LYRIC PERFORMANCE George Oppen “In Memoriam George Reznikoff”

who wrote / in the great world // small for this is a way // to enter / the light on the kitchen // tables wide- // spread as the mountains’ / light this is // heroic this is/ the poem // to write // in the great / world small

from New collected Poems edited by Michael Davidson, Preface by Eliot Weinberger (New Directions 2008)

FRAME OF REFERENCE When one refers to something neither universal nor particular, one thinks of the schema in Kant (in the Critique of Pure Reason) as a between in that regard. The schema somehow partakes of both the understanding and the sensuous, and is neither one nor the other. If we fixate on these two, and if we fix them, we fail to realize that more important is the power that passes between them. This has something to do with the imagination. This is a threshold power that is not a self-determining power— it is an endowed power, an enabling that itself is secretly enabled by a source it cannot enable by itself alone. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal (University of Columbia Press 2016), 77

George Oppen (1908-1984) remains after a spectacularly varied life a poet’s poet. Throughout his life — which included a long silence preoccupied by ideological struggle within the new international Communist movement—he fashioned poems that had a personal purity about them. “Sincerity” captured what he valued in the modern American movement starting with Pound, whom he visited in his thirties and with whom he honorably and openly disagreed.

His late poem for fellow “Objectivist” Charles Reznikoff suggests both the virtues and vices of the style. For all its simplicity of outline it asserts propositions and depends on universals, assertion and dependence being a little contrary to the devotion to objective things. (Oppen loved mechanical things, especially small boats which he sailed with his wife Mary, and once built a car that was also a boat.)

From the metaxical point of view explored in this blog, perhaps too much has been sacrificed. The lyric narrative here lacks the characteristic energetic shaping of the sequence from equivocity through dialectics. Call it minimalism, it draws on the logic of will: small for this is a way // to enter/ the light … The little word for is the load-bearing member.

Performance is essential to this poetics; indeed it must be taken on faith as presented. It serves the lyric’s central figure of speech. And the per-formance reveals that, like many lyrics, the poem depends on analogy for its power: the kitchen tables — note the lack of apostrophe—wide-/spread as the mountains’ / light… (Note the apostrophe.) The comparison by virtue of the incomparability of the lights, we are entering the “widespread” by writing small, so something in light must be the unknown in the suppressed analogy. This is obscure but tantalizingly heroic.

The image is of tables widespread as mountains. The poem implies the light they share makes the difference. As the tables are to the mountains, the light on the tables is to the light on the mountains?

The value of “small” is not differentiated through the lyric narrative: it is asserted and illustrated. Historically this might be classified as “imagism.” Philosophically? In a poem which literally “points,” the climaxing word “heroic” is served by the self-affirming gesture “this” (see Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §45).

In its final lines the poem reasserts its theme not by lyric going beyond thinking (the poem in some sense only gestures towards the finite other) but by literal repetition, which perhaps draws on “repetition of” formula as performed in heroic rhetoric.

But as devoted, as it were, to “the small” in the great world” this poem addressed to his comrade exhibits the characteristic modesty of George Oppen himself. And his metaphysical chops. The devotion is real, the poem charming, the chops an untold story in the history of American lyric, and Oppen a poet worth returning to for what he does and doesn’t say.

Finally, the FRAME OF REFERENCE provides the most generous context for appreciating Oppen’s imagination as more than gesture. It has something to do with imagination, though that’s not part of the program.


When we are by ourselves, somewhere/ alone —as rarely happens—we/ are awkward with the double lack. / We miss the two who are elsewhere/but also the identity/we have in them. When we go back,/ we think, will we have lost the knack/of being who we are? The pair, / the parents, you and me, / who hold and fix, who cope and care./ But we remain that anywhere/ we go. It is us, finally./ Absence is absence, not attack / by nothingness. And we are free / to travel far, to pack, repack, / to take ourselves off anywhere. / We will be here when we come back.

from NEW POETRIES 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE. Such a practice of philosophy asks a porosity of mindful thought to what exceeds complete determination in terms of finite immanence alone. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal (Columbia University Press 2016), 167.

