Dancing With Myself: Saturday Night Fever

What makes Psyche a goddess for John Keats? One of the contradictions built into the Odal Cycle is that Psyche distinguishes herself, very particularly, as being both close to the earth and down in the proverbial dirt. She lays in the forest with many men, rather than hovering remotely around Olympus; and Keats exalts, in a perversely contradictory way, her very accessibility as part and parcel of her divinity. It all has to do with Keats being something of a born-again Pagan, and a worshipper of Earth Magic; not the Satanic form of Earth Magic (Keats being looped by critics into the Satanic School with Byron and Shelley), but the “happy,” “sweet” form of Earth Magic, whose goal is to unite body and mind, in the manner which (Keats feels) the Grecians had formerly been able to do. Whether or not we buy this— that the Greeks mastered the profound art of uniting body and soul— will determine to what extent we can buy the idea of Keats’ Psyche as a goddess figure. The Dark Lady in Dancing With Myself is certainly down in the dirt and close to the Earth— however, the happy sweetness of Psyche’s layings do not seem to be part of repertoire. In fact, what comes to the surface in Dancing With Myself is the idea of conflating sexual impulses with deathly or lurid ones, so that sex and death become flip sides of the same coin. One of the more droll manifestations of this dichotomy in Dancing With Myself is the protagonist’s association of the situation with the movie Saturday Night Fever, in which characters live their lives on the edge of death and suicide, even as they are enmeshed in unabashed sensuality and carnality. Here is “Splat!”:

What greatness thrust upon
me? Solitary Saturday night
fever, jive talking to myself,
doing lines of Advil, falling
off imaginary bridges: splat!
The familiar trope of falling
endlessly, this is how I stay
alive. All because you are, I
affirm, more than a woman,
but, unfortunately, not just
to me, but to many generally.
I suppose I could blazon you:
rhubarb thighs, persimmon
twat, etc, but not productively,
& what would Travolta say?

All the coyness of the Bee Gees allusions (“more than a woman,” “staying alive,” “jive talking”) is born from the conviction that the protagonist is risking his arms and legs just to re-consummate his relationship with his Dark Lady. The scene in the movie in which one of the characters falls from Brooklyn’s Verrazano Bridge becomes a metaphor for falling into a situation in which it is impossible not to lose, owing to the Dark Lady’s perceived duplicitous promiscuity. Duplicitous promiscuity is something this Dark Lady shares with Shakespeare’s Dark Lady; even if the protagonist distinguishes himself from Shakespeare’s protagonist with a corrosive sense of irony and a willingness to trivialize (sometimes) the situation and thus make fun of it (Travolta). As the protagonist waits to “hit the ground” after falling endlessly, he may or may not wind up down in the dirt with his Dark Lady as he wants to be. He makes fun of poetry, too, and the self-reflexivity and self-referential “meta” moment of “I suppose I could blazon you” takes the baseball bat (in the manner of the Saturday Night Fever thugs) and swings at the idea of complete earnestness in the face of either sex or death. That sex and death should be conflated here, and then dismissed, has to do with a Muse who, herself, has more of a brain in her head then the characters in Saturday Night Fever, and should know better than to jive talk.

Dancing With Myself: The Dark Lady

Has it ever occurred to anyone that the aesthetic dictum supposedly scribed by Arthur Rimbaud— “a systematic derangement of the senses”— actually fits, in a much more cohesive, circumscribed way, to Keats’ Odes? For all the ditties of no tone, breezes blowing light, conflation of sleeping and waking states, it seems to me that Mr. Rimbaud’s comparatively jejune forays into synesthesia cannot hold much of a candle to Keats’ disciplined psycho-affective maneuvering. As per the psycho-affective maneuvering in Dancing With Myself— it seems to me that much of the action hinges on a number of revelations— of the Dark Lady who animates the poems, and of the synesthetic rigors she imposes on a protagonist, who is revealed to be ever so slightly masochistic. The Dark Lady of the cycle is, we assume, one of the two Chicago Muses introduced in Sister Lovers. One flaw of the base/superstructure dynamic in When You Bit… is that Sister Lovers does not do the job of introducing us to two discrete characters in the two Muses. We see a lot of drinking, drugging, and fucking, but the base, foundational level of character construction goes un-assayed. By Dancing With Myself, one of the two Chicago Muses morphs into the Dark Lady we see here:

You’re more of a Dark Lady
than I have ever hoped for,
especially because when you
betray me, it’s with someone
I love: me.
                   You’re more of
everything, actually, & you’re
also a pain in the ass. That’s
why I haven’t let you off the
hook. I’ll wind up in my own
hands again tonight, sans
metaphors, like your full
moon in my face, but you’ll
never know there’s a man in you.

