Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A red bird flies across the golden floor.
It is a red bird that seeks out his choir
Among the choirs of wind and wet and wing.
A torrent will fall from him when he finds.
Shall I uncrumple this much-crumpled thing?
I am a man of fortune greeting heirs;
For it has come that thus I greet the spring.
These choirs of welcome choir for me farewell.
No spring can follow past meridian.
Yet you persist with anecdotal bliss
To make believe a starry connaissance.

This one's a little out of my league without looking in some books, but I'll just stick with the idea of poetry and penis. This is the first indication of "time flying"--time as the red bird? Time as the Red Bird of the failing penis? Time as the Red Bird of the penis in search of a song? At any event it lurches toward the conclusion that "no spring can follow past meridian" which I will take to mean that 40 is the gate to the dark wood of "mid-life".

We have a Red Bird, a choir, the Poet's "I", and a "you" that may be the listener--the muse of the first section? The person Stevens is actually addressing? "You" persist "to wish upon a star" (make believe in starry connaissance).

Or is this you and I the same--a talking to the self? The you and I as two clashed edges of words that kill.

I don't know--too many things--I keep wanting to say this is a choral "lay".

The last three lines are "glory days"--but a part of me wants to center on "connaissance" another French word--for knowledge--and knowledge can be "sexual"--and the sound of connaissance seems sexual to me as well as it makes me think of renaissance. But this is a "birth" too--birth of knowledge...

Then I guess my favorite lines to interpret in this section are "Shall I uncrumple this much-crumpled thing?/I am a man of fortune greeting heirs;/For it has come that thus I greet the spring." One crumples and uncrumples Notes (poems) that you are unsure of--words on pages you believe then disbelieve then believe again...but also here is the penis again, flaccid (crumpled) and erect (uncrumpled)...the man of fortune has much to give (large endowment) to heirs (hairs?).

So perhaps the red bird of spring--youth, virility, poetic/sexual power is sung about until "spring" and then the rest recognizes the downward turn of years and diminishment.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Le Monocle de Mon Oncle--I

Okay, first, as far as I can tell this poem was published in 1923 when Stevens was 44, so it seems safe to assume it was written, as the speaker in the poem notes, in "the faith of forty". I know nothing of Stevens and don't really want to do any research just yet, but it's likely there is manuscript evidence of the date of composition. In any event, this poem is found in his first book, Harmonium. I find dates of composition compelling as it seems to me quite relevant to a poem's meaning. At the very least it allows the reader to cast his/her mind into the thoughts of that age--if you're 40 you might have some thoughts about "being 40"--likely, as I posted earlier, something of a crisis time, whether small "c" or big "C" crisis. This poem reads to me like a standard crisis for forty--confronting aging and death through the body (sex) and mind (poetry/art/writing). Virility in performance can be assessed in either. So, to the poem.

One should probably start with the title, in French (which Stevens seems to have a proclivity for using)--My Uncle's Monocle. Seems a silly title (that's possibly the case), but it also seems clear after reading the poem that it's intended as a stand-in for the penis--one lens, one eye, you get the picture...My Penis's Single I--a singular vision of what life is about. If you start with a title focusing on the view from your penis where do you go from there? Mockery of the muse and the self as poet/lover? Will the poet salvage his "strength" to achieve multiple...

“Mother of heaven, regina of the clouds,
O sceptre of the sun, crown of the moon,
There is not nothing, no, no, never nothing,
Like the clashed edges of two words that kill.”
And so I mocked her in magnificent measure.
Or was it that I mocked myself alone?
I wish that I might be a thinking stone.
The sea of spuming thought foists up again
The radiant bubble that she was. And then
A deep up-pouring from some saltier well
Within me, bursts its watery syllable.

Here is the "I" of the poem quoting himself and describing it as a mockery of a "she" unnamed but "labeled"...I'm going to guess this is the muse or simply Poetry: the Poet addressing his muse. This stanza/section sets the stage: the invocation of the muse in "magnificent measure" which is mockery according to the poet, but perhaps the truth is this is a self-conscious mockery as he is addressing himself, his ability to write poems and perhaps he's conflicted in considering the idea of the poetic tradition--the past ("measure"--one's verse, one's "length"--a word so full that we may play with it as we will).

