|May 15, 2012|
Marianne Moore throwing a pitch, 1968
She has no heirs. She has several epigones but their detail-laden lacquered ships for me don’t float. She flares singular, exemplary, a diamond absolute the American East forged in a pressure chamber we have yet fully to excavate.
If her contemporaries often turned to myth (The Waste Land, Ulysses), to a new mode of modern enchantment, Moore made it new via a reverse enchantment: unlike Orpheus, she does not make the stones sing but rather sings the stones:
I sense your glory.
For things that I desire and have not got:
For things I have that I wish I had not,
You compensate me,
—From Flints, Not Flowers
Hear this refusal to swoon, this song of lack, this almost New-Englandy logic of flinty compensation. This bald rhythmic reckoning with, dispossession of, “things.” In such a poem, an early poem, it is as if Moore moves behind Eliot’s idea of the “objective correlative”—the object adequate to emotion, to a complex of thought and feeling—to show us the process by which “flints” might become that object, selected over and against “flowers.” For, as Milton said, and Moore surely knew, “reason is but choosing.”
Which in Moore’s case often means negating: “Flints, Not Flowers.”
“The Mind Is an Enchanting Thing.” So goes the title of a much later poem. What could be a fey little announcement—how enchanting the mind!—is in Moore a diagnosis: the mind enchants: it casts spells, sings songs, projects its magic on and through the object world and other creatures. The poems tack between a submission to and a critique of this enchantment. They are anti-Orphic more than Orphic—yet one has to know the power of Orpheus to create a poetics opposed to it.
Make any cento you want! But try to make it as good as you want it to be. You don’t really want Seidel’s freedom. His poems are licensed by privilege, prestige and money — lots of all three. His deliberate transgressions look like power — to poets, any use of power looks like freedom. But I just read all Seidel’s work, straight through, and I think he’s wearing golden handcuffs.
Pale Youths in Love
I remember when I was a pre-teen and they moved into a loft across the street from me in Tribeca, where I lived. And an older neighbor friend told me they were living in her building, on the top floor. I saw him at my corner deli, and on the street smoking, but never her. At night, I sometimes looked up at their windows and saw their lights on. He was not very impressive in person. Cute, but no big deal.
What is Work?
Without a written record, we cannot know with certainty how the earliest humans thought about work, but the importance of sharing food and other resources means that prehistoric work embodied at least an element of serving the needs of a community rather than just those of an individual and his or her immediate family.
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In the first place, I want to emphasise the note of interrogation at the end of my title. Even if I could answer the question for myself, the answer would apply only to me and not to you. The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.
Nobel laureate Imre Kertész is certainly no stranger to controversy. His radical reconceptualization of the term “Holocaust” — in whose “unscrupulous employment” he locates “a cowardly and unimaginative glibness” — to extend beyond the scope of the concentration camps and those who perished therein, rhetorically privileges the survivors over the dead: “the word [Holocaust] actually only relates to those who were incarcerated: the dead, but not the survivors... The survivor is an exception.”