Expansive Poetics – (Edward Carpenter – 2)

AG: So..however..he (Edward Carpenter) went to visit (Walt) Whitman in, I guess, Camden (New Jersey), and Whitman told him to go to India, and so he did go to India, and I believe Carpenter met a number of swamis and yogis and actually did study some meditation, and I think he may have contacted Ramakrishna. So that’s another interesting piece of..late-nineteenth-century gossip about the international mucous membrane network (that’s a phrase you’ll find in this book (Expansive Poetics Anthology) in a poem called “Foam”  (“Schaum“) by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, 1926 – born in (19)26 or so – “I too am a member of the international mucous membrane network”)

Well, I chose this piece from Carpenter.. I chose two pieces from Carpenter…One is “From Turin to Paris”, an account of a railroad train journey – which is prophetic of later train journeys you’ll find in my own poetry – or earlier, in the “Trans-Siberian” poem of Blaise Cendrars (there’s a long poem by Blaise Cendrars that’s also in this book – travel poems, or the “Panama” poem by Cendrars). This is one of the first travel poems, where you take notes (like in  (Jack) Kerouac). You take notes or (are) sketching on the way in travelling. And this is a really honorable, high-class, development out of Whitman’s method of long-line notation. It’s one of the rare pieces directly influenced by Whitman and at the same time worthy of the old man.

[Allen begins reading Carpenter’s “From Turin to Paris”] – “Tireless, hour after hour, over mountains plains and/rivers,/the express train rushes on..” – Note, to begin with, he’s using a prose poetry form. He’s not starting it at the margin, he’s just indenting, like paragraphs (I used this same method for “Transcription of Organ Music”, and it’s a workable line if you’re interested in that expansive kind of poetry that tells anecdotes or gives accounts, where it’s on the border-line  between prose and poetry, or where it’s acute prose that rises into poetic flash every five lines or so, then this is an appropriate form because you can read it as prose or you can read it as poetry, or you can break it up into very short lines, indented and isolate little phrases, if you want, (like “the express train rushes on”), if you want that special emphasis.

I’m just talking now about the arrangement of lines on the page, the typography of the page, which is something we haven’t got into [in this class] – how you arrange lines on the page if you’ve got open-form verse. This is a very interesting example. Put it next to (Arthur) Rimbaud’s  prose-poems.  [Allen continues] – “Tireless, hour after hour, over mountains plains and/rivers,/the express train rushes on/ The shadows change, the  sun and moon rise and set/ Day fades into night, and night into day/The great cities appear and disappear over the horizon./ On through the hot vineyards of Piedmont the/ express train rushes,/The great-limbed Ligurian peasant/sprawls asleep in/the third-class carriage  which has/been put on for a portion/of the course…” – That’s an interesting shot – “The great-limbed Ligurian peasant/sprawls asleep in/the third-class carriage” sounds exactly like (Jack) Kerouac, actually  – sounds a little like (Walt) Whitman, but there’s more of a little bombastic thing – “the great-limbed” – ““The great-limbed Ligurian peasant” – the appreciation of that “great-limbed Ligurian”, the oddity of it, of the word “Ligurian”. I mean, it’s normal, it’s (literally) a Ligurian peasant, from Liguria, Italy.

“The calm grave country girls droop their lids to slumber” – “droop their lids to slumber” is straight out of Whitman – or Kerouac (there’s a funny genre of language that runs between them, (and) maybe Herman Melville, Thomas Wolfe – Whitman-Melville, Whitman-Thomas, Wolfe, Kerouac  – a special sound, that’s imitable and recognizable – “The calm grave country girls droop their lids to slumber” – “droop their lids to slumber”

“The huge unwieldy friar with elephantine limbs,/small eyes, and snout like an ant-eater /– not a particle of/ religion in his whole body – gazes/blankly out of the/window./ And the  young mother with black/lace on her head/looks after her little brood./  On through the hot vineyards in the fierce afternoon/the express train rushes – the/villages on the hill-tops/twinkle through the blaze – the fireman opens the furnace/-door of the engine and stokes up/again and again./ The first-class passengers/dispose themselves as best/they may, with blinds down, on the hot and dusty cushions -/ The respectable and cold-mutton-/faced English/gentleman and his wife and/daughters, the blasé Chinaman/with yellow fan, the little Persian/boy so brown, lying   asleep/against the side of his instructor -/ The deeply-lined large-faced/shaven old Frenchman/ – the Italian artist, bearded,/ nearing forty years old, with/expressive mouth and clear/discerning eyes,/Dispose themselves as best they/may” –  Well, actually, his perceptions are pretty sharp.  I like that “hot and dusty cushions” – the dusty cushions on the train. He was there. He really was there and he saw dusty cushions.

Then, the little fast sketches, the face-sketches of people – “mutton-/faced English/gentleman”, “blasé Chinaman”, “Persian/boy so brown”, “Italian artist.. expressive mouth …clear/discerning eyes” – very late-nineteenth-century-sounding, that. The “expressive mouth” – sounds like Henry James – “Most expressive mouth, clear, discerning eyes” –
“The sides of the carriages  lie open like glass” – So he’s preparing an open brain there – like open-space vision now – “The young priest fresh from/College recites his/evensong, then addresses himself to/the conversion of his/Protestant fellow-traveller – I see/his winning manners at/first, and then his intimadatory/frowns followed by threats/of hell-fire,/ The group of laughing girls in/ one compartment are/ talking three or four languages….”

to be continued. 

[Audio for the above is available here, beginning at approximately sixty-six-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately seventy-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in] 

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