Sunday, December 30, 2012

corresponding to the English "game"

What a death-like existence she must have had, Katherine Anne Porter, whose life was incomparable according to the blurb on her biography by Darlene Unrue, what a ghoulish mortality, how strictly repellent: the black hole of her presence making people uneasy as they witness eerily a pit or vortex in the air where this woman should be; she is the answer to the sum of her actions and the actions that would have made up each component of the incomparable life are incomparable too, an intense or lax nexus of null multiplication and plus, and so she looks as if she is doing nothing; she is doing nothing, she is not doing anything that can be described; she is performing actions but no one can describe them, they are inhuman troubling actions; she seems to be a god and yet she does nothing miraculous.

She moves her right leg forward. Everybody feels sick. Finally one of the people near her decides to describe her in any way, even the wrong way, because they think that would be better than not describing her at all.

They pick up the closest book, which is a translation by Robert Firmage of poems by Georg Trakl (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) and they point to Katherine Anne Porter while they read this line: "Something sick weeps silver." Everything is easier now: there is a starting point. Porter moves and the person reads again, "A pure blue flows from husks of moldered dullness." Soon everything she does can be described with a line from a Georg Trakl poem. People stop throwing up around her and finally she can write a sentence people will understand although all of it is Expressionist. Nevertheless it is recognisable words in an order that can be deciphered and that is a blessing.

But everything she does now is an extreme thing, that is how it is understood, that is how she understands it, because Trakl wrote extremes and juxtapositions, saying, "sweet corpse," or, "the dark cries of the blackbird | In childlike gardens," savagery corresponding with children and angels: his poetry is that correspondence, which becomes known by its other name in such circumstances, and that is juxtaposition. Her behaviour exists at extremes, the moon dies when she walks out at night, and nondomestic animals that come near her become Wild, a German word that Firmage usually translates as "prey," though he is cautious and writes an explanation in the introduction to the book: "Wild, however, is primarily a hunting term ... corresponding to the English "game," and thus bears the connotation of victimization of innocence, of something born to be destroyed ... the best English equivalent possessing both the connotation and the objective reference of Wild ... is prey, which is neither as common nor as specific as the German term."

Katherine Anne Porter's behaviour can be described but it cannot be reconciled with the moderate behaviour of other people: she is either extremely peaceful and silvery because Trakl has used the word silvery or else she is cruel and holding a corpse, though some aspects of her being remain static: her eyes are always blue because Trakl likes to write blue eyes. Ideas that seemed apart from one another are brought into conjunction by her presence; her nouns are reasons for colours to be closely settled, "A blue moth crept out of its silver cocoon," "The river glimmers greenly, ancient alleys silver." A colour is a complete thing, an utter thing: here are two utter things, here is energy between them, like a relationship between two nations. Her closest friends insist that there must be something in the middle, unobserved; these extremes are like parentheses, they say, constraining or bordering the inexpressible. "Which makes her no different from anybody else," they tell her detractors.

The detractors respond knowledgeably: "You have been reading Heidegger on Trakl."

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

capturing the incomparable life

Bob Rochester, diswived by the freedoms that have made this country great, decides that he is going to resurrect his personal morale with the help of a good deed: he will save the Devil's Hole pupfish. He puts it in a bucket and the pupfish is saved. "What else can I do for Nevada?" he wonders. He attends a Preserve Nevada symposium where a man insists that Las Vegas does have a history though nobody thinks so. "And you don't have to dig deep either to find it. It's sitting in the old part of town, in all the old casinos there. The bones are there. You just have to look under the shell to see what you can find," he says, and his speech is noted in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Las Vegas loves its old historical bones so much that it puts them behind walls where nobody can damage them. Lucretius tells us that sight is possible because all visible objects spew little balls, which we take in with the assistance of the wonderful dark pupils that have punched two holes into our faces with unnoticed efficient modesty. The concealed sections of Las Vegas have been saved from the wastage of atomic spewing. They can keep all their molecules. No one looks at them. Preservation! But the catwalks in the Imperial Palace ceiling are still visible from the blackjack tables. Security used to dawdle there and stare at the customers through darkened glass. The owners have decided to destroy the ceiling and rename the casino. History is everywhere! One of the metal accoutrements outside Planet Hollywood has rust.

