Sunday, December 21, 2008

Reading from Bob Grenier's _Sentences_.

Close/closet reading/mis-reading of this one line from Bob Grenier's Sentences:
sure arm today
Combination of sure am and sure aim? Hence something like I sure am ALIVE today and this IS indeed something, writing, that I am doing in the immediate present, a very (Heideggerian?) commitment or commitment to Self, meaning, words, and Life.

But also I am going to "take dead aim," though Grenier could not, and likely would not, have been aware of Harvey Penick's immortal albeit commercialized golf tip and wisdom via his Little Red Book, as Penick's book didn't come out until the 1990s (but Bob G. did, bear in mind, Reader, keep a 3-handicap -- which is extremely Good, trust me -- while playing high school golf when he was very young, and about my own (fateful? yeah, but that's that) fed-up abandonment of "Adjunct" college teaching career to pursue Golf Pro career in 1998, Bob said (something very close to the effect of this) to Stephen Ratcliffe and me one evening when we were down in Bolinas enjoying his latest "scrawl poems" laid out on his ping-pong table there that "it [Golf] is Play and DOES engender great Joy," so who knows).

But also, I wonder (surely thoroughly misreading Everything): I am going to use/employ my "sure arm today," the one that does the really sure writing. AND, perhaps, again Heideggerian, writing/being "ready at arm" or "present at arm" or both, i.e., present-at-hand/ready-at-hand, I am not at all sure which or either...

Or maybe, completely misreading the whole shabang, "sure arm today" is (sure damn sounds like, pun for) Aram Saroyan (another "minimalist" like Grenier, Creeley, Coolidge)... Oh my god, that is exactly it, isn't it! Check this out, I just found this from the Internet and Jacket magazine. It's Curtis Faville's absolutely immortal, majestic essay of Aram Saroyan's and Robert Grenier's respective poetries. Hats off to Curtis Faville! This is simply the most brilliant reading of Grenier that there is, in my opinion:
It is in the work Robert Grenier has done in the decades since 1970, that shows the most direct use of the discoveries and possibilities of this existential approach to the text. Reflecting on the possibilities available to him circa 1970, Grenier had determined that if he were to escape the formal limitations of “verse” in which line lengths were based on breath and page width, he would have to negotiate a new relationship to the page. As he moved steadily towards an increasingly bare, stripped down style, he also began to explore the roots of speech formation at the level of phrase. Moving steadily away from a poetics of rhetoric (“I Hate Speech!”) he embarked on an investigation of the kinds of immediate, instantaneous effects he could achieve with just a few words at a time. The result was Sentences [Whale Cloth, 1978], a landmark collection of 500 unbound poem/card/pages in a folding Chinese box. Sentences stands today as a canonical work of the Language School of writing. Employing an IBM Selectric Typewriter — with equivalent spacing — Grenier codified the apprehension of language as the impulse to enact phenomena “way at the back of the head” where “thought originates/speech is born.”

Robert Grenier’s 100 Sentences / 100 Phrases (Bordeaux-Bastide, France: Edition de l’Attente) reiterates a selection of poems from Sentences (1978) , limited to just 150 copies (the whole edition), presented in French and English (printed on opposite sides of each card (poem)), translated into French by Martin Richet with the Author. This beautiful boxed set is suggestive of nothing so much as a Hersey chocolate candy-bar box, a sensual apprehension by no means out of keeping with the immediate quality of Grenier’s work(s). Chronologically, then, Grenier’s Sentences follows Saroyan’s published collections by some eight to nine years. (For the purposes of this discussion, I must sidestep the issue of the relative success or failure of Grenier’s work in translation, since I do not have adequate French to judge their effectiveness, and will concentrate instead upon the English texts, as extracts from the main body of work in Sentences [1978], as the occasion for a comparison between two related but separate kinds of composition).

1 From review of Penick's Little Red Book:
# "Take dead aim. For golfers who might not understand Texas talk...: Once you address the golf ball, hitting it has got to be the most important thing in your life at that moment. Shut out all thoughts other than picking out a target and taking dead aim at it."
Also, because this IS important to poets, too:
Harvey was an easy-writing kind of man. Listed below are examples of his clarity of thinking and the simplicity of his prose.

* "An old pro told me that originality does not consist of saying what has never been said before; it consists of saying what you have to say that you know to be the truth."

* "When I ask you to take an aspirin, please don't take the whole bottle. In the golf swing a tiny change can make a huge difference."

* "If you have a bad grip, you don't want a good swing."

* "Hole them all. My rule is that a youngster, no matter how small, should be required to hole every putt. If Junior grows up knowing he has to make all the short ones, that will automatically become part of his game. When he plays on higher levels and faces a two-footer to win an important match, he'll be ready."

