Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Mike Snider has graciously drawn this discussion of formalism and modernism to a close, but I thought I'd offer up a coda: two sonnets, composed (at least in part) by me.

I wrote these probably in 1996 or '97 with my friend J. Eric Marler (Eric, where art thou?); I'm pretty sure that we wrote them sitting at a table in Caffe Paradiso in Harvard Square, which was always my favorite cafe despite the fact that all of my friends loathed it. Eric and I composed the poems using the venerable methodology of the exquisite corpse: I wrote one line, then passed the paper to Eric, who wrote the next line, then returned it to me. We seem to have made an effort to make the language as baroquely Shakespearean (and formally correct) as possible, while skirting the edge of sense.

The sonnets made a guest appearance in an absurdist play Eric and I authored called # [read "Pound"], or, Twenty-One Simple Techniques for More Effective Communication, which included a convoluted espionage plot, alien abductions, Eric playing the role of Charles Bernstein and me as Ezra Pound emerging, Oscar-the-Grouch-like, from a plastic trash bin. Its modestly successful two-weekend run at the Leverett House Old Library in April 1998 was hailed as "brilliant" by the Harvard Independent--I think.

In the play, each sonnet was meant to be spoken by an anonymous man, the first in front of an American flag, the second in front of a huge red banner emblazoned with the "#" symbol.

The kernels of science in loaves of truth
Can scarcely nourish my fallow, hungry mind,
Which walks and welters in the loam of youth,
The moss its peel, the peat its spongy rind.
The soil is beauty's scaffold, wherein surmise
Gives rise, like yeast, to an expansive frame
That kills the creature it was pledged to prize,
Mounts and classifies it with a Latin name.
But the root of knowledge, clumsy-coward pale,
Flushes pink as it consults its gain,
Turns tyrant shape to fury's sweet detail,
And, forked, studies how to subdivide the main.
So buried gold shall flower for eating's sake
Till coin, like bread, my furrowed cortex sate.

When I am west, the cold and briny north
Sighs, timbers creaking. In the shrouds and stays
Green creepers trace the figures of thy worth
Along the cables where they eke their slow ways.
They cannot know the paraphilic stitch
With which the seaman mends a tarpaulin;
The filling sail is that sacrilege
Wherein enterprise exploits a disinterested wind.
Wind gains the wheel from the weaver's hand
Then dies--and in the neutral calm I find
Five-fingered fevers, whose reign and cure demand
The hot evasions of an equatorial mind.
In Ocean's sickness there is salt for chains
Dragging heedless in the shallows over coraled brains.

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