James Cook: From 'The Croatoan Song Book' 'If You Wish To Become an Owl, Movement I' (an excerpt)
(Mule Stable Gray)
“One day the demons of America must be placated. The ghosts must be
appeased, the Spirit of Place atoned for…” – D.H. Lawrence
Sources of creeks and rivers. Earth humid black and rich. On the river ahead not
far distant. The wind was hard and against us. Passed through a broken country.
Wood pumice stone lava. Mule stable gray…
They brought balls of cotton thread and parrots and spears. Maps rotten and
spoiled with rain, armor almost eaten through with rust.
(One day in the old times when we could still talk with other creatures)
Soon the news went around that the terrapin had killed the wolf and was using
his ears for spoons.
The spirit of absolutism is everywhere apparent. Shouting his name to the
echoing solitudes. Intrepid conflict with obstacles without. Because he had
thought he had seen a great beehive.
They take the form of stones full of living blood and flesh. The rabbit inside kept
a cloud in the shape
of an old woman
arms extended toward the moon
You, I’ve known you from old
hair full of fish
thighs a woven rumor of feathers
& I’m out walking sleepless
scribbled in the snowy margins
like an insomniac’s
on a street where I imagine
the weird cosmologies
of some kid’s dreams
just manes passing
behind black branches
in tiny yards…)
(just apocrypha drifting
off the city’s edge)
& a moon up there
made of wire
go on shopping
with dark coats
Of the book rubb’d away
Of the lines of the sun and the wrist
the wounded schematic
to a muddy path
that disappeared down into the creekbeds…)
By the persuasion of some of them we went
into ye great river
that divides itself in 2
by flashlight light he recognized
the woods from his dream
where Anna left her dress
on the riverbank
& where he’d gone looking for her
out in the old incunabula
( here is the great tree
our masks from )
…sweated out the fever
in a room
above a dusty hardware
& all of this was
as a notebook
lost in a dream
& if you wish to become an owl
yr little radio’s got
all these ghost songs
& if you wish to become an owl
spell the movie of this forest
with yr eyelids shut
listen how water
in the falling
& snow takes these figures
into its secret
if you wish
to become an owl
sit in the swamp
to become an owl…
[NOTE. With "The Croatoan Song Book" James Cook makes his entry into the tradition & lineage of American epic poetry ("a poem including history"), the focus here on the "lost" Roanoke colony in 16th century Virginia. The notes that follow speak eloquently to his sense of time & structure. (J.R.)]
The Croatoan Songbook: Notes for Jerome Rothenberg
SOME NOTES ON INTENTION:
A prayer for & hymn to America.
A psychogeographical exploration.
An elegy. America as Loss, as Enigma.
DH Lawrence’s ‘one day the Spirit of Place must be atoned for…’
A work whose primary purpose is to exult the handmade, the homemade, the simply felt &
created object as against the mass-produced, the cheap, the homogenous.
Reclamation of language from above.
Affirmation also of the vatic function of the poet. Of his role as a conduit.
Of the poem, as well as the chair or the dulcimer, as well as America itself, as a manifestation
of the tension between the inner world & the outer world.
The Croatoan Songbook as a piece of American folk art, like the Watts Towers or
“The Cuckoo Bird” or an embroidery sampler.
Focus on the Local as a key to the Universal.
An attempt to map the ‘Dream-Time”, the Songlines of America. An attempt to
trace a ‘spiritual’ map of America through the contours of history, including
typically marginalized cultures, indigenous peoples, etc. in order to locate the
moment of essential loss.
A response to Robert Kelly’s imprecation in his book In Time that : “It is the true
annals of magical time that need to be compiled – or if not compiled then duly &
accurately transcribed at each moment, in overlapping palimpsestical overlays,
vast collages of magical time in the dark & light of which we will be able to
perceive authentically as in books of ‘history’, the true history of our race.”
SOME NOTES ON STRUCTURE:
The poem will consist of 32 movements, with each movement broken up serially
or composed of fragmentary gestures toward a lost wholeness.
A movement itself can consist of several individual sections or one long
section=fragments on a charged field of white space.
Picture each movement as a tectonic plate. The location where two plates meet
forms a tension which expresses itself as a geological event. The tension in the
poem results from this boundary. This boundary is also the boundary between
planes of experience, between cultures, between periods of history, between lyric
and narrative, between Phanopoeia, Logopoeia and Melopoeia.