Sunday, June 28, 2009


Sunset: red eye peering
through the maple branches that blinks
and winks with the subtle movements
of my own eyes, the air weighing
on the leaves. Another shining morning
spent with Sadie walking up and down
the streets of Fall Creek, marred only
by intense allergies that made my eyes
itch and my nose drip. They itch, drip
still. Lunch at Chilis, of all places—it’s
the secret getaway of Jonathan Monroe,
comp lit prof and prose poet, author of
the just released Demosthenes’ Legacy
from Ahadada Books in Canada: his first
book of poems, he’s pleased as punch.
(Or is that Punch, as in Punch and
Judy? My mother’s name was Judy
but if anyone had a punch in that house,
it was her. End of digression.) We
talked about teaching, Cornell’s
financial troubles, and such: it’s
strange to see how completely we’ve shifted
out from the mentor-mentee relationship
into something like simple friendship
and respect. Still shocked
at times to discover myself a grown-up
with gray hairs sneaking in like silver
tendrils. Up to campus afterward
to spend a fortuitous gift card
at the bookstore I received
for purchasing ten books during my time there:
a new book of poems by Roubaud, Exchanges
on Light, translated by Eleni
Sikelianos; a novel I’ve long wanted to read,
especially because my own is partly set
in Trieste, Zeno’s Conscience; and a vade
mecum to swim in and object to, James
Wood’s How Fiction Works. Isn’t he
a Brit after all, isn’t he going fundamentally
to have a conservative if not theologically
possessive take on a genre his countrymen
pretend they invented (c.f. Cervantes,
fella): still I glanced into it and fell
a bit in love with his prose and
his own honesty about his two favorite critics,
Jakobson and Barthes, whose work cuts
entirely against his own grain as he joyfully
admits: so I can do him the same favor
and maybe learn something. But when
I’m going to read all that when I’m
still slogging through The Great Fire
of London and half-a-dozen other books,
plus my review of The Cosmopolitan,
and only a few days left to dig
whatever I can of Ammons on Ammons’
own turf, I just don’t know. A little
time’s left to me tonight before sleep:
for a change I already did my half-
an-hour’s labor on the novel instead of
procrastinating it like usual: it’s
such a pleasure to write and yet every day
feels like raw beginning with all the pain
of breaking new: speaking of beginnings
I was charmed by Susan Stewart’s lecture
which touched on the question of beginning
and on the relationship of creation
to the two freedoms, negative (freedom from)
and positive (freedom to): making
the point that so often when we create
we begin with negation: if we aren’t captured whole
by some tradition we look at tradition
and say that’s not what I shall do
and like Hegel’s slave we empty ourselves out
laboring in someone else’s rebellious vineyard:
positive freedom from the artist is easily mistaken
for ignorance, as in the case of certain students
who say they don’t want to read other poets
for fear of being influenced: they’re dumb
like foxes crazy to preserve
their sense of liberty, so they’re not wrong
but what’s right is to know, to lose your innocence
of what’s come before in art and what’s expected
and yet somehow to begin anywhere as Stewart said
so that the new must be a wager, an act
of faith based on imperfect information, or rather
on the setting aside of such information,
not the same as rejecting information and wallowing
in ignorance. I think Badiou
would agree, but I didn’t ask her
about it: the Q&A was dragging on
and I had to get home to give a bath to my little girl
and sit on the bed with her and Emily
and sing about the mighty jungle
and be here alone now while Emily’s out with a friend
having made spaghetti for dinner having written
what I need to write to feel free
to read or stare out the window or even
to be. Write some more.

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