The Charming Image

Zeppelin at the Goodyear Air Dock
Zeppelin at the Goodyear Air Dock

immediately, I’m charmed by the image,

its antique tones, its steampunk and surrealism.

On Friday, I finally had a chance to search out a copy of Alvin Rosenbaum’s Work’s in Progress at the Toronto Reference Library. It wasn’t easy for the library staff! While the books lives in the stacks, it turns out to be improperly coded in the online catalogue preventing a library patron from making a stacks request. Thanks to Ainy, Lily and Krystyna at the Business, Science and Technology desk who persisted in tracking down the book for me.

The image is credited simply to the Goodyear Tire and Rubber company. I’ve enjoyed searching around for this image online which has brought in contact with many weird and wonderful things. But there was a special thrill both in finding the actual photo and in finding it to be a standout: for the most beautiful of all, and clearly the reference of the details in the poem.

The slideshow gives you a bit of a walk through the book, including the spread which includes the photo and also an image of the hangar under construction.

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The Goodyear Air Dock

An old photo of the Zeppelin that Goodyear flew out of Akron,

airship nose poking from massive hangar archway:

When this became the first poem in what became the book, Zeppelin, I thought that I would search out the “old photo”. I assumed I’d recognize it but found that image searches yielded many contenders. Here is one that seemed likely. B1AC24F1-9CFB-8E34-131AB232EB05D431_5 It is of the USS Akron emerging from its hangar in suitably “antique tones”, the airship enigmatic enough to evoke “surrealism” though perhaps not “steampunk”, there are “tiny foreground figures”. In part because of my uncertainty about finding the photo, I began to wonder about the reference more broadly: had Goodyear ever flown a Zeppelin out of Akron? I was glad to find this post at the wonderful, which provided the substance of the note on the first poem that is included in the book. Not only had Goodyear and Zeppelin collaborated on Zeppelins built long ago in Akron and then abandoned: they began to work together again a few years ago and as soon as 2014, it might be a Goodyear Zeppelin flying over the Super Bowl in place of aging blimps!

But I thought to poke into this a bit further. I tracked down the original draft of this poem written on November 14th, 2004. A strange convergence: according to my journal, the previous day, Saturday, November 13th, was the day that I finished the manuscript of my first book, Crown and Ribs, in the form in which it was first submitted to potential publishers. That day, I had taken my daughter out for a stroller walk on the Danforth and stopped in at a now defunct used bookstore: “…browse ‘Books R Gold’, see Works in Progress, book of photographs of monuments under construction, including the Akron Zeppelin hangar.” This book written in 1994 by Alvin Rosenbaum can be seen in part online. The online preview doesn’t include any photos of Akron, but is highly recommended for the pictures included of the Lincoln Memorial and other famous landmarks under construction. The one clue I did find was in the index: Goodyear Audock – a misprint!

The Goodyear Air Dock in Akron turns out to have a long, rich history. It exists to this day and is in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. There were even cute souvenirs made of it!

The Toronto Reference Library has a copy of Works in Progress, so I hope in the future to post the actual picture that inspired the poem nine years ago.

A closing aside: airship hangars are everywhere! My wife Roseanne‘s California years were spent close to the Tustin hangars. And in March, as I tweeted the results of online searches for Zeppelin poems and curiosities, I came across Trevor Monk’s site for his airship poems as well as his site devoted to his love for and efforts on behalf  of the preservation of the Cardington Sheds.

Book Judged by Cover!

First in a set of supplemental in-flight safety tips. While the craft is designed to be intuitive and comes equipped with some ballast at its tail, you may find these notes helpful, or diverting, in operating your Zeppelin.

The cover is the work of Carleton Wilson. He designed the handsome typeface and adapted the Zeppelin image from Zeppelin: The Story of A Great Achievement by Harry Vissering (1922). Follow the link to view the wonderful Project Guttenberg eBook version which includes the orginal books many amazing and charming photos, illustrations and diagrams. Below is a small sampling.

Movie Monster: The Video!

Hope you’ll enjoy and share “Movie Monster”, the lead video for Zeppelin, launching April 20th, 2013 in Toronto!

Own Your Own Zeppelin!

Zeppelin, model 978-0-88971-279-9, available for your fleet beginning April 2013. Please consider local, independent airship dealers. In Toronto, Book City is highly recommended! Online: direct from Harbour Publishing or via Indigo, Amazon (Canada), Amazon (U.S), Barns and Noble.

Zeppelin“A virtuoso performance. Good poets know where to break a line,and few know how to turn a phrase into a constellation, but Blaise Moritz’s line endings catapult you into the unexpected where you have to take another breath and be ready for new epic feeling.”

