Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ESSAY POEM: Contradictory sentences

ESSAY POEM: Contradictory sentences of socio-political import
form series of indeterminate length. Energy
arises from turns in phrasing, abrupt
carriage returns. Word substitutions
contrary to sense. A degree of incompleteness,
prized, precedes leaps in unexpected directions.
The staging of the performance provides motivation
to follow large unfoldings masked by subtext. “When you look at
/ the fieldwork, you see the problem of agency supported by
/ the sophistication of upward mobility … A contrapuntal
/ structure moves among several different lives.”
This is a cue to the method of writing. It is
a perception of the world order under capitalism.

Is the method only all about generating meaning
or incongruities in the field of action? In any case,
meaning is in play, “an abyss of crop-duster dictums”
writes Andrew Levy, in Artifice in the Calm Damages,
the chapbook from which I have been quoting.
He continues “revolutionaries / via minor routes,
filth, blood, and noise.” His text is written in the key of anarchy,
no newly born utopia looms on the other side of destruction.
Alice Notley, in turn, writes, in the key of really pissed off.
“Most of us are slaves, largely by consent. Or
/ you could say we’re brainwashed.” She is sardonic.
“I work  / in a shelter for battered women.
I submitted to / a pharaonic circumcision.”
Facing the abyss of embodied affect, I quaver.

Paralyzed. At times I see a cat sprawled
under the clothes tree. Juan Goytisolo muere
en Marrakech, city of my highlife nightmare,
jùjú music, Djemaa el fna, central square
of all night dance parties and food stalls,
estranged from myself and my circumstances.
Bearded old man in a brilliant Berber jacket.
Goytisolo sat with his back to the wall. Mint tea.
a notebook for recording phrases from an Arabic
that has no alphabet, seeking to better understand
those with whom he shared his life of exile,
three adoptive children and their mother.
The tide that surrounds us grows impatient
with lame-footed measures. He chose
the Atlantic shore at Larache for his internment.
He eschewed literary prizes. From the need
to educate his children, he accepted the Cervantes,
crippled as he was and unable to stand on his legs.
Now he lies with Jean Genet as he had wanted.

Do the contradictory sentences of in my notebook
touch the territory of exile from home so central
to my own disposition? Abjection too is central,
the contradictory actions of docility and submissiveness
threaded as they are with anger, do they inform
the only poetry any of us are able to write?
Remember Alice’s madness and magic at least!

Is it possible to describe what it means
to be an American in an age of deception?
That’s motive for exile in hers, in my case.
In Andrew’s? what does he do?
He is pushed toward the book.
He begins with a conclusion, “Nothing is in here.”
Title and first line of an earlier composition
By that he means that all that once
had value or embodied joy is now absent.
Such desolation! Humor doesn’t help.
“The vile stench makes sunbathing impossible
and swimming / through the slime … the tiny
trapped sea creatures living inside perish
/ when the algae hit the beach,
creating a putrid sulfurous stench.” Is there
a resolution to “The chaos of Dreaming Life”
where poetry is wed with pain? Alice writes,
“I wish you’d waterboard me. Make my heart crash.
We’re immortal. It hurt my throat. What a bunch
of liars they are.” She has no interest “in being myself.
I just am.” She forces the poet’s hand, “There’s
nothing here now, there is only me.” She’s in self-exile.
She has no answer to the incompleteness that hovers,
 “It isn’t a good price that you pay for writing a poem.”

Everyone I know has money for their needs.
Even more than they know. To them, within the confines
of their reality, there is no imaginable alternative
to their security and comfort. This insight
came to me during a heatwave. Even for my kids,
I thought, there’s nothing to be done but to call
the repairman or installer when faced with a domestic crisis.
I am not a purist or a minimalist and far from a hero.
“I tried to learn how to be a person,” Alice wrote.
“In death we speak, in dreams we speak, / and
in the immaterial past and future our vocal cords
are fast as birds.” She clutches a grail of light
to her chest and gives it to a child. So thought
those in honor of Goytisolo as his bark rode the waves.
He no longer had words for his life. Andrew concludes,
“These are my words. Nobody asked me to write them.”
As to the riddle that underlies this essay-poem of mine,
he suggests, “You could identify with the poor.” That is the key
of Juan’s attempt to decode the analphabetism of the crowded square.

