k: “sex without touching” is a lyric from a bjork song, but i can’t remember which one and haven’t the energy or ambition to look it up. (okay i’m playing all my bjork songs that i have on my pc, i’m sure it’s in one of these, so i’ll tell you which song it is when i hear it. do you like bjork? it’s ryan’s fault i like her at all, he had the hots for her because he saw this video where she cooked a fried egg… or something, he’s strange ^_^ but i love him.)
ah, this email isn’t about bjork or ryan or anything to do with eggs or iceland or anything like that. it’s about sex and poetry. and somehow that has to do with your wanting me to explain better my preference for modernists as opposed to beatniks.
i have this sort of grand illusion in my mind, that somehow these schools were clearly marked. like history. this happened on this date and the world changed. i imagine that the moment the titanic sank, women stopped wearing corsets and bonnets. that the moment the first page or paper was pressed against blocks covered in ink that the world started reading and publishing and learning. that the moment the steam engine was fired up, cows started getting scared and farmers started to complain (though that one might actually be true). anyway, i know that the effects of one moment take time to cause revolution. it takes a lot of motion to create a movement. and it takes retrospect to see when and where things happened.
anyway, holding onto my silly belief, modernists came and went (mostly to europe) and then beatniks came and lingered and then there were the boys of the new york school (we all love them, and they all loved each other!!). i want to meet john ashbery so i can ask him if he ever kissed frank, and ask him, if he says yes, if he was any good.
this time line a’la katy is obviously bare-bone, oh and actually, all of these movements and groups overlapped, so it shouldn’t even really be called a time-line, it’s more like a big heap. as much as you might think, i’m no expert on poetry! i read all the texts, lavish in all the isms and movements, look them up, read about them, learn who was a part of them, learn about those poets lives… i am always searching, looking, questioning. i only learned recently, truthfully, that zukowski is the fore-father of objectivism. all this time i thought pound was the granddaddy. (pound really gets my back up, you know this already). needless to say, i was very pleased to learn this. william carlos williams and pound really pushed the movement, but it was my louise who had been developing the ism and gave it it’s name.
i still haven’t gotten to the issue though… why do i prefer modernists over beatniks? it’s part in the poetry itself, and part in the characters behind the poetry—the poets. i don’t like kerouac’s poetry, and i couldn’t finish on the road for the life of me, it was rather dreadful i’m afraid. (generally poets shouldn’t write novels, unless they happen to be leonard cohen—i feel like i might be going on about him too much at the moment… i should buy one of his collections…). james dean’s character in rebel without a cause is how i image beatniks. provocative, dirty, cig hanging from their lips, nice hair, care free hitch hiking, writing poetry on scraps of paper, living off ma and pa’s income. and oh! how i loved the idea when i was 16. but i don’t enjoy, now, the drug content. it’s really the only thing i really don’t like about brian’s work actually, is all the smoking and drinking. it’s unattractive, off-putting even. i don’t mind, in the real world, someone having a drink and a smoke. one of my best friends at school—jonah—is a very jazz-club sort of guy, smokes lots, drinks lots, but he never glorified it in any way. he’s a genuine genius, actually, so it was great to get him drunk and get him talking stupid about shoes and the alphabet. but to glorify and dramatize smoking and drinking, so very not sexy.
now you want to talk what is sexy? mina loy is sexy. george oppen, though i’ve only read the first say 5 poems in the book of his i bought, is sexy (http://writing.upenn.edu/pepc/authors/oppen/images/oppen-sel-poems.jpg even though his nose is a bit too big, when he was young, he was defiantly hot. he got old and grew a mustache though, so don’t go looking for any picture other than this one, you’ll be disappointed). and they write sexy poems, like that one by mina loy i put in that post about her and frank. frank’s poems are defiantly sexy, no question. as far as modernists though, and the appeal i have for them… i feel like, when i read the letters and poems and essays (they wrote so much!!) i get a real sense of community. i have no idea how many of them mina actually did sleep with, but i know she was very active in the modernist community. in “to want to art” she is “Expression”.
so i guess it’s the community i love so much, and the lack of all the drug stuff. they don’t glorify the bad habits, they merely allude to them in passing. they’re sly and subtle. their poetry is difficult, complex and dense and so rewarding when you finally get it. i love how deep you can dig into a zukowski poem. i have such a difficult time reading his poetry and really enjoying it. though i’ve studied him and written papers on him and use him as a crutch for my prism metaphor, he is such a challenge, and i love it. one of his poems A-9 actually has an equation hidden in it for a cone of light. i have it all written down… something about the ration between r’s and n’s that appear in the poem… unbelievable and so… modern. that whole era fascinates me, actually. the industrialization of america, the late 1800’s into the 19… say 40’s or 50’s… the height of the world’s fair, trains, canals, the great depression, subways and elevators and sky scrapers and all this… robots. it’s all about technology. and the poet’s role in that era was to remind us what butterflies look like, what water tastes like, what a rain smells like. there’s this war being fought on the literary field between nature—the old wise and beautiful—and technology—the strange mangled birth of something astonishing and glorious, the triumph of man.
the song is “enjoy”
there’s a whole new arrangement of poetry today. and there are one thousand and twenty eight ways to talk about it. i won’t here, it’s defiantly too big to deal with in one email, which is why people like ron silliman take it one day at a time, one poem at a time.
