Posts Tagged ‘Rodney Koeneke’

“It hurts, but you won’t die.” Stanford poet Rodney Koeneke on Dante and omelettes

Sunday, April 20th, 2014
Share
purgatorio

Purgatorio’s Canto 27: Botticelli’s version

Yesterday’s “Company of Authors” event exceeded expectations – and we can expect a lot. Peter Stansky‘s annual recap of Stanford books was an intellectual shake-up – as he put it afterwards, “I think it is pretty exhilarating to hear what is going on at Stanford in terms of splendid writing.”

koeneke

Not jangly at all.

And what of my little panel on “The Power of Poetry,” which I described a few days ago? I must confess that I had a little trepidation about Rodney Koeneke‘s Etruria (Wave Books, 2014). He is an early member of the Flarf Collective, “a group of poets working in loose collaboration on an email listserve, mining the internet for their work, producing jangly, cut-up textures, speediness, and bizarre trajectories,” as I explained at the event. We at the Book Haven try to be avant-garde, really, but still… so imagine my surprise when out of his mouth rolled this lovely meditation about a subject dear to our hearts, Dante Alighieri – echoing Robert Harrison‘s insistence of movement as a theme of the Divine Comedy in general, and of the Purgatorio, in particular, since it’s the only one of the three realms in which time exists – we wrote about that here

The affinity is not happenstance: Rodney said that reading Stanford’s John Freccero and teaching Purgatorio Stanford students years ago were “two sparks for the poem” – then he added, “so it’s nice to have it come home, as it were, to the Haven.”  Our pleasure. Poem below.

As for the panel itself?  Said Rodney: “Only Peter Stanksy could put a scramble of authors together like that and make it an omelette.”

.

La Chevy Nova

Etruria_final_for_website_1024x1024

One of the great pivots in Christian history
occurs near the end of canto 27 of Dante’s Purgatorio, a
canto that opens with the pilgrim comparing the dying sky
to Christ’s vermillion wounds (note the “sun”
deftly figured here as “son”) and the Ebro
and the Ganges, which are rivers,
are empurpled—made royal—by noon
and a glad angel shows up to sing gladly
about the flame that will burn but also purifies,
which our pilgrim by the end of the canto will have to go through
like the muscles behind or just on top of the knee can burn
at the end of a long run, or perhaps (and here’s the pivot)
like the burning some do when they go from a car
at night’s end in a remote parking lot
where nothing is unseemly or sordid
but does in a fashion burn, but also does it purify
as history considered in its Christian dimension must also purify?

Dante, you’ll remember, has spent the preceding cantiche
skillfully working his personal crotchets
into a gargantuan cosmic structure — “I vividly recalled
the human bodies I had once seen burned” —
with his obduracy not once being softened;
yet he manages to nest this ugly effort
in the larger project of turning his passion for the dead Beatrice
into a redemptive program for himself, for time, the reeling stars,
the fishes, the beestes, the air and everything in it
itself and finally, one might point out, for movement itself
which is seen at the end from its center and revealed as an aspect of love.

Structure is on fire, and tercets are on fire, and process
is on fire, and motion is on fire; while the poem has learned
to preen and turn, pivot on, and no longer hurts, or points
at a world, or even at its status as an internally consistent
verbal object, only at the most tiresome conditions
of its own production.
.  .                                   . But I gaze at you and I burn
with a new vernacular; I see you, and I see vermillion,
your color—vermillion in the stoplights
and the stoplights ranged as stars
like the stars could spell out ‘B-E-A-T-R-I-C-E’
and would if they weren’t so dim and talky, stuck
in their orbits where it’s safe to promise love — “it
hurts, but you won’t die”—and you stew in a tepid
amor amicitiae, Socrates spooning
with Alicibiades, warm under sheets
against philosophy’s cold stars:
“It hurts, but you won’t die.”

That even a wound, even now, could make things pure
is enough to count me bitten
returned to the pivoting folds of this world:
count me hurt, count me bitten
Gulls distribute themselves over Oakland’s industrial center
like I leave you, come back to be near you
where I hear their glad song, or watch them scatter gladly
over the beautiful chords of this world;
and beautiful are the chords of this world
with you and everything in it;
Beautiful the Ebro above the phone lines
emitting its fine vermillion into morning
so pleasing to mine and to everybody’s eyes.
So do I live to look at you and so
does everyone: It hurts, but I won’t die —
a little sun, a little wound
“but through that little space I saw the stars.”

Join us for the 11th annual “Company of Authors” on Saturday!

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
Share

carnochanWe’ve written annually about Stanford’s “A Company of Authors” – here and here and here and here. The unusual event offers a chance to meet top Stanford authors, all published in the last year – plus a chance to buy their books without waiting for an Amazon delivery to your doorstep. But the April 19th event next week is special for another reason: Humble Moi will be one of the moderators, on the session featuring “The Power of Poetry.” Well, not entirely special, actually. I chaired a panel with the same title last year. The charming George Orwell biographer, Peter Stansky, who chairs the event, recycled the title for the panel this year. But what better title could we have picked? What would match the power of poetry?

Casper at the conference, Robert Harrison in the background (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Casper on Arendt, with Robert Harrison. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

I met with one of my panelists last week for lunch over at the Stanford Humanities Center. Benjamin Paloff is a Slavic scholar deeply immersed in the work of Russian and Polish poets, including Zbigniew Herbert and Czeslaw Milosz, among others, so we had lots to talk about. He’s also  the excellent translator of Krzysztof Michalski‘s The Flame of Eternity, which we’ve discussed on these pages here. But he’s on my panel for the book I haven’t seen – his latest collection of poems, Politics. Benjamin is currently a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center, visiting from my own alma mater, the University of Michigan – Tung-Hui Hu, also on my panel, is an assistant professor of English in Ann Arbor. So three of us are used to cold weather. Tung-Hui wrote me this morning from the foggy cliffs of Djerassi Ranch. Well, we’ve written about Carl Djerassi‘s philanthropic venture here, and the terrors of driving to the place here. As for Rodney Koeneke, the final member of my panel, the Stanford alum and poet is visiting us from Portland. He appears to have no Michigan connection, nor anything that’s not on the Pacific. Quite wise of him.

michalski2At least one of the other books has been on these pages: Bliss Carnochan‘s Scotland the Brave.  We’ve also written about Ian Morris, Gavin Jones, Peter Carroll, and others. We haven’t written about former Stanford president Gerhard Casper (except to discuss his friendship with Hannah Arendt  here and here), but we should. His new book, The Winds of Freedom: Addressing Challenges to the University, has been getting some buzz.

Peter Stansky, as always, is the master of ceremonies. We can’t do much better than give you the elegant playbill below, and urge you to come to the Stanford Humanities Center next Saturday at 1 p.m. Oh, and it’s free. How many things can you say that about nowadays?

CompanyAuthorsSpring14-2