Monday, February 25, 2008

Running too close?

War Photograph--Kate Daniels

A naked child is running
along the path toward us,
her arms stretched out,
her mouth open,
the world turned to trash
behind her.
She is running from the smoke
and the soldiers, from the bodies
of her mother and little sister
thrown down into a ditch,
from the blown-up bamboo hut
from the melted pots and pans.
And she is also running from the gods
who have changed the sky to fire
and puddled the earth with skin and blood.
She is running--my god--to us,
10,000 miles away,
reading the caption
beneath her picture
in a weekly magazine.
All over the country
we're feeling sorry for her
and being appalled at the war
being fought in the other world.
She keeps on running, you know,
after the shutter of the camera
clicks. She's running to us.
For how can she know,
her feet beating a path
on another continent?
How can she know
what we really are?
From the distance, we look
so terribly human.

From A Chorus for Peace: A Global Anthology of Poetry by Women

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Uncle Walt and American Song

An excerpt from this essay by Whitman scholar David S. Reynolds, author of Walt Whitman's America:

Recalling the entertainment experiences of his young manhood, Whitman wrote, "Perhaps my dearest amusement reminiscences are those musical ones." Music was such a powerful force on him that he saw himself less as a poet than as a singer or bard. "My younger life," he recalled in old age, "was so saturated with the emotions, raptures, up- lifts of such musical experiences that it would be surprising indeed if all my future work had not been colored by them."

Whitman regarded music as a prime agent for unity and uplift in a nation whose tendencies to fragmentation and political corruption he saw clearly. For all the downward tendencies he perceived in society, he took confidence in Americans' shared love of music. In the 1855 preface to Leaves of Grass he mentioned specifically "their delight in music, the sure symptoms of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul." As he explained in a magazine article: "A taste for music, when widely distributed among a people, is one of the surest indications of their moral purity, amiability, and refinement. It promotes sociality, represses the grosser manifestations of the passions, and substitutes in their place all that is beautiful and artistic." By becoming himself a "bard" singing poetic "songs" he hoped to tap the potential for aesthetic appreciation he saw in Americans' positive responses to their shared musical culture.

Whitman's poetry, then, was most profoundly influenced by what he called "the great, overwhelming, touching human voice—its throbbing, flowing, pulsating qualities." Of the 206 musical words in his poems, 123 relate specifically to vocal music, and some are used many times. "Song" appears 154 times, "sing" 117, and "singing" and "singers" over 30 times each. In his poems, too, he mentions no fewer than 25 musical instruments, including the violin, the piano, the oboe, and the drums. One senses a musical influence in his poem "Song of Myself," which, like a symphony, shifts between pianissimo passages and torrential, fervent ones.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Levertov and ikonography

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

Down through the tomb's inward arch
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust
still streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.

--Denise Levertov

Second Naivete--Hearing Again

"[I]n every way, something has been lost, irremediably lost: immediacy of belief. But if we can no longer live the great symbolisms of the sacred in accordance with the original belief in them, we can, we modern men, aim at a second naivete in and through criticism. In short it is by interpreting that we hear again. . . . [T]he second immediacy that we seek and the second naivete that we await are no longer accessible to us anywhere else than in a hermeneutics; we can only believe by interpreting" (352-354).

--Paul Ricouer, from The Symbolism of Evil

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Victoria Chang from her series of studies on Edward Hopper


The woman's finger hangs
above the F key. She always
wears the same red dress.
The man's hands cup
the newspaper edge, his face
ashen, half-edible.
The woman's back
to the man, head down,
her arm, dairy and bloated,
long before men preferred
peeling brown shoulders,
the midriff. She can't leave him,
doesn't know how.
How many times have you
heard this? You will hear it
again and again, like the F key
that in a moment will
glaze the room with its
throbbing mouth.

--Victoria Chang, from Circle

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Aaron Belz at Wheaton

Writer Aaron Belz will visit Wheaton on Tues., Mar 4 for a dinner reading at 5:30. Author of several books of poems, most recently The Bird Hoverer , Aaron's work has appeared widely in print and online, including such cutting edge journals as Jacket, Exquisite Corpse, and McSweeneys.

Belz combines a deep commitment to language play with an equal reverence for the work a poem can do. Poet Denise Duhamel has called him "a gravely hilarious poet" and Jacket writes that "Aaron Belz is out to get you. Get you thinking, get you laughing, get you good." As part of his commitment to poetry, Belz has cultivated a premier reading series in St. Louis, where he lives and teache. He also writes essays and reviews for a variety of publications, including Books & Culture and St. Louis Magazine among many others.

Here's a kind of funky notional ekphrasis, Belz's poem "A Photo of Me When I Was Forty":

Recently I stumbled across this old
photo of me when I was forty.
In the background you can see
the animal hospital where I worked at the time.
The weird thing about this photo
(and believe me, I've tried to solve this)
is that I am thirty-four years old
and have never worked at an animal hospital.
However, I remember this moment clearly:
See the smudge on my hand?
A stamp from a show the night before.
(I mean, from some six years hence.)
And the woman clinging to me, laughing,
I met her years ago, even longer ago
in this futuristic photo, in which she's twenty six
(twenty today and dating someone else).

A few additional links
An interview with Belz.
One of his recent essays, Family Business
Review of Adam Kirsch's The Wounded Surgeon

Friday, February 15, 2008

Can we get out of the way?

“We sit down before [a] picture in order to have something done to us, not that we may do things with it. The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way” (19).

from An Experiment in Criticism, C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Heidegger, meet Billy Collins

Thanks to my friend and colleague Jay Wood for pointing out this piece by Adam Kirsch from a recent edition of Poetry:

Ours does not promise to go down in literary history as a great age of religious poetry. Yet if contemporary poetry is not often religious, it is still intensely, covertly metaphysical. Human nature, it seems, compels us to keep asking about the first things, even if we no longer accept the same answers that our ancestors did, or even the same kind of answers. The more widely you read, in fact, the clearer it becomes that our poetry has a distinctive metaphysics, a set of principles or intuitions held in common by poets as different as Seamus Heaney, Charles Simic, and Billy Collins. This metaphysical sensibility, I think, is what will give our period a retrospective unity, when readers of the future come to survey what looks to us like chaos. And the best document of that sensibility—the single piece of writing that does the most to explain what our poetry believes, and the ways it expresses that belief—is an essay by Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art."

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Submit some stuff, ok?

Lindsey Boothe, editor of the campus lit mag, reminds me that Kodon is looking for submissions in Fiction, Cover Art, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Art to publish in the spring edition. The submission deadline is Feb. 8th. You tcan submit your work to kodon (at) wheaton (dot) edu. Many of you have many fine pieces to consider sending in.