Cited texts:

Andre Levy, Artifice in the Calm Damages (Victoria TX: Chax, 2017).
Andrew Levy, Nothing in Here (NY: Eoagh, 2011).
Alice Notley, Certain Magical Acts (NY: Penguin, 2016).

Donald Wellman
July 18, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott, 1930- 2017
Of how many can it be said that he or she broke ground
and what does it signify? A metaphor
drawn from the ceremonies of construction
or is something more subtle and enduring intended
as in breaking bread during the vernal equinox?
I mourn the death of a poet whose smile bespoke
generations of gentleness, reaching back through slavery
to the shores of Africa. His smile wrinkled
with watching the waves merge with the sand
and the horizon meld with the sea.
The soft gray hair of his face
signified warmth and love, not sarcasm.
On the roof of a church in the village where I lived,
the American flag was stretched like a target
for aerial bombardment in order to indict
the colonialism of the Vietnam era.
Time is a bleached rag on the clothesline of history.

“That sail which leans on light,” six monosyllabic syllables register a world as percept and as gnomon in the tides of time.

Donald Wellman

Monday, March 20, 2017

What is Philosopy

The expressed, it is claimed, resides solely in the expression – a frightened face like that of a young girl who has heard a bunny rabbit scream. Implied is a world and conceptual person who is an expression of that world. Within the dusty spaces of the barn there is a cage made of slats and wire. There is straw and feeding dishes. A bottle from which water may be siphoned. The bunnies are Plato and Descartes. Melville tried this trick! For one there is a time before time began; for the other time and the cogito are coterminous. For him, there is no before. For the girl with the frightened face, there is only a moment detached from time or history, a “meanwhile.” “The concept is real without being actual” (What Is Philosophy 22). The same is true of the scream, be it hers or Edvard Munch’s. Like Munch art finds its source in a fascination with a prepubescent girl who exists at a limit where the state of innocence can no longer be said to exist, except as a concept or sensation. A plane of immanence has intersected with a plane of composition. Both exist in a chaos of intersections which is the always embryonic human brain. With old age I weary.

See Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy (NY: Columbia, 1993), cited as WIP.

A “meanwhile” according to Deleuze and Guattari, is neither a part of time nor as aspect of the eternal. It exists as a form of becoming. It may be similar to liminality or a threshold experience. The virtual is actualized during such meanwhiles. Is this a paradigm for the actualization of the sacred? “All meanwhiles are superimposed on one another, whereas times succeed one another” (158). A meanwhile is a concept that philosophers produce. In the visual arts and poetry, planes, stacked on top of one another, with variations in degree over overlap, construct the vertical dimensions of a poem that might otherwise be understood as serial in nature, functioning as montage does but without the depth wherein beauty often lies. Beauty is immanent to this concept of the poem. Deleuze and Guattari define “beauty” as “sensation.” They conclude this section of What is Philosophy, subtitled, “Philosophy, Science, Logic, and Art, with this remark, “Philosophy is always meanwhile” (159). Visualize the interface between planes in the work of Pound or Schendel as spatial approximations of the concept of “meanwhile.” Consider what Luce Irigary meant when she wrote, “We need to proceed in such a way that linear reading is no longer possible (80).

See “The Poverty of Psychoanalysis” in The Irigaray Reader, Margaret Whitford, ed. (Oxforf: Basil Blackwell, 1991) 79-104.

In WIP, Deleuze and Guattari also write, “Sensation is not realized in the material without the material passing completely into the sensation, into the percept or affect. All the material becomes expressive” (167).

There’s a leaden feeling to the blue sky, arctic air aloft. The trees have not yet imagined their leaves, “Conceptual becoming is heterogeneity grasped in an absolute form; sensory becoming is otherness caught in a matter of expression” (177). My lines form planes on which otherness may locate itself as if it were a creature, as if it were folds in brain matter. That materials of different orders form the rooms of a house through which the cosmos is able to articulate itself, is this not “conceptual becoming” or is my world never void of sensation and the affects that perception generates? I am an empty jar in which electrolytes swim. I am Matisse’s gold fish in a vase of blue water. My memories of a poet whose hand I once held in mine are not memories of his presence so much as percepts of his giftedness. I’ll continue reading.

