Sunday, May 02, 2010

Aztec Astral Glitch

This time reading Book II, I picked up on this mental wormhole that takes us from Garret Mountain to a similar place in Mexico, Chapultepec or "grasshopper hill." It seems like he refers to this statue, or ones like it, when he talks about the "grasshopper of red basalt, boot long . . . a matt stone solicitously instructed/ to bear away some rumor/ of the living presence that has preceded it, out-precedented its breath . " The rumor, we can imagine, may refer to grasshopper's signature sound, and Williams may be reflecting on the appropriateness of a representation without this sound. However, that its "wings do not unfold for flight--," for Williams "no need!" Remember, this passage occurs after the first appearance of the references to that which he approaches "concretely." I had been thinking this time around that, contrary to perhaps more wishful interpretations of Williams' relation to the concrete, that in Book II he conceptually places the concrete in subordinate relation to the vitality of the workers in the park, and thus seems to denigrate the concrete, even though the workers are boisterously rude. Yet he goes on to describe how the "mind's wings," connected to the artist's hand, and faced with the unyielding rock, seem, in this odd game of rock-paper-scissors to beat out any cheap vitality. This reference may serve to clarify the cryptic lines "Love is a stone endlessly in flight;" "the stone lives, the flesh dies;" as well, perhaps his reference to "window-eyes that front the whole head" (see pic above) implying the immortal insomnia of artistic vision, of the "Love [that] combat[s] sleep."
A big question for me is how this passage was meant to be read without the possibility of a quick Internet search? As an astral residue in memory? How legible is it meant to be?

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Anonymous Bill said...

I appreciate the picture!

I'm plugging through Paterson for the first time. Perhaps I was raised on modernist works, so the work does not seem that obscure.

What is great about your post is that you add a pictorial dimension to the work, helping to build the poem as object into a community construction. Also, I love the lines you pull out for the contrast.

From my end, I don't think being able to know what Williams was referring to was essential. You've been with the poem for years. Can you remember when you first read the "flight and stone" lines on the grasshopper? I think the meaning transcends any "autobiographical meaning" that give rise to it.

This is how I see it:

It's clear that the live grasshoppers give rise to a memory of a sculpture. If someone is motivated, they'd realize Chapultepec is related to grasshoppers.

(A reader could go down yet another rabbit hole: Chapultepec is symbolic of an American attitude The word also has a "historical" rhyme with American colonization and occupation.)

But the core essence here, I think is the play between flight and stone, life and death, and the usual metaphors running through the poem. The prose with "Her" voice (yes, I know who wrote the words, but I don't think Williams intends the confessional to be particular) breaks the grasshopper segment into two: the focus on flight before, the stasis of stone after.

That contrast, I think, is the mind that jumps freely and the mind weighed down by the stone. (Hence the transition to the mink, which leads us out of the stone into what the lyricism of invention)....

I think the interaction of the different viscosities (the "rock-paper-scissors" of your post) is also one of the keys to understanding the work (though I've only gotten to this point in the poem, and you've been with it for years, so we'll see how it goes)

Thus, the poem continues to work, even without the internet (though it makes it more fun) as long as we keep the core themes in mind and not get sidetracked by the accidentals.

However, the point you raise about the opaqueness of the poem is crical. And, the concern is perennial (cf., the comments on

3:21 PM, May 24, 2010  
Blogger Joe Milutis said...

yes these are really good points. I wonder why I did not look up the name of the mountain until now . . . perhaps only because I was teaching the book for the first time in official classroom setting . . . crossing ts and dotting is . . . whereas the many times I came across this passage earlier, I was perhaps satisfied by the more subliminal evocativeness of what seemed like a huge dream grasshopper that leaps from his mind--boot long!-- with much the same border interpenetrations that begin the book and extend throughout.

1:40 AM, May 26, 2010  

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