Commentaries - January 2010

writing through imagism

Here's H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" (1916):

Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

treasure
spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

And here is Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies" (2002):

Lavenderish dusk
strapped for stays,
pomegranates under the rubberband
chucked for a glass Oz,

letdown
splayed by the pillar-shelves
to page upon the ottoman:

his talk has wrought suit
amid citrus gapes
and pall dunked in the bowl
and grated sage
or cleaved clear paleo-pines.

Postgeist, upcast
California upon weed,
what banker yields
so fragrant a cant
as this vagrant cant?

Scappettone wrote through H.D.'s poem, substituting words but always keeping to parts of speech. She echoes the original at certain moments, creating some rhymes and in a few cases what amounts to a homonymic ("husk"/"dusk") and quasi-synonymic translation ("sought root"/"wrought suit"). The poem is a meta-commentary on imagism, a way of decorating or over-elaborating H.D. whose imagistic lines convey a "piety that veers into preciosity" (the poet's phrase).** Conch-shells become paleo-pines. "Fire on leaf" becomes "California upon weed."

"Vase" can rhyme with "maze" or with "Oz," depending on your class. (Scappettone has introduced the poem at readings sometimes by mentioning this valence, seeming to contribute to the notion that it is a commentary on imagism's social preciousness.)

PennSound's Scappettone page happens to include a recording of her reading the poem.

** Email of 1/19/2010.

Hill Street Blues

being Frank

Yes, I'm obsessed with Hill Street Blues. I apologize. My favorite single image from the show comes from the very end of episode 1 of season 3 ("Trial By Fury"--which won an Emmy for the writing). Frank Furillo, having manipulated the justice system to get the guys guilty of the rape and murder of a nun, realizes (we're meant to think: ironically) that he's committed a sin. Got the criminals but gave into mob justice--listened to the advice of his reactionary SWAT-team adjutant (Howard Hunter) and really angered his liberal-left Public Defender lover (Joyce Davenport). Now he's pulling his car into a parking spot in front of the Catholic Church, the place where Sister Carmella had been raped and killed. He'll go into the confessional, we now realize. But in the moment before we realize that, we get this perspective of him, unlike any visual rendering of a major TV series character I'd seen up to that point (1982). We can barely see him through the urban dark and the bars of the church gate and the statue of Mary standing guard.

Duncan's made place

These three discuss Robert Duncan's prologue-poem to The Opening of the Field with me in episode 27 of PoemTalk, just released today. Please have a listen. And let me know what you think: afilreis [at] gmail [dot] com.

The made place (PoemTalk #27)

Robert Duncan, "Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

To talk about Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” we at PoemTalk chose a day when an apt trio of poet-critics would be at the Kelly Writers House in Philly. It was, in fact, a celebration of the new Poems for the Millenium anthology, gathering together a new array of romanticism – a volume edited by Jeffrey Robinson (resides in Colorado) and Jerome Rothenberg (southern California). Charles Bernstein was on hand to help celebrate Jeffrey’s and Jerry’s great new volume, so we all took an hour aside and moved upward to PoemTalk’s garrett studio (which doubles as the office of Al Filreis) and got deeply and happily into this key poem by Duncan. First drafted in 1953, struggled over in the late 50s, and presented as the prologue poem to the important volume of 1960, The Opening of the Field, which in many ways, indeed, opened the field. Along the way, at various points in the discussion, we are privileged to hear of Jerry Rothenberg’s contemporaneous responses to the poem—he who after all published his own first book (of a very different kind) in that turning-point year. (Donald Allen’s gathering together of the somewhat newly emergent avant-garde, of various schools, in The New American Poetry, was published at the same time, as was Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems.)

As Charles points out during our talk, any of the several key words or phrases in the poem (“permission,” “field,” “return,” “made place,” “everlasting omen”) could have occupied us the entire session. It seemed mostly sufficient to wander around this poetic meadow for a while and then bow out as gracefully as we could. We note that Jerry’s interest in Duncan’s mode has increased over the years. We also note that none of us could quite agree with any of the others about the precise relationship between this poem and the Romantic tradition. Al tells of the recurring dream (from Duncan’s childhood) that animates and informs this “return” to the meadow. Charles remarks on the crucial major distinction between writing, on the one hand, and the state of being given permission to write, on the other. Jeffrey speaks helpfully about the possible connection, for Duncan, between “field” and “feel.” Jerry ends by talking briefly about how Duncan has influenced his own work.

Be sure to listen all the way to the end. We feel that Jerry’s and Jeffrey’s “gathering paradise” recommendations are especially useful. One listener, previewing the episode, has already purchased a copy of the book Jeffrey’s recommends.

This episode was engineered and directed by Mark Lindsay and edited as always by Steve McLaughlin.

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun’s going down

whose secret we see in a children’s game
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

Writers on radio

At Kelly Writers House we are preparing to present the 79th episode of our monthly radio program, aired on WXPN-FM (xpn.org), called "Live at the Writers House." (So-named because during the first two seasons we actually went live to the air from 3805 Locust Walk in Philadelphia. Holy cow.) Here is an announcement about our newest episode, with a bit of looking back at the show's 13 years.