Toby Litt’s metier is prose fiction but lyrics sometimes happen to him, according to his head note in this anthology. That of course caught my attention. He tells us that “Awaying” “is one parent speaking to another, reassuring them they still exist.”

Thanks to how pronouns work in lyric, this poem needs no such explanation. We can consult the habits of performance of lyric. First the “we.” Traditionally double-focused, “we” often refers to a creature of the lyric moment of immanence, inseparable from the performance of the poem by the reader. Yet it speaks for the poet.

When we are by ourselves, somewhere / alone— as rarely happenswe are awkward… That could serve as a generic opening for any lyric. As opening situation it’s pure poetry, both sensible and looking forward to a narrative explanation. We don’t have to wait long.

“…we / are awkward with a double lack. / We miss the two who are elsewhere / but also the identity / we have in them.”

“Double lack” reminds one of Auden the paraphraser: it has a Platonic ring to it, perhaps the double identity of Eros as offspring of Lack and Plenty. No matter. What this lacks in specificity it makes up for in dialectical clarity. It makes the necessary moves. Jumping so quickly into the dialectical middle of the poem follows on the ambiguity set up by “the two who are elsewhere” so we can follow the moves of the game, which is gradually building speed and tension as a song/lyric, and Litt is eloquent in his note on the doubleness of lyric.

The generic setup yields to the need for knowing “who we are” which has emerged as the issue at this point. The answer has become part of the question, the ambiguity not to be banished by certainty. The reader is being asked by the occasion of the happening of the poem to keep on going on at a level of metaphysical style pushing the limits of her patience, but then as a parent she’s patient.

And has company. The lyric “we” picks up the rising energy as the poem turns. It is all beautifully phrased — Absence is absence, not attack / by nothingness. I love to say that. Too cool, so I back up: But we remain that anywhere / we go. It is us, finally.

Just wonderful, go on!

In Litt’s oeuvre this poem belongs to his case on parenting, as we gather from the notes in the anthology. “But I have kept writing about parenthood and its losses.” But qua-lyric, “Awaying” has that special lyric voice distinct within the sound of HIS voice— open to all the doubts of mindful use of language AND a singability that has everything to do with following the rules of the lyric road. (See FRAME OF REFERENCE.)

Repeat again: from outside to inside, from down there (the anywhere of absence) to the “here” at the very end of the road. That here is the going beyond thinking, the more than can be thought, the finite singular intimacy that is the gift of lyric.

So, yes, Toby Litt, master of many trades, even the impossible one of lyric, come out for a curtain call. We know what you mean when you say, “Very often, I have no idea where what I’ve written has come from; almost always, though, I know exactly where it’s going.”

LYRIC PERFORMANCE Vala Thorodds “Naked Except for the Jewellery”

You sketched a shelf / for all your imaginary things. Plants and records. /outlines of books that exist only in your future, best life.// Offered to add something of mine, whatever I liked.// But I couldn’t think / of what I cared for. So I said, ‘Jewellry.’/ Sweaters and shoes.’// When I meant, ‘My bike lock./ Procrastination./ The lies I told.’

from NEW POETRIES 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE In ordinary language there are reserves to the language of “doing justice” that are helpful for our reflections. WILLIAM DESMOND, THE INTIMATE UNIVERSAL (2016)

Vala Thorrods was born in Iceland. She says her first great love was disco. She lists her current activities as poet, publisher, editor, translator, and literary curator. I mention this because the poem I’ve chosen exhibits the qualities essential to what gives me hope about the short poem in our time. These qualities are often overlooked. They involve performing conceptual capacities more associated with ‘doing justice’ and ‘telling the truth.’ Thorrods’ conception of lyric as dance enfleshes the scheme. It’s deceptively minimal-looking.

