the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2018

Love’s the thing in “The Talisman,” a four-stanza, nineteen line poem by Philip Lamantia.  The poem was first published in 1969 and is of course included in The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (University of California Press, 2013).  And this poem, with love at its center, is most certainly right for today, the 91st anniversary of the birth of the poet whose work I adore.  Let’s celebrate by reading – then taking a quick, closer look at – this most marvelous poem:
The Talisman

Only for those who love is dawn visible throughout the day
and kicks over the halo at the pit of ocean
the diamond whirls
all that’s fixed is volatile
and the crushed remnants of sparrows travel without moving

I find myself smoking the dust of myself
hurled to the twilight
where we were born from the womb of invisible children
so that even the liver of cities
can be turned into my amulet of laughing bile

Melted by shadows of love
I constellate love with teeth of fire
until any arrangement the world presents
to the eyes at the tip of my tongue
becomes the perfect food of constant hunger

Today the moon was visible at dawn
to reflect o woman the other half of me you are
conic your breasts gems of the air
triangle your thighs delicate leopards in the wood where you wait

 “The Talisman” opens strong with a bold luminous assertion:
Only for those who love is dawn visible throughout the day 

That’s a declaration that’s stuck with me for years now, and how could it not?  It powerfully conveys that love brings fresh, sustained visions, and the certainty with which it’s asserted persuasively sweeps you into the poem, which with quick rhythmic lines then showcases a series of surrealist images and actions, some drawn from classic surrealist ideas, including the first stanza’s
All that’s fixed is volatile
which echoes a fundamental precept explicated by Andre Breton in the first chapter of L’Amour fou (Editions Gallimard, 1937), translated as Mad Love (University of Nebraska Press, 1987): 
The word ‘convulsive,’ which I use to describe the only beauty that should concern us . . . .” [ . . . ] Convulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed explosive, magic-circumstantial, or it will not be.
Much else in the poem, such as the  mix of interior awareness, vibrant action,  and what I’ll call “elsewhere” in the last three lines of the second stanza– 
I find myself smoking the dust of myself
hurled to the twilight
where we were born from the womb of invisible children
–strikes me as quintessential Lamantia: the words dust, womb, invisible, and children are among those that recur in his poetry (by  the way, I continue to hope for a concordance to his works).  Other they-can-only-be-Lamantia images, it seems to me, are “my amulet of laughing bile” (in the second stanza, and presumably the titular talisman), then “teeth of fire” and “the eyes at the tip of my tongue” in the third stanza.

In the final stanza, Lamantia brings back the dawn of the poem’s first line: 
Today the moon was visible at dawn
and by reporting on what he presumably saw just a few hours earlier Lamantia also neatly returns us to the right here, right now.  It’s a lovely reverie-bloom of an image, bringing together, as surrealists sometimes do, the opposites of night and day.   “[T]he moon . . . at dawn” might also to be verisimilitudinous detail of what was seen after spending a night at play and in conversation, a possibility heightened by the concluding lines identification of a particular woman as the animating source of the love-energy that has fueled the poem.   

The beloved’s importance and delights are marvelously celebrated in the poem’s last three lines.  Lamantia first directly declares  her spiritual and psychological value (“the other half of me you are”) then uses cadenced references to her breasts and thighs (“conic your breasts” / “triangle your thighs”) as a poetic springboard for vivid praise.  The geometry trope reminds that Lamantia had an avid interest in that field, including its philosophical elements.

The rousing images that conclude the poem suggest and celebrate his beloved’s rare and exalted beauty (“gems of the air”), and, via a  metaphor from the animal world (“delicate leopards in the wood”), certain of her pardine qualities, including, if I may I run reverie-wild with the image, a fine, fierce intelligence, lithe agility, nocturnal energy, and patient self-assurance
Today the moon was visible at dawn
to reflect o woman the other half of me you are
conic your breasts gems of the air
triangle your thighs delicate leopards in the wood where you wait
What a lovely, loving poem!  Yes I said yes I will yes!  

Happy Philip Lamantia Day, and

¡Viva Lamantia!


“Today the moon was visible at dawn . . .”

Philip Lamantia
February, 1999
Beyond Baroque / Venice, California
Photograph by Michael Hacker


Monday, June 4, 2018

Harry Crosby

Boston-born to a family of wealth (his uncle was J.P. Morgan), World War I ambulance driver (at the front, for a traumatic and transformative 18 months, including a searing miracle moment in which he survived a near direct hit by an artillery shell that vaporized his vehicle), Harvard grad (the accelerated two-year soldier’s  degree), expatriate (Paris), traveler (Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Venice, the Alps, trips back to the States), poet (he wrote seven volumes, all out of print, alas), diarist (the superb Shadows of the Sun), publisher (the amazing Black Sun Press, done with his wife Caresse) –  

