Bowering’s Teaching (1995)
George Bowering, Simon Fraser University, 1995.
“Teaching is not as good as writing, but it is better than working.”
- A Magpie Life (2001): 33
Postwar American Poetry
Simon Fraser University
Textbook: Paul Hoover, ed., Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994).
Notes: Aaron Vidaver (auditor).
Lecture on Olson. Floating semicolon. The anticipation is conditioned by grammar. Restrictive and nonrestrictive commas. This stop caters only to “tourists who” or “tourists, who” doesn’t restrict subject’s scope. Therefore defame the reader (anti-mimetic) off-shore. Olson’s referentiality: Sauer, Mayans, Greeks, citizens of Gloucester. Beginning of allegory. Maximus is not just a citation but an identity. McDonald’s. Figure of resistance (versus Delphi). A place that potentially is. Central image of the bird, ship, nest. Problem with Olson’s images. Principle of inclusion of what arises. New criticism: every word must be there. Olson’s throwing out. How to read the poem with measure. How does the bird build the nest? What does the bird make the nest out of? Skip to 29 July 1963. Here. There. Elsewhere. Nowhere. “Find out for yourself.” Participle. “Does anyone need to write? Why write? Unless you do.” Mechanics of setting. Television. Present event. Over throw. No need for consistency. Concern with event that’s there. What was going on when I did that? Each cell of thing that is that pattern (Duncan). Story not tied to chronology. Pindar diagrams. Figure of Paterson. Working particulars. No history in The Wasteland. A charade is not history. Wearing historical costumes. Creeley-Duncan debate. Currentness replacing. WCW search for some measure. Do you think there is a measure that has history? How can language register that? Fearless species. How does it happen right now? Paul’s evil. Peterism. Time as an infecting matter. History in our name for time. Blame Thucydides. Thirteenth century chronicles. Get rid of chronology. Smith: “history is the memory of time.” What is happening? Christ to king’s state. Flat worm. That name that we are not. Rereading of “Place & Names”. II.37 poem. Ginsberg: “we’re nowhere.” Hermes. Creeley on usages. “A form cut in time as sculpture is a form cut in space.” Jazz: “the beat is used to delay, detail, prompt, define the content of the statement or, more aptly, the emotional field of the statement.” Shyness and formality.
Lecture on Duncan. (i) Highly intertextual. The work like life: no idea of end/don’t remember beginning, only present working in. Not going to save order out of that indeterminacy. Contra Eliot: incorporation, derivations, carrying on the job. (ii) How does he get from one part of the poem to another part of the poem? “Organicism” of New Criticism hegemony backdrop. Goes where attention takes him. Old poets, celebration. (iii) Different ways of entering structure. Redemption. Old example (35) presidents. (iv) “Ideas of the Meaning of Form.” Amongst brothers and sisters. (a) End of masterpieces, beginning of testimony. (b) Form to the mind obsessed by convention is to dance with, not control (of ego). (c) Musical thought (honour). (d) “Chaos fashioned into order” versus discovery of order, poet as explorer, foot and ground. (v) Frost on free verse: “tennis with the net down” (poet as game player). Pope’s essay and Duncan’s “Keeping the Rime”. (vi) Opening the field. Including old gods... (vii) Keats “Ode to Psyche”. Keeping up with the formations as they come. (viii) One poem, different bodies. Sleep. Reading different things. (ix) The story of Cupid and Psyche. Duncan’s identification? Loss, trial, marriage. The three daughters. Two married and Psyche. West wind ruled by Cupid. Instead of monster he sneaks in. I’m your husband. Turn light on. Not oil. Light. Disappears. Persephone. Two coins teeth into hell. Charon. Don’t look in the box. (x) Image of dancing children. Old, old, old. (xi) Pindar. Apollo’s lyre (made by Hermes). (xii) Affinity to Pindar. “My inability to understand began the work.” Already not understanding. See what you can find in being lost.
Seminar on Duncan. Last paragraph of “Equilibrations”. The faculties. Sound. Image. Thought. Brain-body relation. “Exercising the faculties at large.” Which part of you is lost at the time? Interpenetration both ways. Equalization. Touching with hand. Conjure a poem. Permission. Invitation to the angels. Dictation. Image of meadow. Ring around the roses. “Overclosely” looking at the poem: (i) often, (ii) permitted, (iii) words in words: return, turn, having it both ways “as if it were”. You guys were just making that up. Did my mind just make that up? Everlasting omen of what is. About. Source. Familiarity thesis. I had a dream that was almost a vision. See the secret. Meaning and concealment, etymology, hidden, the spell.
