Saturday, September 20, 2008

we made a brief visit to the native American Pow Wow today. Beth has been to some out west, which are grander affairs, more like rodeos or state fairs. this was a smaller event. there's a lot of stuff to buy, trinkets mostly. when we arrived a woman was telling stories for children. I wanted the drums, the singing, and the dancing. we toured around until the festivities turned to the music. gosh it is wonderful. 5 or 6 men sit around a large drum (there were 2 or 3 groups), and they beat in an entrancing way, with occasional provocative thuds on the drum. singing as they do so. meanwhile, in the dance circle, people set to. some dancers are quite internal and meditative, and some are John Travolta in Sat Nite Fev (except that I think he's a clunky dancer in that, schlocky Vegas crap, but I am trying to relate the dance circle to you). some dancers are courtly, even prim, and some cut the rug. there was a man using a walker, and an oxygen bottle, with head dress, quite dedicated to getting his steps in. and young girls and boys making quite the most of the simple two step procession. it's a lovely spectrum. I saw two brothers, late teens or so, who I saw last year. they sang as well as danced. the older dressed up fine while the younger wore jeans and a red basketball singlet. I wanted to be banging on the drum. not, I hope, in that male menopause way. I have always had drums around, tho I never call myself a drummer. the tom toms are more like mystical vortices than musical instruments. that is, the point is the engagement with time as a proposed element of breath and connection, not an attempt to be Elvin Jones. I think in writing about Harold Bloom yesterday, I was sniffing the border of something similar, a similar distinction. there's a chunky competition in Art World, everyone with their Elvin Jones chops displayed. and the teaching facade, and the critical facade, each instigates a sense of limitation. and the dumb shit of that is the obvious point: that aint none of us Elvin Jones. who only himself got there by the magic of being Elvin Jones. and that magic has a lot to do with Elvin Jones' engagement with breath and connection. proposals of canon reflect a weak attempt to match that. the pow wow drumming is granted as a simplicity to share (tho I note no women in the groups, I am sorry for that, tho some of the singing did include women's voices), and the dancing even more convivially embracing. this stuff makes more sense to me, in the most vital way, than poetry scene. universities and sackcloth, for the sake of poetry as coterie voice not tribal connection. this make sense to anyone?
Nada Gordon comments (below):

"poetry is not a tribal code, it is a personal lighthouse on the edge of something wildly fascinating. "

Can't it be both?

and course poetry can be both tribal code and lighthouse. by tribal code I was thinking of something more minor, tribe of critics, or tribe of academics (not to mean all critics or academics, but the dullards, the non-progressive stones in the passway). poetry is very much a tribal thing, but a loss occurs when tribes put up boundaries.

Friday, September 19, 2008

iTunes has something called iTunes University, something like that, which offers a bunch of college courses as podcasts. I listened to a talk by Harold Bloom today, How to Read a Poem, a class he gave in 2006. I really enjoyed listening to it, which I did not expect. I find his ideas interesting enough but gosh his writing is tiresome. the vocabulary of his writing chimes uncomfortably with awkward words. trope as a verb: yech. I mean trope used as a verb thruout the book, seemingly on every page: yech. and his Canon of Western Civ, I do not want to hear about that. I mean, writ on 2 stone tablets or what? he is such an edifice. the lecture was quite charming, tho. I assumed that he would be demonstrative and overbearing but instead he was quiet and thoughtful. his lecture (1st in a series) was a close reading of a Wallace Stevens poem. he kept apologizing about his tangents, but his tangents were worth trailing along, and showed a more interesting process than the plangency of professional critic. his tangents tended to include close friends, Paul de Man, Kenneth Burke, John Hollander... I am forgetting a few... Bloom in the swirl of interest. so, as I say, it was surprisingly entertaining to listen to him. his humour is dry and self-deprecating. and Stevens is a great poet. the pungent array of evocations that occurs in Stevens' work is enticing and strange. the guy was a drastic weirdo in a way that we do not, perhaps, really need to overthink. Bloom mentions Holly Stevens saying that her family never had anyone to dinner, ever. Bloom did not emphasize Stevens' oddity, but I was minded of, oddly, Lovecraft in the sense of a highly-charged intellectual and imaginative world, and a strangely bereft daily one. but anyway, I got a sense of a love of poetry that I do not get so much from Bloom's writings. that critical world of his seems demarcated and limited, whereas as he spoke of Stevens and other poets (but not the so-called confessional poets, Lowell et al., who he declared a distaste for), the pleasure of poetry shone thru. years ago, if I might follow a tangent, a neatly timed snowstorm arrived in time to have work called off. unexpectedly, I had the day off. I read Bloom's book on Stevens. I spent the day at it, reading the poems Bloom referred to, as well as hunting down other works that Bloom brought into the discussion. it was delicious to do this, especially under a non-academic directive. I think that is the difference between his writing and his lecture. on one side is something more like career positioning, wherein his declarations provide structure for his world place. in class, this one at least, he is not asserting that so much, certified as he is, but instead he is allowed to speak his pleasures, simply that essential. I will take Olson's canon, because it is quirky, personal, and directed from his personal craze. Bloom's was a public predictability, just one more book. I think it might be nice to break the academic hold on poetry and the critique thereof. poetry is not a tribal code, it is a personal lighthouse on the edge of something wildly fascinating. so okay, all you teaching poetry in college: get out, you are not happy, your light aint working. poetry is important, unloose, and a pleasure for the mind. if you do not sign that contract, you should not be talking about it. yes, I am just yapping...