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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Three Audio Poems

The audioposts of three requested poems went up yesterday. They can all be found in the post immediately preceding this one.


Tracy Hamon said...

Terrific, thanks!

Humble Servant said...

It writhes! It writhes! Heehee. Most amusing.

The Dugan is scary. (Haven't listened to the Stevens yet.)

I'll email you a scan of the Milosz.

MackJohnny said...

Ha, glad you liked it. Yes, please send the Milosz. Hopefully my throat will work right again by Saturday and I can do it.

Tell me more about Dugan and scary, if you could or would.

Humble Servant said...

That "love song" is a bitter manifesto of self-abhorrence of the kind that usually has nothing at all to do with any one else--the sufferer is locked inward to eat his own heart out in despair. It is horrifying because of the invitation in the very last line (just when you thought you were going to escape the poem unimplicated) to join him in his hell (to use mediaspeak, to become his enabler in a dysfunctional marriage).

I have a "books on tape" version of the Screwtape Letters where John Cleese reads Screwtape--I heard some affinities with it--voice and subject.

MackJohnny said...

Well, we're not far apart on the Dugan, then. I had to consciously stretch my voice towards gentleness as I read it aloud. We do have a few people in this neck of the woods who could be the speaker ... but I imagine most everywhere does.

I've never made it through the Screwtape Letters. That's an interesting observation. Care to expand on the affinities?

I was going to ask you something else, but I just burned a couple of pork chops and that seems to have driven everything else from my mind.

Humble Servant said...

The voice of the Dugan poem sounds like several devils, actually--"I built it and I'll live in it, by hell" (paraphrase) is Satan from Milton--"my mind is its own place and can make a hell of heaven and a heaven of hell" and "tis better to reign in hell than serve in heaven" (paraphrases again). The voice's "need" to have someone in hell with him is quite like Screwtape's need for souls to fill up the "famine" of hell. Dugan's poem is overt about it too--"by Christ I am no carpenter" and "God damned this, this is hell and I will live in it" and nailing himself to his own cross. Screwtape talks affectionately and lovingly about embracing his nephew, but it is the embrace of hell (just as the voice would embrace a wife). Cleese does the "big" parts of the reading in a growly low whisper rather in your range--veering unexpectedly into rage, unbalanced hatred and prissy insistence on his privileges and rank.

MackJohnny said...

Milton and The Screwtape Letters. The Dugan poem sure spreads itself out. Cool. I've added the text of Love Song: I and Thou to the requests post.

Zach said...

I think the Dugan poem makes a powerful and unillusioned statement about what the commitment of one's life to art entails--it's "scary," sure, but beautiful too (think Rilke's distinctly uncherubic seraphs). Think of "I" as the artist and "Thou"--invited in to the poem only as it concludes--as the reader/viewer/listener. Also interesting that this poem was in Dugan's first book (titled simply Poems, as each of the next six was also), a book published in his forties after he'd worked a bunch of distinctly non-literary jobs to keep body and soul together while learning poetry. It comes a few pages after the poem "Prison Song," a less successful poem, but interesting for these ideas too; the poet speaks of his skin:

So, let it lie, turn off its clues, or try to leave:
sewn on me seamless like those painful shirts
the body-hating saints wore, this sheath of hell
is pierced to my darkness nonetheless: what traitors
labor in my face, what hints they smuggle through
its itching guard! But even in the night it jails,
with nothing but its lies and silences to feed upon,
the jail itself can make a scenery, sing prison songs
and set off fireworks to praise a homemade day.


I've only come across Dugan lately on a tip from a friend, but I like a lot of what I've seen, for its flaws--all those folded nails and skewy joists--as much as for its felicities; the poems definitely feel like the product of a life lived, not like "L"iterature, however literary their allusions often are.

And hopefully soon I'll be able to sit down at a computer with sound so I can hear John's reading of it. Without having heard it, John, I think your instinct to "stretch toward gentleness" is apposite; the poem does, too.

MackJohnny said...

Thanks, Zach. I will be looking for more of Dugan. This one's definitely a poem that gets your attention (which is what a friend once said about Islam as a religion), the varied readings that are possible only underline that.

The reading of it with "Thou" as a/the poet's audience doesn't, perhaps, make it any less scary in that it asks (demands?) the audience to be complicit — and even active — in an ongoing process of self-destruction/self-flagellation which is both the poet/artist's work and the commitment to that work ... an attitude that, if not directly traceable or attributable to the freudian thought-seepages staining western culture for the last century or so, might at least be a product of the strange marriage between freudian and christian thought — perhaps the calvinist strains, particularly — and a steady diet of the salty, old dry meat of moral objectivity.

Er ... anyway, me like poems. Poems good.

Humble Servant said...

Nice comments, zach.

The house is the life or work the poem's narrator has made and committed himself too, yes. Still, that house is pretty horrible with its maggots and all. I'm reluctant to equate the poet/art with the narrator/house for this reason--it is not that the commitment is scary and irrevocable, it's that the poem itself thinks the life/work is objectively ugly, not beautiful. The poet of course knows self-loathing (and that nugget of self-loathing that he knows may well come from his relationship with his work) to be able to do what he does in this poem, but that doesn't mean that the poet is the narrator. The appeal in the last line does sound like "join in the poem," an evocative aside, perhaps, but I don't know if it is enough to get to a 1:1 equivalence between narrator/house and poet/art.

A gentle reading makes the narrator's psychosis more seductive--good for that reason.

