Out of Key


“Out of key with his time,” Pound wrote, recognizing what might be said, regardless of form, is relegated in time, if not immediately, to the dustheap of the wasteland of the “botched civilization.” What was he trying to save? He had fallen out, had a falling out, and now has fallen even further. “Wrong from the start,” he said. Not to mention the end, the end of ages.

Only as commodity does art (music, poetry, sculpture) find its audience which values what the gatekeeper says. While art that is profane, outside the edifice, plays in the pocket, in key with its time.

We thought that had all been resolved by the Beats, where jazz and oral poetry, improvisation and play, not in big halls or while wearing wigs of beauty, but in the dive bars and rundown cafes in the skidrow of literature.

“…brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back…” (Joyce, FW).

The Lavish Land

“April is the cruelest month,” Eliot told
Pound all about it, Easter tide out,
but why brood on our days
unless we are made
of dry wood and worry,
each ring a memory of rain?
Does any month feel pity?

You called her a primrose,
your spiral spring shell.
The land tired of playing possum
opened in lavish blossom.
Meantime, you go from a funeral
to a game of chess?
No wonder you’re so depressed.

Hurry up! Indeed, it is time,
and there is no more time
for revisions of decisions and such.
Spit it out, that tooth that broke
on the hardtack bread.

Yes, the river, its currency
seems to bother you,
crossing the rough bar
in your tipsy canoe,
sipping sweet wine from a shoe.

Why do you drift so? Maybe
it’s time to seize the falling
yellow forsythia, catch and bundle
the candied pink camellia calling
a day a day alack-a-day day.

No, I won’t say we’re wasting time,
working up a dry thirst over an old city,
lamenting the past. We might have called
Big Dada and asked for a blessing,
a holy water sprinkling, and asked,
“Dada, how’s Nana?”
“Dada! Dada! Dada!”

Maybe we’ll see you in May.
Hopefully you’ll be feeling better,
and we can all spend a day
going a Maying,
if Corinna comes to town, everyone
looking forward to ordinary time,
the grassy bed spread with garlic greens.

The Sea Far Away

I was trying to recall Ezra Pound’s line, “And men went down to the sea in ships.” Fine, wonderful line, except that’s not what he said. What Pound said, opening “Canto I,” I now recalled, looking it up, was, “And then went down to the ship.” And I was going to say, that if Pound had lived in the South Santa Monica Bay in the 1960’s, he might have said, “And boys went down to the ocean on surfboards.” But that doesn’t quite work now that I’ve corrected my recall. Pound’s sailors “Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea,” while the South Bay surfers of the 60’s, some watermen, some bleached a weak blond on a clean towel far up on the beach, where the waves couldn’t reach them, but still all caught up in the ancient tides that played on the radio and that licked at the western edge of Los Angeles, paddled out on surfboards and set skegs to waves.

Pound does, in “Canto I,” mention a “sea-bord,” and “A man of no fortune,” and this might describe most surfers of the era (sea bored and poor). Still, Pound’s opening in a remote way does invoke the sport, the art, of surfing, for one catches waves not at the beginning of the wave’s life, but at the end of the swell, as it nears the beach: thus, “And then….” And then paddled out and turned around and caught waves back to the beach. Surf: Pound’s “…water mixed with white flour.”

The waves always look smaller from the beach, and from the waves, sitting on the board, the beach looks, as Pound said, “…not as land looks on a map but as sea bord seen by men sailing” (“Canto LIX”).

So what happens to the surfer sea bored? Just this, from Albert Camus’s essay “The Sea Close By”: “I grew up with the sea and poverty for me was sumptuous; then I lost the sea and found all luxuries gray and poverty unbearable. Since then, I have been waiting” (172).


Albert Camus on the Economic Collapse

And then went down to the book: Gloria Steinem’s The Beach Book

Gloria Steinem’s The Beach Book (1963) is dedicated “To Ocean Beach Pier that was and to Paradise Island.” But Steinem wrote little of the book, an example the first piece of Chapter One, “The Suntan”: “How to Get One.” Most of the rest of the book is a collection of writing by others, pieces related, often distantly, to the beach. The book is a book-beachcomber’s collection of writing (and illustrations) about the beach, to be read when on the beach, or when contemplating the loss of a beach.

