Savitri Complementary Reading Group [7/24] - Introductory Séance I

Recorded 24 Jul 2019


Organized by Geoffrey Edwards (@Geoffrey_Edwards)

We are going to read, in parallel with the Savitri reading, diverse texts that complement Aurobindo’s text, with a particular focus on “Paradise Lost” by John Milton, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” and other writings from William Blake, and various poems by Walt Whitman, and link these readings into the Savitri reading. The first session will focus on some preliminary readings and consensus developing around how the complementary readings will be organized.

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Interesting article (self described as an introduction to “Paradise Lost”) by Phillip Pullman, author of the modern fantasy trilogy known under the name “His Dark Materials” (i.e. “The Golden Compass” et al.): https://www.bl.uk/restoration-18th-century-literature/articles/philip-pullmans-introduction-to-paradise-lost.

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Nice intro, Geoffrey. I like Pullman’s emphasis on the read-aloud dimensions of the poem, the evoked landscapes and atmospheres, his ‘sympathy for the devil.’ I am looking forward to entering the enchantment zone with this great work!

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Hey Guys, great discussion! Two things that occurred to me while I was driving to work - Marco mentioned finding Yeats’s recording of “Lake of Innisfree” weird, even “psychotic”? I think that was the word used. I wanted to just mention that that style of reading was in vogue then, and has a tradition - it was portentous and oracular (and somewhat pretentious, too, I think!). If you listen to recordings of Tennyson, say, it’s just like that, same with Ezra Pound. Readings nowadays are very, very different - we have changed our thinking about how poetry should be read aloud - and a good resource for listening to contemporary poets read their work aloud is Penn Sound:

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/

There’s a poet and critic (probably a better critic than poet) named Allen Grossman, who is the only contemporary poet I can think of (he died in 2014, and was the father of Lev Grossman, the popular science-fiction or fantasy writer) who still read in an oracular and portentous way. Actually, scratch that, William Bronk did, too. Grossman has a book, which is actually mostly a dialogue with another poet, Mark Halliday, called The Sighted Singer: Two Works on Poetry for Readers and Writers that might be relevant for our later discussions.

Also, I mentioned the word “ethical” in the context of the runaway slave passage, but I wanted to “problematize” this. In other words, yes, of course there is an ethical dimension to the passage. But if we really think about it, the passage is a poem, not a sermon. So, in a way, what makes it ethical? The content? I don’t know - I still think it’s more aesthetic than ethical. :man_shrugging: Maybe we’re beating a dead horse.

Lastly, we talked briefly about using works of criticism for our discussions. I personally think that’s a good idea. The first book that came to mind, for Milton, is William Empson’s Milton’s God. I will look into getting a copy of this for myself. Empson was a brilliant critic, most famous for writing Seven Types of Ambiguity when he was…24 years old.

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As the new (to poetry discuss) guy, I thought the horse was being sprung into life…re-animated with our prodding and spurring :horse_racing: I like that you bring question to this passage, it’s ethical dimension. I feel it goes well beyond the ethical dimension. Whitman is not concerned about ethics. Or well, I might state that he is highly concerned about ethics but yes…this poem is about aesthetics, the beauty of the situation. Like with Kearney anatheistic wager…Whitman passes the test when meeting the Other, all weapons “lean’d in the corner” and a silent love fully present in the foreground.

Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd feet,
And gave him a room that enter'd from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean'd in the corner.

He passes the test and takes it to another level by writing about the experience. It’s (the experience’s) reality (whether this is a true episode) does not matter much. Its depth and beauty does.

François ‘Officer’ Clemmons, black and gay, speaks of his interactions with Fred Rogers. The work Clemmons did with Rogers on public television was both risky and risqué. And on a children’s show. Tears came to my eyes when you read Whitman earlier today, Andrew, and tears arise when I think of a fraction of what individuals from previous generations experienced. These are the voices to be heard.

Is this the queer Jesus, John? Rogers was often suspected and accused of being gay. How does one become an activist-poet? This seems to be the right direction.

(from one John to another)

John 13: 4-17 KJV

4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

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That is a wonderful connection to make, @Douggins, between the caring for a runaway slave scene in the “Song of Myself” and Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet in John 13.

And thank you, @AndrewField81, for the link the UPENN archive. That’s exactly the kind of resource I’ve been looking for. Oddly, it seems there’s not actually that much poetry, or it’s not actually (or hasn’t been, for me) that findable, on YouTube. Some kind of a gate in me has opened and all I really feel a desire to do (besides the basic biological urges) is read and listen to and write poetry. So this is great!

