Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Notes on the Paragram: Poetry and Comedy 2

When I first went to Paterson about a year ago, I was struck by the absence of any trace of William Carlos Williams. No monument, no mention in the various “Visitor’s Guides to Paterson” outside the Cultural Center (it was 6 AM on a weekend, so I must admit that I didn’t go in the Cultural Center, but my guess was that inside there was no undue reference to the doctor.) The best I evidence I could find was a place called “Doctor’s Cave Lounge Go-Go Girls.”
What I did come upon was bronze statue of Lou Costello. The statue seemed to be language’s bronze cheer to poetry. The star of films like Buck Privates, Pardon My Sarong, Here Come the Co-Eds, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein would have more cultural importance to Paterson than the man who wrote a modernist epic poem about it. Not that the readers of this poem haven’t returned the favor. After all, most poets I have talked to have either never visited the actual place, or if they have, they have not expressed any desire to return, since the poem itself provides better returns on revisiting. But the question that immediately comes to mind is, what really was the better poem . . . Paterson or Who’s On First?? Or maybe, we should instead ask, what was the most influential. Was Who’s On First? a gateway drug for poets like Charles Bernstein, the Henny Youngman of Language Poetry, who wrote “Who’s on first? . . . Only the real is real” (“Whose Language”)?
Or take this passage (please), from Paterson, which seems to deconstruct the question and the pronoun, oscillating between it and I, in ways that are not foreign to Costello’s abuse of “who,” “what,” and “I don’t know”:

Who is younger than I?
The contemptible twig?
that I was? stale in mind
whom the dirt
recently gave up?
. . .
A mere stick that has
twenty leaves
against my convolutions.
What shall it become,

Snot nose, that I have
not been?
I enclose it and
persist, go on.

Let it rot, at my center.
Whose center?
I stand and surpass
youth’s leanness.

My surface is myself.
Under which
to witness, youth is
buried. Roots? (30-31)

[12/2/06 correction: however, later I did find Williams made it onto the timeline inside the Cultural Center, along with Allen Ginsberg, and Al Tangora, "World's Champion Typist."]

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Blogger Jonathan said...

Hello Joe. I've enjoyed reading your blog and watching the videos. This is a particularly interesting piece. I guess this question and answer style would be termed 'call and response'. It is reminiscent of the dialectical argumentation of ancient Greek philosophy.

WCW's metaphor of the internalised tree is an interesting one as well. The idea of being rooted in youth. He seems to want to escape from this rootedness by letting the twig of his youth rot. This short piece of poetry packs a lot of ideas in a very concise way. Unlike Abbott and Costello's comic dialogue, the questioning does not frustrate but seems to continue adding to the understanding. 'Whose centre?' seems to suggest multiple personalities (dialectic?), a youthful one and an older one, the youthful one witnessing the actions of the older one.

4:21 AM, November 26, 2006  
Blogger Joe Milutis said...

while "rot" might not be the operative word for this, I'm thinking from your comments on how trees grow outward in concentric circles, so that there's a dead twig at the center of a living growth outward. And the rot is somewhere between snot (smart-ass youth but also mucus and living matter) and not (absolute non-being). But the way these "rhymes" are set up implies something a non-linear relation btwn snot-rot-not. Who's on third? I don't know.
Seeing your current blog entry, I'm thinking if you haven't taken a look at all of _Paterson_ yet, you should look at his geological cross-section page. Or maybe you are already a fan?

3:53 PM, November 26, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Hello again Joe. I do like WCW's poetry a lot, but I haven't read Paterson. I shall have to try and find a copy somewhere. And yes, I think you're right, the twig he was thinking of is most likely the dead wood at the centre of a tree. It makes me think of an old tree with a rotten centre I used to play inside when I was a child.

10:32 PM, November 26, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Hello once more. I just noticed this on a fairly well known UK poetry blog.

11:20 AM, November 27, 2006  
Blogger Joe Milutis said...

playing inside a rotted old tree sounds fun. (are you a gnome?)
If you go to pg 640 on this pdf, you'll find a facsimile of the geological cross section page of Paterson:

1:53 PM, November 27, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Thanks for the geological section. I wonder what it was they found at 2050 ft? There is a blank at that depth. Maybe the geologist fell asleep.

With the information given, I am able to guess the age of the rocks as Triassic though this is not noted. The colour and lithology are correct however, and the equivalent salt-bearing strata in the UK that WCW mentions are Triassic.

1:28 PM, November 29, 2006  

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