|Horace Pippin, Holy Mountain IV (unfinished, oil on canvas, 26×36", 1946)|
My ekphrastic poem in homage to the painter Horace Pippin is now up at Silver Pinion. Thank you to Silver Pinion and to Horace Pippin. Read the poem here:
Poetry, Literature, Whatever // An Online Presence of Michael S. Begnal
|Horace Pippin, Holy Mountain IV (unfinished, oil on canvas, 26×36", 1946)|
I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,Lying behind this what might be described as a Heraclitean view of the world, and just as we “cannot step into the same river twice,” so in lines 46-48,
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
from outside: I have drawn no lines…
manifold events of sandAmmons’ response is to accept this indeterminacy in his own writing. As he says in lines 49-52,
change the dune’s shape that will not be the same shape
so I am willing to go along, to acceptHis poetry will reflect the organic flow of thought, as well as the constantly changing nature of the world. Like the natural environment, “Corson’s Inlet” is “irregular,” using free verse with no discernible pattern. Another example of how this stance is reflected in his poetry can be seen in the section from lines 55 onward:
thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish
change in that transition is clearHe is talking about “transitions” of thought as it responds to the material world, I think, but also about “transitions” in poetry — in other words, how the poem will be constructed, how it will flow together as a piece of writing. There are no “lines” in nature, no hard and fast borders denoting where one thing leaves off and another begins — no “beginnings or ends” or “walls,” Ammons writes in line 51. For him, there is only a constant state of flux.
as any sharpness: but “sharpness” spread out,
allowed to occur over a wider range
than mental lines can keep…
no forcing of image, planAmmons’s poetry is a poetry of open-endedness, rather than of closed forms. In line 121, he eschews the “easy victory” of traditional formal poetry (identified in the “narrow orders, limited tightness” of line 120), knowing that the deeper nature of the world is anything other than such “narrowness” of form might imply.
no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept…
to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, wideningThis statement suggests that, at least in Ammons’ view, a new poem must also create poetry itself anew, that a poet cannot simply rely on the predictable patterns of form but must allow the poem to find its own form in response to nature and the changing world it grapples with. Ammons asserts that that world is necessarily disordered and in a state of ongoing change and that, therefore, instead of trying to show one’s poetic mastery by imposing a predetermined form over it, the poet must listen to nature, must listen to language itself, and allow him- or herself to “go with the flow” of that flux: “I have perceived nothing completely” — a nor can one ever, for all is mediated by the particular dynamics of the mind.
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.
availableIn other words, it is not about the individual poet, the supposedly autonomous individual artist (as “great,” or what have you) but in fact more about forgetting the self, the ego, and opening up outwardly to — let’s call it the “cosmos,” at the risk of sounding over-serious and for lack of a less grandiose word.
to any shape that may be
from the self not mine but ours. (20-24)
Numerous birds appear in this collection. What are they? Messengers, transmigrating spirits perhaps, and/or real birds. One particular bird poem that I like a lot here is “Thrush.” The thrush in this poem is perhaps the thrush in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring,” only now the “same just older thrush, / thrust upwards from sheer. . . / sheerer. . .” (Behrens’s deployment of ellipses is perhaps a revival of a usage that seemed to have gone out of fashion). There is a similar kind of intense soundplay to Hopkins (“thrush”/“thrust”) and a similar attempt to grasp a fleeting joy—Behrens’s poem ends with the thrush’s return, provoking “Ebullience. It wipes us out.”The full review can be read here:
|Photo: Ed Caraeff|
Seablue, moonbeam,Klein’s recent version falls somewhere in between but is perhaps closer to the syntax of Graham: “When the moon shines by the green sea there are tears on pearls, / and when the sun is warm on Mount Bluefield steam rises off jade” (116). Each has their merits, but speaking subjectively, the clipped, at times paratactic, versions that Roberts creates resonate with me more, and at least visually seem closer to the Chinese form. But it is a funny thing about translation; the more versions you read, the better the picture you seem to get.
Pearls hold tears.
Indigo fields, sun-warmth,
Jade begets smoke. (39)
At dawn, use cloudsThe poem “Spring Wind” is emotional in a way that differs from the work of other Tang poets (it seems to me, though others may be more expert). Often in Tang poetry, there is an evocation of emotion through the image, like Li Po going to visit a Taoist monk only to find him gone, nothing but pine trees, and the scene or the season usually accords with the speaker’s feelings. In Li Shangyin’s “Spring Wind,” there is a reversal of this. First, there is a brief meditation on the coming of spring and the exuberance of it. Then, there is this odd and unexpected move where Li imagines spring as a sentient or even bodily creature:
To conceive the lines.
In winter, hold snow
To divine the poem. (33)
If I could force springHuh? This seems to say that if spring were indeed human it would lack the exuberance it emits in its guise as a natural force, further suggesting Li’s real mood is not so lush and energetic. In the third part of the poem, Li suddenly reveals that, actually, “my own sentiments differ / From the sentiments of spring” because “When spring begins, / I am already broken inside” (47). It is almost a kind of “meta-” use of the season, a commentary on common poetic tropes, punctuated by the bizarre image of spring’s “single fragrant branch,” set up to create a contrast with and to emphasize a sense of inner crisis.
It would only send forth
A single fragrant branch. (47)
Agony: when heaven, earth,This is purely abstract, and not concrete or imagistic, but there is a poignancy here that rivals anything Li Po ever produced (please note that I love Li Po).
We will see each other,
We will not know each other. (75)
On good daysPerhaps the message here is that the poet ought not to wait on the “spontaneous overflow of emotion” in pursuit of their work. Other times, as in Li Shangyin’s “Spring Night, Cheering Myself Up,” where we see him delighting in the wind in the bamboo, the moonglow on the flowers, and the “rampant moss,” there is also the knowledge that “My happiness and contentment / Depend only on music and wine” (105). There are so many other great poems and lines here, and I personally don’t care if (in fact I like that) it doesn’t always all make sense — though it usually more or less does. Incidentally, there is a wonderfully minimalist cover design (by Emily Singer) with smart use of color for this volume (somewhat bolder in real life than the jpeg included above). It is of a piece with the NYRB Poets series, but it especially complements Roberts’s excellent work.
The self is often moved.
Though it’s impossible
The writer could always be so. (31)