Harry Crosby – 

believed in The Sun (the Sun above all), the beauty and delights of women (including but definitely not limited to his wife, plus one lover only imagined), books (he had thousands including first editions of Baudelaire
s Les Fleurs du mal and Rimbauds Illuminations), reading (naturally, given all the books but this was serious, obsessive, self-directed reading, of seemingly everything, including the Bible, Shakespeare, encyclopedias, philosophy and all kinds of literature), horse racing (as a bettor and an owner, ultimately not very successful as either), poetry (lots, but Rimbaud, Blake and Hart Crane’s “O Carib Isle” would be in his top five), the Revolution of the Word (see the Proclamation at the end of this post), certainty of opinions (just as one example, he excoriated his native Boston as a “Target For Disgust” and “the City of Dreadful Night”), intoxication (champagne, absinthe, whisky (he liked Cutty Sark), gin, rum, beer, wine, opium, cocaine, and hashish, for example), 1920s Paris (the annual and wild Bal des Quat’z’Arts for example), contemporary writers (James Joyce was tippy-top for Crosby, especially the “miraculous last paragraph of Anna Livia Purabelle,” but also Hemingway, D. H Lawrence, and Kay Boyle, among many others including the poets Crane, Cummings, and MacLeish), music (jazz jazz jazz but much else including Stravinsky’s L’Oiseau de feu), art (Van Gogh above all, but also Brancusi, Redon and many others, including Alastair and Georgia O’Keefe), the forging of souls (not simply the furnishing of such), flying (he witnessed Lindbergh’s arrival (“ce n’est  pas un homme, c’est un oiseau”) and later obtained a license and soloed himself), and yes, Death (he died in 1929, at age 31, with his mistress, and it was a scandal: a murder-suicide or suicide pact).  

If you don’t know his life-story, seek and ye shall find. 

Today’s the anniversary of Crosby’s birth – June 4, 1898 – and hey now people get ready it’s a mere five years to the Quasquicentennial! – and so I celebrate his poems and other writings.  I might just have an absinthe too. 

Philip Lamantia in his 1976 essay “Poetic Matters” rightly suggested that Crosby was a precursor of American Surrealism, along with Mina Loy, Samuel Greenberg, and Poe.  Lamantia called Crosby “a true dandy of explosive Promethean desire” who “left in The Mad Queen and elsewhere, signs of ‘Sadean’ magnanimity in the realms of mad love . . . .”   (Lamantia’s essay will be included in Preserving Fire: Selected Prose, to be published this October by Wave Books.)

True to Lamantia’s “true dandy of explosive Promethean desire” characterization, some of Crosby’s poems are fiery detonations of rebellious creative energy.  Three examples follow; you may agree the intensity is, well, intense.

First is “The New Word,” published in the Eugene Jolas edited magazine transition (no. 16-17, June 1929)
the famous Revolution of the Word issue (see the Proclamation at the end of this post).  It’s a short prose ditty, to be cheap about it.  More accurately, it’s a poetic manifesto or vision.  May its “Panther in the Jungle of the Dictionary” and “Diamond Wind blowing out the Cobwebs of the Past” jolt your lexical energy field:

Next up is “Empty Bed Blues,” published in Mad Queen, Crosby’s 1929 collection of “Tirades” (his word, used on the cover and title page).  The poem gets at, and well, desire and its aftermath.  I love too that it takes its title from Bessie Smith’s amazing 1928 record:

 In a February 10, 1929 diary entry Crosby recounted a small gathering of friends at which there was “a great drinking of red wine and the Empty Bed Blues on the graphaphone and a magnificent snowball fight . . . .”  And you know what?  Every party should have music and the stupendous Ms. Smith is always special so let’s enjoy: 

Finally, here’s “The Ten Commandments,” the final poem in Torchbearers, which can be considered Crosby’s final collection.  It was published posthumously in 1931 and features an afterword by Ezra Pound.  The Sun-God’s mandates are prototypical Harry-fever Crosby-fervor:

 Here, as a coda,
is the
“Revolution of the Word”
 (Crosby is a signer),
as published in
transition, no. 16-17 (June 1929):

Monday, October 23, 2017

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2017

Yes yes yes my friends it’s time again to celebrate the anniversary of the birth (October 23, 1927) of Philip Lamantia, the late great San Francisco poet (he died in 2005) and this year – 

– I’m throwing a stellar party for Philip: laid out below are the 145 (yow!) instances in which “star” or “stars” (or variants such as example “starlight”) appear in Lamantia’s Collected Poems

It would take a concordance to know for sure (and I dream that some day there will be one!), but my best guess is that “star” / “stars” and variants are most certainly among Lamantia’s most frequently used nouns, and they may well top the list of such words (and yes, I know I’ve included some adjectives below).  The reason why “star” / “stars” and variants are so common in Lamantia’s poetry is worth a celestial reverie or three, or probably, if I may borrow a phrase, billions and billions of such thoughts.  So focus your imagination’s Hubble-scope, channel your inner Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and constellate a theory, will you please? 

For the moment, I’ll simply observe that while Lamantia’s poems date from 1943 to about 2001, his many uses of
“star” / “stars” and variants do not seem dated today at all.  Indeed, it might perhaps be said that Lamantia’s star-filled poems were ahead of their time – or should I say their space-time continuum – given the current and most welcome ascendancy of “dark-sky reserves” where we might more fully enjoy the  “cosmic energy engines” or “luminous sphere[s] of plasma” which populate the universe.

In any event, my fellow earth-dwellers, I hope you find the following excerpts a most scintillating intergalactic poetic trip!   Happy Lamantia Day star-gazing to all (please note, I
ve excerpted as many or as few lines from each poem as I thought necessary or fun, bolded each instance of “star” / “stars” and variants, and tried to preserve the formatting of the lines), and here we go: 

. . . leaving behind a limpid song
heard by a million murdered stars.

                         – The Ruins

O the mirror-like dirt
of freshly spilt blood
trickling down the walls
the walls that reach the stars!

                         – Automatic World

and with our mouths opened for the stars
howling for the castles to melt at our feet
you and I
will ride . . .

                         – Hermetic Bird

The naked lovers!  All of them, fifteen years old!  One can still see their hair
growing!  They come from the mountains, from the stars even, with their handsome
eyes of stone. 

