Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Large and Swollen and Blue


The arabesques of a fugue scurry before the windows of my eyes embodying the grace of persuasion sparkling in a blood stream. Basically, a middle-aged woman standing in the rain in a leopard-skin bathrobe waiting for her dog to take a shit.
Because, you know, who doesn’t have a bloodstream? Blood pertains to everyone. It is our common denominator. More so than TV, or what is on TV, tits and dragons. 
I get something going in my brain, something like blood, a bloodstream, and I can’t stop it, it becomes a thing. A phenomenon. An entity that enters my consciousness and spins around until I give it more thought, which is what it wants, it wants thought, or is the blood itself the thought and I am the carrier of the thought, carrying the thought here, to this sentence, where it can slosh back and forth?
Bloody hell, as they say. Bloody this and bloody that.
If muscle is the horse blood is the spur. If blood is the spur bone is the ache. The concept of aching is important here. It swims in affiliation. It elevates grace.
I ache to play the glockenspiel. It is not enough to say the word. I do not own a glockenspiel. I do not know how to play a glockenspiel. And yet there exists a reality in which I might own and play a glockenspiel. So that by saying that I ache to play a glockenspiel I raise my antenna to the possibilities of playing a glockenspiel in order that they may be grasped as frequencies, which they most certainly are, waves and oscillations, vectors and fields, tuned keys and mallets, and understood to be hovering in the air in a hectic spectacle of play and plausibility.
There now, I said it, play and plausibility. I’ve been aching to say that all day.
I invoke a glockenspiel. I stand in the moleskin of a new reckoning. I knot the air with words. I hit slabs of shiny metal. I make music. I rehearse for a play that has not yet been written. A play in which a man and a glockenspiel are together in a room for the first time. And there is no regret. And there is no compulsion. The smell of a gargoyle turns vermilion and the larynx dilates to confess its diversions.
I sense the twirl of concern, the thrust of opinion. Concern is soft and green. Opinion is barbed and reckless. Concern is marinated, opinion is tossed. Opinion floats the myrrh of the market. The barter of suet, the murmur of silks. The souk is full of opinion. The man in the back sitting alone in the dark is full of concern.
If I find spots rattling with necessities of angelic fur, I murmur and sway in my iron steam. This is the result of propitiation, or hammers pounding the nails of persuasion.
The personality of a sound whispers its length to the drift of a towel. A word takes its time to form in the mouth and then crawls out of a paragraph triggering curvature and background.
The word is ‘towel.’ The meaning is wrapped inside. It will make appeal to the warmth of your blood in a drone of fiber and shape. The skin receives the world on its surface. The world penetrates the skin in a reverie of nerve and constellation. Water drips to the floor. Reticence is discarded for a swirl of embroidery, the grasp of a hand, the pulse of a wrist.
And if the letters fall in a certain way, the frequencies stir, the sounds are bright lucidities of sensory wave, crested in white and rolling, rolling great distances, large and swollen and blue.



