Wednesday, March 27, 2013


July is the 3rd and final volume of a long poem which runs over 650 pp. (Forth of July - you'll find it online here).  So the whole poem culminates here - it's a "coming-forth of July", so to speak.  I began writing it on July 15, 1999 - the former "St. Henry's Day" - exactly 900 years after ritual "discovery of the Holy Sepulchre" by the Crusaders in Jerusalem in 1099.  I had vaguely aimed to end it on April 15, 2000 - the Ides of March (playing up the July/Juliet/Julius phonogram - ie., Julius Caesar's doomsday).  Instead July proper was finished on March 5, 2000 (anniversary of the deaths of both Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Stalin).  And there's a coda, included with this volume - a 4th mini-volume, titled Blackstone's Day-Book.  The entire poem - Forth of July - was finished on May 28, 2000 : the day William Blackstone was buried (in 1675).  5.28 is a kind of structuring number (each chapter has 5 poems of 28 stanzas each, for example).

All rather trivial and pointless.  But these curiosities are traces of motifs and themes which carry through from the first pages of Stubborn Grew to the end.  Poet searches for ghost of Juliet... & this "ghost dance" phantom is a sibling to Hart Crane's Persephone/Pocahontas figure in The Bridge - that is, a kind of muse or graceful visionary spirit, who magically transfigures a world of war (Julius Caesar) - Iron Age - to a pastoral realm - Golden Age ("Jubilee").

This is part of what's going on in July.  But the poem is also distinct from the 2 previous volumes.  The compulsion to "go into earth" to retrieve a ghost/vision involved, in Stubborn Grew, an implosion or collapse of the ordinary world (as I sketched out in previous post).  The mode of its sequel, Grassblade Light, is less narrative, more a kind of stately ceremony or dance - very internal, "psychic", personal.  July, on the other hand registers a drive to go back out into the actual, physical American world, the earth - to escape the solipsism, to find a new source of "objectivity".  There's a resulting increase in speed : the stanzas run/fly toward the goal, absorbing and chewing up a geographical/historical American interior as they charge toward the Mississippi, the Gulf.  The rhyme scheme is also "flipped" : previous books followed a basic ABBA quatrain pattern, but in July I endeavor to turn the rhyme roughly inside-out : road/door, garbage/ragbag, etc.

The first part of the poem follows a general trajectory from Rhode Island to Mississippi, downstream to Gulf, then back upstream to Minnesota - childhood, familial landscape for both poet & Juliet.  The 2nd part is a semi-chaotic fireworks explosion (4th of July) combined with the clangor of Russian church-bells (& with 4 tones based on the notes of a standard doorbell ring).   Then comes the final coda (Blackstone's Day-Book) - when the poem sort of swallows its own tail, returning to the womb, not of the poet's vision, but of an avatar of poetic vision itself (Blackstone, "jewel-eye").

July ebook @ Lulu

July pbk @ Lulu