2 From Wikipedia:

(German: vorhanden, presence-at-hand: Vorhandenheit)

With the present-at-hand one has an attitude, in contrast to ready-to-hand, like that of a scientist or theorist, of merely looking at or observing something. In seeing an entity as present-at-hand, the beholder is concerned only with the bare facts of a thing or a concept, as they are present and in order to theorize about it. This way of seeing is disinterested in the concern it may hold for Dasein, its history or usefulness. This attitude is often described as existing in neutral space without any particular mood or subjectivity. However, for Heidegger, it is not completely disinterested or neutral. It has a mood, and is part of the metaphysics of presence that tends to level all things down, the destruktion (see above) of which Heidegger sets out to accomplish.

Presence-at-hand is not the way things in the world are usually encountered, and it is only revealed as a deficient or secondary mode, eg, when a hammer breaks it loses its usefulness and appears as merely there, present-at-hand. When a thing is revealed as present-at-hand, it stands apart from any useful set of equipment but soon loses this mode of being present-to-hand and becomes something, for example, that must be repaired or replaced.

3 Bob Grenier (a quite skilled athlete throughout his life) playing golf and basketball in high school:

[ Box 013 ]
2. Clippings from Minneapolis Tribune & Minneapolis Star 1959 Mar 3 - 1959 Mar 7

Discusses Roosevelt basketball team's season (RG starting point guard, All-City & All-District 17) & Roosevelt golf team (RG fourth in state tournament) & Official Program of Minneapolis High School Basketball Tournament.

[ Box 013 ]
3. RG's Roosevelt Basketball "Letter" . (w/ star indicating second award/year)

[ Box 013 ]
4. Five issues of The Roosevelt Standard

1959 Feb 19 . w/ picture of RG's sweetheart, Sallie Quan & notice of upcoming big game w/ South

1959 Apr 30 . w/ notice of golf team's progress

1959 May 8 . w/ more on golf

1959 May 14 . w/ more golf etca.

1959 June 4

(graduation issue), w/ notice of Senior Prom, Sallie Quan & RG's Citizenship Awards (w/ photo), SQ & RG's Scholarship Awards (Western & Harvard) (w/photo), Senior Train Ride, RG's 4th place finish in, State Golf Meet & RG's Athlete of the Year Award (w/ photo).
4 Stephen Ratcliffe's Real surely one of my own Life Sentences's most primary inspirations:
Every morning at the crack of dawn, Stephen Ratcliffe goes downstairs to his kitchen and makes himself a cup of coffee. He sits at his kitchen table and looks out the window at the sewer ponds in the meadow behind his French cottage-style Bolinas house. Then he gets up and walks around, inside, outside. Carrying a small black and red notebook, he writes down what he sees and what he thinks about what he sees. Once he has written notes in the small book, Ratcliffe writes a “finished” poem in a larger notebook, identical in style and color to the smaller one. Finally he types the lines on his computer using the Courier font (see below.) It generally takes him 30 minutes to two hours to complete a poem.

Regardless my own are surely very different and "inferior" in many, many ways, but...

5 I never knew about the Jacket article on Aram Saroyan. I DID know about the Grenier/Saroyan connection, not a lot, but a little, and in fact wrote this line in my book Rugh Stuff (which is made using the jargon of golf in almost every line but is not really about golf at all) eleven-twelve years ago (roughly 1996-1997):
Yes, that was a shave too close
for Southern Comfort, Black Velvet,
scotch, and the nape of this neck
of the woods. Better take the dogleg
now, take it with your medicine--
there are three more on the way in
and they all snarl sharply
about their rights.
            Into the teeth
of the wind, the old Swede
searched for his Scottish lighght.     [spelling of lighght]
Into the heath there is sin;
you go, knowing you've one last night.
Hmmm, maybe since I still have not published this thing, I should change the title to The Little Read Book, but then I would have to change the neat cover that Jukka-Pekka Kervinen made for it. Naw, best that I get over to and complete the thing and make some copies for my friends.


Allen said...

it is nice to see thinking about Sentences. "Sure Arm Today" is one that has stuck with me. I can hear 'arm' as 'I'm", I mean there is something shifting in these little nodes. and I have always loved

could go
quiet any time

RG pinned proto-Sentences along the corkboard hallway wall (usually displaying photography class works) at Franconia College, not a book but an installation. I remember him wondering what he should do, how to present the 5x8 cards upon which he had typed the words. this was 6 years before Sentences was finally published. RG would hear words, spoken, say, and there was a poem there, not conversation. not speech, oof. I have a recollection that some conversational phrase of mine became a poem by Grenier, as others likewise, not just his then wife and daughter. if I kid myself not, this is the transmogrification of speech, which RG 'hated', into poetry. thanks for the Sentencial cogitation.

Steve said...

Thank you, Allen, for providing your insight and understanding, too. Like you, I have spent some very fine time with him and I have read _Sentences_ and (especially) _A Day at the Beach_
(and of course the "scrawl poems" and _Phantom Anthems) many times over, and mostly I "get a lot of 'em," but getting insight like yours helps get stuff even better. Cheers, Allen, we'll have some chats at FACEBOOK, too, now that I've joined in there. Ciao! :)