Monday, 23 February 2009

A Touch of Vendler in the Night

Wallace Stevens as a young man

My previously mentioned birthday present the iPod touch has seen me through various journeys, switching from late Beethoven quartets, to Otis Redding, to Piazzola to Ian Dury to Billie Holiday to Brad Mehldau to Schubert or Bartok, or indeed Walton-Sitwell, which is all very good, but I like words so I have been downloading books too: two Raymond Chandlers (The Big Sleep and The Little Sister), Kafka's Metamorphosis, Eliot reading his poetry and a great mass of other poets on three albums, mainly early to mid-20th century Americans reading theirs.

But now there are podcasts too, some of them free. And the good of all this is that when I can't sleep or when I wake up earlier than 4 am I put on music or speech in the form of audiobook or podcast with the headphone plugged in and am kept interested until I am finally ready to sleep again.

I should say Chandler is very good to fall asleep to because everything about his writing is so familiar you think you could be dreaming it anyway. Kafka on the other hand is very bad, Metamorphosis being so vivid, so nagging and so logical it acts as a straight anti-soporific. Some of the poetry is OK to fall asleep to, which may or may not be a compliment to it.

Among other things, I have also downloaded some podcasts of well-known American critics talking about poetry. So, last night, having woken particularly early, at 1.23 am to be precise, I decided Helen Vendler was the thing, Vendler on Jasper Johns and Wallace Stevens. A good forty-five minutes of that and I should be both wiser and more rested.

Reader, it was awful.

Maybe 1.23 am is not the best time to be have Helen Vendler in bed with you, but I listened, and listened hard, in that haunted half-awake state, and I kept thinking: Vendler, you are a fool. Vendler you are a pretentious ass. Vendler you are making this up. Vendler, you must know that is perfectly ridiculous.

It was her take on Stevens's 'Anecdote of the Jar' that did for me. She had set up this completely groundless agon between an unnamed generalised English poet who was insisting Stevens write in regular metres, stanzas and rhymes, and Stevens wasn't doing it. Shut up, Vendler! I almost bellowed in my sleep. Get out my bed, you mountebank! And, reader, I switched her off in her prime. What is more she kept me awake another two hours, all but, fuming at her.

Here is the poem, and a magnificent thing it is too.

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Look, Vendler. It's simple. It's about how human intervention, in the form of art, reorganises our perception of nature. Nature becomes focused on the jar. The jar gives the wilderness meaning. And there is that gorgeous eighth line, "of a port in air." The jar is very bare - it isn't surface art or decoration, it is a simple yet humanly conceived object, a jar of aesthetic intent. And it does all that! (Same broad thought in The Idea of Order at Key West. ) And yes, it is playful and sort of gaunt, and the last line is very odd, the way it sits, because you'd think it might say "Like everything else in Tennessee", putting you in mind of all those birds and bushes Tennessee is noted for.

But what makes you think, dumbass Vendler, that the 'English' poet you have in mind is an idiot without imagination. (I grow patriotic in my half-dream.)

So Vendler is banished from my bed. I'd sooner have a jar, any day, even a gray and bare one.

And sleep, of course. But there was none.


Coirí Filíochta said...

How dare you believe Ms Vendler is not a genius ! How dare you disagree with her take on this piece you are clearly misinteperating for the purpose of defaming her supreme intelligence and marvelous critical capacity to entertain, delight, instruct and assist us in our goal of being fully rounded members of the intellegensia committed to furthering the aims of all right minded people with a deep desire to play their part in polite society. How dare you !!

I will be taking this up with your superiors Szirtes and making sure you never work again. You shouldn't be allowed near young and impressionable minds, smearing one as talented and intellgent and wonderful as Helen, who is my close personal circle of icons and symbols of contemporary civilised discourse on the Holy Art you have despoiled and besmirched with your gutter talk. How dare you !!

George S said...

Bless you, sir. If I had a forelock I'd tug it.

Gwil W said...

That poem is in The Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry edited by Helen Vendler. In fact it is the third poem in the book. Stevens gets 20 pages from 390.

Vendler writes: Stevens' poetry powerfully modified his Romantic and Emersonian inheritance, investigating at first the theoretical base for an American poetics and then expanding its inquiry into the processes by which man constructs changing views of himself and his world.

George, I guess that means that Stevens began as a disciple of Emerson & co and moved on philosophically and poetically speaking to pastures anew.

