Radius of Radiance

We set here as a prelude to a page from Ronald Johnson Radi Os (Berkeley: Sand Dollar, 1977) what are the concluding lines of T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding", the last of the Four Quartets.

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
I have always thought that the rose and fire become one in the rose window of a cathedral whatever architectural splendours lie at Little Gidding. Regardless of my adolescent imagination, the lines serve me well here for not only the conjunction of fire and rose but also for the half-heard in the stillness.

Radi Os is a poem produced by erasure of the 1892 (Crowell) edition of Milton's Paradise Lost. Some gentle soul has nicely paginated the library copy and on page 31, in a tiny hand, refers the reader to the front page. A transcription does not do justice to the spatial dynamics produced by the erasure:

in the shape / as of / above the / rose / through / rose / rising / the radiant sun

rose page from Radi Os
And so to the front page: where "rose" is a verb: tree / into the World. / Man / the chosen / Rose out of Chaos: / song,

first page of Radi Os by Ronald Johnson
The kind reader's linking of the front to the rose page echoes some of the observations observed in Guy Davenport's afterward
From book to book he has grown more responsive to light and pattern in nature; he believes that light evolved the eye to see itself [...] These pages at first glance look haphazard (as a Cubist painting seemed to first viewers to be an accident). They are not. There is a page that has the word man at the top, flower in the middle, and star at the bottom. There are other words on the page, and they help us see the relationship between man, flower, and star. One order of word gives: man passed through fire / His temple right against The black. It is, for instance, electro-chemical energy in brain cells derived from photosynthetic sugars in vegetables whereby we can see a star at all, and the fire of the star we call the sun thus arranged that it could be seen and thought of by nourishing the brain. Is that system closed? Did the sun grow the tree the made the paper you are holding, and the ink on it, so that it can read this book through your eyes?
With a bit of rearranging the cycle fits the stream on screen.

And so for day 2241

The Fullness of Words

Adrienne Rich
The Heyeck Press, Woodside, 1983

The poem ends with the expressed desire to rest "among the beautiful and common weeds" but recognizes there is no such rest.

A phrase has occurred at intervals throughout the sequence: an end to suffering. We are informed in a note as to its origins:

The phrase an end to suffering was evoked by a sentence in Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter: "No one knows where the end of suffering will begin."
We come back to Rich's conclusion: "When I speak of an end to suffering I don't mean anesthesia." She turns to the specificity of place and identity, themes she has carried throughout.
When I speak of an end to suffering I don't mean anesthesia. I mean knowing the world, and my place in it, not in order to stare with bitterness or detachment, but as a powerful and womanly series of choices:    and here I
write the words, in their fullness:
powerful;        womanly.
image of last section of Sources by Adrienne Rich
A block of prose gives way to poetry. A line break falls on "I" and spacing between "powerful" and "womanly" return us to the typography of the preceding sections to conclude that the speaking self is powerful and mediated through the fullness of words.

Meditating on the spaces between words, I came back to Olsen's 1950 observations in "Projective Verse" on breath (and spirit) and the place of the typewriter in the disposition of the words on the page.
What we have suffered from, is manuscript, press, the removal of verse from its producer and its reproducer, the voice, a removal by one, by two removes from its place of origin and its destination. For the breath has a double meaning which [L]atin had not yet lost.

The irony is, from the machine has come one gain not yet sufficiently observed or used, but which leads directly on toward projective verse and its consequences. It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precision, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one act indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.
Time is what Rich chooses to mark. Dates we take to be the span of composition — a year. There is in these poetics no place without time. No words without a fullness of history.

