Wednesday, July 29, 2015

waddling with distended craw

I want, when I see Blaine Hill say that the last post reminds him of Macbeth, to write a sentence about Dorothy Richardson that ends with the words "like John Clare," but what would the rest of the sentence look like, that's my question to myself; how should I connect that slight faint feeling that they are somehow sympathetic, to the firmness or thoughtfulness of a sentence? The impression is not firm or thoughtful.* I begin to work out the amount of time I will have to spend talking about the ways in which they are not alike before I will feel entitled to say, "in this respect they are similar."

What is the connection, really: it's only the aheroic sublime that she observes in shabby wallpaper, and the sublime ditto that he finds in ruts or wind, and their mutual stubborn decision to record time passing over these things.

The crib stock fothered – horses suppered up
And cows in sheds all littered-down in straw
The threshers gone the owls are left to whoop
The ducks go waddling with distended craw
Through little hole made in the henroost door

(from Clare's Winter Evening)

But the dark yellow graining of the wall-paper was warm. It shone warmly in the the stream of light pouring through the barred lattice window. In the further part of the room, darkened by the steep slope of the roof, it gleamed like stained wood. The window space was a little square wooden room, the long low double lattice breaking the roof, the ceiling and walls warmly reflecting its oblong of bright light.

(Richardson: The Tunnel)

Opening Windows on Modernism: the Selected Letters of Dorothy Richardson (ed. Gloria G. Fromm) I read this sentence, "And perhaps the Australian outsider, Christina Stead, also bears comparison to Richardson, if not in her political commitment, then in the disposition of her unconventional life;" and I see that it is only there because Fromm wants to place Richardson in a group, even one that does not, she says, function usefully: "sui generis […] But this is a company of originals." Leah Dickerman, one of the essayists I read a few days ago in Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage, had the reverse of Fromm's dissimilarity problem: she was arguing against other commentators who have tried to downplay Schwitters's influence on Robert Rauschenberg, hoping to manufacture (the other commentators, not Dickerman) a state of heroic separation where the American artist can thrive freely.

So you have a fret over the debt that one artist should pay to another or be seen to pay to another, and at the other end of the struggle you have the desire to place people in a contextual group (Fromm), a desire that comes from a simple question: how do you summarise Richardson for people who haven't read her?

But then why are they reading her letters?

* This post of mine is not a reflection on Blaine Hill's comment, only on the thoughts I had afterwards.


  1. maybe clare and richardson have a slight connection because they both look at things closely and directly. with clare it's rabbits, leaves and heaths; maybe richardson, like proust, analyzes what strikes her in the moment and records it. sort of like a train passing a small town. or(your own metaphor here...).

    1. interesting, the comment re the groupability of artists. i've always thought, thinking about it, that true art is the result of individual conception, but that can't happen until previous art is seen, read or somehow appreciated, yes. back to basics here. excuse my beginner's mind...

    2. It's the closeness and directness of the expression that brings them into contact.

      But one of the differences between them (one of the reasons I can't bring myself to group them together) is the nature of that being "struck" by something -- it's different in each of them. Clare pictures himself as a definite "I" who witnesses and then remembers an enduring spectacle. Even if he might have only seen the thing once he knows that it is a long-lasting or seasonal phenomenon. "On Lolham Brigs in wild and lonely mood | Ive seen the winter floods their gambols play," or "Come early morning with thy mealy grey | Moist grass," and so on. But Richardson has cast herself as a disembodied author-voice without an "I". "After some hesitation, Miriam rang the house bell. The door was opened by a woman in a silk petticoat ..." And she gives you the impression that she's snatching something fleeting. "The small pat of butter was not enough for the large roll," thinks the character, but that thought is going to be gone as soon as she leaves the tea shop. It's not the same species of remembrance as "Then comes the meadows where I love to see | A flood washed bank support an aged tree" (Clare, "The Moorehens Nest").

    3. (But Gary Snyder remembers in the Clare way: "Last spring a bed of wild iris about here and this time too, a lazuli bunting.")

    4. the difference might be a gender thing in part, but i suspect it has more to do with what they did. clare was a farm worker, hands on, use the muscles kind of person, while richardson, being female, was not. i don't know anything about her, but i would be surprised if she was any kind of mechanic. snyder was a zen exponent of course; that discipline, as i've discovered, requires a definite way of looking at reality, having to do with mu(nothingness) and unattachment. and using all the senses to the limit possible to achieve "oneness with the universe". satori it's called, and actually is nothing special, just doing what is... interestingly enough, zen also negates the "I"; claiming it doesn't exist, just another illusion, which i tend to agree with.

    5. It doesn't sound as if he was much of a farm labourer though -- everything I've read suggests that he tried to earn a living at ploughing, threshing, and anything else he could get his hands on, but his health was never good, he was poor both physically and financially, a bookworm rather than a brawny or technical type, even as a child; then he had his mental breakdown and went into the asylum. Farm labouring doesn't seem to have been a source of pride or satisfaction for him.

      "And summer there puts garments on so gay
      I hate the plough that comes to dissaray [sic]
      Her holiday delights -- and labours toil
      Seems vulgar curses on the sunny soil"

      His dream was to be an accomplished poet. (He says so; he reiterates it.) His "I" is more of a Thoreau figure than anything else: rambling 'round the woods, musing in clearings, staring at sticks and worms, watching boys hunt for bird nests, "I used to lye and sing," "I walk and swing my stick for joy," etc. The "I" sees other people working -- "Ploughmen go whistling to their toils" -- but he's not a worker himself.

      "O who can pass such lovely spots
      Without a wish to stray
      And leave lifes cares a while forget
      To muse an hour away."

      (Has anyone ever written that as a thesis, I wonder: The role of his own farm work in the verse of John Clare?)

    6. i read a bio of him some time back, but i hadn't remembered those things about him. tx. i also seem to recollect that he had troubles with a publisher somehow; trying fruitlessly to get his creations printed. then when he was in the asylum for quite a while he got out again and enjoyed a peaceful old age. my impression was that farm work was the only way he could support himself, so he did do it, mayhap intermitently. a little hard work can go a long way, as some of us have found. a favorite fantasist, clark ashton smith, experienced the same sort of life: farm work to support his writing. i highly recommend his productions, if that sort of thing interests you.

    7. I've only read the kinds of short life summaries that people write to introduce poetry books, so if you've gone though an entire biography then I'm going to trust that you're the one with more knowledge.

      I didn't know that about Smith. Sometimes I think he's being sadistic for the sake of it, or because he's been reading too much lesser-Decadent and Pierre Louys (the sadism seems to come out of a snobbish desire to make small things squirm, or to end the story neatly, and not out of wild reasoning as in Bataille), but when he's drunk and excited -- when he carries himself across hyper-rich imagery with the aplomb of a tightrope walker -- then I like him a lot.

    8. i don't know about "more knowledge"; i notice my memory isn't what it used to be, but that's the way i recollect. i don't remember any sadism in smith. just the incredible description and pulling into awareness another world...

    9. I'm thinking of those times when he uses his luscious and precise descriptive technique on the subject of torture or mutilation or dismemberment: "The fair, slim, tapering hands of ThuIoneah, severed cleanly at the wrists, were attached with little mark of suture to the pale and lopped extremities of the two topmost branches of the dedaim." (The Garden of Adompha.)