LYRIC COMPANIONS Susan Stewart “First Idyll”


A long strand of ivy wound round and round the lip

of a cup, a wooden cup carved from boxwood

that grew for a thousand years.

My cousin has a little goat, black

and white, with a delicate

hoof that looks like

onyx from a distance,

and like coal when

you come close

enough to touch it.

from CINDER: New and Selected Poems by Susan Stewart (Graywolf Press, 2017)

CONTEXT There is something prior to the determinate but not a mere indeterminacy. It has an excess more than all determinations, as well as more than we can subject to self-determination. There is a “too muchness” that has a primordial givenness that enables determinacy, that companions self-determination, yet also exceeds or outlives these. WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal. P. 423

The paranoia of our “transhifting” times further isolates contemplative pursuits and to read poems for enjoyment requires apology. Guilty pleasures indeed spring from the pandora’s box of the perplexity of form and meaning. The disciplines required by this “spiritual exercise” (Hadot) once deemed irrelevant atrophy; poetry, especially the lyric, is considered antisocial.

Lyric was born contested and contesting grander genres like Epic, as we recall reading Susan Stewart’s “First Idyll.” As referring to ‘a description in verse or prose of picturesque scene or incident, esp. in rustic life’ (Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 1967), “Idyll” is both vague in reference and energized by difference, a situation deepened by its etymology, diminuative for Ancient Greek for “form.” Compare sonnet’s root in ‘little sound.’

This contextualization of poetic form was common in the early days of modernism, and drew on the vast antiquarian learning of the Renaissance. Pound, for all his iconoclastic bull-in-a-china shop behavior, was a ‘hunter of form.’ Susan Stewart, whose life-work engages the breadth of the human sciences, has a way of breathing new life into long neglected forms of life. The seemingly one-off casual quality of “First Idyll” repays close reading.

As communicated by this poem, theres a too muchness to Idyll. The opening sounds conventional enough, a description of ivy vines carved into the wooden (boxwood) handle of a drinking cup. Drink is essential to idyllic song. There’s a too-muchness in the winding, in the drinking, in the survival of the artifact. There’s an ontological shock delivered by the mere existence of this cup— that it is at all. Moving from the opening description, which has become deeply saturated with the equivocity of its very thereness, the poem seems to leap to a new subject. Thinking about it, the “little goat” may jump out of the carved illustration on the cup.

As CONTEXT I’ve cited Desmond from the Glossary of “ The Intimate Universal, “ one of his more difficult and crucial coinages. It is relevant to the study of form as referring to the enabling givenness of a primordial energy, well characterized as “too much.” The overdeterminate upsets the modernist applecart of clear and simple truths.

Lyric narrative form teaches us patience in transitions. The poet’s cousin’s “little goat” is carefully (“objectively”) described. Care is taken with perspective. We approach the goat with aesthetic appreciation based on norms from beyond the life of the farm; “onyx” echoes “boxwood” in more ways than one. Realism has a way of surprising Idyll as any student of pastoral can attest. Here up close the onyx (we note onyx is etymologically linked to Ancient Greek for “fingernail”) hooves turn visually to coal.

Coal: the substratum of organic matter. Without missing a beat the poem, by getting closer and closer to the little goat, gains in reference to a degree of “overdeterminacy” befitting the topic of “First Idyll.” So this very small lyric has the thrust of a charged “essay” into the foundations of our thinking about thinking about form. But the poem itself escapes the self-limitations of thought with the companionable excesses of lyric. A lyric’s whole is always more than any concept of itself, which “concept as whole or principle of unity” is the tradition of academic form that lyric perpetually protests.

LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Charles Simic “Empire of Dreams”

On the first page of my dream book / It’s always evening / In an occupied country./ Hour before the curfew. / A small provincial city. / The houses all dark./ The store-fronts gutted. // I am an a street corner / Where I shouldn’t be. / Alone and coatless / I have gone out to look / For a black dog who answers to my whistle. / I have a kind of Halloween mask/ Which I am afraid to put on.


FRAME OF REFERENCE There is a dangerous doubleness, promising ennoblement but liable to generate corruption. The intimate universal is porous to heaven, but it can also be porous to hell. For, of course, the danger is there with the idiotic intimacy. It is daimonic in the double sense of being able to be turned to the diabolical side, as well as to the divine. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, p. 58.

