Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Poets Emerge From Hell

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 26

A few years back Christian and I were reading outloud to each other parts of Robert Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. There was some lively conversation about (how do say?) the merits of the translation.

One of the outcomes of this adventure was that he purchased for me for Christmas the paperback copy of the Gustave Doré Illustrations for The Divine Comedy. It has been standing up against the wall in the ballroom ever since behind a pile of vegetarian cookbooks.

This week I got it out. I’d been looking at Blake drawings online and then I finished reading the Merwin memoir, Unframed Originals in which in the last essay about a pilgrimage on foot to various monasteries on Athos and his mother he writes about a line from Purgatorio oh so beautifully I was magnetically drawn to Powell’s to pick up a copy of Purgatorio.

I have learned to trust my instincts about stuff like this and after a hysterical few moments of pacing up and down like a restless tiger around the well-trod poetry section I asked some guy hanging around Whitman that was certainly a professor, where the heck Dante was anyway… He made a lame joke but pointed me in the right direction.

We sold the Pinsky back to Powell’s many long moons ago but I only had eyes for the middle road, the place between, where there is color and music and the rebeholding of stars.

I saw stars this morning. I stayed up all night and went just before dawn for a wicked peppermint hot chocolate and I could see stars!

Back at Powell’s after some quick perusal what did I see but a translation of the poem by W.S. Merwin himself! And it was $6 off the cover price. That about covers a pack of tailor-mades these days, to be savored alone. If one smokes them out on the street, every three minutes some soul thinks they are the only person on planet earth smart enough to notice and attempt to bum one.

Christian, who is reading Yeats, told me the other day that my poems remind him of Yeats: was recounting all this stuff about how influential Dante was in his time. That the language of the poem is the language that came into common usage at the time because of the poem. Wow.

I love little things about the Merwin translation. I think it is funny and poignant and beautiful and topical.

“The souls who had perceived that I was breathing
and understood that I was alive still
marveled so that they became deathly pale.”

“…the young lion of the white lair
who changes sides from winter to summer…”

…Your Romagna is not and never was without
war in the hearts of its tyrants, though…

The white lair, a tyrant with war in his heart…, the State of the Union address…

Tonight when I was walking home I walked by an army recruiting office that pretty regularly now has demonstrators outside. This is the first time I have ever seen one of the army recruiters actually out there talking to them. In some small way that gave me a tiny flash of hope.

In the notes on Canto II, Merwin sites C.S. Singleton as saying that this is the first usage of the word pilgrim. “The journey through Hell is not a pilgrimage, which assumes hope of some kind.”

The Dalai Lama says, “Every human action is supposed to be for the good, but out of ignorance and, I think, a lack of a wider perspective, often our actions bring painful consequences. The present generation—with fuller knowledge about reality and a wider perspective—can carry out action for a better world, better future…”

That would be something to see!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Snow Bound

Stuck inside today but I couldn't resist this shot down the block when I was testing the "slipperyness" factor.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

So Marked

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 25

I don’t have a spiritual life okay? There is all this stuff they talk about in yoga classes and that is fine. I recently read Living Yoga by Christy Turlington but heck, I also read the January Vogue which has a lovely little picture of Turlington with Kate Moss, smiling like they are genuinely happy, both in black with those long long legs.

My mom was agnostic and had a good laugh about horoscopes and stuff. She did believe in luck though. My dad, well he was as Buddhist as much as a bond trader gets, so I was curious when someone gave me a copy of “Shambhala Sun” the other day because of the article about Leonard Cohen. I read it out loud to Christian yesterday.

Then I took the magazine to the gym with me, though I would have preferred a podcast, there is something quaint about reading on the treadmill. Anyways, curious about my dad I read the article called “What Makes You a Buddhist?”

In it Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche says that there are four statements spoken by the Buddha himself known as “the four seals”. Then he defines seal as meaning something like a hallmark that confirms authenticity.

I got to thinking about what this might mean in terms of poetry. I realized I didn’t really know what hallmark meant so I looked it up. Duh! So duh. Very Elvin indeed…Originally so marked at Goldsmith’s Hall in England to indicate quality or purity.

So if there were seals for a genuine woman poet in America today it would be she has to be thin, has to have slept with the right men (or in special cases men and women), has to have a teaching post that pays over $100,000 and of course be published by some prestigious press, which of course means sleeping with the publishers too, or at least to be well versed in the fine art of blow jobs. Drug use and celebrity for other reasons are also helpful.

But I was wondering in my fantasy world what the four seals would be for real poets that had to do with their work, not who they are and who they know.

They would have to be original, have something fresh and yet universal to say. They would need to have talent. And dare I say it??? Discipline, enough to have read the masters and still have their own voice. To be genuine in this truly absurd and cynical environment you have to want it more than anything else and be crazy enough to believe in yourself against all evidence to the contrary.

Wanting it badly is not enough.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Hibernation and Creating Wonder

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 24

I’ve been hibernating. Curled up for days on end under all the blankets I can find with a big pile of books, a few exquisite chocolate truffles and a couple of cartons of grapefruit juice.

I went to Tahiti the summer before last, and lived on pamplemousse juice (which is like grapefruit juice only green) and pineapple juice and fresh baguette and cheese. Oh, and tuna I brought with me.

The truffles were a Christmas gift.

The cool thing about being in Tahiti despite all the obvious stuff like beauty and sun was that I didn’t recognize things. Things were not familiar. I experienced everything fresh and with wonder.

I thought the small red crabs that were everywhere were the biggest spiders I had ever seen!

That is something two of my favorite poets do. Seamus Heaney and Tomas Tranströmer. They describe stuff we already know, like waking up or walking in the woods but they find new ways to say it without using big complicated words. They also tell little stories, sometimes a five line story but there is some sort of narrative line.

The only thing that is going to work for me as a poet is to do that too. To go all the way out on the being me limb, even when I am being someone else, as in a persona poem.

In that big long profile about John Ashbery in the New Yorker last year or whenever, he talked about how he constructs poems. I do it the same way but lately it hasn’t been working for me.

On New Year’s Eve I stayed at home alone under the covers and watched the moon rise. It took hours but my bed is on the floor and the ballroom has windows to the floor so I was able to stay warm.

I have these pieces of a poem…

Wood smoke and fog, reptiles of the mind, crows flying across the full moon as it sets in the morning, a floating nightclub on the Nile, honey and coarse salt, vervain and mud.

It has something to do with a mad woman I suppose but I am not sure what.

Maybe when I finally arise from hibernation, which I’ll need to do soon, as some boy scout troop is going to start chomping Christmas Trees out front sooner rather than later and all my clothes are dirty, I’ll be able to make some sense of it.