                         –   A Civil World

with young blood
ride to the stars
with horses from Peru

                         – The Enormous Window

The stars are wet tonight
the naked schoolmasters
are no longer in the gardens of childhood
and the sea has been heated for lions

                         – The Enormous Window

Your body reclaiming the stars
lifts itself in a wooden frame
to be seen in boulevards
that twist themselves at dawn into my room

                         – Mirror and Heart

Butterflies have come to rest upon your lips
Whose words clothe the dancing stars
Falling lightly to earth.

                         – Awakened From Sleep

We have been carried here against our will

Burnt stars
Oceanic gardens
where the clouds are soaked into my eyes

                         – Celestial Estrangement

just as no one has the right to understand
why you were born in a house of cigarettes
or I in a howling star

                         – You and I Have Nothing to Fear

Rest assured
we have not been uttering a word
against the master
His leafy ears heal too quickly
and besides the stars have crossed over
our tight embrace

                         – You and I Have Nothing to Fear

To You Henry Miller of the Orchestra the Mirror
the Revolver and of the Stars of Stars

                         – [poem title]

You flee into a corridor of stars.
You sleep in a bleeding tree,
And awaken upon the body of trance.

                         – [You flee into a corridor of stars]

Your mask disappears in the sky
Leaving the veined star open
For my kisses. Your star, above
Pain’s phantom touch, slowly entering
The net of my arms to sleep again
In the rib’s infinite eye.

                         – Nativity of Love

This love’s knowing silence
Flows toward divinity;
Is a finger of light
Upon grains of sand:
Our golden stars of infinity.

                         – Autumn Poems

I am forlorn.
The berry under the breast
Breaks its sea of sorrow over my head.
Resting on stone, I think of my unending quest
For the morning star gone.

                         – [I am forlorn]

As I watch him, I wonder what alien wind
Drove the savage tooth, as a sea,
To his body’s star:

                         – Sorrow

We walk arm in arm in the country,
With stars and grains of sand
Gathered for apt communion.

                         – Night Vision

Unable to move and hardly breathing,
I am before the stars’ alchemy of light
And eternal marvel of blue of sky into darkness,
Becoming balm to my blood’s long agony
Of we two wrested from each other
In these dreaded days
And unholy divisions of our love.

                         – [Unable to move and hardly breathing]

Not unlike, I imagine, Adam
Before the Fall, a man in coition,
Rousing great power out of dust and clay,
With the first star of night
Brightly in his loin, is carried upward,
And knows the wordless speech
From a quick rush of water,
Transformed among pebbles and rocks,
And through the toneful wind
In a darkened forest of moving trees.

                         – Symbols

I remember the day fused with the night
In the dawn of a moment’s eternity,
And hearing your voice from beyond the starry wall,
I know what we knew together is the way,
Now and even when the seasons are no more.

                         – Another Autumn Coming

At the crossing of the winds,
under the morning star, the rose
plumed and the violet plumed, fly out
returning the treasures while the Spring Wheel
turns in the blossoming flowering.

                         – Revelations of a New Order

Ashes, like stars, fall into the sewers.
A bird, hatched no longer than a second,
Falls from its nest
Fated for no other wings than death.

                         – Break of Day

   And this was my dream that lasted from some dawn to some midnight in the
fallingdown room overlooking the oldest graveyard of Manhattan:

    the poisonous stars: benign
    the rootless tree: nailed to the sky
    the black pit: enclosing ladders of white light
    the icebergs of the mind: floating to the tropics . . .

                         – Inside the Journey

Crackles beneath and above:
stars overoute the wordtide.

                         – [Ground grade guard the crucible] 

On a smiling crevice of street,
He cuts, for death, the diamond of her eye:
Star plumed hands put it
Burning on his brow.

                         – [In a garden that isn’t, but will be]

They curve, craned in a surging stream,
Until spasmodic rungs flame to leap
Toward a deathbed star
Of the spherical deep: they rise,
Drop, love, bird/ript in a highted dream.

                         – [In a garden that isn’t, but will be]

A tongue grew tongueless:
The breath, a wail of stars
And black sky: a flying milk—

                         – [Flame gates open to water gongs]

And the madmonths whirled
To never-die-alone,
And alone they died in a lie
Of the wildbleet sound of starry truth.

                         – To the Music

To the flat lands by the hills of Suum Nar
to MarMagAgog, onto sidereal semaphores,
to leech/hung prayer fields of Avadon
to Triptika on the sunbelted Nile
     where fish is god
to stars unravelling the numena/number
      snaked in iceflames of Baruda
      whirler of the wild,
to Smarachet . . .

                         – [To the flat lands by the hills of Suum Nar]

O rocket me,
He who is mine is I
         and wins the Sky:
A Sun & Moon ago, kissed to stars,
a momentary string of sands to go,
                        arriving on the silent       sea     roar.

                         – [To the flat lands by the hills of Suum Nar]

Glory crasht on time
and burden of the stars
elliptical HEARTS convex

                         – Christ

three magi on the road
and star wheels to

                         – Christ

I’ve killed them, stars and chains of lust
                          before magi, magi, magi,
            Cavalcanti on the stairs
                                                 La beauté

                         – Les Langueurs Allongées

                    the trouble with the stars is
             they’re too far from my eyes to yours

                         – Sheri

             I am smoked to dryness

Stars of smoke who made this road throw up
                                                                     your eyes
                   which are closed in New York

                         – Ball

by the sun from the page     I wait
                                            as long
                                              as a star

                         – Ball

Winds have not flown longer than time we stopped
Whose sail hit the rooms where you looked into voids
—A beast on a star, Jaiba on the moon, the sunken tooth—
Stalks of madness tripled fire
And sent gardens under the sea

                         – Dead Smoke

The stars have gone over the mountain
Meridians later your smile broke glass

                         – Deirdre

            As some light fell
on the inescaped facade
    stains of interior cancer
            intervined the stars

                         – [As some light fell]

For it is all blest by God
             water, earth, stars, souls
which is to say, all is blessed IN God
and what is not, is not
for God is that WHICH IS

                         – The Poor Paradoxes

Last night Mike told me he believed the stars are alive
Today we walk with the yellow haired child

                         – Boobus

The morning is burnt with smells of cooking and cooked stars
It’s nirvana!