I feel like a machine-learning AI neural network, insatiate, hungry for ramifying streams of raw, gnostic data to build poetic worlds. For the record, I love Yeats’ incantation, and I meant “psychotic” as a term of affection. I do rarely hear poetry being…not merely read, recited, or performed—but transmitted (from beyond the poet-ego)—whether at open mic, spoken word, slam events, or the like. So going back to grainy recordings of past masters for me is to recover something of this transmissive quality.

Here is Yeats reading his work (and explaining why he does it so):

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Yes, utterly yes to the John 13:4-17 reference, for itself but also in the context of Whitman’s (imaginative? experienced?) interaction with the runaway slave. What an absolutely spot-on allusion in Whitman that I never got (I know very little about the New Testament).

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Marco, do you mean poetry that is read out loud, in terms of not finding much online? If so, let me know - I can point to some good resources. There is some good stuff on YouTube, but it might be harder to find, though probably easier if there is a specific poet you have in mind, to use on YouTube as a search term.

Yeats is a master. Hopefully one day we can get into his work. Thanks for sharing the recording - it’s always interesting when poets at readings talk about poems they are about to read. Some poets deliberately or intentionally do not do this - I watched a recording of Joseph Massey on Pennsound, and he just jumped in, which was interesting - but I do like hearing a poet explain a/the/some context for the poem to be read. Poets talking about their work is always fascinating, even if, like Bloom and other critics of the “intentional fallacy,” we question whether they see their work in some or any way “objectively.” One of my favorite Yeats poems is “Adam’s Curse”:

Incidentally, Yeats is a poet whose rhymes I don’t mind, and enjoy, though most contemporary rhyming poetry (“new formalism” and so on) I cannot really stand or tolerate, unless it is used humorously or satirically.

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Mr. Rogers turns the Stranger into the Friend. He draws upon a rich, narrative tradition. What a charming story.

And this sequence brings tears to my eyes as well. Whitman can do that. I am so glad you got this feeling from the reading for it has a pure quality that I call queer. The Divine incarnated through bonds of service, the language so simple and concrete, innocent and sexy. It is deeply Christian and you can feel the Emersonian rhythms here. Circles within circles…and then to follow this with the Bathers. Shall we gather by the River?

I have walked through the streets of Manhattan after midnight, in the same neighborhood that Whitman walked, and I have paused, when I have heard a deep sigh, and seen a hand, palm upwards, emerge from the darkness. And I have sat on the stoop next to the Stranger, and listened to his tale of woe, and I have offered him a place a stay, for it is unsafe for a young black man to be on the streets after midnight. And I took him home and he shared my bed and the next day he bathed in my tub ( which is in the kitchen) and he had to go to work so I gave him a shirt, a white, cotton shirt, with a button down collar and a few bucks so he could catch the train and we said farewell and I realized he had become an Angel of the Morning. And I felt the presence of Walt, for.he had walked, as I have, the cold, mean streets of Manhattan, under the shadow. He had walked as I have in the difficult, thorny ways of men

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Hey Folks,

I had a thought recently that I wanted to run by each of you. What would people think about inviting some poets, outside of IC, to participate in a conversation within IC? I don’t know if this would necessarily be connected directly to the Whitman, Blake and Milton conversations, although it could be - but there is clearly an interest, I think, on this site in poetry and poetics. Why not invite some poets outside IC to maybe read some poems, talk about their poetics, answer some questions, and whatever else would be appropriate for such a thing/meeting/encounter? It would be a good way to introduce the Cosmos Cooperative to other creative people, and introduce Cosmos members to these creative people. Would this be of interest?

Maybe I should say that there are four poets specifically who I am thinking about, though if the meetings and discussions go well, I’m sure we could widen our scope. Anyways, here are the four poets I’m thinking about - I’m going to say their names and then include links to their work and, if they have websites, their websites:

Charles Kell - Poet, English Prof, and editor of Ocean Review, in Rhode Island

His website, with links to poems (he has a new book, his first collection, coming out in September):

Interview with Kell:

Joel Lipman - Visual Poet, Emeritus English and Art Prof

Essay by Lipman on his visual-poetic methods/poetics and aspects of his biography:

http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/lipman/shine1.htm

Samples of Joel’s work, in visual poetry and mail art:

http://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/lipman/lipman.htm

Interview with Joel, by the Toledo Public Library, from 2015:

Sarah Gridley - Poet, English Prof

Sarah’s brief statement concerning her poetics, for an academic profile:

https://english.case.edu/faculty/sarah-gridley/

Interview with Sarah from 2012, in The Volta (I think a lot of people would be interested in and enjoy this):

http://www.thevolta.org/tremolo-issue10-sgridley.html

Some recent poems by Gridley:

Joseph Massey - Poet

Joe’s website:

Joe’s PennSound page:

https://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Massey.php

Joe’s page on Poetry Foundation:

Well, I’m looking forward to hearing what you all think. These are also opportunities, I’d imagine, to talk about things like publishing, for example, or have any questions answered about writing poetry, reading poetry, learning about how poets influence each other, and, most of all, really living poetry as a way of life. Each of these poets has really made poetry, in many ways, the center of their lives. This might sound like a “sacrifice,” but I think it is exactly the opposite. Anyways, I look forward to hearing each of your thoughts, or for that matter anyone else who is interested.

