Monday, May 26, 2008

Poem Conceived on Bornholm Many Years Ago

In the summer studio
above the rock garden,
I took the eyes
of the painter.
What is it, I asked,
They cannot see?
Cannot? he balked.
They won't. Be kind,
I said. They don't.

Long before I knew anything about poetry, but thought I might become a poet, I spent a few days on the Danish island of Bornholm. Naturally, we went to the Oluf Høst Museum, which is a beautiful place—one of those places you immediately wish hadn't been converted into a museum, but could remain a place for an artist to work. So you begin to plan its conversion into a retreat for artists, a school, your own home.

Like the poem says, I tried to put myself in the mind of the painter while I stood in Høst's summer studio. At the time I was also, of course, generally despairing of the human species, which I suppose I still am, but less hopefully, more completely desperately, I guess, which means I don't imagine anything can change, or really needs to. (This post emerges vaguely from my response to Kirby in my last post. I felt the urgency of art, but not its futility.)

Back then, I worked on a poem about it, which must have run about thirty lines that are now lost. When it came back to me now, suddenly, thinking about the particular necessity and contingent universality of imagery, I was also reminded of Ezra Pound's reflections on "In a Station of the Metro".

Three years ago in Paris I got out of a "metro" train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening, as I went home along the Rue Raynouard, I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation ...

I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work "of second intensity." Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.
I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.

Okay, I'm no Ezra Pound. But my first effort was undoubtably not of the first intensity. What I just came up with (recalling the "equation" that was the core of the experience in that studio) is much more satisfying. It is still very much "just a poem" (maybe its emotion is just as must just a sentiment). But maybe it just needs that final bit of focusing.

If I am right about "the image" then we can almost describe in advance—a priori, if you will—what I will have to do to intensify it. I must situate the poem more resolutely between a natural regularity and a cultural regulation. I must activate both its urgency and its futility.

More later (I hope).

[One more thing: shortly before writing the above I had just read this post over at Jonathan's blog.]


Kirby Olson said...

I never understood why Pound's poem was supposed to be so good.

His analogy of the subway passengers as being like petals on a wet, black bough just doesn't do much for me.

What was it meant to mean? I never got it.

People used to scream that it was so perfect, so great. I always thought it was as inept as his financial policies.

I think Pound is a more or less supply-side poet. He managed to get himself into a position of ubiquity in anthologies by dint of his position of ubiquity.

But he's a lousy poet, a careless thinker, a jerk to his friends, and so on. The one thing I still keep is his own evaluative method: image, sound, thought.

On image and thought, I think he's almost worthless. As a tunemeister, he's a little better. But his continuing position as eminence grise strikes me as absurd.

Stack a Corso poem next to Pound's and pound for pound, Corso's win every time on Pound's criteria of image, sound, and thought. Especially thought.

Oy vey.

You keep getting loopier and loopier in your posts, and I am having an increasingly hard time following them. But I enjoy this, as I sense you are going way out on the ice after something, but I have no idea what it is.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I once had an experience that confirmed Pound's poem. See this post.

Maybe you just haven't drifted into that "vein of thought" Pound is talking about.

It seems to me that Pound's poem does a good job of establishing the relation between the objective regularity of petals, and the subjective regulation of faces. The tension between natural and artificial beauty that people in public spaces display.

Pound's explanation is quite illuminating: it's not that a face looks like a petal, but that a series of a faces in the Paris Metro materialize like the petals on a bough.

Kirby Olson said...

Bullet train through Japanese countryside --

Petals on black cherries as they bow ---