Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Keats' Visions/Visions of Keats

Keats' odal celebration of Psyche, deified as a goddess rather than merely a figure of myth, initiates a dynamic whereby we understand Keats' conception of the feminine, and of women. Psyche, importantly, is virginal but not a virgin; if she has retained her original innocence, it is also tempered by the vagaries of an active amatory life. Keats' also initiates, from the second generation of Romanticism, a strain of androgyny in his writing, whereby he can appear wisely passive and receptive or active and imposing. These two complexes together can equal, on one level, a simple whole: Keats likes women. He likes feminine energy, feminine innocence, and the seductive power (power to charm) which emanates from this energy and innocence put into dramatic, dynamic motion in art and myth. There is, in his appreciation of the feminine, nothing particularly perverse or lateral; he represents his tastes in such a way that the wholesome (or natural or organic) is emphasized. Even what is Pagan in Keats is nature-worshipping, and wholesome. The imaginative vistas spun out of this ethos are also nature-worshipping, and wholesome, as befits a cognitive attachment to a classical reality deemed "happily pious" in relation to the England Keats was raised in. Psyche stands in the center of the odal cycle as the charming, seductive synecdoche of this facet of Keats' sensibility.

Yet, however John Keats chose to live his life among the female of the species, clearly Percy Bysshe Shelley found Keats disingenuous or deluded. Adonais takes all this healthy, organic, wholesome energy and inverts it. As female splendor after splendor (what a splendor is for Shelley is a kind of earth-spirit or half-ghost) jumps on and molests Keats' corpse, we also see a kind of reversal in sensibility suggesting another inversion: Shelley does not like women, and feminine energy, as much as Keats does. This may be refuted by other sectors of Shelley's oeuvre, but Shelley was a poet of many moods, and a misogynistic mood may be one of them. By showing us these "damp deaths," Shelley adds an implicit critique of Keats' treatment of the Psyche myth in his odal cycle, and also (maybe, and daringly) opens a window not only on Fanny Brawne, but on what other kind of women were attracted by Keats during his lifetime. This is not just a question of the class differential between Shelley and Keats, which is (admittedly) huge in and of itself- it is a question of writing a palimpsest over a whole vision of human reality, an idealistic one, and replacing it with a perverse, materialistic, yet (also) more painstakingly honest one. If, traditionally, Keats is seen to be the materialist and Shelley the idealist, it is only because twentieth century literary criticism evinced its own perversity in molesting corpses with its splendors, and taking the easy way out, back to an inverted paradise.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Iconicity Complex

Each generation, and individuals born into each generation, have unique crosses to bear. What was handed to American kids born between 1970 and 1980- an iron-clad insistence, which trickled down from the media and other high sectors into the populace, on the iron-clad importance, worthiness, and compelling power of pop culture and the status of its luminaries as (barely sub-religious) icons- left us with warped emotions and stunted brains. For all that we achieved culturally in Philadelphia in the Aughts, I can't help but wonder how many kids in the population had high-level, high-maintenance creativity pummeled out of them by a Pop World/Pop Church culture, cocked at a pulverizing angle against the development of cognitive-affective attachment to serious art and creativity. If we are beginning to have perspective on the two decades in question- the 80s and 90s- it is because the Great Recession (along with the Aughts before it) has eroded the brittle foundations of Pop World/Pop Church enough that it is no longer a compelling reality for the American public. Things are drifting in a recessional space, and nothing can be enforced in an iron-clad way on a wide basis- both the numbers and the zeitgeist ethos are MIA. I have already expressed that the current "drift" or "float" is preferable to a system of Pop World/Pop Church enforcement; now that things are just what they are (no more, no less), the populace are free to use their brains.

Yet I do feel elegiac about the blood sacrifices I was forced to witness back in the day- bright kids tethered to a stupid regime to have stupid thoughts and pursue frivolous goals. Most of the Neo-Romantics, I will confess, did suffer, at some point in their respective lives, from the Iconicity Complex- the idea that crass, vulgarized fame is what legitimates a creative person, and anything less deems them unworthy, unimportant, and uninteresting. Because we were brainwashed into carrying this complex around, against the reality of the pursuit of serious art and other forms of high-maintenance creativity, which requires both rigorous discipline and rigorous patience, as well as the sacrifice (often) of short-term success or glory, we suffered accordingly, and needlessly. However much fun we had in Aughts Philadelphia, and we did have a lot of fun, this complex was always waiting in the wings to force our minds and souls into a corpse-strewn gutter. Who knows how much richer Aughts Philly could've been without this psychological hindrance on Philly Free School, the Last Droppers, and everyone else; as of 2015, it is very difficult to say.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dear, Brutal

For those with an interest in my books, this might be a useful revelation, from the writer's life. The character "N" in Chimes, who appears here:

N was the girl with the olive skin. We continued to dance around each other, loving but not committing ourselves. At a party at someone’s house in Elkins Park, we went outside together and my hands were gripped by something and they went all over her. It was a big wave and it was coursing through me into her skin. I had no me, I was permeated by the feeling of two-in-one; the third that walked beside us took over. Yet, when I called the next day, N would not commit to it ever happening again, or even to continue going out. I had an intimation that this was to be my life: full of beautiful, difficult women. N was the first and an archetype that remains visible to me when I mate, or even meet, another beautiful, difficult woman that is for me. I have a muse, she is like this: recalcitrant and blue.

...is the same character who appears in Cheltenham Elegy 420:

The Junior Prom deposited me (and fifteen
others) on the floor of her basement. I could
barely see daylight at the time, and at three in
the morning I began to prowl. I was too scared
to turn on any lights. She emerged like a mermaid
from seaweed. I needed comfort, she enjoyed my
need. We had gone out— she was bitter. The whole
dialogue happened in shadows. No one was hooking
up in the other room, either. You spiteful little princess.

...and she's in Two Teens Trilogy as well. These two poems are spaced four to five years apart, and I had to deal with her brutishness (shot through, on the other side, with incisive intelligence and intensity) through those years. She (and we) didn't always intend to start fires, but sometimes it just seemed to happen that way. And she was a decent muse in other ways I'll talk about later.

Dancing with Dancing with Myself Pt. 2

I have a few more things to say about Dancing With Myself. The perspective adopted by the author of a sonnet does not have to be a youthful one, but it tends to be. The youthful voice, exploring feelings of confinement, isolation, or (conversely, as in Keats' sonnets) euphoria and expansiveness, tends to hit us with a sense of something bubbling over or overflowing. The protagonist of Dancing with Myself adopts, uncommonly, a weathered voice and perspective, a voice already scarred by a lifetime of painful experience, even if the voice still believes in the redemptive powers of love and companionship. I think of Wordsworth and "The world is too much with us...", probably the gravest, most profound sonnet of the nineteenth century; my exiled-from-paradise protagonist shares with Wordsworth's the sense of disenchantment and alienation from the dreary intercourse of daily life and its vagaries. Yet the melancholy of age and experience vie here with the poignant sense of not-yet-atrophied emotional responsiveness, and not-yet-atrophied intellectual curiosity to go right along with it. This protagonist is weathered but not defeated.