Lecture on Duncan. (i) Keats’ ode—three parts. (ii) The story of recovering tracking attention move (dark to light), Psyche’s tasks, Pound’s tasks, reunion. (iii) Pound’s referentiality, stuck with Bible and Anthology, imprisoned in Italy in panther cage. Shift in scope: human culture to art, society to make good order, Williams in-jurred differently. (iv) Love between mortal and immortal. (v) Story of how the mind moves. How an art dies. A similar thing in Pisan Cantos. (vi) Necessity, ambiguity of children dancing. Circle of Hoover to Eisenhower, Hoover to Wilson, McKinley to Johnson. Rime. The scale of resemblances (and disresemblances). Rhythm, diction, image. Tone-leading. Course. Horse. Hoarse. Flowers. Chicken. (vii) Order in mystery. (viii) Vista, regulation and open form to dance at end.
Lecture on Duncan. First day off cigarettes, nicotine patch. Mentions Faas, ed., Towards a New American Poetics and Michigan series Under Investigation? Olson’s line. Duncan’s breath. Levertov’s “inspire”. More on Pindar poem. Pound’s ant. These are the old tasks: recover love, beauty. Nation of the wind, process, change, alternation. Who? The hero ... fleece. This land / California. Rilke ... Eros. (Most odes end here—Pindar, Coleridge, Keats, Wordsworth—overlook. “Boundary”—the light foot hears you. The sun rises because Orpheus ... (Elegy. To mourn the thing extravagantly ... it still lives!) Derivation. And creation. How to persuade the muse to help ya out? Breathe life in. Why should she? When so many poems, persons, dying. Osiris dismembered in waking, beloved Isis. Conjoining Psyche henceforth. Not the fisher-king ... to bring a nation back together / not a king at all / but children. Dancing. Dancing. Psyche lonely. How does the poem end? “A whole pile of loose ends (or no ends).” Bowering’s diagram for how Duncan poems work [interlocking network of fish-hooks.] Loose ends. Olson’s word, love. Not a poem beginning after a line by Pindar. Statue—mosaic. What are odes for? Encomiastic: in praise of. Accumulation of metaphor. Archaic—classic. Unnecessary. My lamp. Nowhere. Not a landscape. Measure: scales of the marvelous, not counting. Levertov on organic form. Form in all things—discover, retrieval. Hopkins’ inscape. Instress (apperception). Sensory, intellectual, emotion. “A method of apperception.” An experience of sequence, constellation. Open-mouthed. During writing elements heightened. Distinct units of awareness. “Form follows function.” “Intrinsic form of the experience” (631). Analogy to painting. Total form. Horizontal hold. Truth/interpretation of Olson and Duncan. Is Levertov tying the poem too closely to the feeling of an experience? Reinstressed? The experience of writing a poem?
Lecture on Duncan and Olson. Question asked at beginning: the role that revision played in composition (if any) in Olson. Immediacy. Duncan contrasted to Olson. Openness to mystical, theological, magic. Strange cross-eyed bear. Work-life. Spicer’s acting. Duncan’s HD book for twenty-five years every once in a while a chapter. Tribute to Freud. How the structure works: Duncan’s method. Palimpsest. Derivative. Book of imitations of Gertrude Stein. The Orphic Tradition: Orpheus descends to rescue his love, plunk in open field and thumbs guitar and animals, dismemberment. Casts a spell. Makes things happen. Structured passages. Published exactly as typed out, as typewriter works. Open poem. Death. There is no closure to that poem. He abandoned it by dying. One project. The lifework, shared community, masques, theatrical event. “I don’t seek a synthesis but a melee.” Versus Olson on the field.
