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-   -   First Step (https://www.ablemuse.com/erato/showthread.php?t=33135)

John Isbell 06-10-2021 06:41 AM

First Step
 
Version II: First Step

There are three types of meaning in the world:
what we can know, what we might think to know,
and what we cannot fathom. This is how
a painted eland, brown and white, might fill
a cave wall, or a drinking cup be held
now under glass. You can’t expect to trace
some universal pattern here. A stem
or leaf might be and then might dissipate,

their tilt is not for meaning. But each word
we fashion and each structure we create
speaks in our language. I’ve been pondering
the way this kouros steps up into art
from the brute life of matter. At his sides,

his two clenched fists. The man whose grave he graced
has done with talking, and the kouros too
says not a word. And yet, a web of sense
descends around him. Every inch a king,
says Lear, and every inch of marble here
maps out the artist’s language. It is not
our own – this kouros is unknown to us,
he’s too far off – yet he articulates
a freedom, an intent that summon up
their echo in my brain. Cut from the stone
into what we might call reality,

in this now-silent room the kouros strides:
a stride forever taken, a first step.


Version I: First Step

Out of the flood of history, in which
a painted eland, brown and white, might fill
a cave wall, or a drinking cup might end
its journeys under glass, you can’t expect
to trace a universal pattern. Leaf
and root and stem subsist and dissipate,
their tilt is not for meaning. But the tools
we fashion and the structures we create
speak in our language. I’ve been pondering
the way the kouros here steps into art
from the brute life of matter. At his sides,

his two clenched fists. The man whose grave he graced
has done with speaking, and the kouros too
says not a word. And yet, the web of sense
descends around him. Every inch a king,
says Lear, and every inch of marble here
maps out the artist’s language. It is not
entirely mine, but it articulates
a brand of freedom and intent that finds
an echo in my brain. Across the page
in this now-silent room the kouros strides –
a stride forever taken, a first step.


Kouros: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=...AAAAAdAAAAABAD

F.F. Teague 06-10-2021 01:30 PM

Hi John,

Good to see you here again, especially as this has reminded me to get going on a few art-inspired poems :-)

I'm just going to start things off for now, but I'll be back tomorrow, I hope. It's a beautiful beginning with the eland in the cave (up pops Plato) and the meditation on patterns. The word 'pondering' is good; it's very you, somehow. I need a bit more brain power for the second stanza; early mornings tend to be better for hatching critique on the whole. But I can say that I very much like the stride of the kouros. He looks like he'd be pretty good at striding.

Best wishes,
Fliss

RCL 06-10-2021 05:32 PM

Whizzing by, I'm impressed at how well you animate the inanimate.

John Isbell 06-11-2021 04:16 AM

Hi Fliss, hi Ralph,

Fliss: I have several ekphrastic MSS. - I like giving something back to the conversation that civilization is, and so I do random shit like this. It's a patchwork. I look forward to seeing more of your own ekphrastic work, and I'm glad you like the eland, the meditation on meaning and its absence, and the word pondering. The stride is a big deal to me: kouroi are an important moment in the evolution of Greek sculpture from Egyptian, which matters to the West, and the stride is a major part of that. Statues stop standing still - the Baroque is just around the corner.
Here's Wikipedia on kouroi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kouros
Ralph: glad to see you whizzing by! Yup, the inanimate lacks its own voice and so it depends on us. My 2c.

Regards,
John

Joe Crocker 06-11-2021 05:44 AM

Hello John,

The poem feels like it wants to become an essay, and a very interesting one, about what ancient artefacts can tell us about the society that made them and what art meant to them. I can sort of see you behind a lectern with powerpoint slides on the screen. You think out loud and don’t disguise your presence and agency. The poem is well made and satisfying.

The key argument is “But the tools we fashion and the structures we create speak in our language.” The things we make are silent but because they were made by human beings they are in principle understandable. They have a story to tell us about ourselves. Joseph Schumpeter (long forgotten economist of the 1930s) said “The evolution of the capitalist style of life could be easily -- and perhaps most tellingly -- described in terms of the genesis of the modern Lounge Suit.” ie We can work back from our artefacts to our culture. The things we make embody the way we are.

