Monday, September 10, 2012

Poetry- Coyote


This table likes to wobble, and so
does the chair.  Hard to keep a sense
of focus
or balance.  I stop thinking about typing
and start paying attention
to gravity,
what an axis is, to the flute crying
of a coyote
slivering over these moonlight slopes.  I keep trying to fix it,
looking underneath, wiggling things— I want a good footing, but it’s a no go,
and the coyote, I didn’t know,
they make this sound,
a hollowing out that requires a moon.  It’s some sort
of deformed magic, or perhaps it is the floor,
or me…
for it does not shake
until I sit in it.  I decide to write after all— the birth
of dance rambles
up from the floor.  I ride it
as the heaving leads to words.


  1. ... this poem contains stylistic elements familiar to readers of your poetry, a continual weaving of inner and outer, solid images and phrases largely designed to elicit, what should we call it, maybe a kind of "sympathetic mimesis," notably in the tendency to personify: "I can think of no better compliment / than to be kissed by a tree" -- this brings to mind Emerson's famous remark in his euology for Thoreau, "As for taking Thoreau's arm, I should as soon take the arm of an elm tree" -- so fierce was Thoreau's identification with the things of the world, he managed to transform himself into one ...

    ... but another dimension emerges out of the syntax of this poem, that of word choice for maximum effect ... so, "slivering" ... at first my eye and brain saw "silvering" and even after several readings refused to see "slivering" ...

    ... why did I read "silvering"? ... probably because I'd just finished painting a Corot nocturne -- deep and fresh associations with the distorting light of the moon on otherwise familiar scenes ... or because I imagined silvery is how a coyote's fur must appear in the glint of night light ... or because the word that actually is in the poem, "slivering," is hard to visualize, eventually I settled on an analogy, that of a strobe light lased on a darkened landscape, picking out details here and there that the mind resolves into scene: rock, tree, field, and so on...

    ... on the misreading of "slivering" as "silvering" : to quote a well-known, and bogus, claim, "Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabridge uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae" ...

    while you are pondering all of that, here is my coyote anecdote (nothing to do with a jar):

    ... we were living in pacific palisades in a cluster of condos halfway up the heights ... early one frigid wintry morning I stepped outside with max the beagle and he froze -- well, not literally, but because unexpectedly he refused to budge, I also tensed and scanned, and then I saw it, silhouette-thin, wolf-grey, dirty and emaciated it was staring at us ... I glanced down at max, he was still in a ridiculous pose out of the chronicles of narnia, you know, when the white witch zaps mr. faun into a statue ... when I looked up, it had disappeared ... at night we'd heard them in the foothills, now I knew their cries were of hunger and anger, for the solitary moon and friendless earth ...

  2. How very nice to see you here again! I wasn't sure how active you were going to be, with the whole "tuning out" a bit at the Artrage forums. So it's a pleasant and welcome surprise to see you here. :)

    Your note re: "slivering" (my made up word- moving like a sliver, in my mind, perhaps caused by or causing some kind of pain or awkward attentiveness you can't get rid of), versus "silvering" is an interesting one,and something I'll be considering. Your focus on meaning through image is good, IMO. Modernist, I'm sure, but I like to "access' meaning through things in action-- perhaps "slivering" is too abstract, and is getting away from the animal itself. So that's something to think about. "Coyote" is pretty raw, but sometimes I find it nice to share earlier drafts- more like a poetic notebook of thoughts in process.

    As for Thoreau- I admit I've not read him much. He always seemed like he was trying too hard. I've gotten more out of the oblique approach of a person like Ansel Adams. He doesn't have to hit me over the head. He just shows me. Perhaps I'm missing something for Thoreau though, and I should investigate more? Or is it Emerson that you find more interesting?

    Finally, re: the Corot-- were you making a painting of one in particular? on the iPad or the bamboo or natural media? Are you sharing these things? I'd love to see that-- I feel like that's stretching past a bit of what you've been sharing for the last few months, and would be intrigued to see what you're applying from our other art conversations.

  3. Oh, no, I'm still tracking along here and at ArtRage, following your thread, working with the new ToolBar ... It's just that I no longer use AR exclusively for my artwork, and I don't want to put up images on their Forum that are mixed-breed, so to speak ...

