Posts Tagged ‘vertical

14
May
13

On Robert Gibbons Olson/Still: Crossroad

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose issue 17, due out in fall 2013.//

Robert Gibbons Olson/Still: Crossroads

What is art and where does it come from? What is its source? These are questions Charles Olson and Clyfford Still pursued around the same time, in different locations, and unaware of what the other was up to while arriving at similar conclusions. It reminds me of Sir Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz arriving at the development of calculus at the same time, in different locations, unaware of what the other was up to, but Olson and Still have a less dramatic story. This story, though very interesting, is told by way of an adventurous, energetic, and original style of study in Robert Gibbons’ Olson/Still: Crossroad (Nine Point Publishing, 2013).

Clyfford Still, if you don’t know as I didn’t know, “was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists who developed a new, powerful approach to painting in the years immediately following World War II” (Clyfford Still Museum).  (Some of his artwork that is mentioned in Olson/Still: Crossroad appears in this post.) Charles Olson, as you probably know, was a significant post-World War II poet, who was involved with Black Mountain and Projective Verse and helped bridge the way between the Moderns and Post-Moderns.

Clyfford Still – 1938-N No.1

Clyfford Still – 1938-N No.1

The book consists of 16 bursts of concentrated thinking. Most bursts are a paragraph or two long and read like short essays or charged notes. Each essay while focused is discursive, or perhaps, it would be better stated that the short essays follow the thoughts of Gibbons thinking. A thinking that pulls in obscure and not so obscure sources from Olson and Still and a few other places and people in a fury of entangled associations. For instance, in “Two Men, Two Letters”:

Olson wrote to Elaine Feinstein in May 1959, “The ‘source’ question is damned interesting…” Then begins to “hammer” the “help archaeology” is, as well as languages of North American Indians, including space-time of Hopi & Northern Californian Yani, driving as far down as Hittite & “the prime-abstract…” Eventually, the poet returns, as if drawing a spiral, or drilling cup-holes in language to Landscape (which he spells large as he had “SPACE… from Folsom Cave to now… Large, and without mercy.”) Here he finds Image & Truth equal to narrative. A month afterward, in June 1959, Clyfford Still writes a letter he refrains from sending, until making it public in Artforum four years later, “The truth is usually hard…,” in this context reminding one of stone, adding, “Dig out the truth and one man is a match for all of them.” (Gibbons 4)

I like to think of those cup holes being connected by a string of some sort, like those cup-strung phones or tin can-strung phones many of us played with as children, but here the cups are language and landscape, but one landscape in the thinking of this book is time. One end of this string is attached to those ancient cave painters in Altamira, for instance, that go back 50,000 years, as Olson has it. And Olson can stand in an ancient artist’s literal footprints to see the art. He can sense the source. Or as he would say:

[T]he mind is so ignobled in  our time (or was) exactly as sex has been, the way both these joys have been turned into mechanics, too, when surely, by our own testings, our own deepest knowledges, loves, these two, the brain and the cock, are what we stand on, more than our legs. (Gibbons 8)

Gibbons would stand in this same spot but would look to the back of the cave and see black (see “1957-D No. 1” below). His standing allows him to see the back of the cave “‘was never a color of death or terror’ […] but ‘warm – and generative’ & that from color, texture, image, ‘wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit’” (11). Olson’s standing also called up “THE GENERATIVE as a focus of attention.” It’s this standing around that leads to a Max Raphael conclusion about the cave artists, “signs… stand for abstract concepts derived from concrete events” (11). In other words, the cave artists anticipate the Symbolists (my conclusion), who were the first to suggest ways at creating art that speaks to or is abstracted from the unconscious – drilling cup holes from the conscious to the unconscious, or drilling cup holes from the self to “the cave of yourself” or as Olson says, to “ethos [which] means the cave of yourself… I mean a cave… It means literally a house inside itself” (20).

Clyfford Still – 1957-D No.1

Clyfford Still – 1957-D No.1

Gibbons has acted as a tour guide through a house in this slender volume. A house with many more rooms than the one I’ve examined. There are rooms with generative sources from stones, from the vertical, from the vortex, etc. It’s a house built by Olson and Still using different overlapping blue prints that Gibbons interpreted for us in his very unique and insightful way.