Hope you don't mind a bit of back and forth--I know it's hard to catch tone in writing--this comment contains good will.

And I see you too on preview johnny--more good comments--self-flaggellation indeed (per the prison poem too)!

Brenda Schmidt said...

Great job, John. I love the Poe. Dugan is new to me. What a powerful poem.

Zach said...

Of course I don't mind back and forth, I live for it! I wouldn't insist on my reading being _the_ reading; no good poem can be so reduced to allegory and this one is definitely a good poem. You say "objectively ugly", but then this happens:

it held. It settled plumb,
level, solid, square and true
for that great moment.

To me, as someone who spends far too goddamn much of his time in the mostly futile pursuit of trying to write poems, this poem says a lot, very honestly and accurately, about the kind of frustratingly inept attempting--I've always liked Randall Jarrell's observation that writing poetry is like playing pin the tail on the donkey, only there's no tail and no donkey--with the odd transitory but transcendent "great moment." And beautiful, how "true" works on two levels here. (Also interesting to note the syntactic parallelism between "level, solid, square and true" and "a help, a love, a you, a wife.") And after "The Idea of Order at Key West", I don't think any poet, especially not an American one, can use the word "rage" without echoing Wallace Stevens' "rage to order," a very poetic impulse. Or compulsion. There is something fundamentally obsessive-compulsive about the drive to make art, isn't there? And it is so often accompanied by a tendency towards self-destructive behaviour. Sometimes I think that the only thing in life worse than writing poems is not writing poems--and "Love Song", to me, says the same sort of thing.

MackJohnny said...

"level, solid, square and true"
"a help, a love, a you, a wife."

Damn fine point. Thank you.

Obsession and compulsion. Don't know nothing about them.

I've been studiously not writing poems for 6 or 9 months, Zach. Can't make up my mind if it's better or worse than writing 'em. One day I lean one way, the next I lean t'other.

Zach said...

Well, John, for most of the world it's a matter of no great consequence, but I dare say there's a good handful of us folk who hope to see more poems from ya someday.

But today, the sun's shinin and I don't have to work, so poetry'll have to wait.

MackJohnny said...

Yes, b'y, it's right bright out and looking to be fearsome clear by the time I get the dust shook off. It's a fine enough April day that a pool table couldn't tempt me, let alone a poem.

Humble Servant said...

Well, then, zach, you marry him--I'm gonna run the other way real fast. :)

Aaand, as soon as he does get a wife, you just know that the first thing she's gonna do is start nagging him to fix the damn house.

Then maybe she'll tidy up his papers and things for him.

Oh, look--there's something out of place now:

"level, solid, square and true
a help, a love, a you, a wife"

That will look much perkier as:

"level, solid, square and true
a help, a love, a wife, a you."

"But Alan, honey, why not make it rhyme? It's a lot cuter that way."

Yeah, yeah, you guys go play in the sun. Never any appreciation for all the work a woman does around the house, never any consideration. Don't promise you're gonna fix the roof if you're not gonna do it.

Zach said...

Actually, Humble Servant, I spent the day out in the yard expanding the garden with the help of my dear old mom, who's visiting for a couple of days. I fixed the roof in the fall.

American poets build houses, Canadian poets garden. Al Purdy and Milton Acorn are exceptions to this rule.

Humble Servant said...

Purdy and Acorn don't garden or do build houses?? I've lost my grip on the metaphor.

(A "nymph's reply" to Dugan would be nifty--though in this case it would be fulfillment, not retort--after all, she's been recruited specifically to nail up that other hand.)

nymph said...


And if I pay out sufficient
cordage, will you hang
yourself? By Christ, I’m tired
of the self-dramatics
of martyr-complex men. Get off
the cross, Alan, your lot’s no worse
to bear than any other’s—
unless it be mine to live
with a self-despising fool
like you. No, as attractive
as the offer to join you
in your shack of hazards is,
I’ll have to pass. Get your
shit together, man, contract
what you can’t do yourself,
tame that rage, straighten
what is bent, then call me
and we’ll talk. Until then,
I’ve better things to do
than cater to the vanity
of men. If you’re so stupid
as to pin your southpaw
to the cross, I’m not the one
to nail the right, nor will I
pull the left one with the claw,
but leave you hanging there
until your weight undoes
your work and leaves you lying
in the sawdust to lick
your blessed wound.

MackJohnny said...

Sweet! That's gloriously hilarious, whoever you are, nymph. Thank you.

Humble Servant said...

Bwahaha! Love it! "Shack of horrors" and the head of steam built up at the end are excellent.

And it is a retort after all--I envisioned a whining nag about not picking up his socks and not fixing the roof and "I will marry you until it kills me"--which is what he'd really get out of that kind of "wife," but this is better.

You deny authorship, John? I'd have guessed it was you. Fess up, nymph.

Zach said...

Awright, awright, it was me, as I confessed to John last night. Thanks for the inspiration, Humble Servant, wouldn't have thought of it without your comment. Never let it be said that Zach Wells hasn't created a strong female character! Glad y'all like her.

Humble Servant said...

So, that was zach in the nymph costume (a strong nymph!). Mystery solved. Liked the sawdust line too--"Pound sawdust, dude!"

MackJohnny said...

Strong nymph? A "wood nymph," I guess you could say. Or "wouldn'[t] nymph." Or, even ... wooed nymph.

Okay, I'll stop.

Humble Servant said...

Bwahaha again--very good.

C'mon down off that cross, we need the wood, nymph.