                         – Boobus

                      Come lion    -    come tiger    -    come ocelet
                  come coon    -    come weed       -       come leopard
                                   come saliva     -    come STARS

                         – McClure’s Favorite

                   It’s zenith!
zodiacal beasts phospher
and stars devoured white!

                         – Observatory

No longer the razor from a sheath of stars
      over the face of day
come back from night

                         – Intersection

It’s useless to ask who’s behind these eyes
set like stars in snow
or name the creatures coming alive
    out of the exploding iris

                         – Intersection

My coat covered the stars
                the bird gave me a cap of hair

                         – [It was a time I didn’t see the beast]

goats, gangrene and The Stars

                         – Binoculars [Michael McClure]

Who is the star dancer the turn the glide speed the changes

                         – Binoculars [John Hoffman]

                                All night long, aztec messengers arrived
                                                  and fell stars!
                                All night long, end of time
                                                  jaguar in her eye

                         – Memoria

Can I make it to windows of fur?
Can I soup up her eyes in a can of star milk and shoot it for light?

                         – Füd at Foster’s

These are not poems I wanted to make
Ones I wanted to didn’t come out
They’re stuck in star thief land

                         – Immediate Life

they call to me, holy fires
holy fires to send me forth out of Loon
holy fires behind stars
numena cabalas of Fiery Disk

                         – Orphic Poem

as we wove thru street’s half light, a junky
leaned his arm on the stars of my sleeve

                         – Politics Poem


                         – Last Days of San Francisco


                         – Last Days of San Francisco

Together we watched for ten thousand years
— the first five an age of monsters
and I laid open to the plumage of the stars
magnetic wands and gourds fell upward in a dance
that shook the lice of the ages!

                         – Time Is as Eternity Is: On the White Road: The Muse

. . .  if the stars were colors of her eyes

                         – [Shooting down to L.A. in an open car]

Rosa Mystica! Holy Woman lighted by afternoons
        in the temple
Woman lit with the sun, crowned by stars
Womb of universes turning over in her eyes

                         – The Juggler in the Desert

that doesn’t stop my cry your hurt
        your death these stars upset
                  in the circumnavigations of the bed

                         – [in every way i am dazzled by you]

Ah the communion of spirits talking
vegetables, singing stars,
cruel gods gored my loves

                         – Jet Powered Suicide

Is NOT.   And not— it’s ended,
as star

                         – Jet Powered Suicide

My friend, you sing songs of burden
I’m singing of the silence of saliva, streets, stars
the invading of angels
at the moment of a singular embrace
           for all time given
to set us free among the beautiful limits

                         – My Labyrinth

it’s everywhere
                        in this passage of assaults
PRESENCE of a new star opened in my throat’s wisdom
                 Child! Hope! looking for the key in the roar of mazes


                         – My Labyrinth

Take a shell of cotton
move a river south
exact a city with rain
paint a sign with stars.

Little do we know.

                         – [Why write about “things”?]

                         . . . after getting lost unable
to find the steps down a million stars blacked
out by Mantle Night . . .

                         – Ceylonese Tea Candor (Pyramid Scene)

hoping we’d find the stone stairway
and there were few stars to illuminate us down

                         – Ceylonese Tea Candor (Pyramid Scene)

for fifteen minutes outside in the night I SAW THE LIGHT BEHIND THE

                         – Crystals

it’s the moment interruption of hallucinated stars
now fallen down in my room with poetry
falling with lights of shimmering brains . . .

                         – Kosmos

They come with a scratching star
with a mugwort of madmanes of the Head
that point all the faces of the Beast at once appear!

                         – Year of Weir

Beast of mudajangi
the Lord of Youth
his head the spindle of stars

                         – Year of Weir

and a thousand bird cries fallen diagonally from the stars

                return to batú bató the stars are calling

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 10)

inside the earth by the arrows of your quivering breath, poet
penetrate the fins of the sand star out of the mist to the house of the sand star

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 18)

Last night I walked on 9th Avenue and the moon was my guide
The stars guided you Christopher Columbus
And I talked for hours about Spain

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 20)

Not the sublime among these baroque enscrollations
but a thousand angelfaces, star tilted eyes
out of sweating, sun baked bodies burning me
conducting me to silences
and mend my heart to God’s—

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 22)

I came throwing shells and beasts godfathered
                             for suns moons and zodiacal stars

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 33)

her head’s foot spades my head
                               stringing stars . . .

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 33)

                              . . . in Hades
           a star thief found it
           and sold it in Siam.

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 35)

Through a village suspended like a star of blood
going into the rites of the old men
silence invaded me . . .

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 36)

I’m Osiris hunting stars his black tail of the sun!

                         – [old after midnight spasm]

Every time I smoke a cigarette the Creator has blinked all stars time pebbles of
    water in a trillion second of man’s sodomite existence my words can not lie!

