Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Into terrific Nirvana" and "that irate pornographist"

"To you
I bring the nascent virginity of
--Myself   for the moment"  ~ Mina Loy

Well, I am completely in love with Mina Loy. I am not sure what to do. She took my heart. (Well, OK, I still have some difficulty with her work -- lover's quarrels is all).  Yet, like many good heart-thefts, I am not entirely certain what did it.  Really, it is an emotive, even spiritual component to some of her work -- particularly in "Songs to Joannes" -- that gets me.  And, it is the emotional and the spiritual in poetic work that resists "intellecualizing." But, nonetheless, for posterity's sake, I'll attempt a bit of intellectual mish-mosh.
What I found in much of her work was something that resonates with a deep part of me.  I have felt this with a few writers -- in some way they manage to write (even abstractly) a feeing that I know deeply and a feeling that is pertinent to humanity.  In section XIII of "Songs" Loy writes:

"Let us be very jealous
Very suspicious
Very cruel
Or we might make an end of the jostling of aspirations..." (14-18)


"Don't let me understand you   Don't realise me
Or we might tumble together
Into the terrific Nirvana
Me you -- you -- me" (25-30)

Here, she is writing about a relationship with a lover, seeing how jealously, suspicion, coldness/cruelty are obstructions in relationships -- if two people have "aspirations" but are constantly throwing up blocks (the blocks of jealousy etc), it jostles the free movement towards what one aspires to do or have.  Furthermore, she speaks to this simultaneous desire and fear that most humans seem to have: the desire and fear of really knowing another and of being known.  She seems to see this fear of knowing and being known (manifested in her sarcastic "Don't let me understand you...") as an obstruction to some deeper (spiritual) truth.  If he would allow himself to be seen and if she were realized, then perhaps they might "tumble together... Into... Nirvana," a state (to Hindus and Buddhists) of pure/ideal bliss.  For me, this passage is incredibly poignant as this not only speaks to a condition that exists between men and women, but something visible in all of humanity.  Most of us, I believe, wish to really know ourselves, wish to be loved by others, but at the same time, we fear sharing ourselves, and we fear ridicule. Yet, in our fear, we resist that which we desire most deeply -- to be loved and to love.  OK, I'm going off the philosophical, psychological deep end here... but that's where I like to go! And, that's where Loy takes me... into a place of feeling and self-exploration...
Alright then -- a few more things about Loy:
She was a bold writer too.  For a woman living within the late 19th Century/early 20th century to write about sexuality and sexual equality so freely was revolutionary.  "Songs to Joannes" are about a sexual relationship and are fraught with emotion and longing (as is evident in the above passages). Yet, three daring (for her time) lines that I enjoy most are at the end of XXVI:

"We sidle up
To Nature
-- -- -- that irate pornographist" (3-5)

Here, it is not the philosophical, spiritual, etc that draws me, but rather her dry tone.  I am not necessarily in agreement with the notion of Nature being an "irate pornographist," but, boy, that's an awesome way to put it.  And, it shows that despite all her emotion, she resists sentimentality.
Finally, I want to comment on these lines from III:
"We might have given birth to a butterfly 
  With the daily-news
  Printed in blood on its wings" (6-8)

Oh, dear. Maybe I shouldn't.   They are so beautiful; commentary might mar them.  Well. This is "emo" Loy again.    Here, again, there is longing -- "We might have given birth..."  There is unfulfilled potential.  But that potential has its darkness too, perhaps.  When I read these lines, I feel that longing, but I am also overcome by the delicacy of a butterfly in contrast with the intellectualism of the news, compounded by the daily spilled blood that the news so often heralds.  There is a lot packed in those three lines, and a lot crammed on the delicate wings of that hypothetical butterfly. Um. Anyway. Loy. I love her.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Revisiting Whitman: Inspiration Found in His “Urban Transcendentalism”

One of the most significant things for me about Walt Whitman is his “brand” (as it were) of Transcendentalism that extends beyond the original tenets of Transcendentalism. Emerson, Thoreau, etc, held that divinity was in nature. For the old guard Transcendentalists, divinity was something that the human could partake in and recognize as a part of themselves. For example, Emerson wrote in his Transcendental work, "Nature":

We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man, that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present…

Here, for Emerson, a traditional Transcendentalist, the “universal essence” or divinity is the fullness of love, wisdom, and power found within nature. And, this spirit/essnce is available to man -- "present to the soul of man."

However, Whitman takes this understanding of divinity and builds on it. Particularly in “Song of Myself,” Whitman looked at the world and saw divinity in ALL -- not just nature or "positive virtues" such as love, wisdom, etc. Take the following passage from section 30:

All truths wait in all things,
They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon,
The insignificant is as big to me as any,
(What is less or more than a touch?)