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dear @AndrewField81, big fat YES—MOAR POETRY pleeeaze. With lots of therapy, drugs, and a few rounds of cosmetic surgery on my soul, I am currently transitioning from a scarcity mindset to one of abundance.

I realize on YouTube I just didn’t know what I was looking for—and that’s OK—I found enough for plenty of deep listening. Your links above and elsewhere have been additionally helpful. I’m learning there is a lot more out there than I’ve been aware of.

Re: your suggestion^^ Let me invite you to become a human algorithm and go ahead and curate the poets and poetry you wish to share with the community here. If you would like set up some kind of events with poets you like—let’s do it and see it how goes. I am in full support.

I’ve had in mind for a while a channel (space for discussions, video, podcast, blog posts, etc.) on Metapsychosis & Infinite Conversations that’s dedicated purely to poetry and would be called: ONLY POETRY. Inspired by this quote:

“Poetry is the one thing that isn’t contaminated, the one thing that isn’t part of the game. Only poetry—and let me be clear, only some of it—is good for you, only poetry isn’t shit.” – Roberto Bolaños, 2666

I know this represents a partial truth, but I’m rather partial to it. Perhaps your proposal fits the spirit?

Either way, I have taken a first look at the poets you’ve shared above but will need more time to develop a preference. Perhaps pick a poet you’re particularly drawn to (or see what others respond to) to start with? I/we (Cosmos) can help with logistics. I’d love to meet and get to know the work of more real, living poets and encourage more living, breathing poetry and conversation about poetry here.

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Hey Folks,

Here is a pdf of William Empson’s introduction to his Milton’s God. I have always wanted to read this work of literary criticism, and look forward to hopefully reading the intro today. I also came across an interesting quote by Empson from Milton’s God on Wikipedia. The quote reads,

the poem [Paradise Lost] is not good in spite of but especially because of its moral confusions, which ought to be clear in your mind when you are feeling its power. I think it horrible and wonderful; I regard it as like Aztec or Benin sculpture, or to come nearer home the novels of Kafka, and am rather suspicious of any critic who claims not to feel anything so obvious.

Empson’s comparison of Paradise Lost to Kafka is fascinating; it also suggests what Bloom has said about the text as having affinities with science fiction. (The adjective “Kafkaesque,” and the genre of science fiction are not identical, but there are some similarities, which would include an overwhelming sense of strangeness and maybe even a powerful feeling of the “uncanny,” a word which essentially means incapable (un) of being fully known (canny).)

Empsons’ Introduction:

http://assets.press.princeton.edu/chapters/i7376.pdf

FWIW, I think it might be useful to compare Empson’s interpretation to the interpretation of C.S. Lewis, one which I find personally rather repugnant and completely off. Here is a passage from Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost:

To admire Satan is to give one’s vote for a world of misery and a world of lies and propaganda, wishful thinking and incessant autobiography. Yet the choice is possible and hardly a day passes without some slight movement towards it in each one of us. That is what makes Paradise Lost such a serious poem. The thing is possible, and the exposure of it is resented.

To be clear, Lewis’s interpretation of Satan is the exact opposite of Blake, Bloom and Empson. Lewis literally reads Satan as some kind of pernicious and destructive force (and, I’m sure, reads the boring God in Milton as something powerful). I don’t know if the term “irony” even captures how opposed Lewis’s reading is to the other writers mentioned above. I have been suspicious of Lewis for a while now - Bloom has dropped certain comments that made me question what Lewis was up to. Reading this quote, I confess to a kind of baffled astonishment. Is Lewis insane? What exactly did he read? Anyways, something to think about.

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Nota bene: the pdf above is, I’m pretty sure, NOT by William Empson. I’m having a heck of a time figuring out who wrote it. I do like it, but I’d love to know the author. (I’ve tried searching for Empson and Princeton University Press, but the books that come up do not seem to have this intro.)

As it happens, a couple of Empson’s books—Argufying and Milton’s God—just arrived for me today via Interlibrary Loan, and so I’ve had the chance to become acquainted (but only incipiently) with his writing. I read a short piece he wrote on Dylan Thomas’ later years and found it sympathetic. I could read more.

However, I have decided I am not going to even look at Empson’s Milton book. Not having read the whole of Paradise Lost before (but only scant fragments) I believe I should just read the poem, and only the poem, first—then open up to critical takes after I’ve formed my own relationship with the aesthetic object.

