Sunday, June 28, 2009


JH: A poem clarifies a mystery by stating it (and opening new mysteries that usurp the previous mystery's empery). A poem is the mystery of language, a mystery that cannot be clarified by any language outside poetry, nor any language outside a particular poem. A poem can ask questions, inferred or ending with the standard interrogative punctuation, that go unanswered within the poem, but, unlike aesthetics, can leave nothing unfinished. In a poet's oeuvre, words recur from poem to poem, and a reader may make a case for the recurrence of themes, but one poem does not complete another poem. In the past two years I've near-consistently written poems with Grecian and Roman names that would have themselves persons. I didn't set out to do this. This particular ancient world and its poetries are part of the definition of any one of the names of the figures in my recent poems. "Helena" is comprised of excerpts from Edgar Allan Poe's "To Helen" and from the first scene of the fifth act of Christopher Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus". In an earlier poem, "Helen", I combined excerpts from Poe's "To Helen" with excerpts from H.D.'s "Helen", and introduced a word, "languors", not found in either poem:

Thy Naiad airs have brought me home, remembering past ills and past enchantments, the enchantments of all Greece, the languors of old Rome. The agate lamp within thy hand. The lustre as of olives where she stands. How statue-like I see thee stand, remembering past enchantments and past ills.

The agate lamp within thy hand. The still eyes in the white face. The lustre as of olives where she stands. The folded scroll within thy hand. Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face: white ash amid funereal cypresses. The enchantments of all Greece, the languors of old Rome. How statue-like I see thee stand. The still eyes in the white face remembering past enchantments and past ills. Greece sees, unmoved, the agate lamp within thy hand. Thy Naiad airs have brought me home. The lustre as of olives where she stands. White ash amid funereal cypresses.

This is writing with pre-existing phrases instead of pre-existing words. Arrangement, selection, and repetition are where I as another writer am seen, and if the mythological references are read as corresponding to a preoccupation with antiquity and mythology in my previous poems, then my hand is more distinct, though still unidentifiable. Your poems are expansive toward names, including figures also appearing in mythology, history books, and articles about celebrities. One example is "Helen's Door", which was posted in March to Wryting-L:

this is a new poem, a button insistent on the start of 'things'. a poem is a language, fieldstones in the field of Troy. workers unite, telling Trotsky hilarious. the years prove fiendish, and someone kills Trotsky. Trotsky is not a poem, he was associated with a man. when he wrote poems, the stars lit a framework upon which the exacting nature of words could be made brilliant. stars are sharp. Jennifer Aniston was the moonshine near Brad Pitt. we need that area of a poem, even thinking that a clicking monstrance like Jennifer collides meaning in a way. something vital in play, then, as we read thru the script. Jennifer Aniston is stipend, residual check (of course), and a hairstyle choice. Helen—you know, of Troy—got some stupid for a pattern. well, we walk into that, the armies meet for 10 grueling, then playful gods show half interest nothing tells a better story. when Angelina—you know her—spent the chance, it was grand occasion. the threads of language left Agamemnon and Menelaus, cool umbels over the seed of Greek lit, and portaged to a stuck prepositional rebroadcast. meanwhile, centaurs of activity raided the hamstrung rendition. we are tired when we forget. A new poem is just the last poem marked up. then Troy falls, and Odysseus shadow dances for James Joyce. all that in comp lit captivity, for you, dear Reader, to unweave. the good career move will always surprise. Jennifer as unction is always next door.

Could you speak of this poem, please?

AHB: I bet I could speak of this poem. I will first say that you supply a copy of what I sent to the list. This copy reveals my haste. I am inconsistent on capitalizing the initial letter of a sentence. Decisions such as that are part of the process, however mundane they may seem. I was comfortable with no capitalization of the initial letter, but now I am rethinking that, and I have yet to train my fingers to follow thru. Even issues like this are important, as the poem is made. The poem is an indication of what is around me. I have read at least four translations of The Iliad (Fagel, Fitzgerald, that scholar that Pound knew, and Pope), but the instigation of the poem is the movie Troy, and furthermore the unavoidable tabloid intrusion of Jennifer Aniston with every visit to the supermarket. I am not fascinated with her, but with the apparent fascination that she receives. Is she then Helen? I do not know, but she is hard to escape.

I feel that I remain receptive as I write, and allowing Aniston and Agamemnon to cohabitate the poem’s space is a sort of duty, a presentation of my inscape. This inscape is not edited, or at least I am comfortable with silly conjunctions and the burbling of the popular clutch.

Bottom-lining, you and I found our ways to a resonant place. I have absorption of popular culture while you seem more involved with the classical text (as evidenced by the text: I have already indicated that I have studied the classical texts, am not wholly relying on pop culch). Ok. Your latest poem to Wryting-L is an oddity of sorts, but seems to relate here.

Five Unicorns and a Pearl

Gertrude Stein, Three Lives
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales
Edmund Wilson, The Triple Thinkers
Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

William Dean Howells, My Mark Twain
John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers
Edmund Wilson, The Triple Thinkers
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales Henry James, The Portrait Of A Lady
Gertrude Stein, Three Lives
William Dean Howells, My Mark Twain John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers
Edmund Wilson, The Triple Thinkers
John Dos Passos, Three Soldiers

My wife read it to me, I had yet to read it, and delivered it straightforwardly. The rhythm caught me. The conjunctions seemed pregnant, but I cannot fulfill their promise. The titles bear numbers, mostly. The James and Howells both imply one. At least in line count, the poem looks like a sonnet. I do not know your procedure, and have publicly guessed wrong on your work (what I thought was procedurally written was written brain to hand to paper). It would—you would agree?—be the reader’s task to decipher the procedure, why each line is implanted as it is. I do not know how you ‘chose’ the works here, but there is some sense of absorption, the works were available to you. To ponder procedure in cases like this is an involvement. Jackson Mac Low described his procedure carefully because that was part of the work’s invitation. N’est-ce pas?


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