The fact of Being is stunning enough in its own. It is especially stunning when in the agonizing ecstasy of what I call mini-creation. I recall a Tragically Hip lyric: "Fear no art and you fear no reflection." Art is our identity, our face in all its beastliness and beauty. I'm obsessed with art's grand contextuality and its sacred defiance of nothingness. We burgeon away from Nil in our best moments and notions; we plunge into and embrace Zero in our wars and rejection of love. Artists wittingly or unwittingly poetize gibberish and set music to cosmic silence. We can't help it. Even Bergman's bleak and nihilistic film, The Silence, is sweetened by music and crafted according to "musical laws": There is trickle-down, knowing spirit and design. As the band Buffalo Tom sings, "We remember something we've never been told." Creativity and meaningful beauty are in our DNA's DNA. Anais Nin wrote: "[I] am possessed by a fever for knowledge, experience and creation."
So, with my ever-bothersome awareness of the tension between Being and Non-being, Eros and Thanatos, Plenum and Zilch, Creation and Destruction, Language and Muteness, Identity and Anonymity, I found deep recognition in the sneak-peek manuscript of Louis Brodsky's latest brilliant poetry collection, The World Waiting to Be. I'd respected Louis' work since first reading his William Faulkner: Life Glimpses, but this work hit a concert pitch, so to speak. When I finished reading it, I spilled immediate connections and parallels out onto an email message field. Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and sweet Nicolas Berdyaev demanded inclusion. (They hadn't been invited, but you try turning Arty and Nick from your door!) I couldn't help but apply the themes of writer as conjurer of Something from Nothing and art's victory over non-being and death. Only later did I read an epigraph that had been selected for the book, by Rollo May: "The poet's labor is to struggle with the meaninglessness and silence of the world until he can force it to mean; until he can make the silence answer and the Non-being be." "Amen!" cheered my pen! I typed until my eyes were stiff and I needed to close my fingers, then I sent the email to Louis.
A couple days later, he replied favorably - to say the least. His appreciation honors me. I was surprised that my notes had amounted to seven pages when printed out (an easy yield for a verbose hack). To make a long story longer, Louis and I decided to share these notes (mostly unedited) with you folks. Though they are notes and not meant to be Hazlitt or Frye, I think they're a testament to my immediate impressions of and contextual vibes from The World Waiting to Be. I've selected example pieces that correspond to my commentary. They are followed by the entire text of my notes or available by themselves HERE. I thank Louis for his colleagueship and friendship - and, of course, his fine, important work.
(Notes follow these excerpts.)
Mapping Terra Incognita
When he slips away, each day,
He never has any idea where he's going,
Just as when he positions pen to paper,
He has no conception of the destination
His wandering imagination will reach.
What a rush it is, to escape the Old World,
Every known vestige of the New,
Set off, on his own, to chart the future,
Compose cantos and sonnets
Undreamed by Dante or Shakespeare.
Something about projecting rhumb lines
Neither Mercator nor Prince Henry the Navigator
Ever placed on parchment or vellum
Drives him to crazy heights of fantasy,
Sends his heart on free-verse voyages,
During which he records the planet's history,
From dinosaurs to Neanderthals to Einstein, beyond.
Tonight, he's Tyrannosaurus rex,
Pithecanthropus erectus, Lascaux's Michelangelo,
Alexander the Great, William Butler Yeats.
Tomorrow, who knows where, what, or who he'll be?
It doesn't really matter,
Since writing, like living, is ever a leap of faith,
A creative act-in-progress,
The jumping-off point for his soul.
The imperative to create, from nothingness,
Sounds that might be compounded
Into fragments of potential spoken verses,
Motivates me so profoundly
That whenever I find myself without company,
I tend to invent entire tribes
Populated by such absurd Joseph K.'s,
No one other than the Creator
Would ever recognize my issue,
For the disguises in which I cloak their fictitiousness.