Rochester decides to make up numbers at a cultural evening. He takes a forty-minute walk from Planet Hollywood down Harmon to UNLV where a biographer is giving a talk in a room attached to the museum. I know that he was there because I attended the same lecture. On the screen above the biographer someone has projected a picture of her book with this line printed above the blurb: "A biography capturing the incomparable life and times of one of America's finest writers."

He is chilled by the thought of this incomparable life, which would not be able to be described or measured, because, without comparisons, you would lose your place in the world: you would not be able to say, "My life is tempestuous," because you would not be able to compare it to a tempest, and you would not even be able to say that your life was good or evil, deprived of the ability to compare it to other lives. It can't be an impressive life, or a boring life, or any kind of life; if it is incomparable then you can't even describe it to yourself, and you never know how well or badly you're doing and can't guess, because every time your brain tries to make a comparison your estimations are blanks. Even the Elder Gods can be descr -- I want to stop mentioning H.P. Lovecraft, this is ridiculous, back to William Hope Hodgson: even the demon in Hodgson's short story The Hog can be compared to something, namely a hog, and a giant pig coming through the floor, and Carnacki, although he has found this comparison, is still desperate and keeps asking his friends if they see, if they understand? And Bob Rochester tries to imagine Katherine Anne Porter, who was the subject of this biography, desperately asking her friends what they thought of her, but she would not have any friends because they would not know what to think, and she would have to go through life like a black holes asking like Carnacki, "Do you see, do you understand?" but she would not be able to help or prompt them with even such a sketchy definition as, "My life is like a giant demon pig."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

a massless particle passes through the void

It's Christmas Eve. Thank you to all the year's visitors and commenters and may the owner of that Russian spambot give the poor overworked thing the night off.

A 2012 memorial mash-up.

We all begin well, for in our youth a massless particle passes through the void preceded, explicitly or implicitly, by the little word we. "The principle of subjective inwardness is a wily creature and resembles a bedrock poverty, like falling against many armies or a great horseman in a potatoe," quoth the housekeeper. For of a very troth, there are thousands of little heaps of crumbs that were once granite boulders. Salt was born of a yearning for unilateral Mildred, whom everyone tried to amuse, whom everyone tried to please; that pretty creature in the drawer of a sublet room. I have known that cave since I was eleven, yet furtive birds (wrens and rails, for example) have only one secret, valid within its own framework, like a painted death. This delightful residence was situated on a small manuscript for the benefit of senators, and there is always a danger that the British Minister may run at once through the convent, beating on a lawyer who suggested both a cat and a geranium. This is very disquieting; if there was one thing we thought we could depend on it was a perverse mood of the mind which is rather soothed than irritated by misconstruction; and in quarters where literature is the attempt to interpret, in an ingenious way, the myths we no longer understand, at the moment we no longer understand them, I languish thus, drooping and dull, as if I were in a dusky and tempestuous night having a read of what her mother would have called a Book.

The authors.

Gertrude Stein: The Making of Americans / Rae Armentrout: Chirality / Simone Weil: The Need for Roots, translated by Arthur Wills / Hegel: The Philosophy of History, translated by J. Sibree / Aelian: On the Characteristics of Animals, translated by A. F. Scholfield / Jorie Graham: The Geese / Marguerite Young: Miss MacIntosh, My Darling / Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer / George Gascoigne: Dedicatory Epistle to 'The Posies' / John McPhee: Basin and Range / John Berger: Seker Ahmet and the Forest / Thomas Pynchon: V. / Baudelaire: The Old Woman's Despair, a prose poem translated by Michael Hamburger / Adrienne Rich: Leaflets / Gottfried von Strassburg: Tristan and Isolde, translated by A.T. Hatto and revised by Francis G. Gentry / Lyn Hejinian: The Book of a Thousand Eyes / André Breton: Arcanum 17, translated by Zack Rogow / Gilgamesh, translated by N.K. Sandars / Ann Radcliffe: The Italian / Graham Robb: Balzac / Henry Adams: Democracy / The Letters of Abelard and Heloise translated by Betty Radice / Miguel Angel Asturias: El Señor Presidente translated by Frances Partridge / Walter Murdoch: On Sitting Still / Charlotte Brontë: Vilette / Gilles Deleuze: Desert Islands translated by Mike Taormina / George Herbert: Dullness / William Drummond of Hawthorne: Sonnet / Patrick White: Riders in the Chariot