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Rags of Fever


The rags of fever are thirsty for absorption. Mania defines the moment. Rags define the coast. Rags of rock. The rage of the sea. Rags of water. Rags of foam. An image that can slosh around in the mind like water in a bucket. Like the twang of a guitar during the rag of a moment. An e minor oscillating through a room. An e minor in rags. Like Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor. Like Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 3.
Stickiness eludes me. What makes a thing sticky? A thing is sticky when it sticks. A thing is metal when it’s literal. No metal is metaphorical. Except gold. Gold is always metaphorical. That’s what makes it gold.
Gold is imperial. Silver is empirical.
Gold has a reach beyond the temporal. The halos of Christ, Mary, and the Christian saints are often gold. There is the golden ratio and the golden rule. Gold is the shine of the divine in the cold creeks of the Yukon. Gold is the face of Tutankhamun staring out of eternity.
Silver is the metal of propriety. It belongs on the dining table. It shines like gold, and is regal like gold, but is humbler than gold, less grandiose than gold. It’s worldly. It’s social. It’s convivial and polished.
Then there’s platinum. Platinum is a rare and noble metal. It deserves some mention. It doesn’t ring in the mouth like gold, doesn’t dazzle the eyes like silver, but it’s fun to say, pleasant to say platinum, amiable to mutter platinum, plausible to put forth platinum. As, for instance, “our album went platinum.” Platinum is to silver what silver is to gold: a humbler version of luxury. Not really luxury at all. Who thinks of luxury when platinum is mentioned? Platinum is enduring. Platinum is the enduring metal, the perennial metal, the stubborn metal, the metal of perpetuity, the metal of  everlasting luster.
The Rolling Stones have 36 platinum albums. Out of Our Heads went platinum and so did Aftermath and Exile on Main Street.
Goats Head Soup: platinum.
It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll: platinum.
Sticky Fingers: platinum.
The word platinum comes from Spanish platina, diminutive of plata, neaning silver. The Spaniards thought platinum was an inferior form of silver.
The communion of spheres is a resistance to the rigidity inherent in order. The spheres are silver and are in continual motion. This makes everything tidepools and arms.
Disorder is a form of order that has gone all iron and war.
The phenomenon that is crumpling is a quality inherent in grocery bags and cardboard boxes. I won’t mention these except in passing. Consider them passed.
And crumpled.
I feel myself increasingly chilled by the frosts of the zeitgeist. What is desired, what is most strongly needed right now, is an art that generates itself out of the yolk of the moment. Out of the nucleus of sensations and thoughts that surround an arch of sandstone, a Mongolian yak, the smell of soup in a yurt, the heft of a sack of potatoes, a knowledge dropped on the mind like moonlight.
Like the integrity of a rag.
The lack of any immanent necessity for being produced makes art a rag. A shirt once worn and now soaked in paint and turpentine.
Yet the impulse to make art continues. It can’t be stopped. It’s as vital as a pulse. As natural as a pulse. The rag is stiff and frozen. But it smells of sacrifice.  


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sling


Twenty-one days after dislocating my shoulder it still hurts. It heals very slowly. My body is old. My cells are probably wondering why they are being coaxed to repair damaged membrane. I'm too old to hunt for mastodon. It was my mission, as it is with all living things, to reproduce offspring. I didn't do that. I chose to make art instead. Whether this was of service to the future of humanity that is for others to say, if they're still around. Things appear a little dicey. And my shoulder still hurts.
I was carrying a new laptop into the bedroom when Athena, our cat, cannonballed between my legs, causing me to lose my balance and fall to the floor. I concentrated my attention on protecting the laptop and preventing it from dropping from my hand but did so at the peril of my right arm for which I had not prepared to catch my fall. I came down hard on it and felt the acromion (the bony tip of the scapula) separate from the clavicle. I could not move my arm. It had become a tree limb. The pain was excruciating. I went to the top of the bookshelf to get a spiral notebook in which the phone number to Roberta’s bakery could be found. I thumbed through it as rapidly as I could, called Roberta, and within minutes she came home and drove me to the emergency room. Meanwhile, I’d managed to maneuver the arm back into place. We filled out a brief form and waited in the lobby of the emergency room. The pain had subsided considerably but was still a shrill presence in my shoulder. A large man complained of bronchitis. He coughed continually. The receptionist, a middle-aged woman with long dark hair, asked if he could cover his mouth when he coughed. Indignant, he went outside.
X-rays were made and the doctor, an amiable, energetic man a few years younger than me, examined the X-rays and did not see anything fractured or damaged but did notice some arthritis. That made sense. My shoulder frequently hurts when I sit at the desktop computer moving a mouse around. I was given a sling made of some sort of silky material with a number of belts and fasteners and a pouch for my arm. I have to take it off to shower and eat dinner and we have a difficult time figuring out how to get it back on. It’s a complicated device. When I have it on, I’m forced to do everything with my left arm, including signing things like credit card slips, which come out very badly. My name is barely recognizable.
Shampooing my hair is difficult. I can’t lift my right arm, even without the sling. It’s amazing how awkward my left hand is. What has it been doing all my life, just hanging at my side?
Well, yeah, pretty much.
It’s like an understudy who never really expected to take over a part due to an emergency. None of the lines or choreography have been properly learned. Everything feels clumsy and dumb.
My right arm really likes being in a sling doing nothing while my left arm does all the work,  handling cutlery, brushing my teeth, taking the garbage out, scooping the litter box, moving furniture, turning the radio on and off, opening cupboards and doors, wiping the table, brushing my hair.
My left arm is thinking of starting a union. It is, after all, my left arm, not my right arm, which has strong convictions and delusions of grandeur. My left arm believes in collective bargaining, free healthcare and Dunkin’ Donuts. My right arm believes in free market capitalism, private property, & the right to bear arms. I give both arms a big hand.
My left arm is getting a little better at doing things. It sparkles with radius. It wants to increase its reach. I try teaching it how to bioluminesce like an octopus and frighten people. My right arm is getting jealous but prefers lying in the hammock that is my sling. My left arm is happy doing things. But it is still clumsy. I promise it a future of exoticism when my right arm returns to full activity. I will let it be a bayou, an arm of water that goes astray and languishes in cypress gloom, a world of orchids and Cajun jumbo. And really, the two arms work out pretty well together when I need to squeeze something like an accordion or an orthopedist. Chop wood. Carry water. Dance on a keyboard. Two arms, up in arms, armed with bravado and fingers.







