Tuesday, June 17, 2003
Although the journal’s
tagline is “Poetry for the New Millennium,” VGE
2 includes eight contributors whose work appeared in the Allen anthology 43
years ago: Ashbery, Blaser, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, McClure, Orlovsky, Snyder & Whalen. Second generation New Americans turn up
(Berkson, Malanga, DiPrima, Notley) as do a few
langpos (Bernstein, Hejinian, Perelman, moi) as well as others who fall
generally into this same post-avant territory, such as
One poem in particular first caught my eye because I recognized the handwriting, literally, as it’s presented on the right-hand page in holographic reproduction, the identical text printed on the left. The poem is by Allen Ginsberg, but it doesn’t look anything like your typical Ginsberg work & indeed acknowledges its source by its title, “Lines for Creeley’s Ear”:
my heart in
uptown to see
One can hear what Ginsberg is finding in Creeley’s line – that almost gamelan precision as the mind steps through the syllables, something Creeley gets not from the Projectivists but from Zukofsky. The parameters of the project are simple enough: quatrains with no more than four syllables – the first three stanzas each have ten syllables, the last one 13. If you track the quatrains even closer by syllable count*, you see that Ginsberg has done an admirable job in creating not only a sense of variety but of aural development, starting with two of the shortest lines, ending with three of the longest.
Ginsberg plays with some of Creeley’s famed enjambments in the first two stanzas, but it’s interesting that the third – when the impact of smoking is being described – seems almost the most flat-footed. It’s an inspired, counterintuitive way to mimic tobacco’s impact on blood pressure.
The one line for me that doesn’t work is the second one of the last stanza. No other line in the entire poem contains what is so clearly two distinct aural units & I suspect that Creeley, faced with the same set of choices, might well instead have run them as two lines & to have ended with Buddha tonite as its own separate one-line stanza. It’s conceivable that Ginsberg heard it as taking a longer breath before the final sweep of the last two lines, but to end of the first word on n & start the next with t breaks that movement for my ear.
Ginsberg seems to have been similarly bothered by that final stanza. The poem appears in what I take to be a revised form in Ginsberg’s Collected Poems. In the Collected, it is titled simply “For Creeley’s Ear.” Buddha has been moved up to the third line alongside Karmapa, with tonight – now spelled the traditional manner – alone on the fourth line. The problem of the second line now tends to dissolve – it becomes a step toward the only five syllable line in the work, with the two-syllable last line functioning almost as a coda or bell to signal the poem’s end.
That’s an interesting
revision, in that it does solve the problem that nagged at me from my first
reading, yet overall I think the Collected
Poems version is weaker for it. The revised version puts the climax of the
poem on the penultimate line, almost to the point where the final line seems
added on in order to avoid violating the form. In the
My sense is that neither version quite works as well as it might, that the stumbling block of the second line of the final stanza can’t really be addressed anywhere but in the second line itself. It’s intriguing to watch Ginsberg make the attempt, but it’s a mistake to have tried to resolve the issue elsewhere in the stanza.
That Ginsberg in 1976 is still writing what is clearly a “Creeley study” is, I think, a sign of how little affected by his celebrity Ginsberg at least sought to be. These lines may be for Creeley’s ear, but the work itself is clearly for Ginsberg’s benefit. That we benefit also is just part of its charm.
* Thus the syllable count of the
lines for each quatrain:
2 – 2 – 4 – 2
3 – 3 – 2 – 2
2 – 3 – 2 – 3
2 – 4 – 3 – 4
would have been Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Gyalwang
Karmapa, who traveled to the