What a strange vocation I was given,
To put in overtime, rhyming souls
Who were never born before they met me,
Let alone dreamed of being released from the unknown.
I was deeded floating islands
On which only a poet might survive,
By his expertise in extracting sustenance
From the precipitous glacial cliffs,
Devising divine designs
From the whiteness crumbling from their heights.
Just now, I climb out of my hibernal den,
Onto a slow floe moving oceanward,
To make of my endless days
A home from the poems I compose,
With metaphors, images, rhythms, and symbols
That will hide me, securely,
Inside the pleasure dome I erect
From fluff, from nothingness.
I yawn, stretch, paw the ground,
Scratch the sky, trying to locate my shadow,
I a lumbering primordial polar bear,
Lonely and totally alone,
Who knows only that if he's to be discovered,
He'll have to endure the arctic cold, for decades on end,
Hoping to leave paw prints, in the ice,
That might show up,
Beneath the midnight sun,
To testify to the truth that, once, he passed here,
Laid claim to the vastness,
Before his words became reverberating Earth.
Can you remember that first day of December,
When words for which you went searching
Deferred to quietude,
As you stabbed, with your pen,
The surface of your notebook's frozen lake?
No matter how hard you grasped the shaft,
How much force you applied to the balled tip,
You couldn't make a dent,
Let alone penetrate to depths where notions swim.
Your backed-up brain throbbed with pain.
In utter frustration and exhaustion,
You snapped the clear plastic pick in two,
Threw the pieces down.
Once you had gone, the ice melted from that lake;
Its waters swarmed with ideas you'd never catch.
I awaken, millenniums before daybreak,
In time to see Betelgeuse, Canis Major,
And the two consanguine Dippers
Kindled by the lamplighter living in my eyes.
Ineffable specters loiter in the sky,
As if awaiting transport across a bridge
Whose spans and cables are hours
Attached to history's mythical towers,
Sunk in caissons buried in man's speculations.
I acknowledge their presence
By saying out the names navigators gave them,
Calibrating their astrolabes.
They speak to me in subtle, fluctuating magnitudes,
Tapping out, in light-year soliloquies,
A poetry echoic of ancient Greece, Elizabethan England,
And I realize where Homer and Shakespeare walked
When they sought repose for their distraught souls.
Gazing at the vast, rotating mass of astra,
I imagine hearing the voice from an invisible, new flame
Hymning refrains of verses I myself have made.
My pen is never still.
It quivers perpetually,
Like an arrow shot into the hard bark
Of a pithy patrician oak
Frozen in a shrill forest.
The feather-fletched shaft
Reverberates between my fingers,
Head and heart.
I draw back each overtone,
With inspiration's bowstring,
And catapult its echoes at giants
Waiting, behind the glass dome,
To crash through, sack my intellect,
Pull the arrow from the tree,
And snap its magic in two.
Now that I've stood guard myriad years,
Hand, heart, shaft, and oak
Have fused into the bow
Poetry loads with metaphors
It perpetually shoots into my soul.
On First Turning Earth
My pen stutters in ruts,
Like a single-trace plow
Glancing off roots and rocks
Choking an intractable field.
Earth yields only grudgingly,
As my mind's tenacious mule
Continues to pull, against the grain,
The dead weight of unawakened metaphors.
It takes all my energy
Just to keep the unwieldy contraption straight.
Later, when I return to survey my labor,
Strewn, in irregular furrows, across the notebook paper,
I realize it's not quite complete for seeding.
Imagination's steely disks
Still need to finely grind the dirt,
For my verse to thrive.
Sleeping It Off
Lurching, like a stoop-shouldered drunk,
Through a graveyard of upturned headstones,
At a full-moon midnight hour,
My pen trips on gnarled roots exposed by excavations,
Stumbles, tumbles near cavities,
Gropes, on hands and knees, to keep from falling in.
