Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Return from the Himalayas, Part 4

It is not enough to participate in life; true happiness occurs when you "heart"icipate. 

(Note:  This message comes not from the mountaintop directly, but through a series of seemingly random items, individuals, & events--such as a 14th century Mongolian invasion, a phony Taoist priest, the simple yet painstaking combination of sugar, flour, eggs, & water, & a 20th century labor-saving device--by way of a fortune cookie, whose sweet, crispy, twisted shape resembled a broken cinerary vase bearing a facetious deity's face, along with lucky numbers 4, 6, 14, 18, 31, 36.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dear Blah Blah Blah

Going old school, I recently read Leonard Nathan's Dear Blood (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980).  Nathan, a former Berkeley professor, "won wide critical acclaim," as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship & a National Institute of Arts & Letters award for poems (I'm taking this directly from the book cover) that "have an explosive meaning barely contained in the few words that hold them together."

Ok, I get it: Nathan's a minimalist, but how do words hold the poem together if their meanings--to borrow an expression from renowned SCTV Farm Film Review critics Big Jim McBob & Billy Sol Hurok--blow the poem up real good?  Moreover, it strikes me as rather ambiguous to say the "meaning (is) barely contained" in the words, which makes it sound, in one sense, as if Nathan doesn't quite understand what the words mean. When a blurb bothers me--even though it doesn't necessarily follow that the poetry is similarly flawed--I usually take it as a bad omen.

Ah, my tingling poesy sense served me well!  For if Nathan is "a storyteller & a fabulist" as the lying rat's ass of a cover claims, it's only if he intends his numerous poems to/for/about God (the majority of this book) to be seen as not so much fable as complete fabrication.  Take "Gap," in which God is the absence of a spider & the presence of a butterfly.  (FYI:  He's also the absence of dead leaves.)  That God's so much a part of the absences may be why, in "Habakkuk," Nathan says, "In conversations with the Lord, / you can't tell always / who's talking to whom."  It's kind of like someone talking on a Blue-Tooth in a dead zone.  Or the indigent street person constantly talking to an invisible other, maybe God, or maybe the ghost of Leonard Nathan himself.

In other poems, Nathan wanders a'wonderin' down a trail of abstractions, as in "Hieroglyph": 

Much is behind you
not to be known
and much ahead
of where you stand only for one true sound
(less maybe than a word)
before knowledge passes on.

Be ready,
be clear.

(For a detailed explanation of these lines, click here.)

Also included in this volume is "Memo," posted in its entirety below:

Who wrote
"I love you daddy"
on this white page?

The littlest daughter did
on this white page
under which lie concealed
thirty virginal pages
for later messages.

Looking beyond the general saccharine sentiment--if that's possible--& forgiving the use of the homey "littlest" (which Nathan does a couple of times in the book for, I suppose, emetic effect), the entire foundation of the poem rests upon a ridiculous rhetorical device.  The answer to the posed question depends on whether the speaker has any young children at home.  If yes, these children may provide an invaluable clue to the sought after information.

If not, then who?  Louis XVI, that bad egg?  Steve, the mechanical man?  Sylvia Plath?  Henry Pussycat?  Lolcat?  Oh, I don't know--maybe it was Satan? 

Do you know who wrote the note?  If so, please comment with your guesses.  You need not make a purchase to enter; you may enter as many times as you want.  The person who submits the winning entry will receive a slightly used copy of Leonard Nathan's Dear Blood.