Another bizarre Romanticism tangent, this time to Keats' Odes: the protagonist of Dancing with Myself finds himself exploring all the silence and slow time he needs, as Keats' does when he beholds his Grecian Urn.What these sonnets are drained of is the sense of original innocence engraved into the urn; that the urn celebrates youth, ecstasy, conflict, faith, and mythology, and Keats ricochets them back into his poem, mirroring the themes reckoned, adding his own gloss and prosodic richness; while Dancing with Myself explores age and aging processes, keeping the conflict, faith, and mythology, losing the youth and ecstasy. Part of the aged or weathered quality of the Dancing with Myself sonnets are expressed in their approach to form: rather than aping the Romantics, as a younger poet might, I employ what I call "clustering" or semi-formal techniques. Thus, I avoid the merely imitative, and express the maturity of a poet who can make formal compromises towards the creation of new forms.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Dancing with Dancing with Myself

As I've recounted elsewhere, the middle portion of When You Bit..., Dancing with Myself (mp3 locked in here PennSound), was completed in 2007 but then had to be scrapped and re-written in the spring of '08. Listening to how this twenty sonnet cycle worked out, it strikes me that the ambivalence of the protagonist, how he is on a hook he might or might not want to be on, is the dominant theme or motif which emotionally charges the piece with pathos, longing. That pathos and that longing, expressed both directly and with imagery/metaphor, raises Dancing with Myself above the first and third sections of the book (Sister Lovers and Two of Us) so that it is the most fit to stand alone.

In terms of where the Dancing with Myself protagonist is headed: if he cannot admit how many bets he is hedging about what confronts him in this relationship he's had to push (briefly) to the side (this is in "Palliative"), it is because he probably cannot decide himself how many bets need to be hedged himself. The construction crew grinding away at pavement on 21st Street ("Whiskey"), and how this protagonist "lives in his churned guts," both make visceral the cognitive-affective meat-grinder he's been placed into. Yet, looking at Dancing with Myself in relation to the history of the sonnet, other meat-grinders, which have ensnared the likes of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder and Sir Philip Sidney, have tended towards more of a sense of grievance and complaint. Wyatt and Sidney whine, where I offer up resignation. Lingering in the back, also, is the issue of duration; how long can I get this love-object to commit to me? While Dancing with Myself is more than loosely based on a situation which really did happen to, and isolate, me, I will leave it to my readers and listeners to decide whether the sonnets justify the suffering or not. That, by the way, is one function the sonnet has as a poetic form (more than, say, an ode or an elegy): to let a protagonist show us why and how he or she is suffering, and then to ask us to accept and bless or sanctify their suffering in an embrace of the literary moment.

Metaphysics of the Recession (let's get lurid...)

To live through a major recession with open eyes is to see things, obvious things, and notice that the human race are very poor at bringing them to the surface: like (possibly rampant) depopulation. The American press are not discussing depopulation issues, but the algorithm for me is quite simple: with food and health insurance (ObamaCare withstanding) costing what they cost, it can't be that a large mass of Americans and America hasn't died. One also learns: not every death receives an obituary or some kind of notice. Many people die in corners or in basements or in alleyways, their corpses are quickly obliterated and no one notices. And the more "gaming" side of the population are poor at admitting that this might be the case. This is all very macabre, very lurid. And when things in general are very macabre, very lurid, all the media platitudes lumping people into conglomerates (generations, demographics) can't work and are seen through. Individuals tend to feel themselves as individuals, and individual consciousness is then free to do the trick of letting in both the truth and the art of things. The progress of the human race, I'd like to add, depends on the ability of individuals to both be individuals and cultivate individuality; and, in an odd inversion, however macabre a recession like this is, it also frees up the works, against a stultifying press and other inhibiting factors, for individuals to employ their brains the right way.

I think of the 1970s (I was born in '76), how recessional they were, what they must have been like. The macabre in popular culture was everywhere, from The Exorcist to Phantom of the Paradise and Rocky Horror, not the mention Sister Lovers and Axe Victim; along with the recessional sense I have learned, that (as later histories were unwilling to represent) no one was paying that much attention. People in recessions drift in individual and individualized head-spaces. It's like that now too- no one's going to get a Thriller moment out of Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez. The problem about the 70s into the 80s in America is that when America woke up in '82(ish), it was to a pop culture extravaganza world, set to be inhabited by cultural babies, homogenized to a low frequency, and against the interest of those cultivating the higher echelons of individual consciousness. As 2015 can be considered another version of 1975 (or '76), what I like about where we are, if you can survive the recession and its macabre sense of dread or foreboding, is that what I feel when I walk around Philly and its environs is space. Because the Pop Baby World isn't turning what's left of the population into homogenized mush, we are free to use our brains as we please, and forge whatever systems of consciousness out of our respective head-spaces we want. This balance: the weight of dread versus the addition of cognitive freedom (along with, when we are lucky, enchantment); makes it so that the recession has dirtied some facets of America and purified others. What's left of America can bring forth, against the vestiges of one of the more carnivorous human centuries on record, a new kind of American landscape built not of dross but of thought.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Apparition Poems Preface ('13)

Though no sustained narrative buoys it up, “Apparition Poems” is meant to be sprawling, and epic. An American epic, even one legitimate on world levels, could only be one made up of disparate, seemingly irreconcilable parts— such a state of affairs being America’s, too. The strains which chafe and collide in “Apparition Poems” are discrete— love poems, carnal poems, meta-poems, philosophical poems, etc. Forced to cohabitate, they make a clang and a roar together (or, as Whitman would have it, a “barbaric yawp”) which creates a permanent (for the duration of the epic) sense of dislocation, disorientation, and discomfort. This is enhanced by the nuances of individual poems, which are often shaped in the dialect of multiple meanings and insinuation. Almost every linguistic sign in “Apparition Poems” is bifurcated; either by the context of its relationship to other linguistic signs in the poems, or by its relationship to the epic whole of the book itself. If “Apparition Poems” is an epic, it is an epic of language; the combative adventure of multiple meanings, shifting contexts and perspectives, and the ultimate despair of the incommensurability of artful utterance with practical life in an era of material and spiritual decline. It is significant that the poems are numbered rather than named; it emphasizes the fragmentary (or apparitional) nature of each, its place in a kind of mosaic, rather than a series of wholes welded together by chance or arbitrary willfulness (as is de rigueur for poetry texts).

This is the dichotomy of “Apparition Poems”— epics, in the classical sense, are meant to represent continuous, cohesive action— narrative continuity is essential. “Apparition Poems” is an epic in fragments— every poem drops us, in medias res, into a new narrative. If I choose to call “Apparition Poems” an epic, not in the classical (or Miltonic) sense but in a newfangled, American mode (which nonetheless maintains some classical conventions), it is because the fragments together create a magnitude of scope which can comfortably be called epic. The action represented in the poems ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the heroic to the anti-heroic; there are dramatic monologues set amidst the other forms, so that the book never strays too far from direct and directly represented humanism and humanistic endeavor. The American character is peevish if not able to compete— so are the characters here. Life degenerates into a contest and a quest for victory, even in peaceful or solitary contexts. Yet, if the indigenous landscape is strange and surrealistic, it is difficult to maintain straightforward competitive attitudes— consciousness has to adjust while competing, creating a quandary away from the brazen singularity which has defined successful, militaristic America in the world.

