Posts Tagged ‘Ed Sanders

26
Jul
14

Swinburne, Four Syllables, and Learning to Listen to Write

The prompt for this essay was to write a 10-15 page paper about poems, stories, or novels that influenced my writing. Below is my response.

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Algernon Charles Swinburne

“Algernon Charles Swinburne” by painting George Frederic Watts 1867.

As I thought about what poems changed my work or writing, I had to ask myself in what capacity. In the capacity of expressing myself? in the capacity of using images? being concrete and clear? in the capacity of using the line? in using etymologies? in sounds? etc. Many poems of course came to mind, such as John Donne’s Holy Sonnet #10, Edmund Spenser’s “One day I wrote her name upon the strand,” Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Windhover,” W. S. Merwin’s “The Mountain,” “The Unwritten,” “For the Anniversary of My Death,” and “The Last One.” Two essays also came to mind: Ezra Pound’s “A Retrospect,” which was really the start of everything for me, and Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse.” There were so many choices, but the more I thought about it the more I kept dwelling on Algernon Charles Swinburne and one of his poems. In fact, it was really just four syllables in this poem that I kept turning to for ten years during the 1990s. I believe these four syllables changed my writing more than any other poem. As a result, I will show how this happened and what I learned. In essence, I will show the growth of how my ears learned to listen. As a result, much of what follows will probably be common knowledge to anyone who’s been writing poems for some time, but it is still a sketch of how I learned prosody, or invented my own prosody.

I was introduced to Swinburne by way of Ezra Pound’s “Swinburne and His Biographers.” In this essay, Pound says:

Swinburne recognized poetry as an art, and as an art of verbal music. [. . .] No man who cares for his art can be deaf to the rhythms of Swinburne, deaf to their splendor, deaf also to their bathos. [. . . ] The rhythm-building faculty was in Swinburne, and was perhaps the chief part of his genius. (292-93)

Before I found my way to that essay and to Swinburne, I had been living in and practicing Pound’s advice in “A Retrospect.” You are probably familiar with the three principles (“Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective;” “To use no word that does not contribute to the presentation;” and “to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome”) as well as the motto “Go in fear of abstractions.” In the “Rhythm and Rhyme” section of the essay, Pound also points out:

Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants.

It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert. (5)

As a young writer, I of course wanted to “delight the expert,” as well as everybody else. However, I didn’t know how. Nor did I know what long and short syllables were. I only knew stressed and unstressed syllables, and not very well. And then, as I mentioned, I met Swinburne, and he, and especially one of his poems, drastically informed and changed how I wrote poems during the 1990s.

Swinburne’s poems will force anyone to hear stressed and unstressed syllables. One really can’t “be deaf to the rhythms of Swinburne.” It’s unavoidable. It’s with him my decade-long research into meters (qualitative and quantitative) and forms began. Swinburne wrote in so many meters and forms, I felt required to do the same. I especially loved Sapphic meters, and he has two Sapphic-metered poems, but they are done with qualitative meters instead of quantitative meters. However, I didn’t know this yet. All I knew was to listen.

And so I listened to Swinburne and other poets and my own poems. It was a long training process, but the poem that may have taught me more about meter and rhythm and influenced my own writing is one of the chorus sections from his Greek-like play in verse Atalanta in Calydon. The chorus opens:

Before the Beginning of Years

And it continues for 46 more lines in a bouncy rhythm. The backbeat of the poem is iamb, anapest, and anapest, which Swinburne will play off of throughout the poem. However, there’s much more going on than that. Here’s a typical scansion of the opening line:

Before the Beginning of Years - Simple Scan

In this scansion, I use “u” to indicate an unstressed syllable and “/” to indicate a stressed syllable. That scansion is absolutely correct, or is it? There’s something more complicated going on in that first syllable. I didn’t realize it the first few times I read it, but eventually, sometime later, I heard it different.

I read the opening line over and over again. I read it loud, soft, fast, and slow to try and figure out what was happening with that first syllable. While the “be” in “before” is unstressed, it certainly has more stress than “the.” “How can that be?” I asked myself. I discovered a number of reasons for this.