The final line with its “stride forever taken” is beautiful.

Joe

Ann Drysdale 06-11-2021 06:40 AM

This poem took me straight to a line from one of my favourites - Samuel Butler's 'A Psalm of Montreal': Beauty crieth in an attic and no man regardeth. That, too is a poem about a classical sculpture suddenly discovered in a place that is unworthy of it and its relevance here is best illustrated by clicking on this link:

https://www.bartleby.com/library/poem/1065.html

Here you'll see the thought that made the poem - and then the poem itself. The former clear and exact, the latter spinning from it.

Now, as I read this one, I see what Joe means about it's wanting to become an essay but I feel that to some extent it already is an essay and wants to become a poem. A poem that takes me by a more vivid route to that great final line.

John Isbell 06-11-2021 07:15 AM

Hi Joe, hi Ann,

I'm glad you both enjoyed the closing line here.

Joe: thanks for calling the poem well made. I churn out a lot of poetry (one a day for some years), and the deal breaker for me is whether the thing seems to have organic unity. Large reject pile, of course. I agree, I'm often visible in the work, thinking out loud. I don't mind ideas in poetry, they show up often in my own, for better or worse. I think that's my voice. Your second paragraph seems to me perfectly on point, Schumpeter and all. Beau Brummell perhaps unexpectedly invented the black and white that businessmen wear to this day, men were more like peacocks before then. Or maybe we still are.

Ann: thank you for the link to that fine, witty poem with its splendid introduction. Reminds me a bit of Carlyle. I'd find the poem undamaged without its refrain, which seems to me better suited to the C19th than the C21st. O tempora, o mores, as they say. But anyway, it seems extremely relevant, not least because I was looking at my kouros on a page as I wrote, surrounded by americana. Perhaps inside my essay is a poem struggling to get out. I can't yet answer that, but I do feel there is an organic unity to what I've generated, and a coherent voice. Does it do justice to the kouros? Less so than Butler did to his Montreal cabinet of curiosities, I guess. Thanks for showing me he wrote poetry!
TS Eliot once wrote, "Mr. Chesterton's brain swarms with ideas. I see no evidence that it thinks." I only hope not to have succumbed to that fate.

Thank you both,
John

F.F. Teague 06-11-2021 12:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John Isbell (Post 465648)
Fliss: I have several ekphrastic MSS. - I like giving something back to the conversation that civilization is, and so I do random shit like this. It's a patchwork. I look forward to seeing more of your own ekphrastic work, and I'm glad you like the eland, the meditation on meaning and its absence, and the word pondering. The stride is a big deal to me: kouroi are an important moment in the evolution of Greek sculpture from Egyptian, which matters to the West, and the stride is a major part of that. Statues stop standing still - the Baroque is just around the corner.
Here's Wikipedia on kouroi: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kouros

Hi John,

Random is good. I might post an ek-work (I like the 'k') over the weekend, depending on how the day job goes. We spent quite a lot of time in the park today, oops.

Thanks for expanding on the stride of the kouros and for providing the link. I had a question about this sculpture form; it's answered here.

I'm intrigued by the nod to Lear, having read this about 'Every inch a king'.

Still musing, and enjoying,
Fliss

John Isbell 06-12-2021 06:32 AM

Hi Fliss,

A day in the park surely doesn't require an oops!

I enjoyed and was educated by your link about Greek small penises, and only regretted it didn't show any of this: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=...AAAAAdAAAAABAD or this by Aubrey Beardsley: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/679190

Lear is so superb. Yes, every inch a king is full of irony. The crown is lovely and rather Christlike. The play also contains my favorite iambic pentameter, as it happens: Never never never never never.

Glad you enjoyed the poem. It seems to have drawn relatively little comment.

Cheers,
John

Daniel Kemper 06-12-2021 08:36 AM

Hi John,

Good to see you back. I'm going to start with wondering about this:

"from the brute life of matter. At his sides,

his two clenched fists. The man whose grave he graced"

The stanza break and continuation over it have me fascinated. Are you trying to set out the two stanza's as those two clenched fists?

Also, the internal rhyme below [Lear, here] was very pleasing:

Every inch a king,
says Lear, and every inch of marble here


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