Monday, January 2, 2017

Embryo


There are shadows embedded in the embryo of a meaning. This is how it begins, how thinking begins. There is an energy in the head demanding expression. If you take a large swig of whiskey and let it slide into the blood it may happen. Expression may happen. It may not be a good expression, but expression of some sort will take place. It may be a wink, a laugh, a punch in the face, or an impassioned, impromptu speech about epilepsy.
Everything has a tendency to expand, to extend, to ramify.
It’s called cytokinesis: the physical process of cell division. The spindle apparatus spindles out chromatids. Some cells become neurons and some cells become kingdoms.
Put a blot on a piece of paper and I guarantee the mind will make something of it. The mind craves meaning. And the field expands.
Whiskey is unpredictable. I used to drink it a lot but now I don’t drink it at all. That doesn’t mean that I wearied of being drunk and falling off bar stools and so switched to a regime of less volatile beverages such as ginger ale or milk in order to become staid and dependable. Yuk. No way. It doesn’t even mean I’m sober. It means that I made a conscious decision to be conscious, especially when operating heavy machinery (which I never actually do) or do something ticklish, like shave. If I cut myself I will bleed. Blood is real. The cuts, when they occur, are rarely very serious. Yet the blood does appear. We are, essentially, sacks of blood supported by a framework of bone. You want to pay attention to that. Avoid war. Avoid guns and knives. And when you shave, be careful.
There is a chain of cause and effect. First there is an intention to shave, which is routine and somber, a serious moment, which is due to my face being in a mirror looking back at me, which is always a little disconcerting, then (as the day before yesterday) there is suddenly a sting, which is a cut, which is a form of incision, which is due to a slip of the razor, which is due to inattention, which is due to a wandering mind, which is due to the ebb and flow of consciousness, which is a feeling that is oceanic and universal, which is a light I don’t pretend to understand, which is understandable.
I might be lost in a reflection of power, the mysteries and vagaries of power, of charisma, of dictators and demagogues, of prophets and poets and actors and priests.
I think a lot about things. Who doesn’t? At some stage of my early existence I was a creature like a salamander, a frog or a muskrat. Look at me now, an old man approaching 70, a literary guy preoccupied with strategies on how to be a more inventive person when I’m playing with the cat, which requires a spirit of spontaneity, a dynamic of feathers and string.
The cat is most responsive when I’m unpredictable. When I create the illusion of unpredictability. The cat really gets into it then. We’re in a state of nature. Primal, primitive, and fast.
Predictability, like death and taxes, implies a static universe cluttered with cause and effect. This won’t wash. Nature, concluded Heraclitus, is change. “We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.”
Revolutions are unpredictable. Time is unpredictable. Markets are unpredictable. Storms are unpredictable. Fires are unpredictable. Earthquakes are unpredictable.
Colorado winters? Unpredictable. Grizzlies? Unpredictable. Great ideas? Unpredictable.
Language is unpredictable. If words are distilled and aged in a cask of charred white oak, they will assume the fragrance of spirits and violate the laws of sense and courtesy. They will aurora in folios of carp. They will make a language that dollies. Delays. Dillydallies in daisies, disperses in purses.
Watch as it tilts into infringement.
If I moisten my elbow in the parlor it is to invoke the crows of time and space. Cohesion does not occur naturally. The skin of a balloon produces sparks when it’s rubbed. It will stick to the ceiling. It will house the dialogue of characters. It will ramify into amber. It will liberate the bridegroom. It will liberate the bride. It will be a bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even. It will be glass. It will be cracked. It will be on display.
Nothingness will not wrinkle. You can leave it in the dryer for as long as you want. But should you choose a hiatus whose prospects are clasped by obscure Russian dialects, then work becomes a glorious distraction and should serve to buoy whatever phenomenon penetrates the mass of this unearthed galleon, this structure of canvas and pulley, this semaphore of shadow and spark.
Mimicry is a coin that we pay to the gods of combination. There is nothing in life with which I do not argue, do not shake to hear if it rattles, do not open with a knife, do not batter with words until something gives, something slips through that hasn’t yet been visible, hadn’t yet breathed in the open air.
Who doesn’t like garlic?
Conversation will often reveal the most amazing things. Conversation has fluency, a quality that writing often lacks. Writing, however, offers self-effacement, an oceanic largeness in which the agonies of a conflicted identity give way to the larger elements of the deep.
Consider the banana. It has an amiable smell and taste, peels with ease and celerity, and helps in our nourishment and understanding of the world. But it is not deep. The banana is more of an actuality than a concept and for that reason needs to be appreciated as a steward of health and digestion rather than as a sophist of fructification. A philosophy may be found there but since the banana is not an argumentative fruit like the artichoke or apple, the philosophy will lack the clairvoyance of grapes. Nevertheless, the banana is a marvel of clarity. Peel it, eat it, but do not lean on it. It will nourish the body but not support it. For that, you will need oak and nails. You will need a hammer. You will need a saw. You will need planning and concrete.
Begin with an embryo and end with a feather in amber. Language is slippery when it enters the world. The essential thing is the clay, not the shape of the clay. Clay may be shaped into anything. But the origins of clay are as elusive as the springs and tributaries that feed the river that moistens the clay. A vowel without a consonant is just a vowel, a naked sound. But a vowel enclosed within a sack of consonants will develop a spine and walk.





