Thursday, September 29, 2011

A fragment from "Endless Poem"

"In a modern museum
In an old synagogue
In the synagogue
Within me
My heart
Within my heart
A museum."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Italo Calvino & the place where it always rains

I recently discovered the book "Six Memos for the Next Millennium" by Italo Calvino, the author of Invisible Cities. 

Six Memos is a book of literary essays on what Calvino identifies as "certain values, qualities or peculiarities of literature" attempting to situate them in "the perspective of the new millennium." 

These values, in Calvino's opinion, are: lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, multiplicity and consistency.

Calvino began writing Six Memos in 1985, as the material for his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1985-1986 at Harvard University. He died a few days before his planned trip for Harvard and only five of the essays were completed at the time of his death.

Here are a few quotes from Six Memos, a thoroughly illuminating book on the art of writing:

1. Lightness:
"Maybe I was only then becoming aware of the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world - qualities that stick to writing from the start, unless one finds some way of evading them." 

 "Conciseness is only one aspect of the subject that I want to deal with, and I will confine myself to telling you that I dream of immense cosmologies, sagas, and epics all reduced to the dimensions of an epigram. In the even more congested times that await us, literature must aim at the maximum concentration of poetry and thought."

"In Mallarmé the word attains the acme of exactitude by reaching the degree of abstraction and by showing nothingness to be the ultimate substance of the world."

4. Visibility
"There is a line in Dante  (Purgatorio XVII.25) that reads:
Then it rained down into the high fantasy"

I will start out this evening with an assertion: fantasy is a place where it rains".

5. Multiplicity
"Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond hope and achievement."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mysterious barricades

...and, at the end of summer,  we are ready to push forward towards fall's mysterious barricades:

Mysterious barricades by François Couperin - 1668-1773

Here is an interesting link with regards to literary creations inspired by Mysterious barricades:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stubbornly beautiful: the black swans of poetry

Black swans, I’m inclined to believe, have become all the rage in the last couple of years: a film, a fascinating book (Nassim Nicolas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable) articles in the Barron’s online edition, and the list goes on.

So why not talk about black swans in poetry in this post?

Swans carry an ingrained symbolism, undoubtedly rooted in archetypes that these suave birds, their eerie appearance and a multi-layered cultural context evoke for us.

Some of the earlier swans in modern poetry appear to bring forth the closing of a chapter, a premonition of passage in an aura of wings as they take on the role of a go-between:
"The bird, on the dark lake where beneath it
The splendor of a starry & violet night
Lurks close, as a silvery vase amid diamond shades,
Sleeps tight, head under its wings, in between two horizon lines."

(Sully Prudhomme, The Swan)

One of the most enigmatic birds of this feather erupts in the verses of  Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem “Sonnet”:

“This virgin, vivacious and beautiful thing
Will tear apart with a drunken wing slap
The hard lake that haunts from under the frost
The transparent glacier of flights not yet abandoned!”

Black swans per se appear in three magnificent contemporary poems.

These poems share a trait: they are set up as fantastic narratives whose main character is (aside from the black swan) a child.                        

Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poem Black Swan talks of a secretive realm defined  boy and a black swan:

"...And a giant bird  
With burning feathers. And beyond them both  
A pond of incredible blackness, overarched
With ancient trees and patterned with shifting shades,  
The small wind in the branches making a sound
Like the knocking of a thousand wooden bells....  “

Randall Jarrell’s The Black Swan depicts a transformation which would fit well in a page from  Ovid's Metamorphoses:

"Out on the lake, a girl would laugh.
"Sister, here is your porridge, sister,"
I would call; and the reeds would whisper,
"Go to sleep, go to sleep, little swan."
My legs were all hard and webbed, and the silky

Hairs of my wings sank away like stars
In the ripples that ran in and out of the reeds."

And, stubbornly beautiful,  James Merrill’s poem The Black Swan "assuming, like a fourth dimension, splendor", whose ending concludes our post:

"Always the black swan moves on the lake; always
       The blond child stands to gaze  
As the tall emblem pivots and rides out
To the opposite side, always. The child upon  
The bank, hands full of difficult marvels, stays
       Forever to cry aloud
    In anguish: I love the black swan."

Friday, September 02, 2011

Jumping through the hoops

The hoop.


We talk about it - the proverbial constraint, the difficult or annoying hurdle that we must overcome in order to get to a better place.

But what is the hoop in actuality and what kind of hoops do we come by? 

There are visible hoops -  the obstacles that sometimes appear insurmountable, obstacles that we size up and conclude, at first glance: whoa, there is no way.

Each visible hoop, can be argued, has one, or perhaps a few invisible hoops tagged to it.

The recipe for success in approaching a hoop is to jump through the cohort of invisible hoops first since they are the hardest one to tackle:

 Some examples:
  • let go of our fears
  • let go of past negative experiences
  • accept that we can fail -  trying in itself is a worthwhile exercise
  • accept that we can only do our best
  • limits are liberating (they teach us where the boundaries are)
Once the invisible hoops squared out, we can proceed to the next set of hoops - the physical, real ones. 

The strategy for attacking visible hoops is  either a set of previously learned techniques or a brand new and creative approach to jumping.

Either way, the hoop appears to be a transitional element, a flat land of opportunities and emerging routes.

Some excerpts from Corson's Inlet by A.R. Ammons that, in my opinion, render well the experience of jumping through any hoop:

"..the sum of these events
I cannot draw, the ledger I cannot keep, the accounting
beyond the account:

in nature there are few sharp lines: there are areas of
   more or less dispersed;
disorderly orders of bayberry...
I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
       from outside: I have
       drawn no lines:

manifold events of sand
change the dune's shape that will not be the same shape

so I am willing to go along, to accept
the becoming
thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends" 

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