Meditation and Poetics – (Reznikoff – 12)

Allen’s read through of Charles Reznikoff’s work continues

“Asylum Product” (page 122) – “Brown and black felt” – (It’s an asylum product) – Brown and black felt, unevenly stitched with purple thread/what unhappiness is perpetuated in the brown or black of/ this pin cushion lunatic?” – (You’ve seen those. You know, little artifacts of occupational therapy) – “What unhappiness is perpetuated in the brown or black of this pincushion,/ lunatic?” – (Well, what there it is, it’s not so much that the external description is so fine (though it’s there), as this is a thought that everybody’s had seeing those objects from occupational therapy. So, it’s thought about it – “what unhappiness”, “lunatic”. His thought is also an object (what I was explaining the other day of “Objectivism” in poetry), that he’s recognized his thought about it, isolated his thought, just as he’s isolated the qualities of the pincushion, included that in, included his thought as part of the poem, not got lost in his thought but included the thought.

There are in Volume 2 there are a couple of other, a few other short things I’d like to go through and see what I have.. Yeah,,well, Volume 1, page 171 – “Millinery District” – “The clouds piled in rows like merchandise” – (that’s pretty funny!) -“Millinery District” – “The clouds piled in rows like merchandise,/ become dark; lights are lit in the lofts:/the milliners, tacking bright flowers on straw shapes/ say, glancing out of the windows,/ It is going to snow/ and soon they hear the snow scratching the panes. By night/ it is high on the sills/The snow fills up the footprints/ in the streets, the ruts of wagons and of motor trucks/Except for the whir of the car/ brushing the tracks clear of snow,/the streets are hushed./ At closing time, the girls breathe deeply/the clean air of the streets/ sweet after the smell of merchandise” – (Well, actually, he actually noticed the girls coming out and breathing deeply, in the snowfall, in the silence of the snowfall – but actually noticed people breathing!  he was that sharp, or he was that present,  present and attentive (inattentive to anything but what was apparent)). He was able to see it because he was inattenive to what was apparent right there in front of him. In other words, to see, at closing time, the girls “breathe deeply/the clean air of the streets”, he must have been walking down that street, looking on, with nothing on his mind , and noticed that. So, sort of empty mind. In that sense, empty mind. Does that make sense? Now we all have that experience, don’t we? of wandering around with empty mind? Most of the time it’s the experience of wandering around worried, worrying, or thinking, or day-dreaming, or talking, but there is also the experience of wandering around with empty mind, and it’s wandering around with empty mind where impressions come in that later recur as the strongest and most usable for poetry. In other words, things that you don’t notice that you see when you see them generally, but since your mind was sort of empty they leave an impression there, and it recurs later (like burping) later on (after eating onions)

In Volume 2, a couple of short things that I liked  – “Puerto Ricans in New York” (page 85 – if anyone ‘s got Volume 2) – Actually, there’s some funny stuff earlier, on page 30 – “The elevator man working long hours/ for little –  whose work is dull and trivial -/ must also greet each passenger/ pleasantly:/to be so heroic/ he wears a uniform.”

“This subway station/ with its electric lights, pillars of steel, arches of cement, and trains -/quite an improvement on the caves of the cave-men;/but look!, on this wall,/ a primitive drawing!”

“People moving, people standing still, crowds/ and more crowds, a thousand and ten thousand iron girders/ as pillars/ escape!/ But how,/ shut up in the moving train? /And upstairs, in the street/ the sun is shining as it shines in June”

“A row of tenements windows boarded up;/An empty factory, windows broken;/ a hillside of dead leaves, dead weeds,/ old newspapers and rusty cans./Now come a group/ in old clothes and broken shoes,/ who say, politely,/”The way, sir? If you don’t mind/ tell us/ the way, please?”

“The young fellow walks about/ with nothing to do: he has lost his job./ “If I ever get another, I’ll be hard!/ You got to be hard/ to get on. I’ll be hard, alright”/ he says bitterly, Takes out his cigarettes./ Only four or five left./ Looks at me out of the corner of his eye – , a stranger he has just met;  hesitates;/ and offers me a cigarette.”

Here’s a thought, actually, rather than an observation – an observation of his thoughts – “I’m always surprised to meet, after ten or twenty years/ those who were poor and silly/ still poor and silly, of course, but alive – / in spite of wars and plagues and panics,/ alive and well. Is it possible/there is a Father in Heaven/ after all?” – (The thought being “poor and silly” – people who are “poor and silly” that he remembers)

In Volume 2, he has a fantastically long poem called “An Autobiography”. So there is actually a complete poetic autobiography of all of his..of his whole life, in poetry form, full of all these detailed observations – trips to Hollwood (where he worked for a while with Nathaniel West and other matters).

Here’s “Puerto Ricans in New York”  (on page 85) – “She enters the bus demurely/ with the delicate dark face/ the Spaniards first saw/on an island on the Caribbean/and he follows -/ a tall gentle lad./He smiles pleasantly, shyly/ at her now and then,/ but she does not look at him,/ looking away demurely/  She holds a small package in her hand -/ perhaps a nightgown -/ and he, a larger package:/ a brand-new windowshade.”