Lecture on Levertov. Matthew Arnold’s classicism. Marguerite poems: “two human hearts might bleed.” Compared to Bruce Andrews’ “Stalin’s Genius”. Anticipation in the form. Classical connections. “Words don’t seem connected.” Barthes’ challenge to Levertov’s organicism? Conjunction versus disjunction. Rimbaud, Mallarmé: distort the relation. Barthes: grammar only to present the word, the density of the word. Barthes: the word can never be untrue (Stein). Fab (chubby letters). Olson’s composition by field. The word: unexpected object, innumerable possibilities (potential links), infinite freedom—above nature. No humanism. Terror: man/inhuman (heaven, hell, madness). Note Levertov’s appeal to Emerson: head bone connected totality of universe. Question: linguistic radicalism and political radicalism (disrupting the order of things: grammar, words and the state). Perspective. Lawrence’s suicide poem. René Char.
Seminar on Levertov. “If you can do it why do it?” (Stein)—what was the question? Relational poem depends upon theory of ordered world—representational poem. Williams’ variable foot. “There are different ways of doing a poem.” Linda Wagner on Williams, Twayne’s Levertov, and collection. Tone poem. “The Ache of Marriage.” Levertov: enough of something like extended metaphor. “Sort of one perception leading to another” but also “efficient at feeling the theme of the poem.” Where is the angel? What are angels? In the snow. Cards. Renaissance [illegible]. Messengers, divine. The enunciation: to tell may that she carries Christ and birds. Bless (to wound). A muscadine is a muscadine. Where is the speaker of the poem? “He’s touched in the head.” Repetition “for emphasis” and psychoanalytic analogy. Duncan-Levertov rime, incantatory, organic, not Olson (ideas).
Lecture on The New York Poets. O’Hara, Ashbery, Koch to Berrigan. Rime not primary in holding poem together. Why in Levertov does it refer back, lead? Lunch Poems compared to O Taste and See. Sixth Avenue. Organic. Bat, chat, rat, spat, bad, pat, sprinkle, bought. But three phonemes: “b”, “a”, “p”—British versus Canadian pronunciation, phonetic pairs (“b” and “p”), Lloyd, Floyd. Bowering’s Levertovian reading of Howl. “Wavering”—a poetics poem? Summary of lifetime. If not celebration, justify that quality of the attention: surrounding by verbs: shimmering, gleaming, flickering. Images from nature in movement: caravan of event. Attention wanes. “Mutability” in Emerson and Shelley. Projected through soul, not the I. Anything wrong with that waning of attention? No. George says if it does, then why should we write poems that pretend not to waver? How could the stainless steel poem be written?
Lecture on Olson. Changing structure in Pound. Epistles to political centres. Logic of letter writing. Modernist history: “simultaneous historical time”. Olson’s geological time: the earth, not the world. History versus archaeology. History as activity. Continental drift. Herodotus’ method: go there. Geography, “allegory” a figure. Reading Sappho. Maximus of Tyre. Last place to hold out against Alexander. Dealing with writing not the written. Time-art (film/poetry/music) versus space-art (painting/novel). The line, breath, heart (versus the syllable, mind). Ocean, sea. Once the outside is circumscribed / the inward turn. “Cracking the poem”—is the poem cracked? Two kinds of obscurity: findable references and conversational references. What matters? Postponement: delay to climax (no, the poem will not serve). Therefore, the field. Each moment is centre. Dance/poetry verb each moment privileged. How to “pay attention” to the particulars. Question: Olson’s writing (at top speed? the “buzz” example). Poet and city. Love: the theme of the epic. Not war? Not conquest? Which particulars? Against the simile: language has all the metaphor/meaning necessary, saturation. Division of labour. In the city. How do you make America? How do you make a Gloucester? A city? How to live inside? What is Maximus?
Lecture on O’Hara. Manifesto (against Olson). (i) Reluctantly written (thus uncharacteristic) because “everything is in the poems”. (ii) The telephone. Attitude, position, irony. (iii) The movies. Whitman, Crane, Williams: the whole of the United States taken on. (iv) “Measure” used instead of “metre”. Size of pants. Larry Rivers’ painting. (v) Lust, love. (vi) Additive poetry: on and on. (vii) “It doesn’t have to do with personality.” One-to-one. One-on-one. Teleconferencing? (viii) Watch out. Olson on O’Hara (in Homage to Frank O’Hara, April 1969): his capability. Priority amongst us, palpable emptiness, loved him. Balance: “the necessary other half” (Bowering), therefore our half weakened by loss. “Surface” as “superficial” as we have to dig deep to get meaning therefore don’t trust the surface, appearance. “Love is form.” Energy at surface. Cézanne onwards: look at that [illegible] versus forget this is a canvas. The field of energy where it happens. Painting: flat. No perspective. Pollock’s body on the painting. Dawson on Klein. O’Hara to Rivers on Pollock: exact result of action. “Get that kid some canvas.” Not needing a reference or metaphor. Materiality. Ode to Joy. Schiller-Beethoven-O’Hara. “Just look at that poem, the solidity.