Edmund SpenserThe first reason was breath. “Be” is the first syllable of the poem, as a result it receives the first exhale from the speaker’s mouth. It receives initial breath, which is more powerful than subsequent breaths in a poem, at least when it pertains to unstressed syllables. When reading a poem aloud, one can’t help but to burst into the poem on the opening syllable, even if it’s just a small burst. The breathing takes time to regulate, usually a syllable or two or three. What I learned from this is that the opening syllable to a poem can’t really be unstressed. Actually, where I first realized that the opening breath adds stress to an unstressed syllable was in the opening line of Edmund Spenser’s “Sonnet 75,” which begins, “One day I wrote her name upon the strand.” The “one,” while correctly scanned as an unstressed syllable, is more of a semi-stressed syllable. I read Spenser’s poem again and again, I compared “One” to “u” in “upon” and to “the,” which are obviously unstressed syllables, I thought about it, and then applied what I learned to Swinburne’s chorus. It held true there. It held true with many other poems, too. It held true with the poems I wrote. What I learned is that the opening syllable will almost always have a little more stress than the same syllable later in the poem, unless there is a deliberate metrical play being facilitated by the poet. This semi-stressed syllable realization while important was still not fully developed, especially in me and my poetry.

The idea that there was the special syllable intrigued me. I had assumed there were either stressed or unstressed syllables and nothing else. This is all I ever read in books or was taught. Even in the dictionary, there are only stressed and unstressed syllables, and the “Be” in “Before” is unstressed. But here’s a third syllable that is neither. “Is it just an aberration? Is it only true of opening syllables?” I asked myself. I eventually found two answers. The first was realizing that stressed and unstressed syllables are not absolute. They are relational, as hinted at before with the “u” in “upon” and the “the” in Spenser’s poem. While “be” in “before” will usually be unstressed, its unstress comes in relation to the other syllables around it. Since the “be” in “before” is always surrounded by the stressed “fore,” it will almost always sound unstressed. Still, it is more stressed than the “the” later in the Swinburne line. In fact, articles are almost always unstressed, especially when it follows the stressed “fore.” The next unstressed syllable that follows the unstressed “the” is also “be,” but this time in the word “beginning.” This “be” is also considered an unstressed syllable because of where it is in relation to the stressed “gin.” But when I listened closely, I heard it being more stressed than the preceding “the.” I didn’t hear the “be” in “beginning” as stressed or unstressed. It was in between. This time, however, it wasn’t because of initial expulsion of air. It was something else.

When I listened to the lines in this chorus, I heard rising rhythms. Of course, the rhythm will rise naturally with iambs and anapests, but there was more nuance in the rising in Swinburne’s chorus, and it occurs in the second syllable of the anapests. It turns out Swinburne wasn’t using a two-scored scansion system of syllables. He was using a three-scored scansion system. Here’s a different scansion of the opening line:

Before the Beginning of Years - Three Tier

In this scansion, I use “u” and “/” as I used them above, but here I use “u/” to indicate a semi-stressed syllable. When I scanned it by hand with a pencil in the 90s, I used a “u” with a slanted line through it. I was inventing my own scansion and scansion markings, and I would invent more. But back to this line. The rising rhythm is nuanced. It’s smooth. It glides up into each foot’s stressed syllable – unstressed to semi-stressed to stressed. But there’s even more to this rising.

Again, after reading this poem many more times, as well as reading other poems and writing my own poems that tried to imitate meters and rhythms, I heard this chorus’s opening line differently. This time I heard how the last syllable “years” is more stressed than the other syllables in the line. Here’s how I scanned it:

Before the Beginning of Years - Four Tier

Here I use “x” to indicate what I call a strong stress. My ear now heard four levels of stress and I had built my scansion system to include one more scansion symbol. My poet’s ears were really coming alive. Hearing the sounds wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to know why it happened and how I could do it. While figuring it out, I reread Swinburne’s poem “Sapphics.” I liked the way the poem moved, but I didn’t know why it was called Sapphics. At the time, I had a little 4 ½” x 3 ¼” inch Collins Gem Latin Dictionary. (I still have it.) In it, in the prefatory materials, there is a seven-page “Metres” section about Latin meters and poetic forms. One of those was called “Sapphics,” after the poetic form Sappho used, which may have been created by Alcaeus of Mytilen (Sappho’s contemporary). But when the dictionary laid out the meter and format of the poem and gave a brief description of it, it didn’t use stressed and unstressed syllables. It used long and short syllables to represent the three hendecasyllabic lines (or “lesser Sapphics”) and the one adonic. I then remembered Pound mentioning “syllables long and short.” I realized some syllables have a longer pronunciation duration than other syllables. For instance, the “e” in the word “he” is longer than the “e” in the word “the.” I listened to that opening line again.

