Looting Versailles

Looting Versailles
My first book of poems, just released by Alabaster Leaves Publishing

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Jane Austen Parody (Style as guide)

Auden once said (I've read) that instead of criticism, he'd rather people wrote parodies. I suppose a parody is a great method for exaggerating certain characteristics of a writer's style to the point of absurdity or ridiculousness, but it can also reveal the style's (author's) merits, and possibly deliver, or lead to, a work that isn't altogether terrible or stupid sounding. What I mean is, by writing a parody, making ridiculous the elements that together form a certain author's DNA or constellation maybe, it may also reveal the ways such a style works, effects the reader, recreate (in a seemingly cheap manner) the mere excellence of it. It may prove fruitful, and demonstrate some styles' inability to be made ridiculous; exaggerating it may actually prove potent rather than malignant. Or instead, if not potent, teach the author (comedian?) whereby potential exists.

Here are some text message parodies of Jane Austen (sounds like Auden) I sent my wife, a huge Austen fan, after finishing Pride and Prejudice. If you've read it, you understand the excited, creative-feeling state that book can leave you in, and the reason I did this; it wasn't intended really as mockery, just playful, enthusiastic sort of fan-boy stuff: homage. Imitation as flattery...

"I finished p&p. 

"I wish lydia had not been so foolhardy and was more resolute with regards to her station and had promoted, by means of her inborn (by way of fair gender) virtues and her simple country pleasantry, a more upright moral standing and a modicum of modesty; her character, her ineptitude of manners, or just plain lack thereof, has left me in a most heated - nay charged - and agitated state!!! 

"But aside from that, i guess it wasnt bad. 

"Oh and dont get me started on mrs bennets meager portion of good breeding and general sociality that nearly led to the bennet sisters complete ruin, a state of affairs that would, no doubt, befit a woman of such crass misbehaviors, ill conceived schemes and reprehensive endeavors; such folly is truly an unfortunate lot for a mind astute and prone to meandering as our dear,  goodhearted mr bennet, the sort of man no shire can manage to retain without a silly shrew like mrs bennet to engage his thoughts until he simply exhauste his mental talents and one day finds himself satisfied by little more than news of the neighbors and a decent novel or history book."

I think certain parts of the above sound more Victorian but not so much specifically like Austen: the heated or charged state is the main example. Otherwise, feels pretty accurate. But by copping the style, sort of feigning the Austen voice, it felt pretty good -- kind of like Merrill's Changing Light at Sandover, I sort of channeled the famous author as a lark, but was surprised by, to me, the faux-quality of the work produced.

It makes me wonder about a style having inherent merits, for one, and also the potential benefits for a contemporary author of "channelling' a past success. When I took to aping Mrs Austen, it was the sonic structure and diction-ideas - sound and sense - I took as guide. (Style as guide.) The style is almost a lens or filter that augments and makes visible the actual, even though in the act of speaking through it, I wasn't really sure how sound (sensible) the content was, since the process was entirely intuitive, or felt so. (It felt as though I was feeling through it - sort of meta-feeling or meta-intuition.) It's almost as if Austen's voice were imprinted like grooves on a vinyl record in my mind, and I was able to sort of trace those grooves -- it's almost like a cover song. Same structure, different voice and instruments, only different....

I believe Auden was onto something - no surprise there, his depth of knowledge with regards to poetics and the aesthetic was akin to Eliot's and Pound's; it's a depth very few a generation seem to possess (maybe requires some obsessive qualities of mind coupled with more: memory, wit...) - I think the parody form can unlock or reveal merits that can be therefore "stolen" by mature artists who take the time or have the mind to recognize it; can be beneficial, a benediction maybe. At least, for the fellow writers who care about language and artifice, producing the new amidst the cacophonous clutter of redundancies and superfluities (that was on purpose there...).

One thing I'll note -- I think there is not so much a difference between Austen's prose and Marianne Moore's poetry: they both lean heavily on polysyllabic Latinate vocabulary, only Moore in the Dickinsonian strange, dissonant way, Austen in the sensible (real-ish, literal-ish) but complicating and enriching way - her word-pictures create a depth, richly textured, similar to the paradoxical world-figures of Joseph Heller and Marcel Proust. (I just read them both recently, too.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Simplified Way of Seeing (If I may) Seeing

It seems to me, as a fan of comedy and literature (and music, and art in general), and frequent maker of things humorous and beautiful, that there's a simple way of seeing those creative endeavors not unlike Aristotle's definition in "Poetics":

On the vast - possibly infinite - spectrum of ways one can see or know a thing, there exists 1) the ridiculous, stupid, funny, and 2) the beautiful, exalted, new, unexpected or impossible. When experiencing POV 1 we laugh, when experiencing POV 2, we're baffled, astonished, amazed, captivated -- when experienced for a long time, you may cry, the same way laughing a long time can have the same effect.

Also in that spectrum is the everyday, common, cliche, literal - these are neither funny nor awe-inspiring. They reside in the majority of us, probably all of us - that's why the people who can help everyone else SEE / KNOW what else is possible are themselves exalted and known, and by nature, a rare breed.

