josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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13 Feb '05 11:16:06 AM

This post is called 'Some Things to Note About Robert Creeley'.

- Drawn in as I was by the shorter lines and Williams- and Zukofsky- descended poetics of the seventies to eighties poetry in So There (heavily reliant on the push-pull between the forward motion of ordinary English speech, and the frequently broken, short-running lines that tend to extend the poem vertically more than horizontally), I now find myself put off by the earlier poems in the 45-75 volume - covering The Charm up through apparently a good deal of For Love, that is, to 1960 or so. Things pick up with Words and Pieces. It's odd to fan the book open and see how plainly my receptiveness depends on the length of the line. But in my glancing passes at the earlier poems so far, I've had a number of impressions that seem to support my basic intuition. Things there feel more literary, or maybe I should say, 'literary'. There are more elevated turns of phrase, allusions to the canon. There seems to be a tendency to educated irony, and maybe calling for it, a tendency to have the poems be 'about' 'things'; single things that remind me of English class for the more compact poems that bear more signs of his later style, and big-picture things (often people, dedicatees or addressees) for thicker, indentation-heavy page-length free verse. The latter reminds me most of Pound, who I still find largely unpleasurable to read. I do not understand him on the basic level, of the movement of words, that I need. Williams, who I love, raved so constantly about Pound's ear, and his feel for measure, that I take his similar comments about Creeley seriously, as a reason to be optimistic (but this is after all the older stuff, which to be frank makes me wonder why bother, even as good as I am at internalizing my supposed responsibility to know about things). But my intuition so far is that Creeley had yet, at this point, to find a reason: to find something to write about that would call for the extension of the earlier poetics, an extension that would belong to him as much as to what he was writing on, or for. (One without the other would have been something to do, too, I suppose, but then again since when do I read poetry for its content?)

- There are different reasons for the dates in different places (in introductions, in formal separators internal to books, finally right in the poetry in Hello: A Journal), but all throughout they speak to an interest in occasionality, one made explicit in many places (like the large number of dedicated poems).

- When I get there, I will be curious to see whether I think of Pieces as a book with large-scale form.

- One thing accomplished by the later poetic is the creation of a totally selective emphasis: any word in the poem can be given its own line, can be made to start its own line, can be given a tiny bit of extra motion by breaking it from its expected successor appearing on the next line, can be set up for a surprise by making that next word something other than expected. This may not seem like much if you have in mind a more traditional poetics, where even words embedded in the middle of longer lines can be charged in all kinds of ways by the sonic or semantic relationships they have with words in structurally significant places elsewhere; the poet is supposed to have control over these ways. But apart from being syntactically selective - not really being called on, unless he feels like it, to deform the run of English as it is spoken by you or me, in any effort to pick out an arbitrary word for emphasis - Creeley's device here (and, yes, it's not just his - it feels to me though like a sort of fusion of some things of Williams', and the more compressed, unfamiliar, stacked lines or even syllables of Zukofsky) lets him make that emphasis into an emphatic gesture, a way of pointing at that or this (hello, l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e) by calling on the reader's sense of time, of rhythm, as it's aware of the formation of time built into the structure of the sentences and speech fragments.

- Then, of course, by having this, Creeley also gets to subvert it. This is one reason for having a style, and one reason for reading the whole of what a person writes.

- The reason: suitability of form for content, and the other way around: this trick, let's call it to make ourselves feel a little better at not having done it ourselves, does not just make use of the reader's capacity for time in order to do poem-work, but is used by Creeley to do time-work, consciousness-work, awareness-work, on the reader, or for him. Creeley thus gains access to a whole world of moments; and he can make them, and their settings, his theme without having to depart in a literary-sounding way from the language with which we normally confront them, discover them, keep them, tell them.

- I bought myself a copy of Creeley's 1945-75 volume, finally, on my aunt and uncle's dime. So I wanted to pass my selected Creeley on to someone else. I got into a car with Crystal and handed it to her, saying I didn't need it anymore. She threw it out the window.

12 Feb '05 10:18:21 PM

'And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.'

11 Feb '05 11:18:17 PM

Glenn's alignment statistics now include information on singles votes.

10 Feb '05 08:17:02 AM

Bakhtin's list of the basic characteristics of menippean satire as defined in antiquity, slightly edited (greatly edited):

1. more comic than Socratic dialogue
2. fuck historical fidelity
3. 'the adventures of an idea or a truth in the world'
4. philosophical dialogue x lofty symbol-systems x crazy adventures x shitty locales, only, like, organic
5. big questions, no bush-league bullshit
6. triple-pronged action including IN HELL
7. 'experimental fantasticality'
8. fruitful exploitation of psychological abnormality
9. so naughty!
10. felix/oscar
11. utopianism
12. rampant and unprotected genre heterogeneity!!
13. mad styles and crazy flows
14. what the fuck is happening? (right then, that is)

(Bakhtin's interest in menippean satire is totally different from Nothrop Frye's (quoted earlier), so they are fruitfully read in combination.)

9 Feb '05 07:59:02 PM

Glenn McDonald's annual critical alignment ratings (for albums only) for the Pazz & Jop poll. Without his seven like-minded Juvenile fans Ethan gets his zero (but not the only one).