Before the Beginning of Years - Quantitative

The “–” below the line indicates a long syllable and the “u” below the line indicates a short syllable. My scansion system continued to grow as did my scansion markings as did my poet’s ears. The quantitative scansion system, I would later realize, is also relational, but the relationship has a wider scale. It works mainly with the whole line rather than what is nearby, as in qualitative scansion.

At this point you may be asking, “Why is the ‘Be’ in ‘Before’ longer than the ‘be’ in ‘beginning’?” That’s a good question. Outside of this poem, or if “before” and “beginning” are spoken as independent words, both “be”s would be the same length. In this opening line, however, I hear the “e” in “Be” in “Before” as a long “e.” It is as if the poem begins with a running start or as if the speaker is tuning his/her voice with the commencement of the poem. It might also be because of that initial expulsion of air. Nonetheless, pronouncing it as a short “e,” as in “beginning,” just doesn’t sound right. It’s seems out of key and out of tone, especially with the mood of the poem. One could argue that it is in fact a short syllable, and that is fine, as scansions can be debated. However, I heard and still hear it as a long syllable. The more important observation is the long syllable “years.”

I’m sure Swinburne was aware of long and short syllables, but he didn’t seem to consciously implement them. Even in his poem “Sapphics,” he translates the Greek quantitative meter into an Anglo qualitative meter. Pound will later write at least two Sapphic poems (“Apparuit” and “The Return,” though he disguises the form) where he plays quantitative meter against qualitative meter, and even later on, James Wright will Americanize Sapphics in “Erinna to Sappho,” using three iambic tetrameter lines and an iambic dimeter line. That, however, is another lesson. Back to Swinburne. No matter what Swinburne’s intentions were or were not, “years” is long and stressed. I thought this is how he made the syllable have more stress than a typically stressed syllable. I would later learn that a long syllable, and sometimes just a long vowel, can not only make a stressed syllable more stressed, but it can add stress to an unstressed syllable. In the opening to the chorus, the length of the syllable may also contribute to “Be” in “Before” being a semi-stressed word.

So what I had learned so far and practiced in writing by way of Swinburne? While there are stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry and they can be used as a backbeat to build a poem on, there’s more nuance to those syllables. There are at least four levels of stresses and they can be impacted by the length of the syllable. I learned that I can play stress and length off each other to create certain auditory effects. I would later learn that there’s even a fifth stress. It is more stressed than the strong stress I represented with an “x” in the above scansion. I picked this up from Robert Duncan, who somewhere wrote something like, “in each poem, there is one syllable that is more stressed than all the other syllables.” I found and find this to be often true. Though sometimes there are two syllables that are more stressed than all of the other syllables and sometimes there aren’t any outstandingly stressed syllables. I also learned that stresses are relational as well as the length of the syllable being relational. In addition, this chorus from Swinburne also aided me in realizing that rhythms can rise and fall, rhythms have their effects and can be used to create effects to please a listener’s ear and “delight the expert,” and they can also be used to affect meanings.

Writing in quantitative meters in English, however, is more a difficult endeavor and much more complicated than the four levels of stress. In the Romance languages, as I understand it, the lengths are more certain, just like our Anglo-American stresses. In Anglo-American, however, there are so many variable lengths of syllables it’s too difficult to scan effectively, but knowing when to use a long or short syllable is still useful in composing a music that “will delight the expert.” Further complications in quantitative syllables are compounded with schwas and diphthongs. How many syllables are in a diphthong? For instance, is “fire” one or two syllables? Or is it even more syllables as Robert Pinsky once pointed out when he was in the south and saw a woman running from her burning house yelling “fire” as a five-syllable word. This also became a learned lesson: context can dictate how a syllable is pronounced.

