Trish: Two Stages

In 1850, William Wordsworth’s Preface was finally released as a cohesive whole, to coincide with his death. The Preface was Wordsworth’s “song of himself,” an autobiographical long poem charting the growth and development not only of Wordsworth’s cognitive capacities and poetic consciousness but of his mind’s chiasmus with nature, and the entire universe of perceptible things. Within seven years, on this side of the pond, Walt Whitman gave us (literally) his “Song of Myself,” taking William Wordsworth’s motivations and philosophical stance and rendering it in terms more crass, more vulgar. Whitman’s crassness was deemed representatively American, even as Wordsworth’s thoughtfulness was deemed stereotypically English; but whether the Walt Whitman was specifically aimed at the William Wordsworth on some level is difficult to tell. To bring it all back home: the composition of all of my books, my entire oeuvre, was not meant to be a response to Keats’ Odal Cycle. It’s just that, retrospectively (and following two hundred years of middling criticism), it is my ultimate conclusion that John Keats, not Byron or Shelley, set the standard for eroticism and Eros generally in major high art consonant English language poetry (not for nothing that Shelley dubbed him Adonis), and eroticism along straightforwardly “straight” lines (usually, and for better or for worse). So that, to address the straightforwardly erotic in English language verse on the highest possible level is to run into ground Keats, and his magnificent prosody, staked out for himself a long time ago, whether or not anyone seriously noticed until now.

The Odal Action, what transpires in the Odal Cycle, takes place (often) on what I call the Odal Stage. The Odal Stage, as I have configured it, is a square plot of ground, demarcated by trees, somewhere in an Ideal enchanted forest. The “whis’pring roof” of leaves and trembled blossoms shades this square stage, and the hanging leaves create a fringe or “fringed” effect, helping with the trees to demarcate it. On the Odal Stage: Psyche and Eros lie in the grass, the young flutist plays his tunes, and Keats himself laments his body and mortality in general as he listens to the song of the nightingale. We may also see Psyche’s grove/shrine on a stage like this, and this may be where the town-folk in Grecian Urn are taking the heifer to be sacrificed. The Odal Stage is an imaginative reality, a mind-scape; it represents the ideal of enchantment, or states of the mind’s enchantment with both tactile realities and our images of them. In Trish: A Romance, the imaginative reality is of the city of Philadelphia, as a kind of permanent square, demarcating what levels of intoxication and intrigue are available to its inhabitants. Philadelphia, like the Odal Stage, becomes a kind of game, and the object of the game is to freeze mortal moments into the state and conditions of immortality, of stasis-within-enchantment:

The story starts here: PAFA
has its yearly opening, and I
explore it with Lisa. I am
looking for Trish’s paintings:
she has invited me. She is no
where in sight. There: it’s her
self-portrait on the wall, called
The Vessel. Sepia, brown, colors
that have Spanish resonance.
Trish’s in blue, half-profiled,
wearing an expression of pensive
angst. She looks at me from
the painting. She is my soul
sister. She’s under my skin.

PAFA (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) is about on the level with Psyche’s grove here, where the paintings become “lucent fans” and haunted boughs, and where the painters are “pale-mouthed prophets.” That Trish happens in sonnets, unconventionally strung together in regular clumps, confuses and mystifies sonnet conventions, so that the audience is jarred into seeing sonnets from new perspectives. What develops, on the Trish Stage, is a set of experiences meant to answer questions which were pertinent also to the Odal Cycle: do we have a place in our hearts for starry-eyed romanticism (Eros and Psyche “see stars” when they look at each other), and for down in the dirt eroticism to ride alongside it? Do we, as readers, pursue Romance (or Neo-Romance) at all when we read? Furthermore, is Philadelphia convincing as a Stage on a level with Keats’ enchanted forest, and as an imaginative reality? Is the author able to breathe life into Philly, prosody aside, so that it is a stage a thinking audience would want to watch, demarcated mostly by skyscrapers, concrete, architecture, rather than trees and birds?