Suddenly, American consciousness is beleaguered by shifting sands and multiple meanings— an inability, not only to be singular but to perceive singular meanings. Even as multiplications are resisted, everything multiplies, and often into profit loss, rather than profit gain. The epic, fragmentary narrative of “Apparition Poems” is a down-bound, tragic one, rather than a story of valor or heroism. The consolation for loss of material consonance is a more realistic vision of the world and of human life— as a site of/for dynamism, rather than stasis, of/for multiplicity, rather than singularity. “Apparition Poems” is a vista into “multiple America” from Philadelphia, its birth-place, and a city beleaguered also by multiple visions of itself. No city in America has so much historical heft; nor did any American city suffer so harsh a demotion in the brutally materialistic twentieth century. Yet, as “Apparition Poems” suggests, if a new America is to manifest in the twenty-first century, it might as well begin in Philadelphia. If the epic focuses on loss followed by more loss, rather than eventual, fulsome triumph, then so be it. And if “Apparition Poems” as fragmentary epic imposes a lesson, it is this— the pursuit of singularity in human life is a fool’s game; the truth is almost always, and triumphantly, multiple. If multiple meanings are difficult to assimilate, there can still be no recourse to anything else, for the scrupulous-minded and cognizant.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Arbitrary and the Artful

That language, used to create musical effects in poetry, is not arbitrary; does, in fact, depend on meaningful or artful arrangement to establish and consolidate its effects; chafes against the confines of Deconstructionist discourse. The Deconstructionist commonplace, derived from Saussure- that linguistic signifiers are arbitrary (and this dictum is usually presented as iron-clad)- does not deal adequately with either the musical potentialities of language, or how they have already manifested significantly in the lyrical poems produced both by French Symbolism and English Romanticism. Deconstructionism is notoriously soft on dealing with poetry in general- key texts like Roland Barthes The Pleasures of the Text lean heavily on fiction, as Barthes deals (for example) with Proust and Robbe-Grillet rather than Baudelaire. Poetry, especially lyrical poetry, is a direct threat to the sanctioned discourses of Deconstructionism- as a tactile, manifest testament to not-arbitrary language (which advertises, in both its intentions and its effects, its own artfulness and non-arbitrary quality), created by individuals, often to make metaphysical inquiries, and to induce sensual, visceral cognitive pleasure and enchantment simultaneously.

Lyrical poetry signifies a set of imperatives or complexes- aesthetic interests which, when fulfilled, can appear serendipitous without stumbling into the disarray of the random; and, the more exquisite the verbal music produced, the less random it seems. The materiality of this kind of text (be it Keats or Baudelaire) has its own meaning and purpose indigenous to it; it is self-sustaining and self-justifying, and manifests its purpose in its own material subsistence. Deconstructionists would, if they could, disavow lyricism; however, to disavow lyricism is to disavow all music; to discard Keats and Baudelaire would be to discard Bach and Beethoven, as well. Music can be justified qua music or qua language. Roland Barthes leaning heavily on fiction is suspect- both because fiction reinforces master narratives (of cohesiveness, of reality) of human life which may be false, and because novelistic language does not have the hinge to being irreplaceable, singular, individual which accomplished lyricism does. Unless Deconstructionism in the twenty-first century can develop a discursive chiasmus with poetry and the lyrical, there will remain suspicions that the motivations of/for Deconstructionist discourse are destructive, rather than creative ones; and that the Deconstructionist elevation of fiction over poetry has in it the contradiction of willful ignorance of musical language (melopoeia) which, in both its motivations and its effects, is not arbitrary. It is another frightening realization of an alignment between Deconstructionism and post-modernity- an alignment based, metaphorically speaking, on killing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mad Pursuits

It is natural that the burgeoning twenty-first century have some questions for the remnants of the twentieth. To re-interrogate Deconstructionism, its aims and ethos: would it be transgressive to inquire whether certain Deconstructionist formulations employ roughly the same imperative spread-sheet employed by post-modernists and post-modernism? If Deconstructionism and post-modernism do share a number of imperatives, will that create a conception of Deconstructionism acceptable to us in the humanities now? These questions would not arise in my consciousness unless I harbored suspicions that The Death Of The Author, the dissolution of the constitutive subject, and there is nothing outside the text might have been meant perhaps more literally then some have supposed. As in, the Deconstructionist game consisted, at least partly, of wiping out the potentialities of individuals and individual authorship, and obliterating (as post-modernism did, in destroying both aesthetic formality and metaphysical inquiry) any sense for the potentialities of being an individual against conglomerate interests at all. These are dark surmises, and may end as nothing more, just as looking for depth consonance beneath the surface of Deconstructionist textuality may or may not find anything jeweled behind the veneer of crabbed hermeticism which constitutes most Deconstructionist texts, whether they be games against metaphysical inquiry or not, and whether Deconstructionism amounts, at least in part, to a disguised, baroque-seeming enforcement of post-modern rigor against aesthetic formality, metaphysical inquiry, and the potentialities of the individual against society.

I'm thinking of these things as I continue my own inquiry into values around aesthetic formality, via examination of Keats' Odal Cycle. Keats has his own, individual manner of enforcing the form of his forms; how he makes the Odes preen (and I do not wish to use "preen" pejoratively, though it may seem so) and pirouette in advertising their own sumptuous gorgeousness, and every form becomes meta-formal in advertising itself. The liberation possible in this century, expedited through myself, Abby, and PFS in general, has so much to do with the potentialities of individuals, both in alignments and against conglomerates and conglomerate interests, that I can't help but laugh at the post-modern illness, which blusters boldly forward, proud never to seem to be retreating, from New York nothingness into greater New York nothingness, while poor Abby and I are forced to blaze a trail that, where formality is concerned, must begin from nineteenth century models (Keats, Shelley, Ingres, David): shame on us! Metaphysics, formality, individuals! The dark supposition of a secret alignment between Deconstructionism and post-modernism is just one vista issuing out of what we have accomplished in the last ten years of Philadelphia, and it remains just that for me: a supposition. It will take a few decades for Deconstructionism to demonstrate just how much was (and is) actually there beneath the surface of its dictates, and for what grows up around PFS to respond adequately.

Monday, June 22, 2015

When You Bit... Preface ('13)

I set this particular book, “When You Bit…”, in Chicago, because I visited Chicago several times between 2006 and 2008. 2006 was another pivotal year for me— in many ways, the Philly Free School in its original form effectively ended (Mike Land’s 7/29/06 extravaganza at the Highwire being the final Free School show with all the “classic” elements in place), I finished my M.F.A. and began as a University Fellow at Temple, and, most importantly, harnessed all my energy (which hitherto had suffered some dissipation) towards writing and publishing poetry seriously. I hit some open spaces and some walls instantly— “Beams” was published by Blazevox in late 2007, but accepted for publication in October ’06; roughly the same time my first poems appeared in Jacket Magazine. The walls I hit had to do with the infrastructure of the Philly poetry community. During the Philly Free School years, I was shielded from facing this infrastructure— by a vibrant social nexus, by our multi-media approach, and by my then-scattershot approach to publishing. Now, I found a new world which was bitter, brittle, hard, and cold, and I found it alone (Mike, Nick, Mary, Abby, and the rest had gone their separate ways, at least temporarily).

The Philly poetry world, at high levels and where high-stakes publishing was concerned, was run by old money and what could be purchased, which was everything. Two or three tightly constructed and connected cliques ruled the roost, and demanded absolute conformity and forfeit of control for entrance or acceptance. These cliques also frowned on sexualized behavior and artistic work; on attractive looking people in general; and on poets being judged by talent, rather than by strictly reined-in and by-certain-books behavior. This all sounds rather daunting, and it was. But the key figures in these cliques were also hopelessly untalented geeks, bizarre looking, and not particularly taken seriously by anyone outside of Philadelphia. One of their funniest riffs was about talent— in their world, there was no “talent,” and “talent” was a myth created by naïve patriarchal authorities to impose subaltern status on their underlings, etc, etc. They also hated poetry— “it’s not the poems, it’s the thoughts about the poems.” The net effect of all this meshigas is that by late 2006, I had seen a new, waste land version of the city I loved. I was determined and ambitious— I wasn’t going to run back to curating Free School shows, and give up the idea of making my name as a poet. I also had some newfangled advantages— the Net, and particularly Blogger, were finding ways to save my ass. But the whole in-love-with-Philly, Free School vibe had turned sour.