Anyway….It’s good to have such a distinguished person on our side.

Our side? Really? How gauche! But “Naked except for the Jewellery” (a line borrowed from Jack Gilbert) is exactly that, a revelation of a hidden side of, or perspective on, lyric. The poem begins in a situation defined as an aspect of “you.” The equivocity, indeed plurivocalism, of pronouns is exploited without apology: this is perfected performance of one aspect of lyric. I/you.

We naturally think this refers to an other. Exactly. And here that other is defined by its favorite things.

As we noted, Thorrod’s imagination is rooted in dance, and the movements of the lyric have a disco-like clarity. The second section “performs” this dialectic of selfhood with bright energy.

That movement is consolidated as the poem follows its pattern by opening to the murk of the inner self. This movement is executed by a random list of ordinary things. The list descends ‘kenotically’— this is spiritual striptease—in value. Thus the verbal moves reveal a naked self. That self can’t say what it means. It is frustrated in its efforts at free expression.

It can’t help itself.

So the self turns toward another list starting at even a lower level of conventional self-expression. But no, we might say, now we are getting somewhere! Confession!

Perform it! Perform the singularity of your most true imaginary things. Bike lock— perform the velar stops. The lanky, self-indulgent Latinate syllables — they always lie— of “procrastination.” And finally the self-exculpatory admission that, yes, in the past, I’ve told some lies and they cost me dearly.

Oh please!

What a poem!

LYRIC PERFORMANCE Penelope Shuttle “the colour rain in the lavender”

I’m past thinking/but I think about colors all the time / how each one / has its everyday name / red blue green/ but also its underground name/red is a first edition of Pushkin/blue is chief mourner of the sky/ green is the reading age of the forest/ these s3cret names/ are known only to the dead/ in their flipside world/of long ago and not-now/not to us the living know very little about colors or the rain

from FATHER LEAR (Poetry Salzburg 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE If the dualism of imitation and self-creation does not work, the matter is also not one of dialectical subsumption 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 universal and particular. There is a sense in which these two terms lose any fixity they seem to posses since it is just in the passage that this metaxu comes to articulation. The passage shares in both the intimate and the universal. This passage as metaxological shows the doubleness of self-relation and other-relation. Art is especially rich in sensuous communication. WILLIAM DESMOND, THE INTIMATE UNIVERSAL (2016)

An exemplary lyric! Lots of negative thinking— I mean NO punctuation, NO capitals, NO stanza breaks, NO rhymes!

But one feels the pull of something, call it barbarously the “argument,” the pull of grammar, through the situation named at the outset: I’m past thinking.

So in place of Cartesian certainty the equivocity of language will have to do. As opposed to thinking there is thinking all the time. This distinction depends on a radical shift in point of view. Can you conceive of the other to thinking AS thinking all the time?

No? What about color?

To think about color one must consider its doubleness, a color has a place in the color wheel—red blue green—and also its association with things in your life.

So the poem turns from semantic dialectics to little stories, the ancient grammarians (shoutout!) called them “exempla.“ In poems they ranged from a few words to a major narrative. The exemplum is related to the figure of figures, analogy.

Notice how Shuttle uses the so-called linking verb “is” to set up her exempla: red is a first edition of Pushkin. The “mind”: NO IT’S NOT!

And yet “it is!” Thinking about “red” what comes to (my) mind is a first edition of Pushkin. And so on, blue and green are exempla too.

Examples of what? They are “secret.” How secret? Now we face the abyss towards which the poem has been “unconsciously” leading us (it’s what lyrics do, they finish the passage more-or-less without us) to the other world, the land of the dead.

It’s a glorious extended (that’s relative) narrative of the most ancient story, passage to the other—“flipside” Shuttle happily says)—world. I love the lyrical “nots”: of long ago and not-now/not to us.