Pier Giorgio Di Cicco

“Blaise Moritz is a poet of passion, resonance and rare skill. The homeland of his verse is the city – as in the dazzling ‘AM Nocturne,’in which he drives a van by night through Chicago with a radio mysteriously tuned to the ‘music of your life.’ A deeper music haunts these poems – something that grieves and hopes, is hardwon, and turns us towards better things.”

Richard Greene

“In Zeppelin, Blaise Moritz subverts subversion, rejects rejection. Like his steampunk muse, he creates a dazzling future for an antique art. He is a celebrant, a builder. His language is current in every sense: fluent, new, and charged with power.”

Paul Vermeersch

Nightwood Editions

The Sinking of the Titanic by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

A complete reading of Hans Magnus Enzenberger‘s English version of his book-length poem The Sinking of the Titanic. Recorded on the centennial of the great ship’s wreck.

Notes on Crown and Ribs: The “Odyssey” Poems

Monday, 26 November, 2007

There are five poems in Crown and Ribs in the voices of characters from The Odyssey of Homer. Each of one is introduced with an epigraph from Richmond Lattimore’s translation.

At a reading in Toronto in 2003, the poet who acted as mc approached me after to ask why I had written such poems; “That’s my subject matter,” she said! The inclusion of these pieces owes something to their success: my first publications in several Canadian journals included “Odyssey” poems. Successive waves of editing the book resulted in a culling of other allusions (a set of re-writings of scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, a poem referencing Norse mythology), partly on the idea that there was only room in the emerging pattern for one such strand.

I can explain why I wrote such poems, which is what I’ll do below. Explaining exactly why they’re in the book is more difficult. On the one hand, their presence is indicative of Crown and Ribs as a debut collection—a book shaped by what’s found favour with others so far. On the other hand, these poems can be a point of entry into considering the cohesiveness of the finished work, both in terms of its structure and its themes. This is a topic for another entry; for now, the genesis of the “Odyssey” poems.

On January 1st, 2001, I finished reading the Odyssey aloud. I had the days between Christmas and New Year’s off from work and this provided the time for the final push; I’d begun a few months earlier in the fall. I believe that writing suffers without reading. The temptation to seek productivity can lead to sacrificing reading for more writing time, but I find that it’s only when I am enjoying reading that I’m truly productive. For me, I associate school with this temptation to productivity: an obedient student, I was dominated by the imperative to fulfill assignments by deadlines.

In 2000, I started reading Melville and, after being impressed by his “Tales of the Fifties”, attempted Moby Dick. I felt a joy in reading the novel that made me think of favorite reading experiences of high school: Don Quixote, Kafka’s stories and novels, Borges’ stories. I recognized that this association was parallel to the goal I had in my creative work to recover the pleasure and ease I associated with the writing I did pre-university, writing I did entirely outside the context of any forum or encouragement at school (with the exception of a couple of pieces printed in the Blue Herald student newspaper that was relaunched during my final year at St. Michael’s College School).

At one point in my childhood, my father posted a list of books to read on my wall. My memory is that I read few or none, and that I acted sullen about the list. To the extent that I remember the list, I regret now that I missed out on the childhood fun of the pre-TV world, not reading the Arabian Nights or the legends of King Arthur, for example. The Odyssey was one book on the list. I remember insisting on buying a short, prose version of Odysseus’ adventures once at a bookstore, on the idea that I could read that. But I didn’t.

I did, however, know Odysseus’ stories quite well, largely through Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes, which was a favorite book of mine around grades one and two. And Odysseus was my favorite character. I liked that he was the cleverest of heroes, the one who thought up the Trojan Horse. I associate my love of Green’s book especially with a trip I made with my mother to England and France the summer before grade two. She needed to do some research for her dissertation and I got to go along; Tales of the Greek Heroes was the book I remember us reading. I was extremely excited by Turner’s painting “Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus”, a beautifully childlike enthusiasm, such as a boy feels for his own drawings, which are only magically referential in conjunction with the explanations he provides, considering that Turner’s painting features the tiniest dot Ulysses on an impressionistic blob of a trireme, and it takes a lot to pick out Polyphemus in the golden clouds. Back then the National Gallery had few postcards and none of “Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus”, a source of some confusion to me at the time: why wouldn’t there be a postcard of any painting that was my favorite? There still aren’t postcards of all my favorite paintings, but I did find one of this Turner on a later trip.

In high school, Classics were among my favorite subjects. My school required one year of Latin, and offered four. I took the four and along with some other interested students, took up our teacher, Mrs. Sheila Morra, on her kind offer to come in early for courses in Classical Greek, which we did for three years. I enjoyed that the Odyssey was one of our primary texts.

