GALILEO’S SECRET continued:

Come on, Monday, you’re not good at riddles? You’re so good at reading riddles you can no longer read plain facts, what’s more see the value of meaning. Face to face with simplicity, you beg for your life indeed!

Christopher

Posted by EXPATRIATE POET: Wed Feb 28, 2007 11.05 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

Christopher,
So I’m missing your larger point.

There is a “woman” in your poem which is meant to open my eyes.

I am now in your doghouse because I poked fun at a girl.

Are you talking about Aimee N. or the woman in your poem?

Could you be more direct?

I really do want to know.

Not all souls are enlightened in the same way. I’m afraid I may never be enlightened, but if you could help here, I’d really appreciate it.

Don’t be polite. Let me have it.

Yours,
Monday

Posted by MONDAY LOVE: Wed Feb 28, 2007 10:12 pm
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

Monday,
In quoting your Feb 23rd remarks about how you always try to convey the truth “nakedly,” I omitted the subsequent paragraph–which indeed may have been the reason why so many dislocations took place in the exchanges that followed.

This is what you went on to say:

There is only one reason why I would clothe my argument in an additional argument, or ‘poetize’ my argument to you right now, and this reason is not a positive one, but a negative one; it is a reason entirely based on human fallibility. That is, if I feared you, or if I longed to deceive you in some way, or I felt that you would never understand or comprehend the essence of what I am saying, or if I wanted something from you, or felt overwhelmed by some emotion, or I was trying to impress you with word-play or rhetorical ability, only then, would I add to my writing any feature at all which could be termed ‘poetic.’

So there we have the problem in a nutshell. For you, Monday Love, poetry is never more than “an additional argument” in an informed discussion. Poetic discourse is not only not a positive method of communication for Monday Love, but is based entirely on what he calls “human fallibility.” In other words it’s a lesser vehicle for those who are incapable of saying what they mean in plain prose.

Inferior, inadequate, incapable as it might be, the little poem “The Meaning and Value of Repression” is stating unequivocally that however BIG your discourse appears to be, there is always something else out there that knows how to deal with it even better than all that Mister Bluster!

So the battle lines are drawn now, and we know that Monday Love is going to go for the naked truth every time. Indeed he very confidently asserted just above that there is in fact no other truth but the empirical/imperial dick–which is how men have always felt, I guess, and why women have testified since time in memorial they’re so slow!

Dear Monday Love, sadly enough, poet/woman that I am, I can only let you, in your own words, have it yet again like this:

~

……IN PRAISE OF THE STILL UNWEIGHED*

………..O, how wrong you celestial bridegroom
………..birds and gatecrashers have it
………..stripping off the dark, secret wraps
………..that lighten length and breadth
………..and scenery on earth—
………..the furtive root grabs downward
………..only because great tentacles of hot
………..rival might lift our silt-lapped
………..limbs much harder still,
………..like sunlight
………..prying up the whole orchard’s sap!

………..No, the weight of things is just
………..another flight,
………..like Leda’s modest thighs
………..giving plain wings the chance
………..to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.

………..As the arrow by the playful string
………..the heady soul is ever fired by
………..the archly absent body—
………..draped arabesques of trembling skin
………..and shining pubis so defying gravity
………..even the most upright Jove
………..or holy Galileo
………..bearded like our father’s angel
………..tumbles to the maiden yet again,
………..so hotly does the dreaming quiver
………..fletched in abstract plumage
………..hunger
………..even for a single pomegranate kiss
………..that scatters weight
………..like rubies!

….*Note: at the time the poem was entitled “The Meaning and Value of Repression.”

I admire you, Monday Love, I really do—and I’d love to know who you are as well, with your big heart and armored voice. Indeed, I feel sure you know exactly what I’m talking about but feel you must guard yourself at all costs against the possibility there might be nothing left to say.

You say speech lords it over writing—I say, speaking as a poet, true, but in much the same way that men lord it over women all over the world!

So here’s my metaphor: I live in a part of the world where women have no rights at all, where domestic violence, including rape, is not a crime, where a man can take as many wives as he can afford but a woman cannot sue for divorce, even on the grounds of failure to contribute to the support of abandoned children, and where 75% of husbands are regularly in the brothels to boot, coming home with Aids as the prize. Yet ask any man, woman or child in this culture, who is in control, Mum or Dad? Everyone knows the answer—and everyone feels sorry for the son.

And the irony of ironies is that you, Monday Love, good Son of Urizen that you are, can write with breathless ease about the delicious female “schtick,” as you call it, in Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Miracle Fruit, yet are tongue-tied face to face with “Galileo’s secret!”

Christopher

P.S. Dear Monday Love,

I could list ahead of time all the literalist reductios I know you will introduce to make what you will surely call my “arguments” look silly. You’ll ask me if I’m suggesting that women read/write/talk about poetry better than men, for example, or that women are deeper/more spiritual/more perceptive than men, or that you have to be a woman to understand what I’m talking about.

