Monday, January 18, 2010

Litmags are dead, ekphrasis is dead, etc.

The Cherry Tree

When I first asked the groundskeeper about picking fruit, a lascivious grin crossed his face. I noticed that many of his teeth were missing, and wondered about his wife and children. I knew he had recently buried his mother and a still-born with his own hands; I'd expected grief to lend him more dignity. All the same, he seemed harmless, and even carried the ladder to the tree. I pointed the way, and he sweated and grunted, grinning all the while. He whistled through his airy mouth and set the ladder against the tree. As I began to climb, my dress pulled up a little; I had to strain to keep my composure. I looked at him sternly, then he disappeared. As I rose to the lowest bough and tried to grasp a gleaming cherry, the sun bewildered my eye. Everything beautiful seemed suddenly out of reach. I don't know why or how long I watched the light pass over the hill.

--after a painting by Balthus, ca. 1940

I wrote the above as a green, fledgling poet.  Cringeworthy, true; but the world was young and reverie was still possible.  Reverie is dead, however.  (No more navel-gazing, just the facts, as Jack Webb or Mister Gradgrind would say.)  The poem, written in meditation on a painting, was a bit of ekphrasis, also now dead.  I eventually published a version of it (with line-breaks, now dead) in a literary magazine (called The Literary Review!)... and guess what?  Literary magazines are... according to a fellow who edits one... dead!

They complain at the frightful quantity of bad writing that appears at every Easter fair.  I cannot see why they should.  Why do the critics say we ought to imitate nature?  These writers imitate nature, they follow their instincts just as the great writers do.  And I would like to know what more can be asked of any organic being than that it follows its instincts.  Look at the trees, I say, for example the cherry-tree, and say how many of the green cherries on it will become ripe: not a fiftieth of them; the rest will fall and decay.  But if the cherry-trees produce waste, who shall deny it to men to do so, who are better than the trees?  Indeed, why do I talk about trees?  Know ye not that of the human beings the procreative public produces every year more than a third die before they are two years old?  As with men, so with the books they write.  Thus instead of bewailing the rising quantity of scribbling I do reverence rather to the exalted order of nature, whose will it is that of all that is born a greater part shall become manure and waste-paper, which is a kind of manure... -- G.C. Lichtenberg, ca. 1789-1793

(Ekphrasis is dead.  Here are some of the monuments in its graveyard.) (Oh, here are some more.)


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