Now the music of now, not, and know blends into something rich and strange. A radical distinction upon which the meditation and the exempla depend, breathlessly. An assertion, a fragment, a proposition, a memoir of our passage from black& white abstractions to the world of color. The living know very little/about colours or the rain.


One of the secrets of lyric eternal life is repetition with a difference. Lyrics always desire another reading. The ontology of “more.” So we start from the top. This poem, it may be, started in Shuttle’s wonder about the mysterious color of rain in the lavender.

As Desmond says (see FIELD OF REFERENCE): “Art is especially rich in sensuous communication.”

LYRIC PERFORMANCES Zohar Atkins “Protest”

No sooner do I say / ‘Let there be light’/ Then a horde of angels arrives / With their signs.// ‘No more oppression of darkness!’ / ‘Stop occupying out empty wild.’ / ‘Down with the visible!’/ ‘God Should Know Better Than to Speak.’// Even the walls of my hotel lobby seem / To sing out against me. / But then I remember, I’m God. / Soon the angel will want to go home. // In the end, nobody will remember how they / Held hands, soaring together, like a school / Into the tear-dusk firmament./ How they laid their celestial torsos down in a row // To prove my world a desecration./ Nobody will hear their words of lament, / ‘Holy, holy, holy,‘ as anything/ But praise.

FRAME OF REFERENCE If you and I are to live religious lives, it mustn’t be that we talk a lot about religion, but that our manner of life is different. Wittgenstein. Quoted by Peter Tyler, THE RETURN TO THE MYSTICAL (Continuum, 2017), 227.

What I like to call Wittgenstein’s itinerary— saying, showing, acting— goes way beyond the normal academic path of research and understanding. It is lifted from Peter Tyler’s book on mysticism. As hermeneutic, it shakes things up.

Zohar Atkins is an American educated at Brown and Oxford and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Michael Schmidt, the editor of NEW POETRIES 7: an anthology has included some of his poems in his canon-building anthology. I’m very glad he did. I could easily have never read him otherwise.

“Protest” is a marvelous lyric. It fulfills the lyric narrative and then some. In its ludic qualities it enacts a profound meditation. In the manner of midrash it reconfigures a key moment in sacred history, that is the very beginning. But in the Western tradition, the tradition supplying key elements to our poetic consciousness, this moment has slipped out of philosophic awareness. Leave it to an American rabbi to bring it to life again.

Atkins does this with impeccable skill. He begins, well, at the beginning. Or just before. After that everything goes downhill. As is the way of lyric, equivocation is the first step. Plays-on-words like with their signs. How neatly that makes visible the confusion of angels!

The second stanza is a chaotic chorus. Angels scream protests. “Let God be God” could not be further from their minds.

The lyric turns inward— well of course it does. God’s mind clears. Reality sets in. The angels tire. Fatigue. Boredom. He can wait it out. Signs notwithstanding. “In the end” oblivion will set in, the happenings of the original fiat fade from angelic memory. The fourth stanza performs more, well, lyrically. It is after all saturated in vision and loss. For a while we enjoy the poetry.

Dialectics take their toll. Between the realities of now and then there is no contest. We are in the abyss, or facing it: nobody will remember. But the poem is not over. Following Wittgenstein’s path of understanding, we’ve become aware of the equivocities of saying and the dialectics of showing. What’s left is acting.

How does the lyric narrative do “action”? It exhausts the other senses. Atkin’s God faces the unspeakable: the angels rejected the sacred nature of God’s world. This can’t be, cant stand, one must do something!

The voice of the lyric emerges from the chaos as the paradoxical truth. This truth is a reading of appearances. Contradiction at the very moment of origin. It is a truth laid out with the coolest of grammars. Subject: nobody. Verb: will hear. What? Their words of lament. Lament? This double saying/hearing, basic toolkit of lyric, reconfigures angelic speech — holy, holy, holy — as something other than praise.

