JUXTAPOSITIONS. Capildeo “Day, with Hawk”

“If the dualism of imitation and self-creation does not work, the matter is also not one of a dialecticalsubsumption of one into the other, since such would make it a higher form of self-mediation, self-creation. It is metaxological: it is a between that is beyond the opposition of universal and particular. . . This is to be in communication. Art is especially rich in sensuous communication.” William Desmond, The Intimate Universal, 2016.

Having its origins in the ancient world of Pindar and Horace, what evolved as “lyric” was eventually adopted as a form of idealism whereby the poet’s self became the center of attention. The dualism of mimesis (imitation) as opposed to imagination (self-expression) collapsed in the absurdity of nihilism (Eliot’s multiple voices). The experience of being “in communication” became increasingly central to experimental poets. The absurd “I” of lyric continues to dominate lyric production and remains the choice of many. Vahni Capildeo is not one of the many.

”Day, with Hawk” is a fine example of the “metaxical” lyric. It happens between the universal of idealism (e.g. Hopkin’s bird) and the Intimate, the subjective experience. It happens in the cultural niche or between of the “Intimate Universal.”

The difference made by the shift of locale from the modern idealism of the identification of the poet with “the dialectical subsumption” of the objective and subjective dimensions into the unity of the poem — whew!— is reflexively rejected by the poem. Indeed, the “beautiful” sound patterns are like fingernails drawn across a blackboard!

The Metaxy, first employed to name the “space” of Eros (born of plenty by poverty in Plato’s myth), is ‘to be in communication’ with the other. Idealist lyric swallows the delicacy of the other in the concrete universal of the modern self. (NB: Eliot’s “objective correlative”.) Desmond’s compact expression “to be in communication” refers to the primordial “to be,” by which the generosity of Being allows for the becoming of the singular finite individual. If you object to this way of putting the condition of the poet — idealism vs metaxological being —you can always revert to the program modernity has already equipped you with.

The middle section —“I would call Him”—superbly fulfills the lyric’s obligation to “mimesis” — but turns on that lyricism, interrupting: “bad old hierarchy” is outed by the poem as NOT “to be in communication.” “ Love, this is; no poem” cuts both ways (dialectics are the very stuff of the Metaxy).

The metaxical lyric, loyal to the ontological vision of “to be in communication,” having performed the crisis of idealism, consummates communication in the Metaxy (sometimes we say “between”) with a question. And answers it with a wealth (remember Eros is born/borne between Want and Excess) of polyvocal answers. The Many and their particular Differences are the sign of the Metaxy.

The final line completes this transformation of idealist lyric into metaxical by “othering” the final image: “An adoration. An abyss.” Both.

This poem is to be found in “Venus as a Bear,” a book whose every motion, from title through a great variety of lyrics, bears (no pun intended) witness to the possibility of the transformation of lyric into something worthy of the name.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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