Sunday, December 23, 2012

pathless with untrodden snow

Summer was almost all sunshine, now winter is sunshine again but colder and I swear it was like balm to have Jane Eyre sitting around staring out the window at the drizzle in Charlotte Brontë's book, a subterranean sensation arising in me as of real drizzle observed somewhere far away, down a tunnel, associating itself hazily with the English countryside, where I have never been, also with Melbourne, where I have seen most of my drizzle (wattle blotting it), and Oregon where the moss was damp; gradually, motivated by longing, I saw a picture of her countryside as as I have seen it in films, trees black-trunked because they are soaked (why black though?), the grey clouds, "rooks" because there are rooks in these scenes (I have to insert crows, I don't know rooks), long green lawn, damp muted light, perfect for sheep wrote John Dyer in his poem about sheep, The Fleece which is only available online in a scanned version that makes every s an f so that the glassy sea is the glaffy fea, and I love this rain, said Geoffrey Hill once to an interviewer as they sat in a room somewhere in Britain, but a poet being interviewed in Las Vegas would rarely and by mad fluke have the chance to say that they loved rain (looking out the window at it as G.H. was in the interview, the interviewer perhaps remembering that The Triumph of Love begins with these words that are attentive to rain: "Sun-blazed, over Romsley, a livid rain scarp" and the poet talking to himself throughout the poem, then realising the particular existence of phenomena more concretely at the the end; to show you this he repeats the line and changes the a to the or that is my interpretation: Sun-blazed, over Romsley, the livid rain scarp.); it would be a significant event and a huge drama, the air beforehand not so much freezing as thick with rain-smell, thicker than I have smelt it in places where rain is normal. So thick the other day that it was if the atmosphere had rotted. (It is not like that when wind blows.)

A character in a novel set here would not spend the first portion of the book looking out the seeing rain, rain, coldness, rain, over weeks and months and years, as Jane Eyre does while she is a child having a bad time, the weather improving when her times get better, a disaster presaged with a lightning bolt, and her despair described with ruined weather.

A Christmas frost had come at midsummer; a white December storm had whirled over June; ice glazed the ripe apples, drifts crushed the blowing roses; on hayfield and cornfield lay a frozen shroud: lanes which last night blushed full of flowers, to-day were pathless with untrodden snow; and the woods, which twelve hours since waved leafy and flagrant as groves between the tropics, now spread, waste, wild, and white as pine-forests in wintry Norway. My hopes were all dead -- struck with a subtle doom.

There would have to be some other way for a Las Vegas novelist to show you misery in the weather over months and years; they would have to use the opposite of rain, so I'll say heat, and then we have to make it terrible not warm so flat heat, years of hardbaked sky, and then, when the character is happier, modulated cool weather, a mist scene on Mount Charleston with fog coming up the long ravine as the character makes her way down the hiking trail by Cathedral Rock. Clouds, mist, a change, relief: we are meant to reflect on the character's changing circumstances, now not relentlessly bad but improving.

She has been employed on a horse ranch where she falls in love with the owner, Bob Rochester, who manages a small chain of suburban hotel-casinos. He is devoted to her. He is ferocious. Shania Twain had her chance with Bob but she gave him the cold shoulder when she heard that he did not in fact own a controlling share in Caesars Entertainment.

Brontë's Eyre in England sees spring, birds, blossoms, and her life is opening, her love is awakened, but the weather in this Vegas novel has a different character, not so gentle, green, and blossoming, the light is rarely muted, normally bright, and this difference changes the course of the story; events and thoughts become appropriate to a desert, the heroine's thoughts are not like the thoughts of Jane Eyre even in translation, she has developed in a way that is the opposite of the way that Jane Eyre has developed, the dryness and the heat have reversed her, the curled plastic spines of the barrel cactus rather than the short thorn of the roses like the fingers of tiny starfish; she is directed by these changes until she decides she will murder Mr Rochester and stab his mad wife who has been sequestered with a pony in one of the stables on the ranch.