My answer to all those sort of questions is simple, but it comes in two parts: firstly, in this day and age what I’m saying need have nothing to do with gender any more, mine, yours, or anyone else’s. Secondly, and even more importantly in this post-modern quagrangle, I’m not making an argument but poetry!

If you want to answer you have to answer not me but the two poems– because it’s not about my schtick but their shlock!

C.

EXPATRIATE POET replied: Thu Mar 01, 2007 12:28 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

Dear Christopher,
Well, now we are getting somewhere. You are beginning to make me understand. I knew you would, because you are a person who wants to understand; I could tell that about you.

I freely admit I am hyper-suspicious of Poetry—also that I am one of the few living persons today who pursues aesthetic wisdom within the actual context of Socrates/Plato. Call me crazy, but that’s what I’m doing; that’s where I’m coming from–adapting as much as I can to the present day so as not to be dogmatic–and I am sincere; I am not waving Plato around to be a rhetorical bully, I really believe this stuff–and I think you got stung, you weren’t prepared for that, but that’s OK, I know you were hurt, but you can take it, and now you are coming at me and showing me who you are–spectacle and understanding are battling it out, as they usually will do, and I’m curious to see who wins, in this instance.

“A large brown phallus pressed against the pane” and “shocking highbrow diners in a museum cafeteria” while the air outside “lifts up her skirts” to reveal her genitals, called “Galileo’s secret,” is spectacle.

That is far different from this:

………..Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
………..As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
………..Are melted into air, into thin air;
………..And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
………..The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
………..The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
………..Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
………..And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
………..Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
………..As dreams are made on, and our little life
………..Is rounded with a sleep.

There is no spectacle here. It is all anti-spectacle. It is august understanding.

As I said, spectacle does have its place, but it belongs to the fancy, not the imagination. The child who is bored at the museum may imagine a giant looking in the windows, a naked one to fright the morals of blue-haired women and old men in suits. But such a thing can only exist in the mind of the boy; it is not real. But ‘solemn temples’ and ‘the great globe itself’ are real, even though, they too, will ‘fade,’ but this ‘fading,’ too, is real.

Now, the naked giant might be ‘real’ in the sense that it represents the power of sex, and the symbol does have a universality which we can understand, but it might also represent a thousand other things, or it might be plain spectacle–there’s the rub: spectacle in poetry demands the understanding come to its rescue, and so everything is ruined; the spectacle cannot exist on its own, for the poetic reader naturally finds himself straining for something more –what does this mean?– and so the spectacle is not finally spectacle, because it needs the understanding’s help and the understanding’s annoyed because it hates to be used in this way, and it’s really not sure how to behave, for after all this is spectacle’s turf, not its own.

So I think your earnest desire to express the truth in poetry, with poetry, to reply to my philosophical doubts with poetry itself, is the act of a kamikaze fighter, it’s a great sacrifice on your part, an act of desperation and love, a madness, if you will, you are a poet and you are mad.

You sacrifice poetry in a gallant, explicit manner; you put it on the altar and chop it up. You kill it for the spurt of blood, for the lust of the shock and the spectacle. I don’t think your aim is the silent, starry contemplation of a Galileo; you are rushing up to the wall with both guns blazing.

For normally, the poet uses guile and deception and ceremony, the insidious tricks of the trade to draw the reader in; one assembles an audience, one sends out flyers and notices, one gets them in the planetarium in a ceremonial way, a book signing, a classroom reading, or some event–why look at how Shakespeare does it: he puts his poetry in the mouth of an actor, upon the stage, telling the audience directly, “this is all fake, y’know!”

You, on the other hand, insert the poetry of spectacle into your speech, into an exchange with me– who plays philosophy slowly, sadly, like a whispering lute, and who keeps his ear always to the ground. You do this, not because you love poetry, but because you need to sacrifice it on the altar of understanding; you are a priest in the middle of a ceremony, the painted glass of a thousand and one tales wrapping your tower round.

You live in a place in which the customs are strange, etc. etc. I think cultural differences tend to be exaggerated. People are the same everywhere. In political extremity, in luxury and ease, all human beings respond accordingly. All the races are the same. All people are the same. I will not be convinced otherwise. You wrote, “where a man can take as many wives as he can afford…” It is the same everywhere. Hollywood stars in America have as many women as they wish. If one has money, one simply does not obey the morals of the middle class.

Frankly I don’t care where Aimée is from or what gender she is, or what she looks like; it is data for book sleeves and I mentioned it because it will always be important to publishers and the whole worldly crew; we should not deny what is real, of course, how can we? As for her poetry, her strengths are accessibility and passion; I don’t think she uses the language particularly well; I find her closer to soap opera than Shakespeare, but she is better than most.