Key word at this stage of the lyric: as. That’s the word signaling the appearance in all its asymmetric glory of the Ana-logy. Analogy. Word of lament:holy::praise:X.

So just what do we do when we raise our voice in praise? Isn’t that the most bottomless question about lyric?

Atkin’s lyric midrash is an act, is action. It goes beyond words to a change in aspect. Before this, we believed X. Now we understand. An act of understanding. Nothing, mind you, we can put in words. In the final analysis, the word is the deed.

LYRIC PERFORMANCES Katherine Horrex “Waking in Twos”

A clock knocks time / between four walls/ where we lie caught up / in the excellent rejection / of all company but each other’s, / immune to the pendulum / as if it were the call / of animals elsewhere—/ cockerels crowing about / unfinished revolution, / so that whoever still sleeps, or slept, / is on infinite alert, half consciously. Not us./ Next door’s farm winds down, / its owner dead by his own gun/ for some days now. Not us/ and lorries light our room / with the colors of commerce.
from NEW POETRIES 7, an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE Giving grounds, however, justifying the evidence, comes to an end,—but the end is not certain propositions’ striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting, which lies at the bottom of the language-game.
from Ludwig Wittgenstein, ON CERTAINTY, edited Anscombe and Wright, translated Paul and Anscombe, 1969.

A wickedly clever lyric perfect for the hangover of Election night. Each cluster of phonemes spins in its gravity/inertia.

The title: “waking” misheard as breaking in twos.

Equivocity, the subsoil of lyric, sprouting everywhere. No thing without its other— A clock knocks time: “knocks” as in tick-tock AND “challenges the authority of.”

Verbal tension of the scene: “we lie caught (up)…” Think about caught. The dialectics of the lyric path leads us to the break: “not us.” Finally the reductive yet still vibrant image of the last line.

Wittgenstein’s path— from saying to seeing to acting— makes me wonder: am I wrong to feel an intense tug of NO compelling me over the abyss of exhausted dialectic into action? Or more precisely a relief that one CAN change one’s life? Hasn’t Horrex performed this lyric towards action/change of point of view to a standpoint outside the dialectic and within the lyric equivocity, art’s standing in the universal impermanence?

I hope so. In any event Waking in Twos is just the stiff drink I need this morning.

LYRIC PERFORMANCES Rachel Mann “Fides Quaerens”

Am I required to believe / In the uncorruption of saints,/ The Mother’s timeless womb? / / There is limit, even if limit / Is never drawn (I cannot/ Give an instance of every rule.)/ / I don’t know what ‘believe in’ means / In the vast majority of cases,/ Which is to say I think it enough// To acknowledge the glamour of words— / Relic, body, bone— I think / Mystery is laid in syllables, syntax, // Miracles a kind of grammar, / Milk to train the tongue.
from NEW POETRIES 7 edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE Idiot wisdom: knowing and unknowing, in a willingness that returns us to the primal porosity and the elemental ontological receptivity and thankfulness for the gift of being at all. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 113.

So much going on here. I’ve modified the banner of this blog to reflect more accurately what it’s about. How we perform a lyric, make it real. Item: the core energy of Fidens Quaerens (seeking faith, as in Augustine for starts) is the energy between the words grammar and glamour. (Look them up.) It’s a gift.

In matters of faith, the most pressing matters of belief, modern reason breaks down, equivocity counts. Rules bewitch us.

Poet Rachel Mann is an Anglican parish priest. She has published four books, including a memoir and a historical study. She has issues with beliefs commonly held by her parishioners and issues with beliefs commonly held by fellow poets. Fides Quaerens raises these issues in honest English and superbly controlled vernacular, conversational (for a distinguished priest) style.

But the argument is somewhat vertiginous. It’s a great ride. Following the lyric itinerary in its Augustinian version — outer to inner, lower to higher (acknowledging the paradox of holy poverty)— it turns, after considering, with finesse, certain questions of belief, into the cloudy sunlit horizons of acknowledgment. One might say confession.