And so for day 2240


If there is any doubt about the technical term "bearing down" it would be dispelled by one look at the cover of Penny Chalmers (Penn Kemp) Bearing Down (Coach House Press, 1972).

cover of bearing down

It is of course about the joys and tribulations of giving birth. But it is birthing in a particular space: the institution of the hospital. At the end of the book, there is a reproduction of a menu. It is obviously Easter time.

menu bearing down
In the upper right corner are some thoughts of the season (unattributed)
Easter is no time for argument.
Lilies don't argue; they bloom.
Springtime doesn't argue; it comes.
Music doesn't argue; it sings.
Beauty doesn't argue; it beckons and points.
Love doesn't argue; it outlives our griefs.
Which thanks to the World Wide Web we can ascribe to Frederick B. Speakman, author of sermons, in fine fettle for presenting an argument ("Easter is no time for argument" is itself an argument).

Down the right margin in landscape orientation is the a comment (we are uncertain in whose voice) it appears elsewhere as attributed to Patsy Gray (Age 9) from a piece about grandmothers:
They don't talk baby talk like visitors do because it is hard to understand.
When they read to us, they don't skip or mind if it is the same story again.
There are are more reproductions of hospital literature from the chaplain this time in which are interpolated other bits of unattributed sentimental poetry. For example
Said the Robin to the Sparrow:
"I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.["]

[which we trace to Elizabeth Cheney]
Both the hospital literature and the interpolations are in Courier, the ubiquitous typewriter typeface. We are faced with the question: did the poet place these in the spaces or were they found there? The one clue, layout of the interpolations in a perpendicular position, doesn't apply to all the space cramming instances. All do share a crowding effect. There is quoting going on. Who is doing it remains uncertain. I vouch for ironic insertions by the author given the wry wit exhibited in a number of the birth poems all the while bearing down.

And so for day 2239

Expansive Minimalism

Ronald Johnson
Eyes & Objects (Catalogue for an Exhibition: 1970-72)
Jargon Society, 1976

The beginning from "The Inside-out Sphere"

I offer this sphere I found,
like water held
in a rind of light.
And an ending from the end of "Windwindow"
ascent descent and accident
Eye and ear are pleased and the mind set adrift.

And so for day 2238

Joy is Not Happiness; It is Happy - A Matter of Luck

George Johnston in "Convocation Address: Queen's University, 29/5/71" distinguishes between happiness and joy.

Love is very dear.
getting our own way
and so forth
cost the Earth.

But joy
     is free,
unasked-for, unexpected, undeserved
     as an honorary degree.
These are the last rhymes this morning
     from me.
And a joy it is to mark the occasion with such mirth.

George Johnston. Endeared by Dark: The Collected Poems.

And so for day 2237


At the end, on the last page of A Poem As Long As The Highway by Douglas Barbour there is a set of lines that mark the ongoing nature of the poem as an act of cognition (learning). Set off-centre close to the right margin, the lines look like a ribbon of highway, with plenty of room for passing that is if you drive on the right.

Learning is not

in ratio to distance

we cannot learn

too far.

On the road again always.

And so for day 2236

In the Earth's Shadow

Eclipse. Iris.

All night the blood moon measures the dilation
of your pupil, pinprick or dinner plate
in this plenum where our attention fails to die.
A stanza from one of the poems (there are many) entitled "Standard Time" in Liz Howard Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent. This one occurs on page 9.

And so for day 2235

Leaf by Leaf by Colour

It could have been laid out as a pair with a caesura:

bronze by bronze, crimson by reft crimson

or stacked via line breaks:

bronze by bronze,
crimson by reft crimson

but instead we have a stress on "reft" resulting from a "cut" enjambement:

bronze by bronze, crimson by reft
"Swept Sky" in George Johnston's Endeared by Dark: The Collected Poems.

And so for day 2234

Majestic Is Often Used

Words are insufficient: the mountains "remain to be described" And yet the poet establishes a sort of grandeur "in whatever mode":

They wait to be described [...]
geologist, surveyor, artist:
crowsfeet on a map, the heavy
colours cut and carved, numbers
and weight, percentages, all
methods to paraphrase
certain immensity.
They remain
to be seen:
Douglas Barbour A Poem As Long As The Highway

It's the waiting and the remaining that get stressed as they hug the left margin.

