A RECEPTACLE*

CONFESSION, FABLE, or SHORT STORY?

The last two threads have occupied me almost compulsively for over six months, and in the process made me realize that I needed to be more forthright. So I want to pause for a moment and re-examine what I am doing here. I have no idea what this is going to sound like or if it will make any sense to you or to me. So let’s see what it becomes and how long it gets left up…

Five weeks later: it’s growing roots and the roots green sprouts — and even if it achieves nothing it’s still greening something in me bit by bit. Because this thread has been rewriting itself everyday for over a month, and in an almost all-night dream just last night I awoke with the word, Receptacle,and wrote it down in the dark.…………


The most recent thread,
 “For Those Like Galileo,” concentrates on Part II of GALILEO’S SECRET in which the “secret” actually appears, though you may not have been able to see it. On the other hand, that thread may still be in progress, and we may yet get to see it better. And I will get back to the real business very soon, I think, so don’t worry.

The earlier thread, “In Praise of the Still Unweighed: Off the Record at Eighty,” was begun at the end of November, 2019, getting ready for my 80th birthday coming up on December 7th. The critical parts explored the struggle to develop a voice of my own starting at the age of 50, while the “off-the-record” parts examined the specific problems I have had getting my work out there from 1992 to the present — in other words, a whole additional lifetime in which to get born in the second half of a single life.

This is me today in my old slouch hat.Chiang Mai, 2020

If you’ve always wondered why there are earlier ‘Scarriet.com’ threads and other revolutionary oddities in the ‘Cowpattyhammer.com’ Archives (2009-2010), or don’t understand what I am talking about when I refer to a ‘Foetry Resistance,’ for example, you should read how this site came into being in About the Author.  But don’t panic, there are no exposés or foul tidings lurking, just fun and more whimsy. Indeed, this blower’s whistle becomes more and more of a panpipe everyday.

And if you are also concerned to know why somebody like myself didn’t start writing poetry until he was 50, you might also want to see what he looked like in his 30s, and what he was thinking in there at the time. You can click here or on the photo below to read more about that other person who became me in preparation for what was to follow.

This is how I looked wearing other stuff.Coleman’s Hatch, Sussex, 1976

First of all, when I started writing poetry in the 1990s, I wasn’t really in a position to understand what was happening to me. Although I managed to publish a fair amount by 2009, and had even been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by then, my work was always sent out by ordinary mail to far-away strangers, and I never met an editor in person and only very rarely another poet. I had no MFA or poetry connections, and still don’t, and was living in the Far East so there was no local writing community to support me. Indeed, to this day I have never stood up to read at a Poetry Reading or attended a Poetry Workshop or Conference.

On the other hand, I managed to make the best out of the tools and faculties I had, and the proof of that is that I’m still writing today and am even more convinced of the value of my still evolving books. But at this point I do feel frustrated, and know it’s important to say brazenly and in public: Heads up! Christopher Woodman has not managed to publish a single poem in the last 10 years, and his 3 books remain unbound and unavailable. It’s as serious as that, you see, which is why I feel I have to be forthright about it.

It may be hard to believe, but for 10 years now I have felt I was no longer a living contemporary poet, and that weighs on me even though I know it’s foolish. I’m different, I tell myself, I’m a bit over-educated as well as over-the-top, and yes, I do sometimes hold the world to unreasonable standards. I also know that every ‘Revolutionary Movement to Save the World,’ even ones as minor as my own, have always had their ambiguities. History tells us that, and biographies that ‘Revolutionaries’ are almost always a bit soft in the head, that otherwise they wouldn’t bother.

And why do I?

It’s a question of responsibility, I think. If my role in what might be called the ‘Foetry Resistance’ 10+ years ago still casts a shadow over my reputation as a poet today, I think that’s unfair as well as highly ironic. I took a stand. I was brave and resourceful, and partly as a result of my work some things did move on — consciousness was raised, procedures were clarified, and the private world of Poetry Publication and Prizes in America did become more transparent and democratic. And the proof of the power of my advocacy is witnessed by the fact that I was banned from all the most influential poetry sites at the time: pw.org, poets.org, and poetryfoundation.org/harriet, one after the other. In addition, some of the threads I was particularly interested in were ‘pruned,’ as one moderator called it, and even now I feel my person fading before my own eyes. It’s as if a quarantine order had been passed and Christopher Woodman were still deemed to be dangerously contagious even after a whole decade in isolation.

