April 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
What matter where we lie?
There’ll always be posterity
And horsemen riding by.
Said Hardy’s heart to Yeats’ bones
I’m not disputing that
But you are threatened by a truss
As I am by a cat.
Ah yes, the truss, the bones replied
They say it shows them surely
That I am not myself at all
But someone else entirely.
Said Hardy’s heart, the story goes
They hunted high and low
But what was in the biscuit tin
The world will never know.
However, on the principle,
We two are of a mind —
Muffle the drum and let them come —
To hell with what they find.
They need a place of pilgrimage,
They come in droves to look
And while they’re in the neighbourhood
Perhaps they’ll buy a book.
We are where we have always been
And shall be through the ages;
We pressed the flowers of our selves
Between our gathered pages
And those who there seek Tom and Will
Won’t care where you or I go —
For I am not in Stinsford Church
And you are not in Sligo.
– Ann Drysdale
The legend goes that Yeats is not actually buried in his grave, and it is rumored that Hardy’s excised heart was eaten by his cat. That’s all you need to know to unlock the rest.
April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
– Edwin Morgan
Goonhilly Downs, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, contains the Satellite Earth Station, a cluster of satellite dishes that was once the largest ground station in the world. “Unscrambling the Waves at Goonhilly” starts as a garbled satellite transmission trying to relay the names of various sea creatures. Like the computer in “the Computer’s First Christmas Card”, the satellite, or the scientists manning the satellite, must make several attempts to sort out a simple message. The transmission ends up being a list of rather mundane marine life ending in telstar, which sounds like an aquatic animal but is actually a type of satellite. This semi-surprise ending emphasizes the tension between the phonetic and spatial aspects of the poem; when we hear star we think it will match with fish, but we see that the two could not be paired with each other. Part of the fun is watching the odd combos that result in the syllables bouncing off each other before finding their proper partner — dogphin (dog’s fin?), hadfish (lost at sea?), sardock (cynical sardine?)
April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
– Christian Bök
Both of these paragraph-stanzas are taken from Eunoia, Bök’s univocalic magnum opus. Each chapter (there are five) uses one vowel, exhausts the lexicon of eligible words, and must contain, as described by Bök, “a culinary banquet, a prurient debauch, a pastoral tableau, and a nautical voyage” among several other things.
Eunoia‘s musicality and shifting rhythms are apparent. Its allusions and in-jokes reward re-reading. Beyond these things, though, one notices that each chapter — each vowel — has a distinct texture. “Chapter A” is the result of a radical fatwa against paragraphs that use vowels other than A, and as it chronicles Hassan’s ambulatory adventures, the reader realizes that A is a no-nonsense sort of letter most suitable for war stories and acts of ultra-violence. Even the above selections, with all of their food and music talk, approach their subjects in a reserved manner. E, I, O, and U would later unleash the loopiness.
“A gangland fad that attacks what Brahms and Franck call art” must be Bök’s preemptive jab at myopic critics who dismiss the kind of experimentation contained in Eunoia.
April 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E’s knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H’s grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L’s head,
And M takes mustard, N drives into town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
Who happens just now to remember A
Peeling an apple somewhere far away.
– Howard Nemerov
Unlike bpNichol’s alphabet, this one goes full-circle. A’s innocuous start turns into O and P’s O.P.P. and X Y Z’s geometry of fibs before the latter letter reflects back on A’s innocence. Though more street than Sesame, the alliteration sprinkled throughout (M’s mustard, F’s cawff) lends a playful touch.
April 15, 2012 § 1 Comment
Ulysses uses 30000 distinct words. The Oxford English Dictionary lists over a quarter million. Urban Dictionary holds 6.5 million entries. Language contains multitudes.
April 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Tender and true
The petals swing
To my fingering
Is it you, or you, or you?
Tender only to one
I do not know his name
And the friends who fall
To the petals’ call
May think my love to blame.
Tender only to one
This petal holds a clue
The face it shows
But too well knows
Who I am tender to.
Tender only to one,
Last petal’s latest breath
Cries out aloud
From the icy shroud
His name, his name is Death.
– Stevie Smith
“Tender Only to One” plays with the “he loves me, he love me not” flower-plucking game of youth. The simple rhymes and lilting meter suggest a lullaby, and perhaps the narrator is singing herself to a final sleep. I like how the stanzas countdown the petals on the daisy death clock and how the lover’s name isn’t revealed until the last word.
April 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
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.
– Frank O’Hara
O’Hara and Goldberg end where the other begins; O’Hara starts with something abstract, the idea of orange, and ends up with words, while Goldberg begins with sardines before replacing it with abstractions. The symmetry is furthered when both use their original ideas as titles and not as part of their respective works. One could argue that words and paintings are already abstract — they both symbolize something real — and O’Hara and Goldberg are therefore painters and poets. Oh, O’Hara, you coy thing.
As a side note, “of how terrible orange is/ and life” must be one of the funniest enjambments in poetry.