The self-betrayal of the protagonist, in relation to the Dark Lady, is both sexual and psychological. There is a part of him which feels violated by her, even as the visceral attraction is also extreme. The “full/moon in my face” creates a subtext of physical transgression— perhaps anal sex— and that the Dark Lady (as in Shakespeare’s sonnets) finds the protagonist (as he presents himself) as rather corny and weathered. The anal sex subtext is also hinged to the Dark Lady’s lunacy, moodiness (“full moon”) and to the fact that she undervalues the protagonist’s manhood/masculinity (“you’ll/never know there’s a man in you”). The situation in Sister Lovers, which opens the book— a confusing ménage involving the protagonist with two women, that leaves him exhausted— we now see was probably arranged by this Dark Lady (who, we also see, somehow maneuvered the other Chicago Muse into place), who made this arrangement just to create her own dark context, and initiate the protagonist into the mysteries (“full moons”) of her boudoir. It gives her the air of master over the protagonist, which he chooses to accept, “liking her dirt” (Deodorant Redolence). Yet, to the extent that he is not, as Sidney and Shakespeare were, fully emasculated in the sonnet sequence by a dominant female, what he prizes is that he and his Dark Lady have similar minds; as in Kinky Verbs, “we start saying/the same things,” and it is established that this Dark Lady, unlike Shakespeare’s, may have some creative force or aptitude in her repertoire of tricks as well. Synesthesia works here oddly, and with a certain guttural logic: what (excuse my vulgarisms) it means to get fucked in the ass, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This Dark Lady plays the trick of teaching the protagonist lessons about how sexual relationships can resonate over long periods of time, especially as regards who is mastering/controlling who, who is getting fucked and who isn’t. She is teaching him to think about his body, more than is usually his wont to do, and how it connects to the way he feels, about himself and others, and (most importantly) to what it can do in the world. In this sense, she is a far more evolved specimen than Sidney or Shakespeare could’ve conceived; even as we may not envy the protagonist his entanglement.

Chimes chiming randomly

Chimes is doing its own unique sashay in the marketplace: here it is turned up in Italy, Russia, and India, and with some new props on Google Books.

When You Bit... on Textbooks.com/AbeBooks

When You Bit...: biting, available for sale on Textbooks.com and AbeBooks

A Poet In Center City Pt. 2 on Open Library

A Poet In Center City Part 2, which documents the birth and development of the Philly Free School, now has its own page on Open Library.

Dancing with Myself: Open Library

Dancing with Myself, the middle section of When You Bit..., now has its own page on Open Library.

Preface: Two Teens Trilogies ('14)

“Prometheus Bound” by Rubens hangs in a prominent position at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Center City Philadelphia. With the range of materials on offer at PMA, some mighty, some not, I’ve always felt touched by the grandiose scale and the sheer nervy cacophony of this masterpiece, how it faces you as you enter the room where it occupies an entire wall, hitting you with the narrative gist that heroism is a risky business in human contexts, where major sacrifices for minimum wages are de rigueur and the human race are revealed as rather middling in their potentiality for appreciation, both of true heroes and of heroism itself. While it would be gauche to self-ascribe heroism for continuing to write in a major high art consonant way in America in 2014, I do feel that the composition of these two trilogies constitutes an at least semi-Promethean bid to keep a number of ideals in wide circulation: the notion that what was inaugurated in Philadelphia and Chicago in the Aughts— a new strain of complexity, depth, and historical awareness (enlightened elitism/classicism) in American art towards an attempt at the durability of the best products of European art over the last three or four centuries— should be carried over into the Teens sans respite; that serious art in America should pursue a serious attempt at telling as much of the truth as is possible about social, political, and aesthetic conditions in America, within the American Academy and intellectual establishment and without; and that historical awareness should inhere in decisions serious artists make, and be a source of profound nourishment for them. 