When in graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, I was very taken with the city’s used bookstores. I had bought cheap editions of Lattimore’s Iliad and Odyssey in ’96 or ’97 on the Capitol square but had never looked at them. Finally in 2001, inspired by the thrill of Moby Dick and determined to read books great and long, I thought it was time to go back to my father’s list and read the Odyssey.

Then it occurred to me that I should read it aloud. I don’t know exactly why. It may have been on the idea that poetry should be heard. Or that I felt inexperienced in reading poetry and thought that I’d understand it more easily if I heard it, the way I’d always found Shakespeare easier to understand when performed. And so I started to shut myself in my little office in the basement of our apartment and read the Odyssey aloud.

There was another element of reading the Odyssey that is significant in the context of the poems in Crown and Ribs. Going back to high school, I’d been taking notes on my personal reading. I worried that taking notes, especially copying passages of interest, would create a lot of drag on reading the Odyssey, especially since attempting to read it aloud would create and require some forward momentum. A solution came out of an interview I read with a writer. I don’t see any indication that I recorded the details; for some reason I think the writer was Louis Simpson. In any case, the writer said in answer to a question about note taking that he loves to hold on to passages but hates marking up his books, finding marginal notes and underlining intolerable distractions when re-reading a favorite text. What he does is make a very faint pencil dot—he described the mark as almost indistinguishable from a fleck in the paper—beside each line that he might want to return to. I adopted this practice while reading the Odyssey. The epigraphs for the five “Odyssey” poems in Crown and Ribs all come from passages I marked in this way while reading the epic aloud.

It was also on January 1st, 2001 that I began writing poetry. A personal myth! I had written verse before in a couple of contexts—school contests, a university poetry writing course. Going back to high school, I had read much of the classics of “prose poetry” and almost all of what I wrote from that point up to 2001, oscillated between fiction and experimental writing—often influenced at least as much by knowledge of spoken word performers and conceptual artists as by any poetry I’d read.

I started labeling the notebooks in which I do most of my writing “Daily Work” in May of 1997, after finishing my one year of grad coursework at UW-Madison in the Fine Art Department. My goal was to write every day and that’s what I did, whether I was copying psalms or creating automatic texts that impressed readers as surreal speculative fiction—I was using lines lifted from books on UFOs as prompts! As 2000 ended, I was looking for a new direction in my writing. I had spent a couple of years working on the products of my automatic writing, experiencing firsthand the problem of editing—or not editing—such work. This process culminated in the publication of a chapbook with Junction Books and the publication of some prose poems in an issue of Blood and Aphorisms and Paul Vermeersch’s anthology, The I.V. Lounge Reader (Insomniac Press, 2001).

I think the most direct catalyst for the project I set myself in 2001, the project which started my writing poetry, was one of David Ball’s notes in Darkness Moves (Univeristy of California Press, 1997), his selection of Henri Michaux’s writing: “This slim volume of poetry, and here, for once, the poems meet the simplest definition for poetry, as none have justified right margins…” (from the introduction to Moments: Crossing of Time, page 231). I decided that for the fifty-two weeks of 2001, I would write the same number of lines for each day: in other words, I would write four line pieces for seven days, then thirty-five line pieces for seven days, and so on, choosing the number of lines for a week randomly. And I decided that I would experiment with what a “line” means as I hadn’t before.

From Monday, January 1st, 2001:

If the world should stop spinning
the cat asleep in the clothes basket
the strict immigration laws of certain island nations
would set fire to the socks we have pierced with unkempt toenails

That first week of the year I wrote a four line poem each day.

It wasn’t long though before the project suggested more and more possibilities that pointed me toward studying poetry: a week of sonnets; a week of epigrams—who was Martial?; a week of 24 line pieces could see six quatrains written one day and eight tercets the next. As I went along, I also began to think about style and content. Would I continue to work in a vaguely surrealist, automatic idiom? Would I continue to work without direct reference to subject matter?

The first break came in March, in the eleventh week of the year. I was aware of the popularity of the glosa among contemporary Canadian poets. I had the idea of trying to write seven glosas, using lines from the poems of Chilean surrealist Ludwig Zeller, who lived in Toronto for many years and is a family friend I remember going back to childhood. While the texts written that week weren’t very different stylistically from what I had done up to that point, the underlying ideas—trying a form, referring to another author’s poetry—were.

Then a couple of weeks later, in the fifteenth week of the year, during April, each day I chose one of the passages I’d marked while reading the Odyssey as a jumping off point and wrote a poem in the voice of that character. (“Athene” and “Eurymachos” were never accepted for journal publication and are not included in Crown and Ribs.) As I remember, I simply hit upon this idea because I was casting about for different ways to mix up my writing experiment.

