Thursday, May 28, 2009

John Olson, poet(ics)

Daniel Boone + Glittering Atoms
Delirium on Paper
Tristram Shandy
Rock ‘n Roll / Laziness / Gazing out the Window
Amusement Parks!

John Olson at the Seattle Center Fun Forest
photo by Alice Wheeler

The new Denver Quarterly (Volume 43, Number 3 (April 2009)) – hereafter “DQ” – includes a terrific interview of John Olson, a poet who’s been a huge favorite since early 2001, when I began reading his work after Philip Lamantia told me that Olson’s poems were “extraordinary.” Along with the interview, the current DQ also includes three new Olson prose poems.

The interview was done, and smartly, by Noah Eli Gordon. Olson and Gordon did the interview by e-mail, meaning that both were working in a format – the written text – in which they possess considerable skills. It runs about fourteen pages.

Olson begins by talking about his move – more than forty years ago now – from drugs to poetry. It’s a story that includes Aldous Huxley, exploring uncharted territories (“the frontier was that sprawling ineffable thing in our skulls called the mind and I wanted to be Daniel Boone”), a horrific acid trip (he believed he was a bodiless “cloud of molecules,” somewhat like when the Star Trek transporter turns crew members into “glittering atoms”), Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Rimbaud’s “Drunken Boat” (after reading it, Olson asked, “How do I achieve that level of delirium on paper . . .?), surrealism, nonsense, and revelation.

And that’s all in the answer to just the first question!

In the answers to Eli Gordon’s fifteen other questions, Olson discusses poetry as the ultimate anti-commodity, Baudelaire’s miraculous “undulations of reverie,” the prose poem as a vehicle for replicating consciousness, his recently published Souls of Wind (a novel of Rimbaud, the American West, and Billy the Kid), how it happened that he began publishing poems only in 1989, when he was more than 40 years old, and much, much more.

I highlight below a few comments made by Olson in the interview that for me explain some of what’s so wild and wonderful – and what I love – in his writing. Where appropriate, I include short excerpts from the prose poems by Olson published in the new DQ, and add other bits of fun or information. I end with an epilogue that provides some important context and nuance for the matters I’ve discussed.

Sound all right? All right!


The first comment I think is particularly illuminating involves Olson being, to use his term, “a word-oholic. The more I write, the more I need to write.”

Olson in this regard explains that he sometimes envies poets who write highly condensed pieces, and is“astonished at how powerful just a handful of words can be.” However, he goes on to say that particular approach is not his, at least not currently:
For whatever reason, I tend to go in the opposite direction. Slather words all over the page. The writer I tend to identify with the most is Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy in particular. The prodigality of that book, the way it meanders and delights so unabashedly in its verbosity, is magnificent. Lush and equatorial. Maybe someday I’ll turn around and go in the other direction. Distillation, rather than dilation, will be my primary ambition.
Well, who the heck else looks to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman these days, and (since you know the answer to that question is “practically nobody”) why the heck not?

Two hundred fifty years (on the dot this year, folks!) after its first section was first published, Tristram Shandy remains one of the oddest books ever. The novel is 500 pages long, organized into nine books that each contain numerous chapters. It’s intentionally misnamed (the book concerns not Tristram but his father and uncle plus other minor characters), and digresses, mostly with intelligence and sometimes with great humor, upon any and almost every incident or casual remark. There are also hyphens––or dashes––galore, lines of asterisks, a chapter or two with no text at all, a page of marbled paper, and a page purposefully left blank (for the reader to write out his or her own words!).

Let me put it like this: four pages into Tristram Shandy, the narrator declares that in writing the book he will not obey “any man’s rules that ever lived.”

That there is a pretty good model, I think, if experiment and fun are what turns your pages.

And so, as with much in Tristram Shandy, Olson’s writing can meander, digress, dilate, and just plain play, as in for example the first five sentences (and the title itself!) of the page-long “From Faucet to Fjord in One Easy Leap,” one of his prose poems in the new DQ:
They say an immersion in faucets can lead to cognition. An
immersion in breathing, however, is a larger fascination and will
lead one to ponder the border between the organic and inorganic,
chrome and rubber, skin and bone, life and death, and the illusion
of separation, because all things are patterns of energy. Here, for
instance, is a piece of air called a word, and here is an embassy in
pine for the ambassadors of fjords, and their cluster of beards. Their
beards keep them warm when they study the fjords. When they
glide through the fjords in their ships, studying the formations of
rock, the echoes of sounds, voices, the lapping of water, the cry of
birds, the whirl of atoms and molecules, which is a sound like mud,
when it is resting, and no one is walking in it.

Although Olson tends to identify with Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, his statements in the interview suggest many other influences as well. Two or three dozen can easily be identified, either explicitly mentioned or strongly suggested. But Olson specifically mentions two influences that to me seem particularly instructive about his writing. The first relates to what I believe is a certain quality of his mind’s and poetry’s energy:
I should . . . mention rock ‘n roll. It has been a profound influence on my life. Bo Diddley doing “Who Do You Love,” or Koko Taylor doing “Wang Dang Doodle,” is an approximation of the sublime for me. High octane.
Yes yes for Bo and Koko! Beloved reader of this glade-blog post, shall we do a Tristram Shandy here, and digress (and over-use hyphens and dashes too)?

Well—dear reader– yes––yes––we shall. And so–––for your pleasure–––Bo Diddley––––and then–––KoKo Taylor–––– “approximations”––to repeat Olson’s words––“of the divine”:

Bo Diddley
“Who Do You Love?”
(original recording, with slide-show)


KoKo Taylor
“Wang Dang Doodle
(vintage black + white (sound sync a bit off, alas))
(but what a song!)


In addition to rock ‘n roll, Olson also specifically mentions another influence that I think is particularly illuminating regarding the type of energy in his mind and poems:
Another strong influence is laziness. Spacing out. Gazing out the window.
Now that’s an admirable admission! And a wise approach too, one I should indulge in more often. There’s a persuasive philosophy of laziness, well-explicated in classic books such as Paul LaFargue’s The Right To Be Lazy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Co., 1907) with it’s opening denunciatory declaration:
A strange delusion possesses the working classes of nations where capitalist civilization holds its sway. The delusion drags in its train the individual and social woes which for two centuries have tortured sad humanity. This delusion is the love of work, the furious passion for work, pushed even to the exhaustion of the vital force of the individual and his progeny.
and Josef Pieper’s Leisure–The Basis of Culture (English translation 1952), which teaches that leisure is “one of the foundations of Western Culture,” a fact that’s denied “in the world of planned diligence and ‘total labour’” which “overvalu[es] the sphere of work.” Pieper also explains:
. . . leisure is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.

