Sunday, September 27, 2009

TC: Keats on Shipboard, September 1820


File:Dabo - The Seashore.jpg

The Seashore: Leon Dabo, c. 1900 (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Twilight, a few white clouds about and a few stars blinking

The sweet signals that guide me to this unknowingness,
The waters ebbing and the Horizon a Mystery,
Sea surface calm and strange fish circling below in green

And violet shadows at the turning of the tide,
A sense of a kind of quiet submarine growth
Of darkness in the deeper, outer channels,
With my last English evening coming on.

TC: The Nightingale


crop from the original manuscript of 'Ode to a Nightingale' in John Keats's handwriting


It was dark in the covert. From the unseen underwoods came a trill. My friend who had taken me walking in this green Somerset lane paused to listen.

Calm-throated, then rising, a quick buoyant spiral of notes, keen, sweetly piercing. A few seconds and it was over.

"Have you ever heard a nightingale?" my friend asked. This was May 1965 or so.

I hadn't. I was, what, twenty-four, twenty-five?

In the spring of 1819 Keats was twenty-three. He had not far to go.

Coleridge also heard the nightingale in Highgate, early, that forward spring.

The reclusive night-wandering bird, pulled toward the poets' gardens beneath a waxing moon.

Sorrows, mysteries, businesses and sillinesses: human things played out to the backdrop of a deeply earth-tuned melody.

And then, forever, the brevity of the northern summer nights.


Ode to the Nightingale: holograph draft: John Keats, 1819

Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos): illustration in Naturgeschichte der Vogel, J. F. Naumann, 1905

Friday, September 18, 2009

TC: Jim Carroll and the Imaginal Particular: "The clock is ticking..."



Dear Vincent,
Your provocative post-posting comment on JC: In Memoriam prompts a response I can't quite fit into our comments box. But I do want to respond, it seems a matter worth addressing this week, Jim has all of eternity now but for us the clock is ticking. It is time we attended.

I believe you are right in going out on this limb of thinking Jim into a Romantic tradition of committed fealty to the Imaginal much as was Keats' commitment, the project of belief from which in both cases the practice did follow. As you know this is not a prescribed form of subscription these days and of course the tendency always is to want to fit an artist into his immediate social context. But allowing that Jim fixed first on Rimbaud via Henry Miller and on Frank largely via Ted, we see from the first a division between the larger intention to follow the way of the Imaginal and the more specific location of that tradition in the immediate templates, the imaginal aspects of O'Hara and Berrigan, their way of flinging caution to the winds and buying into a grand dream of art and the poem. Keats was a baiter of bears, Ted wrote, bringing forward the humanness, and that humane quality Ted had was something he surely shared with Keats and passed on to Jim.

But I can't help feeling that as things went along Jim gradually gathered a courage and self-belief, developed largely in that long woodshed period of isolation in the 1970s when his dedication to his craft was intense and concentrated--he was the closeted writer taking care, then, when everybody else was casting around for the lighter pleasures of the moment--that allowed him to move beyond the poets he had first learned from and toward the original idea from Rimbaud of the poet as an alchemist who risks blowing himself up with every nutty experiment, because he can accept no other way than to go all the way.

And here he returns to Keats' worship of the Imaginal as all encompassing, Jim taking that even further out into the bent phantasmagoria of dreams. Anywhere out of this world. Jim went all the way. The important thing I think is that once having made the decision to go out beyond the settled margins, he did not do it in any muzzy or dreamy/blurry way but with the exacting particularity of a fantasy believed and made real. This way he could take in the whole range of psychic experience and deal with it extremely precisely as image. His fables of this psychic life are so utterly specific and vivid, they come to seem like "straight" narratives driven by a perfect consistency of and purchase upon what is true and real of the soul.

I think of The Book of Nods as in this respect the center of his work, in particular pieces like "Guitar Voodoo" and "Just Visiting". These works hold a dark imaginal power that has not yet been reckoned with. Here the recognition of the psychosexual dimensions of the Imaginal are beyond anything of which Keats would have been capable. "I felt my palm rinse her breast. It could have been a radio... What are a woman's breasts? Just so much adornment... they lie like some chalice on an altar waiting for adoration. Like the writing on the scroll... the handles on the urn... the gold that lines the vessel. I wanted the mystery inside. The thunder and the darkest light."

