Ships & the Maritime: George Oppen & Norma Cole

from George Oppen's Of Being Numerous

We are pressed, pressed on each other,
We will be told at once
Of anything that happens

And the discovery of fact bursts
In a paroxysm of emotion
Now as always.  Crusoe

We say was
So we have chosen.

Obsessed, bewildered

By the shipwreck
Of the singular

We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous.

from Norma Cole's Where Shadows Will: Selected Poems 1988-2008

Conditions Maritime

the letter of the ocean

becomes its own narration

The fragmentary teeth become the
allegory of completion

There she stood, dressed like a sailor
in black pants, striped jersey, pea jacket

Wearing amber for luck
and company

"into eventual accuracy" (Michael Ondaatje)

Inverted lives
it was said refer to the ocean

There she stood, etc.

Thus the false map is scrawled
by sleep as if history assembled
these names

This time and its history a calculus of stars, the limit of
the formal plain, its proportions

the sign for division

outside its context

its issues' decision

(soon we would begin to lose
the feeling in our fingertips)

that it was science; that it was so

appealing; that rules are the instrument

Here we are talking about the playful
handling of an object
the negotiation with an imagined acceptable

That the poem is a toy
with the structure of insomnia

That gardens being lit thus saved
just to know and not have
in local practice
given up that control
"in your dreams"

That time, that spiral marrow
(the space between shoulder blades)
that hyphen without reason
lashed to death by virtue=reason=virtue
(the reason between knowledge and fact)

I   wash my feet
before going to bed
contrafact:one complete thought

(note: line breaks approximated as best as possible given limited spacing options in html.)


Poetry In and Out of the Schools, 2

Olivia Turnage

English 7392

Dr. Schultz

21 October 2008

from Poetry Experiments

3) (Quarta)Cento (Bernstein #12): Put together 25 random lines of poetry to form a coherent whole. May alter punctuation.

“Death[1] Directive[2]

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d[3],

I felt a funeral in my brain[4]

no chant of bloody war, no exulting paen[5];

I have walked out in rain—and back in rain[6].

A white hunter is nearly crazy[7],

under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth[8].

I remembered the cry of the peacocks[9],

how secretly you cuckold me with death[10].

I will teach you, my townspeople, how to perform a funeral[11]

—the apparition of these faces in the crowd[12]

Like a patient etherised upon a table[13],

please don’t snore so loud[14].

I’ve spent my life on nothing[15]

I lay there sleeping and my magic head remembered and forgot[16];

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked[17],

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT[18].

I celebrate myself, and sing myself[19].

I dwell in Possibility[20],

desiring the exhilarations of changes[21]

to the ap parent impecca bility[22].

Go now, I think you are ready[23]

(you who can not wear yourselves out[24].)

Let us go then, you and I[25]

(I wonder if it’s that simple[26]?)

[Let us] leave immortality for another to suffer like a fool[27].

This variation upon the cento was the most intriguing of my attempted experiments in that it required me to search for random lines of poetry which not only bore some semblance of fitting into the stanza with the others, but which also conformed to my chosen rhyme scheme. Without resisting occasional humor, I managed to put together an admittedly convoluted bit of amateur poetry directed toward the subject of welcoming death. In the first four lines, the speaker is recalling the first time he sensed death’s approach (the funeral in the brain), how it held no fanfare (no chant, no paen) but only quiet contemplation about the positive and negative experiences throughout his life (in and out of rain). The second stanza evokes a visual memory of a maniacal man of white alongside an audible remembrance of birds, which leads ultimately to a sensual understanding of his own impending death: those memories taunt him with the inevitability of dying. In the third stanza, he attempts to prepare his fellow townsfolk for his own coming burial, but they heed him not (their faces are like apparitions in that they are figuratively “not there”) and they are so bored and unaffected by his dull self-inspired speech that he must ask them not to snore—his death may be significant to himself because it is his own life that will be lost, but life will go on for everyone else. The fourth stanza is a lamentation of a life about to be extinguished and outlines not only what he regrets but also what he has seen; he regrets not just the wastes of his own life but that of his entire generation. The fifth stanza stands in contrast as it remembers the more joyful aspects of that life, reconciles it to himself, and admits to actually “desiring” death as an exciting new change from the monotony of living, which by now, after so many decades, has been relatively perfected. The sixth and final stanza carries the reader with the speaker along on the metaphorical journey toward death and away from any foolish thought of immortality.

