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Creeley’s “I Keep to Myself Such Measures”

I feel like I’m almost breaking my own rules by choosing a poem from Robert Creeley from Postmodern American Poetry to highlight. After all, I already bought the book a few days ago, even though I haven’t started reading it yet.

Still there is something about these poems that I like very much, and they seem to fit in with the Morley and Levertov poems I’ve discussed earlier. both because of style and content.

This particular poem seems a little more symbolic, than those two, but not remarkably so. In a sense, the poem seems to suggest both the reason why we write poems and the futility of writing them:

“I Keep to Myself Such Measures…”

I keep to myself such
measures as I care for,
daily the rocks
accumulate position.

There is nothing
but what thinking makes
it less tangible. The mind,
fast as it goes, loses

pace, puts in place of it
like rocks simple markers,
for a way only to
hopefully come back to

where it cannot. All
forgets. My mind sinks.
I hold in both hands such weight
it is my only description.

Despite the fact that we spend much of our life, and some argue rather cogently too much of our life, thinking, particularly about the past, we can never accurately recall those things that are important to us because the mind can only recall “significant” parts of any experience, not the whole.

Our dilemma, of course, is that thinking is the best that we have. Either we rely on thinking or we forget the past. Tragically the mind, limited as it is, is all we have to rely on.

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Four Weeks, But Who’s Counting

It was four weeks from today that I had my prostate surgery, so it’s obviously time for a progress report.

Motivated by the awesome weather we’ve been having the last three weeks, I started walking last Sunday with a walk along Puget Sound at the park. I probably walked a little over a mile each day from Sunday through Wednesday. Yesterday I took a different approach and walked a shorter distance up and down the steep hills that lead to the Park. Each walk left me a little more tired than I would have expected.

Since I’m also finding it easier to sit for longer periods of time, I’ve finished reading 250 pages in Deke McClellands Adobe Photoshop CS: one-on-one, currently my favorite Photoshop book, narrowly edging out Adobe Photoshop 5 Studio Techniques, which has been my Photoshop standard for several years now, as you can tell from the title. I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned from Photoshop CS. When you’ve used Photoshop as long as I have, you sometimes get stuck in the past, and reading this book from cover to cover has shown me how much I’ve overlooked in this latest version of Photoshop.

I’ve also managed to read 50 pages of poetry from the postmodern poetry collection, but doing so has reminded me why I had so many problems with undergraduate classes. I really don’t like anthologies that introduce and then proceed to skim over authors, never really giving you a chance to understand what they are trying to say. I guess, I’m really saying that I don’t particularly like anthologies, that I prefer studying individual poets in depth. I found myself at the book store yesterday trying to find book of poems by Levertov, but couldn’t find one.

I’m certainly not back to pre-surgery normal, but it’s amazing how we tend to judge progress from yesterday, or last week, rather than from a month ago.

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Denise Levertov

I find it a little strange considering that ninety percent of the poetry books I own are written by men but the second poet I’m attracted to in Postmodern American Poetry is also a woman, in this case Denise Levertov, a poet I’ve apparently been attracted to before since I discovered she was already on my Amazon Wish List. Coincidently, like Hilda Morley, she is associated with Black Mountain Review, as is the last book of poetry I randomly chose from the book store, Robert Creeley’s Selected Poems.

Though I think I’m primarily attracted to her style, I was also attracted to the following poem because of my fondness for glass bubbles with winter scenes:

WHERE IS THE ANGEL FOR ME TO WRESTLE?

No driving snow in the glass bubble,
but mild September.

Outside, the stark shadows
menace, and fling their huge arms about
unheard. I breathe

a tepid air, the blur
of asters, of brown fern and gold-dust
seems to murmur,

and that’s what I hear, only that.
Such clear walls of curved glass:
I see the violent gesticulations

and feel–no, not nothing. But in this
gentle haze, nothing commensurate.
It is pleasant in here. History

mouths, volume turned off. A band of iron,
like they put round a split tree,
circles my heart. In here

it is pleasant, but when I open
my mouth to speak, I too
am soundless. Where is the angel

to wrestle with me and wound
not my thigh but my throat,
so curses and blessings flow storming out

and the glass shatters, and the iron sunders?

