Victoria Carrico, Clemson University
Poet, Rhetorician, Theorist, Wordman—Kenneth Burke reads this lyric poem that Gregory Clark says helps us find consubstantiality in our shared experience of the American landscape: "it invites readers to identify themselves with the poet by adopting as their own the attitude the poem expresses toward circumstances that they share" ("“Sinkership” and “Eye-Crossing”: Apprehensive in the American Landscape," KB, 2006, http://kbjournal.org/clark). Videographer Victoria Carrico renders the poem in a stunning visual and audio interpretation. "Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan appeared in The Nation 02 June 1969. (c) 1969 by The Nation. Used by permission. Royalty-free stock footage collected from pixabay.com and pexels.com. The background music track, "Sad Winds," was used with permission from bensounds.com. This production received generous support from the Department of English at Clemson University and Dr. David Blakesley, Campbell Chair in Technical Communication and Professor of English.
Often, we look at poetry as a beautiful but hardly theoretical form of writing. We interpret it, attaching deeper meaning to verse, but it is not typically viewed as a form of ‘theory,’ per se. For Burke, though, poetry and theory are inseparable; in fact, he “only started writing theory because people weren’t getting his point in his fiction and poetry” (Clark). Burke used poetry as a vessel for his theory, and “Eye-Crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan,” specifically, carried his thoughts about our encounters with technology.
“Eye-Crossing,” according to Gregory Clark, “articulate[s] Burke’s apprehension, while spending time . . . in New York . . . about technology’s effects on nature and human reactions. But poetry, unlike theory, enables readers to share this apprehension at an attitudinal level that encompasses all levels of identity. Through [this poem], readers can become consubstantial with Burke” (Clark). In Burke’s “Poetics, Dramatistically Considered,” he describes the word “poetry” as “essentially an action word, coming from a word meaning ‘to make’” (Burke, qtd. in Clark). If poetry is action, then, it follows that one should be able to see it, rather than just hear or read it.
With this in mind, I decided to bring “Eye-Crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan” to life by creating a visual accompaniment to the poem in order to increase the “consubstantiality” between readers and Burke. By adding a visual element to the poem, viewers will be able to experience the apprehensions, fears, and thoughts Burke expressed in this poem in a new medium, deepening their understanding of his ideas. In completing this project, I used an audio file of Burke himself reading the poem at Washington University at St. Louis in 1970.1 In my opinion, poetry is meant to be heard rather than read, and what better way to experience Burke’s poetry than by hearing his own voice reciting the poem? The visuals included in my video are not meant to be a full story-adaptation or a new version of Burke’s poem; they are simply meant to accompany his reading and provide a visual depiction of the themes, feelings, and thoughts expressed throughout the poem.
In creating this project, I worked extensively with ADOBE AUDITION and PREMIERE PRO. The original audio clip of Burke reading the poem was filled with unwanted background noise, side comments, and distortion that I removed using AUDITION’s editing tools. Because the full audio clip was not just a reading of “Eye-Crossing” (Burke read this poem during a longer lecture and interrupted himself while reading the poem several times), there was additional commentary that needed to be removed in order for me to have a clean audio file that didn’t stray from the poem.
After exporting the cut and cleaned audio file, I compiled video material. In order to give my video a professional appearance, I used published, royalty-free stock video available for public use.2 Because this poem is so metaphorical and doesn’t always “paint a picture” of a specific scene, it was difficult to find appropriate or fitting visual material at times. In reading Burke’s “glosses” that were published alongside the poem, though, I realized that this poem is filled with implicit apprehension about aging, technology, war, and the state of America. I included video clips that reflected these fears in my collection.
Throughout this poem, Burke struggles to articulate both the view that he is seeing and the rhetorical meaning behind it. Because Burke himself cannot quite find the words to express what he sees and feels in this moment, my visual accompaniment to his poem is not meant to be an exact depiction of his experience. Instead, it is intended to capture and display the feelings, ideas, and mood behind the poem in ways that are at times straightforward and at others more abstract, much like the poem itself.
The overall tone of this poem, though laced with areas of humor and lightness, is pessimistic and fearful. In Clark’s words, “Here an aging Burke—now in his seventies—is facing his losses: of friends, of freedom to walk and wander, and the imminent death of his wife. . . . In ‘Eye-Crossing,’ the city is encountered from behind an apartment window by a lonely man about to become more lonely. . . . For him, for the voice with which his readers are invited to identify, [this landscape] afford[s] experiences of alienation and risk” (Clark). I expressed this loneliness visually by making my entire video black and white. By removing the color from the video clips and images used, I simultaneously aged the video to better fit into the time period in which the poem was written and created a somber feeling. I also gave my video a melancholy, pensive feel through the chosen background music track.3 I intentionally chose dramatic music in a primarily minor key in order to auditorily express the tone of the poem.
