Gerald Burns signature    


313 S. Willomet
Dallas, TX 75208
September 3, 1985

Dear Lee,

“Homer and Image” begins thinking about image by mentioning a thing (a “leading edge”) you see in the world a lot, that’s even evocative, that wouldn’t be classified as “image” by the older critics. . .not so much as a counterinstance as to show there are more images, image material, in the world, that the verse courses (and consequently written verse) shoot for. Much of the rest is that kind of shadowily observed stuff I started trying to get at in A Book of Spells, but no longer presented as instances of semi-magical perception, or of perceptions consistent with a magical world, which Spells does. The stretched twine (green or white) that going from stake to stake looks like demarcations but is for beans to twine around and so on is (like any leading edge, or Williams’s imagined extension of the rose-leaf plane) compelling to me, perhaps from the first roomsize construction I saw being a pretty good one, stiff cords with straggled cloth hung from, and gets in my verse as early as #106 in Letters to Obscure Men. (Francis Bacon shows up first there, kicks off “Punch in a Nutshell,” and is around the poems ever since.) I was lecturing on Homer in Vancouver at Ralph Maud’s invitation, and wrote this last day, on his back porch and on the plane back to Dallas. I’d written up a lead-in for class discussion on how Homer makes things real by a sense of praxis, multiple physical consequences of objects being what they are – Hector, entering a room in Troy, has to lower his spear to get it through the doorway. Ulysses, killing Thracians, drags the bodies out of the way so the horses he’s stealing – new to battle – won’t “Bogle nor snore,” and wake the camp. Agamemnon, having killed Iphidamas, beheads his elder brother Coon using the other’s body as a kind of block. Nestor’s fourhandled cup is big and so heavy that, filled with wine, you can hardly lift it. So I was full of all that when, at a reading I gave in Ralph’s apartment, Colin Browne asked me about images. I’d also, following up Martha King’s Emily Carr excerpts in Giants Play Well in the Drizzle. . . gone to see the originals, which disappointed. A grandson I’d think of the magician Maskelyne devised stretched-canvas awnings to turn tanks into trucks (and vice versa) to fool planes in Africa, and Dallas’s Fourth of July includes privately owned tanks and halftracks on parade. And near the middle of the poem the stretched strings it began with become the grid laid out on an archeological site. So the “images” of leading edge, war and so on, make families.

“Emerged for Immersed” is about how you can fall out of love with someone (and in love with someone) and the relation of value (and advertising) to time. “Fame in Retrospect” came out of Tony Medlin’s one-man William Shakespeare, seen two years in a row at Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Dallas. Recognizable icons get in, and how brute presence affects mythic presence. When the Republican convention came to Dallas, Neiman’s sold snowstorm globes with elephants inside, holding balloons.

I’d already written a piece, “Husserl on Vacation,” objecting to the too-obvious pickup illustrations in O.ARS around a set of Husserl remarks suggesting what an engraving collage might look like. “Written under German” is Husserl “thinking of” Heidegger as an altarboy, and then in general what it’s like to think of the German language, or know it exists, when you don’t know German. It includes the primitive clay model huts (found in Italy), flashy ads in Ultra for Italian boots with thick red liquid like tomato paste coming out of wineglasses, then emblems of all kinds, compound words (Masonjarred blackeyed), and polished helmets in Excalibur looking like wyvern beaks.

“Imagining a World” relieves my feelings about the Gates of Hell the Dallas Museum of Art has now bought, I think. We have in fact multiple Rodins, dotting the grounds of Trammell Crow’s building (see “Delphi in Arden”) and a little one, usually a bit cobwebbed but well placed by a stone bench in the Museum, of The Sculptor and His Muse so entwined it’s hard to tell where buttock does or doesn’t become shoulder, femur forearm and all hair. The Backs in the poem are Matisse’s series, first seem at the Kimbell in Fort Worth. Tate cubes are sugar, that he made his money on and funded the Tate Gallery, which I’d not then seen. The poem ends with the incandescent iron walls of Dis in the Divine Comedy – partly because I began my Vancouver remarks on Homer with illustrations from the Inferno, Dante’s reworking of Virgil’s imagining of the weight of a mortal body having consequences in hell – and thinking of Rodin’s Gates as darker, installed.

