muutation

Pihlajakatu-gothic
  • Muutat Pihlajakadulle. Vähitellen unohdat Helsingin ulkopuolella asuvat ystävät ja sukulaiset. Ihmissuhteesi rajautuvat 10-30 ihmiseen.
  • Menetät työpaikkasi. Naapuri tarjoaa töitä firmastaan. Sinulla ei ole alan koulutusta.
  • Juhlapyhiä ei enää vietetä. Joku mainitsee joulun. Muistat hämärästi, että siihen liittyy talvi.
  • Vuosia kestänyt parisuhteesi rakoilee. Puolisosi muuttaa yläkertaan.
  • Menetät taas työpaikkasi. Tällä kertaa jäät työttömäksi. Sinulla on edelleen varaa asua Helsingin keskustassa.
  • Naapurin 10-vuotias täyttää 16. Et ole viettänyt omia syntymäpäiviäsi vuosiin. 
  • Et pysty muodostamaan ihmissuhteita rapun ulkopuolelta. Etsit uutta puolisoa vaihtamalla seurustelukumppania tasaisin väliajoin. Olet seurustellut kaikkien naapureidesi kanssa.
  • Serkkusi muuttaa naapuriin. Et muistanut, että sinulla on serkku. Sinulla ei ole muita sukulaisia.
  • Naapurin 16-vuotias on nyt täysi-ikäinen. Aloitat hänen kanssaan salasuhteen.
  • Ystäväsi muuttaa pois Helsingistä. Lupaatte pitää yhteyttä. Viikon kuluttua et muista hänen nimeään.
  • Yksi naapureistasi ammutaan. Vihasitte toisianne verisesti, mutta itket silti hautajaisissa.
  • Aaro/Eero palaa kuvioihin. Et ole koskaan tavannut kumpaakaan, mutta hän vainoaa sinua silti.
  • Muutat pois Pihlajakadulta. Yhteytesi sen asukkaisiin katkeavat. Olet taas yhteyksissä ystäviisi ja sukulaisiisi. Alat epäilemään, oliko Pihlajakatu edes todellinen paikka.

mUutating Kaufman’s Cincophrenicpoet

Warning: mUutations are arbitrary readings that change the poem into something it’s not. Proceed at your own risk.

Here’s a poem by Bob Kaufman. It’s what happened to many of the Beats:

Cincophrenicpoet

A cincoprhenic poet called
a meeting of all five of
him at which four of the
most powerful of him voted
to expel the weakest of him
who didn’t dig it, coughing
poetry or revenge, beseech-
ing all horizontal reserves
to cross, spiral and whirl.

Rejection of social norms and ideologies is pervasive throughout Bob Kaufman’s work and is represented in the anti-conformity and “rejectionary philosophy” of Abomunism, a thinly veiled term for the beatnik culture of which Kaufman was a part. This process of differentiation comes at a cost, however, alienating the rebel from his cultural and ideological context. This necessitates a search for alternative contexts and discourses to provide interpretative frameworks for experience. One may search outward, looking for principles independent of the rejected ideology. This option is reflected in Kaufman’s interest in eastern philosophy and mysticism, an interest shared by many of the Beats. Alternatively (or additionally), one may turn inward toward the self as a repository of memories and thoughts to reinvent the world in a more holistic, coherent fashion.

The turn inward is complicated, however, by the proliferation of mediated images and experiences of modern society, and the poet finds in himself many aspects of the American social landscape that he longs to escape and transform. Problematically then, the self is implicated in the reality he rejects, and the struggle to transform America becomes approximate to reinventing the self. Thus, the poet finds himself at war with himself as he attempts to contain contradictory identities.

The negative manifestation of this dilemma is the poet’s frustration, which often takes the form of a variety of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and insomnia. Schizophrenia offers an apt trope of the self torn into multiple, conflicted identities, and Kaufman employs the pathology as a metaphor for society as well.

In addition to illustrating the dynamics of the relationship between Beat culture and political forces, the “cincophrenic” is the poet himself, one who is at war with himself, thus illustrating the reciprocal relationship between the poet and society. In this poem, poetry exists as protest and results from the conflict between conflicting identities. It is resistance itself (“revenge”) and generates chaotic energy (“cross, spiral and whirl”). Society and the poet are interchangeable frames of reference, and the contradictions of society are manifested in the poet as forms of madness.