                         – [Immense black void . . .]

black star of Amapola

                         – [In camera of sempiternity . . .]

seers shift in stars Amapola in clutches of white lice

                         – [In camera of sempiternity . . .]

spilled on swords of history Morgenroth I carve yr face by starspilled mariahs

                         – This World’s Beauty

I keep stoning you with black stars

                         – Resurrections [It is I who create the world]

    I think a star in monster’s mouth
Incisions of frosted flowers take up on its lake
    its clouds turn into iron hooks
its oceanic tower turns in yr entrails

                         – Fin del Mundo [At the sleeper of inveterate cars]

     Lost in a crowd, the mark on his forehead untouched, his cat fell out of the
clouds. For this police gyrated to him. I make it on the poem he said. The room he
slept in turned into a star. Down he went against the magnetism of the Flush!

                         – The Apocalyptic [Lost in a crowd]

     I’ve come to the time of brain crashed stars diadems of implacable women turn
in sewers of Los Angeles. My corner of meat is a necklace of guts, Oh bug of eternal

                         – The Apocalyptic [I’ve come to the time]

. . . Gabagava and the rest of doomed bones of starshit.

                         – The Apocalptic [I’ve come to the time]

Who giveth birth to the Morning Star, Here’s the quiet cry of stars broken among

                         – Morning Light Song

O beato solitudo! where have I flown to?
stars overturn the wall of my music
as flight of birds, they go by, the spirits
opened below the lark of plenty

                         – High

    Cups the legends reveal & the ancients
  are beginning to pass around as if they were ordinary
milk bottles for the children newly born from
           top branches of the Tree with its roots
                  going back
                        to the starfields of Every Night.

                         – The Ancients Have Returned Among Us

                                      the youth’s vision
             is a vibrant string plucked by the gods
                   over the field of stars

                         – She Speaks the Morning’s Filigree

Over & over the dusk of the Chant from the plain of Segovia
rings up the veil through which the deities move prisms of desire :
the cup that swallows the sword, the wands that shake the stars !

                         – She Speaks the Morning’s Filigree

                              in a starspangled leather jacket

                         – What Is Not Strange?

The stars have gone crazy
and the moon is very angry
The old civilization
that rolled the dice of Hitler
is surely bumbling
into a heap of catatonic hysteria

                         – Astro-mancy

Another civilization
secret for six thousand years
is creeping on the crest of
future, I can almost see the
tip of its triangular star

                         – Astro-mancy

What, then, is coming to be
from undergrounds too fast
in their bright plumages
flailing our brains
with the gash of birth ?
Something storing mercurial islets
and fungi of being . . .
and sold for altars
pitched to the stars !

                         – After the Virus

I would marry all the stars sitting on the face of the sea
like a traditional wolf of the absolute
sucking down the dish served up by the flood !

                         – Coat of Arms

    the forest before me
               by a cartilage of stars?

                         – Coat of Arms

and only the starlight consoles.

                         – Difficult First Steps

prayer is constant Magick, the single beam
coming from the Sky Crown: the sure stairway
that writes the stars as the Scales measure
what you see, how you stroke cats or when the time IS
to cross bridges between earth & air . . .

                         – Without Props

to the schisms
of star & seed

                         – Thorn of the Air

The green eye on my coat
loots the sun’s paradise of green eyes
star caught in throat is a green eye

                         – Interjections

          It is you, Christian Rosencruetz
in the surrealist star that cries with sphinx’s bluefeet
triple dogmatism of apocalyptic night
the Rosicrucian horseman is butchered by Knowing Skulls of Mount Atlas

                         – Interjections

Like the fond palm leaves of my childhood
That broke from my breast of stars

                         – [San Francisco melts as I come together]

Manikins come alive
Their livers suckable as plums and raging stars

                         – [The maginot line of poetry has not been invented]

I can watch the children climbing the diamond temples at every corner
And there’s a taste of bituminous wine
For the solar incubation so rarely conjured
But for your hair shedding the stars

                         – Ephemeris

I comb the stars
And they undress the moon with their nipples

                         – Out of My Hat of Shoals

Your feet spread like vibrant chords over rustling plastic dolls
Bleeding american flags planted into your eyes knit with nazi stars
Leather brassieres wave through the universal televisions

                         – [The mosque of your eye has exploded]

Pea brain is the star’s octopus sucker or is not to be
disturbed . . .

                         – Tonight Burned with Solar Slime

for the likes of the adepts
who smile through the velvet fissures of the centuries
that are Waves & Blankets of Stars
under which we are given, if we burrow long enough
for the hidden script, the Key to the King’s Shut Chamber

                         – The Adept

Suck the bark to your star’s ease that illumines One, the cavern above the storm
Two, the desire which is desired, and Three phases from virginal to torture.

                         – World without End

I can barely see you mixed up to be chopped like so many valentine hearts by the fierce
blades that I roll out of the black star!

                         – World without End

Here heady garbage glitters
through the sand its own perfection
between minute star-specks

and the infinite calling the grains . . .

                         – [Flying beasts]

Not only the Star Woman luminous within convulsions at the apex of your
     cascading dress

                         – Luminous Lady

The look of haunted beasts
Slaughtered long ago through crystal flakes
Shimmers from the imaginal tropic
To a star field of birds
Whose cries paint the sonorous language

                         – Redwood Highway

To the hinterland
In a circle bound by shooting stars
Ears beneath the sands of sable dreams

                         – Redwood Highway

Nearing sleep, this same wind rustles the void of bloodstained horses (my first cabals) whose galaxy dissolves with a kiss the victorious rescue of the palpable shadow streaming stars, her face: this bed, the undulant phantom: her hips.