Olson/Still: Crossroad is a thin house or book, but by the end of this vertical (10.25″ inches tall by 6.25″ inches wide) and slender book, I was surprised by how much I experienced. The experience certainly seemed more expansive than 25 pages can allow, especially when four of the pages are end notes, and I’m still listening.//

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Gibbons, Robert. Olson/Still: Crossroad. Bridgton: Nine Point Publishing, 2013. Print.//

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Clyfford Still – 1950-B

Clyfford Still – 1950-B. (My side note: compare this to Henri Matisse’s “Le Bonheur de Vivre” and then to Wassily Kandinsky’s “Improvisation 27 (Garden of Love)”.)

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Clyfford Still – M-No.2 (PH 776)

Clyfford Still – M-No.2 (PH 776)

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Clyfford Still – PH-998

Clyfford Still – PH-998

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Clyfford Still – PH-1123

Clyfford Still – PH-1123

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18
Jan
13

Li-Young Lee’s Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (2006)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 8/9, which was published circa April 2007.

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Li-Young Lee's – Breaking the Alabaster Jar“Hey folks, there is a cosmic consciousness,” said Allen Ginsberg during a SUNY Brockport Writers Forum interview. I think he was right, and now I further agree after reading Li-Young Lee’s Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee (BOA Editions), Ed. Earl G. Ingersoll.

Within the collected interviews, there are many recurring themes: Lee’s father, The Bible, alienation, being an Asian-American poet, & the interconnectedness of the universe – especially through its vibrations, as everything vibrates.

But first let me get to how I trust Lee. In the first interview from 1987 with William Heyen and Stan Rubin, Heyen and Rubin ask Lee some strong questions, which almost seem like an initiation ritual into entering the world of poets, which are questions that only one committed/seduced/given to poetry could answer. Lee answers, but he says something startling. His answer is unexpected to me. It’s an answer that only someone truthful could give. His answer, “I have, in fact, a handful of readers that I think about. . . . Oh, if so-and-so sees this, then they’ll really think I’m a poet. I always have this feeling I want to prove I’m a poet myself to a handful of people” (p 27). Do all us poets, especially young ones, have this secret urge within us? Lee also adds that he writes for soul-awaking, too, but it’s the first answer that sucks me into believing him.

The interviews that follow are all interesting. All have new angles (slants of light), even when he similarly responds to similar answers. And each interview, each question and answer, accrue and inform the following interviews. Each interview has Lee thinking more.

During Tod Marhsall’s interview, my way of thinking about poetry changed. Marshall asks Lee the right question with the right words, and Lee responds. Here’s how it goes:

Marshall: I feel those poems as moving vertically, down the page with a push. The movement in the memoir – we’re pushed along in a similar way, but the pace is much slower.

Lee: Even now, in the poems I’m writing, although they have longer line breaks, I can see now that the sentence is my concern. I like the idea that the line breaks make notation for the mind actually thinking. I like that. But it’s ultimately the sentence that I’m writing. Not the grammatical sentence, the measure.

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Marshall: So you don’t see yourself as ultimately despairing that you can’t capture this litany.

Lee: [. . . ] I started to entertain some of the “stuff” that’s in the canon; I forgot for a little bit that that was the horizontal, the cultural, and that wasn’t the richest mode for me. If you look at the earliest poems in Rose, you’ll see the vertical assumption. The assumption that vertical reality was the primary reality and all of this was fading away, just “stuff” spinning off on that more important reality. The change was just in the realization. (p 138-39)

So what I realized after reading this and reading what had preceded is that the horizontal movement is when the poem talks to culture. (I had believed that poems intentionally talk to other poems & poets.) The vertical moment, however, talks to the self and the universe. This changed my thinking of writing. Instead of writing for other poets & poems, I should be writing for the depths of my self while simultaneously shooting up to speak to the universe. If you do that, do it well, do it with honesty, then you’ll catch the vibrations of the universe & your soul, and then necessarily/accidentally, the poems will have horizontal movement and talk to poems and poets naturally. To write is to write lines (“a literary activity”), which is vertically neglectful. But to write vertically (as if creating a conduit between you & the universe) – well, if you make the connection with the universe, then reverberations will happen, and it will vibrate up & down & horizontally.

As for Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee as a whole, the interviews inform through accretion and the thinking poet – though he thinks of himself as a body poet – but that’s another theme you should read about in these interviews.//

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Lee, Li-Young. Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee. Ed. Earl G. Ingersoll. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 2006.//




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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