What happens to be picking at my, and our, proverbial liver (on a scale epic enough to compete with Rubens) is the specter of a bitter and very thoroughgoing recession, covering the West as a reward for our collective prodigality in the late twentieth century. Many of us who survived past the Aughts have lived to endure days both somber and monotonous. The Aughts represented a substantial leap forward for the world avant-garde; the recession and its wake have pushed back with some force at our advances. The rank-and-file mediocrities of American art, especially in the mainstream press and art press, have gone out of their way to ignore our achievements; have, indeed, attempted a hostile takeover, coup d'etat, to heist American art back to the Nineties and before and leave it there. Conversely, the ferment around us, particularly Aughts Philly/The Philadelphia Renaissance, has remained active and intense enough that the American rank-and-file and their hostile gambits do not seem particularly successful. It is largely owing to this prolonged ferment that I have felt empowered to continue composing on a high level, and from a sensibility not yet disenchanted with the idealism of Aughts Philly.

These two trilogies are thus set on a demonstrable knife-edge— against the grain of an inevitable backlash, continuing an already entrenched (if newfangled) American tradition of immersion in socio-aesthetic mysteries between America and Europe, the fledgling and the venerable, history and an extended present moment. If the poems herein included maintain a personal/personalized edge, it is also the case that the Promethean enterprise in America in 2014 is not completely a personal endeavor— what I do is meant to stand for all of us who wish to resist the backlash against Aughts avant-gardism. Adorno’s fabled lyric poet implicates a mercantile society, its repressive frigidity, indirectly; what I mean to do here, in prose and poetry, is a sustained frontal assault. That’s why there is no real lyricism in these trilogies— what accrues to the master narrative of these poems is a realistic impulse, shot through with remembrances (historical and otherwise) and animating imagination, against the self-perceived autonomy and self-sufficiency of the lyrical. I am of the opinion that self-sufficient lyrical autonomy in 2014 is useless; better to imagine past the poet’s Self then to subsist within its confines. To push past the personal is part and parcel of the Promethean endeavor, starting from Philadelphia and outward.

TextbookX/Textbooks.com: Used Apps

TextbookX and Textbooks (.com) are also reasonable places to pick up used copies of Apparition Poems

Intimacy: Conventional, Otherwise...

The quirkiness of Keats’ Odal Cycle as involves intimacy, “I-thou”; when Keats addresses the “you” in the Odes, it is almost always either an archetype or an imaginative creation. Keats does not directly address any other human beings. It is left to his readers to decide for ourselves whether we can accept this approach; whether there is or can be any real intimacy between Keats and Psyche, or a Grecian Urn, or a nightingale, etc. Because the Odes are legitimately visionary, i.e. they create, consolidate, and perpetuate an imaginative vision of human reality both complex enough and self-contained enough to be seen to constitute a complex, self-contained vision, the choice, as ever with visionary major high art consonant art, is whether to accept this vision or not. The magnificence of Keats’ prosody is one reason to accept Keats’ vision; that the prosody stands for or signifies that the vision, of intimacy with things and imaginative vistas rather than with people, is real, wholesome, and genuine. On the other hand, some audiences may decide that Keats getting overheated about urns and nightingales falls under the narrative-thematic aegis of the adolescent, and that the prosodic richness of the Odes only partly compensates for the gravitas that is lost in ecstasy, euphoria, and the passionate élan of unbridled imaginative sensuousness.

The Cheltenham Elegies replace euphoria with resignation. In this humanistic context, all the “I-thou” textual energy is aimed conventionally, at other people, be they living or dead (this, we do not always know). What is meant to be mind-bending in the Elegies is dramatic intensity and shifting perspectives, even as the Elegies’ prosody is not as rich as the Odes’. With Shelley and Adonais, we have a vision of almost complete alienation, of Shelley investigating the dry-ice “I-he” or “I-it” perspective in nightmarish vignette after vignette. Shelley’s vision is the most materialistic of the three, and (potentially) the most difficult to stomach— that death has absolutely cut off any intimacy he might have achieved with John Keats, that Keats is absolutely gone to him, and that Keats’ corpse is a fetish for Shelley of raw, insensate meat and nothing else. Euphoria and resignation are answered here with searing agony and horror; and, also (as with Keats), a sense of a kind of textual Mannerism, which exaggerates quirks, extends textual limbs into contorted positions, bends reality out of shape (all the necrophilia, the personification of Death), and makes materialism morph, in a manner which may be seen as either seductive or nauseating, into a kind of hyper-materialistic inferno-world. Neither Adonais nor the Odes tackle humanity head-on the way the Elegies do. Whether this counts for the Elegies or against depends on any reader’s given taste for humanism and human intimacy in its most pure, least torqued manifestations.   