Additionally, after figuring out how a long syllable became a long syllable, which often occurs with a long vowel sound, I learned that vowels, especially long vowels, carry emotions. I thought the long vowel’s emotional effect had to do with duration and pitch. I learned some of this from Robert Bly, who I had thought had a tin ear, but would later realize he was using long vowels to create tones, which was his music. In “Educating the Rider and the Horse,” he briefly discusses it effects:

[The third type of sound a poem with a “wild animal” form is] the conscious intensity – not sequence – of pitches. Syllables that rose high, very high, in the Old Norse line the poets called “lifters.” We can hear them in Beowulf. Sometimes the lifters resemble the peak of a roof, sometimes the dragon prow of a Viking ship that rises and falls. Sounds pronounced naturally in the roof of the mouth, such as “ee,” drive the sound up; conviction drives it up; the beat as it arrives helps drive it up. This is mysterious, unquantifiable. (294)

Allen Ginsberg would do something similar as Bly, but his music came from the ups and downs of pitch. His poems, the lines in his poems (at least the ones I liked and read and studied) would often rise and fall in pitch. Bly would rely on a field of pitch (or a small range of pitches) for tonal effect, whereas Ginsberg would rely on mountains and valleys of pitch for movement and for physical effects. I eventually made up a hypothesis that in poetry the vowels in a word carry the emotions and the consonants carry the meaning, which I think is even more true the further back in English poetry history one listens.

During the 1990s, as mentioned, pretty much all I did was to write in as many meters (quantitative and qualitative) and forms as I could find, including free verse and projective verse. Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay was a major influence on how I wrote poetry. It taught me about breath and breathing, and informed, as a result, though indirectly, my understanding of long and short syllables. I would quote some of the poems I wrote, but I burned them all (all two boxes of them) in a bonfire fifteen years ago on July 3, 1999. It might be for the better because I couldn’t master aligning sound and sense, and to quote them would be embarrassing. Nonetheless, I could write meters very easily. And I could write a line or two that were clear, but writing a whole poem, especially with the complications I added (which I will note below), was more difficult than I could expect it to be. The poems I wrote had intricate meters and sounds, but the meaning of the poems were held together only in my head. They wouldn’t make much sense to other readers. Or the poems would be too abstract. Meters, I discovered, lend themselves to polysyllabic abstract words. At least that is true for me and even Swinburne. Swinburne in his later years fell into polysyllabic music, too. Still I kept at writing in meters and forms. I even tried to train myself to speak in sonnets, but I drift off topic.

Swinburne was not only an inspiration, but he also became a testing ground. If I discovered something in another poem, I would test it out in his poems, as I briefly illustrated above. I would also test it out in my own writings. I began with writing syllabics and used Swinburne’s poem “Syllabics” as a guide, as well as other poets. Once I got syllabics down, I moved on to iambs and then trochees and then to forms with those meters. Then I returned to syllabics and tried to incorporate other musically devices into it, like assonance, alliteration, and consonance. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Campion, Wallace Stevens, and Linda Bierds were vital in this musical development to “delight the expert.” Having figured out how to make those sounds, I then tried laying those sounds on top of iambs, and then atop other meters, and then into forms. This process restarted again with syllabics and then trying to incorporate etymologies into syllabic poems. I learned how to do this from Hopkins and Wallace Stevens. For instance, in one of Hopkins sonnets (I think it is the one that begins “Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend”), most of the words in the poem have etymological roots in feudal law, especially concerning lord and vassals, which I learned after half an afternoon with a dictionary in the Paddy Hill Library in Greece, NY. The poem was rooted by way of etymologies. Stevens did something similar, at times, especially with “Crispin” and “clipped” in “The Comedian as the Letter C.” I would even invent a school of poetry called “Skeatsism,” based on Rev. Walter W. Skeat’s An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language and my findings with Hopkins and Stevens. My writing/discovery process continued with the iambs, other meters, forms, and harmonies, etc. Swinburne was then also a motivator to go learn more. While Swinburne can teach a lot, he can’t teach everything, like long and short syllables, the emotions of vowels, and etymological rotisserie. Still there is one last lesson he had for me.

