Is Melville's Pierre a "Kraken" novel?

I have read for the second time Melville’s novel Pierre or the Ambiguities, this time through the lens of the “Kraken” edition, a creation of the Melville scholar and biographer Hershel Parker with illustrations by Maurice Sendak.* A note of disquiet, even more pronounced than the first time, has accompanied my second tour of this novel.

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A Decadence of Time

A decadence of time
of how you do it
& how you live it
we are speaking of
what is lost
& what is losing
what is lost in the
& what is being lost
in the slipping
as slipping
a decadence of time
how you do it
how you live it
speaking to the lost
in us in them
of us of them
of the loss
in the slipping
and ultimately the cost
what does it cost
to lose time
in increments
a toss up
as sentries posted
batons on noon
to midnight
to noon

A decadence of time
from midnight to noon
when nothing changes
masking the lava
a mask on lava
in increments
from minute
to minute
as batons at twelve
V hacked in two
one hand holding
the other
at bay
until seals burst
and what oozes
over the dial
a decadence of time
of how you do it
& how you live it
until what’s left
watching the seconds
hacked to bits
couldn’t keep track
off the rails
it’s over
end of the race
and what begins
without you
who’ll deny
it’s all about denial

A decadence of time
sipped through
a straw sucked
down the drain
in an ocean
on a turtle’s back
onto a toddler’s
laid on a toddler’s
how you do it
how you live it
a decadence of time
who’ll deny
watching the seconds
hack from Fort Collins
& back
a toddler’s shoe
a toddler’s toe
a toddler’s time
through a toddler’s

A decadence of time
a toddler’s time
knowing nothing
but eternal now
we’re speaking of time
of how you do it
& how you live it
an ocean of time
thrown on your back
and thrust
into seconds
down the tube
into or out of
feeding both ways
the pablum
the problem
pure sugar
keep bringing it on
and on until
it’s all gone
we’re speaking of time
of how you do it
& how you live it
how you lead
or follow down
counting sheep
to stay asleep
of souls to keep
or lie forever

image by a seller on Ebay

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Dinosaur Jones

In the chaos of the Trump administration–and at the moment impeachment inquiry and Middle East policy dominating the news–it’s hard to pick one bad move from another out of the pile (at least for those of us whose brains have not been bleached by the post-truth phenomenon). One bad move that came early on was the decision to ban seven words from all CDC communications: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based“. One wonders why these were singled out. That is, having made the decision to ban words, why these? And what goes into the decision to ban words in the first place from a government agency the function of which is to serve the health and well-being of the American public? Are these words dangerous? Why?

The decision itself smells bad to many of us: poets, scientists, healthcare workers, and those of us who have been wounded by people who use language as a weapon. Can public officials not be trusted to choose their own words? Who is to decide? And if it is deemed necessary to ban words in one federal department, then why not another and another? How far should it go? When should it stop? Who has a say?

As a poet nothing is more important to me than the freedom to choose my own words. Any attempt by authority to limit my use of words feels like the thumb of oppression. My first inclination is to use the “bad” words. Moreover, it is hard for me to imagine how science is served by banning words. It felt natural for me to craft a few poems using the banned words when I first heard the news. One of the poems, Wild, has appeared in The CDC Poetry Project. Another one, While The Offering Stales in the Calm, is published by Brill in the collection, Scientists and Poets #Resist. A third poem using the banned words appears below:

Dinosaur Jones

I don’t know why I feel so vulnerable so much the fetus when I been makin these rounds so long, don’t know which one of us hitched their wagon to who, just that the breaks don’t work too good on this thing and my ol’ foot’s getting worn out what with the starting and stopping and I wanna transgender too this ol’ stinking coat don’t fit me no more and as far as I’m concerned it’s all over but the yabba dabba doo, time to go, to let it all go, I’ve been working on this for years actually and you’ve been complicit, certainly, too old to deny it yes but why let that stop you it never did before, the pileup proves it: in the living room in the kitchen in the hallway mounds and mounds up the stairs and down out the walkway to the Do Not Enter Garage, heaps against the evidence-based the science-based against good ol’boy Dinosaur Jones the whole host of hooded hoodlums, heaps of a lifetime of detritus crowding out souls that still somehow seek the light like an old bone sticking out of the pile, given away and sifted long ago, all that diversity of entitlement, that dog day’s done, you can try pokin’ it with your sore foot but you’ve looked and looked all away so it’s not like as if you look now that dog get up and run like I shoulda did before all those good long years made me too damn slow and stupid now that I got to n’ I can’t move.

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A note on Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Buñuel is more comfortable with the so-called subconscious (or dreaming mind) than any other artist in any genre that I am aware of. In film only Lynch and Tarkovsky come close. Everyone else is light years away. In flavor however he is quite different. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a comedy. I have yet to find any humor (or even joy) in a Tarkovsky film. And while Lynch is capable of humor, it is a darker, heavier and not very funny kind of humor. Discreet Charm is light and funny and this in itself is, in my view, a sign of Buñuel’s comfort with the dreaming mind.

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A “double exposure” poem

Finger Pointing with Fire Ants
(a double exposure)
after Greg Williamson

The way the classic sign painters did it
However the message is read
As real paint, not a widget
Not black but allover red
In a can in a swirling movement
Color functions as fire is fed
By your index in alarm to the pavement
Catching your breath you stop dead
Question that pointer sunken in it
Will it cause the fire to spread
Recoil that finger flip it
Before your blood is bled

On the double exposure form:
One of the best parts of Greg Williamson’s delightful book, Errors in the Script is the section of “double exposures”, a poetic form of his own invention. The challenge is to juxtapose two images in alternating lines such that the poem can be read three ways.

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Writing Is Reading

The Words
after William Logan

The question he could not have anticipated,
why do you read a book you don’t like?
short-circuited the patterns he’d formulated,
stuck a stick through the spokes of his bike.

What he’d considered a simple machine 
appeared to be the same blood and ash
as even his earliest dream.
And so he threw the book in the trash.

Like all his days before, he rode out again. 
He looked upon the same and not the same sky. 
As though for him came the call of a jay

though if it were mockingbird he couldn’t say.
He saw no reason to ask it why;
it would do. He wrote the words then.

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