Ravenna Diagram II by Henry Gould: A Review

Ravenna Diagram II, Henry Gould, Dos Madres Press, Nov 2018, ISBN-13: 978-1948017145, $25 (I think these details are correct, not yet listed on publisher’s website)

And so, it seems I was wrong. In my review of the first volume of Henry Gould’s long, and as it turns out, ongoing epic Ravenna Diagram I wrote that ‘[u]nlike the Cantos or Maximus, and like ‘A’, this is not an open-ended epic’, but the sense of resolution I found in that book was actually a transitory condition, and now Gould has produced another book-long episode. What’s more, as we will see, it’s not over yet.

Formally, Gould continues with his fluid ABBA quatrain, mainly in units of 14 verses, with seven and 14-verse variations. The same rich variation of metre and syntax allows for a surprisingly rich range of musical variation in this superficially restricted form, as it did in the first volume, so I will refrain from looking at that aspect of Gould’s achievement here.

Again, the individual poems in this volume are dated, and the book covers the period from late August 2016 to mid-November the following year, which results in it having something of the nature of a seasonal poem. It certainly opens with images of the season:

Autumn already in the air. The lace

net lifts slightly in the window

breeze. Down the road

a train thunders steadily across

 

the iron bridge.

As well as temporal, this placing is spatial. We are in Minneapolis, looking back to Providence, a reversal of the geographic axis of the first book.

New characters appear, or move more to the fore: JFK, MLK, Abe Lincoln, the Narragansett creator divinity Cautantowwit, Melville’s Queequeg (whose casket is a type of Dante’s ‘little boat’) and the figure of the Hobo Henry, a type of American Odysseus/Theseus who follows Ariadne’s thread, trailing after knowledge. Ariadne’s tread weaves into Gould’s balance of Apollonian and Dionysian forces throughout the two volumes, with Theseus, founder of a City on a Hill, representing the former, but remembering that Ariadne ended up marrying Dionysus in the end. Central to this is the idea that the original thread enabled the overthrow of a tyrant, and Gould increasingly rejects the Dionysian Pound because of his support of tyranny.

Polly

Pound says so, the mystical
Apologist of Tyranny; she’ll

sow you Uncle Ez’s grapes – see

 

how they make great yappy whine!

(& his chinoise Confusion

still bakes a mean Rune

Cake.)  He not the Way, sez Hen.

And yet, whenever Gould’s Semi-Secular Comedy hovers on the brink of the paradisiacal, it’s mediated through the Poundian image of the child in her basilica. And Pound, too, built his vision of the ideal political order on much the same aspects of American history and jurisprudence that Gould draws on.
Speaking of tyranny, the timespan of the book covers the period of the 2016 election and 2017 inauguration of Trump, which gives rise to one very rare moment of anger:

one footloose soul, one rambler

who would be gone from jail

before the frozen hail

of Hitler-Stalin-Xi-Putin (& gambler

 

Kim Jong-un) congeals into one

mammoth concrete hulk

of tearful despot-sulk –

one massive Man of Unknown

 

Snowjobs – Don the Golden Duck-

&-Coverling, the Beast

who gives offense the most

& smears the human face with muck.

Against the figure of Trump, Gould sets JFK and MLK, symbols of the new political promise of his young youth that has petered out in Mar-a-Lago, and, especially, the first Republican president, Lincoln, whose integrity is the measure of his party’s descent into Antenora in the Ninth Circle of Dante’s hell.
And hell is, in a sense, the Minotaur’s labyrinth, with Ariadne’s thread blending with Apollinaire’s one-stringed instrument:

An infinitely tiny bronze

french horn accompanies

trompette marine – Willie’s

gauzy smoke-signal de Paris

a reference to the French poet’s monostich from Alcools that repeats regularly through the book:

Chantre

Et l’unique cordeau des trompettes marines

[Bard/singer/cantor

And the single string of marine trumpets] (my translation)

Apollonian music from a single string that imitates the distinctly Dionysian tuba.

The burden of Gould’s song remains that the law, correctly understood, produces justice and that justice, tempered by love, is the real basis of providence (Providence), and that the achievement of this desirable state requires balance, the reintegration of Dionysian frenzy with Apollonian reason:

That legend of Thanksgiving Day

(tables for everyone,

Pilgrim & Indian)

echoes via dream-song roundelay –

 

Henry, Hobo – Hart, John Berryman –

Dante, at Ravenn –

Black Elk, Martin…

reeling in Psyche-Restoration;

 

bright Rhodos-Imogen of Liberty

harbored in moss-green

robes of copper sheen;

the rippling well of Lincoln penny

 

radiating hopeful trust (humility).

An arc out of river water

sparkles like dancing laughter –

morning dew splashing basilica (for free).

So that: yet again we reach a conclusion of sorts, with so much left out of this review that I could write a book: the importance of the early-flowering, virginal almond; Maximus the Confessor writing in his cage, imprisoned for defying what he considered to be an unjust law; The Tempest and Prospero’s cell; the relevance of Piers Plowman to all of this; Queequeg’s casket and the possibility of homecoming; Cautantowwit and the Native American culture of the area now known as Rhode Island.

And Cautantowwit, the Raven lord, brings us back full circle to Dante in Ravenna contemplating his creator god, as Gould collapses the world to a unifying vision:

For we are one.  A multitude,

personified.  Benevolent

Ancient of Days bent

each into the mirror’s flood,

 

together – riverflow of heart-

veins from the earth

welling to fiery hearth –

lenticular sunset, plangent cloud-art.

 

So spinning from primordial rose

the golden maize of Chartres

guides you to its Artist…

Daedalus, not Minotaur; Grace

 

Ravlin, not some puppet-master

in the Kremlin.  Shadow

of Mona Lisa grin… you

rise before the fall (Easter).

And Cautantowwit points us forward, to Ravenna Diagram III perhaps, a volume already taking form on Gould’s blog:

The Geneva Drive is in Ravenna.

Its clock ticks in a circle…

twin circles… minuscule

mosaic tesserae resolve into Divina

 

Paradiso.  So Jesus-Orpheus the shepherd

pipes Eurydice

free of that ceremony –

Flee, Morning Star, into thy molten Word!

 

So Raven-Cautantowwit mounts up

like chunk of cave-shade

out of Narragansett glade.

History will halt here (full-stop).

Gould’s exposition of love continues; the only thing I can say is that if you’re interested in the possibilities of poetry you really should read it.

 

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