After collecting hundreds of video clips, I used ADOBE PREMIERE PRO to create my project. To achieve a professional feel, I took the time to layer video clips, time each clip to fade in and out, and adjust the opacity and contrast of each clip so that the overall video looked cohesive, which was a time intensive process. Once the video itself was completed, I used PREMIERE PRO’s caption feature to create closed captions by hand, which were then exported as a .srt file and uploaded alongside the video onto Vimeo to ensure accessibility of the project. The audio clip of Burke’s poem was over 32 minutes, and each minute of visual accompaniment took about three hours to create, not including the time required to type captions. Therefore, well over 100 hours were spent on this project from beginning to end including audio editing, video clip collecting, and creating the video project itself. However, an infinite amount of knowledge was gained by the producer during this process.
The resulting project combines poetry, audio, and visuals to translate Burke’s work to a new medium. Through this new expression of his work, I hope that Burke can become more accessible to a wider audience, thus furthering his impact on a new generation of rhetoric scholars. By staying true to Burke’s feelings and intentions and by making rhetorical choices that express his articulated and insinuated thoughts, fears, and concerns within the poem, I believe that my resulting video project is something the Wordman himself would appreciate.
1. Audio used with permission from The Nation.
2. Royalty-free stock footage collected from pixabay.com and pexels.com.
3. The background music track, Sad Winds was used with permission from bensounds.com.
Clark, Gregory. “‘Sinkership’ and ‘Eye-Crossing’: Apprehensive in the American Landscape.” KB Journal, vol. 2, iss. 2, Spring 2006, https://kbjournal.org/clark. Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.
Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan
To Marianne Moore
whose exacting yet kindly verses
give us exceptionally many twists and turns
to rejoice about
even in a lean season
Scheming to pick my way past Charybdýlla
(or do I mean Scyllýbdis?)
caught in the midst of being nearly over,
not "midway on the roadway of our life,"
a septuagenarian valetudinarian
thrown into an airy osprey-eyrie
with a view most spacious
(and every bit of it our country's primal gateway even),
although, dear friends, I'd love to see you later,
after the whole thing's done,
comparing notes, us comically telling one another
just what we knew or thought we knew
that others of us didn't,
all told what fools we were, every last one of us—
I'd love the thought, a humane after-life,
more fun than a bbl. of monkeys,
but what with being sick of wooing Slumber,
I'll settle gladly for Oblivion.
Weep, Hypochondriasis (hell, I mean smile):
The bell rang, I laid my text aside,
The day begins in earnest, they have brought the mail.
And now to age and ailments add
a thirteen-page single-spaced typed missile-missive,
to start the New Year right.
On the first of two-faced January,
". . . the injuries you inflict upon me . . . persecution . . .
such legal felonies . . . unremitting efforts . . . malice, raids,
slander, conspiracy . . . your spitefulness . . .”
—just when I talked of getting through the narrows,
now I'm not so sure.
Smile, Hypochondriasis, (hell, I mean wanly weep).
So let's begin again:
Crossing by eye from Brooklyn to Manhattan
(Walt's was a ferry-crossing,
Hart's by bridge)—
to those historic primi donni,
now add me, and call me what you will.
From Brooklyn, now deserted
by both Marianne Moore and the Dodgers—
with me knocked cross-eyed or cockeyed
by a saddening vexing letter from a dear friend gone sour.
I think of a Pandora's box uncorked
while I was trying to untie Laocoön's hydra-headed Gordian knot,
entangled in a maze of Daedalus,
plus modern traffic jam cum blackout.
Let's begin again.
The architectural piles, erections, impositions,
monsters of high-powered real estate promotion—
from a room high on Brooklyn Heights
the gaze is across and UP, to those things' peaks,
When measured by this scale of views from Brooklyn
they are as though deserted.
And the boats worrying the harbor
they too are visibly deserted
smoothly and silent
moving in disparate directions
each as but yielding to a trend that bears it
like sticks without volition
carried on a congeries
of crossing currents.
And void of human habitation,
the cars on Madhatter's Eastern drive-away
formless as stars
close by the feet of the godam mystic giants—
a restlessness unending, back and forth
(glimpses of a drive, or drivenness,
from somewhere underneath the roots of reason)
me looking West, towards Manhattan, Newark, West
Eye-crossing I have seen the sunrise
gleaming in the splotch and splatter
of Western windows facing East.
