[Originally a talk at a panel on canonicity (Jessica Pressman, Brian Reed, & Bob Perelman) at University of California, San Diego, organized by Michael Davidson, Feb 2013.]
Now that I'm 65 I can ride Philly buses free. That's the good news. The more 'interesting' news is that the balance of homeostasis and desire has become a surprisingly touchy question. Keeping things the same is suddenly attractive, quite attractive, impossibly attractive. All my writing life I've learned that semantics are open-ended, but I'm starting to get the feeling that some words will turn out to have only one meaning, which is a novel and not a totally pleasant thought. "Finite" is one of those words. I don't in fact know what its one meaning is, but extraneous hypotheses are getting shorn away daily, even hourly, which I suppose is progress.
In one sense the question of canons in poetry seems decidedly old-school. It brings back memories of the 1980s -- Marjorie Perloff's "Can(n)on to the Left of Us, Can(n)on to the Right of Us," Jerome Rothenberg's "Harold Bloom: The Critic as Exterminating Angel," Charles Bernstein's "The Academy in Peril: William Carlos Williams Meets the MLA" -- when the battle map was in crisp focus. That was when O'Hara's poetry could be compared to a small electric fan blowing out crepe-paper streamers, when Stein was a hoax, when Language writing was a dismissible fad, when Williams meant wheelbarrows.
Wake up to the train, again, running right through town at 6:30 holding up a whole line of 7:00 workers. Just flashed on how Seattle woke to the sun curving round the mountain as I watched the homeless up before workers in the stained-glass dawn. In the dream the woman in my arms remained elusive. I remember hunkering down last night feeling good about myself, but by morning had the task of reassembling all of that. An act of bricolage: place this stone here, try abandoning that pattern, bookmark the page where Freedom calls for novelty, brush the dust off the gladioli, garner a certain selflessness in reassembling the Self.
Writing on Goya
One doesn’t simply run head-on into Goya snorting some interpretation, or other. Nor stroll through the gallery of history as Nietzsche warns against in his UntimelyMeditationswithout suffering life from the ground up. Rather, run gauntlet. Fight against one’s Time. I’m not gazing at any specific work, but Goya’s vicious brushstrokes, fierce blacks, penetrating vortexes, barely audible grunts & barks as titles swirl, hurt brain & viscera, make black blood blue. To get to Goya is to go through Lorca through Guernica through gore of bull & sword, peasant & starvation, through that which is unimaginably worse. One doesn’t simply say rape, torture, mutilation without potential disastrous ramification, but blood is in the veins till running from gash & wound into the ground, when Death grants another pardon in order to lift pen, & crack voice open as vessel. Stark, raving, angered at injustice, typing on the keyboard till fingerprints are raw, then gone.
[The appeal to me in the works that follow was in the harshness and fury of Lermontov’s romanticism, but it was just this note of contempt, as in his “iron verses / bursting with bitterness / & rage,” that marked him as a poet who displayed, as Nietzsche wrote of Heine, “that divine malice without which I cannot conceive perfection.” It was that spirit – not necessarily our own – that Milos Sovak & I tried to capture in a project to translate Lermontov anew, sadly terminated by Milos’s death in 2009. I’ll present the four poems we did accomplish in two installments. (J.R.)]
[In advance of the forthcoming republication of ShakingthePumpkin by Station Hill Press of Barrytown I’m posting again the following selection which appeared, with accompanying commentaries, in a recent issue of PoetryInternational, San Diego State University, & as an excerpt on PoemsandPoetics. Additional excerpts from ShakingthePumpkin were posted earlier &morewillbepostedherebetweennow&theactualrepublication.]
In the aftermath of TechniciansoftheSacred (1968) the next step I took toward the construction of an experimental ethnopoetics was an assemblage of traditional works and commentaries thereon focused entirely on one of the world’s still surviving and incredibly diverse “deep cultures.” The resultant work, ShakingthePumpkin:TraditionalPoetryoftheIndianNorthAmericas, was published by Doubleday Anchor in 1972 and in revised versions by Alfred van der Marck Editions (1986) and the University of New Mexico Press (1991).