The mad wife Bertha catches her, chops her up instead in self-defence, rescues Mr Rochester from the pit of Jane's death trap which I am associating now with Eli Roth's Goretorium (corner of Harmon and the Strip, second floor, find Walgreens and look up), is cured of her madness by explosive bravery, sees the light, becomes sane immediately, becomes the hero, refuses to stay married now to Mr Rochester, obtains a quick divorce downtown, and is recruited by one of the ten dozen bail bondsmen who live there in the area around the Stratosphere where everybody wants to sell you meth. Your mother may have been a Creole loon, says the bail bondsman, but I have a non-discrimination policy.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

the skin on the table

But what I was going to point out, when I started that second-to-last post, is that White appears to be an idealist and Zoshchenko seems not to be an idealist; the people in his satires are squabbling over small things but what else do they have to think about? Nothing, nothing, nothing, I don't think he ever even suggests that there might be something there for them to miss out on; he looks at the spot where White sees something elevated and he sees the word "Love" written in letters, he asks the real world to show him proof that this idealistic situation exists and the world gives him a man biting a woman in the nose. Chaos, he writes in his autobiography. A baby is surrounded by chaos. How does the baby navigate? I was happy until I was in my teens, then I was in anguish, and I have been miserable ever since, says Zoshchenko. He is a depressive clown. Where is the source of his misery? He believes in sources. He must have seen something. He will follow back, using reason and logic; he will try to remember his earliest memories. So he does and early memories are not the solution. Dreams are the solution. Perhaps dreams. Water dreams. He has a sort of Freudian-Pavlovian-scientific theory mixed up with the ideas of other mental practitioners who are not Freud or Pavlov. Now he is not being funny any more because he is trying to work out what these ideas are so that he can take them seriously. He explains them carefully in order.

(This is the most boring part of the autobiography. The earlier parts are more interesting because he will tell you his memories in the form of short stories, like this:

I am sitting in a high chair. I am drinking warm milk. I get some skin from the milk in my mouth. I spit. I roar. I smear the skin on the table.

Behind the door someone cries out in a terrible voice.

Mama comes. She is crying. Kissing me, she says, "Uncle Sasha is dying."

After smearing the skin on the table, I begin drinking my milk again.

And there is a terrible cry from behind the door.

(all still being translated by Hugh McLean)

In every other part of his work he makes fun of the future, he makes fun of the present, he makes fun of the government's improvements and the overpowered lightbulbs they've given to their people. He is kinder to his petty-bourgeoisie than Patrick White is to his, but he is kind by default and out of misery; they are not capable of aspiring to the world of sensitivity and art and sacrifice, not because they are thick, but because that area of the world isn't there.

Patrick White observes that a higher life is possible, he creates Miss Hare in chapter one of Riders so that she can be this finer thing, then he can be cruel and kick his villains because they are insensitive, and they are letting down the human race with their sodden spitey dumbness, but Zoshchenko, seeing no possibilities, has no villains, and his people flail of course, they flail like Miss Hare's father in White's Riders (a man who senses the ideal-world and tries to enter it by building a mansion -- the wrong way to go -- becomes surly, uncharitable, unhappy), but he can't condemn them, and this is not even (going back to that word) kindness, it's because he can't, not in the environment he has made for them to inhabit. What stops him? His own construction. He tries to explain dream-water-theories with a straight face: he is boring, the reader shuts the pages, the prose environment has turned on its progenitor. It says, "I am being misused." It suspects that it comes from his misery and his confusion. If he cures himself will he still be able to write? The prose isn't taking any chances. Prudently it strangles him.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

an unsolved mystery to the author

Blame science! they both say, waving their hands, Walser and Zoshchenko, a Swiss and a Russian with different lengths of arm, palm, and finger, separate here though united in other ways: science has been telling us it will explore every aspect of life, it sorts out the animals and fossils, it dates rocks, it considers the atoms, the nineteenth century has been industrially revoluting all over and giving us bombs, bicycles, telegraph, and cars (Zoshchenko was born in 1895, Walser in 1878) , now Einstein and his friends are sorting out the powers of the universe with their theorems: why not us too, listen, we will do the same with literature, we will cover everything, we will describe it all -- (they don't know but they are gesturing in the direction of The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein who was b. 1874) -- we are only trying to participate in the world, we are doing what the age seems to be demanding, and if it doesn't work then don't blame us. Literature can't cope, poor literature, what use is it in the new world of describing-everything when it is the art of leaving-out?

