Tag Archives: Avant-garde

Uncommon correspondence

 “That’s it—this poetry is the Earth with its atmosphere // as it lies in us, in the poet.”

-Lorine Niedecker on Jean Daive’s Decimale Blanche

When Jean Daive’s Decimale Blanche was first published in 1967, it was a significant leap from previous writings in France. The words on the first page (translated):

white decimal

 

 

 

 

                                            at the edge of space

 

Pow! White decimal. White decimal . . . on a page? or at the edge of space (what space, what understanding will we ever have of this “space” of Daive’s?). Forget “write what you know”; Daive writes a new landscape (or concept of a landscape).

As an experimental poet, Daive writes into what none of us knows how to articulate. Adhere to rules of writing, and you inhabit a limited space. Plunge forward into new, unknown spaces and you write poetry like this:

I wandered
between refusal and insistence
looking on the ground

snowing
name unmakes form
the thaw the avalanche

remakes absence

*

Consider the poet Lorine Niedecker, homegrown in the Wisconsin marshland, working menial jobs and reading and writing poetry. Words like humble, homespun, ego-less, have been used to describe her. Intellectually curious, connected mainly through correspondence to the Objectivist group of poets centered in New York, Niedecker read and wrote voraciously. Like other Objectivist-labeled poets, Niedecker had read the Imagist and Surrealist poets, and from the remote Wisconsin marshland was in indirect intellectual correspondence with French writers in general.

Daive later learns that Lorine Niedecker wrote about her impressions of Decimale Blanche in her letters to Cid Corman. “Nothing new matters after Daive”, she wrote.

20 or so years after reading her comments about his work, Jean Daive visits Niedecker’s Wisconsin cabin. He “absorbs” the places she embodied in her poetry. Then asks San Francisco avant-garde poet and translator, Norma Cole, to translate une femme de quelques vies (a woman of many lives) utilizing Niedecker’s vocabulary. From a woman of many lives (2009):

She is
in a corner of the room

Night is
falling.

Please
God
is not in her plan.

But
prevailing
on humility.

With this smile
of modest

abandon.

How thoughtful, and enobling, to devote 170 pages to a serial poem in Niedecker’s style and sense, her world.

I am particularly intrigued by the deep rootedness of Niedecker in her lifelong place, her cabin in the marsh lands of Wisconsin, and the pull toward “abstractionism” as she called it. Daive’s creation of unembodies spaces in his experimental poetry, is unrooted in any particular place or earthly space. Niedecker uniquely and obliquely is a poet of place, while venturing on original adventures into abstractions of her own creation. A poem from the early 1960’s, pre-Daive, but a lovely pre-echo of an indirect correspondence to come:

In Leonardo’s light
we questioned

the sun does not love
My hat

attained
the weight falls

I am at rest
You too

hold a doctorate
in Warmth

You are my friend—
you bring me peaches
and the high bush cranberry
you carry
my fishpole

you water my worms
you patch my boot
with your mending kit
nothing in it
but my hand

Niedecker, Lorine. Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works (p. 189). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Excerpts from Daive:

trans. Norma Cole. a woman with several lives, Jean Daive. La Presse, 2012.

trans. Norma Cole. White Decimal, Jean Daive. Oakland, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2016.

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Paul Celan: Breathturn

From Breathturn by Paul Celan, 1967

 

In the rivers north of the future

I cast the net, which you

hesitantly weight

with shadows stones

wrote.

 

*

Threadsuns

above the grayblack wastes.

A tree-

high thought

grasps the light-tone: there are

still songs to sing beyond

mankind.

 

*

 

(I know you, you are the deeply bowed,

I, the transpierced, am subject to you.

Where flames a word, would testify for us both?

You–all real. I–all delusion.)

 

From section I. of Breathturn (Atemwende) by Paul Celan, 1967.

Please read more from this great poet, one of the greatest German language poets of the 20th century. Celan was born in Bukovina, lived in Bucharest, Vienna, and Paris; he survived the Nazi labor camps, but both parents were killed by Nazis in the deathcamps. His later poetry is characterized by a compressed language, with composite words (the German language allowing for grafting and “telescoping” of words). These poems are the work of a great mind, inventing a new method of poetry based on a deeply personal world philosophy and poetics.