Composition is where the horizontal or serial embrace, enclose, or is penetrated by the vertical, like a puncture that inflates and conflates primordial density. In some versions a hand like that of the ur-father, Urizen, with his golden compass reaches down from the clouds; in other versions the roiling seas are more black because of the moonlight than they otherwise would have been. Pierre Boulez wrote (as if he were decoding desire, “to plot a transversal , irreducible to both the harmonic vertical and melodic horizontal, that involves sonorous blocs of variable individuation but that also opens them up or splits them in a space-time that determines their density and their course over the plane” (WIP 191).

Art, science, and philosophy are the three daughters of chaos. Is this sentence, implying as it does a radical difference between the chaotic and the chaoid, a concept? Has his daughter taken Walcott to a plane of immanence?

The three planes may interfere with one another in the brain and form a shadow. The planes are the plane of immanence of philosophy, the plane of composition of art, and the plane of reference or coordination of science. “Nonphilosophy I found where the plane confronts chaos. … Planes are no longer distinct in relation to the chaos into which the brain plunges.” A people to come are extracted from such shadows. Didn’t I once edit a journal called chaos.

Donald Wellman

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Current Goals

I am a poet who reads. I am now making the final edits of my manuscript Expressivity in Modern Poetry. Central to this volume is a poetics in which normative notions of the real are challenged and virtual or immanent planes of experience are inscribed. For these purposes language has use value. Sometimes that value lies solely in the domain of prosody, a musical scansion unique to each line and the energies that pass through the poem. The condition of a sustained and articulated flow is transcendent (not transcendental) and expressive of an immanence that enables the perception of form or rhythm, fleeting though it maybe, if only for a heartbeat. This is the poetics I learned from poets like Ezra Pound, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. Though that learning be but a ghost of their physical presence or voice, it is a poetics that I continue to develop through the translation of poetry from several languages and from writing on the topics presented in these two volumes.

The first of three sections, is a discussion of the mechanics of modernism in the arts. Section two, Jarring Effects: Charles Olson and The Poetics of Incommensurable Realities, engages both the topic of interculturality and the topic of expressivity. My intention is to situate Olson in the forefront of American poets who have engaged multiple cultures, decentering the relationship between America and Europe, and folding into the poetic fabric, archaic, indigenous, and philosophical materials derived from the history of science, psychology, linguistics and metaphysics. My goal is to testify to the power of his method and its influence both on the work of his peers and on the work of a large number contemporary poets.

The third section, Baroque Threads, explores those forms of interculturality that are a distinctive aspect of both North American and Latin American poetry. The underpinnings of my explorations are necessarily multicultural. From this vantage point I address the poetry of  William Carlos Williams, and Langston Hughes, as well as that of Aimé Césaire, Nicolás Guillén, and Lezama Lima, as well as works by the visual artist Ana Mendieta, and contemporary poets associated with both language-centered writing and the neobarocco style. To engage this matter, throughout my studies of expressivity and interculturality, I have engaged the philosophy of Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

Paranoia is the engine that drives many texts, including much of my own writing. The very concept of “interculturality,” which I advance, depends on the possibility of a common substance spreading itself through various otherwise distinctive cultural forms. Substance or energy? A field sustained by the energy that generates the field. An energy to which I attach the term, “expressivity.” Coherent syntax fails me. My notion of the immanent relies on the certainty that desire and paranoia will inescapably reveal themselves. Jacques Lacan suggests that there is a moment in which the delusional structure of thought reveals itself. The subject becomes aware that it is thinking what it is thinking and the effect is alienating. “Up to what point can a discourse that seems personal bear, on the level of the signifier alone, a sufficient number of traces of impersonalization for the subject not to recognize it as his own?”[1] In this sense the goal of art and of the commentaries which I have undertaken is an impossible impersonalization in the name clarity and objectivity.

Donald Wellman

[1] I am indebted to Emily Apter for this discussion of paranoia and the mirror effect of self-alienation in the work of Jaques Lacan. Against World Literature (NY: Verso, 2013):78-81.