Tuesday, June 06, 2006

To use an Emersonian phrase, I've clapped wings to a number of copies of Compostition Marble and they are winging their way toward expectant and unexpectant owners. Meanwhile I take crabwise steps toward my Ronald Johnson chapter: taking another look at Emerson's essays, rereading the early work in The Valley of Many-Colored Grasses, poring over Yves Abrioux's Ian Hamilton Finlay: A Visual Primer, and boning up on ecopoetics with ecopoetics and David Gilcrest's Greening the Lyre: Environmental Poetics and Ethics. Like many of the more interesting ecocritics (Lawrence Buell, Leonard Scigaj), Gilcrest engages with postmodern theory in order to foster arguments for the significance of a decentered poetics based on deep ecology; yet also like them, his horizon is limited to poets who use a minimally heightened plainspoken rhetoric to represent the confrontation with nature and/or the nonhuman: Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pack, Gary Snyder, Linda Hogan, Ira Sadoff, Carol Frost, A.R. Ammons, and, centrally, Robert Frost. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and to his credit, Gilcrest's focus is specifically on a Kenneth Burkean "rhetoric of ecological poetics," so it's natural he'd be drawn to poets whose engagement with nature is primarily rhetorical rather than mimetic: arguing for the decentering of the human from a more-or-less centered position, as opposed to performing that decentering at least partly by means of form.

I generally find this kind of poetry unsatisfying: it stacks up layers of description like an air traffic controller stacks up circling planes, then lands them smoothly and epiphanically. I actually don't mind the descriptive, especially when it's charged with energy by some means (verbally, formally, metrically, or else with scientifically or philosophically charged thought)—it's the rhetorical itself I resist, the authoritatively stated conclusion or (equally bad) the overwrought assertion of amibguity. I'm not sure this allergy does me any favors: the decline of rhetoric and the suspicion of noble speech has not to my eye brought about a corresponding increase in the quantity and quality of our democracy, either in poetry or in our public life. How I yearn for a president, even a president of imperfect politics (the only kind we're likely to get), who can actually talk. But I think most of us take in a blanket suspicion of rhetoric at an early age in this culture—a suspicion which does not replace an education in rhetoric and its devices that might enable us to defuse obfuscation and the illogical. Instead we seem to have only a YES and a NO button: the whole thing or no thing, you're either with us or against us. I have an intense longing for high speech, for speech that appeals to whatever it is in me that has contact with what's greater than me. I love Milton and Stevens, Shakespeare and Keats, largely for this reason. But the suspicion is in me, and is only appeased by New American appeals to the open field, the signifying chain, high-low juxtapositions, and whatever else serves to crack open the frozen sea of dead language. Still. I would like to see some new Romantic dispensation, something less self-centered and more truly Emersonian, Ronald Johnsonian—centered on a transparent eye/I that is constantly being overcome by fresh perception of the field, that draws new circles around onself and ones habitus. That does for oneself the act of opening and rebirthing without appeals to some always already reified Power. Another path to the numinous, and to consciousness, and to caring (Sorge) for one's world.

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