Seminar on Ginsberg. Presentation by Steven Ward and Roger Farr. (i) Cézanne’s shimmering space. Ginsberg’s images. Kerouac’s bop prosody. Mingus/Parker: now is the time. Importance of chorus, “who” phrase. Breathing: problem of constantly coming back to the breath. Often two nouns put together. Flashing images. Gaps. Tape played (1975). Inbreath. Excellent back-and-forth. (ii) Sock it to Ginsberg: Kerouac saw the draft of the original manuscript. Williams and Christopher Smart. (iii) “I saw.” Vision of Blake reading, Shelley, apocalypse. Access to the transcendent and prolonged derangement of the senses. “Anti-critical energy” of the poem. Speed does not equal spontaneous writing. Is there a spiritual element beyond the text? “Holy.” “Moloch.”
Lecture on O’Hara: Lunch Poems. “I did this, I did that” poems—lunch poems—Pocket Poetry Series. Time in the poem: the time it takes to walk and return, break from job, lunch. Roman ode on the page. Romantic lyric. Ode/chorus public. Lyric/lyre private, single voice. The street as organic principle, parataxis, metonymy, taparosis. Cohere? Agoraphobic? “Sounds kinda idealistic.” The writing you do on the street. The writing you do on sheets. Berrigan’s sonnets. Relation to tradition: voyages in New York City. Baudelaire to Eliot. Headlines. “The Day Lady Died” to “Prufrock” to Snodgrass “Leaving the Motel” closure.
Lecture on O’Hara and Creeley. (i) I did this / I did that versus [no image, reference]. Both are the most imitated poets from 60s-80s creative writing classes. Tallman: Creeley thinking the world. (ii) How do you do a selected poems of O’Hara? (iii) How to handle dissatisfaction, uneasiness? (Not slamming the book shut closed.) (iv) Williams lines / Creeley’s productive misunderstanding. (v) Lionel Trilling on Don Allen! James/Melville. Personism, not personalism. (vi) Camp. (vii) Poem. (viii) Creeley to define versus describe: what does this mean? How to find edges as in photographic definition. (ix) Why the use of abstract nouns: kinetic, force? (x) Pound’s increment of association. (xi) Olson’s history: what we are doing now. (xii) Tradition, defined. (xiii) Outside the poem: memorize that?
Seminar on Whalen. Student presentation. Whitman/Dickinson. Whalen’s impracticality. Calligraphy. Spaces within. Mount Baker. Peyote. Reading of “The Slop Barrel”. New York Poets, second generation, heroize Whalen later. Casual radical discontinuity versus giant systems poetics (Duncan et. al.). Gathering into thick pattern.
[Questions from guest lecture by Charles Altieri. How do you address audience with unsympathetic “radical poetry”? Whether contemporary theory is mobilizing all resources of traditions? Gulf between poetry and theory (political residue jettisoned: didn’t keep up with the writing). Academic authority: vengeance of the defeated fathers. What to do with claims about open readership/text? And Olson’s direct energy transfer? How to get gulf between one’s contingency of reading/poem? How to read against while reading for it? How do you stage the reader’s rewarding the exactness of poetic language and keeping a sense of its demand? How is a model of reading responsible to understanding otherness already registered? How dream of affecting the social order without some kind of demand that the reader put aside those aspects of the reader’s subjectivity which was forwarded by that very social order?]