Monday, December 26, 2016

The Sway of Damaged Weather


Write a coffee so that it feels like wildlife. We sometimes have to distinguish between a feeling and a revelation. One is increasingly sweaty and one involves spurs and rubble. Garden the field of inscrutability before the weather of time petrifies the flowers of philosophy. I have tangled this thought in murmurs of hypnopompic snow. Why, I don’t know. Because the giant has not yet left the field. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps not. All I know is a that crumpled ball of thought approximately the height of a domestic animal, a cow or donkey, can be an effective substitute for agriculture if it ambles back and forth in a sentence whose merits include an acreage of dark rich soil and a large red barn.
Age is not my friend. I have flexed some steam today. This proves nothing. This proves that I can move an eye through a tear and find another form of weather on the other side.
If I say the opposite of what I mean the result is a black car under a fir tree. But if I say that I can bend the truth the truth will not bend. The result is sad, extravagant, and non-specific. Not entirely a waste of time, no, but hollow and clumsily arabesque. You can use it for smoking fish but not for actual fishing. Actual fishing requires a lure, something slimmer and shinier than truth. Something you can only find within. I can’t say what it is. Your within is not my within, but without a within a within is without a without. A within that is without is not within, but if a within is without than what is within?
Sometimes what is required is not entirely what you may think you need.  This is a circumstance that calls for reflection. The relation between the thing that is named and the name itself can be confusing. Is it a provocation or a conjuration? Is it a proposal or a trajectory? What exactly does it mean to activate the organs of speech, to move the tongue and the lips, to cause a vibration in the larynx, to fill an utterance with breath and set it sailing into the world?
When we say something about something, we make it lie before us, we make it appear. For example: Wyoming. I say I see a lotus in a birdbath and a lotus in a birdbath appears. Saying a thing is seeing a thing. But this has little to do with Wyoming. Wyoming gets up and walks away. Goodbye, Wyoming, it was good to see you.
If I sew what I see the mind considers it seen.
Or sewn. Seen and sewn. Sewn and seen. The needle penetrates the fabric of thought and goes up and down, in and out, creating patterns that contradict the ontology of popcorn.
I probe the surrounding obscurity with a delicate antenna. It’s how I get around, you know? I feel my way, as they say. Anyone who has entered a dark room without knowing where the light switch is knows what it is to feel a wall with one’s hand until the shape of a light switch is discovered beneath one’s fingers. The switch is switched, the light comes on.
Have you ever tried that with a human being, put a few words out there in the course of a conversation to see what they might stir up, to see if a light goes on? The light comes in and we see a landscape of canyons and buttes and Joshua tree desolation.
It’s not easy to elude a wilderness. As soon as we enter a language we enter a wilderness. Evergreens sway in lovely deviation. A spectral agitation anticipates the shape of the propeller. All sweet things that come from the air merit the dance of paregoric in the blood and around the bone. This is a wisdom that comes from the pursuit of beauty. This is a heat heard softly in the murmur of coal.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Twisted Colossus


