Exercise: Mythtime, mythworld

Their writing exercise for this week, and it’s a tough one:

Write a poem that taps into myth consciousness. Pointers. Not literary myth consciousness, Hera, Zeus, Leda and the swan, that sentimental crap. The myth consciousness of Ghandl’s poems, all the world potentially sentient, stuffed with spirit beings. Awe, wonder, the sacred breaking down the door. To help that happen – no names of any gods or goddesses.

That would be Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, classical Haida mythteller, in Robert Bringhurst’s translation.1 

Tough for students for whom Thor is a Marvel Superhero. I try to get across that the Greek and Norse gods of popular imagination are attenuated forms – you have to go back to Sappho at least, the Homeric hymns, to get a whiff of the sacred those forms were to their makers. Don’t know if I get my point across very well.

I say, when we talk about mythtime in Ghandl, that’s not only a distant past – it’s also just under the skin of this moment. Other cultures call it dreamtime. It’s what people take hallucinogenic drugs to get to. When you wake from a dream supercharged with with meaning – that’s myth consciousness.

Write a poem from that place.

How I put it in an e-mail to a student wanting to retell an Arthurian story:

The key to the assignment is to tap into myth consciousness. The state of mind that finds an enlarged significance in anything it pays close attention to. In Ghandl’s stories that enlarged significance is expressed as spirit beings and metamorphoses – how a bird skin can turn out to be weather, or a wife can be revealed as a cloud. In Greek myths, originally, that enlarged significance got expressed as “Zeus,” or “Aphrodite,” divine beings that embodied something awesome and terrifying – sacred – about being in the world.

But those myths have long since been attenuated, turned to literature, pretty stories. So I think have the Arthurian legends (which are legends, not myths, there’s a difference, though also some overlap). So it might be hard for you to tap into myth consciousness retelling one of those stories, whether or not you use the names.

I’m not going to tell you not to do it though; I’d sort of rather you didn’t retell anyone else’s story, but if you’re keen on this one, it’s not my business to stop you. Do apply this test to your poem though: Does it express wonderment? Not second-hand wonderment, coopted from the story you’re retelling, but your own, discovered in your encounter with the material.

The trick? The emoji on our iPhones, the Pokemon chars they spent a while chasing after, they too’s attenuated forms of that. We’re still after scraps of awe. Some of them are called metaphors.

A sorry nostalgic chase, I say, when leaves, wind, rain, sun, deer 953.

photo-23


1. Around which controversy skirled awhile. Whether Bringhurst had the right to. Whether those who said he didn’t spoke for the whole Haida people or no. I feel tender, tentative, around it all, but from what I can tell, Ghandl knew what he were up to, when he sold and told his stories to John Swanton, an anthropologist committed (unlike most – astonishing) to transcribing the stories he heard word for word. Was Ghandl coerced just the same? His culture was in grave peril. He could have had his stories die with him – perhaps let many to. He also, for reasons we can’t ask him, chose to sow this killing culture with seeds that flourish even today. Though the book‘s out of print.

Spring and All encore

Today planted, from Cloud Mountain Farm, a frost peach, settler apple, self-fertile plum. Here’s in which spirit – a recovered letter writ to my old teacher on WCW’s Spring and All. Maybe the most important text to me ever. Sprawly and incomprehensible though it yeah be.


Dear Don,

First, do no harm. The thing itself suffices. Nothing one says or does should injure it

patches of standing water
the scattering of small trees

Spring and All as articulated innocence. Second, to cleanse perception and return to innocence, the spring of the mind, essential simplicity –

One by one objects are defined –
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

– sharp & rough acts of imagination may be called for, the rending & renewal of the earth even –

The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions, rises to drunken heights to destroy the world. Let it rage, let it kill…. None to remain; nothing but the lower vertebrates, the molluscs, insects and plants. Then at last will the world be made anew.

Third, against, or alongside, Pound’s “day by day make it new,” the thought that moment by moment it is new –

But the thing he never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at all interested …

In fact now, for the first time, everything IS new.

It was, is, always new, & now at long last perception, cleansed by the divine flood imagination has unstoppered, catches up with reality –

It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING.

Spring and all. Spring in all. Fourth, the poem is not about reality, it is of reality. This might seem a poem about a painting of a pot of flowers –

red where in whorls
petal lays its glow upon petal
round flamegreen throats

– but it’s not actually about anything, it just is … being, disclosed, its unconcealedness. (Right, that is to say, under your nose.)

Fifth, being real, being of what is real, it’s natural, one of the forms of nature –

The work will be in the realm of the imagination as plain as the sky is to a fisherman – A very clouded sentence. The word must be put down for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognizant of the whole – aware – civilized.

– linking Williams to Coleridge:

it shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.

Organic form. The poem may take the shape of

the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines –

or that of a crowd

moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them –

but it is organic. (And is not always pretty. Pretty is the road to a beautiful illusion, i.e., a divorce from experience. Whatever it is, rose petal, jaundiced eyeball, let it be unvarnished.) As long as it sees clearly and mimics naught and has no truck with the representational delusion, it is, of necessity, organic. Which brings to mind Robert Bringhurst, whose book The Tree of Meaning I do mean to bring you –

Trees grow in and on the earth. Where do stories grow? They grow in and on storytelling creatures. Stories are epiphytes: organisms that grow on other organisms, in much the same way staghorn ferns and tree-dwelling lichens … grow on trees.

I have a hunch that from a lichen’s point of view, the basic function of a tree is to provide a habitat for lichens. I have a hunch that from a story’s point of view, the function of storytelling creatures – humans for example – is to provide a habitat for stories. I think the stories might be right. That’s what you and I are really for: to make it possible for certain kinds of stories to exist.

– or Weil, whom he quotes:

Il leur appartient de témoigner à la manière d’un pommier en fleurs, à la manière des étoiles.

Sixth, more continuity with Coleridge, his sense of the imagination as what

reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects (etc.)


You see I was doing rhizome mind here right?


For Williams too imagination takes disparate parts of experience (“the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received” – Levertov) and joins them into wholes that reveal – what? – that experience was whole to begin with, a small quibbling mind made it seem broken & partial. Poem VIII seems a conscious illustration of just how many & disparate the elements are that can be united: a rhombus of sunlight on a wood floor, song, tires, anemones, Persephone spirited away, an industrial magnate (J. Pluto Morgan), how much & how many it is impossible

to say, impossible
to underestimate –
wind, earthquakes in

Manchuria, a
partridge
from dry leaves

Each stanza here, each plaque of mind-light, seems a place from which one can move in any and all directions. The freedom of the imagination detoxed of prohibition.

This is not “fit” but a unification of experience

The oneness of experience is the oneness of a rose with the space that surrounds it

The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates space

nor does it bruise space

each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved

columns of air –

It ends, is edged. Also, pervades, is edgeless. It is at the edge where petal meets air that love moves and lives. Which, seventh, is why “The Red Wheelbarrow” is about its prepositions – about, that is, stationing, edges, points of contact –

So much depends
upon                                                    (and this sort of stationing is on a par with

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain                               this sort
water

beside the white                               and this)
chickens

Finally, given all this, how then does one proceed? One moment

a boy of eight who was
looking at the middle of

the man’s belly
at a watchchain –

and then the next

I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony

of all of which it is unseemly to speak

It is the presence of a

&

The imagination is a –

Love,
Chris