[ . . . ]

Leisure is not the attitude of the mind of those who actively intervene, but of those who are open to everything; not of those who grab and grab hold, but of those who leave the reins loose and who are free and easy themselves almost like. . . falling asleep, for one can fall asleep only by ‘letting oneself go’.
Pieper’s remarks about being mentally “receptive” and “open to everything” suggest why poets, or at least the great ones, must be lazy and leisurely in this way. Poets must be ready; as André Breton insisted, poets do not see, they hear:
I have objected before to the label ‘visionary’ being ever so freely applied to poets. Great poets have been ‘auditories,’ not visionaries.
Breton’s notion of poets as “auditories” reminds me, and probably you too, of Jack Spicer’s idea of the poet as a radio receiver or medium, with poetry transmitted in or dictated through him or her. Spicer lectured that to be a receiver or medium, the poet must clear and empty the mind. Not coincidentally in this regard, Spicer was a world-class devotee of leisure, what with his ritual of whiling away afternoons on a bench at San Francisco’s Aquatic Park with a newspaper, his radio, some books, and perhaps a six-pack of Rainer Ale and some friends.

Olson in the DQ interview mentions “spacing out” and “gazing out the window.” Those are wonderful and generally effective means to (per Spicer) clear the mind, of becoming (per Breton) an auditory or (per Pieper) receptive and open to everything. I mean, there’s just no question about it, we all need to gaze out windows far more often, and to do so for a good long spells. So here you go: please take a gaze, and please take as long as you’d like:

Apropos to all this is the Olson poem in the new DQ titled “Things to Do in Our Apartment.” In about a page and one-half, Olson suggests three dozen or so things that can be done at the home he shares with his wife and cat. Some would require considerable effort (e.g., “Read a book”), but others fit neatly with a poetics in part based on relaxed, non-directed, daydreamy cerebration. Consider please the half-dozen suggested activities with which the poem ends:
Take a nap on the couch.
Eat a graham cracker.
Vacuum the carpet.
Do the first thing that comes to your mind.
Invent a holiday.
Lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling.
That last suggestion — to stare at the ceiling — is especially grand. It’s similar to Leonardo Da Vinci’s advice to “stimulate and arouse the mind” by looking at walls spotted with stains or made with mixtures of rock. Da Vinci said that by doing so you will see “an infinite number of things . . . .” What’s true for walls goes here for ceilings too.

If you’d like, please take a break from this here glade, lie down on the floor, and look up.

For those who may not have a floor or ceiling handy, here’s a photo of a ceiling — a cherry-picked ceiling, I do admit — but gorgeous nonetheless. Please take a long, spaced-out look:

Antonio Gaudi, Casa Batlló (detail of ceiling)


Also mighty interesting in the interview are Olson’s ideas on “exactly what poetry is.” He’s pretty explicit: invoking the phrase coined by Henry Miller that became a Lawrence Ferlinghetti book title, Olson says poetry is “A Coney Island of the Mind.” It’s a notion Olson relates to his love of speed, Charles Olson’s idea of the poem as a “high energy construct,” Pierre Reverdy’s formula that the more distant and true the juxtaposition, the stronger the poetic image, and – yes, as you may have guessed – amusement parks (he states that he’d like to do a coffee table book on the rides!).

Olson admits that this kind of poetry – the kind of poetry he writes – “may not be everybody’s cup of tea,” and explains:
A lot depends on one’s attitude toward amusement parks. The lights, the crowds, the energy, the weirdness. The wonderful discordancy of gears and machinery in play for no other purpose than to create screams and excitement. [ . . . ] Whirls, twirls, bumps and collisions. Sudden shifts, accelerations, dizzying velocities.
Well, Im crazy for amusement parks, along with carnivals, fairs, festivals, jamborees, jubilees, and all else that’s similar, including saturnalias (although sad to say I’ve never been invited to one of those!). And so it’s no wonder that I go nuts for Olson’s poetry, and the wilder the better. Right now, I’m loving madly the page-long “Beet to Beet,” the last of the three new Olson poems in DQ. Here are ten sentences from near the poem’s middle; they’re quite a ride:
Memory is an aperture to open in cypress. Zeppelin is more
philodendron. Only a fire could mark this dent. This paint. This
yellow wall. Scan screened through a waterfront it is not a crocodile
it is a scooter in scales. Here comes everybody with a fistful of
haphazard castles and a sharp pencil. Who is in control of these
words, you, me, or each other? As a yardstick of umbrage, a
milkweed is no certain awl. Tartan, in other words, must be a
Christmas of antiseptic rhythms. Wool, will, and wilderness. . . .
Writing like that sends me! So too does Olson’s acknowledgment, via the rhetorical question in the middle of the excerpt, of the importance of the reader. As he has privately written, “words are dead on a page until a pair of eyes and a quick imagination bring them alive.”

Here are a two videos borrowed from you-know-where that are analogs, if not precisely to Olson’s actual sentences, then to how his words excite, speed, light up, whirl and twirl, energize, and come alive in my mind. Yep, and as you probably guessed, the images and sounds are from amusement parks! They
re extremely short (about 30 and 20 seconds, respectively), because I know you’re busy. Have fun, and please read the epilogue follows:

Coney Island Cyclone
Mid-Ride Blue-Sky Screamin


Triple Play Ride
Night-Time Weird-Angled Lit-Up Screamin’-Fun!



My focus on particular interview answers risks overemphasizing those matters. Even if Walt Whitman’s “I contain multitudes” overstates the complexity of human personality, no one – and no poet’s writing – can be encapsulated by a few details. The DQ interview contains dozens of details, and Olson has elsewhere provided dozens more. Although the comments highlighted above are key, they are not exclusive.

In addition, the comments highlighted above in certain respect should not be considered the full story even on the matters they address. On certain points, other comments by Olson provide additional nuances and context, which should be taken into account.

