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THE CROOKED CAKE OF LEO CESSPOOCH; OR, HOW I SURVIVED BUCOLIC PLAGUE & CAME UNTO CONCRETE (1967)
From Concrete Poetry: A World View, 1968, ed Mary Ellen Solt
The title is no more confusing than trying to figure out why one does This, as opposed to That. Leo Cesspooch is an Indian studying Domestic Science at the Institute of Indian Affairs in Santa Fe. A newspaper photograph showed Leo looking at his pathetic, crooked cake, baked, one supposes, in some warsurplus, crooked, white-man's oven. I sympathized. One thing leads to another-but seldom does one see how.
I have been peripatetic for far too
many years to keep literary details straight. I certainly don't
remember when I became privy to the word Concrete, as coined
by Eugen Gomringer and the Noigandres gents. I used to get the
Swiss magazine Spirale as far back as 1953, when Gomringer
was one of the editors, and found that visually very stimulating,
as was searching through Stuttgart's bookshops for original publications
from the Bauhaus period. My correspondence with Ian Hamilton Finlay
dates back to 1960, at least then. Finlay has been my tutor in
the Concrete mode, and he is, to my taste, the finest exponent
of the poem manufactured as an object of contemplation.
But, to pin down my first use of Concrete,
memory dates that from October, 1962 during a month's hike of
the English Lake District. Every day I wrote a postcard to Jessie
McGuffie, a friend of Ian's in Edinburgh, and these cards were
later collected as a small book, Li~zes About Hills Al~ove
Lakes. One of the entries was a poem, "A 75th Birthday
Maze," for Dame Edith Sitwell. It was an acrostic, and the
impetus had come Irom visiting the ancient topiary ancl maze gardens
of Levens Hall, near Kendall The notion was naturalistic, then,
in one obvious sense-as form has been said to be nothing but an
extension of content. However, cowbells in a Mahler symphony don't
stay cowbells-there is the new, second formal content
of art-and letters in a poem are not made out of clipped, shaped
yews and beeches. One cannot be a 7nan of letters, as we
say, without coming to a recognition of
their look, as well as their sound
and their various notations. Note, for example, that in the title,
Lines About Hills Above Lakes, each word contains five
letters, and that their initials make another five-letter
word, LAHAL, of which I am very fond. Poets are happy with such
simple pleasures found in the language's substance.
In a letter dated September 12, 1954,
I received a poem from Robert Creeley called "Hi There! "
He appended a suspicious, scribbled note: "Maybe I'm losing
my mind?" For me, the poem was a delight and opened up a
new world of possibilities. Since it is one of Creeley's least
known poems, let me cite it here:
from out the
fact, a new
surface of a pedestrian
So, this is the modern instance. Since
it was written close to my own home in spirit and is so particularly
"american" (albeit written by an American living in
Mallorca at the time), I got more push from that poem than from
any prior to a discovery of Finlay's work. Here again, I have
enough of the Scots obsession with purity in blood to heed IHF.
Pound makes the point that we divide poetry into what we can and
cannot read. We should add, and what we can and cannot see. And
we are, altogether, more automatic in this than reasonable, for
who knows what it is that reasons the Muses? Is it blood? Ichor
is thicker than blood. It flows as a celestial green fluid in
the veins of the gods and, now and then, of some poets.
To conclude, do not think there has not been a tradition of the poet as visualization, as substance, from Way Way Back. Dom Sylvester Houédard (Silver-Star-Who-Ate-Art), OSB, the distinguished, fate Kin/Kon Servo-Mechanistie Seribe of the Western Cotswolds, can clue you into Baby-Lon-Con, the peerless Saggil Kinam Ubbib, He of the Theodicy writ with a cuneiforlrl acrostic circa 1500 B.C. But, I go only A Little Ways Back: George Herbert, Blake, I,eNvis Carroll, Morgenstern, Malevich, Schwitters, Apollinaire, Bob Brown, Stein, cummings, William Carlos Williams, Patchen, Zukofsky, the Institute of Design (Chicago), Jan Tschichold, Black Mountain College, and Biederman's Art As the Evolution of Visual Knowledge since I was l8. And then there is always Pound's realization that it is the sign that constantly renews its vitality, as against themthere dim symbols. I take it--from there.