And so for day 2233

Granite and Glaciers

In memory one puts a period.

All we have in this country is landscape,
Granite shivering with light[.]
That is where memory stops.

But there is more (always more):
All we have in this country is landscape,
Granite shivering with light,
Winter sun, brightness that never
hints of the dark.
This place is inhabited by dreams,
The movement of glaciers.
Good to remember what exposed all that granite.

M.T. Kelly. "All We Have" Country You Can't Walk In

And so for day 2232

Stigmata of the Poet: Sensitive Reactions

Phil Hall The Oak Hunch ends with a sequence called "Index of First Lines" which opens with a discourse on missionaries, islands and the nature of words which leads to an image of the poet manifesting stigmata in a very visceral fashion.

I am the one with these stinking wounds in the
palms of my hands—these gifts?—my articulate
hands that can not make straight arrows
I like the ambiguity of "articulate" meaning both jointed and enjoining.

The coda takes on the aura of an homage to James Merrill with a most striking image.
I hold the blunt end of my pen in my mouth,
and put my palms together so the stinking holes
in my hands make one hole I can see through.

Bowing my head, I shove the pen through the
hole in my hands—planchette!
Before you run to the nearest Ouija board and instigate a series of Ideomotor moves, consider that Hall identifies as nodes to this sequence two other poets: Ronald Johnson Ark: The Foundations 1—33 and George Open Of Being Numerous (where we find Oppen quoting Whitehead (believing it to be from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) "In these explanations it is presumed that an experiencing subject is one occasion of a sensitive reaction to an actual world." which sensitive reaction brings us back to our reading Hall who ends his sequence with little faith in any way back: "SAYING A LOST PATH BACK, as of old . . ."). A bendy arrow.

And so for day 2231

Figure of a Skater Tending to Move Towards a Centre

The contrast is set up between those seeking warmth, a multitude, and the skater, a lone figure.

Coffee drinkers fill the hut with steam;
They warm themselves within against the cold
That creaks without and circumvents the light,
While Mr. Murple, in a cloud of frost
Turns on his pivot skates the captive sky.
And the crowded alliteration binds the turning figure to the elements: cloud/frost/centripetal and skates/captive/sky. Apt for the creaking cold.

"Ice At Last" in Endeared by Dark: The Collected Poems of George Johnston.

And so for day 2230

Guttural From the Throat

From a villanelle by Liz Howard ("A Wake" in Infinite Citizen fo the Shaking Tent) come these lines which remind one of a wholly erotic power.

If I moan from an animal throat it is in hope you
will return to me what I lost learning to speak.
From Phil Hall two lines out of An Oak Hunch:
a ravine of call & response
Return. Gap.

And so for day 2229

Praise Poem & Occasional Poetry

Ever wonder how best to celebrate the character and accomplishments of a great literary figure?

Here is a praise poem for Northrop Frye found in Endeared by Dark: The Collected Poems of George Johnston. It was written on the occasion of a conference in Moncton. Its title: "A Celebration For Northrop Frye, May 28, 1980". And here are its concluding stanzas:

How do we honour one
already in the fane
    of honour,
    how bear

our messages of praise
before his critic's eyes?
    Well, anyhow,
    we do

confident of his smile
and knowing that we dwell
    this hour
    in Eden's bower.
Ending thus on an image of conviviality is superlative: not only praised the man but also marked the occasion with fine wit.

And so for day 2228

Two Views of Tipping Fountain

First an observation on space

Scrivener Public Square

Designed by Toronto architect Stephen Teeple and named after the late MPP Margaret Scrivener, it includes a 'tipping fountain' by artist Robert Fones and a series of small, angular streams and ponds that are refreshingly free of the unnecessary safety barriers that too often ruin good urban design.