Besides not being able to write successful poems in meter and form, I also couldn’t master what call the ghost syllable. A ghost syllable is a syllable that has no representation in words or sounds. It is a syllable that is felt. It is a syllable that lingers like a ghost lingers after someone passes away. For example, I will return to the Swinburne chorus I’ve been writing about. Here are the opening four lines again, with scansion:

First Four Lines - Simple Scan

You can see and hear how Swinburne varies the rising rhythms in lines 3 and 4. If you listen even closer, you will hear two extra beats at the end of each those four lines. So it can be represented like this:

First Four Lines - Ghost Syllables

Those two extra stresses (“/   /”) at the end of each line are what I refer to as ghost syllables, and they move the poem forward. They create an extra tension between what is heard and unheard. They extend the line. I thought perhaps I might be hearing things. However, once in 2002 or 2003, I gave a poetry reading to a very receptive audience. Not too far into my reading of this chorus by Swinburne, the audience started supplying those ghosts beats at the ends of the lines by stomping their feet and slapping their tables. They picked up on the ghost syllable, and validated my reading. This effect is magical. Later on, I purchased The Fugs: The Fugs First Album. (The Fugs were an avant-garde rock band, and poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg are the most known members.) They did a musical rendition of the same chorus and called it the “Swinburne Stomp.” They heard and included the ghost beat, too. (Their rendition of the song has also influenced my reading of the poem, which is now more dramatic, especially at the end.) To this day, I still do not know how the ghost syllables work or how to do it. I wish I did, but I don’t. This among many things is what makes Swinburne a metrical genius from whom I learned so much about the music of poetry. Those two ghost syllables, the “Be” in “Before,” and “years” were the four syllables that affected me the most.

As a result, Swinburne prepared me for listening and listening with intent. He taught me prosody and how to talk about it. He prepared me for Gerard Manley Hopkins, especially “The Windhover,” which was another influential poem to my ears, as well as Edmund Spenser’s “One Day I Wrote Her Name Upon the Stand” (which maybe a perfect sonnet), and it prepared me John Donne’s Holy Sonnet #10, “Death, be not proud, though some have callèd thee.” It prepared me in such a way that I preferred to write musical poems over poems that made sense. That is, I became so obsessed in writing music to “delight the expert” that I forgot about everyone else, which means I forgot about clarity. The reader needs clarity. Writing poems with clarity would take me a whole other decade with W. S. Merwin to accomplish.

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Works Cited

Bly, Robert. “Educating the Rider and the Horse.” American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity. New York: Harper & Row Publishers: 1990. 289-96. Print.

Donne, John. “Holy Sonnet 10.” The Norton Anthology of English Language: Volume 1. 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. 1099. Print.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend.” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. 67. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect.” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions: 1968. 3-14. Print.

—. “Swinburne and His Biographers.” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions: 1968. 290-294. Print.

Spenser, Edmund. “Sonnet 75.” The Norton Anthology of English Language: Volume 1. 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. 770. Print.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Atalanta in Calydon. Major Poems and Selected Prose. Eds. Jerome McCann and Charles L. Sligh. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004. 3-67. Print.

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Sapphics

– u  – u  – u u  – u  – u

– u  – u  – u u  – u  – u

– u  – u  – u u  – u  – u

– u u  – u

 

u = short syllable. – =long syllable.

The first three lines are the hendecasyllabic lines, or “lesser Sapphics.” The fourth and eleventh syllables are open syllables. Originally they were long, but now are variable.

The adonic is the fourth line.

A Sapphic poem usually consists of a number of these formally structured stanzas.

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To download a PDF of this essay, click Four Syllables.

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10
Oct
11

Notes Towards Investigative Poetry (Part One)

Notes Toward an Investigative Poetics

These are my initial notes towards an Investigative Poetics. I am trying to negotiate what this means to me. In this writing, I am drawing exclusively from Ed Sanders Investigative Poetry (San Francisco: City Lights, 1976) (yes, I found and purchased a first edition on abe.com for a very fair price), and I am trying to interpret it or make it mean to me. In the end, I think I will usurp the term, Investigate Poetry, for my own means, but pay high tribute to Mr. Sanders. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his version of Investigative Poetics. It is highly commendable. I just wish to go someplace else with it. Below are the notes.

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On page 11 of Ed Sanders Investigative Poetry, Sanders writes two important things in regards to defining Investigative Poetry:

History-poesy, or investigative poetry, can thrive in our era because of the implications of a certain poetic insight, that is, in the implications of the line, “Now is the time for prophecy without death as a consequence,” from Death to Van Gogh’s Ear, a Ginsberg poem from 1958.

and

For this is the era of description of the All.

I’ll get to the first quote in a moment, but the last one, man, is that ever true today with the internet and its Google with so much information at hand. All the information we have today is not only overly readily available and abundant, but it has lent the way to very, very detailed people. In the States, we over analyze everything, in part, because of all the data we have. All this data provides us with the information we need to describe the All, or as I would say, “connect the All.”