The Stevens poems in the volume include: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, The Idea of Order at Key West and The Emperor of Ice-Cream.

George S said...

It was still a daft lecture, Gwilym, the daftness no doubt exacerbated by the circumstances of my hearing. The introduction, via Jasper Johns, was a series of fine-sounding tendentious remarks not backed up by a shred of evidence.

A flash lecture. Ideas running around without a leg to stand on.

Anonymous said...

"Vendler, you are a fool. Vendler you are a pretentious ass. Vendler you are making this up. Vendler, you must know that is perfectly ridiculous." But your late quartets are better than Beethoven's.*

It's a secret we music-lovers keep to ourselves.

Leonore III on the other hand, is the perfect evocation of 3 hours in the English countryside at the wheel of a Bentley Speed Six. I like to think LB saw it before we did.

*Arrogance is usually considered to be charming.

Gwil W said...

Here's where Vendel is coming from:
"The optic concentration announced by Stevens and other modernists becomes a general duty in the latter half of the twentieth century. Stevens and Williams had taken as their model the visual concentration of painters; but as photography put into question the illusionistic values expressed in painting, the snapshot (rather than the art-photograph) began to seem a necessary, if threatening, model for the poet. And the cultural skepticism first taken as total subject by Stevens prevades the work of his successors."
In other words, George, if Helen Vendler would speak without going all round the houses, she'd say: Stevens is a Renee´ Magritte of poetry.
But then, George, we'd all be in the know and that wouldn't do.

Gwil W said...

By the way George, there's a poem after Stevens. It's called 'Death in the Museum' (look via my blog search box). I know you'll like it.

Gwil W said...

When you enter the words in the search box and the pages come up you'll then scroll down to the page heading: How can I dream when I can't even sleep at night?

dana said...

Derivative fields are filled with wannabees. If you can't write poetry, at least leave other people's alone.

Gwil W said...

I honestly don't think the fact that anybody can't write poetry disqualifies herm from having an opinion. After all, if I can't play football, I can still have an opinion on the game, the manager, the trainer, the players, the referee, the result etc. etc.
I appreciate that the world is filled with wannabees but some of these wannabees I have found to be
creme de la creme. Maybe they are not established poetry editors, opinion makers, winners of bardic chairs and other wotnots because they have interests outside the poetic spectrum and it is only one aspect of their lives. I think you do the top rank wannabees a serious diservice. And as for the rest of them, why, they can appreciate a Beethoven piano concerto even if they can't write one. Would you class the retired concert pianist Alfred Brendel as a poetic wannabee? That reminds me, I must remember to get his books translated.

George S said...

Well, Ms Vendler gets what she deserves for not allowing me to sleep with her ill-conceived japes.I am not sleeping with her again. But I am not agin her.Not like James Fenton, whom I quote now from Out of Danger, p.83

In Madame Vendler's Chamber of Horrors I saw seven American poets, strung up by their swaddling-bands and crying: More Pap! More Pap!

And one must allow critics to criticise, Dana. It's just that on this occasion I found myself inwardly groaning: Less Pap! Less Pap!

It could of course be that her intellect is beyond mine. That can never be discounted for any of us, much as it pains us to say so. Critics are definitely smarter that poets. Modify that to: some critics are usually smarter than most poets. But then they are not always smart in a useful way and they get awful conceited about it.

And is she smarter this time? Nah!

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"My previously mentioned birthday present the iPod touch has seen me through various journeys..."

At first I thought this was a essay on the need for a new iPod. Nah, it's just a side observation after all. Actually, this post got my half-brain going on the critics, which is my favorite pet peeve.

Like writers and lecturers in the doubtful field of popular science, they are bottom feeders. And so a poet should rather float above, being mindful of his/her belly, of course.

Rachel Phillips said...

I think you deserved to remain awake for the rest of the night after getting so worked up about poor Ms Vendler's comments. Maybe tonight you should just count sheep.

George S said...

Did you just write 'poor Ms Vendler' Dubois? One of the most powerful figures in US poetry!

I am not altogether convinced by sheep. They keep muttering about Ms Vendler. Bah, Vendler! They mutter. Bah! Bah Vendler!

Coirí Filíochta said...
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Coirí Filíochta said...


I remember being in Pearse Street library and picking up Muldoon's Oxford lectures and dutifully taking them home to imbibe and thus, being near the great man's brain, once I had drained PM of his powers by a process of supernatural osmosis, so become a titan of the poetry world myself.