As of late 2006, the new Philly for me was a monstrosity. If I was going to find romance, intoxication, and intrigue, I’d have to look elsewhere. Because, during the course of doing my M.F.A. I had befriended a Chicago-area poet named Steve Halle, it looked like Chicago might be an option. I made arrangements to visit Chicago in December ’06— to stay with Steve in the Chicago suburb Palatine where he lived, to read with him at Myopic Books in Wicker Park, Chicago, and in general to commiserate with the Chicago poetry community. My visits to Chicago weren’t anywhere near as baroque as the Free School years— moderate drinking and drugging, no carnivorous carnality. But I did find Chicago enchanting, and unique, particularly Wicker Park, which was always our first stop in town. Chicago reminded me of the best bits of New York and D.C. in composite form— the cleanliness of the one, the imposing scale of the other. I liked the fact that being in Chicago (even more than New York) was like being marooned on an island in the middle of America— and that middle America (places like Palatine) was a sight to see. I found life in Palatine like being on the moon.

In short, I found Chicago imaginatively stimulating enough that the weight of dealing with waste land Philadelphia was balanced. The idea for “When You Bit…” began from a small incident which happened at a bar in Andersonville after one of my Chicago readings in mid-2007— a Chicago poetess picked up my arm and bit it. She and some of her friends became the Muses for “When You Bit…” I decided, early in the game, to employ the sonnet form here— both because the emotions of longing and confinement were being investigated, and because I felt I could take the sonnet form someplace new, towards transgression and perversion. My particular Chicago Muses were two poetesses who seemed to always show up as a Dynamic Duo— as the initial portion of the book would investigate a ménage between a protagonist and the two of them. The middle section of the book would dwell on the protagonist’s interiority; and then the final portion of the book would reunite the protagonist with one of the Dynamic Duo. As I mentioned in an interview with Mipoesias in ’08, the narrative structure of the book is this: 3, 1, 2. The action is set in Chicago, but doesn’t necessarily need to be— the real activity is in the protagonist’s consciousness, as it and he sift through the vicissitudes and junk-heaps of the flesh to find something genuine.

John Keats and "Mad For It"...

Is the music enough? If the point of John Keats' Odal Cycle is to lead the reader back to the vista that the prosody's the thing, can we accept, as we would accept in Bach or Beethoven, that the rich formality of the Odes is its own aesthetic justification and reward? If I can, it is because (as I said) what we accept in Bach and Beethoven we should be able to accept (also) in Keats. What I want to discuss here is that, in Grecian Urn, Keats' stages a demonstration of melopoeia, poetic music, for its own sake, in stanza three, and the achieved "mad for it" effect is clearly meant to be euphoric ecstasy:

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
Forever piping songs forever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoyed,
Forever panting, and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

"You and I are gonna live forever," indeed. To me, stanza three stands as self-conscious mimesis of pagan or tribal spirit, which is angled (as is suggested later in the poem) against cognition and towards the passion and the rapture of purgative, self-expressive celebration (whether in a creative context, as with those who created the urn itself, or not). Ultimately, whether magnificent prosody alone can justify the Odes is an important question, specifically because how you answer is an accurate barometer of how well you do or do not relate to forms and pure formality in major high art consonant art. If form and formal rigor were benched, as from a ball-game, in the twentieth century, it is for a reason few suspect- superior formality in art is just as threatening and dangerous as narrative-thematic levels, both to the unenlightened and to conglomerate groups who would like to subject art to its dictates. It is an expression of extreme and supreme individuality, and as such encourages individuals who are moved by it to attempt to find an individual voice for themselves. This, the twentieth century could not abide. If a significant number of individuals go "mad for it" in the twenty-first, once again the human race, at least in some sectors, can come to terms with the vagaries of individuals who bother to do things for themselves.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

How do YUDU...

More emerges from YUDU: my Ziggy Stardust/Last Drop '00 shot; Mary and I in a Montreal photo-booth; Mike Land @ the Last Drop; Abs generalized; and Matt's shot of me during the Ardent sessions in '04. Happy Summer Solstice, peeps...

Preface: Rising in Scorpio ('13)

The motivation of this pdf is to collate and consolidate what I deem to be the cream of the Philly Free School’s artistic achievement. I have taken into consideration what I have not taken into consideration— that this judgment is mine alone. If other artists would like to argue for other placements/arrangements, they are welcome to. Nevertheless, for me: what do Abby’s “Nine Paintings” and my “Apparition Poems” have in common? I have been stunned by the parallels (and parallelism) between the two— I’ve already addressed many of the key motifs. They include: a certain approach to depth and complexity involving multiple and multiplying themes and potential meanings; a sense of “queerness” or oddity which is intermittently sexualized (for Abby, the application is more literal); an urban, rather than suburban or pastoral orientation, which is often site-specific to early twenty-first century Philadelphia (which, by not being New York, builds another level of queerness into the construct); a lack of indigenous American aesthetic influence, and a mistrust of twentieth century art in general (bloodlines running from Abby to nineteenth-century France, Ingres and David; from me to nineteenth-century England, Keats and Wordsworth), while the work does thematically engage contemporary America; and a generalized ambience of darkness, moodiness, the eerie and the haunted.

The difference between Philadelphia-via-England and Philadelphia-via-France (and the twentieth century largely being passed over) is rather pronounced; my approach has in it many levels of directness and earnestness which could comfortably be called English levels, and an adjunct to English Romanticism; Abby’s lateral sense of perversity and absurdism, her inability (thematically) to be morally or ethically earnest, is quintessentially French, while the French sense of darkness has a perception of absurdity built into it, and English gloom can be just plain gloomy. To bring the male/female dichotomy to bear on “Nine Paintings” and “Apparition Poems” is even trickier, and more lateral; Abby’s approach has some feral energy and some tenderness to it; it is as androgynous as the highest art tends to be. About “Apparition Poems,” it would probably be inappropriate for me to comment on. I will remark that I call these two collections together "Rising In Scorpio" specifically because, in this context and in 2013 America, it seems to me that the darkness, depth, and complexity of the two collections will be experienced in many contexts as more feral than not, with many “stings” built into it, for lazy post-modernists and semi-comatose centrists. Good art has always been capable of stinging mediocrity to death, if properly placed and contextualized at the correct moment; for the Philly Free School, the time is now.

It is also my idea (and, honestly, it could be called a pretense) that, if the Philly Free School plants the right seeds, the twenty-first century might be more germane for serious art than the twentieth was; even as our politics, sexual and otherwise, import the best of what the twentieth century had to offer. The higher connotations of the Scorpio archetype have to do with depth, complexity, and the darkness of unsparing truthfulness— the imperative towards unsparing truthfulness (against “eerie” effects which are easily generated and can be superficial), primitive though it is, was important for Abby and I. Even more than myself, Abby suffered in her life from a desire for absolute purity on all levels. “Nine Paintings” and “Apparition Poems” show Abby and I at a point of maximum and precarious balance— able to be truthful and artful on profound levels at once. To do so was, for both of us, in the America we inherited, an act of almost foolhardy bravery; but we did it anyway.

Beams Preface ('13)

As I have discussed at length elsewhere, 2005 was a hectic, tumultuous time for me. On a bunch of different circuits (including the Philly bar scene and the art scene, which in the Aughts were first cousins), the Philly Free School was a fire set loose. My writing life wasn’t (couldn’t be) terribly disciplined at the time— though I had written “Wittgenstein’s Song” in April at the Last Drop, and debuted it in New England. My spring M.F.A. semester was nonetheless a personal milestone; through Anne Waldman, I became steeped in nouveau poetry and the avant-garde; and my piece (written for Anne) “Wordsworth @ McDonald’s” came out in Jacket #28 in April, too. Being younger than thirty and in Jacket was part of my wild ride then. I was feeling cocky, and puckish.

