Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: Imagination

by lizard

Who remembers how post-9/11 Clear Channel decided lots of songs shouldn’t be played, including John Lennon’s Imagine?

that’s a sort of crappy lead in to this week’s LWPS theme, imagination.

*

Fools have big wombs. For the rest?—here is penny-royal if one knows to use it. But time is only another liar, so go along the wall a little further: if blackberries prove bitter there’ll be mushrooms, fairy-ring mushrooms, in the grass, sweetest of all fungi.

*

That’s how Kora in Hell starts out, a strange group of poems by William Carlos Williams. I was flipping through his collection tonight and found a few other selections that somehow seemed appropriate, but I can’t put my finger on why…

*

One need not be hopelessly cast down because he cannot cut onyx into a ring to fit a lady’s finger. You hang your head. There is neither onyx nor porphyry on these roads—only brown dirt. For all that, one may see his face in a flower along it—even in this light. Eyes only and for a flash only. Oh, keep the neck bent, plod with the back to the split dark! Walk in the curled mudcrusts to one side, hands hanging. Ah well…Thoughts are trees! Ha, ha, ha, ha! Leaves load the branches and upon them white night sits kicking her heels against the stars.

*

Little round moon up there—wait awhile—do not walk so quickly. I could sing you a song—: Wine clear the sky is and the stars no bigger than sparks! Wait for me and next winter we’ll build a fire and shake up twists of sparks out of it and you shall see yourself in the ashes, young—as you were one time.

—WCW


  1. So, Lizard, who is the father of “the beats”, Williams or Rexroth (or both perhaps.) My opinion is here.

    But Williams is there amongst giants like Wallace Stevens.

    Thanks for the bit.

    • lizard19

      that’s a good question, Dave. one of the problems i have is the literary merits of the term beatnik has been obscured by the cultural/marketing function of the term, something you pointed out in your post.

      that said, i think strong cases can be made for either Williams or Rexroth, but another name that could be added to the paternal lineage of the beats is Walt Whitman.

      Whitman’s formal innovation of pushing his lines long across the page had a major influence on Ginsberg. though Williams was also an important mentor to Ginsberg, i’m not sure his formal innovations (which are tremendously important to American verse) had as much of an impact.

      I’m not as well-read with Rexroth as I am with Williams. I really liked the Rexroth poem you included in your post. i didn’t realize he had such a hedonistic streak in him. i’ll have to read up on him.

    • It’s hard to find American poets that haven’t been influenced, in one degree or another, by Whitman, isn’t it? But the line from “barbaric yawp” (or “yawls” in earlier printings as I recall) to Howl seems easily drawn – and not from simple stylistics but from the growl of human search.

      The problem you know, of course, is the popularity of Robert Frost as the public’s idea of greatness. Feh! Howl!

    • JC

      Geez you guys, go all beat on me when I’m trying to get out and have some fun on this glorious saturday.

      Having been raised watching an old B&W tube tv, alternating between Mickey Mouse and Dobie Gillis in the late 50’s, some beat started to seep into my pre-kindergarten brain cell.

      For me, it was the injection of Zen–the infusion of eastern religion and mysticism–into beat in the 50’s by Alan Watts (starting with his 1930’s book, “The Spirit of Zen” and later followed by many other books and 1957’s widely popular “The Way of Zen”) that guided the movement into more than just a literary or cultural phenomenon.

      Watts injected a sense of spirituality into it that gave the beats some dimension and depth. I spent the late 60’s and 70’s studying Watts extensively (nice way of saying “being a hippie”), so here’s a nice tidbit from a piece in the Chicago Review he wrote, “Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen” in 1958.

      “But the Westerner who is attracted by Zen and who would understand it deeply must have one indispensable qualification: he must understand his own culture so thoroughly that he is no longer swayed by its premises unconsciously. He must really have come to terms with the Lord God Jehovah and with his Hebrew-Christian conscience so that he can take it or leave it without fear or rebellion. He must be free of the itch to justify himself. Lacking this, his Zen will be either “beat” or “square,” either a revolt from the culture and social order or a new form of stuffiness and respectability. For Zen is above all the liberation of the mind from conventional thought, and this is something utterly different from rebellion against convention, on the one hand, or adopting foreign conventions, on the other…

      The “beat” mentality as I am thinking of it is something much more extensive and vague than the hipster life of New York and San Francisco. It is a younger generation’s nonparticipation in “the American Way of Life,” a revolt which does not seek to change the existing order but simply turns away from it to find the significance of life in subjective experience rather than objective achievement. It contrasts with the “square” and other-directed mentality of beguilement by social convention, unaware of the relativity of right and wrong, of the mutual necessity of capitalism and communism to each other’s existence, of the inner identity of puritanism and lechery, or of, say, the alliance of church lobbies and organized crime to maintain the laws against gambling.”

  2. Gary Snyder is more Way of Zen
    Jack Kerouac was more The Meaning of Happiness
    Neal Cassady was more “fuck that shit”.

    Maybe it was the ultimate undoing of Kerouac from the scene in The Dharma Bums when the Gary Snyder character told the Kerouac character that the Zen masters said that being drunk all the time was no big deal.

    But I should remind you that Watts’ idea of government was, indeed, radically libertarian. To his credit.

  1. 1 An April Feast Of Poetry « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Imagination […]

  2. 2 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Imagination […]

  3. 3 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Imagination […]




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