I had only heard him read on a few recordings, in which he spoke very clearly, as though issuing instructions to the ghost of John Wayne in a movie of my life, Paul the director and starring James Byrne as the older me during my time at the premier homeless hostel on Bride Road, where I had relocated for the professional purposes and in room 23 of which I was busily ensconsed checking out the latest on a list I had been ticking off since I arrived in Ireland barely 12 months prior.

Having spent the first three years at university in Trinity College, Cambridge under the tutealage of Geoffrey Hill, and knowing the English scene very well due to being in thick with all the major figures who were pressing me to commit to their various publishers (and in the case of the publishers themselves, to their presses) in order for me to affirm - not only their own choice of who they published with but also - their belief and faith in themselves as serious verbal artists, it was clear I had a very important contribution to make to the world of letters and the traditions in which myself and Geoffrey are centred as aesthetic pretenders making it up as we go along, traveling upon the wings of Mesonyme and Ogma, playing a very important part in life generally as people with a talent for pretending to be people we are not - such as Paul Muldoon and his own mentor, the very famous Kevin Desmond, love child of Patrick Kavanagh and Evan Boland, who writes under the nomme de guerre, James the first from an omphalos, true heir to pretender king Billy of Yates' wine lodge and butler to the one true muse, with whom, I am currently engaged in foreplay, as a pre-curosor of what will come once it has been decided what it is I want to achieve with telling you about me and Paul.

So, there I was, Muldoon was the last of the titans to come under my gaze as a potential rival competitor in the make believe game with self which amounts to affirming from within, what it is:

"the tide-water point of knowledge
union of sages
stream of sovereignty
glory of the lowly
mastery of words
swift understanding
reddening satire
craftsman of histories
cherishing pupils
looking after binding principles
distinguishing the intricacies of language
moving toward music
propagation of good wisdom
enriching nobility
ennobling non-nobles
exalting names
relating praises"

...which Amergin speaks of in the untitled 7C Old Irish text first translated in 1983 and which I was guessing, Paul had not a clue about, and if he did, would be keeping it very close to his chest - knowing as I do now, exactly how Muldoon operates and the tickls and tricks he employs as a spammer sending multiple freinds requests to the DublinPoets Myspace, a social networking site with 187 officially affiliated friends and which, as the one person executive editorial body and principle managing executive director of DublinPoets Myspace - is in my sole possession and control, friends, buddies, matey boys and girls.

So, I began reading the first lecture, having only Paul's recorded voice to go on - the one about a light switch or a hole in plaster which when I heard it thought, is he taking the mick? However, having heard Durcan in a similar scene at the Patrick Kavanagh prize winning anouncement at the Royal College of Surgeons in 2005, six weeks after I took up residency in the shelter, next to Barry, a coke driven lager fiend whose idea of a quiet night in the hutch next door, was blasting Rod Stuart top blast through the 40mm of plasterboard seprating us - I knew first impressions were often 100% wrong.

Paul (number 1) had recited something very rope-illy and all I knew at this point was he was supposed to one of the big fellas, one of the head arties for the poetry gag - or rather, in the calibration exercises I had undertaken whilst Geoffrey was preparing me for my furture role as who I am now; Durcan was floating around somewhere in the mix near the top, purely on the strenght of the slipped luck-clutch I had stumbled on in the Keegan anthology which went up Nuala and the boat of language circa 1983, thus, missing Mehan and Durgan and the latter day fourth generation mob headed by Maeve and with myself being two gen behind, not even an amoeba in their wake (yet). But, then I had seen Paul do the biz at his first Poetry Ireland Professor lecture on Hartnett, to a full house of Incredibles, and his place in the ranks became secure, as one of the ever shifting triumvirate of most major poets practicing at any one time, with Szirtes, myself and anyone who comes up trumps with the envelopes of Elvis, Plato and you know who, stuffed inside and - well, lets just say Paul (mark 1) has got a fan in me.

Paul (mark 2) however, on the basis of his first lecture, I couldn't cop it. God knows I tried, I swear on George's life I tried comrades, and at first thought "Is it me being thick or is this fella talking out of his hole?"