In these “investigations” we are discovering how lyrics appeal to our desire to grasp an underlying story that confirms our mastery of our conceptual world. Things occur to us in experience, aspects pile up into images, coherence emerges. We make poems of these. But by virtue of making the poems, we expose the figures — similes, metaphors, analogies, sound patterns of all sorts— and the otherness of these techniques create the cracks in the sense of wholeness, the cracks, so goes the song, that lets the light in.

Paradoxically, this doubleness is the appeal of lyric. Charles Simic, Serbia-born American poet, much celebrated (see google), has written extensively on the strong appeal of poetry to our sense of self. Czeslaw Milosz chose one of his wry little poems for his anthology A BOOK OF LUMINOUS THINGS, and prefaced it with a rather literal explanation about the persistence of childhood memories in dreams. In public conversations Simic often tells about being awakened to consciousness by a bomb that went off in his building when he was a child. There is a literal basis for his lyric “Empire of Dreams.”

With the title the reader becomes aware of a doubleness. Is it a metaphor that frames this memory of a dream? Whose empire is this? Whatever the technique used to get control over his conscious experience, his conceptual take on his dreams seems organic to his self-expression. The experience couldn’t be expressed without self-consciously interrogating its otherness, its givenness as dream but also its demonic sense of the possibilities of self-hood. (See FRAME OF REFERENCE.)

We are bewitched by the mode, the photo-realism of the noir narrative. We play along. It moves through the lyric narrative, from outer to inner, from lower to higher, with the whole complex story exploding conceptually at the end, the black dog, the mask. It’s as if the pretenses of the poem stood revealed as pretenses. Is the poem then not just a personal expression of deep-seated self-awareness as dream but an analogy for something else to be discovered? Or not? There is an intimacy to this final scene. The dog comes to the poet’s whistle. The poet questions the use of his mask. If we must accept the figure of analogy as the ultimate form or shape of this poem, we must accept the darkness of the light at the end of the tunnel. Analogies represent subjects in their plurality and doubleness. X is ti Y AS A is to B. The poem is to the dream as the dream is to … empire? The other to empire?

Tha sense of mastery we get when our conceptual world CLICKS with a poem. But CLICK is the sound too of a dead CLICHE. Cliche is the sound of a molten figure being cooled into shape by the touch of water. But there’s more this time around. That mask, suspended between poet and the cracks letting the light in.

LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Sasha Dugdale “Me as Bride of Christ at St George’s”

A whole procession of us, white-robed,/ even white shoes and socks/ I wore my mother’s wedding veil, studded with pearls, / for Corpus Christi Day. A day like today/ a hay fever day, the neadow’s first cut/ and the bees, the roses out, everything ripe. / The priest, noticing our bad habits, / said we should never keep the wafer in our mouth, / as it is the body of Christ, but we vied/ for who could suck the longest. / My grandmother took photos on a Polaroid / and in all of them our heads cut off / just our young torsos bobbing toward the chapel.

from DEFORMATIONS (Carcanet 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE One might say that art gives us neither an image nor an original but an original image or an imagistic original. There is doubleness in its relativity: both an immanent self-reference and a transcendent other reference; something deeply intimate, something intimating superior otherness (altus, above and below). WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, p. 76.

There is almost too much going on in this short text. The notes indicate the source of the material as the writings of Eric Gill, and adds: “The voice in the sequence is not Gill’s—it is the voice of water which is good for recording disaster.”

Dugdale’s mode here involves foregrounding to an almost distracting degree the theory of the case. Starting with the Marvellian echo in the title’s analogy — Me AS — we have what we take at first as an anecdotal lyric, one of the most popular forms of poetry. Line-by-line it follows what we have called the lyric narrative, or the chiasm from outer to inner/from lower to higher (to put it bluntly paraphrasing St. Augustine of all people). Opening with the facts behind a photo, we move through the topics of the genre, gradually going from description to dialects of the occasion— time of year, the priest, a bit of conversation, charged with double meanings. Then a kind of wrap up that in fact delivers the final destruction of the original image, the seemingly “innocent” Polaroid.

