To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Clayton Eshleman: From an Interview by Irakli Qolbaia, the first & last questions

[What follows are two sections from a longer interview conducted by the Georgian poet and translator Irakli Qolbaia, in which Eshleman takes on two key words in his work – “origin” and “penetralia” – and ties them to his own emergence and development as a poet and major searcher for the origins of poetry and the imagination.  The full interview was originally published in Jerrold Shiroma’s important on-line magazine Seedings (Duration Press) and can be found here and here on the internet. (J.R.)]

Irakli Qolbaia: Your poem, “Short Story,” begins with “Begin with this: the world has no origin”, and yet, there seems to be, in your poetry, a constant quest for origin – personal origins, origins of imagination / of poetry. There is even a Blakean “character”, Origin, in your early poem of the same title (referring to Cid Corman and his ‘origin’?). Could you talk about that sense of origin in your poetry, and more specifically, about your origins as a poet?

Clayton Eshleman: My relationship to origins has been multifaceted. I think my first
engagement was hearing at 16 years old on a 45 RPM record the bebop pianist Bud Powell play his improvisation on the standard tune “Tea for Two.” I listened to Powell’s version again and again trying to grasp the difference between the standard and what Powell was doing to and with it. Somehow an idea vaguely made its way through: you don’t have to play someone else’s melody--you can improvise (how?), make up your own melody line!  WOW--really? You mean I don’t have to repeat my parents? I don’t have to “play their melody” for the rest of my life? Later I realized that Powell had taken a trivial song and transformed it into an imaginative structure. While reading the Sunday newspaper comics on the living-room floor was probably my first encounter, as a boy, with imagination, Powell was my first experience, as an adolescent, with the force of artistic presence and certainly the key figure involved in my becoming a poet when I was 23 years old.

Soon after starting to try to write poetry at Indiana University in 1958 I found Cid Corman’s poetry journal called Origin in the library. I began a correspondence with Cid and when I was living in Kyoto, Japan, in 1962, I went to the coffee shop where Cid, also living in Kyoto at the time, could be found every evening. For a couple of years I watched him edit Origin and learned a lot about translating poetry from him. Corman was the first American translator of the great German poet Paul Celan and, while in Kyoto, as my poetic apprenticeship project, I decided to translate Cesar Vallejo’s Poemas humanos into English. 

During this period I worked on Vallejo most afternoons downtown in another Kyoto coffee shop called Yorunomado (the word means “night window” in English). In the only poem I completed to any real satisfaction while living in Japan, I envisioned myself as a kind of angel-less Jacob wrestling with a figure who possessed a language the meaning of which I was attempting to wrest away. I lose the struggle and find myself on a seppuku (or suicide) platform in medieval Japan, being commanded by Vallejo (now playing the role of an overlord) to disembowel myself. I do so, imaginatively-speaking, cutting the ties to my “given” life and releasing a daemon I named Yorunomado who until that point (my vision told me) had been chained to an altar in my solar plexus. Thus at this point the fruits of my struggle with Vallejo were not a successful literary translation but an imaginative advance in which a third figure emerged from my intercourse with the text. Thus death and regeneration = seppuku and the birth of Yorunomado, or a breakthrough into what might be called sacramental existence.

While Bud Powell and Yorunomado (via Vallejo) provided brief, if essential, adventures with origin, the crucial event after leaving Japan in 1964 was my 1974 discovery of Upper Paleolithic, or Cro-Magnon, cave art in southwestern France. My wife Caryl and I had, at the suggestion of a friend, rented an apartment in a farm house in the Dordogne countryside and after visiting some of these Ice Age caves I was completely caught up in the deep past. This grand transpersonal realm (without a remaining history or language) was about as far away from my background as could be, and I revisited and researched the painted caves throughout the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, becoming the first poet anywhere to do what the poet Charles Olson called “a saturation job” on the origins of art as we know it today. To follow poetry back to Cro-Magnon metaphors not only hits read bedrock--a genuine back wall--but gains a connection to the continuum during which imagination first flourished.  My growing awareness of the caves led to the recognition that, as an artist, I belong to a pretradition that includes the earliest nights and days of soul-making. Wesleyan University Press published my book, a study composed of both poetry and prose, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld, in 2003.

. . . . . . .

IQ: We have touched upon the early stage (the apprenticeship/coming in terms with Indiana past) of your work, as well as what could be viewed as your maturity or gaining the fully formed singular voice as a poet (saturation job/involvement with the sacramental existence) that has culminated in Juniper Fuse (around two decades in making), which I would consider a work in many ways central not only in your body of work but, more generally, in the poetry of our time. There is yet another stage that you have been pursuing since and that you have elsewhere called “summational.” As a reader, I first sensed it intensely in a poem called “The Tjurunga”, where the lifelong work and involvement of the poet comes together as a constellation. From the few poems that have been available, your new book, Penetralia, struck me as central to this summational stage. Could you talk about this? Further, sensing that the word “penetralia”, as related to your work, could be important in many ways, could you explain what it means for you/in the context of the book?