I spent that evening, night and early morning reading Muldoon's Oxford lectures and getting - unlike when reading his sponser's: Government of the Tongue and Finders Keepers - precisely, nowhere freinds; which upset me becuase I was really hoping I would have a supernatural encounter with Paul on the page, as I did with Paul (mark 1) when he defended Michael Hartnett and taught me the meaning and power of one's reputation, or rather the capacity for original eloquence which, when aligned to another gob handy at the same caper, means bingo and bunty, junior six, slugging it out the oval and Burnley coming back from three nil in the final of the European cup at the San Ciro stadium.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't blame Paul, I blame myself, for reading him wrong, because I know he is far more intelligent than me, as not only a student of the filidh, but as a player in the game of theoretical conjecture from which we build out nests and construct our perches on which we whistle of our muse. So, I knew that just because I wasn't getting him on the page, didn't mean Muldoon wasn't a magician.

Rachel Phillips said...

You could count the goals missed in the Man United Inter game instead of sheep

George S said...

Oh, Paul Muldoon is an altogether clever man, BA. There's nothing in the world that man doesn't know. I have more than once genuflected in his general direction.

Rus Bowden said...

That talk by Helen Vendler is available for the clicking here:

Poetry Foundation: Helen Vendler: American Perspectives

Near the end of her reading the poem, she says, "It's like deliberate provocation, of course, this poem." But it is Vendler's read that is provoking an English/American argument.

It may be that Stevens intended the gray jar to be set upon a hill, to express that present time, an attempt at Cold Pastoral yet in a warm setting, but with none of the history that a Grecian urn would express from itself.

The comic aspect seems to be a break from European form, but as a place of origin with no disrespect, a speaking back to the relatively comic ode by Keats, a sort of turning the form back into itself simply in logical progression. The Stevens poem is a high tribute and recognition of the Keats this way, not a mocking. If that comic ode, then this one to answer--or rather, because that comic ode, then this one must answer. The Keats poem also mocks form. So, it isn't English versus American poetry, but a placing of American poetry into the English canon, a recognition of the American canon as an extension.

Starting at 14 minutes, 36 seconds, Vendler's reading of the Stevens poem:


Stevens saw landscape and still life as existing in tension with each other. The fertile and organic landscape rebukes the infertile, inanimate, and often inorganic still life. In a famous and comic early poem, Stevens enacted his own dilemma, that of a cultivated writer in an uncultivated country, that perennial subject of American writers--Henry James and so on. He enacted his own dilemma by putting a humble work of art, a jar, into a resistant, sprawling landscape, the Tennessee wilderness. He plays here on the European notion of the American poet as incompetent by breaking all the rules of rhyme and diction as he does his ode to a pottery jar in Tennessee--anecdote of the jar.

I remember when I walked into a classroom and heard someone teaching this, I thought it was so idiotic that I left. I no longer think that, but still. And I didn't understand then what it was expressing about European scorn of American skill.

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

"No, no, no," says the English poet, "you can't rhyme the same word with itself, hill hill. The word has to be different.

"Oh," says the America poet . . .

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground

"See, I did it. I made two rhymes, not the same one."

"No, no, they come at the ends of lines," says the English poet exasperatedly.

The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

"Where did you get that from? Suddenly 'round' and on 'ground' and suddenly 'of a port,' that's a Spencerian/Shakespearean expression.

And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.

"No, no, you don't do rhymes over a stanza break," says the English poet.

"Really? Okay. I won't do it over a stanza break again."

The jar was gray and bare.

"No, it's suppose to be every other line. It's not suppose to be two lines in a row."

It's like deliberate provocation, of course, this poem. Because he can't write an "Ode on a Grecian Urn" in a wilderness.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

"You haven't rhymed that," says the English poet.

"You try finding a rhyme for Tennessee," say the American poet.

It's a very funny poem.


Coirí Filíochta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Coirí Filíochta said...


Ha ha Szirtes, that was only part one. The supernatural encounter I was hoping would happen on reading the Oxford lectures in room 23 of the basement, next to the showers and which served as my base for the first six months of city centre Dublin life - happened two years later in the fall of 2007, when I witnessed Muldoon at the final event of the annual Irish language Immram festival, organised by Ciaron Carson's brother, Liam.

I had pitched up to a full house at the Unitarian church in Stephen's Green, and Muldoon began by reading his translations of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill's mermaid poems: he and Nuala squeezed into the pulpit, taking turns to negotiate with as much dignity as two not-small framed persons can muster when running such a tight-squeezed operation - the surreality of the scene, lending a frisson of inherently comedic potential to proceedings.

