2.12.2009

The train to Florida

In this country, there are 2 kinds of literature : official and unofficial. The first is trash; the second, stolen air. - O. Mandelstam [rough quote from memory]

I like J.H.'s supra-metaphors for the plumbline metaphor. A plumbline is necessarily "ponderous" - so, for the sake of a superior balance, he offers airy sparks.

Again, I think we will discover that the reply to tedium, in this arcane pursuit, somehow involves the relation between the "golden mean" and the "conjunction of opposites". John Donne knew how to play that tune (cf. "metaphysical wit"). Sparks will fly.

This cul-de-sac of style & substance, realism & artifice, has caught many a lumbering critic in its maw. I hope I haven't already fallen into it.

I'm thinking of that chance encounter on the train to Florida, in the 1930s, between the 2 famous poets, Frost & Stevens. Stevens, with a smile, says - "The trouble with you, Robert, is you write on subjects." To which the canny old pseudo-Yankee replied : "Your trouble, Stevens, is you write bric-a-brac." [rough quote from memory, again]

I'd like to see this done as a video on YouTube : it could be the iconic moment of the Plumbline School.

& I'm really looking forward, along with a lot of other poets & readers, to this new Norton anthology, about to appear (American Hybrid). I think all the exempla of official poetry in there will give us something to talk about (along these plumbline lines). I'm already wondering (from here on my superior-dilettante perch) to what extent these hybrids will exhibit natural healthy fruit & scent (true grafting processes), or merely the ambitious stylistic compromises (ie., pretentious mish-mash) of literary politicians.

We can't escape this paradox : poetry is both necessary and free. Frost and Stevens. Art and experience... the Russians have a more elegant couplet - how does it really go, J.H.? - something like byt and byet - "beauty" and "the daily grind". It seems that no matter where you fall, as a poet, on the scale of values - between "realism" and "play" - fact and dream - if it's going to be remembered, it has to have that spark - Eliot's thought-experiment with a platinum wire - the evidence of a supra-rational conjunction (Eureka!)...

4 comments:

J.H. Stotts said...

or 'being' and 'a beating.'

J.H. Stotts said...

i think, though, because of the way a blog is always falling, my metaphors were infra-

but since we seem to be making so much of geometry, there are a couple other models i would add to the kittie, courtesy of emily:
RATIO and CIRCUMFERENCE, the rainbow's ways. these are really ways of translating the golden mean and plumbline into FLIGHT, and i would suspect the compliment to them would be some underground (that is, orphic) models.

Henry Gould said...

Emily was something of a Metaphysical. I think there are echoes hereabouts of the debates over Elizabethan vs. Augustan ("artifice" vs. "nature", according to Sam'l Johnson). This idea of a conjunction of opposites is like the Metaphysicals' "concordia discors". Will have to look again at TS Eliot's essay(s) on all this. Where does it lead in thoughts about contemporary style(s)?

Joseph Duemer said...

And of course Wm. Blake talked about the need for imagination to have "ballast" like a balloon, and he also circles Energy with the boundary line of Reason.