So there’s that. There’s more. Starting with the fourth line — a day like today— there’s a universalizing pattern of analogy. Not only ambiguity — the play on habits— but that cultural sign that governs our social understanding. The wafer “is” the body of Christ. The signal of the analogy is “as.” The open placement of this analogy suggests that this figure of speech, so promiscuously fond of difference, is “behind” the poem as a whole. It is, after all, a day like today.

The energy of the final lines draws on the deepest awarenesses. See the FRAME OF REFERENCE. This “transcendent” other reference is the ultimate indeterminable side of the analogy. The event described, already pluralized by its sources, points to something greater than can be thought, a kind of dark light. The power of the poem, which is, as it were, just a taste of the book “as a whole” (e.g. the thing up for the TS Eliot Prize), is considerable, and considerable in light of both social and artistic dimensions. We shouldn’t really say “as a whole,” since that whole, under the sign of analogy, is an open whole. Now the “note”— the voice of the poem is that of water— can become part of our way of understanding the poem.

One final thing, Sasha Dugdale’s new book reinforces our awareness of the profound possibilities— formal, historical, personal, ontological, etcetera — of lyric.

LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Jo Clement “Iron Work, V & A”

There’s not a pot to piss in. Least not the kind I’m looking for. / Move on, she said, You read too much into these things. // Still, our kettles boil, crucibles stew and sing. Their withy hooks / turn to litterfall. Wooden limbs left behind, long eaten. // But the iron pots we wrought, have they not weathered here / or found their place amongst the crested railings, locked gates // and all their keys? Now I see them loosed from wall and earth, / were these black balustrades not cast by the fiery Smiths?

from THE DARK HORSE, 42, Autumn & Winter 2020, p. 70.

FRAME OF REFERENCE As originally a charged field of communication, the idiocy is saturated with worth, prior to determination and self-determination. One might say that there is something overdeterminate to it as a kind of “too muchness,” though there is also something quasi-indeterminate about it, as opening to further determinations and self-determinations. The overdetermination is redolent of the good of the “to be.” The idiotic is an elemental field of communication, shimmering with the endowed promise of the good of the “to be.” WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, 206.

The “Notes on Contributors” in the new issue of THE DARK HORSE says of the author: “ Jo Clement is Managing Editor of Butcher’s Dog. Her debut pamphlet Movable Type (New Writing North) was published with support of Arts Council England.”

I will order a copy. Anybody who uses “movable type” in her title has my vote of confidence. I remember when I moved from newspaper work to book publishing. Movable type was an anachronism but in traditional book publishing preserved its aura.

Aura is relevant concept as we think about her poem Iron Work, V & A. The presence of works (not perhaps works of art) in museums challenge our sense of self as we entertain an other time. The voice of the poem is abruptly reconnected to her body and needs a lou. She speaks up and is rebuked as if she had hermeneutic issues. Aura of “things,” indeed a matter perhaps of thinking too much, is irrelevant to the bodily needs of the speaker, but it has everything to do with the poem.

This opening has an epigrammatic irreverence that locks in for the moment what we are to expect. The next couplet engages us at a still dialogical level but triggered by the equivocity of things. They have their depths, historical-aesthetic-dialectical. Kettles that boil are subject to the universal impermanence, they are like us in that, flesh of our flesh. Their withy hooks/turn to litterfall. We are at the o-level of being: the basic organic stuff, “o” meaning “organic” or perhaps “ontological.”

In the museum setting common things may undergo an aspect change, such as we expect from lyric. Now the style of the poem has access to new energies, new syntax, new levels of attention. “Now” has its corona or firmata effect.

Call it with Desmond (see FIELD OF REFERENCE) the idiotic dimension. Foundational thereness, pure possibility. The pie locates her pits and pans, flesh of her flesh, HERE. The grammar is precise, interrogatory but polite (compare the opening). “Have they not …or found their place”: the agon of high state-sponsored culture vs. how we live among our things: the idiotic aspect is intimate, pre-subjective, pre-objective, transhuman, to use categories invented by phenomenologists to make sense of human reality at its most universal.

Of course all this metaphysics may distract from the tone of the final lines. But the mode of existence of the lyric is embedded in, say, the conceptual litterfall of consciousness. Clement skillfully, gingerly, sifts through the life-appearances of her topic. Lyric succeeds as it keeps proportion among its voices.

