He admitted that he lived in Nashville because that was where the work was for him, but he as Texan as you can be, and all in a good way. Work hard, drink some whiskey, sit around with friends and talk shit while passing the IW Dance and a guitar. Be tolerant, kind, and take no shit. He was a frequent visitor to the "Guitar Pulls" at Johnny Cash's home. People would show up, play their stuff, and pick and grin and bullshit. Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Rodney Crowell, John Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris,Bobby Bare and whomever else was around would show up. Showcase their new stuff casually -- somewhere between "I've been working on this one" and "networking." Get ideas, add and steal licks, sing some harmony and learn from each other how their music could sound.
alright, i'm grappling fairly seriously with poe's eureka. it is brilliant.
a few remarks about genre. there is evidently a theory abroad that it's some kind of parody or satire of a scientific paper. not at all. he called it a "prose poem", which really is a joke with a point. it is a completely serious and extremely profound essay in natural philosophy. and it is a very serious scientific treatise by someone who knows himself not to be a working astronomer or physicist, but who has assiduously studied the available writings of those who are. it is fully, pointedly, rational, and systematically presents arguments and proofs.
now, there is a fair amount of religious language, but it is used to express physical laws and events. i'm not saying poe didn't believe in god, but the god he uses here is a deist god, or is explicitly identified with the physical laws of the universe. if the religious language was read out completely, it would still work beautifully, but also there is a sincere undertow that betrays a certain profundity. understand that he's writing in america in 1848, alright? you're going to have to do some translation.
i am going to do a long entry on his method and epistemology, which are extremely sharp and interesting. also i will just remark that the metaphysics and the epistemology are similar to mine in entanglements (forthcoming). i think it is one of the great american philosophical essays.
one question that robinson is asking in the nyrb piece and that others have asked is whether it anticipates bang-and-crunch cosmology. oh yes it does. but there is more. i don't know why i'm always talking about physics when i don't actually know very much about it. but some things are pretty frigging obvious. so, consider the 'cosmological principle' in 20th c physics.
In modern physical cosmology, the cosmological principle is the notion that the distribution of matter in the Universe is homogeneous and isotropic when viewed on a large enough scale, since the forces are expected to act uniformly throughout the Universe, and should, therefore, produce no observable irregularities in the large scale structuring over the course of evolution of the matter field that was initially laid down by the Big Bang. (Wikipedia)
(then they go on, sadly, to define it in terms of observers. poe is aware that he is trying to describe the distribution of matter in the universe, not his own or someone else's mental images. i don't figure he deserves a lot of credit for that; physicists' mistaking their own discipline for psychology seems like an extremely difficult mistake to make.) but anyway, not only does poe formulate it, he formulates it beautifully. and he is arguing for it on the grounds of spherical expanding universe originating at an infinitely dense point of unity. in 1848. he calls what makes it bang a 'divine volition', partly to signal that his own explanation runs out there. here is poe:
I mean to say that our solar system is to be understood as affording a generic instance of these agglomerations [other solar systems, galaxies, and so forth], or, more correctly, of the ulterior conditions at which they arrived. . . . We shall be inclined to think that no two stellar bodies in the Universe -- whether suns, planets or moons -- are particularly, while all are generally, similar. Still less, then, can we imagine any two assemblages of such bodies -- any two "systems" -- as having more than a general resemblance. (It is not impossible that some unlooked-for optical improvement may disclose to us, among innumerable varieties of systems, a luminous sun, encircled by luminous and non-luminous rings, within and without and between which, revolve luminous and non-luminous planets, attended by moons having moons -- and even these latter again having moons.) Our telescopes, at this point, thoroughly confirm our deductions. Taking our own solar system, then, as merely a loose or general type of all, we have so far proceeded in our subject as to survey the Universe under the aspect of a spherical space, throughout which, dispersed with merely general equability, exist a number of but generally similar systems.
Let us now, expanding our conceptions, look upon each of these system as in itself an atom; which in fact it is, when we consider it as but one of the countless myriads of systems which constitute the Universe. Regarding all, then, as but colossal atoms, each with the same ineradicable tendency to Unity which characterizes the actual atoms of which it consists -- we enter at once upon a new order of aggregations. The smaller systems, in the vicinity of a larger one, would, inevitably, be drawn into still closer vicinity. A thousand would assemble here; a million there -- perhaps here, again, even a billion -- leaving, thus, immeasurable vacancies in space. And if, now, it be demanded why, in the case of these systems -- of these merely Titanic atoms -- I speak, simply, of an "assemblage," and not, as in the case of the actual atoms, of a more or less consolidated agglomeration: -- if it be asked, for instance, why I do not carry what I suggest to its legitimate conclusion, and describe, at once, these assemblages of system-atoms as rushing to consolidation in spheres -- as each becoming condensed into one magnificent sun -- my reply is that mellonta tauta -- I am but pausing, for a moment, on the awful threshold of the Future. For the present, calling these assemblages "clusters," we see them in the incipient stages of their consolidation. Their absolute consolidation is to come. (this is at page 1323-24 of the library of america poetry and tales)
as explicitly as possible, he argues that the matter is roughly evenly distributed through the universe if you consider it at a large enough scale and so it can be described mathematically, but if you zoom in to any region, you see radically uneven distributions of matter, each local region being unique.
ellen bass's 'what did i love' in the feb 4 new yorker is the only interesting poem i've seen there in a decade. now, the yakker has a pay wall that, as far as i can tell, even subscribers can't get through. but i may just type the poem in and set it free, though it's longish. i sort of hate the mag, except the critics (i'm big on schjeldahl). the politics is just excruciatingly banal, without a shred of imagination or independent ratiocination: like hendrik hertzberg making obama into lincoln again this week. and the kind of cultural authority that the thing wields is really absurd. but however, that is a really good poem.
