Expansive Poetics – (Vítězslav Nezval)

Vítězslav Nezval (1900-1958)

AG:  It’d be funny to write a poem (like “The Voice of Robert Desnos”)  that’s totally extravagant in confidence, and then followed by a line that’s a complete flop, announcing a complete failure of power, to go back and forth from line to line, that’d be a funny one – a funny exercise. “I own the Empire State and the Woolworth Building,/the landlord is coming to take me away from my hovel.”..”I declare war on Mars,/I just got arrested for jaywalking around the block”..”My armies will conquer Nicaragua [Editorial note, this is 1981], /That fat teacher stepped on my toes”,  (Just alternate between this expansion and the complete contraction. Has anybody done that? I guess somebody must have tried out that).
See, with this.. these.. with this form, which is a very definite form, you can do anything – you can make many many variations, do anything you want.

There’s a great Czech)oslavakian poet, Vítězslav) Nezval, if you get to the Eastern European section (of the classroom anthology), who does it with Prague – he’s got a whole series of poems about Prague – Nezval, Eastern European section, 1900 – born the same year as (Robert) Desnos.  The first of the poems.. I’ll just do that one, because it’s very similar to the….is almost a steal from the (Andre) Breton poem. I don’t know what year it was written, though probably much later – about Prague – “City of Spires”. And that comes back to a point where the writing of the poem and the subject of the poem and the poet in  his life are identical, just like that moment when Desnos said “tornadoes spinning in my mouth at this moment”. This is (in the) “Eastern Europe” (section), that comes after.

AG: Russia. After the Russian section, we have an “Eastern European” section – (a poem) called “City of Spires” – Vítězslav) Nezval – Can you find it, those of you who’ve got… (it’s) between “French” and “Russian” – got it? – [Allen begin reading] – “Hundred-spired Prague/With the fingers of all saints/With the fingers of perjury/With the fingers of fire and hail” – (So, you can see in Prague,they heard the news of this Surrealism) – “With the fingers of a musician/With the intoxicating fingers of women lying on their backs/With fingers touching the stars/On the abacus of night/ With fingers from which evening gushes  with tightly-closed fingers/With fingers without nails/With fingers of the smallest children and pointed blades of grass/ With the fingers of a cemetery in May/With the fingers of beggarwomen and the whole working-class/With the fingers of thunder and lightning/With the fingers of autumn crocuses/[With the fingers of the Castle and old women with harps/With fingers of gold/With fingers through which the blackbird and the storm whistle…” –  (and there was the line I quoted before, “The birds sing with their fingers”, by (Jean) Cocteau -“ les oiseaux chante avec les doigts“) – [Allen continues] – “With the fingers of naval ports and dancing lessons/With the fingers of a mummy/With the fingers of the last days of Herculaneum and/drowning Atlantis..” – (This is all about “hundred-spired Prague” – he’s still describing mental and social and citizenly events of Prague) – “With fingers of asparagus/With fingers of one-hundred-and-four-degree fevers/And frozen forests/With fingers without gloves/With fingers on which a bee has settled/With fingers of larch trees/With fingers cajoling a flageolet/In the night’s orchestra/With the fingers of card-sharpers and pin-cushions/With fingers deformed by rheumatism..” – (Now he’s gotten literal)- “With fingers of strawberries/With the fingers of windmills blossoming lilac/With the fingers of windmills blossoming lilac/with fingers of mountain-springs, with bamboo fingers/With fingers of clover and ancient monasteries/With fingers of French chalk/with fingers of cuckoos and Christmas trees/With fingers of mediums/With admonishing fingers/With fingers brushed by a bird in flight/With the fingers of church bells and an old pigeon loft/With the fingers of the Inquisition/With fingers licked to test the wind/With the fingers of grave-diggers/With the fingers of thieves of the rings/On hands telling the future/On hands playing the ocarina/With the fingers of chimney-sweeps and of St.Loreto/With the fingers of rhododendrons andthe water jet on the peacock’s head/With the fingers of sinful women./With the sunburnt fingers of ripening barley and the Petřín Lookout Tower/With fingers of coral mornings/With fingers pointing upwards/With the cut-off fingers of rain and the Tyn Church on the glove of nightfall/With the fingers of the desecrated Host/With the fingers of inspiration/With long jointless fingers/With the fingers with which I am writing this poem.” – (Then he cuts it there because he’s brought it back to immediate focus. So that kind of poetry can go in and out of literal focus. The advantage is you can go anywhere you want and do anything you want, actually, it’s an easy form. And the amazing thing is, given that easy form, people sometimes get balked and blocked and begin saying something rational, thinking they’re supposed to say something for real and try and make it… The way you do it is just accept anything that blurts into your mind, and that comes out good, always. Whereas if you try and think up something smart you’ll always wind up sounding stiff).

Student: The occasional ones that do come from that are very realistic ones

AG: Keep it anchored.

Student:  … (which) come out.. and also come out sounding weird in juxtaposition..

AG: Right Student:… …in juxtaposition to the weird ones.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in. and continuing to approximately sixty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in] 

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