    I plan to stay engaged because all that you are doing with watercolors in AR goes beyond AR and is of value to artists everywhere ... I've put up the Corot in my AR gallery, I'm a little unhappy with it, it's one of those paintings that remains unfinished no matter how hard I work at it:

    So you were thinking of "slivering" as a nonce word? ... "to sliver" as a verb has history ... I tried to reconstruct -- deconstruct? -- its meaning, because it seemed a brilliant example of verbal compression in poetry: shivering and slinking = slivering ... a portmanteau of sorts, like Lewis Carroll's "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves" etc. ... but the main thrust in the compression is in the fusion of image and action, one of the hallmarks of your work, I'm beginning to realize ... I suppose your rallying cry could be "no ideas but in action" [strangely, that line could be misread as "no ideas but inaction"]

    ... for Thoreau, you could start with the chapter "Solitude" in Walden ... Or with any of his field notebooks, called Journals (now online) ... the entries for the 1850s read like notes for paintings or poetry:

    Dec 31st '54

    A beautiful clear not very cold day-- The
    shadows on the snow an Indigo blue--
    The pines look very dark. The wht oak leaves are a cinnamon
    I see mice & rabbit & fox tracks on the
    color--the black & red (?)oak leaves a reddish brown or leather
    meadow Once a partridge rises from the
    alders & skims across the river at its widest
    part just before me--a fine sight. On
    the edge of A. Wheelers' cranberry meadow
    I see the track of an otter track made since
    yesterday morning.. How glorious the per-
    fect stillness & peace of the winter landscape!

    Thanks for visiting zoooming . com

    - Pete

  4. ... returning briefly to say sth about the title of this poem, presented as an unadorned noun ... so, a naming, but not quite a name, as Prufrock might be the name of a real person we are meeting for the first time, but still a generic pointer to sth in the real world, assuming the reader knows what sort of animal a coyote might be, itself an interesting exercise in literary allusion, since the coyote isn't associated with, say, Aesop's fables, but can be found in native American mythology ...

    ... at any rate, unadorned nouns as titles, quite apart from how they are indexed to reality in the reader's mind, can suggest a dictionary entry, and, since what one is reading is poem, the expectation that a definition will be subverted ... Emily Dickinson (who notoriously did not name her poems) used this strategy quite liberally, her two main sources for inspiration being the Bible (which is all about naming), and her Webster's ... ... "Hope is the thing with feathers" moves the reader through a carefully calibrated dictionary entry, from abstraction to abstract-concrete to concrete in a single sentence ...

    ... so although the thing that is named in the poem is a wobbly chair, which, as the poet notes, makes possible two separate but related actions, sitting and writing, the writing gives rise to thoughts that include a coyote, and in parallel fashion, howling at the moon, yet the main action is in the unsteadiness of the chair, a kind of wobbling pivot, to borrow Pount's reading of Confucius, which induces a certain anxiety in the poet about writing, or at least about finding a starting point, "it's a no-go ... I didn't know" ... here the formal characteristics of poem-making insert or assert themselves in alliteration, the coyote saving the poem from being a straightforward prose description of sitting down to write, itself a high romantic theme, as evidenced by Keats's "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again" -- a title that is more than unadorned, it is immersed in literary referentiality, leaving the reader to drown, so to speak, in a sea of possible readings ...

  5. ps: apologies for typos and other infelicities, it doesn't seem possible to go back and correct anything once it's been published ...

  6. I'm one that likes titles to play, if I use them to do more than just label (like a first line reiterated or some such thing). So, part of the pleasure of writing a poem is seeing a name turn and play upon itself. Yes, there is a coyote in the poem, but he is a kind of axis that things turn on, not the poems theme itself, which I'm sure is clear to you. I agree that it's the table that's the real actor, in a funny way-- or the real instigator. Of course, it's poet who's the real coyote-- things move or leap, from coyote, to table, to poet... though the poet is more inferred than the rest.

    I think it's Frost who said something like "A poet's the only person allowed to say one thing but mean another" and get away with it. Poems, to me.... and engaging art in general, is like star gazing-- you have to look at it askance for the image to appear in full brightness.