Although it tries to avoid ghostly realities,
Shadows shaped like bat wings,
Rattlesnakes, crow beaks, rats,
Escape from this necropolis of forgotten bodies
Is preposterous, absurdly surreal,
Since few living spirits have ever left,
Made a clean break with the casketed past,
Outlasted the fading of thinking's ink,
Transcended its metaphors, for immortality.
In this funk, my drunk, stoop-shouldered pen
Sleeps it off, beside its own dug-up bones —
The deconstructing dust of eternal rest.
Some days, he gets going so fast
He could almost mistake himself for a turbine,
Converting tons of river into electricity,
Rather than a rickety waterwheel beside a canted mill,
Groaning below the trickle of a sleepy stream,
Barely turning his aging body and mind
In lazy circles, from sunrise to twilight.
How he still lets himself get so wound up
Is a mystery to him, a miracle, a tribute to his vigor,
A testimony to his joie de vivre, purposeful insanity,
With a degree of discipline mixed in.
It has to be that going fast still exhilarates him,
Adrenalizes his cells, makes his flesh quiver
As if suspended in extended orgasm.
Grateful for this gift, privilege, wisdom,
He probes his original visions,
In search of poetic bits and pieces
He might use to fashion something sacred, from scratch —
The next Sistine Chapel ceiling, Macbeth,
Polio vaccine, Stealth bomber, silicon chip,
Map of the human genome's terra incognita.
All it takes to power his psyche
Is the slightest trace of a measure, a word-chime.
In such a dynamo-throe, he goes wild,
Demands that his senses arouse themselves,
Assume the shapes of symbol, image, metaphor,
Bring his singing to climax, his dancing to closure.
He's addicted to the essence of creation.
Emily and I
I know not enough about the recluse of Amherst,
I recognize that my Smyth-sewn notebooks
Resemble, in some vague incarnation,
Her handstitched fascicles.
To more than this I've not been made privy.
I know of what I speak,
Having seen photos of those introspective poems,
Sensed a curious affinity
Between her cryptic cursive script
And my cramped, stunted print.
Although I've read only a few of her poems,
Sampling her flowers and fears,
Contrasting her imagistic and pithy lines
With my lyrical, narrative measures,
I'm certain Emily and I share something:
The muse of mind and spirit.
Sometimes, especially in those anxious, drawn-out moments
Before setting pen to paper,
When I just sit there, staring at the blank page in my notebook,
Fidgeting, trying to concentrate on the ineffable,
I find my thoughts straying to writers of the pre-IT age,
Poets I so admire, for their confessional eloquence —
Lowell, Roethke, Sexton, Plath —
Writers who sacrificed their souls,
Through their acts of intellectual self-immolation.
I imagine them toiling away, sweating angst,
Bleeding from their fingertips, pecking at manual typewriters
After already scribbling six, a dozen holographic drafts,
Trying urgently, feverishly, desperately
To catch their immaculately painful demons dead to rights,
Cast shafts of light through their black hearts,
Doing their flimsy, feeble, limpsy best
To hold their dark others accountable for their suffering,
Capture, accurately, the tremolo calls of their minds' wild loons.
It's in those impasses, before I begin composing,
Even prior to my submitting to the creative throes,
The chaos and tumult and anxiety,
That I envision those glorious, agonized gods of the word
Steeling themselves to record their fervent struggles
Against anonymity, within the immemorial din,
And I give thanks that they never sat, face to face,
With a personal computer linked to the World Wide Web.
Their searing solitude was the key to their inner beauty.
To this day, when I hole up, for a confessional session,
I run my right hand over the filled pages of my notebook,
As if rubbing the stones of Lowell, Roethke, Sexton, and Plath.
One night unlike every other night
(He wasn't feeling quite himself;
His appetite had betrayed him),
When he sat down, in his local café,
To write himself into existence,
He couldn't remember where to begin,
What the magic password was,
How to tap into the process,
Light a fire under his psyche's tinder.
For sixty uninspired minutes,
No ideas materialized,
To assist him with his self-definition.
