Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mr. Tuesday

Mr. Tuesday was James Joyce from Ulysses. This is the chapter set in the library, where Stephen lays out his theory of Hamlet. A lot of discussion of literature. This is the kind of chapter that Nabokov said was more fun for the writer to write than the reader to read. Despite my deep love for Nabokov, I still think this chapter is fun.  

The ghost in Hamlet's father features prominently, but is also a stand in for what literature does--a kind of intangible thing that hovers in this world and also connects to another. But it is all kind of a joke, too, as we see that Stephen doesn't quite believe his own theory anyway. The ghost of Hamlet's father may not have a sense of humor, but Joyce does. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mr. Monday

Mr. Monday is indeed Stephen King, whose real masterpiece, in my opinion, is a non-fiction book he wrote called On Writing. One half vignettes about King's life and the events that led him to write, and one half advice to young writers.

There is, of course, an art to writing--or, at least, to writing well. And art requires architecture, or planning. But there is also an inspirational element to art. Inspiration is always a little bit desperate because no one knows where it comes from, or, once it leaves, how to retrieve it. And there is also a dogged, stubborn persistence to creating art. If inspiration is the ether, then persistence is the dirt.

Both inspiration and persistence have been written about (again, in my opinion,) ad nauseum, but to put them together, and call it flailing, I think is kind of fun.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Letter

I have not yet got your Prometheus, which I long to see. I have heard nothing of mine, and do not know that it is yet published. I have published a pamphlet on the Pope controversy, which you will not like. Had I know that Keats was dead--or that he was alive and so sensitive--I should have omitted some remarks upon his poetry, to which I was provoked by his attack upon Pope, and my disapprobation of his own style of writing.

You want me to undertake a great Poem--I have not the inclination nor the power. As I grow older, the indifference--not to life, for we love it by instinct--but to the stimuli of life, increases. Besides, this late failure of the Italians has latterly disappointed me for many reasons,--some public, some personal. My respects to Mrs. [omitted].
Yours ever,
P.S.--Could not you and I contrive to meet this summer? Could not you take a run alone?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hours clot. Birds flap like passports.
Fields explode with temper tantrums. Here comes trouble.

My soul has drifted too long like a cloud, so come and heal me,
bring me to the dirt, let my pores ooze with the brine of discotheques.

Hey you! Come unto me! Let the meadow march into my mouth!
I'm due for a moist trembling emotion, don't you think? Well, don't you?

Yesterday evening the daffodil shoots swallowed the horizon like butter;
now we wait all day for the color of yellow to bubble in their throats.

Ouch! Enough with the arrows! I know spring is coming.
Still, I've had my fill of target practice, I've had my fill of flying babies.

Everywhere mouth worship the tickings of dangerous strangers.
All night the resurrected grasses are suitcased by cow-kisses.

Last fall the lilac bushes wrote very convincing suicide notes, however now
they appear to be staging a bawdy leg-kicking comeback: what to make of this?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Heavens and Prisons

Is Heaven then a prison?

That Bells should ring till all should know
A Soul had gone to Heaven
Would seem to me the more the way
A Good News should be given.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Urban to Comfort Them

[This one I have omitted the name of a character--I fear too easy if I left the name. Everything else is the same, but the name is now X. And .... indicates where I skipped some lines. Happy Tuesday!]

Urbane, to comfort them, the quaker librarian purred:
--And we have, have we not, those priceless pages of Wilhelm Meister? A great poet on a great brother poet. A hesitating soul taking arms against a sea of troubles, torn by conflicting doubts, as one sees in real life....

--Upon my word, it makes my blood boil to hear anyone compare Aristotle with Plato.
--Which of the two, X asked, would have banished me from his commonwealth?
Unsheathe your dagger definitions. Horseness is the whatness of allhorse. Streams of tendency and eons they worship. God: noise in the street: very peripatetic. Space: what you damn well have to see. Through spaces smaller than the red globules of man's blood they creepycrawl after Blake's buttocks into eternity of which this vegetable world is but a shadow. Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Game

I want to do something a little different this week--instead of me just talking until I've finished my thought (as I do most weeks), everyday I'm going to post a quote by a writer. The quote will be from somewhere where (I think) that writer was talking about writing. Then, next week, I will reveal each writer on the day I posted their quote. Monday will be revealed on Monday, Tuesday will be revealed on Tuesday, and so on. Feel free to take a guess at the mystery author, or post a comment about what they said, what kind of writer you think they are, from what time period, or just whatever pops into your head--BUT NO GOOGLING THE QUOTES that is obviously cheating. This game you may be able to cheat at (I admit to a few design flaws) but writing and reading are two things you can never cheat at, so just get in the habit of playing it straight. 

I will have something to say about the similar mysteries in writing and reading, but, for now, I am going to kick it off with my first quote--and oh, this won't be true of every quote, but this first one happens to rhyme with the author's name. 

"I don't take notes; I don't outline, I don't do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddamn thing."

See you tomorrow--


Monday, March 16, 2009

Poets and Painters

Oh yeah, and one more thing I wanted to say about that high-school poetry class I sat in on last week--the teacher said he tries to steer his students away from using what he called "emotion words" in their poetry. Rather, he encourages them to use images. Because, he said, images can bypass certain portions of the brain--like the analytical portion of your brain and "just pull on the heart strings." Now, the neuroscience of all this gets a little fuzzy once we get to the bit about pulling on the heart strings, but I think he's right.

Actually, it sounds a lot like T.S. Eliot's essay on the "objective correlative," except this teacher didn't trash Shakespeare's Hamlet. The teacher--his name is Alex Bleecker, by the way,--also said that he sees this happening in the visual arts. And in painting. Which I also think is true. I think the visual arts (and painting is a good example) are in general much better understood and appreciated for their esthetics and emotion than poetry is. For example, paintings sell for millions of dollars. Even in this economic downturn, painting still sell for millions of dollars. No one has EVER paid that much for a poem, and more and more it looks like no one ever will. 

The mechanics of this disparity were, however, prior to today, a complete mystery to me. It's still a bit of a mystery, but the power of the visual to bypass certain portions of cognition really does make some sense to me. I also think analyzing poetry is important--ideally you bring both your right and your left brain to the reading of poetry--but analyzing might not be the best first approach. 

Finally, Alex Bleecker said, and I quote, "A poem is more than a math problem, you're not always trying to solve it."  I don't actually think there is a qualitative difference between math and poetry, but I do think that poems ask us to balance the right and left sides of our brain in a way that is peculiar. 

Here is the lovely, the enigmatic, yet relentlessly physical, Frank O'Hara. The poem is called 

Why I am Not a Painter:

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Playful title, not at all playful

It's snowing in New York. It was a snow-day for NYC public schools, the first in 5 years. I am feeling blank and hurried. So I am going to turn it over to Wallace Stevens' snow man who is both and neither.

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Snow is at once esthetic and threatening. It's beautiful, but bad things can happen to a man out in the snow and cold. It's also only temporary, and therefore tinged with death. We don't often think of pristine, white things a tinged with death, but that is what this is. The "January sun" hints at the sunnier seasons ahead that will eventually free the spruces and junipers, but crack and melt the snow, the esthetic field of the poem. The "Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is" is death, which at every [living] moment is inching closer, like a speck (or a season) on the horizon--it's there, but it hasn't met you yet. It's what ends the poem, and what ends the post tonight.