Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Merton shooting.
The late James Laughlin in Byways, the book of memoirs collect’d in 2005:
When I first went down
To Kentucky to meet Merton
At Gethsemani, his monastery
Near Bardstown, the abbot
Had invited me for a visit
After I’d published Thirty Poems,
I was expecting gloom and obsession,
Grouchy old monks ponderous
In penitence, glaring through
Their sanctity . . . how wrong I was!
To be sure, the background
Was not prepossessing: a drab
Countryside, scrubby trees,
Dry fields, not verdant,
Shacks and billboards along the
Highway; the buildings
Of the compound behind
Its walls monstrously ugly,
Gray stone blocks set square
Without any architectural
Distinction, the spire
Of the church a tin spike
Poking up at the sky
Over the gateway, in forbidding
Black letters PAX INTRANTIBUS,
It could have been a prison . . .
How wrong I had been about the inhabitants!
These brothers and monks
Were warriors of joy.
Happy and friendly, laughing
And joking, rejoicing in the
Hard life of work and prayer,
Seven services a day from Vigils
In the dark at 3:15 A.M. through
Lauds, Terce, Sext, None,
Vespers and Compline
in the dusk,
These chantings of supplication
For the whole world, even infidels
Not just for the monks.
Such brightness, lux in aeternitate . . .
The Guy Davenport penn’d Preface notes:
These carefully crafted lines, unornamented with rhyme and with an intuited prosody as flexible as speech, are not prose sliced up to look like poetry. They are in what should be known as The American Plain Style, Protestant and guileless, as useful to Kenneth Rexroth and Louis Zukofsky as to R. Buckminster Fuller, who wrote his Untitled Epic Poem on the History of Industrialization in it.
Which might conceivably serve to make my admiration of th’alignment of, say, spire and spike in the lines quoted, or the Bunting din of stone blocks set square look like gold-digging, or lily-guilding, but who cares? Further along Davenport claims that a “solid education (New England prep school, Harvard, and erotic conquests rivaling Byron and Casanova) steered him toward imaginative writing, at a great distance from blast furnaces,” and details how a “1538 Latin Homer by Andreas Divus was stolen, together with the briefcase it was in, and his annotated Cantos, when he was at a urinal in Pennsylvania Station on his way to lecture at Yale.”

For some years in my youth, I recall, I confused (interchangeable the two) Thomas Merton and Tom Dooley. Which one died of plugging in an electric fan in Thailand (presumably known then by the name of Siam?)

Han-shan and Shih-te by Tensho Shubun, Japan, mid 15th century.
Isn’t it always the least impeccable narcissist who attempts (always) to hide? Is Thomas Pynchon a narcissist? Is Han Shan? Is Emily Dickinson? What marks narcissism’s pincer movement—hiding and exulting—entry into the modern temper? Any paparazzi diary’ll spell it out: no sport in the self-evident. I rather liked the way some New York Times senior photography editor sent a brusque (read rude) note my way asking where I’d scored the Pynchon photograph I’d point’d at— Cowabunga! I forward’d it to my brother asking if he’d shot that one or’d I. And instruct’d th’editor to use the damn Google machine.

Identifiably Coelenterate (jellyfish)
Coleridge in February 1805 (soddingly inimical at pulling a baseline neologism—the “stuff” of life—out of ’s ear, or forking over an image seemingly irrepressible, apt, and ept):
Now how to get back, having thus belabyrinthed myself in these most parenthetical parentheses? Cut thro’ at once, & now say in half a dozen a Lines what a half a dozen Lines would have enabled me to say at the very beginning / but my Thoughts, my Pocket-book Thoughts at least, moved like a pregnant Polypus in sprouting Time, clung all over with young Polypi each of which is to be a thing of itself—and every motion out springs a new Twig of Jelly-Life /—
Diving into the Notebooks, meaning (is like): “‘Ah daddy, I wanna stay drunk many days’ / on the poetry of a new friend / my life held precariously in the seeing / hands of others, their and my impossibilities.” That old thing revivifiably there.