Austerity of furniture…

Been reading Rolfe Humphries’ translation of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, which is an excellent translation. He sticks to the hexameters, often employing the anapaest & using internal assonance, which makes for a pleasant music. i have broke with that in places, letting the line run to heptameters or longer, making it a sort of Blakean love poem to onanism.

Austerity of furniture | a host mahogany & pine.
A writer | poet | thinker | scientist in tweed you most admire
—one of the sorts you find on university curriculums | in text books |
their name is … … they lived between the years of … & …
Caricatured by shitty doodlers | to make them infant-friendly
belittling summaries by them that merely get the gist.
Picture them studying in lamp flood | papier-mâché of text |
technology of the literate— inhospitable weather at the door
carping moods blustery | in sails of skin: lonely | the book
they read lost to thought: the pale face of someone glued in their skull.
New Criticism misprisions all their weather as the mood of them.
They take Ovid’s Ars Amatoria from the shelf as if unbuttoning a dress
& take a dram of port to fill their cheeks a shade | warm their chest
slice out a sickled chunk of apple—“look at the sky tonight.”
He thumbs the waist band of his trousers | taps his belt buckle.
Finds the lewdest passage & reads aloud | blushes
& stirs | the buckle comes undone as if uncoupled by another’s hands |
his trousers shimmied below his buttocks | the shriveled ball
of skin looks like the animus coiled | cupped in the soil of the palm |
the filthiest passage coming | known by heart | underlined
in best ink—the ball of skin | animates— “the soul of lust”
a ghost filling a sheet for visual stimulus. His bones rattle skin.
His soul becomes the prison of his body. He lays out tissue like
“the time she rolled out that rug from Marrakech” | on his desk |
his arm & palm | tug & friction. He reads one line overranover againanagain |
louder n’ louder— performs with his right | left clamping the desk.
A climax-growly-groan | exhausted pant & expiate bow |
sinner & shamed— narcissist-adulterer: human & lonely.
A strongly worded letter sent him cleans his mess. “That’s better.”

14 thoughts on “Austerity of furniture…

  1. Ok. Here’s what I have to say about this. Very colorful portrait, the mahogany, the port, the sickled chunk of apple against a night sky; even Ovid’s Ars Amatoria taken from the shelf like unbuttoning a woman’s dress. But a guy pulling his pud in the middle of the night isn’t what I want to focus on at any given time, even if Joyce got away with it in Ulysses. So, there’s that.

    This being said, Great piece of descriptive writing!

      1. Not too far. Just not in its place. I can’t think of anywhere this would fit inside your oeuvre. The details are vivid and accurate, colorful and even poignant. Perhaps in a series about loneliness and “men of a certain age”, as I’ve heard women on British TV say about old men and Scotch. Very good writing, though. Excellent.

  2. Ha, well at least this is more succinct than Joyce’s version of similar events. I agree it’s a fun piece, with a (forgive me) sure fire closing two lines, but I also don’t know what it is other than fun. It’s nice to think that on some level yr comparing lit crit or new criticism to that which leaves as much substance behind as a Kleenex can catch, but it’s fine too that it’s just fun. Certainly better than Ginsberg’s masturbation poems.

    1. I agree. I have to take a selective approach to reading Ginsberg. Crude, crass and obnoxiously vulgar (it’s no wonder his work was banned as pornographic back then), at times turning the gears of the cosmic machinery into a soaring, visionary quest. But Daniel here turns a poetic phrase, despite the content.

      1. Thanks Pablo. i am pleased you can forgive my vulgarities, i am English, i try to be selective with them. This is pretty tasteful compared to pub vulgarity in England, which would perhaps make you very uncomfortable, it’d make Trump squirm.

      2. Not a problem. The English aren’t vulgar—it’s natural. We Americans are the prudes. I love the casual use of “fuck” and “shit” on British Dramas. They just say it like they’re clearing the throat. I find Gordon Ramsey’s use of vulgarity entertaining. He goes the full range of the lexicon (for lack of a better word). Americans distort and give language a bad rap by focusing on the moral implication of everything they say, instead of enjoying the full tapestry. Trump is not vulgar so much as his use of the language of uneducated Americans makes him sound ignorant. I don’t think he would blush in an English pub, I think he would be intimidated by the finesse.

    2. It is mostly fun, but wanking is also a complex thing, don’t you think? i mean, is it narcissistic? The Catholics forbid it as it is spilling seed which could produce a person. i don’t imply these here, but i do mean to make us think about a history of masturbation. Why wouldn’t one of the great men of history not feel some lust, why would they not know how to wank? i read an article that the clay figurines of goddesses that (i think, Neolithic) hunters took with them on hunts, may not have been for protection, but for masturbating over while they were away from their wives. This was taken very serious.
      Moreover, crassness & taboo are very human. Berryman was very crass, but it doesn’t make his poetry any less serious: “What wonders is she sitting on over there?” Berryman might as well say, “Phoa! look at that arse.”
      But it’s mostly fun, but i am a little crass, if only because i think it belongs in poetry.

      1. I dunno how complex wanking is, being raised Catholic I sort of went the other way & was just indifferent to it. Altho I agree, in general it’s helpful every day to visualize some great person, Wallace Stevens even, having to wank or take a dump, or just sitting around bored in his underpants. …for my ice age poems I did hear of those figurines that had holes in them & were obviously meant to be propped up on stands, & others that didn’t, & they did wonder if they were portable pornography of a kind. ……I do wonder what you think about crassness from Joyce & Ginsberg forward, for them it was unlawful to print what they wrote, for us it’s whatever, yr poem is pretty clean compared to most of the net. What’s the purpose of the crass or merely honest, if it isn’t to shock? Other than to just bring it into poetry? Is that enough ?

      2. i feel for you being raised Catholic, haha. Sex was not taboo in my house, nothing was really, everything could be lightened. When i lost my virginity people old & young would come & congratulate me as if i’d achieved some great milestone.
        i think crassness was necessary for them, it was common in some respects & yet it couldn’t be published. The ale houses weren’t censored, there was no police officers standing to curb jokes or bawdy humour. It is there in Shakespeare, Milton clearly uses sexual imagery in Paradise Lost & Ovid is outrageous at times, but under the flag of Classic, obfuscated by arcane language they avoid censor. But the contemporary is easily understood by the contemporary & so the crassness becomes explicit.
        Now, for me, the odd moment of crassness is not to shock, but to continue a tradition some fought for. Just because we are desensitized doesn’t mean we can’t find new perspectives. i think this poem is a new perspective. The idea of someone has a midnight shufty over Ovid’s Art of Love is funny, it is ridiculous, but also sort of sad. It says a lot about Ovid, that he shamelessly talks about sex, then it took thousands of years till we could be as shameless again. The Art of Love puts thousands of years of religious lip buttoning into context: it was stupid.

      3. Rereading some of the Greek tragedies I was struck at what a great instrument they had, at the heart of their culture & religion, for dealing with the irrational. & it seems Christianity doesn’t & never has, instead there’s a terror & threat over so many things. I’m happy I was raised Catholic, if only because the heart of it will help to show you the way out.

      4. Glad you could find some use for it, i am very pleased i wasn’t, i find there is some neuroses planted by it in those who had there formative years influenced by so much hocus pocus & fear. No doubt there is something there for those that found some way beyond it, but those who didn’t are sodden with guilt.

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