  • minä kymmenvuotiaana: en halua lapsia, romanssi on tyhmää, ja idea siitä et mun pitäis käyttäytyä ku stereotypinen tyttö ällöttää
  • minä nyt: en halua lapsia monista eri syistä joten sterilointi kuulostaa hyvälle idealle, olen aromanttinen joten romanssin käsite on minulle paitsi abstrakti myös turha, ja tulipahan tässä vuosien varrella tajuttua et en oo tyttö ensinnäkään
When I am a rollercoaster seized by elation
you are the conjugation of Potawotami verbs
When I am a ropeskipping stiltwalker trying to hitchhike
you are an unscheduled balloon-flight over the Congo
Together we swing steadily to the darker side
of the impossible
where horizontal and vertical
have stopped quarreling at last
— 

Franklin Rosemont, “Penelope”

In this long, surrealist aria to his wife and co-conspirator in Wobbly activism, Franklin enacts surrealism’s dialectic of juxtaposition and irreconcilable opposites to express passionate, mystical husband love. I admit I didn’t really like the ideologically stale prose of the Rosemonts very much, but this (and some wonderful essays by Penelope I’ve read recently) has me reconsidering. 

mUutating Péret’s “The Beauties of Heaven and Earth”


I haven’t written a mUutation for over three years, but it’s time to get them going again during my first summer “off” in a long time. Here’s Benjamin Péret’s “The Beauties of Heaven and Earth”:

A big man with salty hair
wanted to be a musician
but he was alone in the valley
with three accordions

The first accordion ended up just rotting away
In the simplicity of its soul
it wanted to be a horse
but there was a lamp that was burning
that was burning

The second accordion trembled
like a house at the passing of its sister
That’s because it was a big city
that deceived its inhabitants
with its mayor
stupid as the claw on a crowbar

The third accordion
would have devoured the earth and all the birds
if it had wanted to
But it was a sage
just like a nettle
and contented itself with simply envying the motionless animals

But you’ll say to me
the man who wanted to be a musician

He had had time to die
and the leisure to smoke
and it was this smoke which was rising from the earth toward the clouds

WATERSPOUT OFF STARBOARD

Péret is the lighthouse the helps wandering poets and surrealists find harbor. This was what happened to me over last year’s winter break, when I found myself slightly in a rut. I bought From the Hidden Storehouse, a classy little book of his translated poetry, at a bookstore in Oregon.

Péret’s poetry is undiluted first generation surealism, but also very inviting and unpretensious. This poem, for instance, puts us at ease through its coherent and easily recognized structure: a framing dramatic situation and series of three accordions. Easy to follow. Yet, the images in this poem defamiliarize and re-open the world, making it mysterious and meaningful.

The mood is conspicuous: the man’s loneliness, the first and third accordions’ monkish detachment from the world, the second accordion’s historionics.  As personificiations, these accordions are melancholy and ascetic fellows. And there’s the irony of the man’s sadness–alone and yet not alone, for he experiences his sadness in the company of friends (instruments) that would express and capitulate that sadness.

This structure and mood keeps the poem tame, disguising the illogical rowdiness of the juxtapositions. First accordion: “Sure,” we think, “simple folks have horse-souls, yeah–horses are simple and beautiful.” But then our reasoning is thrown back in our faces, since “a [burning] lamp” is the preventing obstacle, and burning lamps seem just as simple as horses. (How can simplicity be blocked by simplicity?) The second accordion is in a more complex social situation, with its sister and mayor, and the speaker shows an urbane sensibility by criticizing the socio-economic power and medievalism of the “claw on a crowbar.” The speaker’s vaguely political interjection here breaks up the lyric pattern, keeping things a bit unnevering. The third accordion’s vast and potentially destructive power raises the stakes: “If this accordion is so powerful, have we underestimated the preceeding accordions?” we might wonder.

The final image of the poem is a metaphor of the world (or the man’s locality) as a ship–another resonant image that expands the implications and scope of the poem. We’re never very far from the particular or the universal here. Péret keeps them conjoined at every turn. Perhaps that’s the real success of his writing.

I love how brief and incisive his images are. His short little stanzas demarcate them. Within each main image of the stanza are the little phrases, mini-images, that give his poetry a uniquely inviting quality. Maybe this is because the disorienting energy of the mini-images are contained in the larger boxes of the stanzas. For instance, the third accordion is “a sage / just like a nettle”–a wonderful metaphor that we must to pass over quickly to keep on track with the larger point of the sentence.