The purpose of this experiment was to pay tribute (in condensed form) to the 4th and 5th century Greek and Roman poetic form called the “cento,” which usually consisted of 100 lines of verse taken randomly one by one (or by half verses) and put together in a pastiche or collage fashion to form a whole.

[1] William Carlos Williams, “Death,” 295.

[2] Robert Frost, “Directive,” 224.

[3] Walt Whitman, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” 23.

[4] Emily Dickinson, “I felt a funeral in my brain,” 34.

[5] James Weldon Johnson, “O Black and Unknown Bards,” 173.

[6] Robert Frost, “Acquainted with the Night,” 217.

[7] Gertrude Stein, “A white hunter,” 182.

[8] Carl Sandburg, “Chicago,” 227.

[9] Wallace Stevens, “Domination of Black,” 243.

[10] Mina Loy, “The Widow’s Jazz,” 283.

[11] William Carlos Williams, “Tract,” 286.

[12] Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro,” 351.

[13] T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 463.

[14] Langston Hughes, “Morning After,” 696.

[15] Lorine Niedecker, “[What Horror to Awake at Night],” 718.

[16] Muriel Rukeyser, “Night Feeding,” 80.

[17] Allen Ginsberg, “Howl,” 337.

[18] Frank O’Hara, “The Day Lady Died,” 365.

[19] Walt Whitman, “From Song of Myself,” 4.

[20] Emily Dickinson, “I dwell in Possibility,” 38.

[21] Wallace Stevens, “The Motive for Metaphor,” 258.

[22] Mina Loy, “English Rose,” 280.

[23] William Carlos Williams, “Tract,” 288.

[24] Ezra Pound, “The Rest,” 351.

[25] T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 463.

[26] Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B,” 702.

[27] Allen Ginsberg, “Last Night in Calcutta,” 354.

Scenes of Reading

KL and Jackson, Mother's Day, 2009

Give the people what they (don't think they) want: On memorizing poetry

Kathy Lou here. When I taught the early part of the American lit survey course here at the Univ. of Memphis during the summer, I instituted the First Annual Emily Dickinson Poem-A-Thon in which all students were required to memorize--and recite in front of the class--at least one Dickinson poem. I gave them the option of memorizing more poems and competing for extra credit. They LOVED this. It was a summer session with people trying to cram in credits to graduate and many not thrilled to be there, but they actually invited friends and family to come listen to the recitation. I'm with Bob Gluck, MORE memorization!

Poetry in and Out of the Schools

Recently on her blog, Barbara Jane Reyes agreed with Eileen Tabios's assertion that poetry is marginalized because it, like much of the arts, is absent from the K-12 curriculum. This discussion reminded me of a comment somebody in the audience at the Small Press Traffic conference on Aggression made about students needing to write poetry rather than memorize it in school. In an aside, Bob Gluck, suggested that maybe students actually needed to be doing more memorizing of poems. I think this is a good idea as well. Of course, not all poems are suitable for memorization, but how wonderful, to get some language inside you. My daughter Alex, who is now thirteen, had quite a bit of poetry while she was in a public Spanish immersion school here in San Francisco. There was poetry in Spanish and in English. Middle School seems to have offered less poetry though there are some popular books the kids are reading that are written in "verse."

Interestingly enough, I came home on Sunday night to find that Alex had posted up on her closet door a collage of pictures of herself from childhood to the present and a poem that she had written that day. Earlier in the week, half-jokingly, I had suggested that she should write an essay about why she wanted to redecorate her bedroom, a bedroom that has pretty much had the same funky collection of pieces of furniture for years. The bedroom had been a frequent topic of discussion in the previous few weeks. You can imagine how the suggestion of an essay was greeted. I guess the idea sat in the condensery as Lorine Niedecker would say, and then, out emerged, rather than an essay, a poem. This poem below, called "A Room." I love the restricted language and the way it is put through a machine of movement and repositioning. My friend Kathy Lou says that Alex should at least get her own copy of Gertrude Stein's work. Agreed. Alex has generously agreed to let me post the poem here.