For example, while there’s no doubt that rock ‘n roll is a huge influence on Olson, I would suggest that Bo Diddley and KoKo Taylor probably are not the only musicians in that genre whom he considers “approximations of the divine.” In other interviews (including in the The Jivin’ Ladybug, available on-line (click here), Olson’s said that first hearing, circa 1965, Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” blew his mind. He’s also indicated that the Rolling Stones (particularly their early albums) and John Lee Hooker are big favorites. In addition, in the DQ interview itself, he discusses the grunge rock of Nirvana and the “long, plangent, pensive chords” of Dylan Carlson, guitarist for Earth, the extraordinary Drone-Doom rockers from Seattle. Finally, I think it’s fair to say there’s plenty of music besides rock that influences Olson: he has poems titled “Contrabassoon,” “Bagpipe,” and “Xylophone,” and other poems mention composers or performers of all kinds, including for example, Schubert, Mozart, Edith Piaf, and (David Lynch alert!) Rebekah Del Rio singing “Llorando.”

Also, when Olson talks about the influence of laziness, the flip-side should be kept in mind, which is that he’s an incredibly productive writer-worker. In The Jivin’ Ladybug interview, Olson explains how he uses notebooks, stating that they are crucial (“they provide a space of complete freedom”), and that he “fills” them. Three years ago, Olson’s notebooks were displayed as part of a group show at the Henry Art Museum at the University of Washington (the exhibition was of work by recipients of The Stranger’s (the Seattle weekly paper) annual genius awards. The reviewer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the city’s major daily newspaper, called Olson’s “3,345 notebooks” filled “in a cramped hand” one the highlights of the exhibition. That’s a lot of notebooks, a lot of writing, a lot of work. It’s the yang to the yin of “spacing out.”

Finally, I consider Olson’s calling poetry “A Coney Island of the Mind” (and his likening of his poems to amusement parks) as variants on other metaphors or descriptions he’s used for his work. For example, he also says in the DQ interview that he likes to compare his prose poems:
. . . to clouds. The philosopher Karl Popper once said, ‘life is not a clock, it is a cloud.’ Clocks are predictable: mechanical, orderly, and rational. Clouds are capricious. Their being is circumstantial. Clouds are the products of multiple events: temperature, humidity, wind direction, altitude. No two clouds will ever be alike. It is the same with experience. Experience is always interactive. The prose poem is obviously the best vehicle for simulating life and consciousness as they are experienced.
In another variation on what he believes his poems are, Olson in The Jivin’ Ladybug interview emphasized that he wants his poems:
to be like gadgets, like those fabulous machines in Raymond Roussel’s Impressions D’Afrique and Locus Solus. A machine made of words, as William’s put it. But not a coffee grinder. Not a clock or monorail. Nothing efficient, and certainly not utilitarian. Something bizarre and sublimely gratuitous, like a Rube Goldberg device.
All of these constructs – amusement parks, clouds, fabulous machines a la Roussel, and Goldbergian devices – are facets of the same way of seeing or imagining poetry, I think. And all of them share a foundational principle: “The underlying idea,” as Olson has said (in The Jivin’ Ladybug interview), “is that language, in and of itself, is the primary spectacle.”


End notes (further information and sources):

The Denver Quarterly has a website (click here to go), but is a print journal. Although it might be found in some bookstores, snail-mail appears to be the most reliable way to get a copy. Send a check for $10.00 to: Denver Quarterly, University of Denver, Denver, CO, 80208.

Five new Olson prose poems were published just this past week, at Click here to read them.

You can visit the “John Olson (poet and writer)” Wikipedia page by clicking through anywhere in this paragraph. That page includes links to many on-line poems and essays, and a list of Olson’s published books.

Philip Lamantia’s statement about Olson’s prose poetry was made to me in a phone conversation, April 25, 2001.

The Pieper quotations are from Leisure–The Basis Of Culture (New York: Pantheon Books Inc., 1951) at 25-26 and 52-53.

The Da Vinci quotations are from Edward MacCurdy, editor, The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (New York: George Braziller, n.d.), at 873-874.

The André Breton quotation is from his essay “Golden Silence,” which is collected in Free Rein (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 995), at 74.

On Jack Spicer and radio receivers and clearing or emptying the mind, see Peter Gizzi, editor, The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 1995) at 7 and 14. On Spicer and Aquatic Park, see Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian, Poet Be Like God (Wesleyan University Press, 1998), at 101-102 and 287.

The Olson quotation about words being dead on the page until made to live by a pair of eyes comes from an e-mail to me, May 27, 2009.


Friday, May 22, 2009

A Swoon for . . .

Rae Armantrout’s “Sway”

Sometimes still in this age of instant round-the-world Internet publishing, the old-fashioned hard copy print journal, delivered by the post office (after being paid for via check snail-mailed to the publisher), remains a great treat.

Earlier this week the new issue of the Denver Quarterly (Volume 43, Number 3 (April 2009)) arrived. I’d bought it for the interview of and a couple of prose poems by John Olson. But of course there’s lots else: more than two dozen writers, mostly poets.

The first thing I saw when I opened the mailing envelope was the magazine’s back cover. In a lovely touch, that cover is entirely given over to a single new (previously unpublished) Rae Armantrout poem, titled “Sway.” Here’s the back cover with the poem (please note: in the scan, the black on the cover’s border has been inelegantly trimmed, for which I apologize; also, please click on the image to enlarge it in a new window, so as to better read the poem):

Well, the oddest god damn thing happened when I read “Sway” (which is also currently available in its entirety – click here – on the Denver Quarterly website): the last half of the poem – the second of its two sections – somehow instantly imprinted itself in my memory. I read it, and – justlikethat – knew it by heart.

That, I feel, is a sign of something special. Do you believe in love at first sight, for a poem?

I do.

I swooned, and hard, for “Sway.” And still swoon for it. Here’s why:

I love the concision and density of the poem. It has fourteen lines, all but three of which are three words or shorter. The longest line has five words. As for the density within this concision, please read on – or just read the poem (or read it again) – to see how much is in it.

Then there’s (please listen closely here, I’m trying to lower my voice) the silence in “Sway.” The relatively short lines, and the double spaces between certain lines, make for lots of white space, which I “hear” as silence. I also particularly hear a pin-drop silence – or is it (might as well haul all the cliches out of the closet here) a waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop silence? – following the bold two-line assertion that ends the poem.