The audience was nothing like the thin crowd of boozy misfits I have learnt to ply my live trade in front of, as there were attractive women and their daughters, who I knew would be putty in the prescence of such a titan as the folically windswept Armagh frizz head, who I was squaring up to as I did when Durcan set the parameters of my ambition in Thomas Davis lecture hall at Trinity College, wondering if I would leave thinking as I did of Durcan, that Muldoon was a living god, or if he was a fraud and chancer getting by on who he lucked out learning under during his first flush? Setting my own sincerity and sense of poet-self up, parrallel to his, thirty pews distant, intoning and elevated above us in his uniquely understated recital mode, and me at the very back, sitting next to the Poetry Ireland drinks table, waiting, waiting, for a sign of his genius to manifest itself and for the supernatural connection to occur.

I could not get the measure of him reading work not his own, and held fire on making my mind up about his status as a minor or major in the self created pecking orders one assembles over time as we watch and rate our rivals and those in the same game of prophecy and bluff, hoo ha and hocus pocus, voodoo and vroom vroom on the field of make believe reality, where actors gather and pose in the hope some poetry will make itself known through us, to others in the same business of showing off disguised as philanthropy and good deeds, for the sake of humanity's God (if there is one).

At some point, Muldoon began reading his own 25 minute poem titled, Immram, the name of the festival itself, and of the final poem in his 1980 collection, Why Brownlee Left. Immram means *voyage* and is one of the fourteen genres the traditional Irish corpus of 350 tales (250 primary, 100 secondary) was divided into.

Of the 200 surviving tales, all of which are primary (secondary tales being transmitted only orally and from the 8 year of training on, when the fili - poet - was passing from stage six Anruth [great stream] to the final stage seven, Ollamh - poetry professor) - the immram tales are all journeys to the other world, and Muldoon took his template from Imram Maíle Dúin, The Voyage of Muldoon, an Old Irish tale dated to the 8C, which appears in 10th-century fragments in the Book of the Dun Cow, and the Yellow Book of Lecan.

In the original tale, Muldoon is the love-child of a king and sister in the service of Christ, who was fostered by a queen and three princes, and who learns when being taunted one day, that he is the son of a nun and that his father, Ailill Ochair Ága [edge of battle] has been killed by raiders. After consulting a druid on what to do next, he is instructed to build a boat of three skins and take seventeen companions on it, and whilst he is in the mniddle of this, his three half brothers swim out and clamber aboard, breaking the druid's geisa (taboo) and they set sail and have various supernatural and impossibly fanatastic adventures in a typically Irish telling of absolutel tall story and utter high tosh involving exploits on 31 different islands, including the Island of Weeping, the Island of Laughter, the Island of Women, and 28 more. Eventually they come across a monk who tells them he is from the time of St Brendan of Birr (d. 565 AD); and after asking them to forgive the killer of Muldoon's pappy, they all agree and in due course reach the island of their enemies who make them wlecome and after a brief forgiveness and reconciliation session, they head back to Ireland.

Muldoon updates the action to seventies LA and his proitaganist is also searching for the killer of his father, and shortly after Muldoon began reading, sure enough, the supernatural connection I had been considering as a possible, began occuring.

Sitting at the very back of the church, acting and pretending in my imagination, that I was there on official poetry business, checking out the last of the mohicans and giants in the Irish live cannon, after having ticked off in a long list over the preceding three years, all those of note I had come across when studying under the anglican magician Geoffrey Hill - I finally experienced the otherworldy encounter I have always secretly believed may happen when one centres themself and their learning in this 1200 year tradition in which many a poet has sought to commmune with the gods of imagination and the Tuatha De Dannan. Few have come back with the goods from Segais Well in the sidhe (faery) realm, the central wet-point and liquid heart of the whole shooting match, surrounded by nine hazel trees, the nuts of which (as Amergin informs us)

"cast themselves in great quantities like a ram's fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne, moving against the stream swifter than racehorses driven in the middle-month on the magnificent day every seven years"

...each one of which containing total poetic wisdom and on which the salmon of wisdom feed, but unlike the garden of Eden myth, there is no negative connotation involved with the seeking of this knowledge. If caught and eaten, as in the Finn McCool and Taliesin myths, the hard work of cerebral slog can be cut out, as the wisdom transfers second hand via the flesh of the salmon.

