Tag Archives: poems

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

flowers-in-pot-01 Ou Li Da

The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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Tavern Song

And this I know: whether the one True Light,
Kindle to Love, or Wrath consume me quite,
One glimpse of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.

— LVI, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám 

Allusions and delusions

Poems, songs, and sermons often allude to things the writer believes to be already known by the audience.

Allusions are simply indirect references. In its oldest sense, an allusion was an indirect reference to classical or biblical literature.

So, at the beginning of Hamlet, the prince compares his dead father to Hyperion and his uncle to a satyr. These are allusions to Greek mythology.

And, toward the end of Hamlet, the prince says, “There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” There, Hamlet is alluding to Jesus’s words in The Gospel of Matthew 10:29-30.

Shakespeare wrote in a time when, as he assumed, most of his audience would have some familiarity with both ancient pagan mythology and the Bible.

But, a writer can’t always control the makeup of the audience.

A quick example: While I’m a fan of T.S. Eliot for particular reasons, he wrote some poems that cannot be understood without a classical education and a broad reading experience. Sometimes, Eliot is just “over my head.”

His Anglo-Catholic point of view might have made some of his Christian poems just as opaque as some of his other works.

Eliot’s work was full of literary allusions, and I’m sure those references have made for some wild interpretations that would amuse Eliot and horrify him.

Those allusions could lead to nearly delusional interpretations in the minds of those who are not prepared to read them.

While a writer might have a specific audience in mind, she is probably not worried about keeping people out of the audience.

So when someone “sneaks in,” so to speak, the reader might find himself confused, insulted, exasperated, baffled, or mortified by what has been written, sung, or spoken, because the allusions don’t make sense.

The difficulty for the individual reader is to know when she has really misunderstood something.

For example, the first time I read them, I did not understand William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” or, in a different stream, Russell Edson’s prose poems.

But now that I’ve learned a bit more and spent a bit more time with those literary works, I at least can say I’ve started to understand what these writers were trying to accomplish.

I would not ask you to like those poems, and I would only discuss them with you if you had already expressed an interest in the writers, the works, or related matters. They’re quite different within the body of available poems. “The Red Wheelbarrow” and Edson’s prose poems aren’t for everyone — and few writers should even try to be for everyone.

If someone else “sneaks in” and noisily announces his confusion, insulted-ness, exasperation, bafflement, or mortification, well, that’s the risk the writer takes. The writer just hopes he can reach his intended audience.

New poems by Adam Penna

Oh, I guess I would need more proof than that.
I’d want to touch his wounds and prod around a little, too.

Read “How to Be a Disciple” and three other poems by Adam Penna at LiturgicalCredo.com, an online member of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

Penna’s first full-length collection, Little Songs & Lyrics to Genji, was published by S4N Books in 2010. A chapbook called Love of a Sleeper was published in 2009 by Finishing Line Press. Individual and pairs of poems have appeared in magazines like Albatross, Basilica Review, Cimarron Review and others. Penna’s poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (2010) for a sonnet appearing in the Cider Press Review and has appeared on the site Verse Daily. He teaches at Suffolk County Community College, where he is an Associate Professor of English, and he is the former editor of Best Poem.

Three of my poems published by Circumambulations

Update (May 2013): Circumambulations keeps one poetry page, and my poems have since been replaced by newer work from other authors.

The inaugural edition of Circumambulations includes three of my poems — “Winter Night at River View Farm near Avenue, Maryland,” “Idol,” and “Chapped Lips in Orlando” — along with poetry by Michael Campbell and Jason W. Johnson (the latter has previously published work with LiturgicalCredo). Visit the Circumambulations poetry page here.

Chapped lips

Image via Wikipedia

New Mirage Journal published my poem, ‘Regarding Joy and Grace’

Please read it here

 
 

A new poem and a new essay

Jason W. Johnson is a sharp guy, a wild poet, and a personal friend of mine. Please read his new original poem “Annus Mirabilis” at LiturgicalCredo.

And I’m continuing to file a weekly column, called Strange Days. This week’s dispatch is “Shop or your neighbors will lose their jobs” — call it a strange look at our economic situation.