Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Meditation and Poetics - 30 (Reznikoff 2)

AG: Now Poems 1920. Now he (Charles Reznikoff)’s really taking a look around him, New York particularly. These are (a) series. “Poems was published by Samuel Roth at the New York Poetry Book 1920” . An old friend of his, Samuel Roth, published it, a guy who’s publishing dirty books later (a literary man, I think Roth published (James Joyce’s) Ulysses in America, also)

[Allen reads from Charles Reznikoff] - “ (2) Old men and boys search the wet garbage with fingers/and slip pieces in bags./ This fat old man has found the hard end of a bread/and bites it” – So, that fast..

Student: (Snap)

AG: Yeah, well, it’s a photograph. There’s a photographic element, and I think.. remember, they were hanging out with (Alfred) Stieglitz, the photographer, and they were all in this one photographer studio shop, like, a gallery called “An American Place”, where they were showing paintings by, probably, by this time, by Marsden Hartley and Charles Sheeler, who were all of that circle, the Modernist painters – and Arthur Dove – [Allen continues with Reznikoff] – “(4) The pedlar who goes from shop to shop,/has seated himself on the stairs in the dim hallway,/and the basket of apples under his knees, breathes the odor.” – “(6) They have built red factories along Lake Michigan,/ and the purple refuse coils like congers in the green depths/” – C-O-N-G-E-R-S – what is that? eels? - conger eels? – “con-jer” or “Kong-gur”?

Student: Kong-gur

AG: Conger – “and the purple refuse coils like congers in the green depths”

Peter Orlovsky: What is “congers”?

AG: It’s an eel, a freshwater eel. Yes? – (So) “Ghetto Funeral”, on page 30 – “Followed by his lodge, shabby men stumbling over the cobblestone/and his children, faces red and ugly with tears, eyes and eyelids? red,/in the black coffin in the black hearse the old man./ No longer secretly grieving/that his children are not strong enough to go the way he wanted to/go/and was not strong enough.” - Well, of course, there’s a lot of generalization there. On the other hand it’s a kind of generalization in a family language. It’s very precise what he’s saying there, but precise in the sense of it’s a thought about that family and that man, that it’s the result of a lot of observation and not just trying to be smart – a lot of tragic, painful observation – but it’s expressed in a 1910 grandfather family talk, family way of talk, that gives it the minute particularity which it would otherwise lack, being a generalization.

In many cases in Reznikoff, conclusions are come to, or things said, in a generalized way, but they’re said in such a heimishe way, in such a characteristically personal way, that they become objective thoughts, rather than aesthetic projections (that is to say, rather than arbitrary,or abstracted, or self-conscious language generalizations). They’re just, simply, natural thoughts, generalizations that come naturally, not trite but natural generalizations that arrive, that are usable (My favorite example of which is King Lear’s line (in Shakespeare)– “Never, never, never, never, never!” – It’s a generalization but it arrives in a form which is concrete and lyric, rather than self-conscious). 

“Showing a torn sleeve, with stiff and shaking fingers the old man/ pulls off a bit of the baked apple, shiny with sugar,/eating with reverence food, the great comforter.”

[Audio for the above can be heard here, starting at approximately forty-four minutes in and continuing to approximately forty-six-and-a-half minutes in  (at which point the tape suddenly cuts out - "Well, of course, there's a lot of generalization there…"]

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