And so, spent, demoralized, horrified,
He packed in his notebook
And disappeared into his missing identity.
Unaware that he'd failed, miserably,
To distinguish himself, his last night,
The booths he'd occupied grieved, kept vigil,
Speculated on his whereabouts,
For days, weeks, months.
After all, they cared. He was their hero.
He grew up being educated
As to the spiritual and philosophic depth of metaphors,
Phrases such as "the dark night of the soul,"
The "foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart,"
"The child is father of the man,"
And one from his personal trove,
"The poem is the heart's home away from home."
He was taught that "truth is beauty, beauty truth"
And that to evoke either or both,
All he had to do was view the universe
Through the translucence of a raindrop
Falling from a sun-drizzled sky
Or twist a kaleidoscope filled with oracular crystals,
That his eye might preview eternity.
Finally, before he died,
He achieved a peace of mind
So pure, in its appreciation of the divine in nature,
That every line he composed
Spoke the ineluctable language of love,
Captured the perfection of his fire,
And embodied the beginning and end of all life.
Louis Daniel Brodsky
Notes on The World Waiting to Be
"All creation and all creatures, every leaf is striving to the Word..." - Father Zossima, The Brothers Karamazov
"[A]ny writer, to begin with, is writing his own biography because he has discovered the world and then suddenly discovered that the world is important enough or moving enough to put down on paper or in music or on canvas..." - William Faulkner
You're not afraid to be dramatic and enthusiastic and gushy in these poems. And your language is top-notch. Hell, you metaphorize metaphors! Gems: "ascending declensions," "datives and ablatives place me/In accusative apposition," "An avalanche of articulating white particles, sounds,/A chaos of such ecstatic crashing," "Devising divine designs." "Polar Poet", "Frozen Lake" and "Luminaries" are among my favorite pieces. I enjoyed the 'script very much.
- Oddly, I keep getting a 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe (Clarke's novel more than the Kubrick film). Hear me out. The Prologue piece, "Mapping Terra Incognita," reminded me of Moon-Watcher, the seminal thinker and innovator pre-man who had "dawning awareness," as Clarke put it. Your poem can apply to Man's so-called ascent: "From dinosaurs to Neanderthals to Einstein, beyond...Tomorrow, who knows where, what, or who he'll be?" The creative spirit is a "jumping-off point for his soul." 2001's Monolith imparts the seeds of development and creativity to man, serves as a cerebral dawn, and becomes a literal jump-off point to the stars and beyond. You know what eventually happens in the book and film. Bowman is essentially reborn as the Star-Child.
Aside from that vibe, Whitman's 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass (a work you mention in "In Between") called to me. I grabbed the book and looked it up: "A great poem is no finish to a man or woman but rather a beginning."
The Pen (The pen is the Deliverer of the Word, the potent phallus, the progenitor, the origin, the impaler of non-being.)
- In 2001, after all those eons of slow progression (and dehumanization), David Bowman (or bow man: the name always strikes me as a reference to the pioneers of the ancient weapon) ages rapidly then is reborn: "a baby opened its eyes and began to cry." We go back on ourselves, the past becomes our future, we blossom and return to the singularity of the seed. Your book is full of pre-birth, birth, brief expression and creativity, death and rebirth. The steady evolution of the creative spirit streams through the book: the early earth-pricks of agriculture ("On First Turning Earth" and "Gardening In Eden"), volcanic climate ("Daily Climb"), instinct versus reason ("A case of the tail wagging the dog, you might say"), hunting (the metaphoric expertise in "Arrows"), the gift of fire ("The metaphor ignited" after trial-and-error), home construction ("Polar Poet"), passing generations ("Sleeping It Off" -- art's constant resistance against non-being and nothingness, which I'll address again and again), flight and the breaking away from earth ("My Flying Machine," "Fancy's Flight"), transfiguration, etc.
You: "Words are my blood, my breathing soul..."
