved to produce commercially acceptable copy, will find it paralyzing to work within the purposeful, voracious, medieval terms of the official code?" They will dwell in separate homelands within the common homeland. Their small homelands shall connect them with their tribe despite time and space, which we know here as common time.
"There can be a unique exhilaration in creative writing, and it can offer the surprise of final discovery. This excitement and surprise must be real, not counterfeit, and have in it the breath of those crises upon which most people feel their lives are poised" (Fearing). We are poised on a crisis. It is a crisis of that which must be done. I mean, discovering and facing just what it is ours to undertake. What it is enough to share in and what must be done for oneself. The drama, the fight, is not between good and evil, as we've so often been told. No, these are elements of the same tradition and stem from the same source. No, the true fight is between action and inaction. Knowledge is all around. Teachers are everywhere. Barricading oneself from the message helps, for a time, the decision for inaction, but what is common nags us into knowing, into absorbing what we swim in.
"In poetry, the tone establishes the rhythm, which is literally the sound of that conversation, and carries just about all the meaning of the poem." (Kenneth Fearing, From the preface to his 1956 New and Selected Poems). If we are able to connect with our rhythm by beginning to listen to the world around us, and that means to the poetry of our lives, I believe we can establish a connection with the crises of our lives and begin to fathom action towards a final discovery.
THE ENDLESS STORY
The golden apple, the apple of knowledge, Snow White, the ever-generating thing, the endless story. Christie and Cindy came offering the art of possibility. Sprawling on the lawn. And Clinton and Mark came, now a twosome triathlete team, biking, blading and swimming the sacred circle. Going into the center. Into themselves. They will center themselves all winter. Clad in full wet suits. Driving through the seasons. One day, when I find myself a wetsuit, I will swim with them, into the center.
Marty and Marsha came then telling me about free art classes for persons over 55 in Washington State. Seniors Making Art is an organization founded by Dale Chihuly, based out of Bellevue. The group offers visual art courses all over Seattle to seniors at no cost, includes tuition and materials. An artist for every age. Call 206-433-6900 (ext. 307) for a recorded message, updated every 2-3 weeks with new classes. They offer classes such as: Mosaic, Watercolor, Acrylic and Drawing.