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Wednesday, 25 February 2015

William Carlos Williams / Dorothea Lange: The Descent

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http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57209.20_1_2.jpg

Untitled (garden steps. Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

The descent beckons
 
.............as the ascent beckoned.
.............................
 .............................Memory is a kind

of accomplishment,

.............a  sort of renewal

 ............................ even

an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
               
.............
inhabited by hordes

.............................
heretofore unrealized,
of new kinds --

.............since their movements  

 ...........                     are toward new objectives

(even though formerly they were abandoned).


http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57209.21_1_2.jpg
 


Untitled (garden steps, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

No defeat is made up entirely of defeat -- since

the world it opens is always a place
 
................formerly
 
............................unsuspected. A
world lost,     


................a world unsuspected,

............................beckons to new places

and no whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory

of whiteness.......


http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57209.22_1_2.jpg

Untitled (garden steps, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)


With evening, love wakens

                though its shadows                          

............................which are alive by reason

of the sun shining --              

.............grow sleepy now and drop away

                            .....from desire........


http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57209.23_1_2.jpg


Untitled (garden steps, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)


Love without shadows stirs now

...............beginning to awaken

...........................as night

advances.


http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57209.3_1_2.jpg


Untitled (garden, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

The descent


...............made up of despairs                    

............................and without accomplishment

realizes a new awakening:                          

 ...........................which is a reversal
of despair.               

.............. For what we cannot accomplish, what

is denied to love,               

...............what we have lost in the anticipation --                           

............................a descent follows,

endless and indestructible..............             

 
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963): The Descent, first published in Paterson II (1948); included as the opening poem in The Desert Music (1954)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57207.5_1_2.jpg


Untitled (path, Berkeley)
: photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57011.23_1_2.jpg

Untitled (window, Berkeley)
: photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.9_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley)
: photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)


http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.1_1_2.jpg


Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.3_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.7_1_2.jpg


Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.6_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.8_1_2.jpg


Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.4_1_2.jpg


Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57205.10_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), 5 December 1956 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57201.1_1_2.jpg

 
 Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57201.2_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57201.4_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57201.5_1_2.jpg


Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57201.2_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57202.1_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57202.3_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oaks, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57202.4_1_2.jpg

Untitled (oak tree, Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57206.5_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57207.4_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57208.3_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57207.2_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57208.1_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57208.5_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

http://cdn.calisphere.org/affiliates/images/omca/omca_LNG57208.7_1_2.jpg

Untitled (Berkeley): photo by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), c. 1957 (Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California)

for A.

14 comments:

TC said...

William Carlos Williams reads "The Descent" at YM/YWHA Poetry Center, New York, 27 January 1954

Speech comes with some difficulty to Williams in this reading; two years before, he had suffered the first in a series of strokes; the resulting incapacitation frustrated him mightily.

It was also in this period that Williams was working steadily in his new "descending" triadic metric, which he called "the variable foot". It proved ideal for his final poems, in which a deliberate articulation of thought comes to take precedence over "things".

In an interview with Stanley Koehler in The Paris Review #34, done in April 1962, Williams admitted to feeling his development as a poet had been slowed after departing from the New York literary scene of the 1920s, -- in which, he said, he and fellow writers had been "speaking straight ahead about what concerned us, and if I could have overheard what I was saying then, that would have given me a hint of how to phrase myself, to say what I had to say... but speaking straight ahead." In the years of withdrawal to his New Jersey home and medical practise since then, he told Koehler, he had come to feel his writing was "not free enough." Until hitting on his new little trick. "What came off in this writing, finally -- this writing [pointing to “The Descent”] -- that was pretty much what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it, then. I was searching in this congeries. I wanted to say something in a certain tone of my voice which would be exactly how I wanted to say it, to measure it in a certain way."

Dorothea Lange is of course known for her great Depression-era work for the FSA and Life, work not only documenting but itself affecting social change in that period. Though like Dr Williams afflicted with serious physical problems, she never stopped taking pictures. Projects included surveys of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, Irish country life, and postwar suburban California. She also recorded the infinite subtleties of light and water, over and over, shooting from the Bay Bridge, in parks near her North Berkeley home, and indeed in her own garden. Her archive at the Oakland Museum of California contains some 25,000 negatives, the vast majority of them never printed. Some of those are seen here. The tangly red oaks in the shots are indigenous to the neighborhood (Lange's obsessive attention, in photo after photo, to the characteristic twisting of the limbs in these trees, makes it hard to forget she was crippled by a childhood attack of polio). The two bottom shots show gnarly rock formations, specimens of the rhyolite outcroppings which dot these hills. Previous Native American inhabitants, members of the Ohlone tribe, used pockets in the rocks to grind acorns for mash, the basis of their diet. Those rocks in the photos could have been in Dorothea's garden, but I'd guess she found them at one of the local parks, perhaps Mortar Rock, or more likely the larger Indian Rock Park, which would have been quite close to her home.

billoo said...

That was beautiful, Tom. Thanks! Didn't quite get it, but, yes, beautiful. And the images reminded me of Mondrian's Gray Tree.

TC said...

billoo,

thanks (of course) for looking... and not quite sure what it is that you don't get, but in case any of this helps:

An interview with Lange:

"We've Been Blown Out": Dorothea Lange

About Lange's decisive social history work, she did a number of assignments for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal Agency that did heroic work in documenting the lives of the less privileged.

Here are a few series she did in North Carolina tobacco country:

Chatham County, North Carolina

Wake County, North Carolina

Granville County, North Carolina

Person County, North Carolina

Whitfield family, Person County

And that Williams interview I've cited:

William Carlos Williams: The Art of Poetry (Paris Review #34)

And a recent Williams post...

