Wednesday, September 07, 2005


JH: Here's the note on Samuel Johnson's "Aurora Est Musis Amica" (Dawn is a Friend to the Muses) from The Complete English Poems of Samuel Johnson, ed. J. D. Fleeman (Penguin, 1971):

"The manuscript derives from Charles Congreve, one of Johnson's Lichfield schoolfellows and later a contemporary at Oxford. It is undated, but the slight awkwardness of the Latin suggest a school rather than a college exercise. It was perhaps written in 1725.

Cerusa. This word is printed as Johnson wrote it, but it has no meaning. It may have been a slip for Cerussa (white-lead, used as a cosmetic), which is sometimes rendered 'vermilion', though Johnson did not give it that meaning when he defined 'Ceruse' in the Dictionary simply as 'white-lead'. The word must describe the mouth of Memnon's black stone statue, so that both 'white-painted' and 'vermilion' are not clearly appropriate. It has here been translated as 'dark'. The Yale editors emended to Corusca ("shimmering'), but the emendation is unmetrical, as would be any legitimate derivatives from Gk [here a Greek word appears] 'to herald' or 'to proclaim'. "

I love Love And Fame In New York, a superb book! I may start collecting my directionless inspirations, as a project in itself - perhaps someone could do something with them. I know I'd like to come across such a list. And if I couldn't do anything with the items on the list, I would just add it to my own list. And somewhere there would be a poet (probably me) who winds up with a towering list constructed of many poets' directionless inspirations - which could be made into a conceptual art project, perhaps titled "The Buck Stops Here." I was once obsessive as far as trying to write daily, but not any more. Obsession (in art) is central in creating art, but the peripheral is perhaps more central. Obsession could get in the way of new approaches. Is obsession (literary and otherwise) the instinctual (which is repetitious - the innate and constant knowledge of how to get food, procreate, seek physical safety, etc) verging onto / into the ideational (the idée-fix)? A glitch, perhaps, or an extra mile. Sometimes glitches (and extra miles) are a bonus, sometimes a detriment, sometimes pointless - thus with obsessions. This is a comparison, if obsessions aren't glitches or extra miles. Maybe obsessions are a result of a drive to find a use for something - a personal use, not an objective acknowledgment of an abstract use. For some reason, a stimuli is enlarged to the general minimization (occultation and exclusion were other words I was going to use) of all other occupation. Though a satisfactory use may never be apparent, there's a huge amount of attention, and often process, spent on this stimuli. What do you think of such projects as Mallarmé's The Book. Or the Great Work of the alchemists?

AHB: Bernadette Mayer and Charles Bernstein have lists of poetic projects at the UB Poetics site on line, but those are more academic exercises to free the inner poet, as opposed to the kind of crazy obsessional projects we're talking about. My own project projections are more material in nature. Like getting a new notebook with the intention of filling in some specified manner. Those nifty writing journals available at Barnes and Noble always attract me, tho my main writing is done on computer. I've not quite obsessionally collected things all thru my life with a vague idea that I could do something with them artistically: paper clips, wine labels, parts of cars (found on the ground while I was running). I have in fact thrown much of that stuff away, but that's not saying I won't collect again (hoping my wife doesn't read that). My main obsession simply is to write steadily. I had a a long project a few years ago, over 14 months, to which I added almost daily. If I came near the end of a page, I always forced myself to write further, because the mere piling up seemed to be part of the thing (and if I can add this: it doesn't read that way: I think my decision to push that way worked in this instance). One wants to be dedicated, but not, excuse my French, an asshole about it. I wasn't quite obsessional as a runner when I was young, but there's no question I ran too much at times, hence bursitic inflammation now. Obsession may be a little too stuck on the map, whereas dedication suggests a better sense of the landscape. I don't actually know what Mallarmé's The Book is, tho I can gather a sense from what I do know of Mallarmé. The alchemists are fascinating, altho the idea of arcana spooks me. I also don't expect to have that sort of clear view of the path. I'm a bumbler in the way I go. Do you feel like you have a good view of the (your) path? Also, are there any imperatives when you write? Do you need coffee when you write, or quiet, or Deep Purple playing “Smoke on the Water” extra loud?

JH: "Smoke on the Water" extra loud is a good idea at any time. Quiet is nice, but not too necessary. I don't really have a good idea of my path - seems more of a labyrinth (and not in the cool Borgesian sense). So I'm a bumbler bee as well. Whenever I say "This is the day I'm going to write" and set aside time, and knuckle down, I produce little or nothing. These days, that is. I once would say "I will write two and a half poems today" and do exactly that. But then again, once I couldn't write at all, before I started writing, and who knows what awaits me beyond the next turn of the maze? Do you have any imperatives when you write?

AHB: No imperatives, but a number of likes. I like music as background, but can live without it. As it happens, I have written an awful lot to the tune of “Piper” by Phish. I love that song, it drives a feeling that brings writing for me, but I don't usually fire up the song for that puropose. I used to be more dependent on music when I wrote but I guess I've grown out of that. I like to drink coffee when I write after breakfast or lunch, or wine after dinner, but I do not approach either as necessities. Early on I took the idea of writing within circumstances. At school once, the power failed, and I sat at my typewriter in the dark and wrote (and so the Bramhall legend began...). On the drive from West Virginia to New Jersey that we accomplished last friday, I took the opportunity (Beth drove) to write the entire way. I have a seat of the pants sense of where I'm going as a writer, which I guess consists of my aesthetics (is that a word you can make much use of?). By the way, that Johnson thing above interests me. In the 2 Umberto Eco novels that I've read, there's been a core of mystifying facts that the plot works from. This Johnson mystery seems of that ilk. Furthermore--and is there anything more satisfying than using the word furthermore?--you've indicated an interest in alchemy. Are there mysteries in poetry that you seek to answer or study one way or tother? I don't mean to throw a mystical ball out there--seek in the philosophical sense is a hulking concept—but I'm curious if that could be a carrying energy for you.


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