It was in character for me in 2005 to believe I could create a valuable poetic form out of thin air. In truth, the eponymous section of “Beams” I wrote at that time is not a substantial formal breakthrough; what I call the “Beam” form isn’t that unique or striking. The poems have more strength in their thematic gist than in their formal inventiveness— lots of twisted, warped sexuality, precursor to the “When You Bit…” sonnets and the “Madame Psychosis” poems, written a year later. It wasn’t a stretch for me to be warped about sexuality in mid-Aughts Philadelphia. Or New York, where Mike Land’s sister Anna lived in the East Village. The “Madame Psychosis” poems of ’06 were formally and thematically more self-conscious; partly because I was trying to be painterly (in the manner of de Kooning and his “Women”), partly because the formal imperative was to compress (in the manner of Keats), partly because I’d been perverted by a period of promiscuity, and knew it. Many of the best “Madame Psychosis” poems were written in New England; “debbie jaffe” was written in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. I lifted the title of the series from Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest,” which I read at that time.

One of my odd discoveries then was that a huge puritanical streak ran through avant-garde poetry in America. One female editor, in particular, castigated my pervishness in a memorable way, by laying down a gauntlet—if she was going to publish me, it had to be something more abstract or impressionistic, and not so sexualized. I wrote the original “Apparition Poems” (which later mutated in a more expansive direction) for her—some of them wound up coming out, also, in Jacket #31, and in a Lake Forest College Press anthology. As “Beams” was being written, my life tightened and became more focused- I finished my M.F.A., started as a University Fellow at Temple, and the Free School ceased to function as a cohesive entity. The “Virtual Pinball” poems, co-written with Swedish poet Lars Palm, were a kind of last hurrah for the profligate Free School period—written in an arbitrary, haphazard manner, often from whatever I happened to be listening to on the radio. By October ’06, I had compiled the “Beams” manuscript of the four series and sent it to Blazevox. It came out as a Blazevox e-book a year later.

“Beams” is as close as I’ve come to publishing something representatively post-modern- a book which prizes quirk, anomaly, and disjuncture over depth and intellect. If I had to move past it instantly, it is because I found the strictures of post-modern verse too limiting. There’s too much human reality which can’t be expressed with quirk and anomaly; and too much ephemerality in the post-modern approach for a disciple of British Romanticism to accept or embrace (even if UK poet Jeffrey Side connected “Beams” with Blake in an ’08 review of the book). If “Beams” has a claim to some enduring importance, it is because I dared to tackle a serious theme (human sexuality) in a few novel ways, and without unduly obfuscating what the theme was.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Apologia: Race and Vine ('13)

Not all places and times deserve to be memorialized. If Philadelphia in the Aughts is a place and time which does deserve to be memorialized, it is because a unique spirit and ethos proliferated there. It had something to do with arts and culture, something to do with sex, and something to do with an essential looseness just settling in Philly, in the streets and bars. It was a loose enough place and time to almost seem disjointed, for those of us attuned to this zeitgeist. It’s not like Philly in the Aughts got any hype as a “Swinging London” level hotspot; all the ferment and sultriness was a secret (and the down-bound, jealous Philly press corps was eager to keep it that way). But the Philly bohemians of the Aughts were more unconstrained in our endeavors for our secret status. No one seemed to mind being a secret, either. Many of the best narratives from Philly in the Aughts were secret. Many of us led double and triple lives; some of us were forced by circumstances to do so. The four narratives included here, all based in Philadelphia in the Aughts and early teens, focus on secrets being unearthed.

“Feel: An Elegy for Our Times” is a cri de couer meant to speak (however quixotically) for all of us. The template, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” is dusted off and given a fatalistic, rather than an anodyne, ending. “Letters to Dead Masters” is an epistolary novel written from a fictional café called the Grind; the focus is on minute incidents and daily life, rather than incantatory passion and epic scope. The letters which comprise the novel, addressed to English Romantics Byron, Shelley, and Keats, explore the gulf between creative imagination and practical imperatives. They also delve into social mores and the structuring of social contexts in Philly. “A Poet in Center City” is more transcendental; it concerns the developments of social and artistic life around a protagonist based more than loosely on myself. The crux and highlight of the book is its portrayal of the Philly Free School; specifically, the relationship between the four founding fathers of the Free School, and the daily congeries of circumstances which created this relationship. It’s a narrative of troubled brotherhood. “Trish” is a story of unbridled sexuality and romance; it speaks to the core of what made Philadelphia in the Aughts unique. Convention doesn’t ascribe any particular romance to Philadelphia; but it was a city of romance for us. The romance was unselfconscious, and uncalculated; it wasn’t generated by images, but by flesh. That essential triumph, of flesh and blood over images, was one we savored, without ever quite knowing what or why we were celebrating. The celebratory streak Philadelphia had in the Aughts was sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. The biggest Philly Free School shows made it difficult to deny that something unusual was happening in Philadelphia. But the spirit of the times, the zeitgeist, was personal, as well as public. We all, for a few years, allowed each other to have a heart and a soul. We didn’t realize how rare it was for this mutual permission to be granted. If I am allowed any sway, no one in the arts will be able to forget this development any time soon.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ode: To Satan

Let it not be said that his rhetoric drifts
   out of focus on Earth for a casual minute—
nor that just retribution is not terribly swift
    for those who disrespect his intimate business;
as the new mother, tethered away from her child,
      deliberately eats what she doesn’t want
           to mortify dread that she might be other
      then a perfect Satan’s gofer, starving and wild—
          infanticide-schemes, inverted taunts,
              floorboards arranged to make room for another.

Pentagrams engraved on truth, justice-seats,
    masks woven tightly of paint mixed in flesh,
abattoirs filled with poison-dwarf sweets,
     histories out of nothingness, made mesh.
What are they scripting? For who, for what?
    That all the false idols, set in a line, might dance
       tangled, backwards, to all that they dread?
How is he drifting? He’s straight, he’s shut
     against any spook holds a  heavenly chance
         of imposing their visions, or raising the dead.

You’re a ruddy old Big Man Downstairs, you,
   fibs so jejune I can’t hear but to laugh—
and your buttons are pinned upon somebody who
    mistook all the fame, and the fortunate path.
Why governments swoon before truth is clear—
    you set the bar too high, and low at once,
       no innocent victim can face all the dumbness—
why all of these souls from downstairs, not here,
     can’t say a lick out of being a dunce,
       define for the ages what being a bum is.



Thursday, June 18, 2015

from Revolver: Tomorrow Never Knows ('08)

It is not dying: where I
go when I close my eyes
& the world shuts in upon
itself & gives me the womb
of fear I need to forget fear.
Nothing shines but the light
at the end where I catch hold
of myself floating inward/
outward & I know how I
connect to the cosmos &
I am palpitating gently but
intensely & separations do
not exist except to point to
deeper unities of sperm & egg
& rhythm & motion & release
& fucking & what’s behind it
& loving & what’s behind it
& dying & what’s behind it
& the answer is nothing,
nothing at all, all or nothing,
at one, a tone, atone

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Grecian Ideals

Harmony and integrity between the body and the soul: that is the Grecian ideal. I mean the Greece of Plato, Aristotle, and the like. What John Keats taps into in his odal cycle is a desire to re-invigorate this ideal with a new series of assignations and associations. What his Muse, Psyche, is supposed to engender, both in his own psyche as he writes and in his assumed audience, is a sense of complete, all-absorptive arousal- cognitive and physical arousal at the same time. The ideas which animate Psyche as a presence for Keats- innocence, virginity, purity, piety-in-Nature and Natural processes/forces, are arousing for a brain looking to recreate these ideas as a basis for cognitive satisfaction/euphoria; while Psyche, being physically attractive, is also straightforwardly sexually arousing to him and his audience, in the odal manner of being passionate, spontaneous, or (to be a little flippant) "mad for it." Where this created integrity between body and soul leads, in its ideal form, is into the achievement (as I have said) of an apotheosis of artistic form- Keats' prosody.