Finally, Péret has something uniquely attractive in his voice that is more immediately compelling and human than his surrealist contemporaries. He’s arguing with us (“But you’ll say to me…”), trying to convince us to feel or think about this man and his accordions–sad “beauties.” His vision is held out and shown to us, not demonstrably declared in Dada-esque rant. He lures us in and gets us to consider what the images are saying to us. In the end, we get the impression that Péret has put his finger on something important about the world. What is it? I’d like to think it’s in the title: everywhere are the beauties of heaven and earth–that is, heaven and earth are one and the same, and its beauties are present with us, if you have the eyes to see.

mUutating Lamantia’s “Horse Angel”

This word or this image
Whether the immense void to be filled from the ancients to now
Or the nightmare mane staring with crazy hypnotic starving eyes
Out of the oftseen painting of Blake’s friend Fuseli
Don’t know
But am tied to a thousand grecian pillars their horse nostrils migrating
And the stillness does not inflict any ice on their great hairs

                  An upside-down Golden Fleece

The horse pervades
Horses superior to machines
Horses lighted with blue oil flame from the factories
It falls on them
Like an atom bomb on any andalusian field
It explodes not
Just the blue oil flame that’s its metaphor

Horses watch me from my travels and metamorphose into mules
Transmigrating continents
                 The donkey at Tangier
                 And his burro on the road to Tamazunchale
                 The road mendicant who was a giant of solar light Blind Indian
                 And the moorish woman with the campesino straw hat sitting on a bag of esparto grass
All horse cultures
And the horse in dreams!
If I could speak of their manes hanging like metals
Hoofs tapping the rocks
And that wild look straight ahead in a fertile valley
                                                                       the sun

Throughout Blood of the Air (the collection in which this poem appeared), Lamantia negotiates the opposing or contrasting poetic forces of what I’d like to call his airy-surrealist-transcendent-garden mode and his gritty American experience mode. The former mode reflects his roots in pre-WWII surrealism, when he met Breton and the other émigrés in New York. This is what surrealism was to him, and it’s how he got started and what made him famous. The latter mode is a newer side, something that he wrote into after exposure to the Beats in the Bay area. In Blood of the Air almost all the poems touch on some American political or cultural reality, so by contrast this poem seems to float luxuriously in a more symbolic, fantastical realm.

But perhaps there is subtext inside this homage to the great poetic mammal, the horse. A “horse angel” recalls the terrifying horses of the biblical apocalypse, and if the Fuseli painting referred to in the fourth line is The Nightmare (above), the allusion is indeed one of terror and sublime power. Like the dreaming woman in the painting, Lamantia enacts his trance-like poetic energy, churning up the distortions, anxieties and images of the collective unconscious into a redemptive vision. The horse is presented as a preternatural and divine beast that remains impervious to modern industrialism and technology. Through metaphoric inversion, Lamantia declares, it is the horse that is “superior to machines” and that can completely destroy “like an atom bomb” the “factories”—those slick symbols of efficiency and modern civilization. (I like, at the end of the second stanza, how Lamantia surmounts his own figurative language, upping the ante and forcing a linguistic impossibility—the “metaphor” explodes, not the horse.)

In the third section we get a broadening, horizontal gesture: horses, in an almost creepy way, are everywhere, watching us, quietly laboring, probably mocking our cars and other modern contraptions. Along with and through the horse, pre-modern, indigenous cultures persist: the moorish woman is untouched by the fabric of modern society.

The sublime, capitulating image of the horse in the final stanza reminds me of Blake. It is Romantic in its verticality—a blazing image reaching for its supernatural subject. It’s pokily biblical, but, intriguingly, and also like Blake, there is a hint of the modern (the “metals”) that keep this image poised in a universal, mythic realm that we cannot dismiss as nostalgic or distantly historical. But most importantly this is a hermetic or symbolic image in the sense of having no paraphrase. What is this terrifying horse angel? Certainly we can list connotations, and we know of its reality from our cultural subconscious—we can sense that this horse represents something truly terrifying about the divine realm or nature or something, but it cannot be interpreted beyond that and can only be encountered in this poetic context. And so, we see Lamantia negotiating and expelling some of the potent Romantic energy that the surrealists and especially the Beats were carrying forward, often in direct dialog with the American social landscape. Both these poetic traditions used this transcendent or penetrative impulse to absorb and reimagine the more immediate sense of reality that was predominating consciousness and threatening to subdue the imagination.

