RRRRReading Icarus II.0

A Centrifulgal Companion to Joan Retallack's Icarus FFFFalling

Omissione, mea culpa, et Im adfici ut spiritu expulso. Ars poètica est equivalent de bibens de igne caligarum. Quos nemo posse superari ducit ad proximum ut proximum, nunquam desinens, qui legit dare non prohibere et olfacies facultas delitiandi. Volui prohibere posset facere. Deinde incideram inspexi formam literae discessio. Eiusdem lineae in numero superiores inferioribus, et inter se sectiones ex par paginae et paginae Sumpta ex diversis amounts of density, et procidens ad minus densa densa. Versuum numerum procedere constanter decrescentium elit. Computatis, computatis. Cum ad quaestiones, erica, audire diversis voces ubi sum legendi hanc, et nota esse processus constat. Primi carmine, non ego placet eis, ut 'difficile' quod sit SUMMUS enjoyable, sed fortasse rogare ut me in Bernstein quaestiones. Uno modo, per hoc quod carmen est difficile ut bene sit longitudo ejus, et lenta sunt, Syntax per lectorem. Quid hoc carmen ad absorberi? Aliqua et insolita * carmen continet elementa non-Latina verba spellings. Et quare non isti dominos linguis, cur non ego 'ut' omnis agitur, qui legit cogitat? Im 'non suppetebat libertati negotium. (Sed, re vera ego personaliter non multum curant de omni de quo.) Quædam enim non certo scio quid sit gestum est, sed ei includitur Retallack videtur quod alumni 'usus est in voces et carmen. Ego hoc dicere liberalesque sumus, inclusive, et amatur.

Gosh, I'm breathless and thrilled. The poetic equivalent of drinking from a fire hose. One thought leads to the next to the next, never stopping, never giving the reader a chance to stop and smell its delights. I tried to stop, but couldn't do it. And then I fell into looking at the form, the literal falling away. Same number of lines on the upper and lower sections of each pair of pages, but taking up different amounts of the page due to density: the dense falling away to the less dense. The number of lines steadily decreasing as the pages proceed. Counting, counting. As to your questions, erica, I did hear different voices when reading this, so the process note is consistent with that. I'm first inclined to say that the poem is not "difficult" because it is so darn enjoyable, but perhaps I should ask myself the Bernstein questions. One way in which the poem is hard to appreciate is that its length and syntax are tough on the reader. How is this poem to be absorbed? The poem contains non-English elements and unusual words and spellings. Why have I not mastered these other languages, why don't I "get" all the references, thinks the reader? I'm inadequate to the task. (But, really, I personally don't care much about any of this.) Not sure I know what the pedagogical gesture is, but it seems that Retallack included her students' experiences and voices in the poem. I'd say this is generous, inclusive and engaging. -Teri

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1: Thanks to the 2018 SloPo readers and writers of the Coursera course: ModPo, or Modern & Contemporary American poetry, for help reading Icarus FFFFalling, a 1994 poem by Joan Retallack.

I found it upon first inspection off-the-scale difficult. I felt dizzy, anxious and annoyed. It confused and alienated me as I tried to be a good student and read it from beginning to end (I gave up almost immediately). I thought, for the first time, that perhaps this course was not going to be as fun as I had thought it would be. I began doubting my ability to join the forums and felt that I was deficient and ignorant. I felt very self-conscious and isolated. The desire to read secondary texts to find my feet was very strong, but I saw it as a sign of weakness. I had the poem in my bag all day, but even when I had some free time I resented its presence and only glanced at it a couple of times.

I am bewildered.

Anyone reading and thinking, I'm just going to read something far easier? -Terry

... you idiot. It's a visual poem. - Me, again

It is now well past midnight and yet I have not given up, mostly because of pride. Reading Teri's comment helped quite a bit, but it also annoyed me that she was able to enjoy the poem (hi Teri :-). To make myself feel better I wondered if Teri didn't really enjoy the poem, but that she is exaggerating her love for it so as to impress the teachers. Teri - please forgive me, I am not at all seriously believing that whatsoever, it was a defense mechanism and points to my own lack of confidence.

2.