These ways of seeing or knowing have to be made artificially usually - a thing in itself is rarely funny or awe-inspiring, you have to MAKE THEM so. (National Geographic is a great way of seeing how it does not have to be made if one views their table of contents, the subject matter; the writing and photography on the other hand are both supremely Beautifully-Made renderings of said subject matter. And the subject matter is beautiful-in-itself (unexpected, new) by virtue of Nat Geo being read predominantly in America by middle class white adults, so that all the exotic people and locales are unfamiliar, incapable of being everyday to that audience.) One can even UNDO the funny-making or awe-inspiring changes by an artist by simply stating "I'm offended by that joke," "too soon," or "people don't talk that way," "turtles don't have wings." These people are jerks with bad taste and intolerably puny intellects. Or they have ulterior motives, like appearing smart or smarter than the artist making them feel stupid, or jealousy of the attention the successful artist is getting before them.

A couple of things are funny by themselves - dicks, farts, malapropisms sometimes; a couple of things are awe-inspiring or beautiful by themselves - autumn, love, healthy human bodies, death.

Political poetry is an oxymoron: the poem is transformative in nature, but a political statement requires taking a well-defined, already well-known and firmly established POV. Poems and art establish one-of-a-kind, novel, previously non-existent POVs; Comedy the POV of making something ridiculous - politics the POV of a contemporary party or ideology.

Here's a rough image of the spectrum of Ways of Seeing:

Ridiculous <-----------Common, Everyday, Cliche-----------> Magnificent, Splendid, Gorgeous, Mysterious, New

Think of it as a Sphere with Common in the Core (nothing to do with Common Core) and spokes from that hub flying out to infinite Artistic (New) possibilities and infinite (Ridiculous, humorous) possibilities. Try to do that in FOUR dimensions. Just kidding...

What artists and comedians show you is that a Thing can be seen a million ways, known a million ways; they expose the narrow-minded viewpoints of Politicians and their parties, and that goes for BOTH sides of the aisle. They expose the truth: That no political party is sole-possessor of Truth and Morality, and by their very claim to be that sole-possessor they are liars in the same way artists and comedians are, only they are lying earnestly, sincerely. This condition of earnest or genuine or sincere lying (so inadvertent fibbing) strikes me as more grievous, or at least less desirable for myself; somewhat pathetic, puerile. An individual chooses to see things one way, or simply does not have the mind to see it otherwise, or the point of view is practical; that is personality, what Eliot described escaping from in his seminal essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent." That's why Shelley says poetry helps us empathize or sympathize, because it teaches the multitudes of seeing that Whitman professed to possessing (I contradict myself, so be it).

I suspect poetry (maybe art in general) would have a larger audience (not to comedy's level, but closer) if it were seen more in this light: not as Truth, but as "making fun of things," only instead of "fun," "beautiful."  MAKING BEAUTY OF THINGS. (The "turn" in verse, the "make" of poiesis, is to TURN SOMETHING INTO A BEAUTIFUL THING, MAKE a thing beautiful - NOT, as Plato would have it, MAKE a representation of a THING ALREADY BEAUTIFUL. That IS - as Plato said - just a rip-off, a copy. MAKE BEAUTY out of (from) it, NOT re-make a beautiful-it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Dylan Cutting Edge, James Merrill Changing Light, Sense of Poetic (like Humor), Austen, Proust

I emailed my friend Grace, and she recommended I post what I emailed her...

I hope your sister is well. Was pretty jealous to see your pictures from the Antioch workshop. X’s hair, man. Hipster. Same goes for Y with that hat lol. 

Anyway, I got kind of into basing poems loosely on the pantoum, I want to keep doing it. I wrote a couple - one not so unusual, one where I added a fifth sort of “form free” line that just hangs out with the rest of the stanza, not keeping to any strict rules. I think there is room to play with that form that I’ve not seen others do, aside from loosening rules and altering lines a bit. But there’s room for more altering while keeping something of the essence.  

I’ve read about 1/3 of Book of Ephraim, which is supposed to be a major long poem in itself, part of Merrill’s Sandover epic, and I’ve been happy that it’s typical Merrill style, but not blown away as I’d hoped to be. 

I saw a painter’s work recently that I really like — I assume like most poets, you probably enjoy most the other classical art forms: Paint, Sculpture, music. Check out Edward Burne-Jones if you aren’t familiar (apologies if you are and I’m insulting or offending you!). His colors and figures are so striking, chromatic and dramatic - reminds me of Caravaggio and Titian with the refracting and flare of the bodies. 

The Bob Dylan discs - some unreleased takes from the mid-60s I posted about on FB - is insightful regarding the creative process, the purely aesthetic disinterested making. I mean, he rarely shows much devotion to an idea (isn't "married to it") - a sound fragment, lyric or instrument, if he doesn’t like the result. He doesn’t have “anything to say,” just wants to drive the crowd wild sort of - the interest is in the experience, it’s impersonal, made up. 