Louis Z Hammer

Snippet of dissertation chapter (rough draft) on Kayak magazine.

Hammer, who Hitchcock features in the magazine’s opening pages, creates a luminous world extending from the subjective psyche, with its disproportional, intensified perceptions: “That America is a Continuous Western,” the magazine’s first poem, begins, “Someone said there are Indians in this picture: / I say there are Indians in every picture… / All around us in the cool hills” (1.3). Hammer’s intensified, baroque images gently counterpoint his visionary rhetoric and lyrical tone; his “Love Song” turns on the declaration that “[a] fire in the compression of my eyes / Lights from no distance / The ray of your beloved hand” (1.5) and in “Character of the Desert,” he writes, “[t]he sky is soft / As the meat of an olive” (1.4). This uncanny way of perceiving is accompanied by a variety of common surrealist tropes and structures, exemplified in “Soma”:

Glass in the walls of the face
Glass in the wrists
Glass in the exposed chambers of the chest
Glass in the cage above the brain–
The iodine traces
The roses caught in the shadows of blood
The violet stains on the lips
The gloveless hand in the heart. (1.5)

He favors incongruous juxtaposition, the catalog form, a macabre mood, and fragmented, ironically fetishistic re-imaginings of the body. And while he does not shy away from emotional resonance and symbolic closure, he favors the surreal image, rather than the pictorial image or “abstract image,” as the vehicle for emotion:

My heart hears only the small pleas
That are silent as protons
Packed in the atom’s vault
Beneath the hand (3.47)

He describes the poet as “[a] man whose head is a battery / Whose dream is a current / That shocks the anemones” and who “has scorched his eyes” as he beholds a marvelous vision of “white harbors” and “[t]he dance…burning / In the navel of the skies” (3.46). His work presents a hypermodern world where faint traces of archetypal consciousness still persist beneath the simulacra of the modern landscape, where commercial and ideological forces have reducitively overwritten experience and identity:

We have taken tarpits
And called them eyes,
we have taken the little edges of smiles
Around the cheeks
And called the roses of murder,
We have taken the small apparitions of altars
Seen through the doors of lilies
And called them bedrock of love:
Now those sad breasts are hung
Silently over the window,
We are surrendering to bodies
That are burned down to a word. (6.19)

In his article, “How the Poem Speaks” in the Issue 5, Hammer attempts to conjoin the deep image sense of a primal human experience with the ironic fetishisized gestures of surrealism. “Poetry,” he writes, “is the opening up in language of a vertical movement through strata of itself which had not previously been revealed as strata.” The process of language discovering its own associational layers is language “altering itself,” which equates to “an act of the poet reconstituting his relationship to the world.” Poetry is thus seen in therapeutic terms, allowing the individual to “retrieve a life that has been hiding him, a life which lives outside itself in a world it did not fully know” (5.58). This is possible through his theory of the poetic image: “What is the poetic image? It is the recoil of language into its own heart, with all its world-strands contracted into a unit of power” (5.58). Patently self-referential yet re-appropriating experience as both objective and aesthetic, the poetic image is “language that is in search of its meaning, that is in the process of uncovering its own world-fibers.” Poetry, then, is a process of language (and thus the self) rediscovering itself through associational strata by means of image-making, of language “bearing the world as image.” Given the high proportion of surrealist images in his work, one can see Bretonian chance meetings as integral to this process, the incongruities and that lead to renewed apprehension. In this way, most of Hammer’s poems end with a hint of object-oriented triumphalism, as if commodities themselves had extricated themselves from disorder:

Soon the young girl whose eyes are all cash
Will come and denounce the bloated stomachs of furniture,
Soon there will be a long column of speeches from bread
That has examined all that we are
And written its poem. (6.20)

mUutating Federica Garcia Lorca’s “Spiral”

External image

Warning: mUutations are arbitrary interpretive readings that change the poems into something they’re not. Proceed at your own risk.

Here’s a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca that could change your life, if your name is Euclid or Bernhard Reimann:

Spiral

My time
moves on in a spiral.

The spiral
limits my landscape,
leaves what is past in the shadows
& makes me advance
full of doubts.

Oh perfect straight line! Pure
spear without spearman.
How your light turns my solomonic
path into dream!