Although I was initially attracted by the glass bubble metaphor, I stayed around because at times I, too, have felt that the lack of real hardship in my life has left me spiritually weaker than I might have otherwise been.

It’s not that difficult to see life optimistically when your life has been as easy and as rewarding as mine has been. Most things have always seemed to come rather easily to me. And, with the notable exception of a couple women who’ve rejected me, I’ve pretty much had everything in life I ever wanted. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that I haven’t wanted very much.

Sometimes like Levertov I worried that my happiness, for lack of a better word, has kept me from being the best person I could have been, that the softness of my life has entrapped me in its own special way.

In one sense, it goes back to that sophomoric, but common, young person’s wish that something “awful” or at least something “dramatic” will finally happen in life so they’ll finally have something worth writing about.

(You did notice that my recent brush with Death inspired a sudden rush of poetry, didn’t you? In retrospect, I’ll skip the poetry in favor of avoiding such instances for the immediate future. No amount of poetry can compensate for such pain.)

But I think it goes beyond that sophomoric wish, because there is a real need to be tested in life, and most of us are instinctively drawn to such tests. Many of us go out of our way to find experiences that will provide such tests, and help build the requisite strengths.

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Paul Hoover’s Postmodern American Poetry

I’ve finally started reading Postmodern American Poetry by Paul Hoover, so while it may seem that I’ve temporarily abandoned this web site, rather, I’m refusing to read another book until I’ve finished this one.

I’m trying to force myself to travel outside my normal ruts, convinced that even if I don’t find something that I like as well as my usual fare that I will at least come back to it more satisfied than I left.

Considering that I generally have wide-ranging tastes in everything from food to art, though, I can’t help but feel that I will find some new kinds of poetry that will appeal to me. I’ve purposely made the task a little harder by automatically rejecting poems by postmodern poets I already like, particularly Beat poets like Ferlinghetti or Snyder.

So far I’m finding the going a little tough, at times have to read and reread a particular poet trying to understand, and appreciate, what’s been written. I’ve found the first two, Charles Olson and John Cage particularly difficult to understand, and, not surprisingly, even harder to admire.

The first poet I’ve noted for further study is Robert Duncan. Although I hated the longest poem in the selection, “A Poem Beginning with a Line by Pindar,” I was intrigued by “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” and “Poetry, a Natural Thing.”

The first poet I’ve decided that I need to pursue further, though, is Hilda Morley because I found something I like in nearly every poem included in the collection. My favorite is

“Parents”

Small
& with intensely
blue eyes ” I remember her,

&with what used to
seem her tremendous, pent-up
energies

as I stand here
in this light of
the full moon which covers, fills
all the interstices, whatever
might, without it, be cause for
pain: a gap in creation.

I can see her
understanding the strangeness
of it, of this light seeming
as if deliberate,

directed

She would have seen what
was strange in it,

but not
the beauty.

That he could see
whose pace was slower, more
like mine, floating
in his movements,

as I am
sometimes,

lost a little & given
to phrases where the thinking was
half-true but never
true enough, half-dreaming,
half lying.

He would have
seen the beauty and for him
the strangeness would have
been

most natural.

Her poem makes me want to sit down right now and write a poem that explores how my parents’ way of seeing the world has influenced me, and see if I can understand which of them has most influenced me. It’s amazing how the poet can see the strengths and weaknesses of each parent, while at the same time understanding what part they play in her own makeup. At the moment, though, I’ll have to settle for having added her to my Amazon wish-list.

I’ll have to admit, though, that I’m not exactly sure why this poem, or the poet herself, for that matter, qualifies as “post-modern” poetry (except for the spacing that’s nearly impossible to reproduce accurately in html) though perhaps that’ll become clearer as I explore further.