- You obsess over and worship words and their link with creation throughout the book. You are "arrested in creation's heat" by words. The word is the next glorious step in creative evolution, "the soul's ejaculate," the enabler of conceptualization, speech, and complex thoughts themselves, the parts of Creation's song, the Logos (the manifested word). God spawns the universe by words. Nicolas Berdyaev says, "Creativeness is only possible because the world is created, because there is a Creator." In pre-time the world waited to be. Before conception there is preconception.
- Speech develops in "Internal Rhymes": "Getting started is the hardest part" indeed. I dig the internal rhymes, by the way. Good hip-hop, a largely unsung (HA!) art, features this a lot. Words enable identity as well. "I am the words I say." Language is creation-song which riffs on the first Words spoken: "Let there be..." Language is "songs from long ago and far away" that are emulated, spoken by a mini-creator poet ("a poetic microcosm of the colossal cosmos"), carried by the creative breath. Words breathe life into void and vacuum: "His lexicon vitalizes the universe." Here you paraphrase the book's title: "Worlds waiting to be -/a god in search of godly purpose on earth."
- Whitman said that America was "a prophecy." It wasn't yet a world, but it was one waiting to be. America was a new word, so to speak, a new societal language. Forefathers are planters. Forepoets too. "Turn words into seeds, seeds into tomatoes,/Tomatoes into love apples to be eaten, in silence,/Beneath the tree of life everlasting." We are so infused with the creative spirit that a man can be a "Garbage Artist". Later in "Polar Poet": "No one other than the Creator/Would ever recognize my issue..."
- Words save us from anonymity and ultimately from non-being. Art is an heirloom as well. In "Wound Up": "...the gift, the privilege, wisdom,/Of fashioning something sacred from scratch." (What a sound "sacred" and "scratch" make.) Words force us to think. We can't help it. We must think of something. We are scratchless creatures brimming with and addicted to being.
- "...gorgeous, deliciously lubricious odalisques!": Bravo! Love the sound -- and I love the word "odalisques." Good to see it used!
Inspiration (With words comes inspiration.)
- Clarke had the Monolith inspire the pre-men with mental tools to make physical tools and eventually computers and ships that...take men back to and into the Monolith. You: "tomorrow my destiny, my fate, my Maker". From birth to birth.
- You give us Venus, spawned by Cronus' castrated testicles plus sea. You have sex with her on the shore. Divinity and humanity entwine. Divinity inspires. And previous art and artists inspire later art and artists. Art is grand context, genealogical. I always say that I'm closer to Emerson or Fuller than the guy next door. Steinbeck said that King Arthur isn't dead but sleeping. I read journals of the greats, such as Dostoyevsky or Heine, and I relate to them immediately and intimately. It's truly a miracle, a loopholing of time. We are contextual relatives. By reading past authors' works, their words become flesh. They are as real as my hand before me. In "Emily and I", your notebooks resemble Dickinson's old books. You know her despite knowing very little of her. "I'm certain Emily and I share something:/ the muse of mind and spirit." She is one of the many Venuses that spring from sea foam and make love to you and inspire your own timeless art.
- Again, art defies non-being, nothingness -- and it defies death. In "Grave Rubbings," the blank page, the tabula rasa, is likened to a grave. Calling forth words to put to page is a creative act, a speaking of being into the void. Berdyaev again: "Creativeness presupposes non-being." Why? Because "freedom is uncreated and has its roots in non-being." Creation is a leap from voidness. And from then on, the creative act is sacred: it continues non-non-being even when its actor passes away. This theme returns in "Paranoia" later. Page as grave, as death. Wish for resurrection: "...rise from that grave." Much later, in "Just Before": "It's then, in that evanescent just before,/That I see, within my enigmatic spirit/Its private profundity..." And even later, in "Poetry": "For me, poetry is quintessence/Distilled from the essence/Of nothingness." Berdyaev is clapping and cheering in his grave!