9 Feb '05 04:40:08 AM

I would hope it goes without saying that the difference in agreement has little to do with correctness or quality.

9 Feb '05 04:37:48 AM

The 2004 Pazz & Jop Results are out. For idle amusement I checked the placement of the records on my ballot. They are listed below; the numbers are the ranking on my ballot / the final ranking / the number of other ballots, not including mine, on which the record appeared.

1/41/27: Junior Boys
2/37/39: Sonic Youth
3/11/85: Madvillain
4/55/25: De La Soul
5/261/6: Mouse on Mars
6/291/3: Pan Sonic
7/469/2: Kompakt 100
8/117/9: The Ex
9/50/30: Ted Leo + The Pharmacists
10/32/45: Ghostface

Likewise with my singles:

1/514/0: Xzibit
2/24/31: Fabolous
3/56/11: R. Kelly
4/3/120: Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris
5/135/4: Petey Pablo
6/35/21: Alicia Keys
7/299/1: Memphis Bleek feat. Freeway
8/2/134: Jay-Z
9/514/0: Houston feat. Chingy, I-20 and Nate Dogg
10/64/10: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

It seems the worst an album could do was tie for 1776th place by scoring 5 points from a single critic. The worst a single could do (there is no minimum point requirement as for albums, but fewer critics submit singles ballots) is tie for 514th from a single mention. This has the interesting (to me, anyway) consequence that records that only a handful of people rate at least well enough to stay on a ballot (with 5 points) will do better than scores of higher-rated records that were voted for by a single person. Of course, this isn't very informative. Most of the places in the hundreds are massive ties.

But, for contrast, look at Ethan's ballot. If it weren't for the eight other people who voted for 'Slow Motion', his cohort of voters in agreement with him about anything at all would have contained exactly zero people. Mine has 603.

5 Feb '05 08:17:15 AM

'River Deep, Mountain High': I keep turning it up, and it's never loud enough.

'Body and Soul': this take, the one that appeared on Monk's Dream in 1962, is Monk playing alone, dissonantly rather than with the jovial slash corny slash lovable stride inflections that he often adopts solo, as on Solo Monk. Imagine the gently disturbed resolutions of 'This Is My Story, This Is My Song' from Straight, No Chaser, only, knotting the entire span of the song - one that at the moment still leaves me inclined to say 'difficult' and mean it.

'Hot Love': until I heard the extended 'la la la' outro of the T. Rex original I guess I just figured Justus Köhncke picked this song to mash into (not up with) 'Frei' because of the provocative lyrics, especially receptive to being camped up.

'Tush': the production is less glossy than I first thought, and the beat less clubby, and the plays on 'ush' more clever, so now it barely sticks out at all on The Pretty Toney Album. I think I might intermingle the time where Ghost says 'push push push' here, talking about fucking, with the time somewhere else where he's talking about childbirth. But I think only good comes of it.

'99 Luftballons': tell me when you can ever hear something so massive and gutsy now. That synth, not even the sole virtue of the song, is obnoxious and perfect.

'Heart Problems': if the songs on Tyrrany of Distance were obviously in some ways of the past, it at least felt like a past that Ted Leo had breathed in, lived in, even if only by listening to records, which anyone who listens to records knows is enough to make it real; on Shake the Sheets the tense rigidity of the song structures, the relative austerity of the musical materials, and the uneasily punchy, single-surface production also come across as historical, but I'm more tempted to call it atavism this time, even if there are some records somewhere that Leo has lived just as much with: it sounds too defensive. I lose the thread somewhere in the middle of this, after the striking opening line, and then wake up most at the catalogue of prescription drugs at the close; this little detail strikes me as one of Leo's favorite touches, the important-sounding detail that doesn't fit with a surface non-reading of his lyrics (so it at least feels meaningful) but comes back massively once you use it as a handhold with which to climb back through the song. This came on the new indie-styled NPR rock outlet this weekend and I momentarily forgot about my griping about the station's playlist.

'20th Century Boy': you want it to come back as huge as that first roar of guitar, but I suppose if it did you wouldn't want so much through the rest of the song.

'Sorry for Laughing': 'there's too much happening'.

'Donna Lee': I keep feeling obliged to throw at least one jazz song on the playlists I cobble together, and then am disappointed by how they never seem to fit. The Parker less so than the others. I think that's because I'm still leading with the mental story I have, that I've picked up from elsewhere, about his radicality. But it takes concentration and familiarity both to always be able to hear that, in every track. Apart from the frequent lack of the former on my part, this is one of the many cuts from the Dial and Savoy sessions that I've only had since the fall and hardly absorbed yet.

'Sixty Minute Man': the second time through they should've doubled up the hits after 'blowin' my top', and held them back that extra-exciting syncopated half a count. Oh well. It's still loping and warm-bodied.

'Where Were You?': I don't know what it means, but by the sound of the guitar I expect it to.

'West Coast Mentality': what does it say if I don't want to represent my town? I mean, I do, some, but sometimes, er.

'Mote': I think it's never loud enough, and keep turning it up, but I always forget that soon Lee's singing ends and the part comes where the guitars genuinely impair my ability to do more than one thing at once. (Though the galumphing bass is sort of comforting - should it be?)

4 Feb '05 06:49:15 AM

Dude.