Logic and conceptual certainty give way to ways of thinking rooted in contemplation. These ways are grounded in the figure of figures, analogy. You have to think things through on patterns of diagonal comparisons that exhaust description. Assymetric symmetries. Performing a poem this good refreshes your mindfulness. Mystery is laid in syntax, syllables. That is, mystery is rule bound by grammar in the largest sense. Mann draws on sources shared by poets and thinkers, Geoffrey Hill and Wittgenstein among countless others, time immemorial. The sources confirm the role of practice, performance, in shaping the faces of belief. Performing this poem allows for selving of the better selves.

The poem has its stylistic reserves. Think Bach or the grace of a double play. As I say, the poem isn’t over until it acknowledges beyond sweet persuasion the finite other of the chiastic agapeic flesh: Milk to train the tongue.

Now read the FRAME OF REFERENCE. Put it away for reference. FIDES QUAERENS illustrates the profit of regular attention to matters of faith, and not only for priests. The issues are rooted in our practice of lyric, grammar, and our openness to the glamour of what exceeds thought.

LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Rebecca Cullen “How to Hang Washing”

It must be spring. There should be blackthorn/ blossom, a smudge of sun across your cheek.//From your patch of earth, you’ll hear the crest/of chatter from the playground at the school.//These pegs nip snugly, in time with magpie/calls as your arms lift, stretch, clip, repeat.

from NEW POETRIES 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet, 2020.

FIELD OF REFERENCE The best of politics seeks to make good in the more moderate domestic middle, but the problem of tyranny merits special mention: on going to an extreme it seeks to generate an oblivion to the possibilities of an agapeic service, beyond sovereignty and servility. Agapeic service is itself something extreme, but in daily domestic life it is also a secret and intimate “therapy” against tyrannical will to power. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, 188.

Lyrics, especially very short ones, carefully create their own “extreme” or individual contexts (betweens) to forge the sense of unity of meaning and understanding we call poetry. In her introduction, Rebecca Cullen describes her shortest as between a prayer and a news brief.

Take “How to Hang Washing.” The framing begins with the surprise that hanging washing requires a set of instructions. Yet each of the three stanzas depends on the rules of different sets of grammatical rules. In the first, the verbs are governed by must and should. The second stanza proceeds from necessary conditions: you will. That use of will may easily go unnoticed but suggests the unconscious. In the final stanza, grammar expands to include the figural this. The very clothes pins take on a reflexivity and refer to the words of the poem.

All this verbal art happens unobtrusively. And that’s the point. Hanging clothes on the line follows “unconscious” rules as in a Wittgensteinian language game. Look again! It’s springtime, children are playing, magpies call, and your habitual acts are part of the music of time. In a poem of carefully varied subtle metrical features, the actions of “your arms” are named by punchy mechanical formulae: lift, stretch, clip, repeat. It’s all a game.

The point seems not to be that hanging clothes on the clothesline is an impersonal “game” because habitual act. This is a vision poem. Read mindfully it has an intense inwardness. I find a key to one of the deeper configuring aspects in the FRAME OF REFERENCE. Modern art reveals the presence of conceptual consciousness, often exposing ideological rigidities. It must do so to allow the unified flow from the meanings of the words to the understanding of the mindful reader. But this “unity” has a mimetic function: it represents a shift from conventional construction to a “passive” reception of finite otherness. Desmond uses the double Eros/agape to sort this change of aspect. The mindful reader of “How to Hang Washing” catches a glimpse of an “underlying” original “agapeic” image which accounts for the strange luminosity of this poem. The war against the loaded concept or “universal” of tradition is waged in behalf of the intimate universal.

We live in a time of tyranny and lies are routine. It can be a relief to lose oneself in simple tasks.