CE: I often open my 1955 Webster’s New International Dictionary and read a few pages at random. Doing so, one day a few years ago, I came across the word “penetralia” which was defined as: “The innermost or most private parts of thing or place, especially of a temple or palace.” A second definition followed: “Hidden things of secrets; privacy; sanctuary; as the sacred penetralia of the home.” Since I like words and phrases for book titles that to my knowledge have not been used by others as titles for poetry collections, I decided, then in my late 70s, that “penetralia” would be an appropriate and unique title for what might be my last collection of poetry, one that often ruminated on end matters, or summational engagements. There are, of course, a number of poems in this collection that do not directly do this, but the tone of the writing, along with the end shadowings, justify such a title.

You mention a poem, “The Tjurunga,” published in Anticline (Black Widow Press, 2010)
that I mentioned was one of the two “soulend” supports, along with the 1964 “Book of
Yorunomado,” holding the rest of my poetry in place. In this later poem I propose a kind of complex mobile (invoking the poet Robert Duncan’s re-reading of the mysterious Aranda ritual object) made up of the authors, mythological figures and acts, whose shifting combinations undermined and reoriented my life during my poetic apprenticeship in Kyoto, Japan, in the early 1960s. At a remove of some forty-five years I saw these forces as a kind of GPS (global positioning system) constantly “recalculating” as they closed and opened door after door. Thinking back to Vallejo pointing at my gut (in “The Book of Yorunomado”) and indicating that I was to commit seppuku I was struck by the following quotation from James Hillman’s Animal Presences: “The theological message of the Siva-Ganesha, father-son pattern can be summarized in this way: submit that you may be saved, be destroyed that you may be made whole. The sacrificial violence is not the tragic conclusion but the necessary beginning of a passage into a new order… the God who breaks you makes you; destruction and creativity ultimately spring from the same source.”

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (6): Oswald de Andrade, “An Anthropophagite Manifesto,” May 1928

Originally published in Revista de Antropofagia, n.1, year 1, May 1928, São Paulo.

Translation from Portuguese by Adriano Pedrosa and Veronica Cordeiro. 
 [editor’s note. With the present posting, I return with co-author/co-editor Heriberto Yépez to a long-deferred project of ours: to compose a truly transnational anthology/assemblage of American poetry, “from origins to present.”  For the two of us, one a poet from Mexico & the other from the United States, the idea of a still larger America, made up of many independent parts, has been a topic of continuing shared interest.  Since there is no other such gathering at the present time, we feel ourselves free to make a new beginning, an experiment through anthologizing, to explore what results might follow from a juxtaposition of poets and poetries covering all parts of the Americas and the range of languages within them: European languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French, as well as a large number of Indigenous languages such as Mapuche, Quechua, Mayan, Mazatec, and Nahuatl.  In this the example of Oswald de Andrade’s great Manifesto Antropófago (cannibalist manifesto) looms large, postulating perhaps a poetry & art that devours & absorbs all previous & concurrent poetry & art.  And much beyond that.                                                                                        
     In that sense a touchstone for what we’re now attempting. (J.R.)]

Only anthropophagy unites us. Socially. Economically. Philosophically.

The world's only law. The masked expression of all individualisms, of all collectivisms. Of all religions. Of all peace treaties. 

Tupi, or not tupi that is the question.1
Against all catechisms. And against the mother of the Gracchi. 

The only things that interest me are those that are not mine. Law of man. Law of the anthropophagite. 

We are tired of all the suspicious catholic husbands put in drama. Freud put an end to the woman enigma and to other frights of printed psychology.

What hindered truth was clothing, the impermeable element between the interior world and the exterior world. The reaction against the dressed man. American movies will inform.

Sons of the sun, mother of the living. Found and loved ferociously, with all the hypocrisy of nostalgia, by the immigrants, by the slaves and by the touristes. In the country of the big snake. 

It was because we never had grammars, nor collections of old plants. And we never knew what was urban, suburban, boundary and continental. Lazy men on the world map of Brazil. A participating consciousness, a religious rhythm. 

Against all importers of canned consciousness. The palpable existence of life. And the pre-logical mentality for Mr. Levi Bruhl to study. 

We want the Carahiba revolution. Bigger than the French Revolution. The unification of all efficacious rebellions in the direction of man. Without us Europe would not even have its poor declaration of the rights of man. The golden age proclaimed by America. The golden age. And all the girls.2
Descent. The contact with Carahiban Brazil. Oú Villegaignon print terre. Montaigne. The natural man. Rousseau. From the French Revolution to Romanticism, to the Bolshevik Revolution, to the surrealist Revolution and Keyserling's technicized barbarian. We walk. 

We were never catechized. We live through a somnambular law. We made Christ be born in Bahia. Or in Belém do Pará.But we never admitted the birth of logic among us. Against Father Vieira. Author of our first loan, to gain his commission. The illiterate king had told him: put this in paper but don't be too wordy. The loan was made. Brazilian sugar was recorded. Vieira left the money in Portugal and brought us wordiness.