 

Cesar Vallejo’s Trilce

Truly original poetry written in 1929, considered by those who know and love this work as a cornerstone for experimental or “avant-garde” poetry in the modern literary tradition.

You can find information about Cesar Vallejo online, or in the prefaces to the reprinted books of poetry. In this post I will proceed, as philosopher of poetic imagination, Gaston Bachelard says: “without worrying about the poet’s ‘complexes’, without rummaging about in the history of his life” thus, free to explore the original power of his images, to search for the poetic imagination in the poems themselves which, ultimately, are more than enough.

The poems in Vallejo’s Trilce have been described as the great avant-garde poetry of the Latin American world, but I claim him as a great and truly original poet, period. The only kin to the power and originality of this work, in my opinion, is Paul Celan’s challenging and deeply moving Breathturn (Atemwende, 1967) for its emotional power and inventive expression.

I believe that each poet wrote these works not to write experimental work, but to express the depths of an existentially anguished soul using words which are, by nature, limiting and meager, as the poet faces his soul and attempts to transcribe what he hears and sees there. Though Vallejo employs elements of daily life in his poems, he is poet of Humanity, searching, longing, striving, and at times, tongue-tied with the bubbling out of the vastness of existence through his pen.

From Trilce (1929)

IX

I sdrive to dddeflect at a blow the blow.
Her two broad leaves, her valve
opening in succulent reception
from multiplicand to multiplier,
her condition excellent for pleasure,
all readies truth

I strive to ddeflect at a blow the blow.
To her flattery, I transasfixiate Bolivarian
Asperities
at thirty-two cables and their multiples,
hair for hair majestic thick lips,
the two tomes of the Work, constringe,
and I do not live absence then,
not even by touch.

I fail to teflect at a blow the blow.
We will never saddle the torose Trool
of egotism or of that mortal chafe
of the bedsheet,

since this here woman
—how she weighs being general!

And female is the soul of the absent-she.
And female is my own soul.

And:

XII

I escape with a feint, fluf by fluf.
A projectile I know not where it will fall.
Incertitude. Tramontation. Cervical articulation.

Zap of a horsefly that dies
in midair and drops to earth.
What would Newton say now?
But, naturally, you’re all sons.

Incertitude. Heels that don’t spin.
The page knotted, factures
five thorns on one side
and five on the other: Ssh! Here it comes.

Vallejo, César. The Complete Poetry: A Bilingual Edition (pp. 181-182, 189-190). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.

Vallejo’s work, and Trilce emphatically, pulses and surges with neologisms, numbers, abstract and sudden links between the poet’s experiences and imaginations. It would be tempting to read either of these passages with a lens that searches for meaning in male/female psychology, however this would lead us on a fruitless surface interpretation. Besides, what joy could it possibly bring us to analyze the poet’s psychology? Let’s read his words.

In “IX”, we experience humanity in the poetic persona’s stuttering. We experience awe-struck sensuality in a world that centers on deeply-felt experience with a woman. We feel complete immersion and release into what I can only describe as the mysterious dark matter that holds existence together. The reader continually feels tension between what the poet wants to express about his felt experiences, and the limitations of language as we know it, a tension that results in imbalance, where invented words and stutters break through the cracks.

I feel childlike joy in Vallejo’s invented words in “XII”, yet tension in what seems to be anticipatory avoidance of something coming, something beyond his control. His playful allusion to Newton, the spontaneous and urgent hushing at the end of the poem, the knotted page and balance of five thorns with five thorns; I interpret this poem as a poet, attempting to write, the “incertitude” of channeling the poetic imagination on command, and the crushing awe the poet feels once the poetic imagination is channeled.

I am moved by his poems, especially the poems in Trilce, which unfolds as an energetic and at times tortured struggle between personal  or familial experience and worldly conventions, the unattainable “ideal”, between neverending questions.

I encourage you to read the poems in Spanish; Clayton Eshleman, translator, is loyal to Vallejo’s artistic vision, but you can only truly benefit from the profundity of this work by reading the original in Spanish side by side with the translation.

This lengthy post is a meager effort to pay homage to a great poet, a deep and brilliant human being whom I very humbly acknowledge as a mentor for my own work.