In retrospect, it’s interesting to me to see how the earliest poems to find their way into the finished book also represent the very beginning of my writing verse poems on a consistent basis that would strike readers as “traditional”—the poems are dramatic monologues, they refer to a canonical text, they appear to have themes that could be discussed in a conventional way. It’s also interesting that these poems underwent relatively little change in terms of content between when they were written and their final form in Crown and Ribs, almost six years later. Most passages match the first drafts word for word, but many changes were made in the division of the texts into lines and stanzas.

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Copyright 2007 – 2012. Blaise Moritz. All rights reserved.

Notes on Crown and Ribs: “The Builder”

Tuesday, 30 October, 2007

It was when I organized Crown and Ribs into sections that “The Builder” struck me as a good poem with which to begin the book. I like that it can be read as a love poem—whether the reader identifies with the “you” addressed by the speaker or imagines overhearing the speaker’s address to a beloved. I imagine the reader finding this aspect of the poem both welcoming—romance is engaging, romance is familiar poetic territory—and helpful—the reader may not have thought previously to engage with the book’s subject matter or to associate it with poetry, but first encounters it in a form that makes clear my intention to demonstrate the imminent and passionate nature of my themes.The first line of the poem is a biblical allusion. For a long time, I misremembered the line as a direct quotation. Instead, it seems that it’s a reworking of a phrase from 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 16 which was one of the mass readings for the day of December 24th, 2001 (i.e. not for the Christmas Eve service) when the poem was drafted. Specifically, 2 Samuel 7:5 reads: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Should you build me a house to live in?’” (New American Bible)I also think of “a place in which to lie down” modifying “a house” in the third to last couplet as a biblical allusion. In this case, my phrase seems to come out of repeated exposure to similar biblical texts. Throughout 1998 and 1999, I copied out portions of the Psalms, which include many instances in which “lie down” is used to describe achieving contentment. For example, my notes from December 31st, 1997 include “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me….” from Psalm 3 and “In peace, I will both lie down and sleep; for thou alone, O Lord, makest me dwell in safety….” from Psalm 4. January 2nd, 1998 includes “He makes me lie down in green pastures….” from Psalm 23. (Revised Standard Version for these three quotations.) Research yields more such references both in the Psalms and in other books I would have read during this time such as Isaiah, but nothing that combines “lie down” with either “place” or “house”. However, “place” and “house” are also recurring words in the Psalms which is why I say that I think of this “allusion” as something that stems from an accumulated impression of biblical language rather than from a specific passage.The “man I took breaks with” was a member of the Northwestern University grounds crew who I worked with in the summer of 1993. “Summer as a Landscaper” references the same experience, but a different staffer.Snow falling in a house with an unfinished roof comes to me via a memorable scene in Tarkovsky’s film Andrei Rublyov, the phantom builders of the world, forever just around the corner, from a childhood fancy of my fathers (which may or may not have something to do with an episode of the old Twilight Zone TV show).The house at 264 Hillsdale Avenue East which my family rented from when I was three to thirteen has shown up in my writing again and again. Here it is the source of “lathe and plaster”. The house wasn’t in good repair, especially the roof. There were sometimes holes in the second floor ceilings as a result of water damage above, the plaster would fall down and I could see the little strips of wood, the “lathes”. I don’t think I learned the phrase “lathe and plaster” until much later, from realtors and home inspectors when I was buying a house, and very much hoping for an old Toronto house akin to the one where I had grown up.

The longing for harmony between construction and nature appears throughout the first section of the book: “To Heap Up and Counterbalance Dead Things”; “At the Offices of the Perishable Press”; “The Mad One”, “Wasting”. So too, the question of whether or not an individual who takes a visionary approach to the city can expect to find a welcoming audience among fellow city-dwellers: “Richmond Hill Memorial Service”; “I’ve Found A Real City”; “The Mad One”.

“The Builder” appeared on pages 66 and 67 of The Fiddlehead, No. 228, the summer issue for 2006. The journal publishes summer poetry and fiction issues in alternating years. The text of the poem in Crown and Ribs differs from this publication in phrasing and lineation, especially in the first twenty lines. The first draft of this poem was written on December 24th, 2001. Some work was done on the poem on August 31st, 2003. It was rewritten in close to its published form on June 16th and 17th, 2004. It was first submitted for publication at that time. The final edits on the poem were completed July 24th, 2006

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Copyright 2007 – 2012. Blaise Moritz. All rights reserved.