Your poetry is very masculine and chest-beating and muscular–but it is like 99% of contemporary poetry in that it is obscure dazzle. There are riches within the obscurity, no doubt, if the reader takes the time to study it, but poetry is not study! Poetry’s job is to be lazy and pretty. Aimée’s strength is very simple: she is clear. She is naked. Do you know what Aimée (not the person, the poet) would do if she were here right now? She would laugh in both of our faces.

The more direct your poetry is, the more you get away from human fallibility as the reason for the (your) poetry. This fact is an unspoken law which every reader senses unconsciously. Clarity of expression (and this requires honesty) brings all the drama back to where it belongs: in the poet-as-prospero-within-the-poem.

I am not saying you are totally obscure, Christopher. I am only warning you that you should not love poetry (as heroic ammunition) quite as much as you do, even though I admire your impulse, I must confess.

Poetry is getting better. The quasi-religious pomposity of Mark Strand is giving way to the clear, sane, window of Billy Collins. A healthy reversal is occurring. The poet’s mind is learning to get out of the way.

I’m not saying Billy Collins is the Holy Grail, or the goal of 2,000 years of poetry; in the relatively small window of time and place which is late 20th century American poetry I think the pendulum swinging from pretentious, obscure dreck to something which is grounded, observant, witty and comprehensible is a good tendency, that’s all.

All poets and poetry, even the best, are one step from the abyss. Collins misses often, and misses badly.

And Expat’s poetry is good too, by the way. I’m glad he’s here .

MONDAY LOVE replied: Thu Mar 01, 2007 10:33 pm
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

Dear Monday Love,
And I’m glad you’re here too, for sure.

I came to the site at the end of November after a disastrous bout of disillusionment which left me gasping, to put it politely. You all at Foetry picked me up nicely, and made use of some of my comments in a useful way too, and that was a god-send. And though I quit once in total exasperation with you all, I’m back now–and you, Monday Love, have welcomed me personally, so I feel at home here at last!

I’ve read your last post with great care, Monday Love, and could launch into a riff of my own, particularly on your take on the Shakespeare, but that would be succumbing to the bad habit of this site–to veer away from talking about poetry to talking about talking about poetry. And I’ll turn off my own lights if I begin to do that myself I feel sure.

So I’d like to protest Monday Love’s assertion that my little parable-poem, “The Meaning and Value of Repression” is “obscure,” which it’s not, though there is a distinct possibility it may be saying something he’s never thought of before. The poem is very easy, in fact–as Monday Love said himself, and I quite agree it could have been thought up by a child–or at least by a pubescent child, let’s say–with a big itch!

No, what I want to do is to steer Monday Love (and anyone else who’s interested) toward looking at what the poem is rather than what anyone else would like it to be. I certainly won’t try to tell you what the poem “means,” because if I felt I could do that I wouldn’t have been honest to have offered the poem to you in the first place–which I did only to facilitate the discussion about empirical evidence vis a vis poetic evidence. Indeed, had I been able to express what the poem had to say in plain prose I should have done so from the start–otherwise I’d just be fooling around with your hormones!

So here are a few observations Monday Love hasn’t yet made–and his failure to do so would seem to me disingenuous if not positively malicious–i.e. would suggest he doesn’t really want to see what, in fact, the poem is saying.

Look, the poem is extremely easy–and fun too (“spectacle” for sure!)–but for three glaring anomalies, the title, the address to the high-brow diner/reader, and the introduction of Galileo Galilei just at the moment you’re expecting the full Monty–or should I say the full Matilda! Indeed, without those anomalies the poem would be puerile–which could be introduced as yet another anomaly, of course, to be sure.

So let’s have it, Monday Love–1.) meaning, 2.) value, 3.) repression and  4.) Galileo Galilei–that’ll be enough, as the other anomalies will immediately fall into place along with them.

I said at the end of my last post: “If you want to answer you have to answer not me but the two poems–because it’s not about my schtick but their shlock!”

We’ve got just one of the poems in our life-class just now–naked as the day she was born (though she’s still under-age, I confess–I’ve only been working on this poem for 14 years!). She’s much too young to represent “the power of sex,” as Monday Love suggested–she’s far too unselfconscious for that as well, and if that were all, why bother?

(I’ll tell you why this poem is NOT about “the power of sex” in another post, but some brave individual out there has got to face the facts of those anomalies before I’ll entertain you anymore!)

Christopher

EXPATRIATE POET wrote: Fri Mar 02, 2007 1:16 pm.
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

And because I know you’re going to disappoint me and talk rather about Mark Strand and Billy Collins, I’ll just have to empty my last clip into the crowd!

So here’s why it’s NOT about the “power of sex” at all, Monday Love, and why you’ll just be running if you continue to insist it is.