I am going for a walk, says Walser, and is not heard from again.

And me, I, insists Zoshchenko on the surface of his prose, which is so blatant it is a joke, I am only being kind and useful, I am trying to be perfect for the Party and the people.

In the opening chapter of his novella or long story, the same one I mentioned before, which has a good romantic title, namely What the Nightingale Sang, he has addressed any Party member who might be reading this book and asked them to believe that love is still a relevant topic in spite of the revolution ("I can see that these lines about love will call forth a volley of rebuttals on the part of public leaders" -- but --) -- I am a good comrade, he explains, I am only going to take up your time for a tiny while with this one worthwhile thing, and then he goes on severely criticising himself during the story, and correcting himself in the name of correctness, and insisting that he is working hard ("Phew!What a job it is to write literature!"), doing his duty ("At present, however, the author has to say something about citizen Vassily Vassilyevich Byekin"), confessing to the crowd when he can't fill in a detail that the reader might want to know ("How he managed to eat was an unsolved mystery to the author"), and even doubting the truth of his own statements which of course is pointless because being fictional they are always both true and false ("The author is ignorant of the details of his moving and of the bitter moments experienced by Lizochka. Did she experience them?"), until the romance is saggy under these duties and corrections and finicky adjustments, second-glances, self-questions, which take up so much of his attention that the story is practically over before he realises that he hasn't given you any reason why there should be a nightingale in the title, and all in all, I have to say ladies and gentlemen, it looks like a comedy on the subject of the same self-castigation that the Soviet authorities were enforcing earnestly and with prisons and murder.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

in your opinion, was the nose bitten off for savory satisfaction?

Different people dwell alert or blind in front of the same phenomenon: I read Patrick White, patrician, Australian, disgusted on paper by the material aspirations of the petit bourgeoisie, and then Mikhail Zoshchenko, Russian, expensive childhood undone by the Communist revolution and his own itches (dropped out of university; restless), non-patrician, scraper-by, writer of very short pieces, his satires peopled with that same materialist bourgeoisie group (a different nationality, Russian not Australian, but the desire for plumbing and clothing stays intact): he sees them grasping pathetically for tiny things, sees them squabbling over paltries, the author does not redeem the paltries, the author sees that they are greedy, and yet the author is different. Where are the White-lessons in spirituality? Where are the characters like the suffering intellectual Holocaust survivor in Riders? Where is the sensitive mystic employer and her mosaic goat?

Nowhere, not in the sample of his work translated by Hugh McLean anyway, and published as Nervous People and Other Satires by Indiana University Press, a collection that contains forty-seven of his very short satirical pieces as well as skinnied-down versions of his novellas and the autobiography he never finished, the Party finally catching up with him in the mid-late 1940s during a crackdown, sending his publishing career into the wilderness, allowing him back eventually but too late: the author never got his wheels back on the rails after that disaster and died in 1958.

I am going to write about love he says at the start of one of the novellas (a good love is sacred in White -- Voss -- love-telepathy --), and he looks for an example of love to show you what he means when he writes the word: the first example he can find is grotesque.

The author read recently in Pravda of a young barber's apprentice who, out of jealousy, bit off the nose of a girl citizen. Isn't that love? ... Or, in your opinion, was the nose bitten off for savory satisfaction? You can go to hell! The author has no wish to upset himself and stir up his blood. He still has to finish writing this story. Then he has to take a train for Moscow and make some unpleasant calls on several literary critics to ask them to take their time about writing critical articles and essays about this story. Well then -- Love!

