Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two Poems for Tuesday...and some muttering

Thinking about this poem today. An Eliot we often forget was cocky and a little mean. The word "Ladies" in an earlier draft read "Critics":

"The Triumph of Bullshit" by T. S. Eliot

Ladies, on whom my attentions have waited
If you consider my merits are small
Etiolated, alembicated,
Orotund, tasteless, fantastical,
Monotonous, crotchety, constipated,
Impotent galamatias
Affected, possibly imitated,
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass

Ladies, who find my intentions ridiculous
Awkward insipid and horribly gauche
Pompous, pretentious, ineptly meticulous
Dull as the heart of an unbaked brioche
Floundering versicles feebly versiculous
Often attenuate, frequently crass
Attempts at emotions that turn isiculous,
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

Ladies who think me unduly vociferous
Amiable cabotin making a noise
That people may cry out "this stuff is too stiff for us" -
Ingenuous child with a box of new toys
Toy lions carnivorous, cannons fumiferous
Engines vaporous - all this will pass;
Quite innocent - "he only wants to make shiver us."
For Christ's sake stick it up your ass.

And when thyself with silver foot shalt pass
Among the Theories scattered on the grass
Take up my good intentions with the rest
And then for Christ's sake stick them up your ass.

Also, I found this lovely poem this afternoon by Richard Wilbur:

"Piccola Commedia"

He is no one I really know,
The sun-charred, gaunt young man
By the highway's edge in Kansas
Thirty-odd years ago.

On a tourist-cabin verandah
Two middle-aged women sat;
One, in a white dress, fat,
With a rattling glass in her hand,

Called "Son, don't you feel the heat?
Get up here into the shade."
Like a good boy, I obeyed,
And was given a crate for a seat

And an Orange Crush and gin.
"This state," she said, "is hell."
Her thin friend crackled, "Well, dear,
You've gotta fight sin with sin."

"No harm in a drink; my stars!"
Said the fat one, jerking her head.
"And I'll take no lip from Ed,
Him with his damn cigars."

Laughter. A combine whined
On past, and dry grass bent
In the backwash; liquor went
Like an ice-pick in my mind.

Beneath her skirt I spied
Two sea sea-cows on a floe.
"Go talk to Mary Jo, son,
She's reading a book inside."

As I gangled in at the door
A pink girl, curled in a chair,
Looked up with an ingenue stare.
Screenland lay on the floor.

Amazed by her starlet's pout
And the way her eyebrows arched,
I felt both drowned and parched.
Desire leapt up like a trout.

"Hello," she said, and her gum
Gave a calculating crack.
At once from the lightless back
Of the room came the grumble

Of someone heaving from bed,
A Zippo's click and flare,
Then, more and more apparent,
The shuffling form of ED,

Who neither looked nor spoke
But moved in profile by,
Blinking one gelid eye
In his elected smoke.

This is something I've never told,
And some of it I forget.
But the heat! I can feel it yet,
And that conniving cold.

The point I'd like to make about the second poem is a small point, but really precisely to the heart of it. Wilbur's poem has a remarkably simple structure and a delicate, deliberate rhyme scheme. Yet, at no point is Wilbur constrained by it: the additional syllables of Kansas, and Verandah in even the first and second stanzas establish that the author's permission to exclude himself from his own rules. This permission is central to art.

In its very name we acknowledge art as something made by people, but we sometimes decide that the rules that govern media are inherited from the gods. I think if you are setting out to create good work it is important to have parameters etc., but knowing when they're in the way, and getting out of one's own way, is the real key to genius.

An example for me remains Greg Allen's Strange Interlude. At one point, an actor is reading a set description that calls for the stage to be more "cluttered" than it was in the previous scene. There has, up to this point, been no change in the set. At this moment, from the wings, a stage hand hurls an additional chair onstage. It lands sloppily, upside down, somewhere stage right. It was a great moment only possible through this kind of artistic permission to surprise and delight and subvert. Here I am, months later, still laughing.

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