So little depends on William Logan

OMG this makes me mad. I’m delighted the source for Williams’s Red Wheelbarrow has been putatively found. But this? THIS?

“When we read this poem in an anthology, we tend not to think of the chickens as real chickens, but as platonic chickens, some ideal thing,” William Logan, the scholar who recently discovered Mr. Marshall’s identity, said in an interview.

DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW TO READ A POEM SIR.

I do not wish to wish to commit violence against any person nor semblance of one. I propose instead we strike the pronoun “we” from the human vocabulary. Then he couldn’t utter such crud.

Oh, read the article (scription or paywall bust needed), see if I’m wrong. Strikes me as one in which every sentence is superficially right and the whole’s deeply benighted.

Then read the poem (free to all the world). Strikes me as one in which each word magnifies its neighbour to infinity.

Platonic chickens! Maybe send us some platonic rain?

Teaching note

So it’s give or take, who keeps track, the anniversary of this blog, in which honour, here’s from the syllabus to The Art of Compost, the second coming of it.


SOME LIKEMINDED FOLK

Compost is a way of thinking about life and death and art and thought and act. Not a better way but a really quite interesting way. Also, there’s no such thing as compost theory, but if there were, here might be some thoughts of it.

Now I am terrified at the earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.
          – Walt Whitman, “This Compost”

Beginning again and again is a natural thing even when there is a series.
          – Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation”

write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive
          – William Carlos Williams, Paterson

Life is natural
          in the evolution
                    of matter

Nothing supra-rock
          about it
                    simply

butterflies
          are quicker
                    than rock
          – Lorine Niedecker, “Wintergreen Ridge”

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
                    scraps of leftover food, rottings,
                    the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
                    mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
                    treasure, vegetable putrefactions
          – Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

[You] can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself.
          – Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”

After a long time of light, there began to be eyes, and light began looking with itself.
          – Ronald Johnson, Ark

Poetry is biodegradable thought.
          – Jed Rasula, This Compost

Hey try this out. Where you see “poem” or “poetry,” read “writing.” Does the thought hold?


Sorry for the gap between the posts folks. Rough couple of days in headache land. I have trouble turning off. End of the quarter, all ramped up, grading frenzy, plus madness with the student journal I advise, plus getting prepped for summer compost, and having got it all done, instead of relaxing into a week of sunfull ease – whump.

There I am in line at the Home Depot to pick up my new composter and the sparklies start, migraine’s coming, oh no. (Head, meet composter, headComposter, ha, ha.) Mostly through it now so I can get this bit posted but damn, the body, damn.

Some sympathy let’s for those medievals who reviled it and apotheosized the spirit. Yeah they leave us with a cruddy debit. But just think, boils, cramps, agues, rotten tooth roots, and what did they have to heal yehs? Leaves and leeches.

Creeley’s Pieces

Had a brief (5 min) but good (very) discussion in my afternoon section of this bit from Robert Creeley’s Pieces.

Cup.
Bowl.
Saucer.
Full.

We’d talked about integrity of the line, its wholeness, and I asked whether these lines, short as they are, felt complete. Do they offer an experience that satisfies and then releases you to the next experience. I expected great resistance but they so got it.

One saw a telegraphic narrative of breakfast (cereal and coffee). Another one of lunch (a cup or a bowl of soup). Another saw a formal patterning that reminded him of the buildup and falling off of a short story (three letters, four letters, six letters—over two syllables!—then down to four).

And all of the resonances metonymic. A poetry of everydayness.


I can’t hear pieces as not also peaces.

As in, the mind of pieces, is a mind of peaces.

Very different from our sense of “going to pieces,” falling apart, fragmenting, disintegrating. Here, rather, that any part, however wayward, however bereft or stranded, is its own whole.


My old teacher, Daido Roshi, said to us often, You’re perfect and complete, just as you are. He was no softy, he was a dragon, but he said that. I remember one sesshin (meditation intensive) when I was in a hard way, I went in for dokusan (face-to-face teaching) and blurted out, tearstreaky and snotfaced, Perfect and complete under all the conditioning (dumb learned damage we carry), or perfect and complete with all the conditioning? With he said and rang the bell. Creeley’s Pieces brings me back to that.


