Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book
It’s too long, because I don’t think he ever reached the point of imagining someone reading it from beginning to end. Every couple of years a different chapter comes out in a different journal; of course he’s going to repeat himself. What’s repeated is mostly filler anyway (Sense of History in the Cantos, all that.)
The abundant good stuff comes when he speaks as a gossip rather than an oracle. Anecdotes on the previous generation, sympathetic summings-up of their personality flaws, those flaws taken as more generative of poetry than the vague imperative of Form. Curious glimpses of earlier sympathetic (to me) kooks: Proclus, Ficino. Sharp pictures from his own life, child of fin-de-siecle hippies, Berkeley undergrad in the thirties, skipping ROTC to read Chamber Music with girls on the lawn.
Maybe a telegraph, at times. Privately owned telegraph. Acre on a mountaintop, beacon at night.
Guillaume Dufay—“his perfect control of the forms in which he worked”—
In this part of California there are too few rooms and too many owns. That said, I can’t actually blame California for all the moves back and forth, with the thousands of books and the small orchestra section of guitars, pianos, celli; every new place—and there have been so many—starts out as a Rubik’s cube of wall segments, to be shuffled in the mind till it locks into optimum shelf space, guitars and tiny tables in the corner, philosophy and anthropology butting up against the kitchen microwave… it’s a problem now more than ever, what with the precious caches of toys and picture books accreting everywhere. Not that I’d trade them away. All the same there are too few rooms. J. had a fit of ingenuity and with the help of a rug, bamboo screen and leaning desk turned the basement laundry into a garden outbuilding of an office. It’s much in the spirit of the burrow fort I constructed in my parents’ box-choked garage when I was ten, but more useful, since these days I have a better idea what to do in such spaces.
Of course there are spiders, but the Pholcidae have never bothered me as much as their cousins. I’m not sure why. It might be that their extreme gangliness makes them into abstractions, sketches of spiders. Ceteris paribus you’d try to help them outside, but there’s a raised shelf at the door that defeats the broom method, so the individual that was hiding on the desk behind Can Xue and the Earl of Surrey got incompletely shooed and ended up establishing a court in exile in an upper corner, into which defenses a smaller spider of the same family came wandering. I became aware of them while coding some utterly tedious aspect of a Mac app; they had taken up positions in opposite corners of the web and were feinting like boxers. For minutes at a time they would hold the same positions, then the equilibrium would tip and they would suddenly assume new stances, never approaching too near. I suppose it might have been a courtship rather than a question of territory, but surely that made the calculus no less lethal. After thirty minutes I finished my job and went out to the yard, relieved not to be staying for the fifth act. Noninterference is well and defensible, but sometimes one needs a blind eye with bugs.
The rug, the pillows, the hiragana curtains and silk-shaded lamp are all preserved from our old living room in Berkeley, and when I flip the light on at night they spring self-enclosed from the dark, as the rooms of memory do.
On a different sort of blog I’d talk about the boutique effects pedals I’ve been buying, and how they helped turn a household that briefly had money back into a household that has none. Maybe I will talk about that, if I run out of patter. Anyhow the fancy rig is now in the living room and the old solid-state Fender 85 has gone down into the basement with all my Boss pedals from college, which get along just fine; sometimes you want the sound of transistors. There’s a headphone jack too for the dark nights of the soul. And rare as it is these days for the dark nights of the soul to go past eleven, we still need those hours.
Talking to my stepdad
...hell, sure, you can take a twenty-six-footer out on the ocean. Right under the Golden Gate. Sure. But if one of those freighters comes at you, shipping lane or no shipping lane you need to get the hell out there, because a, they can’t see you coming, and b, even if they see you on a collision course, they can’t do anything about it. Biggest risk on the ocean is collision with something. Those guys do the trans-Pacific Race out to Hawaii, solo, they have to train themselves to sleep twenty, thirty minutes at a time, then wake up, look around to see if anything’s coming. Or in foul weather they’re at the tiller fifty, sixty hours at a time, their mental faculties deteriorate, they start hallucinating. That tsunami in Japan? All that shit got washed out to the ocean, it’s still floating around the Pacific. Cargo containers get knocked off the freighters in bad weather, they’ll float, depending how much water gets into them they float a little lower, a little lower, sometimes they’re two feet below the surface of the water, you’re doing ten knots and then blam, collision, twenty minutes till the boat sinks. Throw your safety raft over. So here are these guys. They were going to do the trans-Pacific from Long Beach to Hawaii in a thirty-foot Catalina, you’ve been on one of those, it’s a recreational coastal craft, it’s not an oceangoing vessel, you want to take it out there you have to reinforce things. They did some stuff, they reinforced the sails, it wasn’t enough. Anyway. First day out one of their crew starts vomiting uncontrollably, seasickness or what, he had the seasickness patch, didn’t do him any good, he couldn’t eat. And the dummies, they decide to keep going with one of their prime experienced sailors incapacitated. They keep saying, let’s go another day, see how he’s feeling, we can always turn around tomorrow. The tiller breaks, the rudder breaks, all their hatches are leaking below, there’s actually a line caught under one of the hatches and keeping it open. They hit foul weather and bathtubfuls of salt water get dumped on deck and their fresh water tanks down in the hold, and you know what they didn’t do? Didn’t check the O-rings sealing their