Between USSR and USA,
their Béhemoth and our Behémoth,
a dialogue of sorts?
Two damned ungainly beasts,
threats to the entire human race's race
but for their measured dread of each the other.
How give or get an honest answer?
Forgive me for this boustrophedon mood
going from left to right, then right to left,
pulling the plow thus back and forth alternately
a digging of furrows not in a field to plant,
but on my own disgruntled dumb-ox forehead.
My Gawd! Begin again!
Turn back. Now just on this side:
By keeping your wits about you,
you can avoid the voidings,
the dog-signs scattered on the streets and sidewalks
(you meet them face to faeces)
and everywhere the signs of people
(you meet them face to face)
The Waltman, with time and tide before him,
he saw things face to face, he said so
then there came a big blow
the pavements got scoured drastically
—exalted, I howled back
into the teeth of the biting wind
me in Klondike zeal inhaling powdered dog-dung
(here's a new perversion)
now but an essence on the fitful gale
Still turning back.
Surmarket—mock-heroic confrontation at—
CONFRONTATION AT BOHACKS
Near closing time, we're zeroing in.
Ignatius Panallergicus (that's me)
his cart but moderately filled
(less than five dollars buys the lot)
he picks the likeliest queue and goes line up
then waits, while for one shopper far ahead
the lady at the counter tick-ticks off and tallies
items enough to gorge a regiment.
Then, lo! a possibility not yet disclosed sets in.
While Panallergicus stands waiting
next into line a further cart wheels up,
whereat Ignatius Panallergicus (myself, unknowingly
the very soul of Troublous Helpfullness) suggests:
"It seems to me, my friend, you'd come out best
on that line rather than on one of these."
And so (let's call him "Primus")
Development atop development:
Up comes another, obviously "Secundus,"
to take his stand behind Ignatius, sunk in thought.
No sooner had Secundus joined the line
than he addressed Ignatius Panallerge approximately thus:
"Good neighbor, of this temporary junction,
pray, guard my rights in this arrangement
while I race off to get one further item,"
then promptly left, and so things stood.
But no. Precisely now in mankind's pilgrimage
who suddenly decides to change his mind
but Primus who, abandoning his other post,
returns to enroll himself again in line behind Ignatius.
Since, to that end, he acts to shove aside
Secundus' cart and cargo, Crisis looms.
Uneasy, Panallergicus explains
"A certain . . . I am sorry . . . but you see . . .
I was entrusted . . . towards the preservation of . . . "
but no need protest further—
for here is Secundus back,
and wrathful of his rights
as ever epic hero of an epoch-making war
Both aging champions fall into a flurry
of fishwife fury, even to such emphatical extent
that each begins to jettison the other's cargo.
While the contestants rage, pale Panallerge
grins helplessly at others looking on.
But Primus spots him in this very act and shouts
for all to hear, "It's all his fault . . . he was the one . . .
he brought this all about . . .”
and Panallergicus now saw himself
as others see him, with a traitor's wiles.
I spare the rest. (There was much more to come)
How An Authority came swinging in,
twisted Secundus' arm behind his back
and rushed him bumbling from the store.
How further consequences flowed in turn,
I leave all that unsaid.
And always now, when edging towards the counter,
his cargo in his cart,
our Ignatz Panallerge Bruxisticus
(gnashing his costly, poorly fitting dentures)
feels all about his head
a glowering anti-glowing counter-halo . . .
Is that a millstone hung about his neck?
No, it is but the pressing-down
of sixty plus eleven annual milestones.
(It was before the damning letter came.
Had those good burghers also known of that!)
But no! Turn back from turning back. Begin again:
of a late fall evening
I walked on the Esplanade
looking across at the blaze of Walt's Madhatter
and north to Hart's graceful bridge, all lighted
in a cold, fitful gale I walked
on the Esplanade in Brooklyn now deserted
by both Marianne and the Dodgers.
Things seemed spooky—eight or ten lone wandering shapes,
and all as afraid of me as I of them?
We kept a wholesome distance from one another.
Had you shrieked for help in that bluster
who'd have heard you?
Me and my alky in that cold fitful bluster
on the Esplanade that night
above the tiers of the mumbling unseen traffic
It was scary
it was ecstacatic
e decades earlier, before my Pap
fell on evil days (we then were perched
atop the Palisades, looking East, and down
upon the traffic-heavings of the Hudson)
I still remember Gramma (there from Pittsburgh for a spell)
watching the tiny tugs tug monsters.