A Room

a room with a view
a view remaining
but remaining

a room remaining
hopefully changing
but not changing

a person with a room and a view
with the view but not with the room

a room with a view
a view remaining
but remaining

a room changing
hopefully not remaining
but not remaining

a person with a room and a view
with the view and with the room

--Alexandra Tremblay-McGaw
July 2009


More Ships: Moriarty and Mackey

"'Where there is paper,' Marty thinks hungrily, 'there is human passion and trouble.'"--from Ultravioleta.

Two poets who, like Bob Gluck, also write in prose. Moriarty and Mackey's prose is porous, permeable and yet viscous. Each sentence sounding the depths. Deeply pleasurable.

Who rides on ships anymore? Boats and ships are, simultaneously, common and ubiquitous, and yet completely strange.

Laura Moriarty

from "Maps and Plans" in Laura Moriarty's Ultravioleta

"Looking out from his workshop on Luna, Marty closes his eyes and pictures Ultravioleta fully formed. Marty approaches the great ships as both builder and sailor. He records his commentary as he works. Occasionally he stops fashioning thick sheets of paper into the massive craft and puts words on them.

'The paper ship dominates our age,' he notes. 'It is the nature of the ship to float and tear and turn like a page. A certain formality obtains on these vessels. Once elaborated, they are able to anticipate the dangers of the enhanced relaxation required in thought travel. The vicissitudes of associative movement through imagined space are survivable only as a result of the collaboration of beings who doubt each other's existence while depending on each other for their livelihoods. Group travel by this kind of consensus is so dangerous as to be considered impossible by some and by others not to be happening even while it is occurring.

'Brain cell meets paper airplane,' Marty mutters to himself. 'Ultravioleta,' he whispers in I as he applies himself to the mainmast. Marty's particular refinement is to include personal correspondence in the mix. The added distance available from such an innovation is as great as the corollary danger of foundering by sheer excess of emotional content.

'Where there is paper,' Marty thinks hungrily, 'there is human passion and trouble. There is thinking and travel. There is time.' Tiny thoughtful ships inundate Marty's revery but when he works he has only one ship in mind.

'Ultravioleta. Boat of being, Titanic of time,' he hums. 'Bigger and better. Thick with letters. Note of seeing. You are alive,' he sings, 'and you are mine' (83-84).

Nathaniel Mackey

Mackey has written four epistolary prose books–Bedouin Hornbook (1986), Djbot Baghostus’ Run (1993), Atet A.D. (2001), Bass Cathedral (2008)–that are all part of the ongoing series From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate.

The quote below is from Atet A.D. In this book, the members of N's jazz band have recently added a new drummer to the group, a woman. Now they are in search of a new name for the band.

"Aunt Nancy's idea was that we call ourselves the Maatet, or, simply Maatet, a name the Egyptians gave one of the boats in which the sun sails across the sky, the one it boards at dawn, the morning boat (the other being the one in which it completes its journey, Sektet, the evening boat) Maatet joins Atet, a more common name for the morning boat, with Maat, the name of the goddess of truth: Maat + Atet=Maatet. Aunt Nancy said she likes the suggestion of maternity, matriarchy, in the very sound of it, as well as what she calls its feminization of SunStick’s claim, ‘I play truth.’ (It was at SunStick's aborted audition, remember, that we made the decision to seek a woman drummer.) She'd gotten intimations of the name, she said, a few weeks back, when we played the clamp-lilac-eelpot rendition of "Sun Ship." The glass-bottom disposition it opened up seems to've been an avatar of see-thru truth, a truth whose translucent body she rode, not yet consciously equating its light touch with Maat's ostrich feather. 'Ever since then,' she said, 'I've had a feeling of namesake encasement, see-thru cartouche, a swift, boat-bodied lightness, light-bodied bigness we'd grow into. It's a name we'll have to fill in, occupy, but I don't have any doubts we can'(43).