The spirit refuses to conceive the spirit without body. Anthropomorphism. The need for an anthropophagical vaccine. For the equilibrium against the religions of the meridian. And foreign inquisitions. 

We can only attend to the oracular world. 

We had justice codification of vengeance. And science codification of Magic.
Anthropophagy. The permanent transformation of Taboo into totem.

Against the reversible world and objectivized ideas. Cadaverized. The stop of thought which is dynamic. The individual victim of the system. The source of classical injustices. Of the romantic injustices. And the forgetting of interior conquests. 

Routes. Routes. Routes. Routes. Routes. Routes. Routes. 

The Carahiban instinct.

Life and death of hypotheses. From the equation I part of the Kosmos to the axiom Kosmos part of I. Subsistence. Knowledge. Anthropophagy. 

Against plant elites. In communication with the soil.

We were never catechized. What we really did was Carnival. The Indian dressed as a Senator of the Empire. Pretending to be Pitt. Or featuring in Alencar's operas full of good Portuguese feelings. 

We already had communism. We already had the surrealist language. The golden age.
Catiti Catiti
Imara Notiá
Notiá Imara

Magic and life. We had the relation and the distribution of physical goods, of moral goods, and the goods of dignity. And we knew how to transpose mystery and death with the aid of some grammatical forms. I asked a man what Law was. He replied it was the guarantee of the exercise of possibility. That man was called Galli Matias. I ate him.

Determinism is only absent where there is mystery. But what do we have to do with this?

Against the stories of man, which begin at Cape Finisterra. The undated world. Unsigned. Without Napoleon. Without Caesar.

The fixation of progress through catalogues and television sets. Only machinery. And the blood transfusors. 

Against the antagonical sublimations. Brought in caravels.

Against the truth of missionary peoples, defined by the sagacity of an anthropophagite, the Viscount of Cairu:-It is the often repeated lie.

But they who came were not crusaders. They were fugitives from a civilization that we are eating, because we are strong and vengeful as a Jabuti. 

If God is the consciousness of the Uncreated Universe, Guaraci is the mother of the living. Jaci is the mother of plants. 

We did not have speculation. But we had the power of guessing. We had Politics which is the science of distribution. And a planetary-social system.

The migrations. The escape from tedious states. Against urban sclerosis. Against Conservatories, and tedious speculation.

From William James to Voronoff. The transfiguration of Taboo in totem. Anthropophagy.

The pater families and the creation of the Moral of the Stork: Real ignorance of things + lack of imagination + sentiment of authority before the pro-curious (sic). 

It is necessary to depart from a profound atheism to arrive at the idea of God. But the Carahiba did not need. Because he had Guaraci.

The created objective reacts as the Fallen Angels. After Moses wanders. What have we got to do with this? 

Before the Portuguese discovered Brazil, Brazil had discovered happiness. 

Against the Indian with the torch. The Indian son of Mary, godson of Catherine de Médici and son-in-law of Don Antônio de Mariz.

Happiness is the proof of the pudding. 

In the matriarchy of Pindorama.

Against the Memory source of custom. Personal experience renewed.

We are concretists. Ideas take hold, react, burn people in public squares. Let us suppress ideas and other paralyses. Through the routes. To believe in signs, to believe in the instruments and the stars.

Against Goethe, the mother of the Gracchi, and the Court of Don João VI.

Happiness is the proof of the pudding.

The struggle between what one would call the Uncreated and the Creature illustrated by the permanent contradiction between man and his Taboo. The quotidian love and the capitalist modus vivendi. Anthropophagy. Absorption of the sacred enemy. To transform him into totem. The human adventure. The mundane finality. However, only the pure elites managed to realize carnal anthropophagy, which brings the highest sense of life, and avoids all the evils identified by Freud, catechist evils. What happens is not a sublimation of the sexual instinct. It is the thermometric scale of the anthropophagic instinct. From carnal, it becomes elective and creates friendship. Affectionate, love. Speculative, science. It deviates and transfers itself. We reach vilification. Low anthropophagy agglomerated in the sins of catechism-envy, usury, calumny, assassination. Plague of the so-called cultured and christianized peoples, it is against it that we are acting. Anthropophagi. 

Against Anchieta singing the eleven thousand virgins of the sky, in the land of Iracema- the patriarch João Ramalho founder of São Paulo.

Our independence has not yet been proclaimed. Typical phrase of Don João VI:-My son, put this crown on your head, before some adventurer does! We expelled the dynasty. It is necessary to expel the spirit of Bragança, the law and the snuff of Maria da Fonte.

Against social reality, dressed and oppressive, registered by Freud-reality without complexes, without madness, without prostitutions and without the prisons of the matriarchy of Pindorama. 

1 Original in English. [T.N.] Tupi is also the name of a South American ethnic group & a large family of languages, Tupi-Guaraní.
2 Girls: Original in English [T.N.].