Gosh, I'm breathless and thrilled. The poetic equivalent of drinking from a fire hose. One thought leads to the next to the next, never stopping, never giving the reader a chance to stop and smell its delights. I tried to stop, but couldn't do it. And then I fell into looking at the form, the literal falling away. Same number of lines on the upper and lower sections of each pair of pages, but taking up different amounts of the page due to density: the dense falling away to the less dense. The number of lines steadily decreasing as the pages proceed. Counting, counting.
... I'm first inclined to say that the poem is not "difficult" because it is so darn enjoyable ... One way in which the poem is hard to appreciate is that its length and syntax are tough on the reader. How is this poem to be absorbed? The poem contains non-English elements and unusual words and spellings. Why have I not mastered these other languages, why don't I "get" all the references, thinks the reader? I'm inadequate to the task. (But, really, I personally don't care much about any of this.)
Not sure I know what the pedagogical gesture is, but it seems that Retallack included her students' experiences and voices in the poem. I'd say this is generous, inclusive and engaging. -Teri

I am practicing extreme honesty here, I suppose, because I think it may well be a feeling students have when studying such a text and finding that their colleagues have more positive reactions than they do. I'd like to think that I'm not the only adult here who sometimes has such childish thoughts *blushing* I returned to Teri's comment with less ego and more curiosity. I noticed that Teri described the visual look of the poem on the page, and this prompted me to feel an absolute necessity to pin the pages of the poem up on the wall. Like you might present a work of art. This brought me huge relief and I started feeling happier and more confident as I stood back and enjoyed the poem as an artwork. At first I was going to exhibit them in vertical columns but decided horizontal was better. Ideally, I would have liked to have them in one long horizontal line so I could walk along the poem but, alas, I don't have the space ;-) -Eleanor

3.

Thank you so much for your discussions here. They are phenomenal and extremely illuminating. I finally had the chance this morning to sit down with Icarus and I am totally blown away by it.
Above all, no pun intended, it gave me the complete and total sensation of flying – the sweeping gestures, the floating in air, the gliding, the soaring, the speed of it all. Add to this, the eye of the bird, taking in everything, quick glimpses, snippets of life in flight, none experienced fully, but in passing and with a building momentum towards the descent. This is what kept me spellbound. The poem enacts the physical sensations of the flight.
But it is so much more than that. Deep within the poem is the story of Icarus. It is there, in between all the other words. I'm not sure that you have to know the story in advance. To see it, you need to focus only on words which give you the narrative. Ignore all else for this purpose. The story is embedded in the poem just as Retallack indicates that it is “found everywhere.”
Within the soaring flight, not only is the story there, but so is the commentary about the story. Most powerful for me was that we see the flash of the Icarus fall juxtaposed with the flash of the atomic bomb. Icarus's father has his son learn the societally embedded value of male risk taking as an empowering force. But then this force can get totally out of hand, with widespread devastation.
Then we have the different languages interspersed, painting a picture of the universality of the story. The Latin also brings me back to the past aggressions of the Roman Empire and, of course, the “Palistrami” is a hoot.
I am totally excited and completely enamored of this poem/work of art/mind-bending experience. -MC

1. There is no punctuation, apart from capital letters, throughout the poem. 2. Retallack uses a number of different languages mainly Latin and some French. The Latin appears to be mostly quotations from Ovid's story about Daedalus and Icarus. ( Is this an example of what Retallack and Spahr describe as the “mix of languages . . .that has come about as a result of global interconnectedness” [p.6]? The irony, of course, is that while Latin was a global language several millennia ago, today it is a dead language.) 3. There are bits and pieces of what I would call memories of taking high school Latin: reciting a bit of a well-known conjugation (amo, amas) and my favorite: a little dittie: Hic, haec, hoc/Holy Smoke!/It[Latin] killed the Romans/And now it is killing me. 4. In addition to the story of Daedalus and Icarus, there are a number of references to other figures in Greek mythology, e.g., Io, Ianthes, Orpheus and Euridice. -Christopher

4.

