Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Purchased: John Taggart, Pastorelles. Deceptively simple poems, in a repeating and Steinian way, that shuttle subtly back and forth between a lived landscape and the sheerly literary; the poem "A Grove or Green Place" (too long to quote here) is exemplary of this. There's a pretty good review of it here; suffice it to say that I'm enjoying the book and it's adding another strand to my pastoral considerations. Though I'm more and more convinced I'm going to have to end my dissertation with Ronald Johnson if it's not going to become unmanageable; maybe a chapter or two on the Language poets and the contemporary post-avant pastoral could go in the book version. I should live so long.

There's a lot of negativity out there regarding the election, regarding writing (I just read most of a grimly spiteful essay by Daniel Harris called "The Writing Life: Envy and Editing" in the latest Antioch Review. He argues for labor in writing, for ambition, but is preoccupied with the marketplace and the writer's ambiguous place in it; there's a bit of blame-the-reader going on and it makes me feel about as hopeful for literary culture as I do for a Kucinich administration. Paralleling this is another essay I scooped up by Cynthia Ozick in what is to be the final issue of American Scholar, about her own grand, "ninteenth century" ambitions for her first novel and her desire to reclaim those ambitions. It's very well written and all but it left me feeling scolded and depressed; again, as if the moment to be a writer, for serious literary ambition, was long past. Of course people have been saying this since papyrus was invented, so I shouldn't take it too much to heart. And these are two very stuffy magazines that I don't usually bother with. But I can't help but be afflicted at times by a sense of my marginality and literature's marginality (not to mention poetry's marginality within literature!)—a feeling exacerbated by my sense of near-total alienation from a country that takes George Bush seriously, that has let him define the terms in which we think and argue about the future of an America already nearly unrecognizable thanks to his perversions of justice, language, and law.

What to call this emotion, which does not come without a certain liveliness and defiance. Call it spleen, of course.
— Et de longs corbillards, sans tambourds ni musique,
Défilent lentement dans mon âme; L'Espoir,
Vaincu, pleure, et l'Angoisse atroce, despotique,
Sur mon crâne incliné plante son drapeau noir.
That's the stubborn hope, the sign of life behind anything made. Baudelaire's black flag (not to be confused with Henry Rollins') has a fierce energy to it, the ring of real negativity, that still resounds and unsettles after a hundred fifty years. That's something. That's real.

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