Lecture on Creeley. (i) Write an essay on “one / and / one / and”. (ii) Creeley doesn’t really want you to memorize his poems—not interested in. Almost get rid of image. (iii) Each book becomes more, more, more. “Extremism” of poetry/life. (iv) A Day Book. (v) “The Whip”—Richard Howard essay (1980). (vi) What is the form of the egg? Ovular. (After Humpty Dumpty fell...) (vii) Constant and variant. (viii) Williams’ “The Wedge”. (ix) Listening to jazz: beat used to delay, detail, prompt. (x) Shyness, Puritanism, talking. (xi) “His poems keep wanting to go out there and not come back.” Stein: sentences like dogs (run and return). (xii) Problem of memorizing his poems. (xiii) Quoting Stein: feeling the mind. (xiv) In private you are you, in public you are public. Poems public, yet. (xv) Circa 1975: “Relaxed”. (xvi) Library of Congress buys typescript identical to fair copy. “Man is this guy an uptight Puritan.” (xvii) Conduit (Spicer). (xviii) Note on Williams (1954). (xix) Why Olson listened—“just the opposite”. Gather world (Maximus). Eliminate world (Minimus). Disrupt, disrupt, disrupt. (xx) “Creeley loves prepositions. They ain’t nouns. They tell you about relationships.” (xxi) “I Keep To Myself Such Measures...” Not the. Not kept to oneself.
Lecture on Creeley. Avant-garde writing as reminders. “First turn to me” (Mayer 469). Automatic writing as access to mind: way to get down entire grid. At Vienna institute, Williams (1920s-1930s) when Freud hot in usa. Stream-of-consciousness writing. If you get doing it “what you really thought came out”. No. Bombardment-of-consciousness. Senses, memory. “What the mind was actually like over the day.” Will having three bats at the plate make it easier to read a poem by Gregory Corso? Burroughs’ cut-up, fold-in. Why do you do that? Calvino essays: “the in-front-of-me dimension”. Forget Arnold: “best thoughts”. Bottle in the remains of the library. Mauled brain. Is the rock in evidence or evidence? Can’t evidence here be a verb? Two kids bring poems in lunch boxes: a rock, [illegible]. Okay, let’s see your poems. What I came to do / is partial, partially kept. “I keep to myself such / measures as I care for / daily the rocks / accumulate position.” I don’t hand them out? Do rocks do that? Recall “fast moves”, instanter, Hume, Berkeley. Statement to another to another. “There is nothing / but what thinking makes / it less tangible. The mind, / fast as it goes, loses / pace, puts in place of it / like rocks simple makers / for a way only to / hopefully come back to // where it cannot. All / forgets. My mind sinks. / I hold in both hands such weight / it is my only description.” Now I’m not lost. “Here’s a guy trying to think.” Hansel and Gretel. All what forgets? Not just mind but what it places out there. It forgets too. Back to measures. We had a fellow come in and rob the bank. Can you give me a description? I don’t do description. I define. What does “it” refer to? My only description. That’s not really description, that’s measure. What is the “such weight”? “My mind sinks.” Now lost. “That’s heavy, man.” Why poetry about poetry? “Come on!” Well then what should poems be about, sir? Oh, ahem. Nature, the country. What about painters? You’re just painting about painting. No, I’m painting. But what are you painting? A painting. Can’t you paint a cow? Check out any one-page poem from the canon: Donne, Ben Jonson. Here comes a woman. I wonder of anything inside. Connection to his account of poetry. Creeley: making of poem identical to thinking. Not thinking about something. Partial. The only image: rocks. Rocks as self-consciously, humorously included. You want rocks? Okay. Here’s rocks. Late Creeley: “Age”. Hear him think. Go onto next thing. Enacted, not thought out. Picked up from villains. Pushed a thousand times more. Forward. Wedges one along. Stops that metaphor. But where? Or quite, when, even with whom, since now there is no one. Comparison to Beckett’s prose. No character, theme, setting, plot, dialogue. All that is left is presence of voice saying I can’t, I’ll. Where is voice? In head while reading. Whose voice? Your own. That’s all you got. Your thoughts. Creeley’s most persistent aim. “Dislocating, imploding / self, a uselessness // talks, even if finally to no one, talks and talks” (1990). An exercise: stop thinking. Anybody stopped? What are you thinking about? I’ll try. I’ll think about that for a while. First thing to go: image.
