Kenneth Koch, “The Duplications” [excerpt]

poetry

One night in Venice, near the Grand Canal,
A lovely girl was sitting by her stoop,
Sixteen years old, Elizabeth Gedall,
When, suddenly, a giant ice-cream scoop
Descended from the clouded blue corral
Of heaven and scooped her skyward with a loop-
The-loopy motion, which the gods of Venice
Saw, and, enraged they left off cosmic tennis

And plotted their revenge. They thought some outer
Space denizen or monster had decided
To take this child, perhaps who cared about her
And wished to spare her heart a world divided,
Or else wanted to hug, kiss, and clout her,
And, lust upswelling, the right time had bided,
Or something such—so thought, at least, the gods of
Her native city, famed for bees and matzoh.

Venice, Peru, of course, is where it happened,
A city modeled on the Italian one
Which was all paid for by Commander Papend,
A wealthy Yugoslav who liked his fun.
The Com had sexual urges large as Lapland
And was set for action as a gun
In madman’s hands who hates the world around him—
But Com was filled with love, his heart all pounding!

And so he’d made this North Italian jewel,
Canals and palaces on every side,
An urban re-creation, not renewal,
A daring lust’s restatement of life’s pride;
Huge bumboats carrying marble, masks, and fuel
Clogged South American streams, til Nature cried
“Some madman’s building Venice in Peru!
Abomination beneath the sky’s blue!”

* * *

Kenneth Koch – as you can probably tell at this point after reading a few stanzas – was a poet who believed that – gasp! – poetry could be fun and lighthearted! I know, right?! What a nut! But he and his pals Frank O’Hara (coming next week) and John Ashbery, in the wake of the mythological drudgery that was Modernism, believed just that, and through their works tried to infuse poetry with a jolt of the weird, of the contemporary, of pop culture. The excerpt above begins his long poem “The Duplications.” I’ll be honest, I’ve yet to make it all the way through this poem’s insanity, but I will tell you that on the next page alone Koch references Canada Dry, Walt Disney, Minnie Mouse, and Salvador Dali.

An interview with John Ashbery

poetry

wwnorton:

Claude Peck: Why has Rimbaud appealed, over the years, to various music icons, from Jim Morrison to Patti Smith?

John Ashbery: Bob Dylan, I think, also. Rimbaud has always appealed to misfits and delinquents, who are very often poets. Poets are very often of those persuasions.

Misfits and delinquents. Love it.

 

Stanley Kunitz, “Hermetic Poem”

poetry

The secret my heart keeps
Flows into cracked cups.

No saucer can contain
This overplus of mine:

It glisters to the floor,
Lashing like lizard fire

And ramps upon the walls
Crazy with ruby ills.

Who enters by my door
Is drowned, burned, stung, and starred.

* * *

There is really little to say about this poem, except that it is perfection.

 

Jack Kerouac, 1st Chorus of “Desolation Blues”

poetry

I stand on my head on Desolation Peak
And see that the world is hanging
Into an ocean of endless space
The mountains dripping rock by rock
Like bubbles in the void
And tending where they want—
That at night the shooting stars
Are swimming up to meet us
Yearning from the bottom black
But never make it, alas—
That we walk around clung
To earth
Like beetles with big brains
Ignorant of where we are, how,
What, & upsidedown like fools,
Talking of governments & history,
—But Mount Hozomeen
The most beautiful mountain I ever seen,
Does nothing but sit & be a mountain,
A mess of double pointed rock
Hanging pouring into space
O frightful silent endless space
—Everything goes to the head
Of the hanging bubble, with men
The juice is in the head—
So mountain peaks are points
Of rocky liquid yearning

~ ~ ~

Whenever I get lost, thinking too much about the world and how hard it can be sometimes, I remember that there is the lonely fire lookout on Desolation Peak.

Post-WriMo

hullabaloo

Hey. Howdy. Well the novel-writing thing went well! I did finish, two days ahead of time, with about 51,500 words. It’s about a 200-page paperback if you want to think of it that way. Though as you can see it left me with little excess energy for posting up some poems or any of the other randomness that goes on around here.

I did honestly learn quite a bit about writing – and about myself (yawn) – in writing that novel. Tenatively titled A Trick of the Clouds, by the way. Maybe. For now. The first thing is was finding that could do this at all. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a prose writer. Never really had an eye for dialogue or plot, but I can describe the hell out of a place, so I veered into poetry long ago. But I found that the two writing forms are not mutually exclusive and I could use my poetry chops to expand the prose into new and interesting avenues.

Also, take note: Just because you’ve come up with a great idea or line that you think will define your work, or one of your characters, doesn’t mean you’ll remember it later. This book is littered with ideas, some terrific, some that seemed terrific at the time, that never came to fruition by the end. All these little seeds that I was going to grow and tie together, but then forgot to tie together in the simple attempt to just get enough words on the page. So take notes, people.

Writing 200 pages with words on them is easy. I found it sad, seeing all the NaNoWriMo contestants who had their 50k words done by the end of the second week. It just made me think they couldn’t have possibly put that much heart or thought into it. Yes, Kerouac did it, but he was a genius. And he was on benzedrine. And it was basically nonfiction with the names changed. I’m not Kerouac, you’re not Kerouac.

