Tuesday 24 June 2008

In praise of Imagists

This may be the longest interval between postings so far, except when I was away. The e-course porfolio was posted yesterday, and am reasonably happy with it. It's tidy, an occasion to review/rediscover poems.

Rilke is giving me indigestion, like a rich meal, his elegies too romantic. Tried reading some of his letters. I think that what gets in the way is that nothing is ordinary for him. Here's an example from a letter (p. 9 of Letters on Cezanne, 1985, Fromm International Publishing Company, NY): it starts with :

Never have I
been so touched and almost gripped by the sight of heather...

I want to cut out the Never, (just as I tend to recoil from the word always). His only excuse is that he is writing to his wife (about sprigs of heather she sent him). A few lines later: But how glorious it is, this fragrance. The tone remains at full pitch, blaring.

However: in the introduction (by H.W. Petzet), there is a story about Cezanne (p. xxiii)

"...the ancient enmity between life and the great work (as Rilke put it in his
Requiem) endured by the artist with such exemplary devotion: [...] during the last thirty years of his life, he removed himself from everything that could 'hook him' (the expression is Cezanne's) and when, for all his tradition-bound and believing Catholicism, he stayed away from his mother's funeral in order not to lose a day's work. '

Rilke adds: "That pierced me like an arrow... (and he can't leave it at that) ...like a flaming arrow".
[...] Cezanne's example revealed to Rilke his own existential conflict. He began to realise that his life must utterly belong to his work, and that he must never again be "delighted and awed" - as it says in his 'Testament' - except by his work."

Scary focus.

I should not be so denigrating of Rilke. I still have to find out what he actually wants to say. It is my loss, for the mean time. Maybe I'll find some way of reading him; shall see if I can find a commentary that speaks to me. The introduction by Robert Hass (in the book of poems) made my eyes glaze over.

Maybe it's tiredness, because turning to the second book of Coetzee's essays, (Stranger Shores, Literary essays, 1986-1999, published by Viking in 2001) and reading one on Amos Oz and one on Harry Mulisch, both authors whom I know, it was also an effort. After midnight, maybe not a good time. He also wrote an essay on Borges, we were discussing him in class the other day.

Read more of Yehuda Amichai's 1967 poems. Since writing a review of his work for the course, I read them with ease and a new feeling, of being spoken to directly. Always this requirement to go deeper.

I should probably write a review of Rilke.

Started on Viv's Imagist portfolio: I had never heard of the Imagists before, it is a similar turning away from florid-ness that happened in the other arts and in other languages. Could it be thought of as 'modern'? Bauhaus versus Baroque, for instance. I remember my father: "If a feature has no function, it has no place in the building".

In poetry, if the word does no work, take it out.
Thanks Viv.

A villanelle is due for Thursday. A villainous villanelle. Already, a favourite among those Hine gave us to read is The Art of Losing, by Elizabeth Bishop . The language is simple - here is an excerpt:

The art of losing isn't hard to master
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

The end of the poem is poignant.

Maybe I'll find her in the library.

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