Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

This is a continuation of my thinking for my paper on Gerard Manley Hopkins and the avant-garde. This is a little incomplete and ragged right now, but I wanted to share some thoughts.

Language Play in Hopkins and the Coming Avant-Garde

“Patterns of play, when seen as a whole, illuminate both his art as a poet and his unique imagination. . . Playfulness touches almost everything Hopkins treats: God the saints, sacraments, himself, other people . . . When he plays, Hopkins’s preferred modes are whimsy, comedy and the incongruous, wit, light satire, and silliness.” (Feeney 173).

I am not really sure what other forms of play there are besides that list, so it might be said that Hopkins’ wordplay embraces much, if not all forms of play that are available. Feeney further describes some of Hopkins' more whimsical images in his poems.

[W]himsy includes imagining himself as a woodlark, buxom football, and a Welsh bard. The moon wraps herself in scarfs, and Welsh hills hug cow-clouds for rain-milk. A little square house is like a man with a toothache and a bright stormcloud like a shiny bland heard. Moonlight is a blue cobweb. God sits on a thunder-throne and creates with hewing axe and tricking water. Christ is a stage-actor and the Holy Ghost is a male who cheers on a fellow cricketer and a female who broods on her huge world-as-egg. Christ, Mary and the saints live in a lighted barn as Hopkins peeks through a knothole. Stars are fire-folk, citadels, diamond mines, elves’-eyes. A pocket watch is Hopkins’ “mate” and his poems are babies, a pile of linen and dirty Thames-water. Pixies, fairies, goblins, and witches grace hi pages. And he blows a kiss to the stars.

Feeney also cites “wordplay hyphenates, concepts, and sound play” as elements of Hopkins’ poetry. This is the stuff of the avant-garde as well, including avant-garde movements such as Dada and Surrealism, Oulipo, and the Language Poets. It must be said that Andre Breton and others who have come after him stress that Surrealism is not a product or a style, but an approach. Thus, there cannot be said to be any truly Surrealist literature that doesn’t emanate from the imagination, from the subconscious. You cannot “copy” surrealistic style. Furthermore, Breton maintained that Surrealism was first and foremost, a verbal, not a visual, art form. “Whoever says expression says, to begin with, language . . . you must not be surprised to see surrealism place itself first of all almost exclusively on the plane of language.” 2nd manifesto. Surrealist Mind p. 44

I am going to use Dada and Surrealism, which are very closely related and which had many of the same artists involved in both movements, to compare to Hokpins’ poetry for a number of reasons. First, because they are among the earliest manifestations of avant-garde activity and most avant-gardes that came after were reacting to them, either in the positive or reacting against them. Second, Andre Breton had published Hopkins and evidently held him in esteem. And third, and most important, because of the timing of Hopkins’ life and publication, which was very close in time to the historical moment that Dada and Surrealism had developed out of. Had Hopkins’ life gone on for another 20-40 years, into his 60s or even his 80s, he would have had direct knowledge of those movements. Whether or not he would have joined or affiliated himself with them is a matter of pure speculation. I will deal with the pros and cons here briefly before I move on. There are arguments for both sides.

Hopkins and (anti-) Clericalism

Notably, there was the anti-clericalism of Breton and many Surrealists. While it did not keep Breton from admiring Hopkins, it more than likely would have put Hopkins off and kept him from affiliating himself too closely with the movement. In fact, because the Surrealist movement was so heavily French, Spanish and German, most of the Surrealists were Catholic in upbringing and Benjamin Peret was one of the most anti-Catholic anti-clerical members of the surrealists ( For someone who was not only a Jesuit priest in the Catholic Church, but had converted to Catholicism as an adult, this would likely have precluded Hopkins’ from participating fully within the Surrealist movement. Hopkins was a very devout Catholic. In fact, in 1888, his last year, he wrote:
I was a Christian from birth or baptism, later I was converted to the Catholic faith and am enlisted 20 years in the Society of Jesus. I am now 44. I do not waver in my allegiance, I never have since my conversion to the Church. (qtd in Harris, XV.)

Notwithstanding, Harris sees in Hopkins’ “terrible sonnets,” written in the final years of his life, something of a crisis of faith; certainly a different direction, which Hopkins called “inspirations unbidden and against my will . . . [that] revealed a deformed image of his own humankind and a violation of Christ’s body” (xiii). Harris talks about a shift in Hopkins’ poetry “that illustrates the grave anxieties the age experienced in seeking a sound basis for epistemology in the face of a metaphysics exploded by ocean empiricism and a Biblical authority devastated by Higher Criticism” (4). At the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, the crisis of faith suffered in the West corresponded in large part to the rise of science, as well as the horrors that were to come out of World War I. Hopkins was feeling the pull of the former and was decidedly trying not to let doubt overtake him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Avant Garde (a draft)

There is some confusion about where to place Hopkins and some people have a desire to place Hopkins within the avant-garde due to his playfulness and experimentation with language. Christopher Wilson writes that Hopkins doesn’t have “a comfortable place in literary history” (137) due to his idosyncracies and “unusual style” (137) placing him both before and after his time, a kind of harbinger and throwback, but other crtcis “are quite certain that Hopkins belonds to the Victorian age, even though they find his literary style difficult to trace” (137). Tom Zaniello describes Hopkins as “a Victorian poet but also a forerunner of modernist poetics”(4) Meredith Martin, likewise, writes “construed by critics as “always obscure” and “on the whole disappointing; . . . too often needlessly obscure, harsh, and perverse” (qtd. in Roberts 89, 111), the first edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems, published in 1918, baffled more readers than it converted.”

