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Ecstatic Emigre.

1. Preliminaries

1. To experience time passing and to know the sensation is the truth and province of poetry

2. To feel the onus of this knowledge as a physical law

3. A physical law and a dynamic which winds the experiencing subject into a circuitry: animal-human, me in you, us in them, then in now, citizen in state, nation in world, heaven in hell

4. To become a traveler, a willing emigre, in service of that circuitry, to write the poem that is each time and oftener the newest expression of that dynamic which is universal love

5. To falter moment to moment in the ever emerging history of the present, which is not engaged in the language of ecstasy but of set territories, as on a map

6. To gain equilibrium again in sincere relation to contiguity and to the contingent, which house the actual human condition

7. To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love,

8. To ecstasy, to the emigre, in that order

a) Ecstasy, 1382, definition 2 from existani, to "displace," also "drive out of one's mind" (existatni phrenon)

b) Emigre, the noun form, definition 2, "An emigrant, one who departs their native land to become an immigrant in another"

c) To emigre, the verb form lost in English, from the French past participle of emigreer, "to have left"

9. To the displacement of mind for the next, to be driven from my mind 10. To and in English, my language, and the emigration possible there

2. Apology

A dying animal, I lean to sounds that hum the work of the world. As Allen Ginsberg writes at the end of "Memory Gardens":
 Well, while I'm here I'll
 do the work--
 and what's the Work?
 To ease the pain of living.
 Everything else, drunken
 dumbshow. (542) 

And since I want to be alive until I'm dead, I listen for sounds that, in Spinoza's terms, are identical with that part of my nature that orients me towards the world. Louis Zukofsky expresses it sweetly in response to L. S. Dembo's question in an interview conducted in 1969:

Q. Where does the idea of love fit in . . .

A. Well, it's like my horses. If you're good enough to run, or you feel like running, you run. If you want to live, you love: if you don't want to live, you hate, that's all. It's as simple as that . . . (243)

Zukofsky's work is filled with horses, epic horses, Homer's horses, Ovid's Lenti, Lenti Noctis Equi, (1) Richard the III's "A horse! A horse! my Kingdom for a horse" (V. iv. 7), sawhorses in Brooklyn during the Depression, horses, after all, made of words, and most overtly, poems in the sound of a man and horse running madly, "for dear life." For dear life, I hold much reverence, dear life, so full of things that constitute the reality of the temporal: that I am someone, some one, and you another one, and trees and the sky, and billboards and the news of the international financial crisis daily on the radio! In dear life, where we are all in time together, Spinoza's natura naturans, (2) all things, more or less, more and less, whole by how fully what we are is moved by an orientation toward (and not away from) the world, that uber thing! This belief in material, this thinking through things, contra thinking beyond the thing: objectivism (the things, and not the movement, the things and a stance towards them) contra symbolism (the things and a movement and a stance away or "beyond" this world). John Cage:
 why is this so necessary that sounds should be just sounds?
 There are many ways of saying why. One: in order that each sound may
 become the Buddha. If that's too Oriental an expression, take
 Christian Gnostic statement: 'split the stick and there is
Jesus.' (70) 

Cage is speaking here of contemporary music, though he was also a poet and essayist; all of his work sui generis, (3) aiming toward divinity. Dear life, the paradise in dear life. Thus, also, poetry, and poetry which calls for, in the most literal sense, a radical calling into question of art qua art, thus poetry which is the fact, not artifact, of attention in time and so is poetry turned towards the world. Cage believed that the infinite was available in art, and that the infinite was a mobile, fluid thing, available in moments:
 Music present with us: this moment now
 This now moment (43) 

In "Meridian," a speech written in acceptance of the George Buchner award in 1958, Paul Celan defined this same attention to temporality as one paid by "the poet of the creature" (408). In the same speech, he poses questions about poetic reception, no doubt anticipating poems to come, poems which would trace his contemporaneity through each moment's origin:
 May we, as happens in many places nowadays, proceed from art as from
 something given and implicitly assured should we, to put it
 blankly--let's say--be thinking Mallarme through to the end?