With our imagination and its ability to leap and associate and with all this information, a copulation is at hand. Information inseminates the imagination to make more connections. It’s now possible to study, for instance, the history of the crabcake and soon find connections to Baltimore, the Baltimore Ravens, Edgar Allen Poe,  the history of the macabre, the history of literature, an episode of the sit-com Cheers or The Simpsons, and a stunning investigation into American culture, all the way to how our Paleolithic and Neanderthal ancestors hunted and ate food, and how the crab evolved, how through the course of history crab was served, hunted, and was a component of economics, how it affected astrology and the universe, how it affects cancer when improperly connected to on an etymological level as Skeats did in the first few editions of his An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, and how that improperly connected etymology affected James Joyce when he wrote Ulysess, which was banned in America like Ginsberg’s Howl, who is the ancestor of Whitman and who is the contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe, who is from Baltimore where they make delicious crabcakes.

The study of one thing can connect the universe, though I’m not sure this is what Sanders has in mind, but it’s what I have in mind.

As for the first quote, I’m concerned with the “History-poesy” part. I had never though that would be synonymous with Investigative Poetics, but now that I think about, it has to be. How can an investigation occur without a study of history. All investigations will have to go into the past. The past is what defines us. There’s a long tether in humanity and it stretches back to the Neanderthals and to the first amoebas to cosmic background radiation to quantum foam to the big bang and into the future where it will end in fire or ice . . . or Frost.

Example Investigative Poetry texts:

  • Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems
  • Hart Crane’s The Bridge
  • William Carlos Williams Paterson
  • Ezra Pound’s Cantos
  • Sanders says Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, but I’m not quite sure why at this point
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland
  • Jerome Rothenberg’s Poland 1931
  • Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger
  • Many of William Heyen‘s collection of poems
  • Any of my collections of poems (I mention not for ego, but because I was doing this before I knew of Investigative Poetry and now I want to study what I’ve been doing.)

Could any of these books have been written without an historical perspective? The Maximus Poems must study the history of Gloucester, The Bridge without a long study into the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge and the events that happened on it during the construction and after couldn’t come to be, nor Paterson without a study of Paterson or even the Genesee River in Rochester, NY, nor the Cantos, which is almost all history, nor The Wasteland, which meanders through history and Eliot’s present, nor Gunslinger without an historical study of the Wild West and philosophy. History, does in fact, seem to be the key. (Joyce’s Ulysess, if it were a poem, would fall into Investigative Poetry, too, and on a number of levels, as he charts Dublin precisely and then writes in each of the main styles of writing through the history of writing, and the whole early Celtic alphabet thing.)

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Our minds naturally associate, so why does Investigative Poetry seem so foreign to the contemporary poet?

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In a moment of Olsonian possession and Ginsbergian yawp, Sanders announces:

     The verse of the investigative poet of
     genius will discharge data as if scanning
     eye-brains were passing across a high-energy grid,
     the vectors of verse-froth leaping up from
     the verse-grids at every points. High Energy
     Verse History Grids!

High Energy Verse History Grids. The investigative poem must be a high-energy discharge. The poet must gather the energy of the original source and put it into the poem. The poem is a capacitor. It contains the energy of the investigation. No wonder Sanders says to channel the voice and rhythms of Ginsberg as the means of transferring that energy.

The investigative poem is an extension of Olson’s “Projective Verse.” Investigative Poetry needs the mandates of Olson, which Sanders shares with us:

A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.

and

Then the poem must, at all points, be a high energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.

(p 21, quoting Olson from “Projective Verse”).