                         – Primavera

The stars dress up their furrows

                         – Becoming Visible

Violet Star

                         – [poem title]

between a star’s gleaming shadow
and its great coat of morning stilts
thrown on a grave like a glove of drenched eyeballs

there is a splinter of green dust
luminously taking off for the hurried horizon

                         – Precipitous Oracle

My foot in the hair of spinning stars

                         – Life Sciences

In my hand cupping sun assassins
lines of mercury and unknown stars
     pure poetry of Pomo night

                         – Willow Wand

Perishing star systems Enough of a raid on the tsetse-fly

                         – Invincible Birth

 standing like a star over the slaughter house

                         – Black Window

Star War syndromes hang like purple flowers . . .

                         – Black Window

the lugubrious pianos dim out the song of star wars

                         – The Romantist

She’s in their mouths
        a house like a pyramid
        built with rectangulars
perfect pear of a diagonal
down to the stars picked from photic jargon
The hand that writes is worth an empire on the moon

                         – Virgo Noir

They say there’s a world outside me but I know better
Enlightenment in the kali yuga is a daily recurrence
shubahdu it’s over taking a long trip to the stars

                         – Virgo Noir

‘Move the prisms north
                the south direction is not propitious
follow the star . . . ’

                         – The Mysteries of Writing in the West

the card of Blazing Star in the slow drawers of the Far West

                         – Exorcist Exercises

the sheep have lunged from their star paths over Alhambra . . .

                         – Other States

to catch the ring of stars
                                       at the still point
of infinite sur-rational flight

                         – There

In the alchemical legends, there’s a certain star seen at the completion of the Work, appears on the silver horizon through the trail in the grove.

                         – Shasta

There are none there— but stars

                         – Haiku for Satie

Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape

                         – [poem title]

Yet, this city’s night is marvelous when there’s a general electric breakdown
The stars come down to us, I see Orion’s belt close up in the eastern sky
With three-quarter waning moon

                         – Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape

. . . We are hidden by stars and tars of this time

                         – Poem for André Breton

 . . . Revolution the Star in the West springs the play of foam on the
rocks below. . . .

                         – Ex Cathedra

The star card bestows the charm of new rivers, this word tomorrow, Andromeda,
     and with you, Amor.   

                         – Ex Cathedra

 . . . The starry sky, Pluto’s mirror . . .

                         – Unachieved

          In my dream, the Goddess in her heavenly palace on the earth
          a kind of Marienbad in lunar light
          She in her silver gown slightly décolleté
          has me watch the Stellar Mirror
          while stars of the Pleiades run in a rhythm of Eight
          and do an astral dance, tout court

                         –  Unachieved

                         The great crystal pool Starry Night breaks into caves

                         – Diana Green

         . . . this Ohlonian Spring of
superfinches I love more than to become a star

                         – Passionate Ornithology Is Another Kind of Yoga



Sunday, October 23, 2016

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2016
Roman mosaic: Odysseus and the Sirens (Bardo National Museum, Tunis, Tunisia)
I have always dreamed of the ultimate triumph of the Sirens who, it was said, were ‘defeated’ in their poetic combat with the Muses, and who can be deciphered to typify imaginative freedom from the restraints of rationally controlled poetry, whose spokesmen, like all good bourgeoisie, must always recommend that we ‘plug our ears’ against the enchantresses heard by the inspired poet on his voyage to the unknown.

 – Philip Lamantia, “Poetic Matters,”
 in Arsenal Surrealist Subversion (1976) 


Friday, October 23, 2015

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2015

Come gather ‘round poetry lovers, wherever you may be, and let’s celebrate

– and cerebrate

Philip Lamantia Day!

Yes, it’s here again – the anniversary of the birth (October 23, 1927) of the great, late (he died at 77 a decade ago now, oh my oh my) native San Franciscan poet.

I think of Philip a lot this time of year, and not just because of his birthday.  Lamantia also always comes to mind when – as has happened most every October for decades – the US Navy planes known as the Blue Angels do their screaming-loud practice flights for two days then choreographed air show for another two days above San Francisco.  The jets are heard, seen, and felt across much of The City.  Huge appreciative crowds gather to watch along the waterfront and at other view spots.  The majority, maybe the vast majority, consider it a spectacular event. 

Lamantia, on the other hand, considered the Blue Angels beyond terrible.  His anti-militarist (and related pro-human) perspectives on this were one of the many, many things I loved about him.  And equally fine, his antipathy for the annual event provided the spur for a memorable poem, titled “Death Jets,” first published in Zyzzyva magazine in Winter 1985, then included in Meadowlark West (City Lights, 1986).  It’s also included in The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (University of California Press, 2013).    

“Death Jets” features a very-unusual-for-Lamantia structure, in which a prose-ish explanatory interlude, labeled a “commentary,” appears after the poem’s first four lines.  That commentary features
– and this will be the focus of this celebration today –  a most surprising and delicious allusion, especially to us who love verse, to the 15th century Valencian poet named – well, more on that in a moment!  First, take a look if you please at the poem’s first four lines:

Death Jets

three of them have terrorized my apollo finger
most hideous
of human existence
for the umpteenth time, sans life

I dig dig dig this opening salvo, starting with the phrase “apollo finger.”  It’s a term from palmistry that refers to the third or ring finger, said to indicate creativity, artistic flair and love of beauty.  By this metaphor, Lamantia neatly shows that it’s no less than the poetic force itself that the jets attack.  And the verb “terrorized” is exactly right, or so it seems to me as I recall the sudden core-rattling Shock-Shock (yes, I feel a double-startle) of the Blue Angels blasting through low in the sky, shaking windows, spines, and minds.  Lamantia’s disgust at the jets couldn’t be clearer – “most hideous / of human existence” – nor could his core objection to it all – “sans life” – and exasperation at how long it goes on – “for the umpteenth time” (a neat use there of the informal adjective signifying an indefinitely large number in succession).

