wittgenstein: the words of the poets pierce through our lives

§155   A poet’s words can pierce us. And that is of course causally connected with the use that they have in our life. And it is also connected with the way in which, conformably to this use, we let our thoughts roam up and down in the familiar surroundings of the words.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel


rilke helpfully itemizes just what all goes into the writing of a poem

 

… Ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough) — they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you have long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn’t pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else — ); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet, restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars, — and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves — only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them.

—from The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

scenes from the writing life: the silent estate of louis zukofsky

"I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature . . ."

[Zuk_alone1.jpg] 

Don’t quote me

 

In any alphabet of modern American poets (Ashbery, Bishop, Creeley … ), Louis Zukofsky (1907- 78) conveniently fills twenty-sixth place. He is less well-known than contemporaries such as Langston Hughes and Kenneth Rexroth, or even his friend Lorine Niedecker, who has benefited from "a posthumous boom in her reputation", according to David Lehman’s recent Oxford Book of American Poetry. No boom has sounded in Zukofsky studies, and none will do so in the near future, if the poet’s son has his way. Paul Zukofsky, who administers the author’s estate, has posted a "Copyright Notice" on an independent website devoted to his father’s work:

 

People have been misled into thinking that, in terms of quoting LZ, they may do what they want, and do not have to worry about me. These people are then suddenly faced with the reality of an irascible, recalcitrant MOl, and are confronted with the very real prospect of years of work potentially down the tubes.

 

He wants scholars and critics to know that he is planting "an obvious ‘do not trespass ‘sign where LZ aficionados may see it". He has no desire to cultivate interest in his father’s poetry, the most prominent example of which is the long poem "A", which occupied fifty years of Zukofsky’s life. "I urge you to not work on Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not", Paul writes. "You will be more appreciated working on some author whose copyright holder(s) will actually cherish your work. I do not."

 

Should you insist, you and Paul may "more or less amicably work out the fees that I demand". Otherwise, "remove all quotation; or we can turn the matter over to lawyers". As for those (like us) who believe that the "fair use" clause in copyright law permits reasonable quotation for critical purposes, be warned. "I promise to do my utmost to hamper, hinder, and preferably prevent all quotation."

 

The TLS is one of the few mainstream journals in the English-speaking world to have paid critical heed to Zukofsky, an allegedly "difficult" poet. In the issue of September 7, 2007, Marjorie Perloff reviewed a biography by Mark Scroggins. Needless to say, she quoted all she needed to qualify her well-informed argument. Would Zukofsky have enjoyed the serious attention devoted to his poetry? Probably yes. Does Paul? No.

 

I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature … but one line you may not cross, ie, never never ever tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity.

 

You wouldn’t want that. You could, alternatively, calm your nerves by reading Zukofsky. We recommend the charming "To My Wash-stand", included in Mr Lehman’s Oxford Book.


—from the Times Literary Supplement, November 13, 2009

kurt schwitters’s great dada love poem

File:An Anna Blume.jpg
 

"Anna Blume"

By Kurt Schwitters

 

“An Anna Blume” ("To Anna Flower") was written or perhaps more accurately constructed by the German artist Kurt Schwitters in 1919, and was soon interpreted as emblematic of the chaos of the times and a harbinger of the new poetic language.

 

O beloved of my twenty-seven senses, I

love your! – you ye you your, I your, you my.

–We?

This belongs (by the way) elsewhere.

Who are you, uncounted female? You are

–are you? People say you are, –let

them say on, they don’t know a hawk from a handsaw.

You wear your hat uon your feet and walk round

on your hands, upon your hands you walk.

Halloo, your red dress, sawn up in white pleats.

Red I love Anna Blume, red I love your! — You

ye you your, I your, you my. –We?

This belongs (by the way) in icy fire.

Red bloom, red Anna Blume, what do people say?

Prize question: 1.) Anna Blume has a bird.

2.) Anna Blume is red.

3.) What colour is the bird?

Blue is the color of your yellow hair.

Red is the cooing of your green bird.

You simple girl in a simple dress, you dear

green beast, I love your! You ye you your,

I your, you my. — We?

This belongs (by the way) in the chest of fires.

Anna Blume! Anna, a-n-n-a, I trickle your

name. Your name drips like softest tallow.

Do you know, Anna, do you know already?

You can also be read from behind, and you, you

the loveliest of all, are from behind, as you are from

before: “a-n-n-a”.

Tallow trickles caressingly down my back.

Anna Blume, you trickle beast, I love your!

 

Watch and listen to the poem in the original German here. For more on Schwitters’ music, go to this page on the great ubu.com site.

