Thursday, June 30, 2005

My aunt and uncle and cousins are in town for my uncle's mother's memorial service, and it's good to see them all although the circumstances aren't happy. Had breakfast this morning with Daniel, a one-time wild kid who's now getting his masters in social work in Portland and who runs a group home for mentally ill adults. His sister Jaimie is a personal assistant to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Their idealism is inspiring: he's down in the streets, she's serving what amounts to our shadow cabinet. With any luck she'll be working in a Democratic White House before the decade is out. The middle child is Laura: she runs Urban Outfitters stores in the Midwest and is a hoot and a half to hang out with. I feel lucky to have them in my family.

Spending some time with the increasingly invaluable The Poker. I love Alan Bernheimer's sly "Directions for Five Poems," which would be a very useful way to direct a poetry workshop toward consciousness of the subtext of its prescriptions. Also negatively inspiring is Douglas Rothschild's tour of Central Park, "Februry 28, 2001"—an account of political wandering that reads signs of the times: "'[This patch of grass only / twice the size of my living room is] The South Meadow.' i marvel at:/ 'This plant damage has been caused by dog urine.' & Anselm observes that there / are no signs in poor neighborhoods explaining 'This abandoned buildinng / has been caused by greed & corruption.'" Curious how the Lyrical Ballads ghost both of these poems: one of Bernheimer's "directions" reads: "Strong emotion recollected in tranquility ... duh" while in Rothschild we have this mash-up: "'Enfolding sunny spots / of greenery.' 'Lawn closed // temporarily due to overuse.'" The question of lyric is raised again in Jennifer Moxley's essay, "Lyric Poetry and the Inassimilable Life," which is both a meditation on the somewhat scandalous place of lyric in post-avant contexts and an elegy for Robert Creeley: "From the moment I awoke into poetry he was there, proffering both encouragement and caution." I like that "awoke," it reminds me of Benjamin's notion of the dialectical image, and suggests perhaps a direction for a lyric that is as Moxley describes it: "Thus through the lyric what fails to be in social space, IS. In some ways the essay is a rewriting, for our times and an American context, of Adorno's "Lyric Poetry and Society." But it's also personal and in particular, personally self-implicating: for me, Moxley's dramatization of the movements of and shocks to her own conscience—and her willingness to bare that conscience, to stand in naked hope of contact with another's conscience—has always been one of the most compelling features of her writing. This essay adapts that personal struggle to the work of lyric itself:
A linguistic universal to be sure, but one quite distinct from the universal language of the senses prophesized by Rimbaud. His project collapsed when he realized that poetry alone could not remake the world. No, the lyric "I" is not a political universal, nor the guardian of the rights of men, but neither is it the flaccid marker of an outdated bourgeois egotism. The necessary dialectic at work in the lyric stance is between the desire for the representation of a human totality, and the impossibility of realizing that desire except through its mute particulars. It is a paradox that proposes the need to risk settled definitions at every point, an idealistic proposition which, although impractical and perhaps even undesirable, is nevertheless crucial, for it challenges our tendency to symbolically conquer our surroundings and thus stop thought.
Thus the "inassimilable," summed up in a sentence from the following paragraph: "The goal of the poet is not to be right but to simply be: as nearly as possible in a state of fully realized human consciousness." Naturally my thoughts turn to my ideas about pastoral, which is a peculiar genre way-station between epic and lyric: a staging of lyric community or epic subjectivity in which one can play for a moment as fully realized.

There's more to discover in this issue of The Poker. Just now I'm sobered by this unprecedented compromise of our so-called free press. The noose is getting tighter, and the only consolation at the moment is that it's getting yanked and jerked by the desperate flailings of a reactionary regime with nowhere to go but down.

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