Today, I would like to build a sentence of breath and sand. I will begin with a principle and end with an oath. If the age demanded a spoon I would give it a rag. But it's full of static and right wing radio stations. The color pink spouts mud from her veins. It’s how the severity of the color black is able to assume an aesthetic that speaks more clearly to our crusade for the towering subtleties of the highway. The sky leans over the horizon and brings out the textures of a more empirical reality than the one we were promised. There are balms for our blisters, theologies for our lotus. The cemetery confirms our anarchy. We draw analogies from the elasticity of pronouns. From one moment to another we do not know if the chisel is a more appropriate tool than the savagery of expectation.
When the jokes turned sour I decided to leave the group and build another sentence. This time I would use sprockets and paint. It was with great anxiety that I approached the canvas of life and began the lactation of coral turnstiles. I pulled some opium from an avenue of dead weather and offered it to the ghosts of hypothesis. They were most helpful. Together we were able to lift the sentence into the air and give it a push. It sailed into meaning where it spread its sails and creaked aloud when the conjunctions scraped against one another in that great mysterious ocean of space and time. 
The buckets are carried by Buddhists. The glue is heavy. Fortunately, most of the gas stations are open. My invocations rush aggressively into the night. The stars pour eternity on the world. The world continues to turn. Turning is eternal. It makes sense.
A patch of cloud walks past the moon. A shiver of bells enlivens a Christmas display. We hear an explosion, then, minutes later, sirens. Shards of glass reflect a ceiling of frescoed cherubs and wildflowers. A stethoscope is pressed against a warm chest.
Isn’t that what we’ve wanted all along, to perceive the reasons for things and events, to move them without the risk of the real and effortlessly understand them?  
Negation, deferred inasmuch as it is born from the abyss, causes the subject to bounce.
Christmas is an entirely different situation, requiring presents and generosity, a sense of community, a little hypocrisy, fakery, diplomacy, netsuke and spices from the netherworld.
Who wouldn’t want to travel in a rocket ship to Mars?
Palm Springs, maybe.
We can land by the side of a pool. The ghost of Bob Hope will greet us at the gate. He will bring us the balm of humor, which resides in the heart, alongside regret, which is cousin to the counselors of pain.
Maybe Bob Hope is a bad example. Maybe pain is a bad example.
Examples of what? They are examples of pain, existence, angst, the open enrollment of everything perceptible, the registration of the universe on our nerves, planets, stars, mezzanines and treadles of spinning potter’s clay. Open enrollment is a euphemism, a misapplied optimism that would also include its opposite, the flip side of the coin, a full spectrum of pain and pleasure and everything in between. There are torques and flywheels, hoists and trajectories. A closer description might be the Twisted Colossus of Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, California, which is a Möbius Loop roller coaster with a zero-g roll and a top gun stall.
The Palace of Pain beggars description. You must have pain, or a memory of pain in order to take its measure. There’s no morality to pain, though one may be provided, given sufficient time for thought and meditation. This is how pain fuels creativity, semantic cartography, and playing the harmonica. Sometimes there are symbols and ikons to help with the process. For example, a legato in a Beethoven violin concerto, or the hot dog rotator at 7-11.
There’s a shrine in the corner of the library. This is where sensations refine themselves into hieroglyphs of voluptuous energy. I could use this as an example, but it’s already in use. We should step away quietly and stand on the porch and listen to the rain.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Miracle in Words


In 2001, in that small interim in time between the death of my father in late August and the collapse of the World Trade Towers on September 11th, my wife Roberta and I enjoyed a long conversation with Philip Lamantia at his apartment in San Francisco’s North Beach area. We talked a lot about Edgar Allan Poe. Philip and I were both fascinated by the dual phenomena of hypnopompic and hypnogogic consciousness, the twilight state of consciousness that occurs just before falling asleep and just as one is coming awake. Of the two, I’ve always had a strong preference for the later. For it is upon that emergence from unconsciousness that my mind is still easy and fluid and not yet caged in logic. Wonderful lines of poetry float through my mind, often strung together in a funny, pixilated syntax, marvelous and strange. I can never remember these wonderful lines, but am always trying to duplicate them, resorting to poetry to coax them into being. Not just any poetry, but the poetry of the weird and aberrant, the visionary and phantasmagoric, the kind of poetry Philip wrote, a work at once exotic and otherworldly and yet fiercely engaged with the world. Not flighty, but tough and marvelous.
The Poe essay Philip was eager to share with us is titled “Marginalia,” which first appeared in Graham’s Magazine, March, 1846. There are two paragraphs in particular that I would like to share with you:  