Let me tell you of Investigative Poetry. When you, the Investigative Poet, are doing the research, and you are always doing research as commanded by the muse and demanded by the imagination, you read a lot. Even in the most mundane of research writings you will find moments of passion from the author. Here is where you know something is happening. Here is where you know the author knows something more than the facts are saying. Here is where you, the investigative poet, must be at high alert. Here is your inspiration. Muse be ready. Imagination raise your eyebrows. The investigation is about to begin. But it’s not the passion we study. It’s what precedes the passion. Preceding the passion are the facts. It’s the running start to the passionate leap that the author makes. Where the author transcends the facts. We, the investigative poet, must go back and start running on our own and then make our leap. The author has left us a trail. Can we get to the same place? Will our landing be different? No matter as long as we make a perfect three-point landing like a sky diver landing on solid ground. The muse and imagination will do with the facts as they please, and they will create a great truth as great as the author’s truth but more musical and more readily available to the novice or uneducated in the field. We, the Investigative Poet, break it down. We make it accessible. We make the jump obvious for the reader. We give the reader a bridge, though the reader won’t realize the bridge is there. The Investigative Poet is the interpreter of the universe. And we, as Investigative Poet translators, must follow Pound’s logopoeia, melopoeia, and phanopoeia. At bare minimum we translate verbatim and insert line breaks and tidy up the language – logopoeia. At our best, we find the best rhythms and music to give the reader’s legs the energy to run and jump from fact to truth – melopoeia. More often, we lay down a bridge for the reader, though kinda shaky like a rope bridge across a great divide – phanopoeia – but it gets us, the Investigative Poet, the facts, and the reader to the truth.

Indiana Jones and a Rope Bridge

Indiana Jones is the Investigative Poet of the Big Screen

The Investigative Poet, in the end, is the medium between fact and truth.

Indiana Jones is what Sanders wants the investigative poet to be. Delving into the research. Keeping careful notes. Cross checking. Making leaps from the limited information he has has into the truth. And killing the right-wing Nazis.

//

Just so it is known, Ed Sanders back in 1976 invented emoticons, though he called it them emotion-glyphs.

It seems obvious that the language of poetry may well evolve into 1000 color hieroglyphics utilizing a near infinity of typographies. The availability of colors & photographic images and the 100’s of type faces, even in a good art supply store, foretell the birth of an international hieroglyphics. The upcoming laser hologram revolution – that is, poetry and collage and perspective join to thrill the eye-brain with glowing, animated (“poetry in motion,” the rock-and-roll song so prophetically sang), multi-color, 3-d “memory gardens” or verse-grids. This new hieroglyphic language may well use letterless symbols, emotion-glyphs say, 3-d soundless glyphs or tiny photographs depicting complex emotional states, inserted in the hieroglyphic grids, to augment the poet’s inherited word-horde. (p 33. My bold.)

//

Sanders’ Investigative Poetry is about real investigation, however. Investigating as to expose those right-wing, oppressive cops who spied on Wordsworth and Coleridge and who caused Wordsworth to lose his home, who spied on Shelley until he left the country, that made Dostoevsky complacent, to expose the “FBI-CIA Surrealistic-Complex” (p 23), or:

Victor Jara With Children Supporters

Victor Jara With Children Supporters

Nor shall we forget how the Chilean poet-singer Victor Jara was leading a group of singers while imprisoned in the soccer stadium following the 1973 CIA-coup in Chile, and the killers chopped off his fingers to silence his guitar, and still he led the singing – till they killed him, another bard butchered because of the U. S. secret police (p 12).

or

Nor shall we forget how the Czar’s secret police hounded Alexandr Pushkin with a nightmare of surveillance and exile. In fact, a brief look at certain aspects of Pushkin’s life is here appropriate, in order to gauge some of the pressures that can force a poet “to become more objective,” or, as the English professor who writes for the CIA-funded magazine might giggle, “to come to terms with the harsh facts of life.” Or to escape into the forgetful symbols (p 12).

Sander’s investigations are more political than mine. Good for him. There should be more political poetry and exposing. An Investigative Poetry that leads to “a genre of Indictment Verse” (p 38). Sanders then expands on how Indictment Verse can sound:

Once again we can reiterate how Howl, with its long-line iambo-anapestic, bacchic and beat dactylic structure, could easily serve as model for blistering indictments and descriptions of your investigations. Read it a few times and see how it fits: invent melodies for sections of it. Chant it with percussion, say, of a tambourine as background; practice singing your investigation grids with its long-breath rhythms. If Sappho’s unique metre could serve as the basis for a whole school of endeavor, why cannot certain modern poems serve in the same way? (p 38)

Man, conviction by poetry. I love it.

Frank Sinatra

"Such meditation would certainly help to center the poet, who, say just last night had gotten roughed up trying to walk past Frank Sinatra's body-guards in Las Vegas to try and ask him a few questions about his buddy Sam Giancana and CIA assassination squads" (p 32).

I can do the political poetry thing, but the way Sanders goes about it is not my way. I’m too shy for that, and he has a whole section explaining why this isn’t for they shy. He gives you tips on what you should do when you go deep the oppressors realm or confront Frank Sinatra.