But isn’t it time we let all that go now, you and I both, along with our terrible pride and misplaced, self-justifying arguments? Because how many of us can throw the first stone when it comes to the timing of ‘Resistance’ acts like Colin Kaepernick’s knee, for example, or Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’ much-maligned grand-standing in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics? We’ve all got our fists in the air now, don’t we, and if we’ve got a pair of tight fitting leather gloves at home, don’t we pull them right on too and strut out? And don’t we  hold our heads as high as our fists and shout?

George Floyd’s death and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrations all over the world have moved me very deeply, and I know every one of us must now come to terms with the inequalities and injustices that have been built into our nation right from its founding. And the hardest part is not to revise our history but to come to terms with our own complicity in what we’ve become, our own blind eye, our own comfortable armchair, our own fine ‘property,’ ‘good school,’ ‘glad hand,’ ‘high art,’ and all that. And my feeling is that this is what lies behind the malaise at the heart of all our American social and economic values. “God and Property,” as the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, put it just a few days ago, and my feeling is that God must be turning in his grave to be so gratuitously coerced and walled-in!

…………..*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*

In this ‘Reassessment’ I’m not talking specifically about racism, which is obviously America’s single, most egregious social and economic distortion. I’m using racism as a handle to grasp those even deeper, indeed fundamental aberrations that undermine our culture on every level: turf, privilege, and money. (Senator Tom Cotton just re-affirmed the old historical justification of slavery as a “necessary evil,” making it clear that he believes it was worth whatever it took back in the 17th and 18th Centuries to achieve what his people have come to call “Great” in America today. And what a tragic, blind and cruel irony that is!)

And look at these two great American heroes as they emerge from that struggle to address us today:


Tommie Smith, 1944 (1968!) 2020


John Carlos, 1945 (1968!) 2020

Because those were the values that so alienated these timelessly gifted men, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, even at the moment they were being awarded Gold and Bronze Medals at the 1968 Olympics. As the American National Anthem was being played, they did not put their right hands on their hearts to honor the flag but instead raised them in the air as Black Panthers full of arrogant, revolutionary defiance, militants fighting not for the USA but for Self Respect. And look at them in these photos now, and tell me they weren’t right.

That’s what I want to say about my own dilemma too, and why I want to be more “forthright” even if I am just a very minor poet working on a very small, very local level. Because I raised my fist too, and I’m still being punished for it.

Of course I was by no means a major player in the ‘Foetry Resistance’ but more like the third figure, the Australian Silver Medalist who stood on that podium in 1968 as well and who has been all but forgotten today. This is the man who set the 200m World Record in one of his heats, a record which lasted until Tommie Smith broke it a few days later  in the finals. But, just a blink of an eye behind the Gold Medal winner, the man below still remains the Australian 200m Record holder to this day!

Peter Norman, 1942 (1968!) d.2005

But he did even more than that by selflessly standing up for a cause that wasn’t even his own, and who suffered so disproportionately for it. Indeed, he was banned from Australian athletics for the rest of his life, can you imagine.

PETER NORMAN!

The specific details of what I did myself don’t really matter, and I certainly have no intention of going back over the transcripts to see who said or did what or didn’t etc. But a poet is like an athlete as well, there’s that sort of commitment, passion and, yes, vulnerability — because it has always got to be proved and verified again and again. And you can see it’s still there in all of us in the photos too, old men still on the line.

When it comes to the details of my own story I’m speaking in tongues, of course. Indeed, it will be only those who were there who will be able to understand fully what I’m saying about what happened to me personally, and also be in a position to do something about it. To draw out the poison from my person, so to speak.

………*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*……….*

As a start I’d like editors today to read some of my poetry as did James Laughlin, Theodore Weiss, Marvin Malone, Alice Quinn, Marilyn Hacker, Joseph Parisi, David Young, Lee Sharkey, Dan Veech, and Susan Terris, among the many distinguished editors who published my work and/or reached out to help me 10, 15, 20 years ago.

I sent “Connemara Trousers” to The New Yorker, one of my earliest submissions. Alice Quinn wrote back right away. “Much too long,” she said, ” — try The Kenyon Review.” And Marilyn Hacker said  “Yes.”

And now there are three precious books just waiting to stand up: GALILEO’S SECRET, LA CROIX MA FILLE, and FIG LEAF SUTRAS.

