Friday, March 15, 2013

The Grassblade Light

The Grassblade Light.  What can you see in grassblade light?  Spring, summer... something just emerging from the ground.

This book-length poem came by surprise, a sequel to Stubborn Grew.  The whole concept, in embryo, appeared out of nowhere. I thought Stubborn Grew was complete in itself, until I finished it.  (You'll find both online, here.)

GL is the center wheel, the pivot, on which turns the 3-vol. Forth of July.  Notice the word is forth, not fourth or 4th.  It's a pun, in that a basic plot element here is the "coming-forth of Julie" - my cousin Juliet Ravlin, who died long ago, in 1972, a suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge.  (There's an old photo of Julie and me, with my baby sister Cara, under the table of contents page, here.)

First-time readers of Stubborn and Grassblade might find the poems a little all-over-the-place.  A lot going on.  But there are connecting threads.  I noted, in previous post, an "orphic" aspect.  An episode which received only a quick mention at the very beginning of Stubborn - a double elegy for Juliet and for her father - expands in Grassblade to take center stage.

How to summarize what's happening here?  Forth of July is a vast orphic summons, planted in a specifically Native American version of that myth.  Grassblade is designed as a kind of processional array (in Alastair Fowler's sense) - a tableau of 7 large chapter-panels.  The central panel (actually a double-panel, so that there are numerically 8 divisions) is titled "Ghost Dance".  The Ghost Dance cult was a late 19th-cent. Native American messianic movement, focused on the return of a messiah, who would initiate the general resurrection of Native culture.  What I try in Grassblade is to synthesize this dimension with a parallel Christian sense.  I'm also fusing both with the orphic drama : Orpheus-poet is calling to the shade of Juliet, to bring her back from the dead.  This act in turn is paralleled and framed by a like summons to John Berryman and Hart Crane (Juliet's fellow-suicides).  There's an allegorical dimension at work : the poet's calling and evoking a return to life, through the word, echoes the Biblical plot of creation and redemption.

This is really just a partial abstract - there are other sides to Grassblade too.  The poem's design is formal, crystalline.  It's modeled on an octagonal medieval fortress in Italy, the Castel del Monte, built by Emperor Frederick II.  Why?  That's another long story, which opens up other dimensions of the poem.  There is a theme of church/state relations and "soul liberty" (Roger Williams' great subject).  Frederick II was the ancestor of another Holy Roman Emperor - Henry VII : the figure Dante hoped would save Italy, by restoring order to such political/spiritual relations.  The empty chair at the conclusion of the Paradiso is waiting for Henry (with connotations of Elijah).  I could go on about this "imperial" theme... but I think I'd better stop there.  Today is, after all, the Ides of March.  (In the 3rd vol. of Forth of July - titled simply July -  I ring some changes on earthly/spiritual powers in another way - punning on the rhyme of Juliet and Julius Caesar.)

Grassblade Light ebook @ Lulu

Grassblade Light pbk @ Lulu