How very commonly we hear it remarked, that such and such thoughts are beyond the compass of words! I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language. I fancy, rather, that where difficulty in expression is experienced, there is, in the intellect which experiences it, a want either of deliberateness or of method. For my own part, I have never had a thought which I could not set down in words, with even more distinctness than that with which I conceived it:  as I have before observed, the thought is logicalized by the effort at (written) expression.  

There is, however, a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts, and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt language. I use the word fancies at random, and merely because I must use some word; but the idea commonly attached to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in question. They seem to me rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul (alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquillity — when the bodily and mental health are in perfection — and at those mere points of time where the confines of the waking world blend with those of the world of dreams. I am aware of these “fancies” only when I am upon the very brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so. I have satisfied myself that this condition exists but for an inappreciable point of time — yet it is crowded with these “shadows of shadows;” and for absolute thought there is demanded time’s endurance.  

This link to Edgar Allan Poe is significant for a variety of reasons, but I would put at the forefront the deep connection to France Poe enjoyed due to the zeal and translations of Charles Baudelaire. It is this self-same taste for the marvelous and strange, for perversity and eccentricities of all shape and color, that a few decades later would help feed the incandescent marvels and phantasmagoria that is French surrealism. And of all American poets, Philip Lamantia is certainly its most manifest example.
Lamantia’s connection with French surrealism began in the early 1940s at a Dali retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Art when Philip was in his early teens. Lamantia describes his odyssey into surrealism in an interview with David Meltzer in San Francisco Beat (2001), in which he shares the following details:  

I was turned on to Surrealism through a great Dali retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now SFMOMA), followed by an equally marvelous exhibition of Miró. Within weeks I had read everything available on Surrealism that I could get from the public library. There wasn't much: David Gascoyne, the premier British Surrealist poet-whose Short Survey of Surrealism was superb-Julien Levy's Surrealism, Georges Lamaître's From Cubism to Surrealism in French Literature(he was teaching at Stanford), and finally, the discovery of the luxurious New York Surrealist review, VVV-two issues edited by Breton and friends-which I found in the tiny but ample no-loan library at the museum. In almost no time I had a dozen poems ready for publication and sent some to View: A Magazine of the Arts, which was edited, in New York, by the only important American poet who was plausibly Surrealist, Charles Henri Ford. In Spring 1943 my poems were featured on one of View's large-format pages. On the cover was a photograph by Man Ray . . . It was just after this that I discovered VVV's whereabouts and sent other poems there to André Breton. He wrote, accepting three poems and requesting a letter from me "clarifying" my relation to Surrealism. Acceptance by the man I fervently believed the most important poet and mind of the century led to my decision to quit school and take off for New York. I arrived in April 1944 in Manhattan . . . (135)  