- The contextual family tree again: "I find my thoughts straying to writers of the pre-IT age..." (Is non-being the ultimate "pre-IT age"?) You laud Roethke and Plath and others as Promethean bards with the same reverence that many folks have for fallen soldiers. The great poets who came before are the former, rebellious gods, "those glorious, agonized gods of the world." (You allude to Milton's epic poem later in the book.) Literary comfort is built on the backs of the whipped and weary Lowells and Sextons. You evaluate their suffering and your relatively comfortable gig and the world of PCs (and PC, dammit).
Writer's Block (Poetus interruptus?)
- "Frozen Lake": Phallic/penetration theme again. "Termite" continues this: "Tunneling to the heart of a floor joist...not through wood but concrete." The Berlin Ovary. Your quest: "to find the right word," "to locate just the right word." A recapturing of the first Words of Creation itself drives us?
- "Paranoia." Poetus interruptus or, more appropriately, poetic blue balls that feel like "invisible vises." "The pain of unconsummated creativity." Creation needs release and expression. Non-expression is death: "the unretrieved poem decomposes." The page, the locus of non-locus, of nothingness, is "white silence." Potential life deferred. Not even a fetus formed.
But life is demanding, tenacious. There is potential being in the very notion to write. This is why it's painful not to write or to experience writer's block. Death nips at your heels. You don't feel "yourself" when unable to create. Creation is identity; it's naming; it's command (Let there be...me!). In "Local Hero", the poet's objective is "to write himself into existence," to substantiate "his self-definition." The words never come (cum); the grave page triumphs. The true Death Valley is "The Valley of the Blue Lines." Identity is aborted, disappears. Shame also comes. Sub-par performance. Couldn't get it up. One is "disgusted by having failed to touch God's eyes." "The Glory Train": the "failed psyche" steams "into oblivion."
Must regain that past potency! That potentiality that produced results, inseminated and gave birth left and right! "Poetic ecstasy," "climactic geysering." When chicks dove from bridges, belfries and brothel windows to take a ride on the hobby horse, ifyaknowwhatimean! There was a time when the poet hardly needed to try. Had to beat them off with a stick! His art was like divination. "All he had to do was aim his inky bit at the ground/And wait for buried forces/To propel his readied spirit skyward..." In "At Home", you speak of "fertile verse." The poet must again be "the conduit/for such inspirational manifestations,/The voice chosen, by the powers that be..."
- Propel skyward. I'm getting that 2001 vibe again. Let's break orbit. The sperm is leaping off the egg to fertilize other systems. Advance technology from bones as weapons to space ships to bodiless essence and pure mind!
The Nature of Words (...is "the imperative to create" and the drive to sing to posterity. From "Wound Up" in the next section: "addicted to the essence of creation.")
- "The words I can't write/Hang, precariously, on the precipice of silence." Words waiting to be found, unlocked, unboxed by Pandoran, curious killed cats. Potential again. The destiny of being. The alphabet waiting to be scooped from the abyss soup. Or...fished from. You fish your own mind which is a lake stocked by divine rivers. (Love the sounds of "rhyme strainer" and "metaphor net" and "twin similes," by the way.) You catch "the illusive bait." Birth and communion with the eternal again: "birth's amniotic waters./Floats yet, past death, toward eternity."
- The poet seeks "to leave his paw prints in the ice...To attest that he once passed here,/Laid claim to the vastness,/Before his words became Earth" (became flesh). He's a thoughtful moth: "Knowing, even in its going,/Something's been left behind --/The slightest record of disturbance in the universe -- Wing-dust." Ashes to ashes, wing-dust to wing-dust. (I often bring up the beautiful fleetingness of water beads left on shower walls after someone has showered. Pearly graffiti. Each bead is a unique graffito, Kilroy evidence, proof of his or her once being here. Same with window and mirror reflections. They only happen and last as long as the individual happens and lasts, never to be repeated. Art defies that brevity.)
