Tuesday, February 14, 2006

As I was saying to Alli and Suzanne and Laura last Monday nite at Moe’s Books, the discussion about Duncan recently sent me down to my cellar to retrieve a barely legible xerox of a xerox of The Truth and Life of Myth, Duncan's “essay in essential autobiography” (his subtitle), something I had buried years ago. I remember straining to grasp its ideas in my early twenties, and my xerox copy bears all the marks of that effort, which I probably thought of as a rite. I wanted to apprentice myself to Duncan so badly back then and I must’ve read The Opening of the Field a hundred times when I was 22. It’s taken me a while to understand why Duncan was the first poet I read like that.

Spicer was barely a rumor to me then—somehow he’d been cast as the bad and hateful poet who wrecked things—and I hadn’t read a single poem of his. Even if I had, I’m sure I would have rejected him in the same way I had rejected the punk rockers in high school who disturbed the adolescent hippy thing I had going. As far as I was concerned, Duncan was pure and he wrote of the Source; Spicer was tainted, and could only contaminate it. (I often wonder what it would have been like to have made the passionate attachment to Spicer first…and in my fantasy, I actually imagine having been spared a lot of pain.)

No doubt I had deified the idea of Duncan’s “wisdom.” More importantly (I mean secretly and "essentially") I think I was nourishing myself on the chaste eroticism of the poems—so platonic, so virginal, they promised no need for fucking!—at least I read them that way because this corresponded with the only kind of erotic life I could imagine for myself then, I was so ashamed of my desire for boys. But my longing to access Duncan’s figure of “the dance”—whatever that might have meant—would soon begin to make me a little queasy, if not embarrassed.

It’s strange to realize now that my desired “apprenticeship” was motivated by shame, and my later abandonment of Duncan may have been similarly motivated. In any case, I knew at a certain point that I would have to move away from his poetry if I wanted to get beyond my own essentialized autobiographical rut. Hence, the basement, where I buried The Truth and Life of Myth.

But the repressed always returns, as it must if it’s to be transformed. And the material of this particular return—that of Duncan’s poetics—is startling me. This is something I hope I can share here soon in the way of a few notes I've been taking as I make my way back thru this book.

For now, I’m attaching a poem Laura asked me to post (for its A Tonalist stance?). After this recent reengagement with Duncan—thanks to the discussion here—I tagged the first piece of this sequence with an epigraph from “The Structure of Rime,” which has helped me to understand this project a little better.

* * *


Let me give you an illusion of not grieving.


[the place of future action
— being choked inside a tube]

being a question of place, and it always is—

so vehicular and roomy where my feet are
tanks arrived inside this way of picturing
tall things go on lurching — limbs macerate
in parks, counter the impossible tense

of our own white floors imputing unrelated
bodies extracted by the thousands, amassing
in a vault — margins being full-time occupation
these precedents bulk, our binding theme

occurs there being no such place as this at all
the imputation having been determined
so many erroneous self-images — skins
the hair and nails, our missing mortar shells

here we feel pressing — the loss of woodland
‘scenery’ sinking under national, our transmission goes

just bellies up and dies, goading future publics
modular blocks — becoming girders, building
frozen speech, unrecognized as the material
beneath which all the stone, the wall and white

spreading over something — under the influence of
let’s just say ‘the sum of human resources’
that gutted corpse uncounted, and being one among
these things careening into tall & standing others

now let’s fall-out into truth, lob anything that throws
the desiderata of remembering the present, or some
example of being — sampling my latex hose for pores
evidentiary leaks, where it all appears likeminded

to withstand so virulent a strain use knives & spoons
we stapled to our chests like armor, the sickly streams
all bleached, a shrill though fatal thud suppressed
a patch of hair or anything to stand on, standing in

— for or against, such breathtaking disproportion
— a sense of this can’t be gathered up in scales

and in all these faces, the stills turn dark side up
crushed to sand, the pink opaque erasing every sign

of local need, the question of place remains beyond
recognition — there being no foundation for the thing
to come, flooding tens of thousands, respectable merchants
all doing capital business when the awful news dissolves

exchange, alluvial folds, our degraded interiors
— shaping mutual alleviation, strains of want

diminishing, what you hear is the erosion
— of sound, this decay of tone


Blogger kari said...

as always, or more more.. a stirring moment of repose and being...


11:00 PM  

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