Shawn Micallef
Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto
Second an observation on time
Working with public artist Robert Fones, the team proposed to install a Japanese Tipping Fountain that relates directly to the original clock tower on the station building. The result is a physical representation of passing time.

From the Teeple website
tipping fountain

And so for day 2227

Cognitive Decline and the Beauty of Delay

I would perhaps not have been so sensitive to these lines by George Johnston if I was not aware of the work of Marlene Goldman on dementia and stigma, Forgotten: Narratives of Age-Related Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in Canada.


we come to our beauty,
     terrified or serene
or beyond both, more likely,
     knowing even as also we are known.

I guess I shall not again
     see him, as we leave his room;
his wits are gone
     and he is as though at home

yonder. He smiles from a distance;
     and he is, as you say, beautiful
for all his ambience
     of tubes and bottles, the whole

apparatus of delay
     that keeps some good things on,
his courtesy, and the play
     of his Irish sense of fun

George Johnston "Goodbye Margaret" in Endeared by Dark: The Collected Poems

And so for day 2226

Another Puddle, Another Moon

Moon in puddle Zen trope is here at play, I believe, in the very reflective white space between stanzas. But here the moon is pluralized — each moment of perception offering its own.

I will not refuse the moons
you show me

caught in the gutter water
Liz Howard "Bingo Riot" in Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent

And so for day 2225


If you are entitled to one line to ponder for a day ...

what else is a river but the promise of a text
Liz Howard "Foramen Magnum" in Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent

And so for day 2224

Sins and Sinners

This set could be extended in imitation of Erasmus's De Copia. But it's power comes from its limited triplicate form and the tactical placement of line breaks.

Love the person not the police report.
The wrists not the weapon, the grievers
not the tears.
The metonymy of "wrists" adds to the sensation of compression — a poetic grenade about to go off.

Priscilla Uppal "Try Not to Romanticize" in Live Courage.

And so for day 2223

Perfectly Saying

I am wondering if the ending of this poem is what is called in French "finir en queue de poisson" or in German "im Sand verlaufen" — a fish tale in the sand. The lines allows the poem to disintegrate gently.

could be the face I put on everything,
or it could be my way of saying
nothing and saying it perfectly.
The end from Philip Levine "Picture Postcard from the Other World" in A Walk With Tom Jefferson.

And so for day 2222

Epic Repeater

In Live Courage, using the footer section of the pages, Priscilla Uppal constructs the emulation of a news crawl in which she threads excerpts from Homer's Odyssey translated by Richard Lattimore with various online and print news sources.

The effect relies as much on page breaks [pb] as continuation.

[...] mistake and release his son / And once the spirit has left the white bones, all the rest of the body [pb] is made subject to the fire's strong fury, but the soul flitters out / Floods caused by pounding mon- [pb] soon rains have left some 77 people dead in Bangladesh and India and marooned almost two [pb] million / Poor fools, and they had not yet realized how over all of them the terms of death were [...]
The page turning brings an additional dimension to the play of juxtaposition.

And so for day 2221

Hands, Hands, Hands

A pair of enumerations from an essay on hands.

It's because of our independently moving, finely adjustable fingers and very mobile, opposable thumbs that we can both grip and finely manipulate: wield scalpels, plait braids, shell peas, tie knots, pluck guitar strings or play the violin, turn a key in a lock, or pick up, sharpen, and then control a pencil. It's second nature for us to write our names, turn the page, decorate our pottery, take notes, to externalize our thoughts, sketch what we see or dream of.

~ ~ ~

Hands are absolutely everywhere in our language (which, it has been argued, they, and not the tongue, vocal chords and lips, are responsible for creating in the first place). They have demanded their own verbs: clench, grasp, stroke, twist, squeeze, wring, clutch, flex, press, pluck, caress, and punch, to name but a few . . . The specialized movements of our hands make up our lives: knitting, tying, sewing, stirring. And the imagery of the hand peppers our speech: hand in hand, we say, on hand, hands down, on the other hand, second hand, hands on, hand in glove, hand in hand, handed on, even-handed, heavy-handed, high-handed, empty-handed, hand-me-down, hand over fist . . .
I'm sure that second "hand in hand" is there to make sure we are paying attention to Kathy Page "Hand Over Hand" in In The Flesh: Twenty Writers Explore the Body. Or some little “hand over” has gone astray in the melee of all hands on deck…

And so for day 2220

Contemplating Destinations

It reads like an homage to the gazetteer form.