 

beckett on writing poetry

Beckett held the idea of the ‘professional’ poet in abhorrence. To him it was virtually a contradiction in terms. Craft, structure, rhythm, linguistic energy were assumed prerequisites, but poetry was a calling, not a profession, not something you could decide to do at a certain moment. He meant what Keats meant, whose work he knew so well, when he wrote that ‘if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all’. He certainly did not mean that poets should not earn money – he himself had taught for a while (was miserable during that time), had translated prolifically, written essays and reviews — but that the poem itself should not be academic or intentional, that the library shelves must not crush the furze. Beckett was a poet down to his teguments, ligaments, cells; standing or sitting, poetry’s presence in his presence was as pervasive as oxygen.


—from Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett. Faber & Faber, 2001.

christopher logue’s reworking of the iliad

Christopher Logue has been painstakingly revisiting/rewriting/transliterating Homer on a sporadic, piecemeal basis with his Kings: An Account of Books 1 and 2 of Homer’s Iliad (1991), The Husbands: An Account of Books 3 and 4 of Homer’s Iliad (1995), War Music (1987) and All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes Of Homer’s Iliad Rewritten (2003).

Cover Image

Two excerpts from Christopher Logue, All Day Permanent Red:

Drop into it.
Noise so clamorous it sucks.
You rush your pressed-flower hackles out
To the perimeter.
And here it comes:
That unpremeditated joy as you
—The Uzi shuddering warm against your hip
Happy in danger in a dangerous place
Yourself another self you found at Troy—
Squeeze nickel through that rush of Greekoid scum!
Oh wonderful, most wonderful, and then again more wonderful
A bond no word or lack of words can break,
Love above love!
And here they come again the noble Greeks,
Ido, a spear in one a banner in his other hand
Your life at every instant up for—
Gone.
And, candidly, who gives a toss?
Your heart beats strong. Your spirit grips.
King Richard calling for another horse (his fifth).
King Marshal Ney shattering his sabre on a cannon ball.
King Ivan Kursk, 22.30 hrs,
July 4th to 14th ’43, 7000 tanks engaged,
"…he clambered up and pushed a stable-bolt
Into that Tiger-tank’s red-hot-machine-gun’s mouth
And bent the bastard up. Woweee!"
Where would we be if he had lost?
Achilles? Let him sulk.

*


To welcome Hector to his death

God sent a rolling thunderclap across the sky
The city and the sea
And momentarily—
The breezes playing with the sunlit dust—
On either slope a silence fell.

Think of a raked sky-wide Venetian blind.
Add the receding traction of its slats
Of its slats of its slats as a hand draws it up.
Hear the Greek army getting to its feet.

Then of a stadium when many boards are raised
And many faces change to one vast face.
So, where there were so many masks,
Now one Greek mask glittered from strip to ridge.
Already swift
Boy Lutie took Prince Hector’s nod
And fired his whip that right and left
Signalled to Ilium’s wheels to fire their own,
And to the Wall-wide nodding plumes of Trojan infantry—

Flutes!
Flutes!
Screeching above the grave percussion of their feet
Shouting how they will force the savage Greeks
Back up the slope over the ridge, downplain
And slaughter them beside their ships—

Add the reverberation of their hooves: and
"Reach for your oars. . ."
T’lesspiax, his yard at 60°, sending it
Across the radiant air as Ilium swept
Onto the strip
Into the Greeks
Over the venue where
Two hours ago all present prayed for peace.
And carried Greece
Back up the slope that leads
Via its ridge
Onto the windy plain.

Download All Day Permanent Red here.


john asbery on writing & reading a poem



John Ashbery being intense in 1962

“Paradoxes and Oxymorons”


This poem is concerned with language on a very

plain level.

Look at it talking to you. You look out a window

Or pretend to fidget. You have it but you don’t

have it.

You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other.


The poem is sad because it wants to be yours, and

cannot.

What’s a plain level? It is that and other things,

Bringing a system of them into play. Play?

Well, actually, yes, but I consider play to be


A deeper outside thing, a dreamed role-pattern,

As in the division of grace these long August days

Without proof. Open-ended. And before you know

It gets lost in the stream and chatter of typewriters.


It has been played once more. I think you exist

only

To tease me into doing it, on your level, and then

you aren’t there

Or have adopted a different attitude. And the poem

Has set me softly down beside you. The Poem is

you.


—from Shadow Train (1981)

If infinitely many monkeys are set before typewriters, the statistical paradox goes, they will sooner or later produce Shakespeare’s plays. Ashbery’s poem “has been played” like a record or a trick. But perhaps it is the reader’s trick as well. In the communication system, the ideal reader now resembles the Divine Paradox: “I think you exist,” the poet asserts, “and then you aren’t there.” In his final paradox, the poem is you,” varying the dedication “the poem is yours,” Ashbery yields himself to the reader, who nevertheless continues to “miss” him.


—from John Shoptaw, On the Outside Looking Out: John Ashbery’s Poetry (1994)