Recently a friend told me that some Canadian scientists had at last cracked one of the world’s most intractable mysteries, the exact function of the stone circles at Stonehenge. Apparently there was an article in The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine showing that Stonehenge represents the female genitalia in precise, anatomical detail. It’s got an outer circle, an inner circle, an altar and an open place in the middle—in other words, my friend told me, just like a woman!

But so do most churches, offices, and police stations, I told him, the White House, the Taj Mahal, Yankee Stadium, most airport terminals and even my bank–even my own study has got strong outer walls, inner walls delicately lined with sensitive books, a strategically placed desk with a mouse on it, and, most important of all, an open space in the middle through which I pass each day in my search for meaning and hope. And my life is enriched by countless other female artifacts as well, I told him—the handle on my coffee cup is very well-placed for one thing, and I feel really in control behind the wheel of my tiny, 800cc Daihatsu Mira–which you’ve probably never even heard of, though it’s the sexiest car in the world when I’ve got my hand on the shift!

So what if Stonehenge resembles the female genitalia—any poet could have told those ‘scientists’ that–any druid, any drunk! Because the mystery is actually the other way around, isn’t it? Those who would know the meaning of such things must start from the obvious and work toward the inconceivable, surely a much more daunting task. For example, I want to know what great truths men and women carry around in the anatomical structures of their own bodies and, more precisely, what their organs of sex tell us about, for want of a better word, the nature of God? For sex is compelling not just because it gives such a kick but because it brings us all right to the heart of meaning and value and, for a brief moment, we can know at first hand angels, ambrosia, and a world without loss or ambivalence.

Wouldn’t that have been enough for the builders of Stonehenge, to get you there, or for Chartres, the most female of all the great cathedrals, or even that most womanly Washington Monument—have you seen it from the air?

To say any human structure is just about sex is plain old Hugh Hefner talk–which is fine if you’re paid at that level of journalism. But, if not, the question should rather be, what is sex about? In other words, what do these flickering shadows in the cave of flesh, or of stone, or of words, tell us about reality?

NOW DON’T YOU DARE TO LET ME DOWN OR ELSE!

EXPATRIATE POET continued: March 02, 2007, 07:24 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

And is “Dover Beach” about the power of the sea, or “The Far Field” about the power of car batteries, or “The Wild Iris” about the power of the sun?

I’m so afraid you’re going to be facetious–I couldn’t bear it!

EXPATRIATE POET yet again: March 02, 2007, 07:59 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

Christopher,
I promise to be solemn and not ribald.

But first I do want to say that “Talking about talking about poetry” should not be underestimated.

“Talking about talking about poetry” –what is this, but philosophy, finally?     One looks at a star, not directly, but at its ray.  I like to creep up on poetry indirectly this way sometimes.

Okay, let us do a close, respectful reading of your poem.

Your poem came to me with an introduction, proposed by you, apparently written by me:

“If I want to convey to you right now some truth, I will do everything I can to put the argument before you as nakedly and clear as I can possibly present it.”

But let’s be clear about it. I wrote “some truth.”  I did not specify which truth.  So I’m not sure your poem represents the naked argument itself or the naked argument of some truth, or, the naked argument of Truth.  Knowing you, I’m going to guess the latter, but as I analyze the poem I will reserve the right to change my mind.

Here we go.

First, the title:

“THE MEANING AND VALUE OF REPRESSION” [Note: this was the title of the poem at the time.]

According to this title, “Repression” has a meaning (a repressed one?) and a value.

I wonder if this is a quote from Freud?  No matter.   When does the repressed have value?   To repress is to hide and hiding is what creatures do all the time to protect themselves.   So repression protects us.   But the word repression has negative baggage; it implies hiding without a good or noble reason; it implies human shame, a hiding that is almost forced upon an individual; it also denotes a hiding of something; the creature itself does not hide, but a part of the creature hides, or, desires are hidden.   Does repression refer to good desires which are hidden, or bad desires which are hidden?   If good desires are hidden, then repression belongs to pathology, but if bad desires are hidden, then repression might have “value.” But if bad desires exist, and need to be hidden, this is pathological, too.  What value could repression have, then?

Let us assume that bad desires must exist, and that those desires must be hidden.  This, then, is repression’s value–and meaning.  Meaning is value in Freudian terms.   Who knows the meaning?   Does the patient know it, and not the patient’s friends?   Does the doctor know it, but not the patient?   Let us assume that Woodman, the poet, is the doctor, and I, the reader, am the patient.   For now, the doctor knows the value and meaning of repression, and I, the reader, by reading his poem will find it out. Since the title is part of the poem, by reading the title, and asking myself questions, I, the reader, already have arrived at what I feel is an answer before I have started the poem:  Bad feelings must exist, those bad feelings must be hidden. This is repression’s value–and its meaning.  Or, perhaps the meaning is different from the value?  Let me assume, as reader, that I do know repression’s value, but now, as I read the poem, I will discover repression’s meaning.