Theodore Weiss selected a very early version of GALILEO’S SECRET as a finalist just before ill-health forced him to retire after editing the QRL for 50 years. Wiki says; “Ted Weiss showcased emerging and major writers including William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, E. E. Cummings, Thomas Merton, Mark Van Doren, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, and Jean-Paul Sartre, and also introduced some that were not widely known to Americans, including Franz Kafka and Eugenio Montale.”

I still have the little scraps of note-pad paper on which Ted Weiss encouraged me with his stubby pencil. They are among my most precious relics.

I share my even earlier correspondence with James Laughlin with the Houghton Library at Harvard, but I think my hard copy is probably the top one he stripped off his old Remington to mail to me in person. I didn’t even have a book to show him at the time, just individual poems which he liked enough to write a lot to me, and to share with me his own struggles too as I am sharing mine with you.

But that’s enough. Now it’s time for no blame.

Christopher Woodman
August 9th, 2020

*NOTE:
1. A container that holds items or matter;
2. Botany: The expanded tip of a flower stalk or axis that bears the floral parts or the florets of the flower head;
3. Electronics : A fitting connected to a power supply and equipped to receive a plug.

…..

TO EXPLORE THIS SITE.

1.) GLOBAL VIEW: To have an overview of the whole site, thread by thread, you should enter it with http://www.cowpattyhammer.wordpress.com. You can then scroll through all the 54 Main Threads and have a look at the First Post of each, often a whole article with a graphic. If you want to follow a particular discussion you can click on the Comments;

The Main Articles are organized by WordPress in groups of 10. To continue after the 10th you just click on “Older entries” at the bottom of the page, or “Newer entries” if you want to return toward the present.

2.) CATEGORIES: To follow specific names, citations & organizations through the site you can click on the Categories listed under the Title of each Thread. You can also use the List of Categories on the left hand margin. All the Threads with the same Categories will then be available one after the other.

3.) ARCHIVES:To access the whole site year by year you can look through the Archives (2009-2020) which are listed on the left hand side of the Homepage.

………

THIS DISCUSSION CAN CONTINUE IN THE COMMENTS

…….

for FRANZ WRIGHT: “dark, then bright, so bright”

An antique Relic found amongst the Ruins,
thought to be Samson’s.

What Genius Means Border………………….[Click twice on the old script to read it more easily.]

A further antique Relic thought to be Samson’s:
illuminations on Jūlija’s desk under the volcano on Bali.

God burns

…………….God Burns 4 …………..[Click twice on both to see better, & read carefully for clues to decipher the text.]

Dear Jūlija,……………………………………………………….December 9th, 2017
I love what you say in your last paragraph about the “message of the relics” — it’s very exciting how we’re finding our way there together, and I’m tremendously grateful to you for the help.

In answer to your question about Franz Wright, he was a unique, and uniquely great, American poet who also had a uniquely troubled life. He died just two and a half years ago after a long struggle with lung cancer, having essentially smoked himself to death. He had been abusing drugs and alcohol and everything else for 40 years, was in and out of mental hospitals, and was famous for being extremely angry and aggressive in public and especially  on-line. For examples of the latter you can go to For Franz Wright (2010) cited in my previous post. In particular you can read his Comment 34 followed by his Comments 38 & 39, and finally his very moving last Comment 41.  (For convenience sake I have highlighted all Franz Wright’s Comments in Green.) And you can also read a short reply of my own to him in Comment 40, which will give you an idea of how I dealt with all this at the time.

Insufficiently, needless to say, and why I have felt compelled to revisit the original thread 7 years later, and of course why I am dedicating “He Reflects on What his Genius Means” to Franz Wright along with your beautiful illuminations.

Also why I have high-lighted in blue the discussion with my co-editor at the time, the anti-modernist critic, Tom Brady, who mocked Franz Wright ferociously both as a poet and as a person throughout. My feeling is that readers will be interested not only in Tom Brady’s ‘Old- (as opposed to ‘New-) Critical’ views but also in the way my own understanding of both ‘the poet’ and ‘poetry’ in general developed during the discussion. Because I was caught between a rock and a very hard place, pushing against two uncompromising Savanarolas, Tom Brady on the own hand and Franz Wright on the other, the former dismissing my poem, “Leonardo Amongst Women,” as “didactic” and the latter as “perfectly awful.”

Which was a lot to deal with then, and still is.

[Cont. in the Comments.]

THE POET’S SEVEREST CRITIC: Happy New Year!