Seen from a distance a question looms: isn’t there something truly other on the horizon of this question? Were these black balustrades not cast by the fiery Smiths? And since this poem interrogates the idiotic dimension, is not the imagery here acknowledgement of the powers of the enabling figure, analogy? Ana is a Greek prefix for “up.” Unlike metaphor, which lives in likeness— you might say description— analogy lives in difference. Its light is not the daylight of metaphor, a sort of convivial if conjectural half-light, but rather the darkness of difference. But like the balustrade of the poem, up not down (though we know from the chiasm that up may be down, as Heraclitus won’t be denied).

There is a powerful erotic yearning in Clement’s palate. It’s mixed with the differences of high and low. But as I don’t tire of saying, the lyric chiasm involves us in connections between outer and inner, lower and higher. The overall figure is analogy, which acknowledges the final differences between dimensions of thought. There’s a surplus energy in our efforts to bring every thing into the rational light of one museum. Analogy is the play of the gods of memory.

So thanks Jo Clement for this fine poem. May you write— and publish— many more.

LYRIC.CO Penelope Shuttle “long-lost”

the child vanishes / in the mist / and snow of the family // she vanishes/ in a trice, in an age, / no-one knows why or where // the dreamer / the quiet one the hero /they called her // no trouble / not a clown/ not a rescuer // she’s gone / clad in a paper dress/ never seen again //nor her passport / nor her shoes / nor her rabbit / not in this shining world

from FATHER FEAR (Poetry Salzburg at the University of Salzburg 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE In coming to what seems most intimately one’s own, one comes to what is not self-owned. Seeking to own itself, the owning of this selving darkens down into a cave that is not its own. The selving claiming exemplary singularity is undergroundedby nothing but the opening into nothing. It is an abyss, it is a gap—the gap is a chaos in the etymological sense. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 74.

Penelope Shuttle’s new pamphlet is full of wonderful lyrics. The word lyric is contested vigorously by contemporary critics (see for example STRANGENESS AND POWER: ESSAYS ON THE POETRY OF GEOFFREY HILL, edited by Andrew Michael Roberts), and I’ve found the debate interesting. But far more interesting are the poems themselves, specifically how they address the crisis of meaning in a nihilistic age.

Shuttle’s “long-lost” exhibits one of the most fascinating features of lyric, how it deals with loss. In raw experience, loss chokes off expression, overwhelms reason, obliterates feeling, lays waste to the deepest sense of self. In short, lyric can confront the forces of nothingness.

Shuttle makes good use of what I call the lyric narrative, which is a name for the chiastic knot of name and mystery, of our inability to find security in our expression of truth (Wittgenstein’s great theme). The threads we lay down In composing a lyric make a braid, but one that comprises multiple beginnings and endings. This sounds like a version of postmodern nihilism. It looks that way. Look again: in reaching its end, lyric completes an open figure we call analogy. The subject transforms into an activity of truth itself even while the truth itself remains organically open and vibrant.

In “long-lost” a series of negations build up a final image, “this shining world.” Given the narrative of loss the image is heartbreaking. But it carries with it the “negative” other of the analogy explored by the lyric. Who is this child? Self or other, yourself or herself? Whom does the mysterious voice of the poem address?

The lyric is powerfully evocative. The nothings in italics land like blows. The poem invokes what it denies. Thus it fulfills the purpose of analogy, comparing something, “the child,” to many things that it can’t be said to be (any more, or at all). Analogy builds a stairway to what is other to thought. (Ana is a Greek prefix meaning “up.”)

The poem leads us into the abyss of the self. The abyss is however not simply dark. It is alive with dark light. (See FRAME OF REFERENCE for the itinerary of selving enacted here.) This light is not the mere other to reason. It is not gnostic, pointing to the consolations of transcendence. It is the voice of the lyric itself. It is the voice of the finite other which is embraced by agapeic love. Shuttle’s final catalogue—starting with the paper dress (suggesting the imaginatively believed in paper doll), and descending from more sophisticated figures of self- existence to a pet rabbit (with so many associations), is somehow self-confirming.