And his story about love is made of these digressions, the writer letting you know how prudent he is -- he is ridiculously practical -- he is nonsensically practical -- he is practical with the kind of scrupulous selectivity that nonsense is, he decides that it is a waste of time to describe the hero because if he does that now, then "the son-of-a-bitch will grow up by the time this story is published." The ordinary housekeeping parts of a novel, character descriptions, motivations, all of this evades him; he goes to do it and the world turns him into a liar -- yah -- he seems to say -- I would describe it for you if it would stand still for once but it never does. If I describe that then I have to describe this. I write the word "love," I think about your reaction to that word, I defend the idea, three pages go by, and now I'm in a worse mess than before, we've got noses bitten off and appeals to the Party and oh god I'm just a harmless nice man trying to get through a basic plot.

The subject of this story: chaos: the idea of romance is a contrast to chaos, the ideal gets put down in the world and, look, it's bent and kicked, you wouldn't even recognise it if he wasn't there using the word "romance" to remind you, the circumstances are grubby, the people are not handsome or interesting, they get distracted, the author is ignorant, and time keeps passing and wrecking everything, chaos wins, there is a stupid argument, the hero spits on his fiancée's mother, chaos is stronger than the power of storytelling, it's stronger than Zoshchenko the author: he lets it in by trying to be good and truthful (describing the hero would be dishonest) and it undermines him. So much for good deeds.

Miles away in Germany Robert Walser was having the same problem; he would decide to describe a couple sitting on a bench and then the objects around them wanted to be described as well, a snail, a snake, he would tear himself away from the snake and some other digression would push its way in, he would end up describing an angel; the story would ask for an interesting touch so he would insert a military man in a hat, then confess immediately that the military man was irrelevant, he was only there to give you, the reader, a handsome surprise, which he, the author, had just ruined by explaining everything.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

she sat in it

Not all of the poets who described their beloveds's hair with the phrase "gold wire" would have thought of a sea urchin, though some readers might have done so, keeping it to themselves as readers helplessly do while they read, muted, gagged, stuffed, digestive process taking place, quiet as they submit to the experiment, the book a theory and themselves the vital element, the magnesium of one swells up in the acid of the other and dissolves inward, the experiment can take place now, and the reader afterwards is the result, result proven though not explained, perhaps never explained, but present, walking around, picking its teeth, eating lunch, and watching the Melbourne Cup, which was won this year by deep brown Green Moon pursuing equations on her four mud-coloured socks, the Cup being a theory worked out by horses.

Afterwards the reader might write their thoughts down and enter the same place as the book, which is the landscape of prose; they are armed with weapons that might not be as strong as the book itself, or might be stronger: intelligence one weapon, held confusedly, ability to write hanging like a meathook in the other hand, hook blunt, meat absent. I have not read the pulp novel that Virginia Woolf reviewed for the Times in 1919, or it might have been the Telegraph, but I'm guessing that her review was possibly a more rememberable piece of writing than the book since she goes against the rules of form and the novelist apparently did not, she has a sense of humour and the novelist did not, she doesn't waste her words and the author sounds as if he wasted all of them: she goes against a reviewer's-law (which might not have been a law back then but was surely understood to some extent: "Don't do this," people must have said) and spends the entire review describing the plot of the book from start to finish with almost no other commentary.

Her opinion is all held in and radiated by, the selection of the words she uses to describe that plot, so serious as she explains the lunatic mystery of the evil heir searching for his treasure that she is laughing, she is disdainful but not disdainful because that sounds too straight -- smiling, she is cruel at the small scale of this novel's emotions and its plotting, the thing is so small that it's funny, the idea of anyone spending their time reading it, the largeness of a human life, the minuteness of this book (I am putting words in her mouth; she never says any of this, she only lets you imagine that she was calling to Leonard across the room, and asking, "Listen to this," before reading him an excerpt, then both of them rolling around): the scale is off, the fact of reading is funny, in a few sentences she has made herself a giant, the book is a fly, then she rips off its wings; she uses the same voice when she kills The Angel in the House, reporting, "if there was a draught she sat in it."

And this notion of scale you can watch in her other prose (it occurs to me I had to put words in her mouth so that I could carry on to the thought I'm having now): the spectacle of London and the ideas inside Mrs Dalloway's head, these things that seem larger or smaller depending on your viewpoint, the air coloured with infusion of lighthouse and then the stick itself.