.

The Temple Boy Who’s Not There

………………O, Flatbush Bill’s
………………the Steinway grand
………………of soup and barrel organs—
………………never short on time or change
………………he’s like a man made man
………………on his toes all the time,
………………a flyweight cockerel
………………stretching out the limits of each night
………………like a massive tenor in full flight
………………or temple gong so boozed
………………and tendrilled mothers
………………light their morning fires by the
………………rumble, cooking in the dark for several lives
………………of hungry monks and temple brats
………………just to share the merit—

………………whereas none of them can hold
………………a candle to our bowlful Bill’s
………………Brooklyn breadth
………………………………………..and warble.

………………So when the monks at Wat Phra Singh
………………offered him the post of Temple Boy
………………I wrote this poem
………………so they would know what
………………not to expect
………………or how to rise, or even bow,
…………………………………………………before him!

………………Yes, he’s better west, this Mister Bill—
………………the east’s too trim for so much
………………common sense and willingness to volunteer
………………or even rest
…………………………………at full stretch—

………………coast, I’d say, choir master fiend
………………and rabble rouser—
…………………….homeless husband,
………………………………bubble buster,
………………saffron cockney on a Buddha barrow,
………………mighty long-armed-dharma duster-upper!

………………Damn, I say, let him
………………rest upon his lusty laurel laughter—
………………toast, and share it!

……………………………………………………..Christopher Woodman, 12/31/2010

______________________

 

Flatbush Bill is another Scarriet survivor.  Author of its all time most popular threads, Pop Goes the Weasel and Ich Weiss Nicht,  he was formerly a welfare activist, choirmaster, and leading member of the NY Tibet Society.  He is now a priest in Mexico and the poet’s severest critic.

In Southeast Asia, the Buddhist faithful, mainly mothers, get up very early every morning to cook special meals for the monks who file by the house barefoot at 6am on their daily alms round. The women fill the bowls and then kneel down for a blessing. No word is spoken during the whole exchange, and nobody serves what is more is served.

Wat Phra Singh is one of the most active and beautiful Buddhist Temples in the North of Thailand.

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

THE ADORATION OF ANYTHING YOU THINK YOU OWN IS FIRE


.For a closer view of this detail click here. For the whole tryptich click here.

The Adoration of anything you think you own is idolatrous.

The Adoration of anything you think you own, even Poetry, even Baseball, is idolatrous because, like the Critic on his knees in this painting, the fire’s in your own head. You worship at the shrine but you’re looking not into it but out at us. You’re looking back at your audience to be sure they’ll know how astute and well-informed you are, and, of course, how properly dressed. In turn, your ‘readers’ have a choice — to play ball or cry FIRE!

With regard to baseball, the strange beauty and fascination of it have never been explored more deeply than in the following poem. So what is it? And why has the discussion of poetry on Scarriet becoming so ugly and savage?

Christopher Woodman

.

………………………..The Crowd at the Ball Game

………………………..The crowd at the ball game
………………………..is moved uniformly

………………………..by a spirit of uselessness
………………………..which delights them —

………………………..all the exciting detail
………………………..of the chase

………………………..and the escape, the error
………………………..the flash of genius —

………………………..all to no end save beauty
………………………..the eternal –

………………………..So in detail they, the crowd,
………………………..are beautiful

………………………..for this
………………………..to be warned against

………………………..saluted and defied —
………………………..It is alive, venomous

………………………..it smiles grimly
………………………..its words cut —

………………………..The flashy female with her
………………………..mother, gets it —

………………………..The Jew gets it straight – it
………………………..is deadly, terrifying —

………………………..It is the Inquisition, the
………………………..Revolution

………………………..It is beauty itself
………………………..that lives

………………………..day by day in them
………………………..idly —

………………………..This is
………………………..the power of their faces

………………………..It is summer, it is the solstice
………………………..the crowd is

………………………..cheering, the crowd is laughing
………………………..in detail

………………………..permanently, seriously
………………………..without thought
………………………………………………………William Carlos Williams (Dial, 1923)

[This poem has been posted twice  on this site, here and here. The response has been desultory, though the themes have been crying out for discussion.]

………THE COMMENTS THAT FOLLOW DEVELOP THE THREAD

“MUMBO JUMBO?” — “PARADOX?” “AMBIGUITY?” “IRONY?” “SYMBOL?”