The final line is both loss and gain. Analogy is a figure of both-and. It has the force of a PreSocratic essentialism, except that its foundation is in the figure of analogy, which, in the paradoxical tradition of poetics, “asserts nothing.”

LYRIC.CO Sean Hewitt “Clock”

A close warm evening opened by rain/ and me (caught out) leaning on a cedar. // A heron walks its white zed / along the bank and out into the water, // and just here a small beetle, sheen / of coal-black, pulls itself into the pink bed // of the rhododendron flower. Then, once / and once more, a foxbarks / and, though I love you and I know / there is no such thing as held time, // this tree seems suddenly like a stillness,/ a circle of quiet air, a place to stand // now that I have had to leave / and cannot think where I might go next.

from TONGUES OF FIRE (Cape Poetry 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE Analogically causation might be said, by contrast [to the autism of Hegel’s God] to create the finite other not as a self-othering, but through the interplay of likeness and unlikeness it releases the created other into its own being for itself, a being which is also in relation to God, as ultimate origin of all relations in communication between creation and Godself. WILLIAM DESMOND The Voiding of Being (The Catholic University of America Press, 2020), p. 94.

US citizens gaze into the abyss as President Trump leads them into collective suicide by pandemic. That’s the headline this morning. Kamala Harris represents a future worth fighting — and voting — for. Story buried in the culture pages of today’s paper.

I turn to one of the outstanding debut collections. Is Sean Hewett really that good? His poetry is pushing me to think harder about the lyric, a form of poetry unmentionable in polite society yet surprisingly popular. Let’s look at “Clock.”

It has the generic lyric shape as explored in these pages. Call it the lyric chiasm: outer to inner/lower to higher. (We borrow this from Augustine.) Many questions are finessed in the process of reading it, and not because they are hidden as presumptions of the form, though they do seem to be such. Some will react to these gaps in reason. Warmed over Heaney anyone? UNFAIR!

The naive — CAUGHT OUT — narrator. Exposed to the “otherness” of fellow creatures. Vividly sketched to the life. That heron, that beetle! Those weird fox barks in the dark, FROM the dark.

Calling. And the lyric turns from the internal equivocities to the intimations of the abyss of the human heart. Aspect change: the mode jumps from description to concept. There is no such thing as held time. The firmata opening the abyss even wider, deeper, lower. Time in this lyric open to being held.

And the final image of held time, the very cedar the poet leans on. (This has the neatness of a Cavalier lyric.) Structurally the change of aspect reveals the secret of lyric, analogy. Description — the initial mode— draws on univocal likeness. That heron— to the life! Etcetera. But now the gaps of difference show the inner twist towards otherness of indescribable dark difference— the figure of analogy. And it supports a figure of nothing: a stillness, a circle, a place.

What would we do without Heidegger’s antimetaphysics! Romanticism reborn in nihilistic times! That’s one way to put it. And believe me that’s what will occur to many readers. Default nihilism.

No. A more generous way is suggested by the FRAME OF REFERENCE. The release of the created (not merely fictive) other into its own time. “I cannot think …” Hewitt’s finesse of time (with a courteous bow to Eliot)— “Now that I have had to leave”— shakes the deterministic lyric to its foundations in the analogical space. The form of the lyric emerges as analogical consciousness.

Isn’t that something! Sean Hewitt made that for our consideration. Good on him!

LYRIC CO. Rocco Scotellaro “To the Carter’s Daughter”

I can live near you no longer / someone binds the voice in my chest / you are the carter’s daughter / who takes the breath from my mouth. / Because below us in the stable / the mules move in their sleep / because your father huffs near us / and does not go yet, high on his cart/ to chase off the stars with his whip

translated by William Weaver, The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry, edited by Geoffrey Brock, p. 427.

FRAME OF REFERENCE The difference of self-love and love of other-being is subtended by a givenness in which the difference is not at all an opposition, but emergent into form out of the more original passage of the porosity of being.
WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Between, 226.

Analogy looks like an expanded metaphor, a this-as-that with the spread of a story. What does it feel like to decide your love has become impossible? Rocco Scotellaro’s lyric shows you. Never heard of him? Now you have, via his poem. He’s said to be a Neo-liberal, a socialist; he died researching agrarian economy; he died young. His years were 1923-1953.

