Monday, March 02, 2009

Lassoing the Ineffable

I remarked to Kathleen yesterday that my first book of poetry, "Elementary," was mainly concerned with nature, while my second book (above) concerns itself with human nature. This made me think of a third volume beyond any nature, after which I scribbled this poem, not the usual variety to which my readers have become accustomed:

Greenwood Beach

tsunami of my eyes
holocaust of my lungs
volcano of my mouth

sun's halo on the water
dark amethyst clouds
how rain spouts ascended

holy nasturtium grove
ice plant invading
scourge of freeways
not here, Lord

sea otter dipping
pelagic cormorant
shakes, submerges

brutally lavender horizon
the thin reed squealing
how a shovel functions

who kept the monster quiet
while gesturing and walking
who fed it arms and legs

there in the final desert
Ozymandias sands
the far reaches

hallelujah the ego has come
no need to piece it together
make it all mine

tsunami of my eyes
holocaust of my lungs
volcano of my mouth

Greenwood beach is beyond words, beyond nature in a sense, any attempt to grasp it seemed selfish, thus the undermining of the first and last stanzas by the possessive pronoun, "my." If this doesn't make sense it's OK, I was just experimenting. Here's another poem more to the point that I revised yesterday:

Big Creek at Sunrise

Tongues of white flame
bob downstream
like votive candles
held aloft by a horde
of gleaming water striders
scattering and coalescing
into glitter-ripples,
splinters like the first flare
of a match in broken
bits of mirror—white,
white, silver-white!
The cold fury of light.

I suppose this could be nature beyond nature, to some degree. An eastern Sierra creek at sunrise, just like that, closest I could come in words, but do they deliver? I honestly don't know. The light is uberfantastic. How to get at the light. Painters and film makers have the advantage of us, Virgil.

Nature inspires me, its otherness, its other-than-selfness, how we project a face on a cliff when there is no face, how we unfailingly seek tropes to anthropomorphize what cannot be reduced from its whole. There's no way to encompass the ocean in a poem, or the deep neon dark purple- lavender-amethyst color of the low clouds against the horizon yesterday. And the grove of nasturtiums in the middle of nowhere on shore, but also the ice plant that reminded me of LA parking lots and freeways--non-native just like the nasturtium--I know the poem doesn't make sense particularly, just curious as to whether it left a sense of something.

The more sublime the subject, the more impossible poetry becomes. We have to piece and parcel the universe out in subjecting it to words, hoping those words might bear a trace of the experience, but how can you transmit the glory of the Milky Way as you stare up from your sleeping bag on a campout? Or the crest of a towering wave before it breaks, the after-hollow, the degeneration into a white wall of suds, then the flattening, the hiss, the death on sand... it's all too much.

Here's a poem where I attempted to describe Denali:

Denali (Mt. McKinley)

Like a white fist clenched against the blue arctic sky,
Denali rises 20,000 feet high.

Beside it I am no taller than the blueberries
woven through ocher tundra at my feet.

Through a break in the clouds Valhalla beckons
where no slope should be.

Proportion withers like a December sun.

From now on mankind will be for me divided
into those who have and have not seen
"The Great One."

Denali and the Grand Canyon are the two greatest natural wonders I have seen, leaving me slack-jawed and speechless. Another poem from my new volume, "On the Anthropic Principle," includes the Grand Canyon in passing but by no means encompasses it.

In poetry, as in life, we must filter out the threads we can weave into our limited consciousness and leave the rest; we must partialize existence so that it does not overwhelm us by its sheer enormity, and that enormity includes the very miracle of consciousness itself, which allows us to appreciate the gap between experience and our homage to that experience.

Consciousness also promotes two of the most basic numinous instincts, gratefulness and awe.

Strangely some folks lack the gene for "nature appreciation" and notice only mosquitoes and the smell of smoke in their clothes. They want to get to the next thing--dinner, tourist trap, movie--they cannot dwell on the ineffable, it's not in them, they'd rather buy a postcard and leave it at that and say, "I was there," when they really weren't, at least not as a nature lover would be. I know people like this. They are more concerned with poison oak exposure than to be high on the humbling thereness all around. But see how language breaks down as we approach the other? I resort to "thereness!"

Like life, poetry must partialize to make sense, but the plain truth of it is, we cannot fully apprehend the ineffable, all our attempts to note it necessarily limit the experience-- you can't carry a mountain around in your pocket, now, can you? For me poetry come the closest, though a photograph of the quality of Ansel Adams' work does nicely--but photographs are static and do not capture the personal experience.

As for my mood, I'm doing fine, though a little apprehensive about the upcoming court date where I fight for visitation rights for my one and only grandchild, but again, the whole process is a legal partialization of what's best for the kid, and what's best for him is to stay in contact with his late mother's family, not to have that family treated as pariahs because some happen to suffer from mood disorders--disorders that are manageable, as this blog demonstrates--a blog which the child's father cherry-picked to try to prove me an unfit grandfather.

In depression my blog functioned as therapy and should not be taken out of context to assert that I could not cope with life. Yet by baring my heart in words in the worst of my depression I was able to comfort many who wrote me to say, "That's exactly how I felt only you express it better." That's all a writer can hope for, and I am glad my blogtherapy went beyond myself to encompass the needs of others, only I fervently pray not to have to go through that again any time soon--I would hope never--except that as this is a cyclic illness I'm likely to have at least one or two major depressions before my chapter on this earth is up.

As for Jacob's father, I only hope he receives his due. Justice is the worst I can wish people. "Mercy triumphs over justice."

Our plum tree is blooming, the ornamental apple is sure to follow, narcissus and tulips and daffodils are coming up, even some Icelandic poppies and snapdragons are blooming from last year. This year, as I've stated, I'm going for a garden of deer-resistant flowers, to hell with the vegetables, I don't want to go another three rounds with the late night or early morning deer; they will prevail as they have before. I want my garden a profuse and disordered mass of color. More to come, and eventually photos, I hope.

How I do go on when I have nothing to say. I read a story by Henry James last night and wondered as to whether he may go beyond language in his prose; his psychological distinctions are so finely drawn that at times I lose the thread altogether and must backtrack for paragraphs to pick it up. His writing is so reified, and Latinate in construction to a degree, with many dependent clauses and lots of abstractions, yet somehow he pulls off character and plot in a display of amazing technical mastery. The prose of Henry James is some of the most highly evolved prose extant. It was of its age, the Victorian, where many writers arrived at the pinnacle of high technique, like Dickens and Tennyson and Swinburne and Hopkins and the like. This pinnacle rightly preceded the revolution of the Moderns.

Enough. Or too much.

I should mention that at Blue's Cruzio Cafe there's a new animated feature of me reciting a love poem, along with other poets' features. These are really entertaining; do click on the link!

At 1 Kilobunny,


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