Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Looking For Something, Something, Something"

In "Sea-Marge" (which appeared in my previous post) Ivor Gurney writes of ". . . the lacy edge/of the swift sea.//Which patterns and with glorious music the/Sands and round stones -- It talks ever/Of new patterns." Gurney's images bring to mind Elizabeth Bishop's "Sandpiper."

Although I have posted "Sandpiper" here in the past, I am not averse, as I have mentioned before, to circling back from time and time.  When it comes to poems, one thing always seems to lead (delightfully -- and often unexpectedly) to another, doesn't it?

                                William Baziotes, "Water Forms" (1961)

Tim Kendall, in his wonderful new book The Art of Robert Frost (which I highly recommend!), directs our attention to this phenomenon in the well-chosen epigraph to his book:

"A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written.  We read A the better to read B (we have to start somewhere; we may get very little out of A).  We read B the better to read C, C the better to read D, D the better to go back and get something more out of A.  Progress is not the aim, but circulation.  The thing is to get among the poems where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do."

Tim Kendall, The Art of Robert Frost (Yale University Press 2012), page v, quoting Robert Frost, "The Prerequisites" (1954).

The entire passage is marvelous, but I particularly like this:  "Progress is not the aim, but circulation."  (Although "where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do" is hard to beat.)

Frost's "circulation" in turn reminds me of a poem by Wallace Stevens: "The Pleasures of Merely Circulating."  Here is the first stanza:

The garden flew round with the angel,
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew round
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

Wallace Stevens, Ideas of Order (1936).

                                    William Baziotes, "White Bird" (1957)


The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat.  On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

-- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them,
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards.  As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist.  And then the world is
minute and vast and clear.  The tide
is higher or lower.  He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray,
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

Elizabeth Bishop, Questions of Travel (1965).

As I have noted previously, Bishop's description (in line 4) of the sandpiper as "a student of Blake" has its source in William Blake's line from "Auguries of Innocence":  "To see a World in a Grain of Sand."

                                William Baziotes, "Sea Phantoms" (1952)


alice c said...

The last picture 'Sea Phantoms' reminds me of a late painting by Doris Emrick Lee 'Sun and Surf'. This triggers an immediate search for a common sources of inspiration - the circulation of images rather than words. In this case I am sure that Baziotes would have known Arnold Blanch, Lee's husband, and the Woodstock school of artists. As I cannot trace a date for Lee's painting it is not possible to kn0w which came first. Thank you!

Stephen Pentz said...

alice c: I hadn't heard of Doris Emrick Lee before, so I appreciate the reference. Her work looks interesting -- I like the fact that she goes back and forth between representational and abstract styles.

As to a connection between her, Arnold Blanch, and Baziotes: it has been a while since I read anything about Baziotes, but I remember his painting career being in New York City or Reading, Pennsylvania (where he was born, and to which he returned at times). I don't recall any stays in Woodstock, but I am certainly no authority on the subject.

By the way, the best book on Baziotes (as you probably know) is William Baziotes: Paintings and Drawings, 1934-1962 by Michael Preble. It is, I think, the only full-length study of his work. And the reproductions are lovely.

Thank you very much for stopping by again, and for your thoughts.