It’s a fine poem. Like the poems of Catullus (84-54), it makes you feel what it’s like to make that life-transforming decision. It’s like dying. You can no longer speak. (The extremity of THAT is especially extreme for a poet!)

As a lyric in good standing (critics go on and on about the status of the lyric mode, well, just look at this one), it draws subtle hints from the language (the academics love to say it’s the language not the poet that speaks). Here lines two and four look a lot alike. Who is causing this crisis? The beloved (line two) or … herself? We expected him to say her father, whose oppressive presence makes it impossible for them to love each other.

But it’s not that simple. His love is turning into hatred.

The poem turns quietly to the world outside the speaker’s consciousness. BECAUSE. The imagery is of the world of flesh, of fellow creatures: mules shifting asleep in their stalls under the living quarters shared by the carter and his daughter. Her father “huffs,” waking in the dawn for another work day.

It’s a moment of change in the between sketched by the poet. The moment is specific. And yet it is more than the sum of its parts. There’s an equivocal issue— does he blame his beloved for being who she is? At first it seems like it. But the poem ends on an image of universal aspect: the stars fading from the lightening skies at dawn.

The poem is MORE than broken-hearted and stoic (that unstable stable combination explored by Catullus). It embraces so much more than the immediate voice suggests. The last line achieves an aspect switch that opens the poem to the world the fading light of the stars sheds on humanity.

So technically, the moment of decision is analogous to the bigger moment of accepting the larger drama, rather grandiloquently pictured in the last line. The father-figure has a larger-than-.life profile now. To be his daughter is to be connected to a central player in the difference between night and day. It is to be connected to the way things are.

That’s the mode of analogy showing its ultimate power. By comparing two widely different (night and day) things it gets at the truth between them. It is a figure of the between, the metaxy between mortals and immortality (see the word “porosity” in the FRAME OF REFERENCE). Analogy is the great lyric figure as it makes us fleetingly aware of the darkness of God, the ultimate site of our loves and lives.

LYRIC.CO Leonardo Sinisgalli “Old Tears”

To the old, weeping comes easy. / In midafternoon, / in some hiding-place in the empty house/ they sit, and burst into tears. / An infinite despair / takes them by surprise. / They raise to their lips / a dry slice of pear, the pulp / of a fig dried on the roof-tiles. / Even a sip of water / can resolve their crisis, / or the sight of a snail.
translated by William Weaver.

FRAME OF REFERENCE [In old age] In a new wonder at the gift of life, there can be Eros beyond Eros, touched already by a caress of the agapeic. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 323.

Five AM, the steady sound of rain in the trees. Will I listen to Ms. Barrett defend the indefensible in her Supreme Court hearing, and the stupid-beyond-belief voices of her supporters explaining the doctrine of original intent, to wit a true judge of contested matters can appeal to the original intent of the Founders. Oh really? No, they can’t. It’s simply not available. Equivocity rules In the between, words require mindful finesse to interpret. One learns this in school, in life.

The profound rot in the foundations of our constitutional order smells to high heaven. I turn to one of my favorite sources of good sense, THE FSG BOOK OF TWENTIETH – CENTURY ITALIAN POETRY, edited by Geoffrey Brock (2012).

Sinisgalli’s small poem sticks in the mind. All you have to know about him is that as an undergraduate in engineering he turned down an invitation to join the Institute of Physics in Rome. He took a job as Art Director for Olivetti and Pirelli and was best known as a poet. He lived a long productive life—1908-1981. “Old Tears” is full of wisdom, early or late.

We are used to the stresses reading lyric puts on the imagination. The simplest scene leads unpromisingly into cosmic mysteries. We quickly yield to the gambit of the first line. And the second, and, with some heightened sense of the chiaroscuro of the between, the third. And yes, having gone this far, the fourth. Old tears.

But now infinite despair takes them by surprise. Infinitude must include us: The growing equivocity of the opening has created gaps in the picture. We readers loiter in those gaps. Strange lights play among the shadows.

The second six lines are reassuringly “concrete.” No more of this infinite-business. Just pathos riddled with something close to condescension. No? According to our expectations, the lyric narrative has delivered us to the edge of an abyss (something unscripted in Ms. Barrett’s conception of reading for original intent, but then she reads “law.”) Anyway, these images have the radiance of Cezanne. The whole poem becomes a “spiritual exercise” in not thinking exactly but looking at aspects as they change. Of being part of an open whole, to use Desmond’s useful term.

