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):