Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I wanna write in about five different directions, & of course oughtn't to be writing in any of them, but busily prepping tomorrow's class on Endgame & Adorno. But...

Eric comments on yesterday's chunk o' TWA:
"The individual passages have to be grasped as consequences of what has come before, the meaning of a divergent repetition has to be evaluated, and reappearance has to be perceived not merely as architectonic correspondence but as something that has evolved with necessity."

This seems true of how we read poems as well, no? Which leads me to wonder, is it more true of Beethoven than of other composers? You know music better than I do--is this true of some kinds, some periods, more than others?
Yes, indeed, I think that's true about how we read poems, at least one sort of poem (& it seems like a pretty close description of what the New Critics, bless their pointy little heads, used to tell us was the right way to trundle thru a Yeats poem. Which implies for me that Adorno's "immanent criticism" quite obviously has a lot in common with the New Criticism). In someone like Zukofsky or Ron Johnson, tho, I wonder if the notion of "evolving with necessity" – awfully reminiscent of "organic form" – might not have been eschewed in favor of something more like "architectonic correspondence"?

I think Adorno sees this sort of music – what he calls "highly organized" music – as emerging more or less with Bach (Adornauts feel free to correct me), and reaching its maturity with Beethoven and the Romantics. Me know more about music than you? – bite your tongue, Mr. S! Bob Archambeau has just pointed me to a fascinating omnibus review by Richard Taruskin of recent Adornian-influenced "defences" of "high" classical music, in The New Republic; much to think about, & interesting parallels perhaps with the situation of contemporary poetry.
Speaking of Ron Johnson, I've just discovered an old correspondent, WB Keckler, has a very lively blog indeed, Joe Brainard's Pyjamas. And he's dug up a Ronald Johnson poem I didn't know existed, the man's elegy for Princess Di. I'm afraid I don't share William's enthusiasm for the poem, tho I can see how tastes might diverge on this sort of thing. But it reminded me of section 36 of Geoffrey Hill's Speech! Speech!, which addresses the same subject & deploys many of the same images, but to a far more mordant effect:
Huntress? No not thát huntress but some
other creature of fable. And then for her |
like being hunted. Or inescapably
beholden (this should sound tired but not
emotional to excess). Half forgotten
in one lifetime the funeral sentences
instantly resurrected – hów can they do it?
Whatever of our loves here lies apart:
whatever it is | you look for in sleep:
simple bio-degradation, a slather
of half-rotted black willow leaves
at the lake's edge.
And speaking of Geoffrey Hill, I wish could be at this, if only to see the dour one's expression while Jorie Graham reads.
Eric muses, perhaps with an anthology in mind, about why so much writing about poetry is so awful. What, he wonders, are some really wonderful pieces of writing addressing individual poems, or poetry in general? Three sentimental favorites of my own:
•John Ruskin phrase-by-phrase dissection of "Lycidas" in Sesame & Lilies
•Hugh Kenner's Muybridgesque stop-motion of WCW's "Poem" (the one about the cat) in The Pound Era
•Susan Howe's fugue on "My Life had stood – a loaded Gun" in My Emily Dickinson
So what are your suggestions, readers gentle & ungentle?


Don Share said...

I'd add Kenner's The Counterfeiters... just about anything by Empson... and Basil Bunting on Poetry!

Mark Scroggins said...

Super second for BB on Poetry, which is one of the grand lecture series out there, even if he bluffs his way thru the (to me) super-important LZ chapter.

E. M. Selinger said...

Thanks, Mark & Don. I'll go and read. I'm not sure I have an anthology in mind (yet)--more something of use to my own students, who seem baffled by my unhappiness with their efforts on the page.

Steve Shoemaker said...

"Has to...has to...has to..." Aww, can't we just listen to the damn thing and enjoy it?!

"One has to know a whole movement and be aware retrospectively at every moment of what has come before. The individual passages have to be grasped as consequences of what has come before, the meaning of a divergent repetition has to be evaluated, and reappearance has to be perceived not merely as architectonic correspondence but as something
that has evolved with necessity."

Ed said...

the genius is the one who doesn't have to remember the preceding 200 years of

far beyond moon frog leaps

Gertrude Stein may have written this or heard it from someone insignificant

I wrote the frog poem ..


alex davis said...

I'd second the Empson, to which I'd add Housman's "The Name and Nature of Poetry".

Don Share said...

You've got me going, now. What list would be complete with Samuel Johnson - certainly some of the Lives and possibly EP's ABC of Reading? Then you'd want a good bit of Jarrell, a dash of Delmore Schwartz, and probably Christopher Ricks's The Force of Poetry, too.

Michael Peverett said...

C.S Lewis - English Literature in the 16th Century excluding Drama (it somehow doesn't matter at all that many of the readings are contentious...). Many of my favourite readings are in editor's introductions: For Shakespeare, the Arden 2nd series is a good hunting ground (better than the 3rd) - Brian Morris' edition of the Taming of the Shrew is one of my favourites, also John Kerrigan on the Sonnets in Penguin. I still love reading Bradley on Shakespeare. Ricks' The Force of Poetry - I second that, especially on Gower. Germaine Greer's Slipshod Sibyls. D. H Lawrence on Melville and other US masters. Modern poetry has mostly encouraged a different kind of relationship between poem and reader - but I love Andrew Duncan's readings. Ron is the best I know at writing about the kind of poetry he likes - invariably, he notices more and articulates it better.

Richard Taruskin's review perhaps under-rates the significance of recording technology in accounting for his "trahison des clercs" - recorded music could take on significance and become communally discussable in a way that the popular music of earlier times could not.

The classical music tradition is fundamentally performance-based, and will likely continue to thrive as a natural focus for that small community of people who feel driven to master a musical talent to the point of virtuosity - indeed merely to learn to read music in a score - performers then attract composers who then attract performers... ; and the resultant body of work is a natural challenge that will eventually be attempted by many or most listeners whose love of music takes the form of restlessly seeking outside the confines of their own comfort-zone. Surely an altogether different kind of music-appreciation from the nostalgic love of the pop songs of one's formative years, however intense that may remain; you might say, the point where enjoyment of music, so nearly universal, develops into curiosity about music, which certainly is not.

Ray Davis said...

In a literary universe of backscratching and -stabbing, Kenneth Cox is shockingly good. His Collected Studies in the Use of English reincarnates that Johnsonian sense of critical duty for the late twentieth century. Do read him if you haven't.

Mark Scroggins said...

Ray is as always right; how did I forget Kenneth Cox, whose work I regard with something like awe? In a perfect world, he would be as famous as Helen Vendler, more astonishing for – like one of the objects of his always scrupulous commentary, Basil Bunting – having had a long & real life outside of letters.

Jane Holland said...

You would have been disappointed, looking for the 'dour one's expression while Jorie G. reads'. Because he lay his head down on the desk instead throughout her reading!

Utterly spankingly hilarious!

Come read about the conference and reading at my writing blog, Raw Light.


Mark Scroggins said...

'Strue, Jane has a rousing run-down on the Warwick conference, at which it appears Geoffrey Hill's reaction to Jorie Graham was invisible to onlookers due to Hill's having laid his head on the table...

Funny, when I think of the word "spankingly" I think not G. Hill but Phillip Larkin... (Oh, BeHAVE...)