Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Blogpost of Albion Moonlight

There are so many writers and painters and musicians and artists of every stripe that have profoundly and irrevocably affected me. It would be impossible to even imagine a me that isn't shaped by art. I suppose I can see hints in my family past of what I could be without the billions of words... but they're subtle and fleeting glimpses. Not really me at all. I've been tied to words and paintings since I was conscious, and that's just a fact of my being. I like to imagine that it's been thoughtfully and reasonably, and it isn't just indulgence in cliche. Flaubert lamented that mass media would replace thought, and we would become parrots of ideas regardless of content. I hope I've avoided the worst of that, but I guess I can't exactly know. I'm a prisoner of my "received ideas," as he would possibly put it. And even in quoting him perhaps I fulfill that dangerous prophecy.

Nonetheless. The art and artists are a part of me, and I accept it even while acknowledging I'm largely powerless to change it. Especially as I near 40.

And no artist has affected me as profoundly as Kenneth Patchen.

That is not to say he's the greatest, or the most important. He's not. He's not even, like Robert Duncan or Ronald Johnson, one of the poets who altered my perception of how poetry is understood. But he's the poet who most resonated with my own idea of a life lived in art. He, like me, was inexorably linked to his one lifelong love. He was largely unrecognized during his life, but continued to create and communicate in his work. Unlike me he lived in pain and relative isolation. But even that has served as a lesson for me. I resisted the temptation, strong at times, towards misanthropy that many artists succumb to. I also had children, which provide a perspective and a joy that helps a person to find some solace in human company.

After all is said and done, I'm still more Kenneth Patchen than anyone else. I'd prefer to be a Peter O'Leary or Ezra Pound as a poet. But I'm KP.

Enjoy Lawrence Ferlinghetti's amazing elegy to him below. Hopefully someone as awesome as Ferlinghetti will someday see fit to honor me with such amazing words. But I'd take a sincere thumbs up if you're offering. Even a manly nod of approval!

An Elegy on the Death of Kenneth Patchen

A poet is born
A poet dies
And all that lies between
is us
and the world

And the world lies about it
making as if it had got his message
even though it is poetry
but most of the world wishing
it could just forget about him
and his awful strange prophecies

Along with all the other strange things
he said about the world
which were all too true
and which made them fear him
more than they loved him
though he spoke much of love

Along with all the alarms he sounded
which turned out to be false
if only for the moment
all of which made them fear his tongue
more than they loved him
Though he spoke much of love
and never lived by ‘silence exile & cunning’
and was a loud conscientious objector to
the deaths we daily give each other
though we speak much of love

And when such a one dies
even the agents of Death should take note
and shake the shit from their wings
in Air Force One
But they do not
And the shit still flies
And the poet now is disconnected
and won’t call back
though he spoke much of love

And still we hear him say
‘Do I not deal with angels
when her lips I touch’
And still we hear him say
‘0 my darling troubles heaven
with her loveliness’
And still we hear him say
‘As we are so wonderfully done with each other
We can walk into our separate ‘sleep
On floors of music where the milkwhite cloak
of childhood lies’

And still we hear him saying
‘Therefore the constant powers do not lessen
Nor is the property of the spirit scattered
on the cold hills of these events’
And still we hear him asking
‘Do the dead know what time it is?’

He is gone under
He is scattered
and knows what time
but won’t be back to tell it
He would be too proud to call back anyway
And too full of strange laughter
to speak to us anymore anyway

And the weight of human experience
lies upon the world
like the chains of the ‘sea
in which he sings
And he swings in the tides of the sea
And his ashes are washed
in the ides of the sea
And ‘an astonished eye looks out of the air’
to see the poet singing there

And dusk falls down a coast somewhere

where a white horse without a rider
turns its head
to the sea 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I, Ryan of the Mountain State, To You

I'm fascinated by the return to home. Even as a kid who had no experience away from home, the mythological return was a source of constant inspiration and reflection. When I first read Whitman, extolling the virtues of his native land in poetry, I was enthralled. Here was a person who wrote about himself as a voyager headed back to himself! It was perfect!

As I grew up, I discovered that most of the work I loved was about that connection of past and present. Van Gogh painted peasants in France who looked and acted like the peasants in his boyhood Dutch villages. The title of Olson's masterpiece Maximus Poems that I stole my post title from was himself, looking at his Gloucester youth. It was all about home.

Home is that idyllic place, home is the hell you raise up from... Home is the paradise of the people or the hell of the boredom. I laughed when my Seattle friends lamented being from "boring, backwater" Seattle when I had grown up in such a tiny little town. But it was futile. It was a tiny backwater for them because of that familiarity. It didn't matter what my opinion was, or objective population statistics.

The familiarity itself is fascinating. Home is where you are loved and bathed in attention, or ignored and mocked as a freak... but it is familiar by definition. It is what you were, and where you were.