Poetry for Philip was far more than artistry. It was alchemical. It was spiritual. It provided what André Breton termed “communicating vessels,” a means to transmute the leaden, soul-suffocating repressions and routines of everyday life into the thrill of the marvelous, the soul-fulfilling wine of the sublime.
In science, communicating vessels refers to a set of vessels of varying shape and size in which a homogeneous fluid will balance out to the same level. In André Breton’s application, communicating vessels refers to the correspondence between our walking life and the realm of dreams. Breton’s view was heavily influenced by Freud. He believed that the desires that are unable to be acted upon or fulfilled during our waking life may be enacted and satisfied in our dreams. I rarely remember my dreams, nor do I take much interest in them, but I very much like the general metaphor of two polarities connected by a transporting medium. According to this view, our waking life, which I take to be associated with humdrum necessity and the tedium of labor (albeit I find this to be a very narrow outlook), is visited by the shadows and chimeras of our unconscious and excite our minds to boundless wandering, what Breton called the “undirected play of thought.” It’s the side of our natures that keep us from becoming automatons, zombies going through all the motions of life without actually living. It’s the combination of dream and reality that results in a heightened awareness which Breton called “surreality.”
Philip remarks later in his interview with David Meltzer that “Poetry is the mean term between the physical basis for imagery and the metaphysical realm of being. This is what connects the affective to the cerebral, the heart to the sensual, and the mental vehicles of reception to the visible and invisible realms of being.”
What drew the three of us so powerfully to the eloquence of Poe’s essay in Philip’s North Beach apartment that summer afternoon in 2001 was Poe’s description of an intermediary state between the poles of conscious and unconscious life, a state in which poetry would emerge with the naturalness of breathing. Problems arise, however, when we attempt to employ a medium that is based almost entirely on rules, on a mutually recognized system that  -  while not always completely logical -  is not unlike the cogs and gears of a machine. Paint is gooey and smears; dance is physical, the play of our bodies in gravity and space; music is unbound by reference to the real world; theatre is masks and illusion; sculpture is rock and clay in three dimensional form, but still and lifeless. Poetry is a panther pacing back and forth in a cage.
“Isn’t this what all poets have aspired to,” Philip remarked in his interview with David Meltzer, “seemingly failing in the attempt but finally achieving a miracle in words.”
Indeed. Listen to it. Immerse your ears in it. Immerse your eyes in it. Bathe your neurons in it. Feel your blood warm with its pulse. Winter birches sway in invisible agitations of air. Words quicken into colloidal living substance. Ink sags with the imagery of passage. Vermilion camaraderies unfold fists of sandstone abstraction. The mind secures a place in heaven. And down it rains in sparkling subtleties of primal warmth.  
Remember geometry class? Remember carrying a sharp metal object called a compass? If not, there’s a marvelous painting of one by William Blake called “The Ancient of Days setting a Compass to the Earth,” rendered in 1794. God is hunched over, long blonde hair and beard blowing to the side, leaning out of the sun holding a compass with a huge, muscular arm. The arm, which parallels his massive, powerful leg, guides the compass with ferocious firmness and precision. The meaning of the painting is blunt: science controls. Technology holds existence in balance. Watch out that it doesn’t get too disproportionately ascendant.
The twilight states between sleeping and waking, or descending into sleep from a state of wakefulness, will have a peculiar effect on the instruments of geometry and science. Imagine Dali’s melting watches, or the jubilant chaos that is Max Ernst’s “L’Ange du Foyer,” (“The Angel of the Home”) and you’ll have an approximation of the enlightening distortions and odd lucidities of unbridled reverie.
Poe was confident that language could be reconfigured and formulated to accommodate these chimeras, that its inherent malleability and charms were sufficient to induce a trance-like frame of mind in which marvels and oddities could be brought to life, envisioned, embodied, ushered onto a sheet of paper. “Now, so entire is my faith in the power of words,” he proclaims, “that, at times, I have believed it possible to embody even the evanescence of fancies such as I have attempted to describe.”
I agree. But first it’s necessary to come to terms with the mechanisms that make language work.
Language is bound by rules. Break the rules, and you cease to make sense. Sense, that is, in the conventional sense. It’s in the nature of the mind to find meaning whenever and wherever it can. A lack of conventionality can excite a remarkable inventiveness, provided that one’s sensibilities are in any way receptive to new experience.
When grammar is torqued and twisted, the words assume a character that is both strange and palpable. Palpable because they’ve ceased being the conveyors of information and occupying a utilitarian function that is virtually invisible and transparent. They’ve become something else: they’ve become objects, startling and strange. What the Russians call ostrenenie: defamiliarization, the artistic technique of presenting common, everyday things in a way that makes them unfamiliar or strange, thereby enhancing the perception of the familiar.
How cool is that?
Earlier in his essay, Poe remarked quite optimistically that “I do not believe that any thought, properly so called, is out of the reach of language.”