This little lyric turns a beautiful, minimalistic image into a philosophical meditation. If the spaker is imagined to be in a “landscape,” as he calls it, then it is a Dali-esque landscape. That is, it’s basically a vast desert with just a few important, unusual objects placed in our field vision. We must confront and make meaning of them. Here, we have the spiral and the straight line—two ways of interpreting experience.

The spiral is a mixed bag and quite ambiguous: it brings “advance” but also the discomfort of “doubts.” Does Lorca think “limits” or leaving the past behind are good? Is “advancing” a good thing? Is this a forced march or an existential embrace of the present? The perfect straight line is an ideal. It stands above and beyond time, caught in mid-air, as it were, a “spear without spearman.” But again, ambiguous: it is a “light” that turns the path into “dream”—but is that necessarily good? Is a “solomonic” path better or worse than a dream?

In any case, there’s no clear favoritism, landing us squarely in the dilemma and the paradox of the “real” versus the “ideal.” What is the nature of that relationship? Philosophers have given us little to sort that question out. This poem suggests they are both operative in life and sustain each other in a mysterious paradox. Who can say, though, what straight lines have to do with spirals? What grounds does the speaker have for hoping in the straight line, caught as he is in spiral reality?

Isn’t it curious that “time,” which most people think of as a straight line (or horizontal trajectories) is here called a “spiral”? That’s western thought for you, thinking something is linear when in fact it is curved, cyclical, centrifugal. Most non-European philosophies have something closer to the spiral model. Another thing we tend to think of as linear when it’s really not: writing. We write in spirals, not from start to finish.

A spiral is a corrupted line, a line finding its way back to straightness, its former state. On the other hand, a spiral turns on a center, creates its own gravity and identity. It is a line finding its way back to itself, moving inward and outward simultaneously, “advancing” but “full of doubts.” It “limits the landscape” by cutting itself off with its own curve/past, thus leaving itself behind “in shadows.”

Now re-read that last paragraph substituting “human” for “spiral” and “life” for “line.” Then re-read it, substituting “poetry” for “spiral” and “language” for “line.”

mUutating Matthew Zapruder's "To a Predator"

Warning: mUutations are arbitrary readings that change the poem into something it’s not. Proceed at your own risk.

Here’s Matthew Zapruder’s “To a Predator”

I woke up early and saw a fox.
It was leaping and dragging its glorious
red and white tail behind it across
the road. It held a grasshopper in its mouth,
which it dropped when it saw the small
carcass of a young javelina. Last night
I was woken by their hairless rooting through
a field of cactus in moonlight. They all
stood together, ears rotated forward into
the breeze, protecting the single mother
protecting a pair of young. Their
mustachioed labium superius oris i.e.
upper lip protects a gentle tusk
the color of greywater. I almost sympathize
with their corporate need to snuffle
and roam in packs until dawn returns them
to hollows they made in the ground.
But my sleep does not. Thus I shone
a very powerful flashlight into their midst
and watched them scramble across
the highway, dispersing. Thus I walked
out into this morning, wearing a shirt
the color of a dandelion, whistling
an uncertain tune about the mild unequal
life I would like to know better of a rich
acquaintance in the Mexican city of Guadalajara.

I’ve been thinking about what Robert Kelly wrote in the early 60s about each image in a poem having “its field of force, its shadow moving darkly through the poem.” Arrangement, or sequence, for Kelly, is the key:

Basically, the fullest force is possible only by means of the successful employment of one image’s position in a context of other images… The subsequent image is conditioned, made to work, by the image that precedes it, and conditions, as it is finally conditioned by, the image that follows it: through the whole poem…

The whole poem is more than the sum of its parts. Very important for this superequivalence is the ORDER of images within a poem.

Kelly is thinking about images, but it is impossible not to see an overlap with narrative or dramatic sequence working the same way and being almost the same thing. In Zapruder’s poem, the most remarkable moment is not the encounter with the fox-mother and babies in the night, but the “shirt / the color of a dandelion” the speaker dons the next morning. The sensory and psychological tone in that detail gathers almost all of its meaning from the scene preceding it, the nocturnal encounter. “Thus” rhetorically aids the transference and reinforces the sense of a causality-link between this moment and the night before. We’re cognitively confused and delighted at the notion that a shirt’s color (or his choice of shirt) hours later had anything to do with the foxes. The tight, chronological structure of the poem amplifies this effect. What’s the “residue” of the previous images on the image of the shirt? It’s impossible to say—herein is the ineffable, almost magical trick poetry playing on the mind.

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