I also cannot forget that the poem was a response in a dialogue in which I asked for ‘naked argument,’ so I cannot forget about this possible ‘higher meaning.’

Let us look at the first line.  It asks a question, “Who’s this naked giant”

The action of the first part of the poem is the giant looks in “your window” with “phallus pressed up against the pane” which “the shocked members gape at as their meals get laid upon table?”  That’s the first question, the first part of the poem.

………..Who’s this naked giant then
.…….peering in at your window

………..with the huge brown phallus
..………pressed up against the pane,

………..the half-tumescent glans
………..like some rude Cyclops’s tongue

………..or thick-set paleolithic fruit
………..in puris naturabilis displayed

………..and mounted on the slippery
………..slide the shocked members

………..gape at as their meals
………..get laid upon the table?

Then, the giant is described as having “no shame,” thus, no repression. He is “towering” above trees and also dwarfs “cultivated thoughts.”  This is the second part of the poem, the “sly” giant dwarfing “cultivated thoughts.”  Cultivated thoughts = repressed thoughts?

………..He has no shame, this sly
………..weighted thing towering

………..above the high tree tops—
………..the great trunk of his gnarled

………..sex and trumpet foreskin
………..making all the cultivated

………..thoughts that dine in private
………..so much fast-food small-talk.

The third part of the poem shows the “air” responding with “delight” to the male giant and “hiking up…skirts to reveal Galileo’s secret.”

………..But oh, how the air out there
………..shines attendant with delight,

………..hiking up those warm kirtled
………..skirts to reveal Galileo’s secret

The fourth and last part reveals to us that Galileo’s secret is “so profound only such obscene dimensions ever fathom it”   In this case mere size itself is obscene and these “obscene dimensions” are able to “fathom” Galileo’s secret.

………..so profound only such obscene
………..dimensions ever fathom it!

So these are the four parts of the poem.

I will now analyze the poem.

(to be continued)

MONDAY LOVE replied: March 02, 2007, 01:10 pm
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

The poem is pretty simple then: Naked giant towers over, or dwarfs, ‘cultivated thoughts’ and inspires the giantess “air” to reveal “Galileo’s secret,” the “obscene [large] dimensions” of the giants enabling one to “fathom” it.

So size alone enables one to fathom Galileo’s secret.  And yet it is not just size, but “obscene” size, which gives it a sexual or moral “dimension.”

It reminds me of Auden’s poem “The Door”–“simply by being tiny, it made her [Enormous Alice] cry.”

The mere physicality of a thing, the mere dimension, the mere size, the mere length of an object, this is the sort of profound-yet-simple consideration which challenges the greatest minds: one sees it in the writings of Poe, and yes, in the writings of Galileo, on the shape and scale of Dante’s inferno in an early paper by him, and in Galileo’s last paper, “Two New Sciences,” in the form of a Platonic dialogue, where he invents ‘scaling laws’ and invents modern physics by discovering geometry and physics are the same.  O, brilliant, Mr. Woodman!   Galileo famously proclaimed that if an animal were increased in size it would need to have relatively thicker bones or it would collapse.   This surely must be “Galileo’s secret” in your poem!   But would the air need to obey the same ‘scaling laws?’  I do not think so.

Or, is this “Galileo’s secret?”   From Galileo’s letter to the Prince of Venice:

“I will keep this invention [Galileo’s telescope in which he discovered the four moons of Jupiter] a great secret and only show it to Your Highness.”

The telescope, Galileo explains, will help in warfare, to spot enemy ships from afar, as he talks of a “study of distances.”

The four moons of Jupiter (and a satellite is flying past Jupiter as we speak!) are named for the god Jupiter’s “clandestine loves,” Io, Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede.    Is this “Galileo’s secret?”

There is so much to consider!

1. We have repression in the example of Galileo only ‘showing his secret’ to the Prince of Venice.

2. We have Galileo’s ‘scaling laws’ in which he discovers physical truths in describing size and weight and strength.

3. We have the telescope which increases the size of things.

4. We have Jupiter’s moons, and all that symbolizes.

5.  Are large genitalia more obscene than small genitalia?   Yes!

But when the size becomes such that it dwarfs human beings, the moral obscenity is replaced by the awe-inspiring, so that moral concerns evolve into something else, by simple nature of size and bulk.   So ‘repression’ and ‘naked argument’ are stood on their head, in a way?

So, Christopher, are you saying that by asking for the ‘naked truth’ I was asking for something more complex (and amazing) than I bargained for?

I am reminded by Poe’s description in his Eureka of the sheer mighty size of the universe, and Poe even describes a hypothetical angel suddenly coming upon the planet Jupiter, and the planets’ size, its velocity in space, its speed and dimensions, just blowing the angel’s mind; it’s a wonderful moment.