“Thought and Extension” begins with my formulation of a rule Wittgenstein suggests in Philosophical Investigations that could almost be a “leading edge” again but probably is a decorative border. I’m still not quite sure how all the illustrations apply, but am pleased to have got fading Marksalot on telephone cubicle aluminum in a poem (the same kind of thing as the stuffed pipe ends in “The American Scene”).

“Concocting the Other” came from James Hillman’s lecture series on Alchemy at the Dallas Institute. The first line goes back to a poem in Boccherini’s Minuet called “Air & Angels.” Theo Annemann’s Practical Mental Effects includes a charming card effect involving Cagliostro’s reading glasses, alchemical furnaces close with ringed plugs sometimes, and “abolishes” introduced the Mallarmé of Manet’s oil sketch. “Named after Days,” written in a washateria in which Salinger was quoted to me, seems to be about novels and naming. At the time I hadn’t seen the framed canvas drop for The Frozen Deep (now on display at the Dickens House in Doughty Street), but wanted to. That melodrama reminded me of Eugene O’Neill’s father’s standby The Count of Monte Cristo, and by simple extension toy theaters (and the problems lighting them, addressed just a little in The Prose Object in Temblor 2).

Clio wore all black – boots, shirt, trousers, riding crop – and a fine hat to costumehappy Cedar Springs last Halloween. I did when younger own a tin Dagwood-sandwich kazoo, and a Dick Tracy radio watch, and one of the wrapped rocks at the Dallas Museum was careful to show a pink Biennale label. The amalgam of mercury on gold is imagined as a kind of costume, and sexuality as a kind of veneer.

“Haunch of Plum” is a lyric among investigative poems, almost wholly concerned with qualities, then dissonant or at least evocative conjunctions of materials. Since these are felt through to, this kind of poem is not written with what Frost called malice prepense. “Futures” are grain futures; this is a period piece, about the Fiestaware shown in Memorabilia shops and so on, up to the High Society dining paraphernalia as, dated, triste. “Orthodox in Appearance” came from learning the modern cash register (and creditcard-checking procedures) in a classical record shop, and is about vanishings. Day Lewis edited a British-poets anthology for Chatto and Windus – a poem in it mentions a sandalwood card-case, and I wondered about a mislaid Boswell’s effect on my library card. The telephone code for checking credit had asterisks fore and aft. Later Bob Trammell called me at work to say I’d got an NEA grant.

Cotton Club gave me “A Coppola Short,” and I could check the oil against the drawn Chopin portrait on record jackets. From this to Wittgenstein’s schematic-expression faces tells you nothing the poem doesn’t; you’re right to think of Beerbohm caricatures in the line about Wilde – always the question of facial expressions as more precisely or freely rendered, the end point Whistler’s Tanagra panels (Variations in Blue and Green), the general pose all of it. . .through some flute songs for imagined satyrs or Pans, trumpet holes reflecting down to blackness and Gwen Verdon, looking down, dancing at the end of the film, whole body intent. The film isn’t short at all but the poem is, a companion to “Haunch of Plum.” As if the film’s period nature (and Verdon still working) underlined the other.

“Waiting as Dispersion” is tricky. I was and am troubled by Robert Lowell’s Notebooks, the first version, and the earlier poems that throw up three metaphors and hope they come down in a line. Any waiting while looking at a city street through a window is likely to get me Lowell. Waiting places are by definition interim; the “hideous portrait” here is the one described in The Prose Object with the dead cat across the street, but this moves instead to Hockney rooms, Fledermaus in English (“no one is ever borrred”) and the fact that garden nurseries, as environments, sap my will to live.

One of Dee’s crystals (for gazing) was not opaque but smoky quartz, though I think he had a gazing stone as well, but at the time I was remembering Clayton Rawson’s description in Death from a Top Hat. I tried in Letters to Obscure Men #131 to render the effect of looking in a crystal, and in the paired “rewrite” 132. Too many monosyllables in prose or verse do introduce a sponginess, and I’ve forgotten the Poussin painting anyway – it’s the “Et Ego in Arcadia” that comes up, but not here. A clear eye can function like a crystal.

The play Good I found questionable. The pot in pieces is any of the cauldrons found in a Danish bog, with figures on. A quarrel poem to match “Imagining a World.”