Your income scaled to one size will let you write, scaled to another size it will trip you over -- she thinks about class differences when she gives a speech to working women, she notes the spaces between her imaginary Shakespeare and his sister, the scale of William, his influence as a man, and the scale of the sister, the morsel of her strength when Woolf compares it with his, and the sister's helplessness when she tries to increase her strength since the forces opposing her are actually a network that has formed between the head-interiors of other people, where she cannot go, or it is not in their heads but in some region of electricity of which their skulls appear, from the outside, to form the boundary. How soft is a mind, how hard is a head? M. says that he saw a man last week using a concrete kerb for a pillow. If M. had been wearing night vision goggles then that head would have been a burning fire on the concrete and the body in the gutter of a driveway, burning too with heat and shooting the warm blood through its chutes at thirty-something degrees Centigrade though without the goggles it looked cold and still, marked with little textures that might interest the observer but the concrete was speckled with textures that were fascinating too, and no difference between them in that respect. If we wore night vision goggles we would be surrounded by walking stars. And all the books would be dead but still rectangular.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

clothes a wantonness

When I read the words "gold wire" (referring to hair) in one of these poems my mind glosses over "gold" and sees predominantly "wire," the stiff, tough line, harder to bend than a hair, rough not supple; the word "gold" does not modify this effect at all. I see "gold" next to "wire" and it is as if I've read the word "metal" and then another word in parentheses, which is something like potscrubber, one of those metal nests that take the crusts off saucepans.

Then the poet is strange since he seems to be loving this woman because of her scrubbly hair, not in spite of it, he is expecting us to love it too, and gathering us in innocently and with such trust, as though we too, myself and everyone else who might one day read this poem or has, one day in the past, read it, loves also this clotty hair. There he is, glowing over that wig as if it's come off an ad for Pantene. I've arrived at this gold-wire poem from the romantic poem before, also by the same poet but not with any mention of wire hair; I thought he was the same as the rest but now I am surprised by the perversity of his fetish: brave man, I think, admitting this in public.

In his next poem I wonder if he will tell me that he likes something else, sniffing feet, or collecting used undies from vending machines, or he was not fetishistic, he was only Robert Herrick (1591 - 1674) and he liked the mess that pushed back against the tyranny of order.

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;--
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

But disorder can be tyrannous as well if there is too much of it. What does that mean? That this morning I walked into a fresh public toilet and homelessness was washing in the sink. That's primarily what I mean by that sentence, or else it's the aura I felt around that sentence as I was writing it, or the inspiration, or the compulsion, or the fuel. The word "disorder" in Herrick's poem set me off and I thought, "The homeless woman had disorder and it was too much, it was not sweet; she wanted order, disorder is not always wonderful, just a hint of disorder is what we like, the touch as he says (the stomacher is not erring all over, only "here and there"), and the huge disorder, like this woman's disorder, sticky and stuck to her, is not what we like. (The most vital words in the poem are those that make the disorder smaller, and contain it, and describe it.) When is there too much of a thing? When we can't get away from it. Here is an idea," I said to myself, possibly wrong, possibly not totally wrong, so stash the notion away and save it for later, "assume that part of the pleasure you get from the careless shoe-string or other slight disorder comes from the idea that this a secret thing, mostly concealed, and you've spotted it, you've exposed it, it is your triumph, other people can't see this thing, and you might have looked in the wrong place too if you were not so canny and smart, but nobody congratulates themselves when they notice an untidy homeless person, and nobody would think they had found out a secret if they had walked into that public toilet and noticed that this woman had an unusually strong smell; then there is not self-congratulation, there is another set of ideas instead.

'Now imagine the ratios changed in this situation and the woman is rich, clean, and beautiful with almost no scent, just a tiny tiny whiff as you walk past, of sweat, come then gone, and she strides onwards with business to do, she doesn't stand by the sink carefully soaking up water with a paper towel."