- Origins and communion recur. We're in "The Stream". There's Melville and Sand floating nearby! They're waving and calling our names! The Promethean sun recognizes you. (Love the fourth line in "The Stream": "trilling the flora and fauna of my cerebral cortex"!)
Soaring (Beyond earth's pull -- "Escaping Gravity.")
- You: What a rush it is, to escape the Old World,
Every known vestige of the New, set off, on his own, to chart the future...
- "My Flying Machine". Flesh becomes more than flesh. We become part of the technology we create and improve (a Kubrickian motif). "Arrows" (shot by the bow man/Bowman): "Hand, heart, shaft, and oak/Have fused into the bow." Hot-air balloons lead to personal computers that Sexton and Lowell lacked. This dawn of flight continues in "Fancy's Flight." More "ascent." Nothing to limit you. The poet transcends the manual and mental acts: "My writing composes itself./Neither mind nor fingers collaborate."
- Then we trip and fall back to pre-flight. The reign of the locomotive, the train. "The Glory Train." The train revolution was as monumental as any of the technological leaps in history. It's part of the imagery of something from nothing or from basic things. Creativity. Another jumping-off point. A steaming pen, a click-clacking sperm penetrating wastes and forests. You remind us of the passing importance of such great things. Tumescence only lasts so long. Flaccidity wins. "The colossal length of the train is gradually lost..." The wastes suck dry; the forests grow over still hulks. "...In profuse sumac, elephantine underbrush,/And rust flaking off the sullen creature." Obsolescence. Regression. A fade into nothing.
I'm reminded of Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I run to the book. Marlow: "...an undersized railway-truck lying there on its back with its wheels in the air. One was off. The thing looked as dead as the carcass of some animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying machinery, a stack of rusty rails..." That rail-truck "never arrived at the soul's depot," to lift from "The Glory Train" again. Those colonial profiteers forfeited their souls.
- Now the pen isn't a digging tool or an arrow or a divining rod. It's filled with rocket fuel. "Propels my soul through the cosmos and back,/Letting me describe the perplexities of the unknown:/Stars supernovas, comets, black holes..." Monoliths, worm holes, singularities... Later in "Door" you write of another kind of monolith: "the notebook I open...Is a door leading to a vast, cavernous unknown." "A celestial womb, ripening toward its birthing hour." Later in "Wide Drive": "I am new,/A fetus conceiving progeny,/A speck effecting its own genesis." (Star-Child, anyone?) Rebirth, self-birth. Later in "Disciple": "To be reborn..." Words are birth. Verbalization is fertilization. From the freedom of non-being comes creation. In "Polar Poet" you, the emulous creator, write "souls/Who were never born before they met me,/Let alone dreamed of being released from the unknown."
- "From birth, through verse, to silence" seems to sum it all up, but I disagree with the return to silence. I don't think we can be shut up once we start blabbing. Our words echo forever. I still hear Catullus and Robert Graves! (Love "rearview-mirror-years" and your use of one of my favorite terms, "mythopoeic.")
- Love "I". Identity through verse. "Crying, 'I! I! I!'" (I think Plath wrote, "my heart brays 'I am! I am!'" - or something like that.)
- "Letting Go of Balloons". "Having lost all touch with the earth." (Love how your lady sacrifices herself so that you can go "higher and higher!" I know that my wife pays a heavy price for my, as you put it, "passion for laying down hen scratches." I'd assert that I'm a rooster but I'm too chicken.)
- "Black Box". Fear of death, of muteness, of the stopped pen. "All systems silenced." The polar bear footprints again. The wing-dust. "The data of his days" telling the tale of "his flown soul."
- "Wide Road." Road to freedom. Road as freedom. Easy rider sings himself mystical, to alter one of your lines. moving away from but ever-near the "rearview-mirror-years." You "abandon the most pressing necessity" because art's supposed non-necessity is necessity. Superfluity is redemption from pragmatic prison.