Ultimately, the band ends up with the name Molimo m’Atet.

Mackey's poetry is full of ships too. Sadly, the limited possibilities of html formatting here on blogger make an accurate representation of Mackey's linebreaks impossible. So, I'll prod you to go take a look yourself. Here's a brief section of "Eye on the Scarecrow" from Splay Anthem: "Low ride among ruins/ notwithstanding we flew./ Swam, it often seemed,/underwater, oddly immersed/bodies/ long since bid goodbye,/ we/ lay in wait, remote muses/kept us afloat. Something/called pursuit had us by/the nose. Wafted ether/blown/low, tilted floor, splintered/ feet. Throated bone.../ Rickety boat we rode.../ As/ though what we wanted/ was to be everywhere at/ once,/ an altered life lived on an/ ideal/ coast we'd lay washed up/ on, instancy and elsewhere/ endlessly/ entwined" (27-28).


More Ships and Poetry: Bob Glück

Bob Glück has a catalog of ships in his book Elements of a Coffee Service, published by the Four Seasons Foundation in 1982. The catalog appears in the short story "When Bruce was 36 (Gossip and Scandal)."

Like the folded pieces of paper that, once in water, turn into blossoms, this delicious story turns and blooms as if by magic. It begins with the line,

"When Bruce was 36 he learned the name and address of his real mother and introduced himself to her."

The narrator goes on to tell us that "I purposely forgot to ask Bruce about his new relationship; it was too big and knotty to broach, the characters wandering through their bodies and their congested structures of need and option. Usually when Bruce and I are together we seem to be on the edge of our lives looking in, prodding and enticing from realization to realization. This is true even, or especially, of gossip, to measure our common assumptions. As Rabbi ben Ezra used to say, 'Why bother to tell a story if you aren't going to include the meaning of your life?'"

The story goes on to recount one of the narrator's dreams about Bruce's encounter with his mother:

"In the first a woman rushes through woods on a fresh, moony night with her baby wrapped in bunting against a light breeze. A resonant voice from above, a phrase murmured, repeated by the mother: flesh of my flesh, flesh of my flesh, flesh of my flesh. Something is wrong though; she opens the blanket, looks up at us and shouts, "this isn't the flesh of my flesh. It's a giant pine cone. This is completely inaccurate!"

"I wanted to approach these issues with laughter while I dreamed them into metaphor, a satisfying if temporary solution. I wrote the dream in my journal, another temporary solution: documentation with the understanding that the world in the form of myself will discover and appreciate these fragments tossed up by myself as a ruined civilization...."

And then, a bit later, ships:

"From century to century things grow more estranged, said Walter Benjamin on hashish in Marseilles. He's wandering around a murky harbor like Port of Shadows and naturally the names of the ships convey great meaning, fraught as they are with departure."

Nine pages later we return to the ships......

"It's scandal's defining of boundaries that interests me, what is inside and what is outside--it's one way a community organizes itself, tells itself its story about what is forbidden and expected. Bruce's mother's possible shock [earlier in the story Bruce asks her if she is a lesbian] may have been based on a community tenet that homosexuality does not exist verbally. For example, I know a gay man who was raised--maybe not as a grand bourgeois, but many economic notches above me. His sense of himself is based on that class background; there are certain inbuilt sympathies, certain antagonisms. A person could not terrorize this man with high theory, he only grows more respectful, but he is susceptible to vulgarity. So when he says he's going to the ballet or some other elevated cultural event and would you like to join him, you reply that another time you would be delighted but now you are on your way to the baths 'to get your rocks off'--cruelly enjoying his expressions of dismay alternating with a polite interest that grows increasingly transparent, and you blandly continue with, 'It's been a full week and I'm really hot and horny.' What a betrayal! And what if you willed into the decaying conversation such formulas as 'well hung,' and 'seafood' for sailors, and other idioms from the no-nonsense dictionary of pleasure: top man, versatile action, Greek passive, French active, nipple master, cut/uncut, golden showers, French service, scat toys--they are more beautiful to me than the names of ships."

Stay-tuned for more ships and hunt down your own used copy of Elements of a Coffee Service.