Steinem’s book assumes a beach culture of a leisure class, beach bums, those with time and ennui enough to carry their bag with lotion, beach towel, books and magazines, go-to-the-beach paraphernalia, and parasol, to set-up in the sand up from the water, people with time to kill until the ocean comes for them. Don’t go near the water alert: beach bums, not surf bums – there are no surfers in the book, alas. Though there is a black and white photo of President John F. Kennedy, from the Los Angeles Times News Bureau, on the beach in Santa Monica, surrounded by fans, soaking wet in swim trunks. But he doesn’t look like any kind of bum; he looks like a surfer, or an LA County Lifeguard.

The introduction to Steinem’s book, improbably, as he tells us, is written by John Kenneth Galbraith, who explains in some detail that he does not like the beach. In fact, the few times he’s been to the beach have been when he was ensconced in the “main attraction…an excellent hotel set well back from the sand.” Nevertheless, Galbraith appreciates “what makes the beach in our society…A beach is not a place but a state of mind.” Indeed, until the ocean intrudes – from The Beach Book book-comber collection:

“And the waters increased, and the waters prevailed” (“Noah and the Flood,” Genesis).

“It seemed to explode all round the ship with an overpowering concussion and a rush of great waters, as if an immense dam had been blown to windward. It destroyed at once the organized life of the ship by its scattering effect” (from Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad).

“The night had brought little relief from the heat, and at dawn a hot gust of wind blows across the colorless sea” (from “The Seventh Seal,” by Ingmar Bergman).

“They came ashore on Omaha Beach, the slogging, unglamorous men that no one envied” (from The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan).

“To keep from feeling guilty about spending so much time on a tan, it is advisable to read or think something while you lie there” (from The Beach Book, “The Suntan: How to Get One,” by Gloria Steinem).

“As soon as the crust was cool enough to retain water, it began to rain. The deluge is faintly described in Genesis, but instead of forty days and forty nights, it rained for more nearly forty centuries. It rained without letup and with the force of a tropical downpour. It rained until the clouds had dumped something like three hundred million cubic miles of water upon the bare rocks. (“The Birth of the Ocean,” from Peter Freuchen’s Book of the Seven Seas).

“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think they will sing to me” (from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot).

Steinem does not use Ezra Pound in her book for the beach. But if she had, she might have drawn from both the first Canto and the older “The Seafarer.” In the first Canto we are already in the middle of something: “And then went down to the ship, / Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and / We set up mast and sail on that swart ship…Thus with stretched sail, we went over the sea till day’s end. / Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean, / came we then to the bounds of deepest water….”

“Canto I” follows the older “The Seafarer,” who tells his own story, first person, of life at sea: “May I, for my own self, song’s truth reckon, / Journey’s jargon, how I in harsh days / Hardship endured oft. / Bitter breast-cares have I abided, / Known on my keel many a care’s hold, / And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent / Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship’s head / While she tossed close to cliffs.” He “shall have his sorrow for sea-fare.”

“What’s Happening?”; or, the Faux Social Finish of Verb People

To twitter is indeed to sound off like a bird. “No full sentence really completes a thought,” said Hugh Kenner, in The Pound Era (1971), throwing a rock into several generations of roosting English grammar teachers: “And though we may string never so many clauses into a single compound sentence, motion leaks everywhere, like electricity from an exposed wire. All processes in nature are inter-related” (157). This from the “Knot and Vortex” chapter, where Kenner introduces the “self-interfering pattern,” using Buckminster Fuller’s sliding knot illustration: “The knot is a patterned integrity. The rope renders it visible” (145).

Social networking as experienced via Twitter or Facebook allows for no stillness. One is always in flight. One is not a noun; as Buckminster Fuller said, “I seem to be a verb.” Nouns represent dead flight, the verb at rest in its grammatical nest: “The eye sees noun and verb as one, things in motion, motion in things,” explains Kenner (157).

