Merton Paper, Intro

Here’re the first paragraphs of the introduction to my new Merton paper, “Under a Doom-shaped Sky, Or Hats off to the Human Condition”.  The paper discusses Merton’s book-length poem, Cables to the Ace.  There are a couple of qualifying footnotes to these paragraphs, but I have omitted them.

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Orienting

Worship is a norm of human life.  Merton knew this–knew what David Foster Wallace knew when he later commented:  “Everybody worships.”  Merton’s alternative title for Cables is Some Familiar Liturgies of Misunderstanding.  —Liturgies because human life lives up to its nature almost always already in this one respect:  it is worshipful.  The question is not typically whether it is worshipful, but what is worshipped, and even more, how it is worshipped–because here the how determines the what. Merton’s poem repeats the basic structure of liturgy; it is loosely composed of litanies, entrances, hymns, homilies, etc.  –Merton’s poem is familiar liturgies in two senses.  First, it is largely, almost entirely in the vernacular.  And, second, and more important, because what it liturgizes is modern life, our ordinary life (despite the fifty years between the poem’s publication and now).  Even those parts of the poem hard to understand create the nagging feel of a song you recognize but cannot name. The words of Cables are on the tips of our tongues. –The poem is familiar liturgies of misunderstanding because the liturgies are wrong–worshipful in the wrong way, worshipful of the wrong object.  And because they are, they are display the way our lives are down-destroyed instead of upbuilt by our life, our life with our language, a life we cannot avoid, even in silence.  These are liturgies of deformation, not of formation. They are the bad news; they are the tidings of unhope.

Let me start by dwelling on that last point.  Christian liturgy upbuilds. That is not all it does, of course.  Its intentional structure is worshipful, worshipful of the triune God.  Participants in it are thus ordered toward God, not toward themselves.  But in virtue of participating in what is ordered toward God, they are themselves ordered toward God, and such ordering is always upbuilding. Now, this is not two different intentional structures, a worshipful one and an upbuilding one.  It is one structure that has a particular effect on its participants in virtue of their participation.  To the extent that we enter into the how of the liturgy, we reach toward its what, its object, but participating in the how also changes our what, what we are.  Participant liturgical knowledge is connatural knowledge–and that is a bit of grammar.  We become what we know and know what we become:  blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

This is importantly reverse-true of what Merton takes to be our familiar, unChristian liturgies, our liturgies of misunderstanding. Cursed are the impure in heart, for they shall see UnGod, Gog or Magog, the False. Our participation in these liturgies results in our deformation.  We become what we ‘know’ and ‘know’ what we become.  Connatural ‘knowledge’, in this case, is damning ‘knowledge’. ‘Knowing’ nothing we hasten our own nothingness.

Just Let Me Say This About That (Poem)

 

from the end of John Bricuth’s brilliant poem (the speaker is either God, the President, everybody’s father, or a combination of the three):

I know you’ll laugh at this, my thoughts began
To clear. I had a kind of revelation, Fish,
That burst of level lighting one associates

With several types of Eastern wisdom–
The seven ways, the twelve steps, the four
Tops, the three pigs–I don’t know…

I know it had a number in it, Fox,
And with that blinding flash I knew, boys, nothing
Quite restores the rush of vigor to

The blood, the vital fire along the veins
And in the loins to rein the wild horses
Of desire, that taste of life’s late richness,

Its ultimate bouquet, its sauce supreme
That makes you feel, Fish, you could live forever,
No, nothing quite gives back that special thrill,

Seeing we’re Americans, like going
Out and killing something, something on
Two legs that’s short and foreign, name chock full

Of consonants, or something furred or feathered,
Or failing that, with scales. Fox, don’t you
Find that so? that nothing really beats

The heady moment of sweet contrast when,
To make a phrase, they’re laid out like a lox,
And you are not. And isn’t that when all life’s

Puzzles fit, mysteries fall flat?
Tell me, don’t you find it so, Fox? Fox?
Bird? Fish? Now where did those three go?

Back Again

I have been on extended blog hiatus.  Various reasons for that, lately the conference on Thomas Merton I organized as part of the term’s Philosophy and Religion Workshop activities.  I gave a talk on Merton’s late long poem, Cables to the Ace.  I will likely share a bit of it in the next few days or weeks.

I am about to get back to work on Wittgenstein–I have a new paper I need to get back to, and a number of old ones that need a bit of dressing up before they go out.  I also have to write a new short paper on him (and poetry) for a talk later this Spring.  So, I am guessing that I will be back to posting about him here this term, as I work on these projects.

I have also finished the manuscript of my new book of poems, Brown Studies.  More about that soon.

 

Receptions End

Receptions End

A daughter is a treasure
That keeps her father wakeful

Gather the Bud Lite bottles
Dump the undrunk champagne
Lavender table cloths shake and refold
Abandoned bouquets water and take home

The tent lights the night
Fans blow back the August heat

Revelry done, collect unopened gifts

Stray flowers decorate the ground
As if they would re-root
But life goes on
And life goes on
Sweet-sour sweet

Done is done

Drink what wine you may
With the rest honor the mysteries

Put the trash in the dumpster
On Debardeleben St.

Treasureless, go home to sleep

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Return Smile (Poem)

Pizza joint
Under the Silver Memorial Bridge

The man I do not know
Smiles me a great, toothy smile

Jolted, I stretch my mouth to
Return smile

Then, I know

The man I do not know–
He is eating his pizza
Hot from the oven
His great, toothy smile
Result of trying to bite
His slice without burning
His lips

My return smile meets
Cautious chewing incomprehension

Pizza disjoint
Under the Silver Memorial Bridge

 

Wodehouse’s Caliban at Sunset (Poem)

I stood with a man
Watching the sun go down.
The air was full of murmurous summer scents
And a brave breeze sang like a bugle
From a sky that smouldered in the west,
A sky of crimson, amethyst, gold and sepia
And blue as blue were the eyes of Helen
When she sat
Gazing from some high tower in Ilium
Upon the Grecian tents darkling below.And he,
This man who stood beside me,
Gaped like some dull, half-witted animal
And said,
“I say,
Doesn’t that sunset remind you
Of a slice
Of underdone roast beef?”

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