Am I getting closer at all, Christopher?

Thanks,

and I am gaining new respect for you as a thinker,

Monday

MONDAY LOVE again: March 02, 2007, 04:04 pm
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

Dear Monday Love,
Truly you’re wonderful—if Socrates were reincarnated he would sound exactly like you! Indeed, you’re writing your way here into a dialogue that really should be worked up into an object lesson for all young philosophers, all young poets, and ALL critics, regardless of age. Because what you’re doing is laying both language and history bare so that one can at last begin to think straight, freed from the shackles of both!

And I put it to you that this is what poetry can do, and why it can be such a valuable human enterprise. You, Monday Love, have the rare gift to write the process down, but any humble reader can pass through those stages too toward his or her own meaning unassisted, even in  a flash at times, even in just one reading—and I mean that, for the meaning of a worthwhile poem is the meaning that arises in a worthwhile reader, not the meaning it has locked up in itself, that it owns to be prised out and exposed!

That’s why good poetry, at least in my view, is not didactic but conducive. It facilitates meaning, doesn’t encapsulate it.

The word ‘didactic’ usually implies that there is something specific to teach—when you follow a Socratic dialogue, for example, you have the sense that the genial master knows exactly what he’s doing step by step, that he has seen through a misapprehension, has decided to redress it, and knows precisely how to unravel it or expose it as the case may be. I myself have no such confidence in my intellectual powers, and couldn’t write a poem that did that even if I wanted too. Indeed, I feel unusually stupid for someone with so many degrees and who speaks so many pretty words to the contrary,  as my preliterate wife constantly reminds me–and I have no doubt whatever that you, good Monday Love, would say the same about yourself. We’re in this game not because we know a lot but because we know nothing!

That’s the main reason I turned to writing poetry at the age of 50, to learn something for myself for a change. For as I struggle away with my various poems, and with most that means for years and years and years, the lucky ones gradually sort me out even as they find their own voices and sense of identity, and when such poems are complete, I have the sense, almost always, that they  know far more than I do for one thing, and that they’re entirely trustworthy for another. When finished such poems never let me down by letting me get away with pat answers, for example, but make me go on thinking and thinking and thinking—as does this funny little poem we’re considering.

And I want to say right here that I chose it for this dialogue between us not because it’s my favourite or most accomplished poem, and I promise you it’s neither, but because it happened to be at a certain moment spot on for where we were. And that spot involved TWO dynamics, I now realize: one was our ability to keep in touch with each other and the other, children that we are, to have enough fun to keep the game going. The sex did the latter, and the presence of that great soul and tragic illuminatus, Galileo Galilei, the other.

You’re a wonderful writer, Monday Love—you truly do move easily as one who has learned to dance and frequently do, despite your Herculean efforts to the contrary, write poetry—”spectacle” poetry, o.k,  but even that not all the time! But you never suffer fools easily, that’s for sure–which is another reason why we needed all that sex. I had to cover up my own small nakedness or you’d have flayed it alive!

Having written that encomium, I hope Monday Love will allow me to say that “The Meaning and Value of Repression” does not, in fact, have a specific message to teach, but is rather like a freak-show mirror— good at tricking self-satisfied readers into seeing through their own high-brow assumptions about the meaning of things. Because the fact is that we human beings, as soon as we think we KNOW something, close our minds to what we don’t know and thus hop straight out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Take poor old Galileo, for example, or even better the Church that opposed him. When he looked at those little moons tooling around Jupiter it was self-evident to him that the earth was moving—and, one thing leadiing on to another, he came to the conclusion that the earth was moving around the sun. Indeed, he became attached to the idea too, and went on to beat his whole culture about the head with his lens enhanced schtick.

Well, as we all know, the Church Fathers knew just the opposite and, more than that, had in their possession evidence far better than his—and not only evidence but both the authority of history and the temporal power to endorse it. So they said no, you’re wrong, the earth is the center of the universe–because that’s how God made it, not you, you klutz!  What you see is just a trick of your own little peak-show, your own little, cheap little, paste-and-glitter kaleidoscope! How you see the world just reveals how warped is your vision!

As every schoolboy knows, the Inquisition went on to repress Galileo’s research and, in the end, the great man went on to repress it in himself as well. And they were both right, in a sense, and both equally wrong!

But Galileo was bright and, more than that, he was wise enough to embrace the paradox of his situation. He didn’t stay hung up on one side or the other, not him, and I feel sure he found his way through in the privacy of his exile. And I say that with huge respect for him too, because I fail so miserably in embracing the same conundrum in my own life. I’m disconsolate, in fact—I’m devastated, wiped out altogether by the lack of empirical evidence that there’s any meaning or value in life at all! Sometimes I manage to live as if I had faith, but at heart, alone in my abandoned laboratory, I always know I have none, and that, like most people, I exist in a state of permanent repression.

