Odal Orientations


John Keats Odal Cycle, as I call his five major odes, is not warped by too much dichotomous energy, where poetic formality is concerned. There are slight variations, but the form the five Keats’ Odes take is similar (and unique onto itself). My own five odes, which may or may not constitute an authentic cycle, have a problem of a kind of formal “lumpiness”— three of the odes are formal, and employ Keats’ own odal form; while two are informal, “jazzy” not just because one is an Ode On Jazz, but because they employ high level poetic musicality in a way which attempts to translate something about jazz music, and its approach to formality, into serious poetry. Ode: To Bruce Nauman then, is, for the sake of what I am trying to express here, another “jazz” ode. Keats’ formal innovations could align him with (if we want to attempt to make precise translations) Bach or Beethoven; so that, by employing his forms, I also attempt that sort of classical, classicized musicality. That’s the formal backbone of On Love, On Exile, and To Satan. Having my five-ode sequence waver between “jazz” and “classical” orientations creates, to bring things back to square one, the sort of dichotomous energy which some readers may find confusing, and certainly less an orderly procession than the march through Keats’ odes.

Where the narrative-thematic is concerned, Keats odes stick to the transcendental— imaginative landscapes, immersion in mythologies, meta and/or ekphrastic poems which take works of art as their starting place, raw nature, including sexuality, in chiasmus with the human brain (his extension of Wordsworthian dynamics). The world Keats inhabits, here, resonates and shudders; it is a living world, animated by the vivacity of an imagination which Keats “fancies” has its own reality, against the merely tactile. Keats demonstrates for us, with no holds barred, exactly what Modern and post-modern literature blood sacrificed; the sense that the world we live in is alive, and does, in fact, resonate and shudder with life. The nihilism of Modern and post-modern literature naively dismisses Romanticism as naïve, and creates, consolidates, and maintains a world skewered towards obsolescence, deadness, and human impotence in the face of attempting to achieve transcendental states of consciousness. If Modernism and post-modernism are naïve in the face of Romanticism, it is for the simple reason that scientific fact points the human brain towards the realization that the world around us really does resonate, and shudder, and that mysteries inhere in nature which can lead our minds permanently upwards. The jejune Modern/post-modern sense of world-weariness and effete skepticism have less basis in scientific fact then Romanticism does, try though Modernists and post-modernists might to invert their efforts into a talisman against naivete which is secretly experientially sound. My odes are somewhere in the middle of this— not as transcendental as Keats, more about individuals, human landscapes and relationships, intimacies which inhere on these levels, and also pain before corruption and coercion, where human collectives are concerned.

It could be taken that 4325 Baltimore Avenue is my sixth ode. I wrote it in 2004, about all the fun we had there (West Philadelphia) in ’02 and ’03. The fall of 2002 is when I wrote Ode On Jazz, as I was gorging myself on jazz at that time, and I had a sense of spiritual harmony about my life, both because of the marriage I had going then and because the feeling in the streets in Aughts Philadelphia was exactly what I had been searching for since I began writing seriously. Philadelphia in the Aughts, like Keats’ woods, mountains, trees, and lakes, resonated and shuddered the right way, had a strange life of its own. It couldn’t be that Ode On Jazz was not written from a transcendental place, even as it also an attempt at translation. Ode: To Bruce Nauman fulfills a similar task. The “classical” odes in my cycle are a split, in an odd, backwards/sideways fashion, between heaven (On Love) and hell (On Exile, To Satan). As I develop my thoughts about the two odal cycles (I am calling my five odes a cycle out of convenience, up to a point; we’ll see later if the shoe fits this particular foot), the jazz/classical dichotomy is one I want to develop, as a critical translation— what the implications are, how far they take us out into a possible twenty-first century. Especially as we approach the two hundredth anniversary of the first official release of this odal form, via John Keats, into the world at large.

P.S. As of the summer of '18, my odal cycle has expanded to include the Ode On Psyche, which originally appeared in American Writing in 2002. This, and the Schuylkill Ode from '17, has resulted in a new Seven Ode pdf. My Psyche is another poem formally modeled after Keats Odes, rather than "jazz." It also takes a daring leap into the world of palimpsests, substituting my Psyche for Keats' mythological Psyche in his own Psyche Ode. As to who my Psyche is: a much more ripely sexualized figure than Keats' Psyche, and also demonstrably a criminal, involved in drug deals. Rather than inhabiting a mythological landscape, an enchanted forest, as it were, my Psyche lives in late 90s Manhattan, as does the protagonist of the poem (the "D" train ends up, also, in Brooklyn). The resonance/shudder factor of my Psyche could be a sexual one, or a merely dramatic one; it is the least transcendental of my Odes, the most earthy. It is also far more earthy than any of Keats' Odes.