This should probably be under the rubric ”what I am teaching,” since it’s the time of year when all my reading is toward that endeavor. And what I’m teaching is Jack Spicer. With my undergraduates, I’m deep in the lectures and the collected poems, and we are being dumbfounded and passionate together. Alongside it, I’m dipping into the biography, Poet Be Like God, again, maybe the gossipiest bio I’ve ever read. Do I need to know that Spicer had a small dick to better appreciate the poetry? Do I tell my students about Spicer’s miniscule cock? (A propos of penises, I learned on the radio today that some male ducks have two-footers, which is pretty impressive in terms of body ratio, but some female ducks have labyrinthian vaginas which can ward such a penis off, send it down a false passage, or tighten it up in a spiral. I believe this to be related to poetry.)
Next we are delving into Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, and I will tell of the pleasure of landing in the Aimé Césaire airport in Fort-de-France when Césaire was still alive (amazingly, not that long ago), and of talking about him with cab drivers. What is new to me in this edition (which has this long poem solo) is Bréton’s moving piece on first meeting Césaire in Vichy-occupied Martinique as Bréton made his way to war-time exile in New York.
Over winter break, I read Merwin’s translation of the Purgatorio, which was like looking through a cloudy glass at something beautiful, then I switched back to the Esolen translation I’d read before but had no memory of (Montaigne, who claimed to find the marginalia he’d written in his own books foreign, is my consolation there), and got stalled again at the same spot, Canto 32. If I could understand the notion of purgatory it might help, but Christian penitence makes no sense to me. Suffer in a second realm, but this time for 900 years instead of eternity for a sin somehow derived from love? Like Spicer, I can better intuit the false-bottomed mirror between heaven and hell that allows heaven and hell to haunt each other. Although maybe purgatory is exactly where Spicer’s poems reside — with Heaven and Hell shouting in through a megaphone.
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