i wrote, roughly a year ago with the annex of a hop skip & a jump tagged on it, a short collection of poems with Wallace Stevens as the central character. he sometimes speaks with me, he speaks with his characters & we sometimes discover things about him no biography could possibly know. it is not just a series of poems with things happening to him— i took advantage of the breadth of style & content within his Collected Poems & utilizing allusion, his existential, philosophical & artistic concerns; his fears & his mortality & borrowing his structural integrity, colour palette, & musical ear, wrote poems that expand & explore these issues.
i can’t feign originality, the language & tone of most of these poems, if not all are absolutely not my own, but that of Stevens; however i can certainly say they have an aesthetic character— i’d say they have something like fan fiction about them.
i wrote them to wear out my own unconscious filching of Stevens’ style, which was proving difficult for me to shake off at that time. i thought if i just concentrated on a series of poems conscious of his style it would organically wean me off his style. it worked.
this poem Return to Vesuvius, is supposed to be additional episodes that happened to the protagonist of Esthetique du Mal, but Stevens omitted, which is a fiction.
Return to Vesuvius
…The genius of misfortune is not a sentimentalist. Wallace Stevens, ‘Esthetique du Mal’
If his window opened out onto the smell of Vesuvius’s groans
which it did, threatening the sublime of an open page
—what then of the power of the sublime, what of the page?
what did it mean that a book, this book,
pertaining to be sublime, could be engulfed in magma,
or uprooted by a strong through-draft or even that
a man may eat the book?
The fretting he accustomed himself to
to the pinpoint of its topmost trembling hand
played havoc on his effete nerves.
Volcanic air leaked into his anxiety on the pliable sublime
about the endless endings of life.
Time, of its own self, will not remember, it can’t remember
—he remembered it when he read the clock & his foot
in keeping with the hammering of marble in triple time
or the yammering of the market square’s sidewalk.
& he was so sorry that no matter how much imagine
is involved such an intolerable truth persists
: a correct catastrophe can only be
correct if it is a complete catastrophe said the book.
How enlarged upon was this in all those letters home?
It had to be a bubble of soapy water, he supposed
that stopped the hassle off the crickets in the telephone.
He wrote letters as it felt more personable
he wrote because he never stuttered with a pen.
Thus, we know it couldn’t have been his Sybil on the other end
whispering the incantation of the day from Campanian tabloids.
His personal agony aunt who he could also love
as mother, sister, lover: problem solver of the abscesses in feel.
She elements contained for him
our internal predicament & moreover, our predicate.
As he was reborn, so we were reborn
with every single mimicry— we are all of a mimicry
he was, everyone was or became the substance of mimicry, in turn
on learning they were but mimicry.
Regardless, robust research on finality is never done
even if the whole shebang is just a mimicry
even if Sybil the agony aunt is his emotional meteorologist.
The stench of rotten eggs had penetrated his tenement
long enough & so Vesuvius’s eructation wasn’t
a separate smell for him, he had endured the rot of egg
four days now as the sadness deepened his uncleanliness
: a broke egg in the punnet went unnoticed but for stench.
He preferred lunch at the café with a slim volume on the sublime
& to perv on passing ladies, shaped like vases with pears painted on them
ladies in cashmere sweaters & pill box hats spuming feathers
he could not ever get his grubby hands on for a squeeze & nibble.
It seemed eruption was an imminence that would not come
as though it had & was erupting, but society continued anyhow
as if the ashen statues of Pompeii awakened & resumed
corruptions of the will, of that time, before that time
—that has resumed corrupting thoughts across periods.
This is what was so sublime about his book
: to read of how the past corrupts us now with only hope of change
& designs for practical methods of seeing
this as an aesthetically pleasing idea.
The cracking of a free range egg was pleasurable
that manner in which they sluggishly plop in to a jug
a mimicry of the sun’s features, perfect rotundity, bold yellow.
an incomplete birth of a thing become protein for the quick.
an egg fell on the floor, the man sighed long & heavy, he handed
Wallace a cloth to wipe the floor, which marked it with a poem…
…the sun is & always was yoked to the moon
said Wallace as he scooped up the fallen egg
onto a plain white plate— refused a helping hand
a blunt, solid white no! for, beneath a yes
is the furtive will to refuse
—the august punishment of do not trouble yourself.
He quarried the selfish right to decline out him
that no one should suffer from it.
It was no major catastrophe, no Megiddo
: only a sun of mimicry lanced by a blunder
now being nursed in the arms of the moon.
That one might suffer. That one might die.
This it is that makes an innocence of life.
it’s no great catastrophe the sun went dead. ended Wallace.
In the tenement gardens, paratroopers cut grass
& the machine with the appetite for grass
impressed the reader of the sublime.
It had no care for blue geraniums, red peony
not even care for weeds that mask as flowers.
The grass, as did the sublime contained secrets
of what he did not know, because he did
not wish to know, at least not acutely know
: he was more interested in the faculties of guess
—hypotheses had such attraction to his character.
as shade & sun split the lawn in twain, at noon
the paratroopers disappeared, half in the sun
& half into the shade, their shadow-self, hard against
the sun, their phosphor-self, hard against the shade
:the man, sipping a coffee, eating a clementine.
We re-imagine ourselves every moment
the only problem is we always realize
that we are doing this too late he ranted
well actually he quoted from the open book
opened by the mid-day sirocco
however, he re-imagined the book
as opened by another force
that the force’s paramount concern
was the delivery of a suitable theme for a man
escaping from a previous self, a man newly opened
to any experience that could develop a newer him
a self more solid, more Byronic, more hair
& brawn to show case on his chin
a beard to soften the blows of the sublime
—to excel at something he was incapable of doing,
to poach confidence from the shoulders
of mountains for his benefit, to hush.
He had only to sit patiently enough for the change.
He had been to the ends of the earth,
or so it was that he had dreamt it so
& waking couldn’t dissuade himself
as he fell into the day like a brick of cloud.
That he had not in fact travelled the globe
that he had not stood in deer furs at the precipice
of Patagonia’s glaciers with a pack of dogs
nor sundered ice bergs on his merry way to Reykjavik.
He could only conclude he dreamt
a memory of a previous incarnation of himself.
That he, himself, with arms & legs more able
had conquered such inhospitable terrains
& not only spent a lifetime in cafes & hotel rooms
sick of his own pale portrait, sick of his complete malaise
admiring Vesuvius from various angles & taking photographs
as the same sun that altered each photograph
broke the backs of primitives in obscurest Africa
& made a source of praise for atheists in Scandinavia
where Liadoff composed sonatas without light bulbs
whilst pandas broke bamboo clean from the soil
in a Chinese forest like children retting popsicle sticks
—he, cohabit in time
or thereabouts the ancient mood.