And of course I love especially the entire last half of the poem, the part which imprinted immediately on my memory. The marvels in these lines are many. The first four lines of the section set out double-image, or image-within-an-image, that’s simple, concise, and beautiful:
A slender whirlpool

momentary poppy,

over a drain
These lines are straightforward: the main image is the now-here, about-to-be-gone “slender whirlpool” that “sways / over a drain”. And within that image, another: “momentary poppy”.

That latter image surprises at first, and even seems wrong. What the heck is a flower doing with the water above a drain? But thinking it out, dang if the image doesn’t fit just right. The poppy flower – at least here in California – resembles water whirling down a drain, especially when looked at from above just as it opens, with its overlapping petals that collectively narrow towards the flower’s bottom. The California poppy also opens and closes each day with the sun – assuming of course the sun is out – and so it in that way also echoes the evanescence of water (and of every moment we live) as it swirls away.

This juxtaposition of images is done without the typical apparatus of a simile (e.g., using “as a” before “momentary poppy”). This direct presentation of the two images is cinematic. But more fundamentally, it’s brainy. And I don’t just mean smart, but “brainy” in the sense that it mimics or mirrors how the mind sometimes works. Thoughts sometimes do not proceed directly from start to end, but are interrupted by or layered with some other thought. And so it goes in these lines.

I also love “momentary poppy” in and of itself. The words kind of rhyme, or at least do so visually and in the mouth, what with their double bilabial consonants, o’s, y’s, and similarly structured first and last syllables. And, the word “poppy” although referring I think to the flower, also contains a connotation of a quick going away, as in the popping of a bubble. The word thus also suggests, or hints at, a here-now, now-gone vanishing, of the kind more explicitly denoted in the poem by the over-arching image of water whirling down the drain.

After the double image of the first four lines comes a shift, a major one. Omniscient descriptive imagery ends, and the poem’s final four lines contain three sentences of what seems to be first-person statements, of a quite direct kind:
Forget her.

She doesn’t love you.

You will never have
such grace.
The shift in approach and tone here creates great energy and drama. It’s as if a curtain is suddenly drawn back, revealing – given the import of the three statements – a very charged reality.

In addition to the direct and intimate content of the statements, energy comes from the particular sequence of pulse-rhythms (the time, the beats) of the lines. I count three, five, then seven syllables, respectively, in the three concluding sentences, with pauses (the double-spaces) between each. That pattern simply but effectively increases the “oomph” of the lines as the poem concludes (just as a basin of water, when the plug is pulled, seems to gather speed and strength as it drains away). The last sentence also has its own special energy. Broken into two lines such that there is visual (and thus, in reading, an audible) pause, the “such grace” of the final line comes down hard, with terrific finality, almost as if it’s a coup de grâce.

The last half of “Sway” – the eight lines set out above – can be read as concerning that point in an inter-personal relationship when it’s clear that it won’t happen, or can’t go on, although one person can’t let go. The whirlpool is a vortex: the down-drafting, disappearing relationship, and/or the emotions felt by the person who wants to avoid the loss; the poppy is that moment as well.

In this reading, the advice in the last four lines is assumed to be spoken by the voice of the poem (which may or may not be Armantrout) to an unnamed person. However, these lines need not be taken as spoken aloud; all or some them – say, for example the last sentence – could only be spoken internally, in the mind of the voice of the poem.

The advice of the voice in the poem – essentially, “move on” – is entirely sensible. But the poem’s last two lines make clear that the advice-giver (or perhaps it’s the internal voice of an observer who’s overheard the advice) believes the person being given the advice will never heed it. If so, I can – and maybe you can too – relate. It’s an entirely human predicament, one that’s been faced by many who have (to be cheap about it) lost at love and those who’ve seen and tried to help others who’ve struggled with unrequited love or who’ve tried to hold on to a relationship that’s done. The “grace” that the voice of the last part of the poem believes will never be had is not of course divine intervention, but the quality of being considerate and thoughtful, of accepting that (to extend the metaphors used by Armantrout) the poppy closes, that slender whirlpools vanish.

But the poem’s last half might also be read as being about matters other than inter-personal relationships. I’m not entirely sure about this, but what is certain is that the referents for the pronouns in the last four line are not definitively established. In the reading above, I assume that the “her” who should be forgotten, the “she” who doesn’t love, is former or potential lover, and the “you” is an unnamed wannabe (or former) lover of a woman.

But maybe the “she” and “her” refer not to some would-be or lost lover, but to something more abstract – for example, poetic inspiration – with the “you” read as the voice of the poem (again, let’s say Armantrout) referring to herself in the second person. The concluding statements, then, become an interior monologue in which creativity (the “she” or “her”) must be accepted as something that comes and goes, with the poet advising herself to give it a pass but then acknowledging the difficulty of walking away.

Writing it out here, this interpretation doesn’t seem that convincing, I admit. However, the dynamic regarding acceptance of that which is poised or bound to vanish does not just apply to situations which arise within inter-personal relationships. Given that truth, perhaps the last half of “Sway” could be read as an interior monologue in which the “her” that must be forgotten, the “she” that doesn’t love, is life itself, or the promise of such life, with the “you” being that part of ourselves, and/or the poet, considering the challenge of accepting that which we all must face: that at any moment, our lives – all life – is poised to vanish.


“Sway” also has a first-half, and for me the question is how its six lines relate to the second half of the poem that I’ve discussed above. Here’s the poem’s first half:
Caught up
in the leaf,


the carbon atom
gets a life--

but whose life is it?
These lines remain, even after repeated readings, a great mystery to me. I sense that “the carbon atom” entranced in the leaf, about which it is asked “whose life” it is, somehow relates to the stubbornness, or desire to assert control – to continue a relationship that is swirling down the drain – that I attribute to the “you” in the second stanza. But I can’t really articulate why I think that.

There’s also a hard science facet to “carbon atom,” maybe concerning the astounding ability of that particular atom to form a bond with other elements. But no, I can’t draw that out too far, and also don’t know whether it really relates much to the poem. Nor can I satisfactorily suggest much about the fundamental-as-all-get-out question (“whose life is it?”) that ends the first half of the poem, other than to guess that one answer may be that it is no one’s life: the world cannot be possessed or controlled by anything or anyone.