Already underway with a radical dismantling of German in service of what he called the "ever yet" of poetry, found only by "someone who does not forget that he speaks from . . . his very being, his creatureliness . . ." (410), Celan would continue until his death in 1970 to emigrate far away from the lyricism of the celebrated poem "Todesfugue" (4) which had established his reputation:
 Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
 we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
 we drink and we drink
 we shovel a grave in the air where you won't lie too cramped
 A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
 he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair
 Margareta . . . (31, trans. John Felstiner) 

There are many who believe that poetry's purpose is to console, to make understandable our failings, our suffering and transient condition on Earth. The same many, however, don't usually accept that language too is transient, and must change to fit the condition of its use. Celan knew this. Having lost his mother and father to the death camps, he knew that there is no consolation, and that the acceptance of his beautiful "Todesfugue" was literary culture's desire to make comprehensible the murder of millions of people. Inconsolably, Celan's poetic practice evolved from a deep need to find, in language, an objective place to stand:
 Art creates I-distantness. Art in a certain direction demands
 A certain distance, a certain path . . .
 But I think--and now this thought can hardly surprise you--
 I think a hope of poems has always been to speak in just this
 way in the cause of the strange
--no, I can't use this word
 anymore--in just this way to speak in the cause of an Other
 who knows, perhaps in the cause of a wholly Other
. (408) 

"Strange--no, I can't use this word anymore . . ." No, indeed. In order to write the poems he hoped to write, Celan had to embrace his stranger, to discover that his stranger was in fact a "wholly other" who would demand a further language. In order to write the poems that would "always . . . speak in . . . the cause of an Other," he and his language must--as he wrote in a late poem--"undebecome."(35) The radical nature of his poetic enterprise would involve a via negativa (5) which would travel by way of neologism, by way of compounding words, and by way of poems whose sense is available in the sound they make in time:
 Spasms, I love you, psalms,
 the feeling-walls deep in the you-ravine
 rejoice, seedpainted one,
 Eternal, de-eternalized are you,
 eternalized, Uneternal, you
 into you, into you
 I sing the bone-rod-scratch,
 Redred, far behind the pubic hair
 harped, in the caves,
 outside, all around
 the unending none-whatsoever-canon,
 you throw me the nine times
 twined, dropping
 eye-tooth-wreath (57, trans. Pierre Joris) 

A poem can be a settlement that lures the settlers into a false sense of security, even while the original inhabitants prepare war. Deeply unsettling, this late poem from Threadsuns sounds the late-20th-century spiritual anguish of the survivor committed to Diaspora. (6) The Psalms turned "Spasms," the estranged I reaches a you that is both in and outside of him, reaches an eternity which is also "un-" and "de-eternalized," unlike the "unending none-whatsoever" canon of established letters. Deeply unaccommodated, our emigre is nonetheless turned toward the world in his approach, waiting for what "you" will throw, waiting for the word that comes next.


Cage, John. Silence. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University and University Press of New England, 1973.

Celan, Paul. Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan. New York, London: W. W. Norton, 2001.

Celan, Paul. Threadsun. Kobenhavn & Los Angeles: Green Integer 112, 2005.

Ginsberg, Allen. Collected Poems, 1947-1997. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Zukofsky, Louis. Prepositions + The Collected Critical Essays. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press and University Press of New England, 2000.


(1.) "slowly, slow" run o horses of the night"

(2.) Nature naturing.

(3.) A genre unto itself.

(4.) "Deathfugue."

(5.) A concept that crosses all religions, "the negative way" concentrates on the absolute unknowability of God.

(6.) Diaspora (noun): scattering of language, culture, or people; a dispersion of people, language, or culture that was formerly concentrated in one place.

CLAUDIA KEELAN'S latest book, Missing Her, is forthcoming in the Green Rose Series from New Issues Press in the fall of 2009. She lives in Las Vegas.
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Title Annotation:APR: A Column
Author:Keelan, Claudia
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:May 1, 2009
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