Verbs have no permanency. What’s happening must constantly change. Twitter is a rush of tweets each jolting the flock to flight, while posts on Facebook fall down the page like crumbs from a plate at a reception. Nothing is saved because in the social network world there are no nouns. The text is a mirage, the words constantly falling, falling down, down feathers falling through the electric light.

Ezra Pound’s short poem “In a Station of the Metro” is a perfect tweet: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.” The short poem with title fills the tweet space with 40 characters to spare, fixes the stare of twitterers but momentarily, as the faces can only pause in apparition not even of ink, but of light, and the social connection is a faux finish. People are verbs, constantly changing tense.

Winter is icummen in, Lhude sing Line 15

“Winter is icummen in, / Lhude sing Goddamn,” sang the irascible Ezra Pound, and while, as far as I know, he never had to ride local Tri-Met’s Line 15, he seems to have had some experience with public transportation, for he continues, in his poem “Ancient Music”: “Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us, / An ague hath my ham. / Freezeth river, turneth liver, / Damn you, sing: Goddamm.”

The bus in winter when full is still a hungry beast galumphing to the curb at every stop to pick up riders in galoshes. The riders squeeze aboard like polyps into the beast’s belly, back-packed and wool-hatted, jacketed wet and sinewy, noses running out of the cold and into the heat, leaky faucets leaking pus, umbrellas furling and unfurling, colorful flags popping the beast’s flatulence as it pulls up to the curb and politely lowers its door.

I climb aboard and peristaltic pressure pushes me all the way to the back of the bus where I stick to the back wall, a fresh polyp, and through the wall I hear the engine moaning in its uneasy sleep. The bus dreams it could be an 18 wheeler, no passengers, a single driver in a penthouse cab, rolling smoothly but solidly through serene mountain passes. I could sleep too, in the warmth of the beast’s belly, but I have to make a transfer, so I ring the bell and work my way up to the back door.

I get off the bus at Southeast 12th and Morrison. Winter seems worse here, and I unfurl my umbrella and wait at the intersection to cross, the wind and cold rain lapping at my legs. Off the bus though I’m feeling better about winter. I get on my next bus for the short ride up 12th to Benson High School. I hop off amid students breaking for lunch, a few with cell phones on hold as they hail the bus to wait, others crisscrossing the lawn at random like snowflakes. I cross NE Irving, once again longing for the old Sweet Tibbie Dunbar’s, where the juicy prime rib with roasted potatoes, soup, and a Christmas ale surely cured whatever ailed as winter might have been coming in.

“Use your head, can’t you, use your head, you’re on earth, there’s no cure for that!” Beckett’s Hamm says in “Endgame.” Ah, yes, but there is a cure, ancient music, but go not as Pound “’gainst the winter’s balm,” but let the cold wind up your legs, around your waist, and wrap your soul in cold, for it’s then you’ll feel liveliest.

Remembrance of Things Past: or, The Card Catalog – ACCESS CLOSED!

What better way to close Open Access week than with a post on the card catalog? The Library of Congress’s In Custodia Legis (the blog of the law librarians of congress) has posted a photo of a notice users still find at the entrance to the card catalog, and librarian Christine Sellers explains: “When you walk into the Reading Room of the Law Library of Congress, you might notice something you haven’t seen in a while. A card catalog that is still in use, though no new cards have been added since December 1980.”

Open Access is necessary – efficient, effective, fair. But more, the virtual world, its backlit windows, are like Whitman’s “…Houses and rooms [are] full of perfumes, the shelves [are[ crowded with perfumes, I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it, The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.” Though we can not smell it, the virtual world still attracts us, like a sterile flower.

We miss not just the card catalog, its thumb-worn cards housed in red oak, carefully annotated by the librarian’s perfect pencil, but we miss too the smell of the open stacks, the aisles and shelves of books like Ferlinghetti’s Backroads to Far Places. But that’s not all we remember and miss. We miss the mimeograph machine, helping teacher turn the drum, watching the press emerge, holding the freshly inked papers to our face, smelling the wet ink. We miss the feel and smell of the pages of books, the large windows full of available light, and when the sun slanted through the library windows on warm summer evenings, the lighted air in the high-ceilinged library, like Ezra Pound’s, from Canto XCIII: “…The light there almost solid.”