The sudden sight of a snail among the dried pear and fig has something of Moore’s real toad in it. Blick! As Wittgensteinians might say. Aspect change from duck to rabbit and back? No, no, but something like.

Whatever brought on the crying jag of infinite despair seems easily reduced to manageable proportions by a sip of water.

Which brings me to my new hobbyhorse: analogy. Lyrics work by analogy: in every resemblance, every aspect shift, there’s a greater difference. An unmanageable difference opens up. A tiny scene like “Old Tears” opens (eventually in the mindfulness of the faithful reader) to the ultimate real aporia: the darkness of God. We sort of “know” this. It is the groundless ground, the fertile void, of the infinite despair that takes us by surprise.

LYRIC.CO Denise Levertov “The Love of Morning”

It is hard sometimes to drag ourselves / back to the love of morning / after we’ve lain in the dark crying out / O God, save us from the horror // God has saved the world one more day / even with its leaden burden of human evil; / we wake to birdsong./ And if sunlight’s gossamer lifts in its net / the weight of all that is solid / our hearts, too, are lifted, / swung like laughing infants; // but on gray mornings, / all incident—our own hunger,/ the dear tasks of continuance,/ the footsteps before us in the earth’s/ beloved dust, leading the way— all,/ is hard to love again / for we resent a summons / that disregards our sloth, and this / calls us, calls us.

from SELECTED POEMS (New Directions, 2002)

FRAME OF REFERENCE We are as nothing, and this double ness is significant: as being we are as nothing, but being as nothing opens a world within that can come to itself in mindfulness, and opens us to a world without, to which we can come in mindfulness of what is different. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 212.

We stare at the abyss we call America. Proceeding this week in the confirmation of the next addition to the Supreme Court, a sense of repetition wells up like nausea. The Puritans are in the saddle. Chaos comes again.

Returning to a lyric like Levertov’s “The Love of Morning” is reflexive. We are looking for a connection to a good outside ourselves. We reread the poem, this time noticing, beyond the unpalatable orthodoxies, those old canonical words, the ebb and flow of perception.

Levertov is very good at this sort of thing, which is why her yellowing page blushes.

I am hooked, my eyelids unstuck. The dialectics of the middle of the poem — “and if“ — gently flows on and out of the deep foundations of the poem. And if…

Making that transition requires that we be fully awake. What is now engaged is our most fundamental energy of consciousness, our acceptance of the human gesture of analogy. It builds on the first order of”is”: it IS sometimes hard…. we can’t deny that reasonableness.

The “as” of analogy builds on the given “is.” The image of the “is it” a spider’s gossamer web beaded with dewy flashes of early morning sun: the poem asks us silently “if” we accept the analogy with our human heart-self. And suddenly we are moving toward and across the abyss the analogy bridges for us, a gift of analogy. Desmond the Irish philosopher calls that tidal movement the “porosity.” It is a name for the happening of the lyric within the form of the lyric.

Now I am awake. The final lines show me why. I can use an old name— this poem is full of old names— I can say “sloth” and know what it means to me now. That finite other that is our very self and may resent the offer of awareness of its limits in light of its possibility to override its own darkness— that! Own THAT! Move on!

LYRIC.CO Mark Fiddes “Stoke Pavilions”

“A God once lived here,” / said my father on the edge of a field / as one whose belief had been buried / furrow deep by time’s ploughmen. / The sky tipped. Clouds turned green / The trees shook with summer’s rage. / Until then I had no idea that adults / could feel abandoned too, / that the purpose of the Gods / was to play hide and seek in the ruins / of whatever they leave behind. / I returned years later to find a wedding / in full swing with hats and laughter, / framed in the Inigo Jones colonnade, / invited by the Gods for a snapshot.


FRAME OF REFERENCE There is a greatness to religion but also great danger. The corruption of the best is the worst (corruptio optimi pessima). Alas it is the human condition that the best is always liable to corruption or never free from temptation. Why? Because even our best is never God.

WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, 59.