These first four lines show and tell a lot.  But Lamantia obviously wanted something even sharper and clearer, and why not?  As William Blake wrote, “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”  And so to emphasize, explicate, and expand his perspectives, Lamantia
places the following prose-y section, sub-titled commentary, after the poem’s opening stanza

These lines respond to the omnipresent threat of species suicide, to an ‘eternal' moment of decision, since it is certain that the sentence of death is passed unless there arise a conscious revolt against the forces of death — a mutational movement in opposition to all the moribund political powers who continue to sanction ‘Blue Angels,' whereas, thrills vaster than the poetry of Ausias March await us if, by the next century, Betelgeuse
always Betelgeuse
pervades the skyscapes a sudden sensuous freedom to sweetly ask for chi'i in all moments

I dig dig dig this section too.  I love the radical, visionary zeal, buttressed by a deep animus to “the forces of death.”   I love too the resolute certainty in a future “sudden sensuous freedom to sweetly ask for chi’i in all moments”  if – ah, yes, if  – “a conscious revolt” and/or “a mutational movement” takes place.  Also remarkable is the powerful almost cinematic nature of Lamantia’s imagined world: the red supergiant Betelgeuse (notice how that star is emphasized via the linebreak and repetition) omnipresent across “skyscapes” as us humans seek the essential life force and energy flow.   Hey good people, let’s make it happen!

But what I really, really like in this mostly-prose interlude is the surprising way Lamantia conveys the fun and adventure in the world he imagines, specifically by asserting:

“thrills vaster than the poetry of Ausias March await us . . . .”

“Thrills vaster than the poetry of Ausias MarchHow about that?!  Ausias March!   

Call me sheltered, but when I first read that line I had no idea who March was (his portrait is reproduced above) and knew nothing of his poetry.  The esoteric nature of this particular allusion is not all unusual for Lamantia, particularly in the poems of Meadowlark West.  He can make readers work in that regard.  But despite my not getting the reference, Lamantia’s high regard and enthusiasm for March’s poetry came through clearly. 

Naturally, the line sparked my curiosity.  I love checking out allusions made and other things mentioned by Lamantia, and have almost always found something that was most definitely worth finding (click here my essay on a few other things I was led to by Philip).  Here, I soon enough found Ausias March: Selected Poems (Edinburgh University Press, 1976), a bilingual edition presenting prose translations by Arthur Terry of approximately 30 poems en face with the original Valencian Catalan.  

The 1976 Terry translation was the only edition of Ausias March poetry available in English at the time Lamantia wrote “Death Jets.” Subsequent translations were published in 1986 (in Spain) and here in the U.S. in 1992 and 2006; the latter publication features verse translations by Robert Archer.  I don’t know whether Lamantia read the 1976 edition, or read the poems in a Spanish translation, in which case the full range of March’s work, a total of 128 poems, would have been known to him. 

March’s poems, written mostly in the first half of the 15th century (he died in 1459), are at points similar to the earlier medieval Troubadour work.  There are many poems chiefly about love, addressed  to particular women
as in the Troubadour tradition (March had two loves, whom he called, respectively, “Llir entre cards” and “Plena de seny” which have been translated as “Lily among thorns” and “Wise Lady” or Beauteous Wisdom”).  There are also poems on grief and death, poems of praise and blame, and poems on philosophical concerns including the nature of God and predestination. 

Given the topics March assays you might conclude that the poetry would be predictable, or too Troubadour-ian.  Not so.  The work is  complex and, nuanced, with plenty of interesting,  exciting, and powerful lines and moments.  In fact, it’s not hard to guess what Philip found thrill[ing] in March’s verse, in that there is plenty enough in the work that is similar to what’s found in Lamantia’s own poems. 

The main thrill in March’s poems, as I read them, is the palpable personality  that comes through in them all.  March has an active mind, is a deep thinker, and many aspects of his mental and emotional life
are memorably rendered.  For example, there is his acute sense of difference or alienation from the world and sometimes from his very self times traits that seem not-so-medieval, to say the least:                               
En altre món a mi par que io sia
I els propis fets estranys a mi aparen . . .

I seem to live in another world
and my own actions seem strange to me . . .
[Unless otherwise noted, this and the other translations below are adapted from those published in 1976 by Arthur Terry]
I think Lamantia’s poetry at points expresses similar traits.  Consider, for example, this expression of separation from the world found in A Winter Day,” published in Lamantia’s first book Erotic Poems (1946):
It is a strange moment
as we tear ourselves apart in the silence
of this landscape
of this whole world
that seems to go beyond its own existence
or this depiction of a episode of self-splitting most strange, found  near the start of the first of two poems titled “Visions (written circa 1960, published in The Collected Poems (2013)):
I remember the time I was thrown down my soul severed from my body hanging as if by a string – one to the other and I was taken up above myself left sweating and weeping, old earth body nothing but shit and there in the High Paradise lost or not I don’t know . . .

Another aspect of Ausias March that comes through in his verse is a profound sense of melancholy and sadness.  While it may seem odd to consider such a matter a thrill, the way the poet shows these feelings does give quite a charge.  March can be so explicit or poetic that it almost causes one to stagger or recoil.  For example, there is:
. . . l’hora sent acostada
que civilment és ma vida finda

. . . I feel the hour is approaching
when my life among other men will end
Cell Teixion qui el buitre el meja el fetge
e per tots temps brota la carn de nou . . .

I am besieged by a suffering greater than
that of Tityos, whose liver is devoured by a vulture . . .
Plagués a Déu que mon pensar fos mort
e que passà ma vida en dorment.