water tanks. Their supply’s getting contaminated. The guy is still sick, vomiting blood now, he tore his esophagus vomiting so much, so they radio up the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard says it’s your boat, it’s your call, but we recommend you abandon the boat and we’ll send out a helicopter. They’ve got the usual rescue raft on board, it self-inflates, they have to get on the raft because you can’t have a helicopter coming down on a thirty-foot bucking bronco of a boat. So the idea is you toss it over and then leap on just as the boat’s going under, you can guess how that goes, as soon as it’s over you have two vessels moving at different speeds and directions and they’re going to drift apart. There’s a painter line supposed to secure the raft to the boat, but over it goes and one guy gets on and what do you know, the painter is loose, another mistake, they didn’t check that, so he grabs the line and it tears up his hands down to the meat, he wasn’t wearing gloves, another mistake, now the next guy is swimming over, he’s a water polo player but he can’t get up on the raft, can’t get the hatch open, the hatches are sealed shut and you’re supposed to climb these canvas ladders but they aren’t rigid, he can’t get a foothold in the loops, grabbing and pulling, finally he uses his water polo muscles to leap half out of the water, punches the damn hatch with every ounce of his strength and gets it open, and there’s another failure of education because right on either side of the hatch were a couple of cords saying, pull here to open the hatch, they should have gone over all that in training, they didn’t know…
When one is in the presence of the Colosseum, an enormous cylinder with empty eye sockets, one has the sense of emptiness. Naturally, having the sense of emptiness, one cannot help but also have the dread of emptiness. Those things piled up, coming from every direction, so that not a bit of space is left, of free space, everything is filled, nothing is left, nothing freed. That dread of emptiness, one can feel it in Rome infinitely more than in any other place on earth, more even than in the desert. I believe that from the dread of emptiness issues, not the need of filling that space with it-matters-not-what-thing, but all the drama in the art of Michelangelo.
When I said that the Baroque provoked the sense of emptiness, that the aesthetic of the Roman Baroque had been initiated by the dread of emptiness, I mentioned the Colosseum. I’m afraid I haven’t been clear enough. The dread in the Baroque originated with the intolerable idea of a body without a soul. A skeleton evokes the dread of emptiness.
—Ungaretti, note on Sentimento del Tempo
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey
But the truth is that his love poetry is usually best when it is least about love. He takes every opportunity of bringing in external nature, or narrative, as if to take a holiday from the erotic treadmill.
C.S. Lewis, English Poetry in the Sixteenth Century
In 1543 he was imprisoned again for riotous behavior in the streets of London (eating flesh in Lent and breaking windows).
Emrys Jones, “Biographical and Textual Note”
Saturn rising. Saturn is very large and very cold compared to Earth, and we now know that the last ice age was caused by Saturn’s orbit taking it within a few hundred thousand kilometers of our world. It took up a third of the sky. Our ancestors quaked in its penumbra. When the rings came slicing above, everyone had to duck; trees were felled, mountains leveled, the mastodon got flat-top haircuts.
You see I been through the desert on anonymous horse
It felt good to get dry of course
In the desert ain’t no use naming your horse
Cause the boundless ground leaves you none for remorse
Shostakovich No. 15 again. It’s entirely too close to write about. But it demands writing anyway, because there won’t be another chance, not before death. Impervious trombones—that’s the Roman eagle marching in. The high, unstable woodwind chords are the buzz in the ears before the knees give out. The percussion is a scattering of shards.
Soul fills the gaps. Strings and flute dancing a few steps at a time, or a keening cello, soul as play, soul as noise. It takes the past tense. It filled the gaps—we can say that much. It wasn’t adequate to more, but nothing would have been adequate, it was all rigged. Somewhere down below is sleep, and if you quote Wagner then someone else can quote you, so write it down, limping soul, there’s no more time.
When I think about things I want, I tend to hit on categories like “sleep” or “for the yard work to go away,” but sometimes J. helps me think of objects, and when it gets to that point the objects might as well come home. Guitars have been appearing in the bedroom, mostly Telecasters, necks all in a row like an ash forest grown up overnight and quietly waiting to find out what it was planted for. Now we have a basswood interloper (genus Tilia, Coleridge’s lime) in the shape of a Jazzmaster.
It was made in Japan in the mid-nineties, right when I was taking high school Japanese because everyone seemed to think that was how you would get a job in 2000. I should have known how the guitar was going to behave, given that I grew up with those Sonic Youth and Elvis Costello records, but it is not the animal you expect when you first plug it in. A Gibson is an oil painting and the Telecasters draw in pastel, but a Jazzmaster does its work in thin tempera washes; stroke broad or thin, the light always shows through. It is just remarkable once you get used to fiddling with all the extra metal bits which were upmarket features in the fifties and must have a hand in that transparency, but are perfect little devils to set up.
Marc Ribot’s impressive performances with offsets notwithstanding, I still understand the genre of a Jazzmaster to be “anything but jazz.” Yet it makes scales ring so clearly, and really makes me want to become a better lead player. I have a modes book somewhere in the basement, which I hardly ever looked at, because once you understand that a mode is just a change of context how do you keep it interesting? The moment I leaned over to fiddle with a pedal, the guitar started to feed back as advertised. You know what to do—divebomb that tremolo! “You should have seen your face,” said J.