That said, I’ll be happy to hear any views, theories, or speculations you or anyone here has to offer. I particularly like the idea of “creative mis-readings”—e.g., PL as weird lit/SF and the Liminal Lucifer. I will do my best to entertain those with whatever esoteric knowledge I have.

Regarding C.S. Lewis’ view of Milton’s Satan—granted I’ve only met this Satan recently, and knowing a little C.S.—I will say it doesn’t strike me as crazy at all. There IS something crazy and stupid about Satan’s whole plan (discussed w/ Beelzebub & crew at the outset) to me.

“Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven” strikes me as a questionable proposition. Is it really either/or? Here’s where Blake may have the better with his “marriage” idea. Still I think C.S. Lewis is being sensitive to the ‘ethical’ dimension here—and that is not crazy, since “Satan” can also be read as a pre-modern stand-in for the shadow side of consciousness.

One may admire Satan as a literary character, on aesthetic grounds—but to admire the real Satan (who I’m guessing Lewis is actually talking about) as a desirable potentiality of the self to be realized, that would be (is) crazy, no? I am recalling Lewis’ Christianity and that he may not have been writing purely as a literary critic.


Btw, are you familiar with William Logan? I also picked up his Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure: The Dirty Art of Poetry. So far I’m finding a lot to like, and he seems your style.

Yes, I like Logan, for the most part. The cliche is that he is “the most hated man in poetry.” Maybe that’s true? But I think Logan is important, as a kind of grumpy corrective to the unfortunately naive adoration that you find sometimes in poetry circles, also on “poetry Twitter,” which is a whole different story, also an interesting topic. I have to say, I have never understood why Logan absolutely loves the poetry of Robert Lowell, whose poems I’ve never liked, but at least Logan writes intelligently about Lowell, instead of sentimentalizing, idealizing, or whatever else. I also like Logan’s pretty negative interpretation of Hart Crane’s poetry, an interpretation which is one of the only times I ever disagreed with Bloom in matters of taste (Crane is pretty untouchable in Bloom’s evaluation, it seems).

Sometimes Logan seems to go a bit too far, but I can’t find reviews where he does this - most of them, in the New Criterion, are behind a pay wall. He was famously threatened by the poet Franz Wright, who wrote in the letters page of the New Criterion of “the crippling beating you so clearly masochistically desire” (:joy:). Logan responded: “I will come and go as I please, and would be glad to provide him with an itinerary.” I’m sure the Wright review crossed some lines. Still, Wright’s response is also of course ridiculous.

Logan wrote a great review recently of a book I was given as a present, and actually threw out after reading the review. This might say more about me than the book, but whatever the case, here is the review:

Regarding Lewis’s reading of Satan, and the interpretation of Satan within the context of ethics, I guess I find these interpretations somewhat hopeless and missing the point. What is the point? Since I haven’t started reading PL yet, I will hold off on my own point about the point. But essentially - and what I’m about to say is informed by a recent email exchange I had with a friend, who loves Lewis, which I do not really understand - I think Lewis believes that Satan usurps God’s role, that Satan is like one big ego, and therefore should be instructive to us not to “disobey God” or some such thing. I find this interpretation very confused. I prefer to read Satan as Shelley and Blake did (I think Empson, too, and of course Bloom), that Milton was definitely of the devil’s’ party, and therefore a true poet. I find moralizing takes on Satan dreary and prudish - it reminds me (don’t know if this analogy holds) of the ways people did not like Ray Charles “What’d I Say,” or who wanted Dylan to stay a folk musician - something fearful about this take, something afraid of energy. I think we are supposed to be seduced by and really feel Satan’s power and eloquence, that that is the whole point. Anyways, more on this once I’ve actually read the text.

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The PDF, not by William Empson, has been identified! It is from this:

Literary threats of violence are the best kind, in my opinion. A little interpersonal grit is good for the immune system. I don’t want too much of it, though. Would rather go to the pomes themselves—there is too much good stuff I haven’t read to spend a lot of time reading about poetastic infighting. That said, I do enjoy some literary gossip; also the best kind.

Regarding Satan, we shall see. I wonder how he would fare, poetically speaking, against a much more vigorously conceived G-force such as Aurobindo’s via Savitri. Let’s not forget there is a whole other current of reading braiding together with this one.

Came across this poem in a roudabout, serendipitous way. Enjoy!

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A flash poem! I especially like how the “ponderous thunderhead flowered,” and the ambiguity of what is revealed and concealed in that visible darkness.

And where i-95 meets ‘the Pike’ (if he’s referring to the interstates I believe he is) probably is very close to a literal pit of hell. Go Nate Klug!