Friday, April 14, 2006

Hazy notes on Swallows at dawn

“I had no Idea but Morning”

Reading Swallows at 5am (I can't sleep) I find myself thinking of empires of the past – Greek, Roman, British – from the perspective of being caught in this strange American empire, where Martin Corless-Smith also is, though there is in this book a clear longing to be in another place and another time (as Alan Halsey points, out in his definitive review in Stride Magazine.) So the writer is exiled not only, apparently, in Boise, but in the future of his desire. He is, in fact, in the present empire with many of ourselves

We saw the yellow Tiber
battle over battle
Which gods shall we call
to aid the falling empire?

particularly when there are no gods and we want, as Corless-Smith does, to be where

Her Majesty is returned again to Nonsuch
which of all places she likes best

Instead of being impatient with what seems like nostalgia, I imagine, this morning -- it's still not light yet -- that I share it or that it is not nostalgia but an investigation of English for English’s sake. This English that we think we speak here in America but which is interestingly foreign. Or the book (gorgeously published by Fence) isn’t about a specific language but about a love of language and about love. “We are swallowed up irreparably, irrevocably, irremediably … envy the sparrows and the swallows, yea.” (These lines from John Donne appear on the back of the book where you expect the blurb.) The presentation in Swallows of a lot of quoted material allows the work to be as much about reading as writing -- as much about a love for words, landscape, birds, Latin, the vicissitudes of history as about love, though, again, love appears and memory. There is a “Theater of Memory” on page 22, a “mental Cottage” on page 44 that somehow rhymes with it.

What a happy thing it would be
if we could settle our thoughts
make our minds up on any matter
in five minutes and remain content
that is to build a sort of mental Cottage
of feeling quiet and pleasant

You are never really sure the writer has written what you have just read or if he has simply found it or if there is a difference, but there is pleasure in it. And it's finally morning.

we sit down with a book
we lie down my friend and I
and the book open reading
we are holding our breath against each other
ourselves shuddering with pulse
apart from ourselves -- the concentration
touching where we both are


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