If only God would paralyze my brain
so I could spend a lifetime lost in sleep!
[Translation by Robert Archer]
Similar expressions of suffering and depression can also be found in Lamantia’s work.  The biographical introduction to The Collected Poems makes clear that Lamantia experienced repeated periods of clinical depression (and mania).  Not surprisingly, the word “pain” frequently appears in the poems.  There is, for example, the line
I am always walking in pain
in “Subconscious Mexico City New York” from Destroyed Works (1962).  The following lines, from the Meadowlark West (1986) poem “Isn’t Poetry the Dream of Weapons?” offer a more expansive expression, and are especially poignant given that the suffering is juxtaposed with what might be considered the highest goals of of Lamantia’s work:
Between the ecstasy and the secret
I’ve touched bottom I want to be lost
the glow is bathing me in pain
The opening stanza of Lamantia’s “Vibrations,from Becoming Visible (1981), is especially vivid in its depiction of a world and self wracked with suffering, and as such seems similar to March’s lines, quoted above, regarding the giant Tityos’s liver being “devoured by vultures:
There is a wind torturing bats
there are the scorched feet of dead suns
the city spun into the sea
where the gulfs of the pterodactyl beckon
there is a whorl of terror livening my mind
there’s the hum-whirr of the skeleton of solitude
where angry corpses flower in a bottle
and red weapons vanish into mirrors
The final example of an expression of suffering and depression in  Lamantia is from “Touch of the Marvelous,” one of his earliest and best known poems (first published by Andre Breton in the magazine VVV in February 1944 and first collected in Erotic Poems (1946)), in which he declares: 
I am now falling into the goblet of suicide . . . 

There are plenty of other thrills in March, including most notably vigorous extended similes of a kind that don’t appear in Lamantia’s poetry.  But surely Lamantia, who in the Meadowlark West (1986) poem “Invincible Birth” referred to
my frenzy mantic mania
would have found a thrilling connection with March’s lines
Illja mos dits, mostrants pensa torbada . . .
[ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ] d’hom fora seny

just read my poems, full of frenzied thoughts,
a madman’s ravings . . .
[translation by Archer]
In addition, Lamantia surely would have thrilled when he came to a a March image (albeit uncommon in the work) with a surrealistic quality, such as in these lines:
Menys que lo peix és en lo bosc trobat
e los lleons dins l’aguia han llur sojorn,
la mia mor per null temps pendrà torn . . .

Sooner say that fish are swimming in the wood
or that lions now across the oceans roam
than that my love can ever start to wane . . .
[Archer translation]


Another enchanting element in March, and the final one I’ll  point to here, again concerns the clear sense of the poet that one gets from reading the poems.  I mentioned this above, and I must insist that the tippy-top moment for this comes in the concluding two lines of the next-to-last stanza of the final poem in the Edinburgh Press edition, in which the poet exclaims:
A temps he cor d’acer, de car e fust.
Io só aquest que em dic Ausias March!

I have a heart of steel, flesh and wood, all in one.
I am this man who is called Ausias March!
Now that’s a kick!  Let me tell you: when I read those lines, with their rousing embodiment and declaration of self, and I leap to my feat and exclaim, “Yes, yes you are, Ausias March, goddamn yes, you are!”

I’ll also guess here that Philip may have dug those lines in a similar way.  After all, in a way at least arguably akin to March
’s line that his heart is made of steel, flesh and wood, all in one, Lamantia in the poem I Touch You,” first published in The Blood of the Air (1970), wrote:
my heart of the rose hermetic and flushed by goats sighting prey . . .
He also wrote, in the beat-era poem “Immediate Life” –
My name is Philip Lamantia
And I go around with whoever
Which means all kinds of weir persons I like . . .
– which are the only lines in his poetry in which his full name appears, and which embody and confidently declare self-identity in a similar to when March name checks himself.  

There are also many  “I am . . .” lines in Lamantia’s work that sort of mirror the excitement of March’s “I am the man who is called . . .” declaration.  Consider, if you please, the self-assurance and beautifully expansive self-identity within Lamantia’s statement in “Kosmos” (written circa 1960, available only in The Collected Poems (2013):
I am the womb of the transcendent Vision!
and the following gorgeous and genuinely surreal aggregation of self-declared personality traits, from “The Marco Polo Zone” in Meadowlark West (1986):
I am lore bundled of crow dew finger of pine eaglet bone of my bone soaring thought
Now that’s a kick!  Let me tell you: when I read that line, with its rousing embodiment and declaration of self, and I leap to my feat and exclaim, “Yes, yes you are, Philip Lamantia, goddamn yes, you are!”


Following the
prose-ish second section with its reference to Ausias March, Lamantia’s “Death Jets” continues for another approximately 30 lines.  The poem quickly becomes difficult, even beyond difficult, with the mostly discursive reasoning and straight-ahead grammar of the prose commentary giving way to  associational leaps and fragments of thought, with allusions to Lemuria, the Heraclitean wind, Rodin’s ‘Thinker’, and ancient Pomo fetishes, among other things, as well as truly occult references such as the Stage Magician and ‘the Idea’ (single quotation marks in the original).  The final lines have multiple references to Anarchy and Anarchs and invoke shiva and shakti. 

Curious?   Well – how about this! – you
can read “Death Jets” in its entirety by clicking right here.  Better still, open the poem at that link and then open another browser window and follow along as you listen to Philip himself read the poem, from a 1986 recording, via the miraculous PennSound site (click and go; it’s the first 2:25 of the audio track).

And, of course, have yourself a 


Philip Lamantia Day


¡Viva Lamantia!