Friday, November 06, 2009

Gary Snyder; Geraldine Monk; Ray DiPalma

Three quick entries in the "100 poem-books" thing, somewhat in the way of coming up for air in the midst of heavy-duty reading, writing, & teaching.

Axe Handles, Gary Snyder (North Point, 1983)

It's been years since I've read a Snyder book. I'd forgotten what a tonic his straightforward delivery and terse, quasi-Asian lyricism can be. I can live without the joyful ecocelebration – the last poem ends "one ecosystem / in diversity / under the sun / With joyful interpenetration for all" – not that I don't sympathize with the Thoreauvian impulse behind so much of the verse, it's just that – well, maybe it all feels a bit too '60s-ish optimistic. I find it hard to write about nature, or even to look at nature, without being overwhelmed with a stomach-bottoming sense of foreboding & even guilt at what we've made of poor old Mater Gaia, now circling the drain. But Snyder's at his best when he's chronicling the intense pleasures he gets out of the grain of everyday living, the daily grind of dropping the kids off for their ride to school, trying to keep the raccoons out of the refrigerator at night, drinking and eating.


Selected Poems, Geraldine Monk (Salt, 2003)

I already knew Interregnum, the centerpiece volume of this big selection of Monk's work, a snazzy recounting of the trial & execution of the East Lancastershire Peddle Witches in 1612. Good stuff – Monk's 17th-century witches tend to blur into 20th-century bikers, anarchists, crusties, & other British anti-establishment types, & her language is always muscular & surprising. The 4 post-Interregnum collections in Selected Poems show Monk moving in interesting directions. The early work is a bit too druggy & Wiccan-ish for my taste at times; the later is more satisfyingly weird, breaking up and morphing words on the phonemic level, circling around verbal motifs and repeated cadences. Oddly enough, I find it far more emotionally immediate than the earlier things.


Raik, Ray DiPalma (Roof, 1989)

This is procedural poetry on some level, or at least it takes the notion of form to whole new levels of rigor. Each poem, that is, is composed of evenly-spaced lines: 16 characters, or 32 characters, or whatever. Typeset, obviously, in a crunky Courier-like font in order to preserve ye olde typewritere look, but you get used to that in a page or two. I'd love to know how DiPalma did it: on the computer, with a Courier font? on a real live typewriter? by hand, on graph paper? I'd also love to figure out the numerology behind the various poems, which come in all sorts of even stanzas and line-lengths. It's something of a spit in the face to the whole notion of the page as field of composition, the typewriter as "scoring" the voice (Cummings, LZ, Olson, Duncan), but in a good way: for what's amazing here is the richness & energy of DiPalma's lines, the way he manages to shovel in all sorts of linguistic registers and subject-matter. The poems here range from spare Creeley- or LZ-esque lyrics to dense philosophical meditations to Steinian round-songs. And all in these teeny, ├╝ber-constrained little boxes. The sort of book that sends me to the keyboard & notebooks to write, & that's praise.



Vance Maverick said...

These posts are always welcome, thanks. The Snyder note captures well my own experience reading him -- "Sourdough Mountain Lookout" apart, I don't think I remember reading a single whole good poem of his, and yet there's still something attractive & rewarding in much of it.

Archambeau said...

Gary Snyder's poems always seem to go on a line or two too long. The Maverick Bar poem could have ended with "America, I could almost love you again" and been wonderfully balanced and negative capability-ish, but then it goes on to pledge allegiance to the big ole Movement. It's like he has to turn uncertainty into agitprop.


Joseph Donahue said...

You had me at "druggy & Wiccan-ish."

Vance Maverick said...

With such a title, I had to go read "Maverick Bar", and you're right. Even your suggested stopping place is weak (why go abstract rather than, say, show the speaker enjoying himself?) but it's an ending. Then comes a stanza of revolution -- and Lenin at that, not his usual return to the Paleolithic.

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