William Carlos Williams: The Thing

Sandra said...

maybe descent is denying and ascent is accepting (?) ...love this and the images !

Hilton said...

Wonderful pairing of the two - great poem and eerie photos, the quality of negatives giving an even more ghostly quality. Is it OK to share your web site with others via Facebook or other vehicles?

Nin Andrews said...

Beautiful.

Ed Baker said...

interesting timing Tom.... as I am now 2/3 's into MacNiven's James Laughlin bio : "Literchoor Is My Beat"

in which a great deal re: WCW and what J and WCW had
together....

In my "stash" I have those first ND hardback editions of the first of what of WCW's was published... and lots of other important ND issues.


TC said...

Thanks, people.

Hilton, sure, that's fine, and thanks.

Sandra, I suspect maybe he's saying the ascent is something everybody likes, for good reason, the descent not so much -- but that you don't always get only the things you like, so you'd better be ready to work with what you've got, i.e. salvaging something from loss, if you can. I don't think anyone really accepts or for that matter appreciates the decline that comes with old age, but there's been a lot of lying on this subject by people who haven't been there (yet), and quite a bit of profit made out of that deception, alas, sigh. One expects Williams's poem is heading for that sort of dishonest feel-good ending, but it doesn't, it's actually a pretty pessimistic poem that at least remains encouraging and bracing and rewarding in its honesty. The truth is that he hated getting old, everybody does, and anybody who says they don't is trying to kid somebody (but hopefully no nobody apart from themselves.).

Ed, yeah, those guys had a lot together -- Bill the poems, Jay the wherewithal to publish them (drop in the bucket for him, family owned second-largest steel company in US).

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...


These two old-timers go together wonderfully in glorious black and white.

Sandra said...

maybe Tom...thanks !

billoo said...

Thanks Tom for your patience and for the links. I was referring to the poem. For me part-and this is probably just my own lack of understanding-part of the beauty was its ambiguity.

Descent, yes, inwardly and in time because one's nearly out of time. But what struck me was 'the reversal'and the idea that 'la' (negation) or darkness (as opposed to, or distinct from, 'affirmation'/ascent..I'm talking in muslim terms so please excuse me) isn't necessarily all bad.

So, yes, lack of accomplishment (Walser, again?) is a way out, but not really. It also reminded me of the idea of 'shikast', to be defeated. Not to rejoice in that and not to fully accept it, but the *possibility* that it offers something tangential to what is expected.

TC said...

Thanks, billoo.

There can be no doubting that the experiencing, or enduring, of many years of this strange thing called human life, however removed or immunized from its inevitable mental and physical toll one may be, adds, bit by bit, as things go along, a gravity to one's burden; and too that this addition, necessarily increasing the accumulated weight of experience, and sorrow, and pain, also perhaps allows for spiritual clarity of a sort that may have eluded one who was foolish enough to think health and happiness may be bought and secured forever -- but if there is some old person, riddled with the aches and pains and general decrepitude of ageing, who attains that spiritual clarity and yet would not in an instant trade it all in for the freshness and folly of youth, I have yet to encounter that person.

I believe that the old do a brave job of putting a good face on things, largely for the sake of the young, who would certainly turn away if they had to observe and absorb the sheer awfulness of being old. But at least in the culture of the West there is anyway no longer any subscription to the formerly traditional respect for one's elders. In fact, today's young people are rapidly evolving into a pack of tech-savvy know-nothings, whose ability to absorb and buy into successive new technologies may well be keeping the economy of the planet running, but that sort of operation really has room in it only for the young. Around here the young tech heads have appropriated the last remaining affordable housing and made it unaffordable for everyone but themselves, so that they now have all the buying power, with their own special darkened-window techie buses that whisk these idiot-illuminati triumphalists past the living human garbage littering the streets; these privilege-bus riders, with their texts and their apps and their dead plastic everything, meanwhile, remaining quite blithely oblivious to everything that might threaten to be, oh no, real (excepting of course themselves, and their mirror images of themselves, which I suppose for them must constitute the only reality); and the corporations bow down before their every idiotic yet smugly-held whim-based opinion and born-yesterday need, and the resulting society, built on money, lying and hubris, is what everyone must somehow live in, as, sadly, there simply is no other.

When Williams speaks of forsaking accomplishment, what I believe he is actually saying is that the erosion of the skills which once allowed him to accomplish things, particularly the skills involving language and expression, is something he must now recognise as fact -- not that it's somehow a relief, or that he's looking forward to some sort of golden pond, over the rainbow.

Only in Hollywood are there golden ponds and pots of gold over the rainbow -- or I should say "were", for in the Hollywood of now, all that remains is bought situations, explosions, cheap sex, iconic celebs yakking plot points into cellphones, and more explosions.

TC said...

And I should probably also say, billoo, that the valorizing of everything implied or connoted by the Farsi/Urdu term shikast -- defeat, failure, fracture, break, setback -- seems to me absolutely essential to any true understanding of the world as it is. It's exactly that necessary source of wisdom which is rejected in the West as defeatist, useless. This perhaps means that, in historical terms, the West remains undeveloped, in effect an adolescent feeling entitled to prolong its adolescence forever -- yet demanding to be given the keys to the car, right now.

billoo said...

Tom, I think that is a really nice thought: the accumulated weight of experience. But it is something that is being lost in the 'weightless economy' and all that tech-fetishism.

As for ageing, I think about this a lot (for some odd reason). The little I've read on this recognizes that all that can be said for ageing is often just putting a brave face on it (D. Athill; Gerda Lerner).

Have you come across 'Being Mortal' by Gawande? The idea that health and happiness can be secured-and that too by institutions or technology-seems to be delusional.

Anyway, gotta run. Class. Catch up with you later.

Salams,

b.