Why "apotheosis" aesthetic forms are important to bring back, as manifestations of Grecian or Romantic ideals of harmony between body and soul, is very simple- to restore the natural, healthy vigor of pursuing stimulation and satisfaction in major high art consonant art. The perversion and denigration which was foisted on high art in the twentieth century made clear that "pleasure" was no longer to be drawn from its products, just as it is ludicrous to think that a walk through MOMA could "please" anyone profoundly or in an indigenous way. The likes of John Ashbery and Barnett Newman are not there to "please" anyone, and whatever subterranean force placed them in an elevated position did not have in mind (it seems to me) any ideals at all. Being pleased by high art, and seeking to unify the body and soul, or, as a slight tangent, inside the mind and outside the mind, are good ideas, and when a formal apotheosis is attained by an artist, it is also a decent idea to derive as much physical or cognitive ecstasy from it as you possibly can. High art is supposed to be fun too- demanding fun, rigorous fun, cognitively engaged fun, but fun nonetheless. The companionable quality of the Odes are fun, indeed- and that we have bodies and souls which, if drawn into the right alignment, give us access to higher frequencies of thought and feeling, are one subtext of the Odes which throws out the baby with the bath-water if unacknowledged.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keats and the Reader-as-Ingenue

Keats clearly meant the Odes to be a rite of passage for his readers; a marriage or consummation of some sort. Because Keats makes a fetish of Eros and Psyche, and the sense Psyche has of being (before Eros) a virgin or ingenue, one subtext I derive from the odal experience is that Keats' prosodic genius is meant to "deflower" the consciousness of his readers, de-virginize it into a more suitably experienced-in-aesthetic-euphoria form. As with Shelley and Adonais, the perceived androgyny of the Odal scribe, the admixture of male and female elements which have sharpened and refined his Odal vision into cohesive form, are to be met by the androgyny of his readers, who can both withstand his linguistic thrusts and propel themselves into line with the masculine levels of the melopoeia built into the Odal edifices. The sense of cognitive ravishment works in a chiasmic way here- from us into the prosody, and from the momentary, serendipitous nature of Keats' lyrical genius back to us, as the loops back and forth endlessly replay every time we participate in an inspired reading of the Odes. We become ingenues or Psyches before this mode/manner of formal beauty, and we do so willingly, rewarded in a different way each time so as to suggest a kind of textual eternity channeled through Keats into texts which combine human and celestial essences against the confines of the material, and in a manner more companionable than Shelley tends to be.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Metaphysics of "Nightingale"

When John Keats hits these notes in this order in the fourth stanza of Nightingale:

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards...

I have the feeling that, as an incisive point to make against his self-diagnosis, his cognitive functioning has actually reached a rather peerless apogee. This is not just on prosodic levels, but with the realization that the most solid path to a euphoric state of consciousness is the pursuit of a certain manner/form of textuality itself. This contradiction- the sunken brain really manifesting the elevated or "apogee" one- is something which comes up (sideways) in Apparition Poem 1613, one subtext of which delineates the process by which spiritual elevation is attained through surmounting a hill "constituted by kinds of knives." A tangent metaphysics point to 1613 is that when one is climbing this knife-hill, one may feel themselves falling backward even during their ascension, so that even upwardly mobile movements seem to invert themselves. This cognitive confusion- ascendant consciousness feeling itself (falsely) to be descending, through the sharpness and bizarre configuration of the kinds of knives complicating cognitive movements- is where Keats is at in this fourth stanza. The "dull brain" is the razor-sharp one; what's perplexed and retarded is that this sharpened brain is blinded to its own ascension by the cognitive dissonance of extreme psycho-spiritual anguish, which mystifies consciousness into confusion, irresolution, and self-abnegation, even as Keats unknowingly creates the ideal stage for his prosodic effects.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

YUDU 3 (The Immigrant Song)

More strolls down Aughts Philly lane, from YUDU: Mary's portrait of me in Clark Park, West Philly ('02), Mary @ 4325 Baltimore, West Philly, '01, Abby's snapshot of me on Chestnut Street ('02), Molly's Books in the Italian Market in South Philly, and the inside of the main space of the mid-Aughts Highwire Gallery in Center City. Cheers.

Ken Pobo: Burning Down: from Siren's Silence Vol.2 No.3

Some people are like houses
burning down. When you
tell them, Uh, excuse me,
but you're definitely
on fire, they say, No,

that's not fire- it's just
bright yellow paint. And
you go on chatting
as if it will be Tuesday

afternoon forever till you
discover your words in
a pile of ashes the wind
catches and blows
right in your face.

The Resonant World, The Shuddering World

Poets have a choice: to keep their poems and books circumscribed by the limits of humanity and the charmed circle of the human, or to include what Keats and the other major Romantics sought to include in their poetry, what I call the resonant world, the shuddering world. The resonant world textual model seeks to include the idea that living energies which surround humanity, but are not strictly human, energies which inhabit forests, skies, mountains, trees, bodies of water, and the like, effect in an interstitial way human consciousness so that the human brain, and all its byproducts, benefits from exposure to and interaction with these elements. Human consciousness resonates with, and shudders in response to, these interactions, which not only stimulate but consummate the human imagination, as in Shelley's Mont Blanc.

Resonant world and shuddering world energies were not favored in twentieth century literature. Modernism and (even more extremely) post-modernism made a point of emphasizing the deadness, superficiality, and illusory nature of resonant world or shuddering world textual connections. By remaining within humanity's charmed circle and ascribing adolescent immaturity to any attempted chiasmus, made in an emotionally earnest way, with nature, Modernism and its own byproducts shut down Romanticism's enterprise most self-consciously, and with an attempt to make this shut-down permanent. If I want to re-open the issue in 2015, it is because the question of human susceptibility to energy sources past the merely human is both too stimulating and too fascinating to let go of permanently, as the Mod and po-mo cognescenti so hoped.

Saturday, June 13, 2015


More YUDU chiasmus work: Mary In Montreal 1 (Hotel Room), 2 (Botanical Gardens), Toiling in Obscurity, Big Jar Books, Learning to Dance, Frozen Warnings.

Euphoria and Form: Ingres/Keats

The better part of two centuries has gone by: has anyone dared to do a substantial critical chiasmus between English Romanticism and French Neo-Classicism? The vision (for instance) of Ingres's Odalisque with Keats' odal Psyche- for me, it has to do with euphoria generated from the apotheosis of aesthetic formality or (if you will) formalism- the most perfect possible artistic forms (Keats' prosody, Ingres's color harmonies and uniquely postured Muse), which innovate and conserve so seamlessly (Greece to England, Greece to Frannce) that what is ecstatic or euphoric in the consciousness of the viewer or reader is the realization of possibilities of "universe structures." That intended effect of aesthetic beauty, of form, lost/corroded in the twentieth century via the perceived desirability of aesthetic hovels (irony precluding euphoria), is shared by the erotics of Keats/Ingres in such a way that, as they reach backwards to the classical and forwards to us, we may understand why the twentieth century lost its sense of possible ecstasy/euphoria in its myopic insistence on "singular time."

Friday, June 12, 2015

The YUDU Chiasmus

If the Lost Twins found themselves in the YUDU gallery, here's what they might find of ours: The Fall, Meeting Halfway, Ghost of Day, The Lost Twins, Cheltenham (Book Cover), App 1488, On Love, On Exile, Self-Portrait: The Vessel.