Nowhere is the appeal of the airport more concentrated than in the television screens that hang in rows from the terminal ceilings to announce the departure and arrival of flights, whose absence of aesthetic self-consciousness and whose workmanlike casing and pedestrian typefaces do nothing to disguise their emotional charge and imaginative allure. Tokyo, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Warsaw, Seattle, Rio. The screens bear all the poetic resonance of the last line of James Joyce's Ulysses, which is at once a record of where the novel was written and, no less important, a symbol of the cosmopolitan spirit behind its composition: "Trieste, Zurich, Paris." The constant calls of the screens, some accompanied by the impatient pulsating of a cursor, suggest with what ease our seemingly entrenched lives might be altered were we simply to walk down a corridor and onto a craft that in a few hours would land us in a place of which we had no memories and where no one knew our name. How pleasant to hold in mind though the crevasses of our moods, at three in the afternoon, when lassitude and despair threaten, that there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, for Baudelaire's 'anywhere! anywhere!: Trieste, Zurich, Paris.

Alain De Botton. "On Travelling Places" in The Art of Travel
And a shelf of books in a library?

And so for day 2219

Food in Lear

Most of his limericks that feature food are devoted to the demise of the character due to overeating or feature curious food choices such as spiders. This limerick stands out for me because not only of its edible element but also by its position in the last line.

There was an Old Man of the coast,
Who placidly sat on a post;
        But when it was cold
        He relinquished his hold
And called for some hot buttered toast.
Implied is some domestic help able and willing to supply the requested sustenance.

Edward Lear. Complete Nonsense.

And so for day 2218

Gate and Way

These lines are from a stanza (room) at the end of the first page of the first poem (not the end of the poem). The omniscient third person speaker keeps the distance between guest and host alive with possibility and speaks with authority about the future which is figured in the sleeping babies.

The guests are leaving. They say goodnight.
It's a long way to the next house, long as from planet to planet.
Sleeping babies in their arms just got the first lesson:
how to open the door. The rest they will learn.
Goran Simić Immigrant Blues "Open the Door" translated by Amela Simić.

And so for day 2217

Howard "Trapping" Browning

Opening lines of the dramatic monologue by Robert Browning, "My Last Duchess" where the Duke of Ferrara guides a visitor to a portrait

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

As the poem progresses the reader intimates that the Duke had her murdered.

It is this story that gives bite to Richard Howard's "Nikolaus Mardruz to His Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565" and the speaker is a diplomat arranging a marriage.
     as his avarice,
     no "cause" for dismay:
once ensconced here as the Duchess, your daughter
     need no more apprehend the Duke’s
                         murderous temper
                         than his matchless taste.
     For I have devised a means whereby
the dowry so flagrantly pursued by our
     insolvent Duke ("no
     just pretence of mine
be disallowed" indeed!), instead of being
     paid as he pleads in one globose sum,
                         should drip into his
                         coffers by degrees —
     say, one fifth each year—then after five
such years, the dowry itself to be doubled,
     always assuming
     that Her Grace enjoys
her usual smiling health. The years are her
Further relishing the moment is provided by the fact that Howard collects this poem in a book entitled Trappings.

And so for day 2216

Concentration Contemplation

Nelson Ball in the introduction to Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer by bpNicol (Coach House Press, 2004) writes

Concrete poetry at its best is a contemplative poetry, allowing the writer and the reader to consider visual, aural and literal meanings together.
We add that this type of contemplation actively engages the lips and eyes.