For those of us who might be a little wary to resort to drugs or enter a hypnotic state each time we felt the urge to write, this is good news.
That said, I don’t mean to dismiss drugs altogether. I have memories. I’ve heard stories. I’ve read books. Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Charles Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises, Michael McClure’s Meat Science Essays, Henri Michaux’s The Major Ordeals of the Mind, and Some Minor Ones.” Drugs are, in their own way, illuminating. When drugs meet language, the result can be as energizing as the Beatles or Little Richard playing rock ‘n roll in Hamburg’s red light district circa 1962. Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom! There’s nothing like a Benzedrine buzz to thwack thwack thwack clickety click click click begin slapping words down in a state of exhilarated immediacy so that life and writing fuse into a bubbling mass of bop spontaneity. Normal syntax, the glue of the ordinary, the mortar of stiff collared Atlantic Monthly rhetoric, the stuff that makes sense, the syntax of ordinary mass and transparent point-making prose, starts doing back-flips and handstands and explodes into protoplasmic bliss. This is language with a pulse.
But that’s Benzedrine. What Poe is talking about bears a much stronger resemblance to opium. I’ve never had opium, just the occasional prescription for codeine or Vicodin, so I can’t speak with any real authority on how these medications influence writing. I know that these pharmaceuticals make me a lot more relaxed and patient and forgiving toward people and the thousand accidents and fucked-upedness of life as it is being lived and shins bumped against the coffee table and parking tickets discovered under the windshield wiper and rude bookstore employees and assholes walking unleashed dogs make you feel small and anxious. Those negative thoughts and feelings might still be there but you’re nicely distanced from them, looking down from a hot air balloon, making observations of cool indifference from an ivory throne of the mind. The mind as it is buoyed by codeine. The mind as it is softly lifted into the heavens by Sister Morphine.
And then there’s booze; booze worked pretty well for Charles Bukowski. Kerouac combined booze with benzies and the result was On the Road. Rollicking, vivid, incandescent prose. The kind of writing that makes you fall in love with words and go crazy with a wild lust to experience the world.
Booze never really worked for me. A couple of beers, a shot of whiskey and a mug of Guinness would have me feeling pretty good for maybe an hour, at most, but I rarely, if ever, felt the inclination to write, and it was never very long before I was shitfaced drunk and slurring my words much less writing anything I would want to claim as my own. The opioids don’t compromise the intellect as devastatingly as alcohol. Not for me, anyway. Reaction to drugs of any kind tends to vary wildly. Me, I’m an opiate guy. Never liked cocaine much. Loved amphetamines, but coming down was excruciating, worse than a hangover from an alcoholic binge.
As for the more exotic drugs, psychedelics and such, I would enter that realm with extreme caution. It has been many decades since I entered the portals of space and time through those doors, but I can state unequivocally that they’re not things to trifle with. I haven’t been tempted to try again. My relationship with reality isn’t what it used to be. Reality itself isn’t what it used to be.
This is what makes Poe’s confidence in language so endearing to those of us who crave a heightened awareness or more buoyant mood. Just the immersion in words alone is a journey of disembodied poetics, a wild ride through that vertiginous zone we call infinite possibility. I feel like one of those Wild West medicine show guys when I start preaching like this, but you really don’t need codeine or opium or even pot to write the kind of language that stirs and rustles in Lethean enchantment. You just need to figure out a way to do it. Because if you’re in an ordinary state of mind that in any way resembles my ordinary state of mind, you’re fucked. Most of the time I’m in a shitty mood. Angst, mortality, climate change, mass extinction, benign prostatic hyperplasia, envies, jealousies, betrayals, rejections, racism, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, a teetering economy and a flatulent fascistic oligarchy are as common to my daily existence as Wisconsin is to cheese or sewage from a poorly maintained septic tank. I call on the ghosts of Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson to help me out with this.
I don’t know how they did what they did but I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson didn’t go out back and smoke a doobie before returning to the kitchen or linen closet to finish her domestic chores. And yet she wrote marvelously, turned language into a distillery for metaphysical insights and a general euphoric buzz.
So then, what is it? What technique do you employ to get the words out there blinking like Christmas tree lights?
I use a number of tricks, including Burrough’s cut-up technique, Tristan Tzara’s cutting out words and putting them in a bag and taking them out one by one, Joycean stream of consciousness, Kerouac’s bop spontaneity, or just sitting down and writing, just doing it, just putting pen to paper, fingers on a keyboard, and begin, word after word, until a sequence forms, any sequence, it doesn’t have to make sense, in fact it’s just the opposite, I don’t especially want it to make sense, I want it to make mayhem, I want chaos, I want a storm, I want to stand high on a cliff like Prospero and make the seas toss. Do that, and consciousness will follow. What consciousness I cannot say, but consciousness, awareness, an altered perception, call it what you want.