Sunday, August 1, 2010

Karl Elder on "Ode in the Key of O"

To the One of Fictive Music

Grant me this: a modicum of intrapersonal intelligence allows for speculation regarding undercurrents in the etiology of a poem: canonical verse whose title this analysis borrows as its own, for example, or winning as a teenager an argument with one’s father, proving there is no perfect circle, yet subsequently understanding that, while absolutely accurate measurement is impossible in the physical world, perfection exists in and as approximation, one apparatus of reasonably seasoned consciousness—unlike Plato’s horse, his mystical illustration of pre-existing ideal forms or ideas, the claim that identification is the soul remembering a thing from heaven wholly horseshit. Only after experience is perfection manifest and only in the imagination, imagination being the empiricist’s and poet’s generator of miracles.

I sometimes think of poems as possessing both an ecto- and an endo- skeleton—the latter metaphysical—poetry then seemingly a phenomenon as much like sculpture as painting. Oh, it’s two-dimensional on paper, all right, but multi-dimensional in the formulation and in its readers’ apprehension of that latent energy before them. In making “Ode in the Key of O,” a habit of counting syllables re-emerged in me, thumb to four fingers and every fifth note thumbed, only this time I sensed the hand morphing from abacas to rosary.

So, ought I wince over the rogue syllable my student and friend Rob pointed out in stanza four? Nah, when the most quoted line of pentameter on the planet (“To be . . .”) owns eleven syllables? Now, am I rationalizing? Oh yeah. While of course content must dominate, the strictest adherence to superstructure in this piece is part of the art.

“Ode . . .” was born in the shadow of the title poem of my volume Gilgamesh at the Bellagio, in which each of its 27 stanzas ends with an “O” rime—aural, visual, or conceptual. Both poems were composed under fluorescent light on top of an up-turned cardboard box, itself atop a pool table and elbow-high, cue ball wearing blue smudges where it last rolled at an angle of about one o’clock. Opposite the box on a concrete wall, a round electric clock still clicks.

Probing for a construct, I settled on a period at the close of the first, and nine progressively smaller stanzas, doubtful I could maintain the form when, around the fifth stanza, I prematurely landed upon—after maybe two weeks of three hours per day—the final line of the poem. “Whoa. Is this negative Negative Capability or what?” I thought, confounded and elated at once, mind’s eye on something like a photo of a funnel cloud, the “endo-“ abstract but with a picture of the “ecto-“ as concentric rings or a tightly wound spring tapering to the point of the pen in my dangling forearm and hand. As to the remainder of the poem—as well as its predetermined form—I’d not known a vortex quite like this: absorbingly, alluringly laborious, as if a mason were laying block with the I-beam levitating, miraculously, above.