As I sat down, minding my own business, getting the measure of Muldoon in person as a potential rival in the business of shapeshifting, part of the rules I had set myself for the undercover task of detecting what real magic (if any) was in the air that Sunday evening in Stephen's Green West - was to not look to my right, but to remain completely motionless and fix my focus to a very narrow tunnel of attentive gaze, in order to centre the energy of my person into a concentrated aura in a method I was trying out back then, for the purpose of drawing in potential patrons on the lookout for a man of letters and composed actor who could fulfill what artistic needs needed fulfilling, in the game-with-self and sleight of hand out of mind in a bifto kind of way I had discovered other, more successful poets in the pool from which I fancied I was an amoeba in, using when we were all pretneding to ignore one another as we weant about our business of appearing as poetical as poss, in the game of spot the filidh.

I heard immediately behind my head, the sound of scratching, but unable to break the geisa (taboo) I had set myself, was unable to turn around and look, and this compunded by the fact that all of a sudden I had become instantly paranoid after I got it into my head, that the whole event, the entire 100 plus punters dressed in all the finery, may be enacting a complex and elaborate ruse and subterfuge, undertaken with the express purpose of playing a diabolical trick aimed specifically at myself.

Muldoon had started off his poem and I was intently listening in oprder to measure his worth, and at the point he introduced the female character "Suzan or Suzana" - I immediately froze with a twitch of recognition, as this was the name of a woman who had come to visit me from the far East after we met online at a literary site, who is a writer and was waiting in my home at that very moment. I had promised to take her to see a premier poet in Dublin when she was over, maybe Muldoon, but had purposely not done so as the time drew near, due to a reticence on my part about ticking off the last of the big fish in the same manner I had ticked off the rest, as a single actor in the drama of my own life, free to act alone and now, now some pang of guilt had struck with - what was clearly co-incidence, but which I took at the time for a sign of Muldoon's all knowing power of knowing everything about everyone within his range of sight and hearing, and the entire details of their lives.

For the next few minutes, I had it in my head that the scratching sound behind me, was being made by the fingers of the closest operative of a snatch squad, who was daring me to look round and as soon as we made eye contact, that would be it. S/he behind, along with entities unknown, had been targeting me and this was the event which had been set up, the ruse and cover of which would facilitate my ferrying away by these unknown, unseen and as close to otherworldly forces as to make no difference. When it came to tracing me when I was in whatever terrible place my imagination could not conceive of, what better than to have a conspiracy between 100 plus people all pretending to be involved at a poetry event, to hide this dastardly and dark deed behind?

The name of my friend turning up, coupled with the rigorous self imposed mental and physical confining, had gone like a whisp into my mind and Muldoon was now completely in control of my entire mental rig. In an instant, this unassuming actor with thinning curly locks and donnish nerdy specs, but with a compelling and attractive force drawing all in, had seized my imagination and for those five minutes of total possession during his 25 mninute recital of Immram, Muldoon wasn't reciting a lengthy poem based on an 8C original, but speaking directly to me and of me, and as I sat there believing that Muldoon was not reading any poem at all, but that this whole event and Muldoon's prescence at it was something all about me - he was playing with me, and the words I was hearing were some fiendishly genuine and otherworldly intervention and soon the game would be up - as the scratching and expectation of the snatch squad peaked and then receded as I sat motionless coming to my senses after this brief, fantastical high, when the force of logc and reality slowly took over as the moment passed and the cloud of whatever it was dissolved and normality returned.

I knew that whatever had happened, Muldoon had come up with the goods, in an experience on a par with Durcan and the Heaney lecture on Patrick Kavanagh I had witnessed early on in my quest to become an equal of the greats Geoffrey and I had spent in many nights of deep contemplation and study - raking over in our minds for the purpose of pretending to be people we are not and to commune with the gods of the Tuatha De Dannan who were there that evening, I am sure of it.

At the end of the reading, I was thoroughly refreshed. I had gone from wondering if there would be anything to this Muldoon at Immram - to experiencing an immram myself, going on an otherworldy journey which was as true as I am sitting here now, my perception of the poetic potential and power of reality, had been opened and irrevocably altered and I had my supernatural connection with the main dude - deciding to buy his book and get it signed, for Suzan, to make good and balance the night's events.