- "The Garbage Artist." Not only is there art from scratch but there's art from so-called garbage. I'm no fan of Duchamp's R. Mutt urinal, mind you, but I dig the fact that the creative drive goes as far as to inspire the recycling of junk or the recontextualization of toilets. We owe this perverse extent to our "inventiveness, curiosity, lyrical wonderment," as the poem's opening line goes.
- Technology imagery again in "Wound Up" (by the Watchmaker?): "a turbine...Rather than a rickety waterwheel beside a canted mill." (See the final act of Kurosawa's Dreams.)
- Love "Meaning": the "snow/flakes, rain/drops" concept. Verrrry cool.
- "In Between." The artist "revitalize[s] dead and dying ideas," in his or her part of the creative stream.
Epiphanies (Can't shake that 2001 feeling!)
- In the 2001 book: "Here, Time had not begun; not until the suns that now burned were long since dead would the light and life reshape this void." Eventually Bowman is shown magnificent things and is transformed by alien intelligence. They illuminate his limited mind. This leads to enlightenment and rebirth, a new dawn, post-man. As the Star-Child, he experiences light speed and all-encompassing realization. He travels galaxies in mere blinks. The far future seems to be remote prehistory, intended before the ape-men (a concept I contest, incidentally), the move from herbivorism to carnivorism to trains to space ships.
In "Luminaries": "I awaken, millenniums before daybreak,/In time to see Betelgeuse, Canis Major,/And the two consanguine Dippers..." The entire poem smacks of this relearning, rediscovery, enlightenment, fusion of eras (Shakespeare's time, old Greece). The stars themselves are connections to the grand context. "They speak to me...in light-year soliloquies..." You are transfigured by your communion. 2001's Bowman meets himself at future ages, recognizes himself apart from himself. "I imagine hearing a voice from an invisible, new flame/Hymning refrains of verses I myself have made." Shakespeare and the Greeks are in you, and you are in you! "I am large, I contain multitudes," Whitman boasts. You have been added to the Buzz. You're part of the stream.
- "My verse springs eternal" you write in "Poetry". Indeed! Berdyaev says: "From personality...infinity opens out, it enters into infinity, and admits infinity into itself."
The theme of nothingness and beingness recurs, of course. You proclaim gospel, redemption, hope in the unknown and the tendency toward muteness and void: "...poetry saves,/Redeems the overloaded intellect from emptiness..." Defiance of nothingness. Berdyaev is clapping and cheering again!
- And finally, from Creation to creation to Creation, flash forward to the future that is the past, forwardback to the timeless singularity...
- "The Creator." The entire last stanza is golden. Bravo! "...every line he composed/Spoke the ineluctable language of love,/Captured the perfection of his fire,/And embodied the beginning and end of all life." Whitman sings again: "I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of things/to be." To be! "The World Waiting to Be!" Non-being is not destiny. "...dreams are destinations to be reached in time." Life breaks through. "Rhyme schemes...guide us out of this maelstrom." The pen will find a guide to lead it, "as Virgil and Beatrice led Dante,/through poetry's inferno, purgatory, paradise, and sacrifice him to immortality." The artist's power defends against "giants/Waiting...To crash through, sack my intellect,/Pull the arrow from the tree, And snap is magic in two" (to break the tumescent pen, to interrupt the word's seed).
Hope, life, a break from gravity's tyranny. "...creativity's boosters won't fail." The word speaks life and love; the word speaks being. Just when you thought you died, to modify Clarke, "a baby [opens] its eyes and [begins] to cry." "Poetry saves," say the mythopaths. The word redeems us "from scratch."
- Evolved into the Star-Child, Bowman goes back to earth to bring a new paradigm, a salvation. But he lingers, "marshaling his thoughts and brooding over his still untested powers. For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next." Beholding yet unformed potentiality. A world waiting to happen. A word waiting to happen. Even the Star-Child doesn't know what's to come. The final sentence of Clarke's novel: "But he would think of something."
So will we.
All poetry is copyrighted property of Louis Daniel Brodsky, and all notes are property of David Herrle.
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