Nonetheless:

Do not hesitate to write investigative songs (as in Ginsberg’s smash CIA-Calypso song detailing CIA dope-dealing in SE Asia). No one owns the modes. Ahh the modes. Do not hesitate to use every mode that anyone ever devised. The modes of poetry are more powerful than any so-called magic, for they are a proven input. Do not hesitate (p 38).

Some of his investigative styles, however, are useful even to us shy folks. Dig deep in your research and keep good notes and cross references and document.

//

More notes will come. This is just the first round. //

02
Oct
10

Black Mountain North, Today, You, Me, and Energy

Black Mountain North SymposiumWhat I’m learning at this Black Mountain North Symposium are community and energy. Black Mountain College with all its writers, artists, mathematicians, physicists, language teachers, et. al., had community and energy. Well, I knew that, and you probably did, too. What I didn’t know was that the community could even be seen in the school directory. It listed all the students first under the heading Community. Then it listed the faculty, the maintenance people, and the cooks. But there is more to community than that directory. That’s just an example of how unconscious it was.

There is the community of help, as well, and celebration. Back then when a Black  Mountain person produced a journal, like Origin, Jargon, Black Mountain Review, et. al., the journal mattered. The editors actually published writers they believed in. Writers they thought needed recognition. Writers they wanted to celebrate. And, as a result,  those journals had energy rising from passion.

Black Mountain CollegeThe remains of all of that has been gathered by John Roche and put on display here as one entity at the Black Mountain North Symposium at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This conference is not only lectures that celebrate Black Mountain College and some of its writers and artists, such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Jonathan Williams, but the conference also gathers a few people who actually attended Black Mountains College. Students. Students who are now 81 years old. (Martha Rittenhouse who studied with Josef Albers and Charles Olson in 1947-48, Basil King who attended Black Mountain College as a teenager and completed an apprenticeship as an abstract expressionist in San Francisco and New York, and Martha King who attended Black Mountain College in the summer of 1955.) That is an amazing feat, and it will probably be the last time a gathering like this happens.

Oh, and Ed Sanders is here, too. I so want to meet him. I want to tell him the importance of The Fugs to me, especially “The Swinburne Stomp.”

I just haven’t found the right moment. He seems approachable. I did say hi to him, but then wasn’t the time to go any further.

Oh, and Robert Creeley’s wife, Penelope, is also here, despite her good friend and poet Michael Gizzi passing away the other day.

Beauty and the BeastBut as I said, there is more than the lectures. There are those people I just mentioned. The students. The students with their stories. Students telling stories of the past. The past with detail. Stories of the chemistry building burning down, and the students helping to reconstruct it. Stories of farming together. Stories of washing their dishes. Stories of the parties. And stories of the competition to make the best, perfect piece of art. But not a competition with each other, but with themselves. A competition to make something wonderful for class the next day.

I feel sentimental. I miss Black Mountain College, and I’ve never been there. Black Mountain College formed in 1933 and closed in 1957. (For a brief history, go here: http://blackmountaincollege.org/content/view/12/52/.) I’ve even read a lot about Black Mountain College via Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community and Fielding Dawson’s The Black Mountain Book. The former written by a historian; the latter by a student of Black Mountain College, who was also an amazing fiction writer. And I’ve read a ton of Olson, Creeley, Cid Corman, Robert Duncan, Williams, Sanders, et. al. But I never felt like I was at Black Mountain until today. My sentiments feel deep and strong. I’m sad it’s gone. I’m happy for this conference.

I feel like I’m a champion of poetry. I try to champion poetry and poets when and where I can, but I feel I’m not doing it well enough. With not enough integrity. I want to start a press to help poetry more and more poets, but really that won’t help. I need more integrity like the Black Mountain writers. I need a community and energy.

Where is today’s energy and community? Is it in the MFA programs with two- to three-year-long communities? If so, that is not enough. Those communities dissolve fast after graduation but not nearly as fast as the energy.

Energy depends on community. I would like to find or shape a new community. A community of help and celebration and the championing of poetry. Who wants to join? How shall we join? How will we connect? Is the I-90 Manifesto and Poetry Revolution the road to community? Let’s hope so.

Let’s energize.

Let’s make for the altar of imagination some sign, some image complex, some community of energy.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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