Where do these images come from? The trust in the Imaginal is complete and absolutely particularized, making plain that the movements of Psyche must be treated with utmost precision, a blurring won't do. So this would redefine the Romantic as the Imaginal Particular. Perhaps you will see what I mean from this video of a reading:

"Despite its preference for ambiguities, I tend to believe that the psyche is not against stern precision and exactitude," writes James Hillman. "I do not think that the psyche itself has an inscrutable smile, half-closed eyes and a fake indefiniteness that is but a comforting converse of scientism. The psyche as it appears in therapeutic practice responds to precision, and the images which the psyche produces are precise. To confront them and distill insight from them calls for refined, precise intensity and accuracy of insight. I believe that the psyche's affinity for precision expresses its affinity for spirit."

Taking a lead from Hillman's words I would see Jim now as not simply a prodigy or shooting star soon fading but a writer of serious adult interest who has extended the Romantic tradition into new realms not yet fully understood, perhaps because so many of those who know of him are as if snowblinded by the blizzard of meanings contained or hidden in words like rock star or junkie. The work really remains virgo intacta when it comes to critical examination. But the clock is ticking and its time is coming.

Animation zur Demonstration einer Minutensprunguhr: image by Hk kng, 2009
The Myth of Analysis (excerpt): James Hillman, 1972

"Bright Star"

I went last night to the opening of Poets House's new home on River Terrace in Battery Park City. It is a beautiful space, with a great view, dedicated to poetry. Afterwards, we all marched over to the cinplex to see Jane Campion's "Bright Star," the story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne's relationship, starring Ben Whishaw as Keats and Abbie Cornish as Fanny. It is a remarkable film. As a longtime Campion fan, I had high expectations, and the film lived up to them. Whishaw played Sebastian in the 2008 film version of Brideshead Revisited, in which he did a capable job. He seems much more suited to the role of the Romantic poet — impetuousness and flashes of humor allowing him to enliven the affecting seriousness of Keats's view of poetry. The movie hinges on the performance of Cornish as Fanny, and it is she who, by her performance, creates love in the film, by her impatience with the boorishness of Keats' friend, Charles Armitage Brown, as portrayed in the film by Paul Schneider, and her receptivity to poetry, even having had no previous experience of it. There is substantial recitation of poetry in the film, unlike in some of films of poets, which seem content to "tell the story," not realizing the story is completely contained in the poetry. Even the way in which the poetry is recited is effective, in judiciously chosen fragments, the way ideas are actually exchanged. Whishaw does an excellent job with the poetry, his pauses at the caesuras lingering just a millisecond longer than one would find comfortable, adding a vocal pain to that encompassed in the words.
You know the end of the story, of course, and you know, too, that the film will end with a complete recitation of "Bright Star," the sonnet Keats wrote for Brawne in 1819. I wish that had been handled differently. Cornish, in tears, having learned of Keats' death in Rome, walks to a spot they had shared, reciting the poem, but her disturbed state detracts from her ability to do the complicated poem justice. How much truer to Keats' beliefs it would have been to hear Whishaw reciting the poem from afar, from eternity now, while Cornish, whose performance ably handles a range of emotions, would have been freed to act her grief, without the extra burden of recitation. I recall the excellent recitation of Auden's "Funeral Blues" by John Hannah in Four Weddings and a Funeral. That was given under stress, but not while walking.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in long splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

J.C. In Memoriam


Wet leaves along the threshold of the mid-day
and I'm off to rescue the sky from its assassins

jogging and screaming and launching my clean mortars

into the March obscene air. . . the enemy.

I suppose I'd rather be sitting in Samoa now

sipping a quart of Orange Julius and being fanned

by Joey Heatherton in black tights and white glossy lipstick.

but I'm not. I'm here. and I have something to say,

as well as something to take care of.

And that something is probably more important than

you realize. I like the sky (don't you), its warmth, its friendliness,

I'm not going to let all this fucking soot taint that terrific blue.

battle the filthy airs with your mortars and your prayers.

you'll soon be overcome with lovely sensations of the sky.

you'll be thinking of me as this happens.

— Jim Carroll

TC: Jim Carroll: Pax Aeternum


Clouds over Bolinas Lagoon by oaxoax.

It's been awhile since I have written. That's because I made a large -- perhaps too large -- leap downward on my methadone dosage about two months ago, and it is only now that I've stabilized enough to write. Physically, I'm not too bad. I sneezed once every twenty seconds or so the first four days, and that was most unpleasant, but I'm holding on.

My brain feels detached... literally, that is, as if the liquid that suspends it evenly inside my head, like those marine compasses... I'm sure you've seen them... well, it's as if that fluid were drained off and the corduroy-textured bulk of gray was loose, banging itself freely against the inner walls of my head, leaving chunks of itself there at times, shriveling and drying without the protection of the vital, viscous fluid which provides a sort of nurturing balance.