What Did I Love
What did I love about killing the chickens? Let me start
with the drive to the farm as darkness
was sinking back into the earth.
The road damp and shining like the snail's silver
ribbon and the orchard
with its bony branches. I loved the yellow rubber
aprons and the way Janet knotted my broken strap.
And the stainless-steel altars
we bleached, Brian sharpening
the knives, testing the edge with his thumbnail. All eighty-eight Cornish
hens huddled in their crates. Wrapping my palms around
their white wings, lowering them into a tapered urn.
Some seemed unwitting as the world narrowed;
some cackled and fluttered; some struggled.
I gathered each one, tucked her bright feet,
drew her head through the kill cone's sharp collar,
her keratin beak and the rumpled red vascular comb
that once kept her cool as she pecked in her mansion of grass.
I didn't look into those stone eyes. I didn't ask forgiveness.
I slid the blade between the feathers,
and made quick crescent cuts, severing
the arteries just under the jaw. Blood like liquor
pouring out of the bottle. When I see the nub of heart later,
it's hard to believe such a small star could flare
like that. I lifted each body, bathing it in heated water
until the scaly membrane of the shanks
sloughed off under my thumb.
And after they were tossed in the large plucking drum
I loved the newly naked birds. Sundering
the heads and feet neatly at the joints, a poor
man's riches for golden stock. Slitting a fissure
reaching into the chamber,
freeing the organs, the spill of intestines, blue-tinged gizzard,
the small purses of lungs, the royal hearts,
easing the floppy liver, carefully, from the green gall bladder,
its bitter bile. And the fascia unfurling
like a transparent fan. When I tug the esophagus
down through the neck, I love the suck and release
as it lets go. Then slicing off the anus with its grey pearl
of shit. Over and over, my hands explore
each cave, learning to see with my fingertips. Like a traveller
in a foreign country, entering church after church.
In every one the same figures of the Madonna, Christ on the Cross,
which I'd always thought was gore
until Marie said to her it was tender,
the most tender image, every saint and political prisoner,
every jailed poet and burning monk.
But though I have all the time in the world
to think thoughts like this, I don't.
I'm empty as I rinse each carcass,
and this is what I love most.
It's like when the refrigerator turns off and you hear
the silence. As the sun rose higher
we shed our sweatshirts and moved the coolers into the shade,
but, other than that, no time passed.
I didn't get hungry. I didn't want to stop.
I was breathing from some bright reserve.
We twisted each pullet into plastic, iced and loaded them in the cars.
I loved the truth. Even in just this one thing:
looking straight at the terrible,
one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.
At the end, we scoured the tables, hosed the dried blood,
well my old teacher (at u of maryland, '76-'80), the poet reed whittemore, died a few days ago. the death was not surprising: the man was born in 1919. he was a quiet and gentle person, so when the blades came out you were shocked. everyone got cut anyway. he was a wonderful teacher, and introduced us in the most vivid way to twentieth-century poetry, many of the great figures of which had been his friends/mentors/contributors to his magazines etc (e.e. cummings, for example; william carlos williams -probably his hero and closest poetic compatriot (his bio of williams was titled poet from jersey (just right for the extreme matteroffactness of both his subject and himself); ezra pound, whom reed talked about visiting in st. elixabeth's asylum). he supervised my honors thesis, which was a "theory of poetry" (for god's sake) and i was the poetry ed of the college literary magazine under his direction. i wrote many gigantically-ambitious poems that sucked, thinking of him as my only audience. i don't blame him for the suckiness. he tried to help, but i wouldn't listen.
his poems were maybe not the utter apex of the century, though he did get a lot of recognition too. they were extremely prosaic: flat, almost, in a way that became a fashion decades after he'd perfected the style. it was a sort of anti-poetry: in a way it was an argument that the tradition of poetry in english was pretentious, grandiose, affected; he always emphasized that the rhythms of ordinary language were poetic enough to be getting on with. he did hit many grand themes - god, truth, love, nature - but always to puncture their grandness or bring them down to earth. also he often just wrote a little joke. both on paper and in person, he was about the least pretentious major literary figure who ever existed. i don't think he thought that poetry could save the world.
ok ive been re-reading for the first time in twenty years or more his book the mother's breast and the father's house. it's amazing how so many of the lines come at me now with an air of extreme inevitability or so much familiarity that they seem like my own internal monologue. i'll type in a couple.
A traditional haiku has seventeen syllables.
Is the world a dream?
--The waking is always to facts that are like rocks
And lives that are like rocks
To poverty that is not an abstraction but a great rock
To sickness and loneliness and loss and emptiness
That are all rocks.
Is love a dream?
--It would be clever to say that one must climb up the other
rocks to arrive at the love rock.
Or that love is a rock hidden in life's moss
But to say such things is to be out of love
If there is love
and I think there is
It survives the saying only with difficulty
It needs prayer rather
I will not play with it
But of the rocks that are hateful to man and surround him
So that it is as if he were deep in a great rock canyon and calling
for help and only to rocks
Of such rocks it is safe to speak
They need to be hammered at through the ages by man in his
They need to be broken up into smaller and smaller rocks.
"And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."
He hated them all one by one but wanted to show them
What was Important and Vital and by God if
They thought they'd never have any use for it he was
Sorry as hell for them, that's all, with their genteel