March Madness has been a study as much as it has been an intoxication; the New Critics erred in thinking the emotive and the cognitive could not be combined; of course they can, by any astute critic (Poe is a shining example, who the New Critics, from Pound to Eliot to Warren to Winters to Brooks to Wimsatt carefully ignored or played down.). The New Critics made no satisfactory criticism; they merely introduced mumbo-jumbo, mere terms, such as paradox, ambiguity, irony and symbol and nothing about it was original or coherent, it was finally nothing but mumbo-jumbo for the self-elected priesthood.

The professional priest will lord it over the mere amateur, but such religious hierarchies do not belong in poetry, not artificially, anyway; Letters is not science, but finally morality for the many, and this is the ugly, primitive secret which the sophisticated modernist Oxford erudite fop dare not face.

……………………………………………………………..………….Thomas Brady

.

………..The Lord in His wisdom made the fly
………..And then forgot to tell us why.

……………                        ………                      …………Ogden Nash

.

The paradox here lies not in the fly or in the Lord’s wisdom but in what a poem can say that ordinary language can’t. You don’t need Pound, Eliot, Warren or Winters, or anyone from Oxford for that matter, to help you out with that, or even a High School diploma. Indeed, “The Night Before Christmas” is loaded with paradox, as is Pooh’s poetry, the Beatles, nursery rhymes, limericks and gospel. You can laugh or cry as much as you like, but still you can’t say what it  is without saying what it isn’t.

The ambiguity in this poem lies in the absurdity that gets to the very heart of what bothers human beings about life, the complexities of it – how a creature so indispensable to the health of the planet should be so small, for example, yet so insistent, fickle, and in your face, so disgusting yet impossible to swat.

The irony lies in the fact that the Lord in His wisdom forgot to tell us just about everything, and even when the scientist has done his or her very best to remedy that, and even shown us photos of the fly’s eyes and cultivated its filth in a petri dish so we could actually see the link between flies and disease, and then gone on to save lives by cleansing wounds with maggots, we still can’t decide who we are. And then along comes poetry, of all crazy stuff, and tells us!

Love hurts. Grief heals. The meek inherit the earth.

As to symbols, there are none in this poem in the usual sense. Indeed, symbols are rare in poetry worth reading because the whole idea of poetry is to rewrite the comfortable shorthands, cultural icons and codes we depend on. Indeed, when poetry is most effective even the symbols come off the rails, so to speak, and wreck our understanding of everything. For a moment we just have to stop — my God, my God, what is it?

Take the Rose in William Blake’s poem, “O Rose Thou Art Sick,” for example, or the Tiger in “Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright.” Only beginners talk about either as “symbols,” because the moment you think you know what they mean you’re lost. You lose the thread, you lose the argument, you lose your soul to the facts already stuck in your head. And you can’t move on.

Symbols are for simpletons, not for Ogden Nashes!

Had Ogden Nash written a whole series of poems about flies, as Yeats did about towers, for example, then we might want to consider “why” in a broader sense, and “the fly” might even be considered a symbol in the little poem above. And hey, why not? Life’s too complex not to accept what little help we can get from the way we human beings use language!

But we don’t need a Professional Priesthood for that, though sometimes we get one, boo hoo. Then abuses do follow, and yes, we do get Reformers, Counter-reformers, New Critics, Anti-new-critics, Pound-profs or Poe-profs or Flat-earthers, you name it.

Fortunately,  most of us move on with the baby still in our arms and not lying there blue on the floor with the bathwater.

Most of us also examine our lives in privacy too, I might add, even if we also love frisbee and beer. And the best poetry, of course, remains private in public.

Christopher Woodman

Ich weiss nicht, was soll es bedeuten dass ich so traurig bin

 

Lyric Poetry

Sung to the lyre, it has a certain fascination. American lyrics from Irish ballads to Emily Dickinson to Annie Finch. Whitman, that lyric maelstrom. What about Heine? Could any man write these lyrics now? Is lyric poetry only written by women today? And then there’s Dylan (Bob) with the “lowest form” of lyric: the song lyric.

Most poetry is lyric, isn’t it?

W.F.Kammann

.

………………………………….Harlem

………………………………….What happens to a dream deferred?

………………………………….Does it dry up
………………………………….like a raisin in the sun?
………………………………….Or fester like a sore—
………………………………….And then run?
………………………………….Does it stink like rotten meat?
………………………………….Or crust and sugar over—
………………………………….like a syrupy sweet?

………………………………….Maybe it just sags
………………………………… like a heavy load.

………………………………….Or does it explode?

………………………………………………………………..Langston Hughes

.


FOR CHRISTOPHER WOODMAN

Because I Remember You

Because I remember you,
How can you, then, forget me?
Separation divided us two,
But this division creates three:
Our past with its helpless memory,
The two of us as we stand now,
And my image of you—idea forever
Unresolved!—existing, and though it were
My image and my image alone,
It is you, by the stream, happy and known.

………………………………………Thomas Brady

POP GOES THE WEASEL

Trying to link esoteric with libido, I thought —

…………….All around the cobbler’s bench
…………….The monkey chased the weasel
…………….The monkey thought ‘twas all in fun
…………….“Pop, goes the weasel!”

Whether it’s peek-a-boo or Pandora’s box or the apple in Eden, the hidden and the forbidden are part of the danger and delight of life. The surprise, even (and especially) recurrent, is a nearly endless source of joy to children. Pandora’s box postulates a time, like Eden, when there was no evil in the world. It imagines that the parts of experience we don’t want to face can be hidden away safely and yield a world of constant pleasure.

But curiosity….

This Jack-in-the-Box had the lovely yin-yang and the French tickler Punch to help the linkages. The tornado like a father hunched over the bed. The sublimation of desire; the substitution of wisdom for a hot date or wet dream. The sterile oneness of the good libido; the wetted beast of the other. We sense danger in the dark, behind the trees, around the corner. We chase our bliss and corner it thinking it’s all in fun and then……“Pop, goes the weasel!”

By the way, as I was told the story, Hope remained in the bottom of the box as a consolation, but later they told me Hope was the last and greatest evil of all.

W.F.Kammann

FOR BHANU KAPIL: ON TIME & ART DECO


The old hand-carved Goethanum in Dornach, Switzerland, destroyed by fire in 1923.

Bhanu Kapil,
Quite seriously, we do appreciate your noticing, and hope you’ll feel free to come in whenever you think either we’ve lost it or got something worthwhile on the hook. We’ve treated you harshly, for sure, but schools of poetry have never been nice to each other, and if you think about it we’re cheerleaders compared to the axe men operating in the poetry rags at the time of John Keats or E.A.Poe, or even fearful little hatchet men like Travis.

But you are making heavy going of it on Harriet, for sure, and you and your friends are emerging as not only conservative but passé!

Here’s a huge historical parallel to back up that statement.

Goethe emerged as a giant of almost everything at the beginning of the 19th Century, and changed forever the western perception of composition and color. Indeed, his seminal input altered the whole thrust of European art away from delineation, representation, and order toward a shimmering new spiritual dimension. As an example, even architecture moved away from it’s right-hand man, the right angle, an unnatural design element that had up to that point lifted human structures out of nature, up over the trees, and was preparing it for the modern skyscraper. The Goethe impulse softened up the right angle so that organic forms began to appear in every detail from the leafy scrolls on your mirror to the early round box for your radio — i.e. Art Deco.

But that came much later.

In the latter part of his own century, Goethe’s impulse reached a kind of apotheosis in the work of the Austrian scientist and philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. Initially entrusted with the formation of the Goethe Archives, a huge task, he was secretly working late hours down in the stacks as a closet-theosophist. And when he came out and published “Knowledge of Higher Worlds,” he utterly astonished everyone at the time, and his movement became the cutting edge for thinkers — recently we had occasion to link Yeats with Aleister Crowley through The Golden Dawn, for example, all part and parcel. Steiner’s own most “modern” of movements came to be called Anthroposophy, but today most people have never even heard of it.

Except for the schools, Waldorf Schuler, which still remain a viable alternative in most Germanophone communities and are right at this moment enjoying a huge new interest in the U.S. — even if the architecture is embarrassing.

And to be sure, even for contemporary followers, some aspects of this movement are intensely embarrassing because the fundamental design elements now look very much like kitsch! The aversion to the right angle in the architecture and furniture of the 30s, for example, that’s just retro. And what started out as the philosophical and religious cutting edge, Spiritual Science, now smacks of sceances, table rappings, and conjuring up previous lives — and the art just says “Art Deco.”

With all due respect, you and your friends are the same, Bhanu — like Anthroposophists you and your “post-modernist” colleagues, or whatever you call yourselves now, are convinced you’re the contemporary cats whisker whereas in reality you’re just a backwater. Yes, you’re starting to look just as dated, naive and parochial as Steiner’s most noble edifice, the Goetheanum!