Well, my thoughts/initial reaction: How postmodern. What Eleanor said. This is a hell of a collaborative piece by students--(without realizing if it truly was one, just my first glance and because I finished writing a post about Keller's centrifugal idea and saw everything scattered around and I also became stressed)
Then, What Eleanor said. Everything Eleanor said. Can I copy and paste what she said? Talk about process oriented, I just wrote about this idea and here it is in action. Way more interested in what Eleanor says than the text we are supposed to read. Yes, I am dizzy, too. No way am I going to read this text word for word. I have a headache. I have been working all day and thinking all day, I am done. Teri likes it? Oh, there is definitely something wrong with me...why don't I want to read the small print?
What Eleanor said, and then who the hell is Icarus? Shame. I should know this. Then, some self-justification: Well, the last time I had Greek mythology was in 9th grade and that was not exactly yesterday. (not interested in sharing just how long ago this was). So, I look it up. Yes, oh, yes, I know about this story. Then; is there a class component here? Is learning Greek Mythology a reflection of class privilege? I just noted that Retallack was teaching at Bard--symbol of class privilege. And then sending the students off to photograph the myriad of ways Icarus failed/fell....well, that is lovely--but again, a pedagogy style reflective of the elite, in my mind....then I am feeling angered by the inequality of it all and still have not read the text. -Nicole

5. After the first page, each page is divided in half by a dotted line. The lines above the dotted line are single-spaced; those below the line, double-spaced. (I can give no explanation of how this arrangement contributes to the overall design of the poem. Maybe there is no explanation.) Retallack's lines seem so disorganized (that's the wrong word but it will do for now), that at first I wondered what the sequence was for reading each of the four sections on each double page: vertically? horizontally? 6. On each succeeding even-numbered page, the number of lines both above and below the dotted line is decreased by one. (There are some exceptions, especially at the end, but overall the principle remains valid.) My first thought was that, given how Retallack composes her lines (see below), there is no necessary reason for ending her poem; it could go on forever. The Icarus story does have a plot and an ending. But since Retallack doesn't use chronology as her primary organizational method, she needs some way of bringing her poem to an end. So when she runs out of lines, she has Icarus plunge into the ocean and drown. (Retallack's word for Icarus' fall into the ocean is “splash,” the same word W.H. Auden uses in his Icarus poem “Musee de Beaux Arts”).

5.

Goldilocks Gadzooks! Eleanor and Teri, your initial readings are helpful. This poem definitely passes the Bernstein test of difficulty. In some way that two part structure makes me think of Erica Baum's Dog Ear - the conflicting texts that are noisy and unsettling - almost deliberately clouding our understanding rather than encouraging it, and yet this multiple set of voices is almost like the voices in my head (especially my head!). -Magdalena

This is a really good way to engage students I think because it doesn't require any particular cleverness - just attention. This is pretty much how I engage with Finnegan's Wake, and I can see a connection between these works - the myth that underpins them, the dreamlike progression, the semantical chaos, and the interweaving of modern vernacular, old english and made up compound words.
WHAT IS HAS HAPPENED BETWEEN you & me to stare so long at pages time turns to granular space. Goldilocks Gadzooks [I'll try not to say this every time I feel surprise at something] waves recede and islands go dark on the sea -Magdalena

6. On each succeeding even-numbered page, the number of lines both above and below the dotted line is decreased by one. (There are some exceptions, especially at the end, but overall the principle remains valid.) My first thought was that, given how Retallack composes her lines (see below), there is no necessary reason for ending her poem; it could go on forever. The Icarus story does have a plot and an ending. But since Retallack doesn't use chronology as her primary organizational method, she needs some way of bringing her poem to an end. So when she runs out of lines, she has Icarus plunge into the ocean and drown. (Retallack's word for Icarus' fall into the ocean is splash, the same word W.H. Auden uses in his Icarus poem Musee de Beaux Arts).

6.