A beautiful thought of Thich Nhat Hanh. There is no way to peace, peace is the way. Do I harm it, and I hope not, by this variance, there’s no such as peace, there are only peaces.

Creeley had no patience for any zen bs or so I’ve heard. And yet the most dharmic poet I know. Here’s Dogen’s “body and mind falling away”—

Here here
here. Here.

And here, the myriad ways of seeing water, Dogen says different modes of being have—

The bird
flies
out the
window. She
flies.

    .

The bird flies
out the
window. She
flies.

     .

The bird
flies. She
flies.

A variance, for sure, on Williams’s old woman, those plums.


A cup, a bowl, a saucer, all full, not in the sense of bearing up some matter, though they might that also, but in themselves, present, there.

Two locust trees

To broaden our discussion of parts of speech, their places and powers, we read two versions of a poem by William Carlos Williams, “The Locust Tree in Flower.” One goes this way.

Among
the leaves
bright

green
of wrist-thick
tree

and old
stiff broken
branch

ferncool
swaying
loosely strung —

come May
again
white blossom

clusters
hide
to spill

their sweets
almost
unnoticed

down
and quickly
fall

A very pretty poem about a pretty old tree. A lovely coined word, “ferncool,” whose extravagance only starts to look off in the light of the renunciations of the later version. Which goes this way.

Among
of
green

stiff
old
bright

broken
branch
come

white
sweet
May

again

This poem never fails to stun me. Ten Thirteen words on ten thirteen lines. (Oops. One line short of a sonnet.) All but three are monosyllables. The thing’s almost entirely empty. And out of that great narrow strait the poem blossoms endlessly.

And not a metaphor to be found here. All the power comes from metonymic resonance and a powerful torque applied to syntax.

For instance the strange construction

Among
of
green

How can we be both among and of? Among means in the midst of but distinct from. Of means belonging to and identified with.

Are we thrown to a green we remain apart from? Or do we belong to a green we can’t get out of? Spring is the swell and swirl of the new it is and does. And so the poem dizzies, endizzes, lucky us.

Master Dogen said to his monks:

When you paint spring, don’t paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots — just paint spring. Painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is painting willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It’s not yet painting spring.

The longer poem paints a pretty picture of a locust tree. The shorter invites us to be spring in the tree.

These thoughts, by the way, formed in collaboration with my students, who saw deep and well into this one.


POSTSCRIPT. Want a master class in revision? Track how the first version becomes the second. What words go, what words stay, how the words that stay drift into new places. The depth of the letting go here is astonishing. Nothing less than total.


Black Locust

One more torn page

One more from Barb (she’s on a tear).

image

And transcription:

(old men)no books (3)

on is made in Was—
of the Mone.

Man how pear trees
settle power

to see and believe.

(such
dire
need)

I think I mentioned I came up with this exercise 10 minutes before the first meeting of my Art of Compost class this summer when I saw in my notes “exercise: something with torn pages” and realized I hadn’t worked out what “something” was.

William Carlos Williams famously wrote, “write carelessly, that nothing that is not green survives.” Not sure the same always applies to lesson planning but here it worked okay.

The pages we tore in class were from a battered second copy I had of his Imaginations.

Exercise: Torn page (2)

This time you have a little more say. (One point of attention here is the play of decision and accident in the composition.) Take a page and tear it in half vertically. Find a language area you like. Begin reading from the (left or right) gutter and go as far as you like along the line (moving right or left). When you’ve had enough of that, jump to the next line, and repeat.

When you’ve made your selection, you can also make some small number of amendments, let’s say three. This came from William Carlos Williams’s Imaginations, looks like Descent of Winter, though I’m too lame to go check.

Again, transcribe the poem, as the act of making it your own.

And Coolidge said, let fenders
behind pine booths stead of the
old-time cake-thick faces! made
of some certain, how they shape for
the oven, the woven grey strips
wound pneumothorax pavement
office upon lights.

This one has at first the feel of being a sentence, but around “pneumothorax” it abandons the pretence of sentenceness and gives itself to its wordliness.