Then I had a reaction to that specific and powerful smell, which was the strongest homeless smell I'd ever smelt, and stronger than the smell of the man in green, who is clean and likes mathematics, and stronger than the smell of the man who seems to be homeful not homeless but for whatever reason never washes his clothes or teeth. My disorder-sentence ("tyrannous" etc) is maybe or maybe not a gesture in their direction too: look, it says, this broad comparison of scents, and the scent of this woman placed at the top in the category of Strongest and A Prompt. If you had been with me this morning then I wouldn't have bothered to write about tyranny. I would have written, "Remember that sink this morning and the amazing smell?" But then I might think, "I have to explain why I'm putting this after Herrick's poem, otherwise they won't trust me and will think I'm just writing now whatever comes into my head," which would be true, because it was what came into my head, but, saying so, you would sound as if you thought it was random.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

in thy heart a child he lies

"Hears not my Phillis how the birds
Their feathered mates salute?
They tell their passion in their words:
Must I alone be mute?"
Phillis, without frown or smile,
Sat and knotted all the while.

"The god of love in thy bright eyes
Does like a tyrant reign;
But in thy heart a child he lies,
Without his dart of flame."
Phillis, without frown or smile,
Sat and knotted all the while.

"So many months in silence past,
And yet in raging love,
Might well deserve one word at last
My passion should approve."
Phillis, without frown or smile,
Sat and knotted all the while.

"Must then your faithful swain expire,
And not one look obtain,
Which he, to soothe his fond desire,
Might pleasingly explain?"
Phillis, without frown or smile,
Sat and knotted all the while.

Phillis is one of the rare times when the woman-character in this anthology of seventeenth-century poetry (it is a book called Seventeenth-Century Poetry, edited by John Hayward, Chatto and Windus, 1961) , seems to have a human presence and is not a conglomerate of flowers, birds, and weather; she is a bare spot in a gross of Arcimboldos. She is described less but suggested more; she is the same word but she is a different species of thing, with different attributes and manners, and though it is hard to believe that all the other poets really did love a woman with hair the exact colour of "gold wire," as they say, it is not hard to believe that Sir Charles Sedley one day in his life did try to butter up a woman who preferred to go on knotting, which, according to an online search I've just done, is a word that slashfic groups use when they want to refer to a subset of porn that goes on mainly between part-animal demihumans who are mostly but not exclusively gay.

It must have meant something else while Sedley was alive in the 1600s but the fanfic porn result sits at the top of my page, and under that the same definition, both from different wikis. Then there is a link to Urban Dictionary, which attributes knotting to dogs, and calls it with this Latin name, bulbus canis.

I start to wonder if every word is not like pink slip in the Matthews poem, a gateway to different trains of thought depending on the railway station: your brain the station, or more the platform, and above you a sign that says, "Epping," while other trains in the near distance pull away to Werribee or Deer Park but only one train is possible at a time for you, you're stuck with Epping, the word that characterises your language.

There are potato cakes in the food stall nearby and a seagull wobbling on the train cable where its feet can't grip; beyond that the block of flats behind the Arts Centre, and this is filling up your Epping-understanding of the world, which is not the Werribee-understanding, or the understanding that lands you in Belgrave among the eucalypts, a smell of smoke from the chimneys of the houses down the road and the corpse of a secondhand bookshop where once upon a time I found for seven dollars John Crowley's Little, Big, a book that seems to have borrowed one phrase from the poem Aramantha by Richard Lovelace (1618–1657), who belongs in this book of poetry (though whether he is in it or not I can't say because between Phillis and the end of this paragraph someone has gone to sleep in the room with the bookshelf).

Fairies (writes one character in Crowley on a typewriter, not using the word fairies), are "made not born." Then she crosses out "made not born" and replaces it with the opposite, "born not made."

Those colour'd things were made, not borne.
Which, fixt within their narrow straits,
Do looke like their own counterfeyts.

wrote Lovelace. And in Peake, the Doctor, giving Fuchsia a drug in a cup, tells her to "drink to coloured things" -- I think I am remembering that correctly but bear with me on some of these quotes -- still -- I think that's when the line comes out. He says it at some point. Put those three together and say that he is telling her to drink to unnamed fairies. The evidence I've assembled points to this conclusion; the conclusion is wrong. It mat be possible that every word in the world, in at least one mind in the world, has no resonance, and indicates no association, but points to nothing at all.