I knew what I was doing next, I got the book Moy Sand and Gravel, and approached the first swell of a que, going directly to the front of a broad frond of people and sensing to hold back as it would appear pushy and impolite to seem so keen (after all how were they to know what had happened?) I stopped and moved, just as Paul asked *has anyone got a pen?*

This was fate, meant to be, as I had one immediately in my all weather Reggatta jacket 1000 isotex XL breast pocket, which I had been using when Paul had been reading the mermaid poems, and because I had been taking it in and out with regularity over the course of the event, there was a natural physical fluency in my retrieving it and handing over to Muldoon within two seconds of his asking, and I remember he caught my eye and in that brief milisecond, I knew I had made a lasting impression on him, with the speed of my response and Lancashire accent in the one or two words I confidently said as I handed over the writing implement for Paul to sign the books, but which due to Nuala also offering one momentarily after I had done, Paul did not avail of using. And as I withdrew, to take my spot in the que, which snaked into two as the people in it went to either Paul or Nuala - by the time the several people in me had trotted to their preffered author, I was the first to appraoch Paul, as the others had all been women, there as Nuala fans first, and so the frisson of comedic potenital had continued, as Muldoon had been waiting for a man whose good grace saw him take a rightful place, but in all reality, the queing was pointless in the existential sense, as I was the first fan to approcach Paul and receive his imprimatur, which I got him to sign, *to Suzan*, and briefly spoke, telling him of the coincidence and my nomme de guerre and keeping it short, knowing the gods had smiled and the fifty or so seconds in which I had been within his circle of attention, was enough for him to remember me.

Several weeks later, I sent six poems to him for consideration at the New Yorker via an intermidiary whose name and e mail I got from the magaziones website, allowing myself the excuse of our meeting to give myself the liberty of writing a confidently poised address to the flunky, speaking of how Paul and I had recently been together at the Immram, having a giggle at giving the impression there was a genuine relationshiop between us, between a wannabe and the real thing, posing as a possible contender in the same supernatural game.

And I was very pleased and surprised when Muldoon wrote back personally, after barley a week, informing me he could not publish the poems, which I never dreamt for a moment would be, being a realist who knows that certain protocols and rules have to be followed in the game of global poetry placements. Publication was irrelevant: what was important was the play and manouvering in such a way that receiving a rejection e mail from a magus of Muldoon's stature, made one feel ten foot tall, and experiencing only the positive and Muldoon on a wink and nod allowing the steal, dangling it right there in "Unfortunately, we are unable.. comma, *I'm afraid* as the final two words of the short response, written by a man whose head was in his own space, gifting with good nature and fine grace, another of the many many poest who cross his path, in the hither tither come and go of a moent in time as the Armagh bard and Princeton sidhe persuader doing it for the Tuatha De Dannan and the Immram to an other world.

George S said...

Rhyes for Tennessee:

when we see
then we see

etc etc.

All very unlikely to be used by Stevens.

George S said...

Rus, I take the point that at 1.30 in the morning my critical perception may be weaker. Possible. But:

"...a speaking back to the relatively comic ode by Keats,.."

You mean comic like a Cyril Fletcher odd ode?

I have never come across anyone who laughed at the Grecian Urn. Do you mean just giggle? Or smile knowingly? Do you mean the line 'More happy love! more happy, happy love!'? Comedy is dangerous for full Romantic afflatus - it punctures. What's that line in Kingsley Amis? 'Should poets bicycle pump the human heart or squash it flat?' Amis was a comic poet.

I think the comparison with Anecdote is a little far-fetched. The Keats poem is not about the urn-ness of the urn but about the scene it depicts an about its relation to antiquity and mortality.

But I'll check the lecture again. I may be being unfair to it. Unfair possibly, but quite true to the experience.

Gwil W said...

And another tennessee rhyme...

With Stevens in Tennessee
on a Hot Tin Roof kind of Day
~~ two cats hanging out
hot blackjack on cool porch.

Ice cool cat deals Queen
of Hearts...Ace of Clubs...a
Black Deuce and's the
winning Ten I See.

Rus Bowden said...

Hi George,

Good morning.

The Urn has to be comic in order to bring that particular muse to the fore. Keats posed, or supposed, with tongue in cheek to begin the writing, and we accept that too-melodramatic, over-the-top speaker's ego in order to read:

More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

And here:

O Attic shape! fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!

The point on the form is that a poet does not slip rhymes in without understanding that they "used to" (still are) be placed in with pattern. But, whenever it's done, we don't have the internal arguments that Vendler proposes.


Padhraig Nolan said...

Bejaypers that's a fierce lot of typing all round. Typing of comments. Typing of poets. Typing of Critics. Rare Auld types altogether. Gimme a shout next time your heading for Dublin George and I'll buy you some type of a jar. That'll sort it.