On page 93 – there’s a piece of external perception that’s pretty accurate – “The dying  gull/ alone on a rock, /wings spread and unable to fly,/ lifting its head -/now and then-/ with a sharp cry” (it’s actual, really actual) – “The dying  gull/ alone on a rock, /wings spread and unable to fly,/ lifting is head /now and then -/ with a sharp cry.”

“Horsefly/ on the window of the automobile agency:/you’re out of business now”

“Ah the drill/  breaking open the pavement/ again -/  and yet again./This is the nightingale/ that sings in our streets”

This is page 94 (of Volume 2) – “A grove of small trees, branches thick with berries/ and within it, the constant twitter of birds/ The trees of the park this cold windy day/ for want of leaves/ are hung with paper – strips of dirty paper” – (That’s just something he saw in the park)

This is a very interesting one now for description. This is probably in Bryant Park  – “Too early in the morning/ for many to be in the park/ but a couple ahead of me/ every now and then/ stop to kiss and embrace:/ a tall heavy-set man/ still wearing his dark winter overcoat and the slighter figure in slacks..”. (Were you able to follow it, despite the distraction, the picture here?) –  “.. stop to kiss and embrace. The tall heavy-set man still wearing his dark winter overcoat/ and the slighter figure in slacks/ They hold their arms about each other/ and no sooner do they stop kissing/ than they fall to kissing again,/as if they could never have enough/. Nothing, indeed, seems more suitable/ this beautiful morning -/ the first warm day of spring/ As I pass them,/ the figure in slacks, turns and smiles -/ a fixed smile/ not unlike that of an archaic Apollo -/ the grey eyes shining and glazed – not a girl at all/ but a young man/ badly in need of a shave.”  (I don’t know if you were able to follow that , there was some distraction)

“Heatwave (Third Day)” – “In the blaze of sunshine,/ an old man comes down the empty street/ pushing the heavy cart/ in which he gathers/ corrugated paper and iron scrap” – (I like that because “corrugated paper” I hadn’t seen in a poem before. You all know that corrugated paper? – corrugated cardboard, actually..yeah..I’d just never seen that in a.. we use it every day but.. so it’s part of our everyday imagery)…..

Well here’s one where he talks about Vietnam – “In the subway car” – (In the subway car!) – “all are reading intently/ their newspapers;/ students of current events, no doubt” – (that’s very funny, the old man) – “all are reading intently/ their newspapers, students of current events, no doubt/ War in Vietnam/crisis in the Middle East, clashes between the/ Russians and the Chinese./ But when the train reaches the station at the race-track/young and old rush out;/they have been merely students of the racing-charts, it seems/But not all/one man remains seated,/ pencil in hand/deep in thought -/doing a cross-word puzzle. ”

Here’s a curious one – This happens to me all the time – “Hail and Farewell” – “Waiting to cross the avenue/, I saw a man who had been in school with me: /we had been friendly and now knew each other at once/ “Hot, isn’t it?”, I said,/ as if we’d met only yesterday. “It hit ninety-five”/”O no, he answered, it’s not ninety-five yet”/Then he smiled  a little sadly and said,/ “You know, I’m so tired,/ I thought for a moment that you were talking about my age”/ We walked on together and he asked me what I was doing./But of course he did not care./ Then,  politely, I asked him about himself/ and he, too, answered briefly/At the stairs down to the subway station, he said,/ “I know I ought to be ashamed of myself/ but I’ve forgotten your name”/”Don’t be ashamed”, I answered/, “I’ve forgotten yours too”/With that we both smiled wryly,/ gave our names and parted.”

page 104 – “The man who planned the bridge/ had his foot crushed between the piling at the dock/ by a ferryboat./ That was useless, ferryboat!/He died/ but the ferryboats, too, are gone” – (That’s a little sort of anthropomorphic shot, as if the ferry boat did it purposefully, mad at the guy who made the Brooklyn Bridge) -“The man who planned the bridge/ had his foot crushed between the piling at the dock/ by a ferry boat./ That was useless, ferryboat!/ He died but the ferryboats, too, are gone.”

“The Old Man” – “The fish has too many bones/ and the watermelon too many seeds”

There was one poem that I have not been able to find. Maybe somebody will know where it is but I will have to paraphrase it – “If there is a plan, this too must be part of the plan: As when the subway going around the curve, the wheels shrink against the rails and the lights go off, leaving the car in the dark for a second and then go on again” [Editorial note – the actual poem reads – “If there is a scheme./perhaps this too is in the scheme./as when a subway car turns on a switch,/the wheels screeching against the rails,/and the lights go out-/ but are on again in a moment”] – I like that because..yes? – I like it because, after all, it’s like thought. It’s like thought. There is thought – thought-forms rising – and then there is a gap between them – just like in the subway when the lights go out.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately twelve-and-a-half minutes in and continuing to approximately thirty-four-and-a-half-minutes in 
– and, again, from approximately thirty-nine-and-a-half  minutes in to approximately forty-three-and-a-half minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *