Ego-Free, The Poem Aloft (MH)(Part One of two parts)

Imagine: Strawberry Fields Are Frozen
by Walker

. . . the lovers of literature
Paid you the tribute of their almost total
Inattention . . .

Galway Kinnell
"For William Carlos Williams"
What a Kingdom It Was (1960)

Ego-Free, The Poem Aloft
by Maureen Holm
Senior Essayist and Articles Editor

Poetry lies the more shallow-exposed in another’s speech
the deeper it lies in one’s own.

The deterioration of active linguistic faculties in favor of the passive visual which at once marginalizes and proliferates poetry among non-poets is a cultural paradox which has been ably addressed elsewhere.[1] Justly held to stricter account, the poet deaf to his fellows is a self-made cripple undeserving of either pity or -- would he were mute and illiterate -- audience and readership.[2]

Disabled by false ideas of singular personality from ceding to the poem its ego-free will and time-neutral consciousness (phenomena most non-artists experience only in dream), he thwarts and ladens it with pedestrian needs and notions of his own. Distrustful of the results, and prone to suspect peers of like substitution, he responds, not to the particularity of the poem as entity, but rather, to the personality of its nominative author, an attitude that mistakes cargo for vehicle, rider for horse, and diverts all onto the by-way of competitive mediocrity.

This essay proceeds from the conviction that extreme deference to the poem during the compositional dialogue and unobtrusive service during delivery are indispensable to its retrieval from the non-verbal nether into the speech-illumined world. It follows that, as the attitude which distorts one poet’s hearing of another corrupts a priori the dialogue between poet and poem, correction must begin there. Moreover, any poet (repentant cripple included) no longer content with merely ‘sensing anew’ or fed up with ‘life-affirming’ tributes to anthropocentricity is encouraged to relinquish at a stroke the form and the consciousness he takes for granted -- and reconstitute.

In the center of time
is not a human, making, mind?
But a love like a
scorpion’s a flower’s a rock’s
for configuring and then not
I love you form for it I love you form
[. . .]
What is human Hardly anything Say something red.[3]

Non-Verbal Disintegration

One February dawn in Vienna, I jolted awake, panting, but limbs intact, and knew the Austrian segment of my life was over.

The dream sign was a ballroom chandelier become ceiling sprinkler, light source become fountain, as I sat bare-shouldered among elegant roundtable company and imperial gilt, my commonplaces from age 17 to 24, and watched its graceful sparkle-spray arc and fall, spatter my left arm and dissolve it with a soundless, effervescent hiss.

as if I (I so nothinged)[4]

A terrifying, if gentle, annihilation, that image marked an immediate, wholesale change of state to fourteen years of study, career, and monogamy in Manhattan. Its vividness diminished as others filled new galleries, then wings in the private museum.

Some collections are portable, others fixed where they hang. When I next relocated to finish in Paris a novel innumerable New York minutes in the making, it was dispatched in three quick months, and no sooner done than followed by another whose imagery -- French, new -- must have been hung nights while I slept.

One key image, mistaken as new, had merely migrated to another context. The Viennese chandelier/sprinkler had endured, abstracting during its long sublimation to pure symbol: a ring of damp imprint, to mark a body-self disintegrated within -- mine, had I not awakened in mid-fizz.

Or you say "he lost it" as if I (I so nothinged)

We know little more about the comatose state than we do about the defunct, content to demarcate being/non-being by metered sensory responses. When Descartes thought these away, thought persisted, if only in the closed circuitry of his mind: unempirical, unrecordable, unduplicable. Short of telepathy, the unstated sine qua non of being is overt communication[5] -- through signs and symbols with commonly agreed meanings.[6]

Daniel, my fictive French comatose, is unhampered by axiomatic science. Formless, egoless, his galleries stripped of every image but that of a wet splotch on a beach, he identifies with it, groping out his new, ontological perimeter in the sand. Through loss of consciousness, he regains subconsciousness, navigated in pre-verbal, post-Cartesian interior monologue.

Or you say "he lost it" as if I (I so nothinged) could ever

lose the word

Possessed of only the scantest bodily integrity, he seeks to isolate, then reconstitute the indispensable elements of being, distinct from his environment. As he does, he invents a language, compiling, Adam-like, a catalogue of symbolic breath designations, but with the difference that internal and external, emotion and sensation, frequently blur.[7] In his idiom, ‘douva’ denotes wind, not as external, sensed phenomenon, but rather, as emotive response thereto, thus: ‘elation’.[8]

But I began in a word & I ended in a word &
I know that word better
\Than any knows me or knows that word, . . .

Non-Verbal Assimilation

The first stirrings of a poem are rarely verbal; it arrives by emotional sensation, by the internal color, texture, smell of a mood, by a cadence, hum, the savor of a long vowel. "The poet is occupied with the frontiers of consciousness where words fail, but meanings still exist."[9] This is the zone we inhabit when we enter into dialogue with the poem to transliterate our non-verbal exchange onto the page. Within it, poet accounts to poem as the final arbiter of its completion; poem scrutinizes and challenges poet.

Denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht.
Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

For there is no part of him
that does not see you.
You must change your life.[10]

Only by engagement in the dialogue can we produce authentic work of lasting value. "The cure of poetry is the achievement of the poem’s rescue from an accumulation of prosaic impulses that stanch the spring of feeling and idea."[11] When we try to override the poem’s ego-free will by force of intellect -- syntactical pushing and shoving or recalcitrant insistence on clever purport -- it refuses to debate, flees or, worse, squats impassive on the page. Triteness is the revenge of the poem bullied, misquoted or ignored.

Datta: What have we given?[12]

To voice what the thunder said, Eliot needed to listen. During the drought of 1921, he had tried to and failed, distracted by money worries, Vivien’s illnesses, family visitors, and negotiations for his editorship of The Criterion.[13] So spent that his physician prescribed a three-month leave, he wrote the profoundly cadent final section of The Waste Land entranced amid the fog-wet December mountains of Lausanne. "I wasn’t even bothering whether I understood what I was saying."[14]

The word that word I write perfectly lovingly
one & one after the other one

Language is the sequence of telling, but consciousness the order of it. The order of poetic consciousness, at once higher and deeper than prose, may have set its own ambitions for the work -- and evidently provided guidance sufficient for Eliot to fulfill them.[15]

We lesser beachlings, groping out our respective grain-of-sand-conscious perimeters, must let the poem reconstitute itself -- unprovoked by our prosaic impulses -- or end, just marring the shore, sinkholes of banal.

Beyond Phenomenon:
Undoing the Doctor’s Damage, No. 1

Blue sky,
red rubber ball,
curly, black dog.

Blue ball,
black rubber sky,
red, curly relies too
on the canine wheelbarrow for
a generation (two)

of yellow argument on green
disputes with green,
concedes / assumes
name noun place breed
for every each one is so
as to
end in the beginning,
phenomenon recorded,

while the grey,
while the thunder,
white dumb ignored,
which is / is not
the / any of it
atter or dog
bred to metaphor,

writes the Poem.[16]

[1] See, e.g., Can Poetry Matter? (Dana Gioia, Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn., 1991).
[2] "They shuffle through their papers and do not listen to the poetry read by others. Finally, they strut and fret for five minutes on the makeshift stage. And then, once having read their opus, leave the place, intoxicated with caffeine and thinking they were worthy of the name, poet." Mike Madias, "I Wonder If Anyone Will Read This!" (Rattle, Vol. 6, No. 1, Summer 2000 at 126).
[3] From "Red Zinnias", Selected Poems of Alice Notley (Talisman House, Hoboken, NJ, 1993).
[4] From "Jack Would Speak Through the Imperfect Medium of Alice". Id. Subsequent italicized excerpts appear herein unfootnoted.
[5] "A thought limited to existing for itself, independent of the constraints of speech and communication, would no sooner appear than sink back into the unconscious. It is through expression that we make it our own." Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology of Perception, Chap. 6: The Body as Expression, and Speech (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, 1962, hereinafter, "M-P") at 177. Author’s note: Language from Colin Wilson’s translation is frequently abridged or edited in this essay.
[6] Through novelties of speech, we ‘play modulations on the keyboard of acquired meanings.’ That the link between symbol and meaning is accidental is evidenced by our multiplicity of languages. (M-P at 186-7.)
[7] "The word is not bearer of its own meaning, but rather, only the external sign of an internal recognition which could occur without it." (M-P, at 176.)
[8] "If we just consider the conceptual and delimiting meaning of words, the verbal form appears arbitrary, but not if we take into account the emotional content of the word, its "gestural" sense, which is all-important in poetry. Words, vowels and phonemes then become ways of ‘singing’ the world, their purpose being to represent things, not, as naïve onomatopoeic theory had it, through objective resemblance, but through the extraction and literal expression of their emotional essence." (M-P, at 187.)
[9]T.S. Eliot, On Poetry and Poets, "The Music of Poetry", (Faber and Faber, 1957), at 30.
[10] From "Archäischer Torso Apollos" (Translation, MH). Mary Kinzie, Ph.D. (Director, Creative Writing Program, Northwestern Univ.), discusses this poem and the scrutiny of artist by artwork in The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose: Moral Essays on the Poet’s Calling (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1993). A poem is "at once a contract with self-scrutiny, and a state of being illuminated or seen through by it. The poem you are writing sees you, sees (in both senses) through you: It shows you up, and it requires your humble cooperation." (at xi, emphasis added)
[11] "Because the service of poetry magisterially summons the writer, makes demands, and designates the ways of approach to itself, it is appropriate to speak of the poet’s calling." Kinzie, at xi (second emphasis in original).
[12]The Waste Land, 401-02.
[13] "I know nothing whatever about Lady Rothermere [the magazine’s self-proprosed sponsor], save that she, by her name, appears to have married into a family which is NOT interested in good literature. . . . I cant see that England deserves a good review. . . . They still want what I was doing in 1908. They want immitations and dilutations." Letter from Ezra Pound to Eliot, March, 1922.
[14] Interview, Paris Review, cited in T.S. Eliot, A Life, Peter Akroyd (Simon & Schuster, 1984), at 116.
[15] "Complimenti, you bitch. I am wracked by the seven jealousies." Pound to Eliot, January, 1922, in response to the completed manuscript.
[16] Poem cycle by MH.