Have you read about the aesthetic response much, or considered the idea of “disinterestedness” much, heard of it? I think it’s kind of an odd expression, but probably best-suited to how I feel I should approach an art object. Not ask it FOR anything or to do anything i.e. give me some meaningful message or wonder “is it good?” and “why?” Just experience it - the effective ones ought to absorb us then, or grab our attention — at least, that much was stated in the Encyclopedia of Poetry, and I think Wilde and Keats have said as much in similar terms. Definitely the absorbing I’ve recognized in myself, I agree the disinterested approach is useful - anything less is obstructing my appreciation, I find. Also, freeing yourself from disinterestedness is robbing yourself of a beautiful experience and an easy way to cheapen one - "this doesn't make any sense, people don't talk like that, blah blah..."

I’m beginning to wonder if a sense of the poetic is a thing like a sense of humor. Some can produce a poem as natural as some “witty” people can a joke? I know John Ashbery has said he doesn’t need inspiration or any special circumstances to write a poem, it’s something he feels he can just turn off and on or tune into internally when he’s sitting to write. I actually can 100% relate to that sentiment - I can write poetry anytime or place unless I’m tired or not well, I just prefer dedicated time without distractions. Usually it’s when I’m distracted that poetic sense is there but the music is off…or when I’m rushed. Usually the ideas are good, but the phrasing is less than right. But I do think there’s a sense of the artistic or poetic akin to the sense of humor, in that both are just approaching things from new angles basically, so it’s a style of thought. I think I find that style of thinking comes easily to me - social thinking, knowing what to say in conversation, or how to gesture etc, that alludes me. So maybe that inability to grasp one way of being is similar to some people’s inability to turn a phrase or be funny? It seems so obvious it’s not even worth stating, still feels somewhat revelatory to me, embarrassingly. 


That's the bulk of the email, aside from more personal stuff or poems I sent her. 

I wanted to add a couple comment:

Proust's prose is really lyrical and enchanting, but damn are those sentences long. I don't think a common reader would like it, and I think in a "workshop setting" with idiots (whom generally fill those things) it'd get completely annihilated, especially by the people convinced of their own brilliance. Visit any online poetry forum to meet those self-satisfied sort of jerks. But I agree with some criticisms I've read of Proust - the narrative itself is simple, and it's really his beautiful explanatory or descriptive passages that enchant. Although his characters, too, Odette, Swann, are so deep and complex and ugly and flawed and beautiful - really exemplary. 

Catch-22 was marvelously dark and subversive - another example of "rule breaking" that shows real literary talent can't be taught (can't teach funny), but can easily be taught away. Be careful who your teachers are -- if nothing else, that racist patriarchal canon is a good teacher for people who want to write in the Emersonian / Eliot sense, or Stevens, of supreme fiction, literature that creates or transforms. If you want to tell us how oppressed you are by X, then by all means, read 99 % of contemporary vertical writing (the other 1% is old nostalgic white dudes, then a barely traceable amount is real poeisis). Catch-22 was hilarious, scary -- it captured the happy-grief of good writing, the complicated and compacted mood of reality. 

Speaking of reality, I find, that as Picasso says, art is the lie that shows us truth, and like many have said, poetry rescues language from politicians. Namely, reality can NOT be truthfully or adequately recreated by a direct, literal statement; it takes the figurations, complexities and compaction of art, fiction, poetry, to relay what is more like reality than literal language can approach. 

Madoc, by Muldoon, is similar to Merrill's Sandover for me - I love Muldoon's lyrics, but wasn't blown away. It was fun (as he's said) but at times dipped into juvenile territory too often, and didn't flesh out the narrative quite to my liking. But it was classic Muldoon style -- I just would have liked to see some more narrative, or character fleshed out. Not to say Muldoon didn't do this, but could've more -- some of those 2 or 4 line sections left more to be desired. 

Reading Pride and Prejudice finally. Jane Austen's prose is highly intelligent and accessible and lyrical even with, what I feel is, prose written at a highly educated level. It still, probably due to the characters, feels down to earth or like Popular Fiction. It's not as flowery as Proust, and it doesn't leave the realm of concrete imagery as often as Proust does, layering metaphor and descriptions on as Proust does. So far, I actually think the reading experience is more pleasant with Austen, maybe because she's not as challenging, and to be honest, her characters are not as complex as Proust's. For all the charm of Elizabeth and the way she transforms Darcy by virtue of her virtues is not nearly as fascinating and true to life as Odette and Swann's frustrations of each other; maybe these characters, Elizabeth and Darcy, have become sort of stock or archetypal after Austen? Certainly Elizabeth could be that "manic pixie dream girl" to Darcy? 

One recommendation: John Hollander's Powers of 13 -- he ought to be read more, or spoken of more. His "Rhyme's Reason" is one of the greatest books - I mean, people talk of Merrill and Muldoon being virtuosos, to their detriment at times. I think Hollander was a virtuoso - it seems so natural to him, and his writing switches up style and varies itself so flawlessly and effortlessly. If you love poetry, John Hollander is great.