I'm not sure what the exact results of this are... the light gives everything a sinister frame. I've never subscribed to that wank theory about people having "auras," but in sharp sunlight, everything looks cheetah-like... ready to pounce.

My dog is the loser. He gets shorter and shorter walks than usual. But since I can't get more than a cavity full of sleep (which reminds me: my teeth ache, individually and as one), I am able to go up to the meadow in first light of dawn and indulge him in the splendors of tennis ball fetch. Being up at that hour, I invariably run into my friend, the poet Tom Clark (wearing one of those Superfly, back-to-Africa pillbox jobs). He never stops. We seldom speak, but simply nod at each other with a look of camaraderie born of the knowledge that we have both succeeded in our quest to become complete anti-social hermits, dazzling and mysterious -- at least to our pets -- in our exquisite reclusion...


Enfin, ô bonheur, ô raison, j'écartai du ciel l'azur, qui est du noir, et je vécus, étincelle d'or de la lumière nature. De joie, je prenais une expression bouffonne et égarée au possible :

Elle est retrouvée.
Quoi ? - L'Éternité.
C'est la mer mêlée
Au soleil.

Mon âme éternelle,
Observe ton voeu
Malgré la nuit seule
Et le jour en feu.

Donc tu te dégages
Des humains suffrages
Des communs élans
Et voles selon...

- Jamais d'espérance
Pas d'
Science et patience,
Le supplice est sûr.

Plus de lendemain,
Braises de satin,
Votre ardeur
Est le devoir.

Elle est retrouvée !
- Quoi ? - L'Éternité.
C'est la mer mêlée
Au soleil.


I am never bored. I entertain myself. I put deadly spiders along my thigh, and they inject me with God. At times, I pretend I am a man in order to laugh.

Past midnight, when the doors have been barricaded for night, I ascend and steal water from the baptismal fount to drink. For nourishment, I eat what moves along the floor in the darkness. I have never seen my food.

What need have I for companionship? Without trying, I have made an alliance with angels: my will and capability are one. And, against my will at first, I was given comrades in hell. It is why I dance.

The saints know who I am. Because I dance, they have made clear that they may offer me no aid. Yet, they have vowed their respect for me nonetheless.

At night, to keep my body well, I climb these church walls within. For footholds I see the reliefs of Christ on his way to Calvary, as he weeps into a veil. Sometimes, as a great feast day approaches, workmen use scaffolds to polish the facades. They ascend all the way to the rotunda ceiling. It is my only sky. I choke on the dead reliquary air of a hundred years. I will be here on this scaffold, like an owl, for a hundred more. Looking down, it is again the day of my birth. And I kiss the painted blue. I touch the painted stars.

Jim Carroll: Impaired (excerpt), 1973, from Forced Entries (1987)
Arthur Rimbaud: Délires II (excerpt), from Une Saison en Enfer (1873)
Jim Carroll: Me, Myself and I (excerpt), c. 1973, from The Book of Nods (1986)

Clouds over Bolinas Lagoon: photo by Oaxoax, 2006
Pax Aeternum (Bolinas): photo by Grumpies, 2009

Posted by TC upon the hour of the funeral mass for Jim Carroll at the Church of Our Lady of Pompeii, West Greenwich Village, New York City, September 16, 2009

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine; et lux perpetua luceat eis.
In paradisum deducant te Angeli.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

TC: Species


File:Waschbaer auf dem Dach.jpg

Ascension of Venus
better late than never low in the southwest

Full moon a half degree wide
just after sunset peeping

Later still, indigo cheesecloth night

Redwood cloaked in fog
raccoons moving from floor to floor,
from room to room
in the fog,

with a sound like thin paper tearing

File:Raccons in a tree.jpg

Raccoon on roof, early morning
: photo by Carsten Volkwein, 2007
Raccoons in a tree: photo by Gary J. Wood, 2006

Thursday, September 3, 2009

TC: Tree Talk


File:Trees and sunshine.JPG

Tree talk is the party line of the intelligent listening forest
Whether the smooth voiceless no breeze whisper rustling
Inside green upper tiers of a fogbound blue spruce
Or the deep aether growth song stirring
Down in each tender quiet working sub-earth redwood shoot

Sunlight shining through redwoods in Muir Woods: photo by Rich S5812, 2007

Family ring: ring of coast redwoods (sequoia sempevirens) sprouting from stump of older tree: photo by Edward Z. Yang, 2005