Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rest Note

A "rest note" in music is a silent note, a pause marked in the score when no note is played.

The phrase echoes the Biblical "day of rest", the Sabbath - the 7th day, when God rested from his labors, and people rest from their own.  A time of peace and silence, for some, sometimes.

 Rest Note.  The title appealed to me... felt right for this book, a trio of 3 poems (Rest Note, Autumn Door, Fontegaia), written about 7 years ago.  The last word in the book is "(silent)". (Read the book online, here.)

I devoted a little over a decade (the 90s) to writing many long, some really long-long, poems.  Most of them have been published (though the early ones are in the form of little handmade chapbooks, which are only to be found lurking in libraries at Brown and SUNY Buffalo).  Memorial Day, In RI, Spring Quartet, Stubborn Grew, The Grassblade Light, July...

After 2000 I took a break from the "long forms" for a while.  Then about 7 years later I started up again, working on Rest Note.  At the time I thought it was the final bead on the chain, the last of my long poems.  I was wrong : Lanthanum too was comin' round the mountain.  But a sense of (supposed) finality seeps into this collection (as it inhabits the title).  It may be my most dreamy, detached, meditative book (and I'm a pretty oneiric guy to begin with).

I was reading a lot of Wallace Stevens at the time, as well as a history of Teddy Roosevelt's near-death journey through the Amazon jungle, and several books about the art and history of Siena, in Tuscany.  I was also reading Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov's classic Russian novel, whose protagonist is Russia's greatest (fictional) daydreamer.  All these things filter into the poems of Rest Note.  One of the iconic matrices here is the figure of the goddess Pax, included lounging (resting) adorably in Lorenzetti's great civic fresco, in the town hall of Siena, of Good and Bad Government (which I have seen).  I think many of the poems circle around my puzzlement over the relation between poetry and politics, poetry and social justice.  I try to find a meaningful social purpose in rest, sabbath, contemplation, art, poetry (perhaps in vain).

All while searching for other things, too.  The poems, I guess, are somewhat nostalgic or elegiac.  I am resting here, after my long-poem labors of the 90s; or, I've come to rest.  One of the figures who makes an appearance here is the contemplative philosopher Nicholas of Cusa, who wrote a playful treatise called "The Game of Spheres" - about a kind of spiritual ball game - a soul game - which involves tossing an a-symmetrical ball through a set of concentric rings, and trying to bring it to rest at the center.

My 90's poems were often built around rivers and river-flow.  With Rest Note I imagined these streams coming to rest : in a little fountain.  That is, the first of the 3 parts of the book (the title poem) involves itself with the biggest river of all, the Amazon, while the last of the 3 centers on Siena's Fontegaia - "Happy Fountain" - an ancient fontana in the Piazza del Campo.  So I was thinking of all the rivers of my poems finally coming to a head, coming to a rest, in this little stone spring, the Fontegaia.    The Piazza, of course, is the arena for the Palio, the great Sienese horse-race : also a motif in Rest Note.  The tumult of the race contrasts with the source of rest and calm at the center of the ring.

Rest Note ebook @Lulu

Rest Note pbk @ Lulu