Alienation and Apparition Poems

The progression of Apparition Poems, as a literary text, into Cheltenham, I have noticed, also constitutes a small cycle or mini-cycle. If one perspective which dominates Apparition Poems is the relationship between a poetic “I,” a first-person singular perspective, and a third person Other (“she” or “they”), and if what this expresses is a certain amount of alienation (the more intimate perspective being the second person, “you” or “thou”), then we may perceive how this alienation, tied in by temporal constraints to the Great Recession, leads from Apparition Poems to Elegy 261 and the other Cheltenham Elegies. One prominent cumulative effect of the mini-cycle, is the impression of a protagonist trying to understand how Center City Philadelphia has lost its Aughts luster, its potentiality for I-thou intimacy, and became a kind of dead zone, not much elevated over Old York Road at midnight. Old York Road at midnight is, indeed, hidden in the textual peaks and troughs of Apparition Poems, with its motif of “wolf’s hour” dimensionality. Why the Cheltenham Elegies, with their backwards glance, must reclaim the intimate territory of “I-thou” for this protagonist, is to surmount the vast entropy/decimation effect of the Recession, and to (by accomplishing this) restore a vested sense both of humanity and of human dignity. Elegy 261 thus constitutes a textual sea-change, wedged between Apparition Poems and the remainder of the Elegiac Cycle; and a re-colonization of lost narrative-thematic ground:

Never one to cut corners about cutting
corners, you spun the Subaru into a rough
U-turn right in the middle of Old York Road
at midnight, scaring the shit out of this self-
declared “artist.” The issue, as ever, was
nothing particular to celebrate. We could
only connect nothing with nothing in our
private suburban waste land. Here’s where
the fun starts— I got out, motherfucker.
I made it. I say “I,” and it works. But Old
York Road at midnight is still what it is.
I still have to live there the same way you do.

Perspectives established in 261 create a bridge into established dialogues and meta-dialogues which move past the generalized alienation of Apparition Poems, into a realm of physical/metaphysical specificity, which can create alternate impressions, either colder and harder, or warmer and softer, than the bulk of Apparition Poems. This sense— the Elegiac Cycle both ascending above and descending below Apparition Poems— makes Apparition Poems, as a text, appear to establish and maintain a sort of stasis, even as the alienation effect oscillates, sometimes drastically, from poem to poem.

It is also worth noting that when the earmarks of intimacy do manifest in Apparition Poems, as in 1550:

I’m in your house:
your husband, kids
not home. A voice
(yours) follows me
around, playing on
my body, until I’m
in your bathroom,
smoking butts on

a sunny spring day.
Your body doesn’t
appear. It seems to
me you’re suspect,
Steph, it seems to
me you want too
much. Then, you
always said I was

a dreamer. What
do we have past
dreams anyway?
What else is love?

there is the sense of a lived past impinging on a lived present, and only the poetic elegiac or backwards glance allows the comfort and security of profound intimacy or humanity, in  decimated/entropic moments. When a poetic perspective is created from what is perceived as a decimated present, what textual options arise must have to do with searching for other temporal currents which might lead to richness meriting representation. A decimated landscape, meriting a decimated perspective (the subject or protagonist decimated psychically and/or affectively), takes consciousness (potentially, and sometimes) to a place where truth-consonance leads securely to I-It (or, as in Apparition Poems, I-she). Elegy 261 is set in place as a kind of door, from a decimated present into a different kind of stasis-space, both tactile and evanescent, that is Cheltenham’s physical/metaphysical, life/psyche-consuming presence in the world. If Cheltenham takes the artist out of the frying pan and into the proverbial fire, he at least gets to create and manifest cohesion and cohesiveness in his consciousness as regards the totality of his life and experiences. After Apparition Poems, the quest for cohesion and coherence is on, and all roads lead back to the subject’s first experience, both of real darkness and of real intimacy. Alienation in Apparition Poems becomes resignation in Cheltenham; and both become the skeleton key to a level of consciousness which can assimilate alienation and resignation, and can transmute them into suitably dark, suitably complex texts: dialogic, meta-dialogic.