Jack had mentioned the double-spaced draft manuscript and the single-spaced published manuscript in one of his comments. This led me to think about the act of writing with a view toward publication as a kind of act of hubris. There is risk there, particularly with a radical text like this one. Is writing, in general, hubristic? I am exercising my authority over the language, bending it to my will, attempting to control the reader, whose own sense of pride forces her or him to read on in the face of a daunting text-task? ... cartoon capers of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. The winding and rewinding of Wile E. going over the edge of a cliff. Frontwards, the number of lines drops off & backwards, they restore themselves so that it can all begin again. And that action feels to me like it's repeated within the text with its constant overlapping and swirling cultural references. - Teri

7. Now for the hardest and most important feature of all – how Retallack composes her lines. At first reading, the principle of composition seems something like free association. One item of information suggests another item. And the breath of reference is remarkable: the names of rock groups (Depeche Mode, Sex Pistols}, highway signs (TOLL ? MILE AHEAD), advertising (U-Haul adventure in family moving), corporate prose (dear customer in order to show our appreciation), overheard conversations (HEY ICKY PLEASE DON'T BANG THE SCREEN WHEN YOU LEAVE) to name just a few. Retallack appears to have an auditory imagination. She links her free associations by sound (meanwhile D[aedalus] hating Crete dextra Lebinthus erat fecundaque melle Calymne what you call an be stunted American fertilizer he FreshOffBoat [notice the f sounds]). And cleaver word play (a native land not now Angloterre changed to Anglo Terror [this poem was written in 1994! Prescience, anyone?]). Another example (perfect palmer his sweet penisship scribed on the texticular nite). And a third example (Icarus his son hangs out to play Country 'n Western Civ).

7.

Part of the confusion I have (apart from the strange vocabulary and syntax) is that the page layout reminds me of something, but that something is not helpful. It takes me a moment to get it, that layout with unequal parts of the page with different size fonts reminds me of the Jewish prayer book (I had an Orthodox Jewish education). Such a layout means one of two things to me — 1/ The top layer is the text and the bottom layer is the commentary on said text. 2/ The top layer is the main text and the bottom layer is an alternate text - in a prayer book this means that,for example, most days you might say the main text as your prayer, but on the Sabbath you would read the alternative text below.

8.Freud says the family is the greatest enemy of civilization but this sentence then continues on with next comes the tribe Dead-o-Lust founder of Socrates circular line cool Disco Dans last minute blues on red line close thirds nostalgia [I have no idea what is going on here. This would be a good place for a class to work toward some explanation cooperatively]. -Christopher

8.

This is a really good way to engage students I think because it doesn't require any particular cleverness - just attention. This is pretty much how I engage with Finnegan's Wake, and I can see a connection between these works - the myth that underpins them, the dreamlike progression, the semantical chaos, and the interweaving of modern vernacular, old english and made up compound words.
WHAT IS HAS HAPPENED BETWEEN you & me to stare so long at pages time turns to granular space. Goldilocks Gadzooks [I'll try not to say this every time I feel surprise at something] waves recede and islands go dark on the sea -Magdalena

9. This is a very hard poem to read. The lines are so incoherent, illogical, and fractured that I didn't have the patience at first to read it. The only reading strategy that worked was to skim the poem rapidly. I kept skimming the poem, each time trying to slow down a bit with each successive reading. Reading the poem out loud didn't help much either. It was only yesterday (Saturday, Feb 11) that I actually read the poem word for word, subvocalizing the sound of the words as I went along. The experience of reading this poem is the experience of impatiently trying to make sense of all this incoherence, not reading a coherent story about Daedalus and Icarus emerged.

9.

Reminds me of a published book vs manuscript (double spaced) and also main text vs footnoted text, flipped with the footnotes above the main text. -Jack

10. This poem is about incoherence then, not telling a story about Daedalus and Icarus. What is Retallack getting at with all these seemingly incoherent, fractured collections of words? Why all this stuff about rock groups, road signs, advertising, corporate prose, overheard conversations?

10.

The river is moving.

The blackbird must be flying.

11. Here is a mind filled with the noise of the world: what we hear on TV, the Internet, our smart phones, other people talking. All the words that come at us minute by minute, hour by hour, day in and day out. What Retallack is dramatizing here is what information overload looks like or rather sounds like. The form of the poem, its incoherent and illogical collections of words is its content, meaning. We are submerged in so much information that it is hard for the story of Daedalus and Icarus even to get through to the reader coherently.

11.

You idiot.

It's a visual poem.

12. Icarus does indeed in the end drown ...
... information glut.

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