“Yet still it moves,” Galileo is reputed to have whispered after he’d given it up–and so do I at my best, like when I can understand this poem and in so doing am embraced by that shimmering air. That’s why I’m so grateful for this dialogue with you, Monday Love. But I can’t take that for granted, and perhaps later today I won’t understand a word of it. Just gone like the wind it’ll be.

And even when you set the most obvious trap for me, hardly bothering to brush even a few desultory leaves over your razor-sharp jaws, I continue to believe in the path ahead—just as when you ask me, “So, Christopher, are you saying that by asking for the ‘naked truth’ I am asking for something more complex (and amazing) than I bargained for?” I answer, gratefully even now, of course, of course– “YES!”

Christopher Woodman

EXPATRIATE POET wrote: March 03, 2007, 12:51 pm
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

And as to your Prince of Venice citation, you’re way ahead of me as usual. His “great secret” is almost certainly all there–but then again, how should I know?

(You could check out my other poem, “Old Foreplay for New Women Including Men,” to find out about other clandestine loves that didn’t get moons named after them. You’ll also find a few more details there on why Galileo is sometimes described as “holy” even when he was such a hell-raiser (razer? razor?)!)

Dear Monday Love, this morsel stands for so much I didn’t thank you for, which is huge!

Christopher Woodman

EXPATRIATE POET continued: March 03, 2007, 03:24:26 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

~

Christopher,
Here’s to our ignorance, as we keep looking for the secret.

Priesthoods with dogmas, letterings and official seals–religious, secular academic, government, aesthetic, business, scientific–will oppose spirits who question too vigorously.

The true artist lives in lonely doubt.

The true artist knows it is more important to dare to think as God would think (and the daring is almost as important as the thinking) than to attempt to be God or wipe out God, or get caught up in whether or not he or anyone else is at the physical center of the universe.

Many great scientists, such as Newton and Galileo, have been devout and too much has been made of science v. religion; these arguments today are based on spite and not the true enquiring spirit.

The beautiful woman who is ice to our desires was once a proper symbol for the scientist’s inquiry: she knew better, but the poet-scientist’s longing never ceased, though it changed from lust into wonder and respect.  So Dante dared to imagine hell (lit by the master-light of his Beatrice) and Galileo took up the scientific question of size and shape in Dante’s actual hell and tumbled into Dante’s geometry and invented modern physics (because Galileo also happened to be studying ship-building!)   You can’t make this stuff up–but Dante and Galileo did!

It is always the great questioners–and why do they always tend to be child-like, rather than smooth or pompous or sophisticated?– like Galileo who teach us the most.

Thank you Galileo!   And thank you, Christopher!

Here’s to the persistent, brave, ecumenical, child-like, questioning, spirit in us all!

Monday

MONDAY LOVE replied: March 03, 2007, 08:33:08 am
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

Christopher,
Since there is no greater aesthetic pleasure than to have one’s poem admired line by line, by another, I will dive into this specimen for you.

“OLD FOREPLAY FOR NEW WOMEN INCLUDING MEN”*

……*Note: This was the name of “In Praise of the Still Unweighed” at the time.

What a wild title!  “Old foreplay” sounds cold and hot at the same time–brilliant!  If ‘combination’ is the secret to composition, than what could be better than to seamlessly combine extreme opposites, and what better example of extreme opposites than ice and fire?  And what is icier than old?  And what is hotter than foreplay?  “For new women including men”  What a puzzle!  “New” as in young?  “And including men”  The men get to be included, do they?  It is as if there is a kind, feminine spirit making up the rules.

………..O, how wrong you fierce suitors have it

Great line.  Great dramatic way to start the poem with a rhetorical bang.  Don’t pussyfoot around: “O, how wrong” great poets instinctively do this, they give us drama immediately and ‘you fierce suitors have it’ is a  new way to say ‘rape’ without getting into all the baggage that word implies; not that ‘rape’ is the topic here; ‘fierce suitors’ may just refer to over-anxious lovers, or greed; but it allows the poet to fly above the loaded term ‘rapist’ and say more things.  Great first line for many reasons.

………..stripping off the dark, secret wraps
………..that lighten length and breadth
………..and scenery on earth—

The next 3 lines are magnificent–listen to the assonance and alliteration! You can’t teach poets to write with this kind of music–hear how ‘stripping’ is repeated in ‘secret’ and then the ‘t’ sound is picked up in ‘that lighten’ and the ‘l’ sound in ‘lighten’ is picked up by ‘length’ which then morphs into ‘breadth’ and resolves with the ‘e’ and ‘r’ sounds with ‘scenery on earth.’  Assonance/alliteration does not get any better than this. And notice the sublimity described–this is indeed sublime: ‘stripping off the dark, secret wraps that lighten length and breadth and scenery on earth–very nice.