Strawberry Fields, December 8, 9 p.m., 21° F.

Still so green, the grass in this small Central Park meadow seems to nurture serenity among the crowd of five hundred or so who fill its paths, kneel on its stone, and mount its benches to observe the 20th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. There's a sense that they've come, not to see or be seen, nor even simply to be, but rather, to be better. They've brought candles, light and hold them in gloved hands or offer the flame to a stranger, who accepts it and remains close.

More keep arriving, an unhurried, 2-block stream from Broadway along the north side of 72nd Street: singly, a one-time 1A-draft-eligible grad student in an Army jacket who bears flowers; in two's and three's, high-schoolers who bear hand-lettered signs--"GIVE IT" and "A CHANCE." They reach the Dakota's archway, its tall, white-lighted Christmas tree visible in the courtyard past the wrought-iron gates. The uniformed doorman stands sentinel in his plexiglass hut; the uniformed policeman leans on his car. 'No,' he says, 'the curb is not painted to mark the spot.'

-- MH

Masses of flower bouquets and candles arranged in the form of the peace sign accompany signs and pictures of Lennon near the "Imagine" mosaic in Strawberry Fields (Central Park at West 72nd Street).


Imagine: Strawberry Fields Are Frozen
by Walker

Who sucked the fight out of the people?

Holiday season in New York City: The people move like Revolutionary soldiers over the hill, lining up to be shot down in neat little rows by the corporate cannon. In the distance, a hum is heard. The last of the Sixties radicals congregate in West Central Park in the freezing cold to give thanks--not to God, or to the elements, but simply to John. The music is still important to them all, and above all, they are important to the music.

Like a schoolboy rumor that travels by flash from ear to ear, grade to grade, playground to playground, this music, his music, his message, got passed around. I received it from a brother of mine when I was six. It came in the form of "Happiness is a Warm Gun," complete with the story of his initial playing of the LP. Granted, my brother could make assembling a Big Wheel seem like sex with two women at once. A la Tom Sawyer, this tale had the perfect soundtrack.

I was born when the Beatles were in the middle of their breakup, I knew nothing of the mania or the innovations in the music scene. I heard John and what he was saying clearly, whether it was in his Dr. Seuss-like lyric or the penalty of his solos in "I Want You." I just connected. As did most of the world.

Well, John is gone, and unfortunately, so is the message. As much as the songs of John and the Beatles need to play on forever, the ritual that takes place on the ninth of October, and eighth of December commemorating his birth and death could stand a little bit more of the idea John fought so hard for: individuality.

New leaders? New poets? New musicians? They're lost from view, obscured by the worship of Rock idols--complete with overworked liturgies.

I say to those who love John, sing your own songs, find the new fights, and the next time you're singing, "You say you want a revolution," I hope you want it more than me. And I want it a whole lot.

Next year, I'll meet with my friends in Strawberry Fields as I've done for the past nineteen years, and I'll sing my songs, listen to the songs of others, and be looking for the music that will be the Band-Aid for my children.

John, live on.


[Ed. note: Formerly of the New York-based Latin/Alternative band, "Q-South," Walker has been writing and performing songs for fifteen years. His duets with Caribbean stars Machel Montano, XTATIK, and Alison Hinds of Square One have brought him to the number one spot on the Caribbean charts. He has performed with such stars as Shaggy, Red Rat, Beenie Man, and is currently playing out solo with his associates, "The Brotherhood of the Grape." Walker!--puts the blue in ballad and the purple in blues. (Sign and Rumor Series poster, NYC)]

Walker in performance at The Underground Lounge on Manhattan's Upper West Side in mid-December.