My frequent Kerouac binges also remind me of one aspect of the home that other writers sometimes ignore. Home is where the legend of your life begins. It is the primal narrative of you, the first story.

I always loved that aspect of home. "I was born.." is the cliche. But it is meaningful. It's a positive cliche in the sense that it can still carry meaning. Love it or hate it, that's the start of your story. "I was born..."

It's a fascinating thing, home. No wonder it keeps being the story we write.

I've read that early humans had a completely different relationship to home. They were nomadic or semi-nomadic, and home to them was the Earth. It was the land and the trees as a continuum, not a specific geographic locale. Certainly not a standing structure they completed. That is inspirational and amazing, and I wish I were that kind of person. But I am not. Home for me is a geographical location, with all of the love and hate and ponderous reflection that implies. It''s ridiculous and baffling. But it's true. Home is rolling hills and oak trees. I love other places and things. I prefer other places and things. But as much as I truly wish to say I come from the western spiral arm of the milky way galaxy, that would be a lie. "I was born..." still exists for me in a limited way. Like so many others.

So we write on it. I wrote my huge epic poem Un/Fettered while living in Japan, Seattle, New York... but it's suffused with home. The narrow, confined sense. The subtitle is Constructing the Wild Beggar, implying a liberation and frugality that I long for and never achieve. The accuracy of it comes from the constructing, I guess. The desire to push beyond the limited and limiting "I was born."

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Scholar's Art and Manliness

"Poetry is the scholar's art."

I'm not a big fan of Wallace Stevens. But I can admit he perfectly expressed poetry with the above quote. Poetry is the art of the scholar. That doesn't mean necessarily that poetry is for academics. I'd argue the opposite, in fact. Poetry is the classic art, for scholars who wander the world with ink under fingernails and madness in their hearts. But it's the art for people who look and listen and learn from the past. It's only accessible through study. The great poets can speak eloquently about their poetics. They've read extensively, they've broken apart and dissected every aspect of words. They don't care about philology- but they've read the sections of Ulysses that speak to it. Poetry is for thinkers and scholars.

Emily Dickinson is a perfect example of this, in a sad and circumspect way. In her newly released book The Gorgeous Nothings, we see the brilliance of the poet in a way that was never possible in earlier decades. The book collects pieces of poetry and philosophy scattered across envelopes and scraps of letters sent by her to various friends and colleagues. They are written in sly interstitial spaces, and they're brilliant.

I like Dickinson's poetry. I always have. But her poems are restrained and limited. The poems we see from her are half-poems, poems from a scholar who was thwarted by the perceptions and attitudes of the nineteenth century about her gender. The most amazing work she ever did was in the margins, quite literally. Poets today have to contend with institutional issues of sexism and general ignorance, of course. But poets like Susan Howe are free to express themselves in a way poets like Dickinson never were. And seeing the amazing words written on the margins of the pages in The Gorgeous Nothings... it's a reprehensible wrong that it ever occurred.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Japan Pan Syndrome: Nihon Remix II

I've previously expressed my bafflement and enduring confusion with Japan. I mean I love it. But it has been a subtle kind of curse, as well. I find myself missing it a lot lately, for some reason. Maybe the weather, as I see the cherry blossoms are due to bloom in Kyushu this month. Maybe the culture, as I'm currently living in the whitest, most suburban place I've ever lived. Maybe it's the kids- Taviri has just discovered Japanese culture, and Arkaedi speaking Japanese would be the cutest thing that could possibly exist.

But mostly I think it's like I wrote five years ago- I'm not prepared for anything else. I lived my first 20 years as a prospective bhikkhu, filled with pretension and ideology. I had zero thought of the future, I was just skipping and ambling through life. I ended up in Japan on pure luck, doing a job and wandering over the country. It was as close to a logical conclusion as I could have hoped for. Except it wasn't a conclusion. I came back, went to school, had kids... I'm a teacher now. And I like that.

Except... again, it isn't a conclusion. I don't work that way. I'm already ambling towards the next thing. It's not healthy, or realistic, or smart. It's certainly not fair to the family. But it's true.

Friends talk about buying a house. I think of buying a house in the same way many would think of getting a fatal diagnosis. Which is silly. But it's how I feel. In fact, in the face of all the madness and instability in my life, it's practically the only thing that hasn't changed. I equate settling down and owning a house with death.

I'm better than I used to be. I can function as a normal person now, and I sometimes stay in a place for years. Even three years! But I'll never be settled in the sense that many of my friends are. I'll never be stable. And Japan is a big part of that. Japan is my crucible, where I lived during most of my twenties. It's where I grew up. Or failed to grow up.

And ironically, I'd like my kids to see it and live in that world. I don't care if they grow up or not. But it's nice to have the choice.

Also, Godzilla.
Meow! Grr!