more to do with sex… this new poem… the only good part in it is the part about sex… do i embrace this ability to exploit… love? is it really an exploitation, or should i view it more as a celebration? i really enjoy writing those poems, and enjoy reading sexy poems, and since we talked a bit in reaction to ron’s statement about gay men and women writing all the sexy stuff recently, i’ve been thinking about it more and recognizing it more. i don’t know that ron’s really right though… i think plenty of men are writing about sex. but they’re doing it like rohrer, disguising it in the third person or they’re just not that popular, or they’re writing song lyrics instead. they’re out there, just not in the form that ron looks for, i suppose.
anyway, at the moment i find it unnervingly easy to write a good sex poem. i thought, actually, about writing a poem called “a good sex poem”. i think not though, not tonight anyway. the thing is, i have no reason or understanding of why this might suddenly be true. perhaps i’ve been suppressing it? and not really knowing? i wish there was at least one more great robot poem in me. or something… you know… i’m still trying to write the green river into a poem that’s worth something. i just can’t “green river girl” and one about feeling feelings for a robot… those aren’t good enough for the green river. ah, but alas, i am lost in a world of poetry sex… sex without touching. and ryan being ill is really starting to put a strain on … eeergh. enough said.
by the way, the poem that i mentioned earlier is on my blog, complete with disclaimer in the comments. bjork says “enjoy” and if you haven’t seen dancer in the dark then i recommend you get a box of tissues and watch it.
a: Good morning, dear (it was when I started this e-mail!). You know you set yourself up now for explaining "objectivism" in poetry (is it different from whats-her-name Ayn Rand's Objectivism?). I know I could look these up, but the explanation probably wouldn't be half as fun. This is beginning to feel like "Sophie's World" for poetry instead of philosophy (which I frankly think is a great idea; besides, I see poetry as a more concise and eloquent form of philosophy). Have you read that book? I read it when I was a teenager, and except for a dry spell in the middle, I thought it was excellent--the ending just blew my mind off! (Ok, my shirt is officially now the talk of the office: it is shades of pink in an office that is all shades of grey. I thought I'd hear about it...)
In my adolescence and early twenties I enjoyed being so open about sexuality that it might have been jarring; but I enjoyed the shock effect of it. I enjoyed shocking people with that especially because I had such a cute and innocent persona (and I was such a nerd/golden boy in school). But all that changed with Wojtek; he didn't like it. It got me into trouble. And also I realize that I am not that comfortable anymore reading my more explicit poems in public. Besides, this is an instance where I can't think of poetry except as autobiographical (whether reflective of real life or fantasy life, I see both as faces of one persona).
But I think your e-mail brought up a couple of other points for me (that I am sure I forgot one of since I started this sentence and then left it off to go an plot a full set of drawings...). One is the issue of simplicity and complexity (something that I meant to write you about earlier in regards to that Shakespeare sonnet that Silliman posted). In your e-mail you mentioned the complexity of the modernist poems as an asset. And while I do appreciate a layered poem and admit to the joy of a poem "emerging" on one, and revealing itself increasingly with multiple readings, I have also come to appreciate the understated virtue of simplicity in poetry. And even when I appreciate complexity in poetry, it is usually a complexity of meaning, and not structure. And that is perhaps why I react so negatively to Shakespeare. I do realize that part of Shakespeare "difficulty" is the change in language (and mind you I see "difficulty" not as a good thing but as a bad one), but I also find his structures unnecessarily complex. He tends to embody similar simple themes (mostly the anxiety about time and mortality, which admittedly is perhaps the biggest theme in any human endeavor) and present them as complex ideas just because the language is complex. And I realize that at his time his ideas weren't cliched, but they certainly have become so since--a testament to their "greatness" perhaps, but for me that is also a testament to the idea that it's time to move on. I would like to think of myself as a champion of the contemporary, in the sense that I do not subscribe to that nostalgic school of thought that just because they're dead they are great. So, when that complexity gets to the level of encoding, such as in that Zukofsky example, they immediately lose their appeal to me. They become gimmicky, the words no longer mean something but instead becomes assemblages of letters. I can enjoy a good puzzle or mystery (such as the DaVinci Code), but it wouldn't touch me.
The other topic your e-mail brought up for me is the subject of poetry (not as the person, but as the topic): rain? eggplants? trains? time? mortality? love? sex? robots? foxes? trees? I guess that is realted to that idea of sitting down to write about something, which sometimes I wish I could do. I was rereading some of my poetry yesterday to pick what I'm reading tomorrow, and it hit me, for example, how depressed and depressive some of my earlier poetry is. I realize now that I started writing poetry as my way of grieving my grandmother, who raised me, especially that I was away from home and my family and therefore could not engage in the common grieving rituals that they had. Still, the shift in topic from then till now amazed me. I feel now that I am reading the old stuff mostly to air it, so I can put it to sleep. I'd like to get it out of the way, in other words, so I can move on to the newer stuff. Still, sometimes I wish I had the discipline of writing about something (when I started arch.memory it was memory, fresh from my thesis). Now, I don't know... The smallness of life, perhaps?
Which made me wonder, if you were to start or be part of a movement, what would it be? Mine I think would be a riff off existentialism (probably with a different name, since the word now is so passe). By the way, I did very much appreciate your bringing down these movements to their essential human elements and reactions (that was the strength, I thought, of one of my favorite architecture history professors). But also I appreciate your awareness of the artificiality of these isms.