“Even Chisels Gold” addresses the Pre-Colombian collection in Dallas, the Rodin Sculptor and His Muse, Max Muller’s memoir title and German folios on Egypt in the Bridwell Library basement, and is a magical poem in a way. It may address primitivism.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are eleven groups of fourteen; the last two (153-4) are mirror-image poems about Love as a quenchable torch or brand that make it hard for me not to think of Althea, Swinburne’s Atalanta, and perhaps way in the back of my mind Heidegger’s aletheia but let that go. Anyway, I’m in London for “Honest Coins Refound,” looking at Prince’s Collected Poems at the Arts Council Shop on Long Acre, up the street from L. Cornelissen & Son, a shop with wood model horses for painters (the pewter jockeys are in Swaine Adeney’s.) I asked David Searcy what to bring back and he said “Gold, I want gold,” tranced Cockney sounding like gowd, hence the spelling at the end about the gilt roof in the Palace of Westminster, visited late. The Lords were debating fluoridation. Nearly every public monument we saw in Europe – except the Walter Scott memorial in Edinburgh and the Eiffel Tower – was obscured by the apparatus of repair. “Absolute Zero Determined,” written in Edinburgh, goes from prehistoric stone balls to cultural-biographical monuments in paint, metal and stone, with an intrusive fault of Roman antiquities in the middle.

“The American Scene” is a consequence of seeing a Shakespeare play in Cambridge, the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Museums, and thinking about these at a Connecticut kitchen table, across from a guitar being played which gave me the key-shift metaphor.

“Vertebra is Singular,” a grammatical remark, came out of Marjorie Barstow’s summer workshop in Lincoln, NE. My friend David Fowler went to the Yevtushenko reception and told me about it. I bought the Quantum edition of Rodin’s Art. My highschool biology torso with removable organs was less evocatively modeled than a Rodin. A beautifully made Irish harp in New Hampshire reminds me of Pound’s vision of leash men in “The Return,” the period feeling that you could get at Celtic myth that way – showed me in a way how that feeling might be possible. Whistler’s small studies of shopfronts are Kryptonite to Tissot’s clarity.

“Dreams are Helmets” is of course a vaguely Celtic title. An Australian choreographer at Barstow’s Alexander workshop never did get Shakespeare’s sonnet right. The plain serviette is from The Modern Conjurer’s photos and text of Charles Bertram’s cup and ball routine, but the thimblerig I was thinking of is in Frith’s Derby Day. The giant rhinoceros is in the University of Nebraska museum, the Tenniel pencil drawings in a Houghton Library pamphlet. Curse of the Demon is a film made of M.R. James “Casting the Runes.” David Searcy likes the Demon in it, which comes at you shedding flakes of luminescence. I happened to see poems by Updike and Thwaite in the Lincoln downtown library. Fourhorned deer are fossil, tiny ruminants. The rhomboid cut from a potato was used by a mathematician to identify the shape in Durer’s Melancholy, according to a clipping Clio showed me.

The bangles like washers are on, say, a small clay Tlaloc, and the Nebraska statehouse bison do look Assyrian, but without the incised writing that can flow right over those bas-reliefs. A gooseheaded basket is also mentioned. The natural bridges falling in Dis in “Delphi in Arden” are in Dante, pulling back to the lecture on Homer that began the first of the Gnomic Poems. Rodin’s head in the Pan sculpture (outside Trammell Crow’s building). The last poem, “John Keats’s Porridge,” begins with a studio photo of Rodin with fragments of statues at his feet. Greek vases and the Tiepolo ceiling are in the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth. There are references to two cards in the Rider deck, and Apollinaire. “Delphi in Arden” begins with Aleister Crowley’s poems in praise of Rodin; “John Keats’s Porridge” refers to a gibe in Pound’s book on Gaudier-Brzeska (who came to dislike Rodin).

What kind of utterance the poems are will not be made much clearer by “identifying” elements – stating, for instance, to what a noun refers. When we think of a thing or about a thing, mull it over, Olson’s “I didn’t know it was a subject” can be close to what we do. For these since I was deliberately at a loss inside the line, the effect is probably lectures heard through a wall. It’s not a question of quest (I once said in a review that any book of criticism with Quest in the title couldn’t possibly be good.) But I wanted the twenty-four poems to be about Truth or written under an umbrella concern for it, caring as for something absent, maybe. It’s hard not to think about Truth romantically. And the last two poems end up in the Georgian period when Truth declined to truth as dawn declines to day in the Frost poem – say these are poems trying to catch a dawn aspect as truth (Hillman might say) dawns.





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