The Prosody: Ecstasy/Ecstasy

The quirk which inheres in John Keats' prosody- that it is a kind of representation or enactment of ecstatic states of consciousness, or euphoria- is balanced, in some of the Odes, especially Nightingale and Grecian Urn, by the appearance, within the consciousness of the protagonist, of the second meaning of "ecstasy" in the nineteenth century or back- the circumstance by which a person transcends their own skin, into dementia or madness, past the limitations of the physical. That's why the magnificence of Keats' prosody, its euphoric "ecstasy," can work for or against the narrative-thematic gist of what is being imparted, especially when the other, foreboding side of "ecstasy" is being investigated. Here, the prosodic heft of Keats' language has a phallic quality of triumphant euphoria:

What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

But in Nightingale, the two strains of ecstasy chafe against each other in such a way that "ecstasy" and its doppelganger are at loggerheads. Why this is interesting is that once Keats' prosodic superiority to the entire English-language canon is established, we may start to look at his music and how it functions within itself, both in relation to narrative-thematic elements and in relation to the structural semantic and syntactic elements which configure it as a self-sufficient linguistic system.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

From Girl In A Box Pt. 2: Jeanine Campbell: Siren's Silence Vol. 2 No. 3

SLAM! The metal door bangs shut on the other side of my box, Italian shoes scuffling on the floor of my crypt, knocking on the window. He chose me. I hear him cursing, fiddling in frustration with the money box in the darkened chamber, shoving a deuce up the slot of the little black box on the other side of the confessional, that bleeps SESSION and devours the dollars of hard-working American men, the harvest of truckers and mobsters and lawyers, swallowing up the capitalist secrets and lies of the young white punks, middle-aged black guys with their SSI checks, ancient Asian men who tremble when they cum, cool-ass, cracked Latinos, your occasional slobbering drunken yuppie couple in one greedy, democratic gulp. This is America, dammit, and we're all free to exploit ourselves as long as we don't step on anyone else's turf, but the shutter is sliding up and so much for politics because there he is, standing there, middle-aged causcoid knight with thinning hair, big nose, pervert glasses which hide his ex-ray eyes that burn through the glass wall separating us. His hands are stuffed in a green LL Bean jacket which his wife probably got him last Christmas, trying to smile but obviously scared shitless of me, the whore, flicking my smoke and dropping dirty glitter on the palace floor. Believe it or not, I'm actually feeling a little sorry for the poor schmuck, this burn-out insurance salesman type who stands there looking a little dumb and a little fat at me, his slum queen, slumming it up here at Al's on this beautiful sunny afternoon...

Are Keats' Minor Sonnets Send-Ups?

Twentieth century master narratives around British Romanticism, I predict, may come to look stifled and jejune in the twenty-first century. One of the (if less cherished) myths around this body of work is that Keats' minor sonnets, all written in the nineteenth century Teens, express sentiments without undue irony, and with an inhering spirit of earnestness and naive appreciation of Keats' young life, of literature, and of the social circle around the three Keats brothers. Keats, we were told in century XX, was not being coy when he wrote this (for instance) about painter Benjamin Robert Haydon:

Highmindedness, a jealousy for good,
A loving-kindness for the great man's fame,
Dwells here and there with people of no name,
In noisome alley, and in pathless wood:
And where we think the truth least understood,
Oft may be found a "singleness of aim,"
That ought to frighten into hooded shame
A money-mong'ring, pitiable brood.
How glorious this affection for the cause
Of steadfast genius, toiling gallantly!
What when a stout unbending champion awes
Envy, and Malice to their native sty?
Unnumbered souls breathe out a still applause,
Proud to behold him in his country's eye.

That Benjamin Robert Haydon was by no means a Byron-level celebrity, in collusion with the fact that Haydon's paintings are seen as reasonable if not spectacular successes, leads me to an inescapable conclusion: Keats is "taking the piss" here, deflating both Haydon's ego and the idea that Haydon imagines himself to have a rabid following among the general public. He most assuredly did not, and Keats, being no naif and demonstrating the arch streak which often shows up in his minor (and major, as in Melancholy) writing, enjoys the game of showing us this facet of who Haydon is. Since motifs and games like this recur endlessly in the early sonnets, it is easy for me to imagine that they are dotted with ironic subtexts, and that twentieth century Romantic criticism was abased, as was most twentieth century literary criticism, by a willingness to stay on the surface, and read the surface as adequate in/of itself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

From Girl In A Box: Jeanine Campbell: Siren's Silence Vol.2 No.3

I'm a girl in a box, yup, that's me, here I sit seven hours a day, five days a week in a chemical fog, peering out of the windows of my glass box, my 12-by-12 crystal cage a caged girl with a painted porcelain face contorted in a Revlon death mask I sculpt daily from cosmetics I shop-lifted from Rite-Aid, under my Cleopatra sex-goddess wig that glints glossy and unreal under the neon lights where I turn and burn into crystal, into a glass mummy who rots the minutes and hours away in the girlie zoo, wrapped in swaddling lacy underthings. I'm moon drunk from the bee-stings that cover my arms, sometimes nodding but mostly awake staring at myself with mascara eyes that smolder in the mirror and day-dreaming under the glare of the red bulb that illuminates my cell, imprisoned by the 24-hour stare of that crimson sun which never sets and follows each orgasm I fake, a sun that mocks me as I pose in the window where I watch each anonymous men tread the waxed floors munching on candy bars or smoking cigarettes as they gawk all of us good girl animals of Al's Triple XXX theater who smirk and tap on the windows with fat knuckles begging CHOOSE ME! CHOOSE ME! Not me. I wait, the queen bee with my dope-sick patience, well-trained, house-broken, my mirror me watching, freezing into a wicked, wicked witch baby, a white-trash ice queen, eyeing Dee-Dee, the fake redhead coke-head in the booth across from me with basilick eyes as she strikes her syphilitic supermodel pose from better and younger days, beckoning with her "yen" sigh and spacey eyes, her rolls of fat becoming lazy, voluptuous as she wraps a boa around herself taut like a telephone wire, communicating something no one will ever hear...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Splendor in the Ghosts: Shelley and Adonais Pt. 2

Another determinative factor in (ironically, and against Romanticism’s century XX master narrative) gauging that the Shelley who writes Adonais is a mature, if perverse, adult, is his conception of variegated nature, “halved” between benignity and the “ghastly, scarred, riven” component parts he identifies in Mont Blanc and revisits here. It is a realistic counterpoint to what in Wordsworth verges on fantasy— the poet (Wordsworth) stands atop Snowdon, surveys the “perfect image of a mighty mind,” and leaves it at that, while Shelley balances the perfection of the natural world with what in it is misshapen, ugly, and impotent. Why Wordsworth’s single-mindedness must fail in relation to Shelley’s sense of variegation, especially in 2015, is that it becomes too clear to practiced human consciousness that the mightiness of nature’s own consciousness cannot account for the devilish duplicity and capacity for self-mutilation of the human race. The twentieth century, which would dare place William Blake with Keats, Shelley, and Wordsworth, inverted Shelley into an idealistic humanist, which he intermittently was; but his most penetrating writing offers insights in a deeper, darker, miasmic wilderness space in which Shelley’s own brain, in mirroring “halved” nature, see-saws between his own creative and destructive capacities.

Indeed, one of the ambiguities which Shelley successfully builds into Adonais is his own innocence and/or culpability in regards to Man and Nature. Is he, as he suggests in the self-portraiture segment, half Cain, half Christ? Why is his brow “ensanguined,” suggesting that he is, himself, a kind of slave to forces which oppress him? As he also employs the metaphor of a deer fleeing from naked Diana, mistress of the hunt, what thoughts is he having which so torment him? Furthermore, all that the “nameless worm” is, Keats’ assailant, rings with ambiguities as to whether, in a subterranean way, Shelley identifies more with him, his remorse and self-contempt, then he does with flower-like, angelic Keats? To use a popular culture metaphor, Shelley appears to be a protagonist with hell-hounds on his trail. Shelley’s biography is, indeed, riddled with ambiguities, and it is not for nothing that the Second Gen. Romantics (Keats, Shelley, Byron) are often referred to as the “Satanic School.” Yet ambiguities make for better art (literary or otherwise) then simplicity, and what is tepid in Wordsworth and Coleridge becomes pungent in Shelley and Keats. It also stands to reason that, when Venus herself mounts Keats’ corpse and must be held back by Death, we have the seeds here of Gothic awareness which elevate Adonais out of wonted elegiac territory and make it memorable past these generic constraints. Twentieth century Romantic criticism is short on these insights, into narrative-thematic levels, and long on generalizations and tap-dancing around key issues. But erecting a twenty-first century Keats and Shelley, from awareness not just formal but imaginative, and colored by the lurid constraint of global loss and recession, seems like a potential imperative worth following through, necrophilia and all.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Ode: On Exile

No bells strike at Saint Matthew’s; midnight
   means lights out; across Fayette Street, windows
send slow signals; but for hope of daylight,
    no means of evoking, painted or not, halos.
Occasional cars; the 7-11 parking lot empties
   not completely, the night crew forced to spill
      laced coffee, pills, down throats, past painted
faces reflecting gloom, as they plan candies
      passed around to kill behind, enemies
         locked in basements, unwilling dross killed.