Logic and sermons never convince,
The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.

(Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so,
Only what nobody denies is so.)

A minute and a drop of me settle my brain,
I believe the soggy clods shall become lovers and lamps,
And a compend of compends is the meat of a man or woman,
And a summit and flower there is the feeling they have for each other,
And they are to branch boundlessly out of that lesson until it
becomes omnific,
And until one and all shall delight us, and we them.

Here, for Whitman, potential for all truth is in ALL things. Everything is everything, and has the potential to transform – “soggy clods shall become lovers and lamps.” Truth, wisdom, divinity is not limited. It is not only in “good things” or in nature; potential resides everywhere. This idea of limitless and wisdom/divinity in all is expanded throughout the text, but especially in this section from 42:

Ever the hard unsunk ground,
Ever the eaters and drinkers, ever the upward and downward sun, ever
the air and the ceaseless tides,
Ever myself and my neighbors, refreshing, wicked, real,
Ever the old inexplicable query, ever that thorn'd thumb, that
breath of itches and thirsts,
Ever the vexer's hoot! hoot! till we find where the sly one hides
and bring him forth,
Ever love, ever the sobbing liquid of life,
Ever the bandage under the chin, ever the trestles of death.

Here and there with dimes on the eyes walking,
To feed the greed of the belly the brains liberally spooning,
Tickets buying, taking, selling, but in to the feast never once going,
Many sweating, ploughing, thrashing, and then the chaff for payment receiving,
A few idly owning, and they the wheat continually claiming.

This is the city and I am one of the citizens,
Whatever interests the rest interests me, politics, wars, markets,
newspapers, schools,
The mayor and councils, banks, tariffs, steamships, factories,
stocks, stores, real estate and personal estate.

The little plentiful manikins skipping around in collars and tail'd coats
I am aware who they are, (they are positively not worms or fleas,)
I acknowledge the duplicates of myself, the weakest and shallowest
is deathless with me,
What I do and say the same waits for them,
Every thought that flounders in me the same flounders in them.

Again, in this passage, one sees this idea of “everything is everything” – “Every thought that flounders in me, the same flounders in them.” Furthermore, all that he lists (“tickets buying, taking… politics, wars, markets...”) is part of the city, part of himself, and part of a greater flux that is “deathless.”

Not only was it revolutionary in his time to speak of the minutiae of life and the city, but to speak of ALL as beautiful, ALL as deathless was also groundbreaking. I call him an "Urban Transcendentalist" because this Transcendental concept of God/Spirit in nature and humanity, bleeds into the city, into urban life. God is in all the nooks and crannies, in all interactions... Of course, in part, this is the component of Whitman’s work that gave rise to the creation of a lot of “Bad Hippie Poetry.” For, not only were poets given permission to write in a freer form but they were also given permission to discuss the world (and spirituality) in a freer, more open way.

Yet, despite the fact that this spiritual/philosophical aspect of Whitman's work "gave rise to Hippie Poetry," it is still an aspect of his work that inspires me greatly. It is a selfish sort of inspiration too. For, when I read his work, I feel I find parts of myself, parts of my own beliefs about the world and the magnificence, the potential beauty in all of it. It strengthens me, my sense of self, and thus gives me a stronger place to write from -- that's the tip of the iceberg, anyway!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

441, Whitman, Dickinson

Hello there. Well, this blog is now officially dedicated to the musings and assignments associated with WR 441!

Random thoughts:

With regards to Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, I am not sure what to add beyond what Kasey said in class. If Whitman's poems represented continual creation, constant sexual reproduction, then Dickinson's poems were representative of a microscope and a scalpel. Whitman's pen was a metaphor for a penis constantly spewing life-force into the atmosphere, and Dickinson's pen was a blade, always cutting away at life, dissecting it.

And, again, with regards to Whitman's philosophy, consider the following quote:

"Whitman's philosophy may resemble that of the Upanishads as rewritten by Thomas Jefferson. What differentiates it is the immediacy of substantial vision, the intensity of the wedding of image and moral meaning. Although Whitman is a philosophical poet, almost always concerned with his message, he is at the same time a master of Blake's "minute particulars," one of the clearest and most dramatic imagists in literature. Blake himself, in the philosophical-mythological epics in which he confronts the same problems and seeks the same solutions as Whitman, is graphic enough, but the details of his invented cosmogony are not sufficiently believable and so soon become boring. Whitman found his cosmogony under his heel, all about him in the most believable details of mundane existence. So his endless lists of the facts of life, which we expect to be tedious, are instead exhilarating, especially if read aloud." Kenneth Rexroth

Yes, Whitman did make room for a lot of "bad hippie poetry," but he was so beautiful. too.

Hats off to Whitman and Dickinson!