Friday, November 16, 2007

Archives Project: STL #41

Title: Carl Rakosi 1903-2004
Date: 30 June 2004

I missed this in first time through while archiving STL. Later obituaries from the U Penn alumni site and a NYT blurb.

The poet Carl Rakosi died Saturday June 25, 2004, at the ripe age 100. He was the last of the Objectivists, those poets who emerged in the early 1930s as left-wing counterparts to the rising tide of Modernism, who nonetheless followed in and elaborated the Pound/Williams project of "thinking with things as they exist" (to quote Zukofsky, and admitting that's a gross oversimplification). A quick search shows no official obituary in the the American press, only one from the Guardian. I actually referred to him in the paper I gave last week, adding that he was "alive and well." I felt a little... guilty almost when I found out a few days later, for not 'touching wood' or something. I only made passing reference to him in my paper, which might add to the guilt, so thought I'd write a little about him this week. I called his work "genial and aphoristic," a phrase I may have unconsciously picked up from someone else but is nonetheless descriptive enough. I want to look at "Lying In Bed On A Summer Morning," supposedly the first poem he wrote after retiring from social work and embarking on a 35 year second career of poetry.

The poem begins

How pleasant are the green
and brown tiles
of my neighbor's roof.
The branches of his elm tree
stretch across
and make a delightful
the angle
of the roof
the exact plane
which the branch needs
to be interesting.
Le mot juste? la branche juste!

From the beginning, it's a sort of origin myth/ poetic exercise. On the first day of his retirement, he takes in the scene outside of his window in an act of explicitly poetic attention. He continues his giddy visual survey:

And you, my dark spruce,
dominate the left side
of this composition.
You are clannish but authentic
and stand, uncompromishing,
for the family of trees.

Here's very self-aware in this stanza, pointing out some fairly hollow poetic tricks he's using--apostrophe to the tree, and exposing a synechdoche that really isn't employed in the poem. Despite how simple this and other CR poems seem, I don't totally get this stanza.

And all at once the early birds
all break out chirping
as when the bidding opens
on the stock exchange.
Then one,
the long sweet warble
of a finch.
Oh stay!
And then a chant from down the street,
two boys triumphant,
very samll in thick glasses:
"We go a bird nest! We got a bird nest!"
A contrary air.
It is gone.
And the blue sky,
clear as in Genesis,

Here's an obvious image of rebirth, morning birds, linked with the unusual but senible comparison to the Stock Exchange reopening in the morning. The stanza picks through some open lineation, and ends with another "beginning" comparison.

What is there between us?
an abstract air...
a state sans question
or inquietude.....
something light
as a country air
yet serious as gold
or man sui generis

"Air" means both atmosphere and song here: everything changed by poetry. Grappling at significance, he offers some possible consequences of his new life, ending with another image of value and an image of his new, "sui generis," self, which sonically links to "Genesis" above.

Ugh, sorry Carl. You'd think I could at least do a satisfactory exposition of the poem. Maybe by reading it though, you get an idea of his work, and of his 'value' of a life renewed by poetry.

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