Dull, dense, reptile-laden world— nature’s phantom
    side, scarred with imperatives to destroy— I
stride past Calvary Episcopal, its handsome,
     enchanted spires, trying to forge a “who” and “why.”
Caravaggio’s John the Baptist, crouched darkly
     in murk, I superimpose on Conshohocken at
       night, including the succession into severed head—
knowing that in there (7-11), warnings sharply
    uttered mean nothing, less than nothing at that,
       humanity is lost, then its corpse is bled.

This is not the world I was born for— Butler
    Pike, a Honda pulls into the abandoned
Dairy Queen lot, the young male driver scuttles
    out into the apartment complex, fear-flattened—
as to what John Milton would say about these
    suburban straits, everyone changing form
       like Satan, a poet singed by lost innocence
up all night on his own pills, thoughts, caffeine—
     I divine he knew all this, putrid fires warmed
         to kill brains, rigid rules passed on, idiot to idiot.

Adam Fieled, 2015

Splendor in the Ghosts: Shelley and Adonais Pt. 1

Why someone might be drawn to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Adonais in a major recession is no mystery— an elegy on the death of his contemporary John Keats, it explores one poet’s struggle with mortality, what constitutes life and death as a chiasmus, and metaphysics among the human race in general. Some quirks of Adonais that make it even more simpatico with macabre 2015— as has not been widely noted in Romantics scholarly criticism, Adonais, as a long poem, evinces consonance with both visionary spiritualism and horror-movie level luridness, down to the convulsions of Keats’ corpse as female “splendors” engage in necrophilia-related antics with it. That, in fact, most of the poem represents, textually, a procession past Keats’ corpse, with different characters issuing speeches over it, and with the corpse itself always visible, has as a subtext which suggests a temperament rather morbid in relation to physical mortality, and uneasy with processes of change, time, and mutation of matter into other matter.

However, a few constituent elements redeem the poem past mere adolescent morbidity. Shelley’s suggested system of metaphysics is a quirky one— that “life,” being bound to time and change, stands opposed to eternity, or a kind of eternal fire (or “burning fountain”), where all worthwhile matter returns. What Shelley calls “splendors”— not exactly apparitions or ghosts, but pieces of the eternal fire which girds up the statelier half of visible reality, and which may take, like Urania (Venus) and her sisters, semi-human form— are what animate (he suggests) a consciousness such as his or John Keats’. Meanwhile, most of the human race, to Shelley, seems to be constituted by “phantoms,” “invulnerable nothings,” vultures, ravens, wolves, and other vicious predators. About humanity, Shelley is a realist-bordering-on-misanthrope here, and what Adonais demonstrates is that the idealism Shelley is often given credit for is balanced by a firmer, harder grasp of human frailty and foible then Shelley’s often featherweight “Romantic” image suggests. In fact, if I declare Adonais to be Shelley’s masterpiece, the most lucid, cohesive, ideologically and intellectually sound of his major poems, it is because (for one thing) it inverts adolescent escapism (to an extent) into a very adult realization of just how vicious, scabrous, and mortifying human life and death is, in a world where “invulnerable nothings” are allowed to hold sway over the likes of Keats and Shelley, and “unwilling dross” resists splendor.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Poet In Center City ('12)


It’s early 2004. Elizabeth died a year ago; I’ve cut ties with Joe Miller. I’m doing a reading in Northern Liberties for an online journal called Lunge. It’s not just me— there’s a bunch of bands playing, short films, and a team of technicians doing “ambient.” The crowd is a hundred-plus; the mood is festive. The multi-media angle reminds me so much of Swinging London (my imagination of it) that I get an intense frisson. It occurs to me that now might be the time to write the second chapter of This Charming Lab— that the moment might be germane for it. Meanwhile, Bill Rosenblum is producing an album for me. We’re recording at his pad at Eleventh and Webster— “Webster Street Studios.” The album was supposed to be just spoken-word; but we expanded and expanded until it looked like we would reach an album’s full of songs. Through Bill, I’m introduced to what the Highwire Gallery is, in the Gilbert Building on the PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) campus. I begin to put pieces together— this is where I could stage the sequel I’ve been cognating. The curator is an erstwhile roadie for the Grateful Dead— Jim O’Rourke. He’s older— short, thin, intense, a redhead. The Highwire is a space to die for; several rooms, all with high ceilings, including one which looks like a cleared-out factory space. Still, the man-power is missing; I need running-buddies for this new “trip.” Simultaneously, I graduated magna cum laude from U of Penn and geared up for grad school. 


I met John Rind at the Last Drop at around this time. John was twenty, and had been raised in Center City by an interesting family. His Mom was a therapist; his deceased father had been a hustler and a card-shark; his brother, who was my age, had been murdered on a college campus years before; and his older sister was a burgeoning fashionista in New York. The tragedies in John's life gave him a precocious sense of humanity; he carried himself like someone who had been through crises. He was extraordinarily good-looking: 6'3, thin, with piercing brown eyes and curly dark hair. Providentially, he was also artistic— a junior at University of the Arts, majoring in film. His nexus was all artistic kids. U of Arts (Sara Blount was another grad) has its own social niche in Center City— the archetypal U of Arts undergrad is a snotty, sexy, know-it-all brat who WILL make it, by hook or crook. Older Philadelphians take for granted that these kids will soon be derailed by circumstance into eternal waiters, bartenders, and service-industry goons. But John's not snotty with me at all (as Sara is). His attitude is flexible and open. He's also a damned good hustler— between his imposing height, looks, charm, and barfly style (he's also precociously sub-alcoholic), he can only be an asset. To add even more sauce, John is an active bisexual. He oozes seduction in all directions out of all of his pores. Furthermore, we wind up working together at B & N, which assures us a context and constant contact. This is how the fun started— the sense that John and I were a team.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

From Hinge Online '03: Technician of Tough Love

Puzzling your way back to nothingness 
you must be; if the Void is an abyss,
to conquer it in life is impossible.
There is a blessing in ritual,
but it is all on this side.

Your private treasures I never knew;
beyond the Indian drums (of which you had
a collection), was there something,
some book, some record, you prized
above all others?

You were a technician of tough love,
collected hearts; had a passion
for Chinese herbs boiled down
to the root, to retrieve essential,
healing strength;

ministered weary angels
needing succor, familiar w/ your tongue,
your breath, the beating of your heart.
Saintly, to feed some soul's need
for flesh, nectar, sanctuary,

now its death's mystery 
from which you can't escape-
maybe. I profess & confess
utter bewilderment.

Remember lunches
at Essene, 4th Street, the crutch
of good caffeinated coffee, conversation,
a few hours rest; was eternity
there, watching you, waiting silently
to bear naked flanks
to your moribund pleasure?
Who can tell what world
will fit a restless spirit well?