In fact, in a letter to Robert Bridges, Hopkins wrote of his own work:
“No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness. I hope in time to have a more baanced and Miltonic style. But as air, melody, is what strikes me most of all in music and design in painting, a design, pattern, or what I am in this habit of calling 'inscape' is what I above all aim at in poetry. Now it is the virtue of design, pattern or inscape to be distinctive and it is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped” (qtd in Milroy 6)

Thus, Hopkins knew that his work was odd, that it was influenced by the science of the day, and that he was out of time. His desire was not necessarily to move poetry forward to a new place for a new time, but to be part of the tradition of poetry that had come before him. In this way, as a poet he has much more of the English attitude than the French.

William Donald Harvey’s dissertation at the University of Toronto, written in 1999, discusses Appolinaire, Mallarme, and Hopkins. But two of those writers came out of the French tradition rather than Victorian England and while Hopkins spoke French, he also associated “Parnaissanism” to describe competent but uninspired poetry. He identified this trend particularly with the work of Alfred Tennyson, citing the poem "Enoch Arden" as an example[citation needed].[1] Thus there is little evidence to suggest that Hopkins was influences by any kind of proto-avant-garde activity in France, despite the fact that Hopkins; own life was wthin 20 years of the beginning of avant-garde activity in France. The Chat Noir the bohemian parisien cabaret, started in 1881. Stephen Mallarme, who was considered a precursor to the avant garde, was writing in France from until his own death in 1898. Gerard Manley Hopkins died in 1889, so it is entirely conceivable that he was aware of these goings on. Whether or not he found them significant or paid them any mind is another question. A very cursory glance shows that in the 19th century France was still dealing with the after-effects of revolution, internal strife, and certainly anti-clericalism, which would continue to dominate into the early 20th century of the avant-garde as well.

In fact, The pull between tradition and advance, which would be part of Hopkins’ struggle, that would mark him as somewhat different than avant-gardists, especially of the French, as they rushed forward to embrace the new and impending technology, as evidenced from the Italian Futurists and the Dadaists, who embraced newness. Hopkins found himself caught, trapped, by Victorianism, which in poetry, resulted in trying to deal with, manage, the increasing onslaught of industrialization and in many cases, to retreat back into nature.

Monday, July 11, 2016

I have a review of this book published in Rain Taxi Review of Books online. Check it out!

Friday, July 08, 2016

41 - for Diallo

This is a poem I wrote nearly 15 years ago after the Diallo verdict in NY. Amadou Diallo was an African immigrant who was unarmed. He reached for his wallet to pull out an ID and was shot 41 times in the crossfire of NYC police. All 4 police officers were acquitted on charges of excessive force.

I wish this poem were more dated, that this was all over with, not escalating more and more. It's kind of like Bono saying that Sunday, Bloody Sunday was not relevant, and then finding that it was, that it had new resonances that he hadn't anticipated when he wrote it.

This is now dedicated to Philando Castile in Minnesota, and to everyone who has lost their lives to excessive force and overreaction by the police.

Many people say that we need to feel sorry for the police, but that is their JOB. Their job is to put themselves in the line of fire. That is what they signed on for and if you can't take the stress without killing people, without bullying, without excessive force. then turn in your gun and GET A DIFFERENT JOB.

Driving down the street should not be putting yourself in the line of fire. Being mentally ill, homeless, young, old, etc. should not put you in the line of fire. Those things are not the same as signing up to be a police officer, getting paid to carry a gun, and knowing that you are putting yourself at risk when you leave the house. Castile, like Diallo and myriad others between them, did not realize that by leaving their homes they were putting themselves in danger.

I also don't think cops should be on the beat as long as they are. They get a warped view of humanity when they spend 10, 15, 20 years on the beat. They learn to see everyone as a criminal and a threat.

And then there's the militarization of our police forces and our entire society. We as a society have become too militarized. This is what 15 years of perpetual war has done to us, of bringing the war home, of making everyone identify themselves as citizen soldiers in so-called homeland security.

All of this needs to be taken down by many many many notches.

Click on the number/title 41 to hear the audio clip as you read it.


For Diallo

Someone must have mistaken you for the Devil,
the monster outside the door that could not be killed with mortal means.

I bathed in the river of dead fish;
beside the park a cacophony:
children pointing fingers in a chanting circle.
Beneath my feet the dusty bones of ancestors murdered
in my own myths vanquished
to make me whole.

Although we live like children, these are not games we play.
Absent fathers do not sweep under the bed for monsters after dark.
41 holes in a trembling effigy now tucks us in at night the undertakers
will wax a smile upon your lips as you leave behind an island nation of
inmates to sit upon your throne of honor.

I walked through the skeletal hallway, my joints disconnected my bones
falling away beside me my seams unraveling.

Who brings you into the light at this moment? The flashlight in your face, the steam off your skin, El Diablo, someone must have thought.


41 tasks I gave you and the stables remain unclean.
41 days from the deluge/first drop and already you forget how to swim.
41 winks - you will not wake from this sleep.

I bathed in the river of dead fish to rinse you from my skin.

These are not games that we play we run home dusty and
sunburnt expecting someone to tuck us in.