Pacé Goethe and Steiner, great men who took great risks but in the long run failed to lead the revival they were so sure they were heralding, largely because of the slavish imitation of their followers. Pacé your Modernist ancestors in the same way, a few of whom were great too but who you’re now dragging down into the mire of repetition, absurdity and oblivion.

You’re movement is already a footnote, and in the poetry eyes of the world a very brief and silly one.

And with a beautiful name like you’ve got, Bhanu Kapil, you’ve likely got some models of sublime artistic endurance in your heritage. How could you opt for something so limited, as if “new” meant better?

What’s happened to your superior philosophy of the unimaginable dimensions of time?

Christopher Woodman

FOR FRANZ WRIGHT


L
……………………………………………….Liberation, Vendredi, 19  Janvier 1990

A small poem that dares to say what you probably meant when you came here blazing, Franz Wright — for almost certainly such anger was the result of a divine touch in you that does not allow you to compromise with anything or anyone.

Also a poem that has something to say, so it’s for Thomas Brady too, who will hate it.

For the record, this poem has been rejected by many of the top poetry reviews and journals in America over the years, the editors usually saying something like: “…drawn to the language in ‘Leonardo Amongst Women’… find myself distanced by the more didactic second half.” Or from another angle: “We can appreciate the craft and passion of your poem, but not the loss and worshipful longing it is steeped in.” The poem remains unpublished to this day.

……………………………..LEONARDO AMONGST WOMEN

…………………………………..The bulk not the vectors
…………………………………..is what old Merlin draws,
…………………………………..the wash of his own weight
…………………………………..shot through silk in motion.

…………………………………..Thus the kneeling girl that
…………………………………..God wants even more than he,
…………………………………..sheen of eggplant fish and
…………………………………..satin light on rose paper.

…………………………………..Yet even the new faithful
…………………………………..schooled to ask too much
…………………………………..study not the secret in the folds
…………………………………..but just the pale hands clasped
…………………………………..in prayer, the inviolable eyes
…………………………………..raised to praise everything but
…………………………………..the veiled act taking place
…………………………………..preposterously below—
…………………………………..precisely where the raw clay plug
…………………………………..cradled in that lone man’s hope
…………………………………..lingering turned, sweetly bound,
…………………………………..dignified in clinging drapes
…………………………………..and tight swaddling clouts
…………………………………..the immaculate desire to be
…………………………………..defined not by what we do but
…………………………………..like a mute maiden what she is
…………………………………..wound in her cocoon.

…………………………………..And so with unfurled wings
…………………………………..folding back like perfumed letters
…………………………………..in the dark, virgin lips signing
…………………………………..in the last low light and every
…………………………………..flute and hollow, genius spins
…………………………………..the miracle of thighs with down
…………………………………..so light it only lifts to knowledge
…………………………………..stroked the other way, leading
…………………………………..the man’s hand of God
…………………………………..to know those things
…………………………………..it never sees or ever thinks
…………………………………..but only dies to dream.

…………………………………..And if we priests and doctors
…………………………………..cannot bow our heads to live
…………………………………..draped amongst the women thus
…………………………………..we cannot hold God’s absence
…………………………………..live nor like the genius maiden
…………………………………..be the empty vessel it desires—

…………………………………..and then we only die to dream
…………………………………..no more—
…………………………………..and all our saints are peeping toms,*
…………………………………..and all our gold, lead.

………………………………………………………………“Les études de draperies,”
………………………………………………………………..Musée du Louvre 1990

______________________
This poem is based on a small Leonardo da Vinci exhibition I saw in the new underground gallery at the Louvre in 1990 called “Les études de draperies” — I have carried the original pages from the great Parisian left-wing newspaper, ‘Liberation’ (Vendredi, 19  Janvier 1990), with me ever since, the event meant so much to me.

The exhibition consisted of a series of experimental sketches in which the artist wound damp muslin strips around small, featureless lumps of clay and then drew just the wraps — one of the most eloquent demonstrations of the fullness of emptiness ever conceived in the mind of man but widely experienced, one suspects, by women.

* NOTE added December 4th, 2018: In the version of the poem discussed in this thread the last two lines read: “and all our saints are fools,/ and all our gold is lead.” I always annotate that discrepancy when it leads to confusion in the following discussion.

« Older entries