This is how lemon feels between your thumbs, like a hard raindrop or a soft star. Pulsing, silent, actual. A stone with its moss on the inside, a counter-earth of spat champagne. A decorative statement about the future. If thought is the eroticization of consciousness then lemons are the eroticization of sunlight, hardwater babies growing wiser with each nap. Their pips scour the dark like owls.
from NEW POETRIES 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE There is never an absolutely complete presence. There is a presence but the intimate sensuousness of its making manifest is such that it can never be exhausted. It can never be exhausted because it can never exhaust what it seeks to make present in the image. The imitation undermines its own claim to completion, and must do so to remain itself. Were it to complete itself, it would no longer be an imitation. Its complete presentation of the universal would make it be simply the universal, and there would be no abiding otherness. WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, 71.

Among other things, Luke Allan is managing editor of Carcanet Press, which published this anthology. He writes in many styles: style is everything and nothing here, which is disarming.

You could say, “Lemons” is a prose poem. So it foregoes several forms of determination, those classified as metrical. Which only foregrounds other forms of determination, like those swiveling on the axis of is/as. Each sentence is a bouquet of figures between being and likeness.

It would be fair to say this poem communicates a bunch of nested betweens. Lemons are A decorative statement about the future. Well, come to think of it, on the face of it they are decorative in an aesthetic sense and about the future in THAT sense, but then so are many things.

To catch another wave of poetic energy appears the eroticization piece. If/then maximalizes the is/as current. If you’ve been swimming in the poem’s ongoingness (choppy waters sentence by sentence), this figure about sunlight feels like a breakthrough of some kind.

Just what kind we know from the last several bits. Hard water babies, pips, and owls. The owls open up the gap in the between, the dark against all that lemony light. As Desmond might say, there is an abiding otherness.

I love this poem because it throws all the switches in my mind at, almost, once. Yet it flows toward the fertile void. It may be a small, self-conscious arty lyric but squeeze it and you get lemon juice.

LYRIC INVESTIGATIONS Tomas Tranströmer “Female Portrait, 19th Century”

Her voice is stifled in the clothing. Her eyes / follow the gladiator. Then she herself is / in the arena. A gilt frame / strangles the picture.

from THE GREAT ENIGMA: new collected poems, translated by Robin Fulton (New Directions, 2006),p. 192.

FRAME OF REFERENCE The sign of contradiction might more fruitfully be seen as witnessing to a porosity on the boundary, asking from us more finesse for the equivocities of finitude. And perhaps this is not entirely alien to the philosophy of ambiguity sought by Merleau-Ponty. Metaxological finesse for these equivocities reads the sign of contradiction in terms neither servile nor sovereign and not in terms of a false choice between the intimate and the universal in the religious community of agapeic service. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal, p. 185.

It’s 9:30 on a sunny morning and I’ve missed my deadline for this post. The sloth induced by all the bad news is the cause. But I opened Transtromer and was, well, saved. If I don’t do my spiritual exercises with lyric, producing the trifold texts of this format, I can’t go on. And that’s a big problem.

Transtromer is one of the poets I turn to now. For decades I’ve loathed the hyperbolic formula that reconfigures salvation as in “our hope is in the X” (plug in “wilderness” or whatever floats your boat) but now I see. Trust in good verses sums up my apocalypticism.

The FRAME OF REFERENCE gives the philosophical setting of my “religion.” Transtromer’s lyric illustrates it. It fulfills the promise of the lyric narrative to take us through the labyrinth to the abyss. This describes the human condition, and its particular salvation.

So I say. Whatever. We are led to a question. That seems to repeat the formula of Four Quartets. But I think Transtromer improves on Eliot, who depends on the Christian universal (truth). Transtromer depends on the sudden silent sound of the lyric voice, which questions the framing of the question by the poet-in-the-poem. That is, the intimate universal.

See now the FRAME. What is this “sign of contradiction”? Read all about it.

Now I can go on.