Seminar on Weiner. Student presentation. [Preliminary remark by Bowering on the square press’ search for the American poet, a new canon: Ashbery. Why? He looks more intellectual, take him. Also: after Hemmingway, Faulkner-Bellow.] Weiner, born 1928. Began writing poetry in 1963. Psychic. Magritte. Six hundred copies of Clairvoyant Journal (1978). “I see words on my forehead in the air on other people on the typewriter on the page these appear in the text in capitals or italics.” The Alphabet of Revelations (before clairvoyant writing). Bernstein on clairvoyance: refuses lyrical interference of ego. Metonymy. Four early journals. The Fast (1992). Yoga. Three weeks in a kitchen sink. The word stupid. No “themes”. Small print runs. “I guess when you see / words on people’s foreheads, they / don’t come with punctuation.” Jakobson. O’Hara’s headlines. Bloomingdale’s. Extremely personal voice to clairvoyant signs.
Lecture on Howe. “Great Balls of Fire” and short poems as hoaxes. Bread and Wine. Or butter. Toast. Crust. The difference is spreading, breeding. Tender Buttons. “She’s bred out of a tradition” (Ryan Knighton). Continuity as order or ordering. “That’s what we’re taught to work on: finish this _____.” “Everybody’s after Susan Howe”—sort of l=a=n=g, New York, Olson guy. Political: system of language made up by dead white guys. “Let’s be blunt. Shakespeare was not a great poet” (Howe interview/essay). Three stooges reading of Lear. Nuclear. Words as things, not windows. “Obdurate opaqueness.” The first thing is think of the word “_____”. Women were not writing but being written. Bible. Why are there so many masterpieces? (Stein). Duncan: the idea of the masterwork. “Culture exploding into murder” (647). Pace Eliot. Tristan and Iseult. Creon. Howe’s most personal essay. Perfect primeval consent. Another way to handle the stuff on the paper: make it stay there.
Lecture on Howe. George leaves his notes in his office at home. Language, undiscovered world. Political language imprisonment (reply to Marxist criticism: difficult, elitist, conservative). Authoritarian forms and transparent language. Nietzsche’s problem. If you don’t use the language. Howe, grammar and patriarchy. How would you paint? Howe: white canvas or paint over what’s already there? Spatialization of poetry and vocal art. The differential theory of meaning (Saussure/Derrida). The fool’s cap, the fool’s gift (from on high), the dunce: nonsense, riddle. The floor based on misunderstanding. Misreading: if you don’t understand how can you hope to misunderstand? hd: If you don’t understand what the word means ... how can you begin to hope to understand what the words conceal? We can find all that stuff but where does it get us? Stella. Cordelia. Nothing? Nothing? Speak again. Nothing, my lord. Nothing will come of nothing. Free will in blind duel. Fugitive dialogue of masterwork. Who we? How we? I am composed of nine letters. Shove over, let me at that keyboard.
Final lecture. “Have people developed an ear or a sense of a sensibility?” Marge Piercy: “it goes on after you get it”. Extended metaphor, closure, last-word ending. Worn out like a fan belt. What is poetry for? W.D. Snodgrass: “now here comes the topic”. Humour related to the conservative? The mainstream? But isn’t Ezra Pound conservative? What can you find that runs through/gathers up all the poetry this semester? What does contemporary American poetry do? Interrogation of convention by way of the language. Non-academic. Counter-culture. “Interrogating down” from castle of language. “That was closure.”
Seminar on Hejinian. From “The Rejection of Closure”. Language-centred versus poet-centred or logic-centred. (i) “Control” question. (ii) The reviewer states “the poet is not in control of the materials”. (iii) “Control your desire to control.” Disruption. Heliotropic. Chance operation. “A Throw of The Dice.” bpNichol’s complete works. (iv) Writer writing versus author authorizing. “What is there in language itself that compels and implements the rejection of closure?” (653). (v) Yeats pulling out from the chaos. Distinguishing dancer from dance. ep on wcw. Two threats: order and disorder. (vi) Spinoza and gentile tolerance. (vii) “You can’t do anything without chance.” (viii) “Heaven has got to be something that you don’t want.” Shklovsky’s defamiliarization. Duck-billed platypus. “What mind worthy of the name ever reached a conclusion?” (Flaubert). Words for things. Things for words. 1:1. Lukács and George Steiner. Writing / develops / subjects / that mean / the words / we / have / for / them. Uncorrupted Shakespearean text. Issue of translation. Perfect realism: no errors in transmission. Freud and Marx built into primary education: psyche and politics. Whorf’s last essay written in Ottawa. Whorf’s death. No future / tense.