So it’s only three AM and the temperature is beginning to drop and we don’t know how many guests of the President caught the COVID yesterday but, as he likes to say, “we will see, we will see.”

With all my recent foraging in Wittgenstein and Zhuangzi lately— two notorious “skeptics” and “relativists” — the discourse I want to dive back into is Denys Turner, THE DARKNESS OF GOD (Cambridge 1995). A 3 AM text for sure. But I’d read Mark Fiddes’s new poem online and it felt like good news, and this blog LYRIC.CO is supposed to be about good news.

Fiddes is a deeply considerate poet; he plays all the angles with finesse. “Stoke Pavilions” is not coy about its love of the lyric tradition — its impeccable build (I almost said “couture”) and especially its respect for the equivocities of the sounds words make across the between of their sounding— they leave me a little breathless. The diction is quiet, the narrative lucid, so we do hear the concert in the park. All in the shadow of Inigo Jones’s superb almost see-through neoclassicism.

The narrative brings us to a breathless moment, wherein we hear about the purpose of the Gods no less. The scene of Romantic ruins had paved the way, as it were, to this final realization, a Little Gidding moment perhaps, without Eliot’s rancid smile. The blandness of the diction is pitch perfect, Sung rather than T’ang. “WhatEVER they leave behind” encompasses the festive grounds of Stoke Pavilions, such as they are, and the luminous memory of the lyric muse, which always has at least one foot in Heraclitus’s stream.

The return is beautifully handled, the muse of Inigo Jones being no stranger to the Deus Ex Machina of weddings. A wedding “in full swing” holds our attention. We readers pose within the wide angle of this lyric moment, invited to the party by the Gods.

I say Fiddes may be onto a new lyric register. So the poem may speak the poet pulls back and lets the poem emerge as a form in the landscape. The movement of the poem between the confession of his father and the repurposed pavilions is unencumbered by gaucherie of the kind we expect in our nihilist age. So there’s that, the poem recapitulates its various energies in light of the emerging form.

AND. Since we speak of the Gods, I can return to my sense that there’s power in the tradition Denys Turner explicates, that of the DARKNESS of God. Mark Fiddes is a poet to watch, as they say in our totally corrupt literary culture. But he is, he is. His new poem has the balance of public and private that Horace … but no need to get into that.

LYRIC.CO Czeslaw Milosz “Cafe Greco” and Buson

We in the US find it difficult not to be fascinated as our President persists in his mad desire to remain in power. Once he’s out of power we will watch him again go down for crimes committed recently and in the past. The spectacles of Fortuna are not lost on us.

Lyric poetry lines my bookshelves and helps me step out of the madness, or seem to. Snatches of poetry shine in the darkness. I turn on the light. I look up Milosz’s Collected. “El Greco” (1986) begins this way: “In the eighties of the twentieth century , in Rome, via Condotti / We were sitting With Turowicz in the Cafe Greco / And I spoke in, more or less, these words: …” The body of the poem accounts for a conversation suffused with nostalgia, literature considered as a hymn unintended, and so. It ends: “And for me: amazement / That the city of Rome stands, that we meet again, / That I still exist for a moment, myself and the swallows.”

This doesn’t cut it this morning. Milosz does not speak for me or my President. The lyric community fails to jell. His voice remains his voice only, the more of lyric simply failing to happen. The poem is just words.

I often turn to haiku to go beyond words. I open W. S. Merwin’s SELECTED TRANSLATIONS (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). Buson:

This is happiness

crossing the stream in summer

carrying my straw sandals

That’s the THIS that calls me into play. This and that, no grain in the flux, still the current of time, the river there…and there.

As I contemplate the image presented by the poem the wholeness blossoms into fleshy particulars— achey, stressed, distressed, yet full of desire. Feet. Steps.

True, my feet bother me all the time now, but reading this hokku puts it “all“ into perspective by changing the perspective. What Wittgenstein calls “blick” or the change of perspective has occurred.

As we continue to respond creatively to Milosz’s century, we ponder the difference between what can be said and what can be shown. This morning, it seems just this between supplies each lyric with its fluent, porous, emergent form.

As Desmond says, aesthetics is nothing less than a happening to the irreducible ‘idiotic’ self: “… the idiotics is always the secret companion” (The Intimate Universal, 14).