Friday, October 8, 2010

Writing through Imagism

Writing through Imagism: A Discussion of H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" and Jen Scappettone's "Vase Poppies.”

Hosted by Al Filreis and featuring Don Share, Judith Goldman, and David Pavelich.

Here's H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" (1916):

Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

And here is Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies" (2002):

Lavenderish dusk
strapped for stays,
pomegranates under the rubberband
chucked for a glass Oz,

splayed by the pillar-shelves
to page upon the ottoman:

his talk has wrought suit
amid citrus gapes
and pall dunked in the bowl
and grated sage
or cleaved clear paleo-pines.

Postgeist, upcast
California upon weed,
what banker yields
so fragrant a cant
as this vagrant cant?

Al Filreis:

Scappettone wrote through H.D.'s poem, substituting words but always keeping to parts of speech. She echoes the original at certain moments, creating some rhymes and in a few cases what amounts to a homonymic ("husk"/"dusk") and quasi-synonymic translation ("sought root"/"wrought suit"). The poem is a meta-commentary on imagism, a way of decorating or over-elaborating H.D. whose imagistic lines convey a "piety that veers into preciosity" (the poet's phrase).** Conch-shells become paleo-pines. "Fire on leaf" becomes "California upon weed."

"Vase" can rhyme with "maze" or with "Oz," depending on your class. (Scappettone has introduced the poem at readings sometimes by mentioning this valence, seeming to contribute to the notion that it is a commentary on imagism's social preciousness.)

Click on the link above for this Poem Talk episode, which includes a discussion, and Scappetone reading her poem.


Anonymous said...

I first fell into the write-through form in spring 2004 when I was a (mature) undergrad studying under Robert Sheppard (20C Blues), sitting at a table gazing out onto the lawn at my mom and dad's house, doodling away on the computer keypad for an hour or so, plodding on with the final poetry task (of writing six poems), and just as tedium started to kick in my eye apprehended Ted Hughs's Lupercal and Sylvia Plath's The Colossus perched on the top of the monitor screen.

I had got them out of the college library and was due to read them that night. As I scribbled away, an idea came after writing the lines

my eye turns to
Lupercal resting on the Collossus.

I decided to juggle the twenty or so lines I'd already written and reconfigure the exact same words to create the second half of the piece. The challenge I set myself was to use and repeat in a different order, all the words except 'Lupercal resting on the Collossus' - which would only appear once, acting as a dividing line at the mid way point of the piece.

I used all the same words, including the short conjoining words like and, then, the, etc, and it isn't really a poem I would put in my collected, more a low grade abstraction which serves as an example of the form. The words are irrelevant really, as they serve to show the process and demonstrate my first effort at this form.

Beyond the thin crevasse an upward thrust of green
and a snow like freeze of mottled tan
hawk across to subtle shades of tapering yellow,
brush verde’s tender final trickle
and caper to the edge of left.

A rake of garment
in stark white synthetic blue
hang inert
amidst the narrow band of late spring colour
whose tumbles of profuse symmetry merge
in precise disorder with the May dusk.

Birds call excited
and cry unseen
to cajole a dog’s gruff response
in the fading light.

Falling inward the black mood
retreats with the blue night
and I cast for line of weight
in the measured glare of nature's balance
and switch on mind to symbol as my eye turns to

Lupercal resting on The Colossus

The two minds whose symmetry in precise disorder
hang profuse in a gruff stark black mood
- beyond the upward edge of natures tender balance -
hawk amidst the line unseen
in synthetic shades of inert weight
and band across the thin crevasse and thrust symbols,
which merge by tumble in a rake of mottled colour.

Yellow green and tan caper into a white,
falling like snow to freeze verde blue.

Then - as excited birds of the May dusk -
they call my measured glare inward
and taper in retreat to a final trickle
then cast their subtle narrow cry
and cajole and dog my garment of response
to the late spring nightlight left fading

Anonymous said...

A somewhat bland read that doesn't go much beyond novelty, and would certainly not have Neil Astley or Michael Schmidt beating a bath to my inbox with a set of golden handcuffs.

However, doing this was the mental equivalent of knocking down a brick wall and re-assembling it, forcing the mind to perceive each component word and, because of this seperation process, become more attentive to the precise structure of the initial text, alert to every single word. My mind felt like it were straining itself through a seive, as though I had undergone a first bout of physical exercise after a long spell of sedentariness. The fruits of this brain flexing was a sharpening of its overall sense of awareness to individual words, as the mind tweeked to a higher frequency of recognition; like being able to differentiate individual trees in a wood or gaining night vision.

By using small texts to seperate and reconfigure, the mind develops its ability to chop up, jumble, juggle and re-lay language, just like a builder disassembling a structure to reclaim the material for other uses.

I later came to understand that the mental fizz that acts of such concentration in composition creates, equates exactly with one of the four poetic joys in The 7c Cauldron of Poesy prose-poem attributed to Amergin.

'...the joy of fitting poetic frenzy from the grinding away at the fair nuts of the nine hazels on the Well of Segais.'

And creating the piece as a whole was a challenge whose pay off was a second of the 4 Amergin joys, which is the -

' of the binding principle of wisdom after good (poetic) construction.'

Amergin's first joy perfectly describes the excitement we feel in our heads when composing, and the second captures the tranquil sense of completion which comes after our labours cease and their final product is there on-page to look upon and take poetic pleasure in; a sort of, "I made that" feeling, whicht engenders a sense of self dignity and pride.

So, with the mental froth in full bubble I decided to try again, but this time using a Hughes or Plath poem as the text to reconfigure. I read the books and settled on Plath's The Colossus. I wrote a 17 line run up before diving in and setting down the juggled Plath words.

Anonymous said...


Did she angle wonder on the grasp
extending reason her creation
drove wild beyond loathing,
by constantly digging in hunt of sound
to knit rock firm sharp pictures alive with,
like a gem stitched braid
upon whose surface
her eye discerned a myriad of texture?

Did her mind’s farthest anchor reach a coloured butterfly
wind chanced and framed like a Japanese print
of bold delicacy
fittingly unambiguous in a mirror of detail
where every line rehearsed perfection,
crisp as stalk fresh shoots?

Nosed in did her compass net an imprint of
discordant shadow in savage butt and jagged antinomy
absent of balance nature or measure

----------- write through---------

like a ruin of anarchy to the horizon line?
Did she mix thirty years of laboured hours
in little pails and gluepots
to create an oracle married in shadow?
Crawl like an ant over immense dead stones
in the black fluted night
and proceed to entirely open
the lightning sun with the skull of her brow as it rises?
Grunt cackle and glue the silt from her throat
to bray at Orestiea,
or some Roman mule god with acanthine hair
scaling the tumuli of bald acres under red hills?
Was she never counted by her father
or others who
none the wiser
no longer listened
as she dredged her bawdy bones of mourning
and pieced together with blank eyes
her pithy historical mouthpiece
left to colour and stroke our ears?
Could we perhaps lunch like barnyard pigs on the cornucopia of stars
which littered her tongue like lysol on clear white plates
climb ladders of weedy cypress jointed
by the wind of a blue sky arching above to
properley squat at some old forum and consider
landing keel and plum on the pillar of her great lips?

This is a great method to use on small texts, particularly blogspot comments at various po mo sites, as you can take a slightly pompous sounding deposit and twist it about. It's not important to keep the exact same words I think, only for the very first one you do, as you effectively give yourself an unreal goal and acheive it once then slacken the rules to fit once done. Like deploying meter. Once you have that form to your own personal satisfaction, then you can use it how you wish.