But again, I just don’t know. And that’s not only okay, but great. As I’ve written before (and to borrow again the title of the old-time radio show), I Love A Mystery. Not knowing fully or exactly what’s going on in “Sway”– to guess at answers to some of the riddles in the poem’s first half, to have no firm conclusion regarding who or what the pronouns of the second half refer to and what voice or voices are heard in the last four lines of that section – will keep me coming back to the poem.

In short, the multitude of possibilities, the absence of a certain interpretation, keep the poem alive. Those qualities are a strength, for as Armantrout has written (italics in original):
it’s all right to be unsure. There’s something powerful . . . in not being quite certain of what you’re seeing. Is there something in that shadow? This is often how we experience the world, why shouldn’t it be how we experience a poem?


The quotation from Armantrout that ends the post is from “An E-Mail Interview with Rae Armantrout by Eric Elshtain & Matthias Regan,” included in her Collected Prose (San Diego: Singing Horse Press, 2007). The quotation can be found at pages 96-97 therein.

The current issue of Denver Quarterly includes five additional poems by Armantrout. A copy of the magazine can be obtained by sending a check for $10.00 to Denver Quarterly, University of Denver, Denver, CO, 80208. It might also be found in bookstores, though I couldn

The title of Armantrout’s poem – and this is idiosyncratic, so thank you for indulging me – reminds me of a gorgeous, dreamy instrumental tune, also called “Sway,” by the psychedelic surf trio, the Mermen (the song was written by Jim Thomas, the group’s guitarist). To hear a beautiful version of the song, please click here, then scroll down the song list (at the upper right side of the page at to Track 19 -- “Sway” -- and click there to play.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don’t change that channel!

Survey Says!
Nathan Austin
(New York: Black Maze Books, 2009)

Straight outta syndicated TV game show banality: poetry!

And prose poetry at that!

The title of Nathan Austin’s new book – Survey Says! – probably suffices to tip off readers as to what’s inside. It’s the catch-phrase from a long-running TV game show that pits two families against each other in a contest to name the most popular responses to a survey-type question posed to 100 people. The questions are rather simple (for example, What could you find in a tree?) and the answers equally so.

Austin provides a two sentence prefatory explanation that confirms what you’ve probably already guessed, and which helpfully tells a bit about his method:
A systematic re-ordering of all answers
(both correct and incorrect) provided
by the contestants on Family Feud over
five weeks in spring, 2005. Expanded
with answers from fifteen additional
episodes in late spring, 2008.

The key phrase there, I think, is “systematic re-ordering.” Most anyone could watch the Feud and while listening type the answers heard. I’d credit anyone who did that, and the resulting poem could well be interesting.

But better still – since it involves the mind, eye, and hand of the poet – is to re-order the appropriated verbiage. Re-order, and voilà, a word-collage. A poem-assemblage. A complex work made from common TV jabber-flotsam. A couch-potato mash-up, you might want to call it, and a mighty tasty one at that.

Although just about anyone could re-order this stuff, not everyone can do it really, really, well. Just as, for example, Max Ernst and Bruce Conner (along with a few others) tower over others in their compositional and scissoring skills when making collages from old engraving images taken from nineteenth century newspapers, sales catalogs, and books:

Max Ernst
The hundred headless woman opens her august sleeve

Bruce Conner
Untitled, from
The Ballad of Lemon and Crow
(Arion Press, 2002)

so too do poets and writers possess different skills in assembling found or appropriated words.

Nathan Austin puts his lifted-from-the-Feud words together really, really well. His “re-ordering,” in a word, “rocks.”

Bill Dan
Stacked Rocks, Sausalito, CA

What’s wonderful about Austin’s re-ordering can’t be fully explained, of course, but a few techniques are apparent. First, and foremost, are the classic poetic techniques of repetition, rhyme and quasi-repetition, quasi-rhyme. Simple techniques but how powerful they can be. Here are a few sentences from the bottom half of the poem’s first page (click to enlarge in a new window, if you prefer):

This language just flows. A strong current carries you away from yourself, into the text, into each sentence and each word, pushed and pulled along by the repetition and rhyme – true rhyme, near rhyme, eye rhyme, and who-knows rhyme – mostly at the start of the sentences, and sometimes involving only parts of words: Take-Take-Fake-Fake-Cake-cake-Take-Making-Saks-Salad-Talent-Calf-California(x4)-Walk(x2)-Walkie-talkie-Talking-Talk-Talk-Balloons(x3). It’s odd, but it works, probably in part because it’s unusual. The sentences just go and go, for 51 pages, all as above fully justified on both the left-and-right margin.

It’ll probably take you about two hours to read the poem clear through, even on re-read and savor mode, and you won’t get bored. In addition to his skill at stitching together the words, Austin has an advantage here with the source “text”: the contestant answers make for mighty short sentences, sentences often of just a word or two and only rarely with a subordinate clause. Punchy. Quick. Next.

But also: the short sentence – at least the one-worders, when repeated – foreground words as objects, not just signifiers, as in this line of five sentences from near the middle of page 45:
Apple. Apple. Apples. Apples. Apples.
The effect on the mind of these repeated word-objects is similar to that which can happen with Aram Saroyan’s single word minimal poems, in which (to use Clark Coolidge’s construct) the words “start to look like a funny little animal[s].”

However, the repeated words can be read purely as signifiers too, delicious, nutritious, and ambiguous ones at that. Take the “Apple . . . ” example above. Are we reading about fruit, computers, an ineffectively bowled ball, or secobarbital capsules? Or does one or more “apple” act not as any of those nouns, but as a verb meaning “to foster a positive emotional connection between an individual and a specific information technology device, solution or service”?

Sometimes the energy in Survey Says! comes from Austin stringing together sentences/answers which begin with the same prefatory words, the words Family Feud contestants often begin with, when asked for their answers. Thus there are long sequences in which each sentence begins with phrases such as:
I’m going to go with . . .

I’m going to have to say . . .

I’ll say . . .

I’m going to say . . .

I think . . .