And so for day 2215

The Italian Side

A note on translation by Maureen B. Fant.

The first time I wrote Italian recipes for an American publisher, I was shocked to realize how far over to the Italian side I'd slid in my thirty years in Italy. I didn't own an instant-read thermometer and hadn't touched my measuring spoons in decades. I know when my garlic was golden by looking at it — no idea how long it took to get there. And yet, when you get right down to it, I still have my U.S. passport, and I still want a recipe to tell me what to do.
Just what is the Italian side?
And yet there is an elegance to the formal, elliptical Italian recipe style, which Oretta represents. There is something seductive about cooking without a safety net of numbers, and there is considerable logic to the refusal to give temperatures and timing for somebody else's equipment or for quantities of salt without first tasting the salty ingredients. Are we all cooking in identical laboratories? Certainly not.
Oretta Zanni de Vita and Maureen B. Fant Pasta the Italian Way: Sauces and Shapes.

And so for day 2214

Dream Snatcher - Poem Hatcher

From biology through mythology, Kay Ryan ends this poem with an allusion to Coleridge's Visitor. Don't answer the door. Make some time, just some wee bit of time, to relish the judiciously placed repetition . . . as if examining the patterns of yolk splatter.

A chick has just so much time
to chip its way out, just so much
One backward look by any of us
can cost what it cost Orpheus.
Neither may you answer
the stranger's knock:
you know it is the Person from Porlock
who has dreams for dinner,
his napkin stained the most delicate colors.
Kay Ryan "Doubt" in The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press, 2010)

And so for day 2213

Gene Splicing

Stitching a new beast ...

ABC The Aleph Beth Book, bpNichol (Oberon Press, 1971)
"Tune" in The Best of It: New and Selected Poems, Kay Ryan (Grove Press, 2010)

And so for day 2212

Dogs in Homer

Priam to Hector in Lisa Jarnot's translation from Book XXII of The Iliad:

And then for me
last of all
that at my door
the hungry dogs
will feast upon my flesh,
that someone with a
heave of gleaming bronze
will pull life from my limbs —
and even that the dogs in my own halls
those that I fed and those
that were bred to stand watch at the door —
they will lap up all my blood
in their heart-wild frenzy
and then will sleep fast
at the gate.
(You should also see what she does with crocodiles in Reptile House)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

See also "Dogs and Heroes in Homer" Bernard Knox's review of
Nature and Culture in the Iliad: The Tragedy of Hector
by James M. Redfield
A Companion to the Iliad (Based on the Translation by Richmond Lattimore)
by Malcolm M. Willcock
in New York Review of Books April 29, 1976 Issue
The dog, in Homer, is a predator and scavenger; he is "the most completely domesticated animal but he remains an animal. The dog thus represents man’s resistance to acculturation" and "stands for an element within us that is permanently uncivilized." The danger run by the warrior, who, according to Redfield, "stands on the frontier of culture and nature," is that he may become a dog — a transformation suggested often in the similes — and more, a cannibal. This is a theme often hinted at and finally brought into the open in Achilles' wish that he could bring himself to chop Hector's flesh and eat it raw (XXII 347).
The dog is thus an emblem of the impurity of battle. The warrior becomes a mad dog as he enacts the inner contradiction of battle. On behalf of a human community the warrior is impelled to leave community and act in an inhuman way. He becomes a distorted, impure being; great in his power, he is at the same time reduced to something less than himself.
Hector was a mad dog in the rage of battle but he is now a corpse. "To the passive impurity of Hector—marked by the impure condition of his body — corresponds the active impurity of Achilles — marked by his inability to find any limit to his act."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Thanks to the work of Jarnot, it is the pathos invoked by Priam that lingers long after reading the speeches of Achilles and Hector. The image of one's own dogs drinking one's own blood is rendered all the more striking by the figure of the sleeping dogs at the end of the speech.

And so for day 2211