Interesting that in my Faber Selected (can we assume the poet ordered them?) from 1953 the poem that precedes this one is The Snow Man which ends "For the listener, who listens in the snow,/And, nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is." And you can see that the Poet here says "There is not nothing, no, no, never nothing,/
Like the clashed edges of two words that kill.” Lots of nada! But again, we have at the least here, a play on words and swords--this is a battle--with the past, with the self, with poetry, and again, the sword is another substitute for penis. But what strikes me is the tone (is it tone?) of that "not nothing, no, no, never nothing..." stuttering, unsure, desperate, or perhaps fearing something happening prematurely? Or is this an admitting that the words themselves will always allow at the least a double-meaning or double-measure. Two words that kill themselves--cancel out a singular meaning.

In the first 5 lines we have the vision of the Poet standing before the muse holding his cock in mockery...only to back off..and "mock himself alone"--fuck himself. Then wishing himself a thinking stone...does he want to always be hard or to be rid of his biology altogether?

But "spuming thought" conjures an arousing image (radiant bubble) and then the poet orgasms, an "up-pouring...bursts its watery syllable." And again, poet and penis are conflated. A syllable, another measure, but perhaps the orgasmic outcry as well.

Now one stands back and wonders, are these 12 sections simply 12 versions of this vision? And perhaps the vagina will have its say...And let's just have it out...12 inches is a foot--a foot long--the vision of the poem as a large penis--though its potency and effectualness appear to be in question.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Stevens points out the speaker's age of 40 twice in Le Monocle de Mon Oncle (sections VI and IX). The poem as mid-life crisis! A crisis poem of loss of sexual potency and the realization that even that humiliation is mere precursor to the horrible fact of death. "For me, the firefly's quick, electric stroke/Ticks tediously the time of one more year."

This is sex and poetry wrapped in death and it's probably my favorite poem so far. And as I'm 40, that makes some sense.

I realized some time ago that I stopped liking (so intensely) Strand's poems because he "aged" beyond me in his work...as I grow older I imagine I will start liking him as much again.

More to come on Le Monocle...

The Tertiary Man

My first thought for the title to this journal was "Labials and Gutturals"--also from Stevens...you get the picture--I guess I enjoyed the reading on the plane. In fact "this maundering yokel" is from the same poem as labials and gutturals, "The Plot Against the Giant" (which is another great name for a journal).

(Well, actually, my first thought was "Fits and Starts" but that's common and taken--taken because common. Fits and starts is how I read. I've got a lot of books and rarely do I finish any I start--at least not in one concerted singular effort. It's why I've grown partial to essays and reviews--less commitment.)

The first poetry book I read cover to cover was Mark Strand's The Late Hour; the next, Nicholas Christopher's 5 Degrees; I've read a few since then, notably a couple from Donald Hall, but not many. And once past adolescence and Stephen King (you cannot disagree that the man grabs hold of you) and course work there have been very few novels or stories I've read complete--All of Salinger; Heart of Darkness; Crime and Punishment; Veronica by poet N. Christopher; much of Borges.

However, I have read my share of critical work: much of Harold Bloom (if nothing else he is immensely entertaining); Auden's The Dyer's Hand; Borges, again; Frank Kermode and Denis Donoghue; Stanley Cavel; some Howard Nemerov; Guy Davenport; William Gass (can't read his fiction); Helen Vendler (I am at a loss to figure out her preeminence as a poetry critic)...and so on. Also, I've enjoyed nearly everything that Adam Phillips has done--my favorite being Darwin's Worms.

I am the tertiary man in this sense--reading at third hand. This Maundering Yokel is an attempt to find my way back to reading at its source; to actually read the words of a Maker and not of those who comment. Of course, in this journal I become one who comments...but this is a step up! From Tertiary to Secondary...and the dream of being a Primary Man.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

House of Wallace Stevens

Traveled to Albany for work and flew into Bradley Intl. Airport in Hartford, CT. I took the opportunity to drive to the house Wallace Stevens owned and take some pictures. This didn't take more than 20 minutes and I did very little thinking on Stevens or poetry, etc. I just did it because I could.

I decided, while downtown in Albany ("Old Albany"), to go to a used bookstore and browse--there I found an old Faber "paper coverd" edition of Stevens' Selected Poems, and this is what I read on the plane ride home. And I did indeed read it the entire way...I got through about 30 poems and took some notes.

I think my favorites were (standards): Le Monocle de Mon Oncle, The Snow Man, The Emperor of Ice Cream, Sunday Morning, Disillusionment of Ten o'Clock, The Plot Against the Giant.

I'll chat about them in another post. But you should know too that these poems offered up the name of this blog.