I would say . . .
Now, I’m going to have to say and I would say and I’m going to say and I’ll say that these kind of verbal tics might drive you crazy, if heard time after time after time. On the other hand, I think it’s like having a little bit of Gertrude Stein show up in the poem, which almost always is a good thing. Here’s a bit from page 35:

It’s a paratactic wonder-land, I do believe. After the mantra of the repeated introductory words, the noun-based phrases range marvelously far-and-wide, even as they proceed alphabetically. Who ever the hell said watching TV will rot your brain?

Sometimes the connective thread between the sentences seems invisible, and may be non-existent. These passages might be the most fun to read:

That’s from page 37. Reading this, I puzzled first about whether there is some unifying lexical connection. There doesn’t seem to be much. But my brain, reading, and re-reading, keeps looking, and then all sorts of tendencies begin to storm from within onto the page, into and around the sentences. Apophenia, the Forer (or Barnum) effect, delusions of reference, the parsimony principle, conspiracy theories: all that and more swirl and percolate the text.

And so one moment I’m wondering if each of these answers set out in the passage might be a response to one particular survey question (impossible, but still), while the next I’m hypothesizing that Austin has purposefully jumbled answers or that they appear together only because of a publishing glitch. Jokingly, I assert that the passage sets out the sub-conscious thoughts that undergird the first eight lines of the final chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses: the ur-thoughts, so to say, for Molly Bloom’s reverie-stream. Your reading, of course, may vary, and mine may too the next time through. That multiplicity of possibilities signals a first-rate poem.


Survey Says! appears to be a do-it-yourself, publish-on-demand book, which I say not because I disapprove of such things – quite the contrary – but to remind that you’re not going to find this in your local bookshop, Small Press Distribution, or even direct from the publisher. It is available via Lulu, either direct (click here), or via an order through (click here). If you order it - and you should - it’ll take a couple days for the book to be printed up. All in all, you’ll have Survey Says! in about a week. Then, of course, the book will have you forever.

Survey Says! could be – should be – a big seller, both here and around the world (the latter, of course, would require translations). Family Feud in the local language has aired or is currently broadcast in almost three dozen countries, including Mexico, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, and Tunisia. The potential here is huge, eh? Maybe I ought to survey one hundred people and ask them . . .


some but not all of the countries
(Russia and Tunisia, for example, should also be colored red)
in which
Family Feud
, or a Feud-style show,
is broadcast on TV

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Trippy Tropes (part one)

Poets in the Benthic Zone

benthic : relating to the bottom of a lake

Somewhere – if my memory can be trusted – Robert Duncan wrote about how he and his partner Jess loved to trace how a certain image had been used by artists and writers through the centuries.

I like doing that too, or at least cataloging the appearance of certain images, metaphors or settings in poems that particularly strike my fancy. Among these is the image – or setting – “the bottom of the lake,” which has a long and interesting history of turning up in poems over the centuries. I’ll write a bit here today about this most trippy trope, and finish up, if you please, further on down the road.

The bottom of the lake, in eco-biology and limnology, is known as the benthic zone, or benthos. This zone is a rich, necessary, but very difficult place:
The benthos or benthic zone of lakes and ponds lies at the bottom where decomposition occurs. Although biological activity flourishes in the darkness, it is an extremely oxygen deficient environment . . . .
The benthic zone is also a potent poetic image. By its very nature, the bottom of the lake is a place of deep, unseen mysteries. It also can be seen – or at least I see it – as an image of the pre-conscious mind, that which exists far below the surface of the mind’s activity. It’s where imagination is nourished, the habitat of the powerful ur-imagination.

Given this potent symbology, of which I’ll write more about in just about – and just because it’s just a far-out place to stage a scene – it should come as no surprise that the first great (Old) English epic poem, Beowulf, sets a key piece of action – Beowulf’s encounter and fight with, and his killing of, the demon Grendel’s mother and he decapitation of Grendel himself – at the bottom of a lake, which is where the monster’s lair is located.

In the epic, Beowulf is told about the bottom of the lake by the King whose world is under attack from the demon-monsters. Beowulf is told that “the mere” – that’s the synonym for lake used in many translations, including that of Frederick Rebsamen (which I generally prefer because it preserves the spaced half-lines of the Anglo-Saxon original) – is hidden not far away. He’s also told that at night there’s fire on the water (a “strange wonder-sight”), and that there are “surging waves” that “swirl[] to the clouds when whistling winds come whirling in anger.” And he’s further told:
                                            No wiseman lives
who knows the bottom        of that black monster-home.
The King then challenges Beowulf:
                                                     Find it if you dare!
And Beowulf does. He treks (great poetic images here, you gotta tip your hat to the Anglo-Saxons imagineers):
                                       . . . through wilderness
steep stone passes         solitary trails
narrow-dark gorges         unknown trackways
slippery rockbluffs         secret demon-dens
before getting to the lake’s “dreary and wind-driven” shore. There, Beowulf sees the head of the King’s trusted counselor at the water’s edge, while the water itself is “bloodstained, and “hell-murky” with “many a snake-creature” and “curious water-worms” swimming in its gore. It’s quite a place.

Wearing armor, Beowulf takes the plunge, stroking to the bottom through the “shivering water” that “swallowed him away.” It is a difficult journey. As the narrator of the epic states:
                                             It was wondrously long
before handstrokes bore him         To the bottom of that mere.
At the bottom of the lake, Beowulf is grabbed by Grendel’s mother, a demon, who tugs him to her cavern-den while
                                       . . . wondrous creatures
pressed around him        reached for his life
crunched with nail-teeth        gnashed at his breast-coat
greedy for his blood.
At the bottom of the lake, in the demon’s rock-chamber protected from the waters
firelight shimmered there . . .
Restless flame-shadows         flickered on the wall.
It too is quite a place.

A fight then ensues, a fight worthy of any cable TV pay-per-view fee. It includes a gold sword with a jeweled handle, the killing of the Grendel’s mother by Beowulf, “rushing radiant Light,” the decapitation of Grendel, an abundance of treasures, much “welling of blood,” and “waves of death-gore.”

In this monstrous yet wondrous habitat, Beowulf triumphs. As he swims to the lake’s surface, the previously roiling and dark waters become “peaceful . . . purged of evil” and “opened to sunlight.” Beowulf takes with him Grendel’s severed head – the shocking proof of his successful efforts – and a jewel-encrusted sword-handle. He is proud of these prizes – “the great hell-mysteries” – that he has “haled from the depths.”