I barely understood my characters at all by the end of the second week. I certainly wasn’t familiar enough with them to bring them to a satisfying resolution. Now, by the end of the fourth week, and the end of the novel, I was a quivering wreck trying to finish their story. Writing a novel is hard. Especially in a month. Writing something that is totally original might be completely impossible. You just have to take the best of what you have and put it together in a way that is as unique as possible. I got so mad at myself seeing all the passive voice and all the cliched lines pouring out of my fingers. I would moan out loud as I hit the backspace button over “the stars shined quietly” what seemed like a million times. I was almost sick to my stomach every time I wrote “he” or “she” because I felt that I had written it so goddamn many times that the words had become meaningless as descriptors. I would write something and then realize I had stolen it wholesale from another book. This is different than the mass of “inside jokes” and quotes that I included, which was fun.

But then again, this is really a rough draft. Such as it is, I’m pretty proud of it. The ending especially is pretty good. I love my last sentence. There are so many nifty things that I feel so clever for thinking of. So many great moments that feel genuine and make me smile. I think that with some work – after some serious time apart to let things settle – this could really be something. I hope the brave proofreaders who have actually requested to read this will think the same way.

Sam Shepard, “He changed the canaries”

poetry

He changed the canaries
Fed the Mule
Stood transfixed for ½ an hour
 
Every morning
He changed the canaries
Fed the Mule
And stood transfixed for ½ an hour
 
He never planned on standing transfixed for ½ an hour
It just happened
Every morning
 
Maybe it was the pause in finishing feeding the Mule
The momentum running down
 
There seemed to be a natural momentum
From changing the canaries
To feeding the Mule
 
It just happened
Every morning
 
It was the pause
After feeding the Mule
That stunned him
 
A Giant Pause
 
He even knew what the next thing was
He knew it very clearly
 
He knew the next thing was feeding himself
After feeding the Mule
 
But he couldn’t move
 
He stood transfixed for ½ an hour
Staring at the desert
 
Sometimes staring at his bottle house
 
Sometimes staring at the well pump
 
It depended on which direction he happened to be facing
When the transfixion struck him
 
It got to the point where he looked forward
To standing transfixed for ½ an hour
 
It was the high point of his morning
 
Change the canaries
Feed the Mule
Stand transfixed for ½ an hour
 
1/15/80
Homestead Valley, Ca.

~ ~ ~

From his fantastic book Motel Chronicles.

Allen Ginsberg, “The Bricklayer’s Lunch Hour”

poetry

Two bricklayers are setting the walls
of a cellar in a new dug out patch
of dirt behind an old house of wood
with brown gables grown over with ivy
on a shady street in Denver. It is noon
and one of them wanders off. The young
subordinate bricklayer sits idly for
a few minutes after eating a sandwich
and throwing away the paper bag. He
has on dungarees and is bare above
the waist; he has yellow hair and wears
a smudged but still bright red cap
on his head. He sits idly on top
of the wall on a ladder that is leaned
up between his spread thighs, his head
bent down, gazing uninterestedly at
the paper bag on the grass. He draws
his hand across his breast, and then
slowly rubs his knuckles across the
side of his chin, and rocks to and fro
on the wall. A small cat walks to him
along the top of the wall. He picks
it up, takes off his cap, and puts it
over the kitten’s body for a moment.
Meanwhile it is darkening as if to rain
and the wind on top of the trees in the
street comes through almost harshly.

Denver, Summer 1947

~ ~ ~

Now, the last Ginsberg post is not to say that his early stuff is not great. It is of course great, monumental and beautiful. It goes without saying. Just look at this. This scene he creates, and the way he dissolves it at the end with almost equal beauty.

Allen Ginsberg, “Returning to the Country for a Brief Visit”

poetry

Annotations to Amitendranath Tagore’s Sung Poetry

“In later days, remembering this I shall certainly go mad.”

Reading Sung poems, I think of my poems to Neal
dead a few years now, Jack underground
invisible – their faces rise in my mind.
Did I write truthfully of them? In later times
I saw them little, not much difference they’re dead.
The live in books and memory, strong as on earth.

“I do not know who is hoarding all this rare work.”

Old One the dog stretches stiff legged,
soon he’ll be underground. Spring’s first fat bee
buzzes yellow over the new grass and dead leaves.

What’s this little brown insect walking zigzag
across the sunny white page of Su Tung-p’o’s poem?
Fly away, tiny mite, even your life is tender –
I lift the book and blow you into the dazzling void.

“You live apart on rivers and seas…”

You live in apartments by rivers and seas
Spring comes, waters flow murky the salt wave’s covered with oily dung
Sun rises, smokestacks cover the roofs with black mist
winds blow, city skies are clear blue all afternoon
but at night the full moon hesitates behind brick.
How will all these millions of people worship the Great Mother?
When all these millions of people die, will they recognize the Great Father?

Cherry Valley, April 20, 1973

~ ~ ~

This is absolutely one of my favorite Ginsberg poems. People tend to focus on his work of the 40s and 50s as his most vital, and it’s easy to forget that when Jack and Neal died – when many people thought beat itself was dead – men like Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (and so many more) carried on with the Zen beat message and poetry for generations. Ginsberg is gone now too, a tiny mite blown into the void, but even today Snyder and Ferlinghetti and others are as vital today as they ever were, perhaps more so. It would be a sad mistake for poetry and beat fans to focus only on the Six Gallery days and forget the beautiful lifetimes that followed.