………..the furtive root grabs downward
………..only because great tentacles of hot
………..rival might lift our silt-lapped
………..limbs much harder still,
………..like sunlight
………..prying up the whole orchard’s sap!

Part three of the poem: the ‘downward’ of the ‘furtive roots’ contrasts with ‘lift’ of the ‘hot rival’ as the poem continues to move profoundly–and this is outstanding: ‘like sunlight prying up the whole orchard’s sap!’

………..No, the weight of things is just
………..another flight,

Here is the ‘physics’ of the poem: ‘the weight of things is just another flight’

………..like Leda’s modest thighs
………..giving plain wings the chance
………..to sanctify earth’s godliest yearnings.

In part five, seduction is introduced as a natural ‘fall.’  The natural, holy and mythic are combined in the most exquisite manner.

………..As the arrow by the playful string
………..the heady soul is ever fired by
………..the archly absent body—
………..draped arabesques of trembling skin
………..and shining pubis so defying gravity
………..even the most upright Jove
………..or holy Galileo
………..bearded like our father’s angel
………..tumbles to the maiden yet again,
………..so hotly does the dreaming quiver
………..fletched in abstract plumage
………..hunger
………..even for a single pomegranate kiss
………..that scatters weight
………..like rubies!

The sixth and final part of the poem continues to combine myth, science, the religious, and the natural in bewilderingly complex ways: the ‘pomegranate kiss’ opens up for the reader the seduction of Hades, the underworld, and the downward (moral as well as physical?) direction the poem is pulling us into. The final image of ‘scatters weight like rubies’ is perfect, since ‘scattering weight’ is the material theme of the poem, and ‘rubies’ is the natural product of earth-weight and also a symbol of human vanity, beauty and passion.  Lines like “defying gravity” and “even the upright Jove” fill out the poem’s theme as well, which is tragic and yet celebratory at the same time: “tumbles to the maiden yet again” is both comic and tragic, and plays on the poem’s sub-theme of falling.

This poem is extremely rich in language and association.

It is almost too hard and dense–like those rubies!

The poem is a little too abstract for me to love it, but I admire it greatly.

Is this poem finally a ‘seduction-lesson?’  The ‘secret’ of the poem is tantalizingly out-of-reach.

Monday

MONDAY LOVE continued: March 03, 2007, 09:41:51 am
_________________
Whisper and eye contact don’t work here.

~

Dear Good Friend in need—and mentor,
I struggled over that first line for years–and knew it was right at last only a year ago but never expected anyone to grasp it viscerally precisely as I, not intended, but did! And VOILÀ, Monday goes ahead and does just that!

“Old Foreplay” is the introductory poem in an unpublished book called, of course, “Galileo’s Secret”–“The Meaning and Value of Repression” comes a third of the way through in a light-hearted section called “Shorts, Grafts and Other Divine Misadventures,” and follows a much more flamboyant poem called “Out of the Fire Sermon,” no less. That makes the title phrase all the more surprising when you come upon it, a real “secret” in both “The Meaning and Value of Repression” and the book–you look up and catch a fleeting glimpse of it flashing by the window, so to speak, in both. Indeed you might not even notice the event if the book weren’t called by the same name!

And I do agree that “Old Foreplay” is quite “abstract”–but that’s the whole point, it seems to me, to write an entirely abstract poem that is also a “seduction” (Monday’s word, not mine–I’m more ribald!).  The poem also has so much setting up to do in its position as the first poem in the book–and the next poem is ALL seduction, don’t worry–it’s called “Leda Takes Another Lover,” and she does. Then comes “Gabriel’s News!”

As to the odd line breaks in both poems, “The Meaning and Value of Repression” in particular, the cutting up of the cake has been a major undertaking over the years, and still bugs me! The thing is that when you use cute/clever/crass vulgarisms in serious poetry, like “get laid,” for example, you need to play them down–and even hope the reader won’t notice them at all until a subsequent reading. Otherwise they may be too distracting and interfere with the thrust of the poem (it’s a common strategy in the mock-heroic as well as the stand-up routine!).

The same goes for “mounted on a slippery/slide”–the line break just there makes it less likely the reader will get caught up in the microscope slide image too early–which is a very disturbing one, it seems to me. The break tricks the reader into assuming “slippery slope” or something like that. The same goes for the ambivalent “members”–club or sexual?

Actors are often encouraged to PLAY AGAINST the dominant mood in a scene–which in the end deepens the emotions by making them more complex, and hence more real. I think that such line breaks do the same.

It’s a close call on so many of my line breaks, on almost everything I do to stay focused on  what life might or might not mean. And then of course it goes and moves!

Love to you all, Christopher

EXPATRIATE POET replied: March 03, 2007, 10:27:16 am
_________________
(…yet still it moves!)

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