Now this is a rollicking, irresistible story. Hollywood a few years back did not need the digitized naked form of Angelina Jolie (as Grendel’s mother) in the movie version of Beowulf in order for this scene to sizzle or kick-start the heart (though I did not complain too much, I must confess).

Beowulf’s trip to, challenges in, and return from the bottom of the lake is a classic – even archetypal – action-paced universal adventure. It’s a story that perfectly embodies the phases of “the rite of passage: separation – initiation – return” that Joseph Campbell sixty years ago rightly termed “the nuclear unit of the monomyth”:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949), at page 30.

And this rite of passage, for whatever other roles it may have in human life, and for all else it may signify (and Campbell and others teach that there is much of both), it also serves as a metaphor for the creative act, the creative work of all great poets or artists.

These poets and artists, those with great dedication and skills, regularly journey from the diurnal and quotidian world. As Beowulf did, they travel deep and long into another realm – let me call it the bottom of the lake of their minds – and encounter there, generally with great difficulty, supernatural wonders and fabulous forces that could themselves prove destructive.

This is a well recognized process, at least by some. Consider this astute observation by Kay Redfield Jamison in her classic Touched with Fire (New York: The Free Press, 1993):
From virtually all perspectives – early Greek philosopher to twentieth-century specialist – there is agreement that artistic creativity and inspiration involve, indeed require, a dipping into pre-rational or irrational sources while maintaining ongoing contact with reality and “life at the surface.” The degree to which individuals can, or desire to, “summon up the depths” is among the more fascinating individual differences. Many highly creative and accomplished writers, composers, and artists function essentially within the rational world, without losing access to their psychic “underground.” Others . . . are likewise privy to their unconscious streams of thought, but they must contend with unusually tumultuous and unpredictable emotions as well. The integration of these deeper, truly irrational sources with more logical processes can be a tortuous task, but, if successful, the resulting work often bears a unique stamp, a “touch of fire,” for what it has been through.
And so those poets and artists who are really good, or by a simple twist of fate can grab the gold ring on the journey, bring back prizes, as did Beowulf. Maybe a great poem or work of art, staggering and shocking to the rest of us as Grendel’s severed head was to the King and those on shore. Maybe poem or work of art as otherworldly fascinating and gorgeous as the jeweled handle of a golden sword. Maybe all this and more, hauled up by the poets and artists from the deep, from the . . . bottom of the lake.


Is it any wonder that since Beowulf, the “bottom of the lake” has recurred so often in poetry?

The trope, as either an image or setting, shows up in Boiardo’s “Orlando Innamorato,” Aloysius Bertrand’s “Ondine,” William Wordsworth’s “The Prelude,” Arthur Rimbaud’s “Alchemy of the Word II” and “Historic Evening,” Philip Lamantia’s “Hermetic Bird,” Aime Cesaire’s “The Wheel,” Richard Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing in America,” Lyn Hejinian’s “My Life,” Barret Watten’s “Negative,” James Tate’s “September,” Garrett Caples’ “Synth,” and John Olson’s “Immigrant Immersion” and “Souls of Wind” (a poetic-novel).

That’s quite a collection of bottom-of-the-lakes, eh? I’d love to write about each one of them, and sooner or later probably will. For now, here from Olson’s “Souls of Wind” is a quotation that neatly encapsulates the lure, to me, of this most trippy image:
There is a longing in some of us . . . an appetite for the marvelous. For roads in the sky, and parlors at the bottom of the lakes. For monsters and mysteries. For the light of foreign cities, for the fabulous operas of the brain, for monstrous loves and fantastic universes.
And with that, dear readers of this glade-blog, and in particular to you poets and artists out there (if I may be so lucky to have any such readers), I hereby wish you the best on your next trip to the bottom the lake. May you adventure well, and return with (if I may speak metaphorically) many heads of Grendel, jeweled hilts of a golden swords, and - to be as direct as I can be - much else that staggers, shocks, and fascinates.



Monday, May 4, 2009

Edgar Allan . . .


Edgar Allan Poe Stamp
United States Postal Service
(Date of Issue: January, 2009)

The bicentennial year of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth (January 19, 1809) rolls on. There have been or are celebrations scheduled in Boston (his birthplace), Maryland (Poe from 1829 to 1836 mostly lived and wrote a number of stories in Baltimore, and in 1849 died and was buried there), Virginia (where he lived, principally in Richmond, for some of his later years), and elsewhere. Later this year, there’s a big conference in Philadelphia (where Poe also lived and worked for a bit as an adult) (click here for info). There’s even a Poe bicentennial blog (though it’s frighteningly sparse). And maybe best of all – just because it’s a mark of some recognition in the culture at large – there’s a postage stamp, a stunningly gorgeous one at that.

But picky me, I ain’t satisfied, not nearly so. I want to see stanzas from Poe’s poems printed on grocery bags and plastered on the sides of buses. Heck, I want to see our President late at night, in an underlit Oval Office, read a poem or two live to the nation. Given the USA economic condition, perhaps Obama should recite Poe’s “Eldorado,” since its exhortation to:
Ride, boldly ride
even after years of fruitless searching for the sought-after Eldorado might work as a catch-phrase signalling that we should all persevere no matter what the difficulties. Not quite Roosevelt’s “nothing to fear but fear itself,” maybe, but still: wouldn’t it be a trip if America’s poetic tradition could pervade national life at that level, not just as decoration for post office snail-mail? Yep, it would be great, and well, we’ll see what happens (but don’t hold your nevermore, if you know what I mean).

Anyway, all I can do for now is throw a bit of this here glade behind the Poe Bicentennial celebration. Here are a few reasons to keep the bicentennial party (or is that “poerty”?) for Edgar Allan rolling, not even counting the stories for which he’s probably best known:

1. The lineated verse

Poe wrote with lots of regular rhyme schemes and often (though not entirely) rigid meter. In the longer poems, those well-used poetic devices can become tiring. But in the shorter poems, coupled with Poe’s imagination, it all works fine. Everybody has – or should have – their favorite Poe-poems. Here are mine:

“Dream-Land”, as the title suggests, is an account of dreams. The concluding line of the first stanza:
Out of SPACE – out of TIME
is as apt and concise a summary of the other-worldliness of night-dreams as ever has been written. That line was directly adapted by Clark Ashton Smith for his first large collection of weird tales, published by Arkham House in 1942.

Some – much, in fact – of the poem’s imagery strikes the same chords as the “caverns measureless to man” and “sunny pleasure domes with caves of ice” found in Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn.” Here are lines from “Dream-Land” that concern matters beyond human comprehension grasp, and/or which bring opposites together:
Bottomless vales and boundless floods,
And chasms, and caves, and Titan woods,
With forms that no man can discover
For the tears that drip all over;
Mountains toppling evermore
Into seas without a shore;
Seas that restlessly aspire,
Surging, unto skies of fire . . .

I also love “Ulalume.” That poem includes at least two Poe-words (scholars say he coined about one thousand new words in his published writings). The first is the adjective “scoriac,” a shortening of the clunkier “scoriaceous.” The word’s derived from the noun “scoria,” the dross or slag that remains after the smelting of ore, or, alternatively, a cinder-like lava, and it works beautifully in the poem:
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll -
As the lavas that restlessly roll
But the really great Poe-word is the title-word, “Ullalume.” It’s a word of great alliterative and rhythmic power, particularly as used in the last lines of the poem’s third-to-last stanza, where it’s repeated three times and used as the tail-end of a nice rhyme:
And I said: “What is written, sweet sister,
On the door of this legended tomb?”
She replied: “Ulalume - Ulalume -
'Tis the vault of thy lost Ulalume!”
Thomas Ollive Mabbott, editor of the standard edition of Poe’s Collected Works (published in 1969) suggests that “Ullalume” probably combines the Latin root for “ululate” (to howl or wail) and the word “lumen.” But Mabbott also writes, “no complete satisfactory explanation of the etymology of Poe’s word has been found . . . .” That strikes me as a mark of a great made-up word: it still has people guessing well over a hundred years after it first saw print.


Finally among the lineated poems – and limiting myself to three is difficult – there’s “Alone.” It may be the all-time poem for isolatos everywhere, and for the isolato that all of us have somewhere within:
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were – I have not seen
As other saw . . .
[. . .]
And all I lov’d – I lov’d alone – .
Those are the poem’s first two and one-half lines, plus (after the ellipsis) one other. Note the italicized “I” in the final quoted line, emphasizing the solitary ardor, apart-ness, and oddness of the poet-speaker.


2. “Between Wakefulness and Sleep”

brain waves: wakefulness to - and within - sleep

“Between Wakefulness and Sleep” is a short essay from Poe’s Marginalia, and was also published in the out-of-print but findable The Unknown Poe (City Lights Books, 1980). This essay is one of probably five thousand eight hundred and fifteen things I learned about from Philip Lamantia.

Philip was known to read the essay aloud to those who visited him in his small one-bedroom North Beach third-floor walk-up apartment (that could also be called a kind of research library given that there were shelves and stacks of books everywhere). Lamantia believed, rightly I think, that Poe’s essay about what is perceived or apprehended when falling asleep prefigured the surrealist interest in those points in the mind that combine rational and more instinctive (pre-conscious) thinking, those places sometimes accessed via automatistic writing.

Poe of course wrote decades before the surrealists, but the correspondences are strong. In the essay, Poe calls what he experienced in the mind on the brink of sleep “fancies,” and is convinced they were a source of particularly fresh imaginative inventions. With regard to such “fancies” Poe stresses (the italics here, and in all quotations below, are his):
the delight experienced, has as its element . . . the absoluteness of novelty. I say the absoluteness – for in these fancies – let me now term them psychal impressions – there is really nothing even approximate in character to impressions ordinarily received. It is as if the five senses were supplanted by five myriad others alien to mortality.
The potential for extraordinary, otherworldly “fancies” or “psychal impressions” to make powerful poetry, or to serve as an incubator for such writing, needs no elaboration. All praise poets who can bring back such things from the brink of sleep, and most important, get ‘em down on a page.

In the hit-and-miss world of Wikipedia entries, the entry on hypnagogia – the formal term for the state Poe described in his essay – is a grand slam. Well written, comprehensive (yes, it mentions Poe’s essay) and richly annotated (almost 80 footnotes!): it’s definitely worth a read (click here to go, if you please).


3. Eureka: A Prose Poem

At 40,000 words (150 to almost 200 pages, depending on the edition), Poe’s Eureka is one huge speculative sprawling scientific philosophic treatise on the universe. It’s said he termed the work an essay, an art-product, a romance, and other things before settling on “prose poem.” The latter fits. The imaginative specific gravity of the thing generally is no less than mercuric and often platinum-ish.

For example, try to float this – a thoroughly typical paragraph except that it is a bit shorter than many in the poem – on the lake of your mind:
We have now reached a point from which we behold the Universe as a spherical space, interspersed, unequably, with clusters. It will be noticed that I here prefer the adverb “unequably” to the phrase “with a merely general equability,” employed before. It is evident, in fact, that the equability of distribution will diminish in the ration of the agglomerative processes – that is to say, as the things distributed diminish in number. Thus the increase of inequability – an increase which must continue until, sooner or later, an epoch will arrive at which the largest agglomeration will absorb all the others – should be viewed as, simply, a corroborative indication of the tendency to One.
You just can’t help sinking deep into the prose here – drowning in it, actually. But that’s not a bad thing, not at all.

The bottom of the lake – the bottom of the lake of your mind – is a fine place to be: it’s dark and usually murky, true enough, but rich in nutrients with plenty of hardy vegetation and wondrous odd creatures to nourish and inspire thought. Poe takes the reader here on a journey deep into thought, where possibilities are abundant.

Picking a single nugget from Eureka is more than a little reductive, but still I’m going to do it. The two sentences I’ve chosen to end this particular Poe bicentennial celebration set forth an observation I unstintingly endorse – as you might guess from the photo at the top of this particular section, and the one that follows immediately below. The sentences come near the prose poem’s end, and again, the italics are Poe’s:
[I]n fact, the sense of the symmetrical is an instinct which may be depended upon with an almost blindfolded reliance. It is the poetical essence of the Universe – of the Universe which, in the supremeness of its symmetry, is but the most sublime of poems.

Happy Bicentennial, Edgar Allan Poe!


United States Postal Service
Edgar Allan Poe
20-Stamp Sheet