Out of her inborn sweetness and memories
of striving, putting all that together,
"Those poor little tugs!" she'd say.
God only knows what all
she might be being sorry for.
And now, fronting on sunset,
repeatedly we watch the tugs, "poor little tugs,"
and hear them—
their signals back and forth as though complaining.
The two tugs help each other, tugging, pushing
(against the current into place)
a sluggish ship to be aligned along a dock,
a bungling, bumbling, bulging, over-laden freighter.
Their task completed,
the two tugs toot good-bye,
go tripping on their way,
leaning as lightly forward
as with a hiker
of his knapsack.
"Good-bye," rejoicingly, "good-bye"—
whereat I wonder:
Might there also be a viable albeit risky way
"If you should drive up and ask me,
I think you damn near botched that job"?
"I think you stink."
What might comprise the total range and nature
of tugboat-tooting nomenclature?
a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
him hunched on a stool
peering beyond his drink
at bottles lined up, variously pregnant
(there's a gleaming for you)
Among the gents
a scattering of trick floozies.
Maybe they know or not
just where they'll end,
come closing time.
He'll be in a room alone
himself and his many-mirrored other.
It was a plunk-plunk juke-box joint
its lights in shadow
But turn against this turning.
I look over the water, Me-I crossing.
I was but walking home,
sober as a hang-over with a fluttering heart
and homing as a pigeon.
There comes a dolled-up Jog-Jog towards myself and me.
We're just about to pass when gong! she calls—
and her police dog (or was he a mountain lion?)
he had been lingering somewhere, sniffing in the shadows
comes bounding loyally forward.
Oh, great Milton, who wrote the basic masque of Chastity Protected,
praise God, once more a lady's what-you-call-it has been saved—
and I am still out of prison, free to wend my way,
though watching where I step.
I frame a social-minded ad:
"Apt. for rent. In ideal residential neighborhood.
City's highest incidence of dog-signs."
Profusion of confusion. What of a tunnel-crossing?
What if by mail, phone, telegraph, or aircraft,
or for that matter, hearse?
You're in a subway car, tired, hanging from a hook,
and you would get relief?
Here's all I have to offer:
Sing out our national anthem, loud and clear,
and when in deference to the tune
the seated passengers arise,
you quickly slip into whatever seat
seems safest. (I figured out this scheme,
but never tried it.)
Problems pile up, like the buildings,
Even as I write, the highest to the left
soars higher day by day. Now but the skeleton of itself
(these things begin as people end!)
all night its network of naked bulbs keeps flickering
towards us here in Brooklyn . . .
then dying into dawn . . .
or are our . . . are our what?
As with an aging literary man who, knowing
that words see but within
yet finding himself impelled to build a poem
that takes for generating core a startling View,
a novel visual Spaciousness
(he asks himself: "Those who have not witnessed it,
how tell them?—and why tell those who have?
Can you do more than say 'remember'?")
and as he learns the ceaseless march of one-time modulatings
unique to this, out of eternity,
this one-time combination
of primal nature (Earth's) and urban, technic second nature,
there gleaming, towering, spreading out and up
there by the many-colored, changing-colored water
(why all that burning, all throughout the night?
some say a good percentage is because
the cleaning women leave the lights lit.
But no—it's the computers
all night long now
they go on getting fed.)
as such a man may ask himself and try,
as such a one, knowing that words see but inside,
noting repeated through the day or night
the flash of ambulance or parked patrol car,
wondering, "Is it a ticket this time, or a wreck?"
or maybe setting up conditions there
that helicopters land with greater safety,
so puzzling I, eye-crossing . . .
and find myself repeating (and hear the words
of a now dead once Olympian leper),
"Intelligence is an accident,
Genius is a catastrophe."
A jumble of towering tombstones
hollowed, not hallowed,
and in the night incandescent
striving ever to outstretch one another
like stalks of weeds dried brittle in the fall.
Or is it a mighty pack of mausoleums?
Or powerhouses of decay and death—
towards the poisoning of our soil, our streams, the air,
roots of unhappy wars abroad,
miraculous medicine, amassing beyond imagination
the means of pestilence,
madly wasteful journeys to the moon (why go at all,
except to show you can get back?)
I recalled the wanly winged words of a now dead gracious leper.
(My own words tangle like our entangled ways,
of hoping to stave off destruction
by piling up magic mountains of destructiveness.)
Do I foresee the day?
Calling his counsellors and medicos,
do I foresee a day, when Unus Plurium
World Ruler Absolute, and yet the august hulk
is wearing out—do I foresee such time?
Calling his counsellors and medicos together,
"That lad who won the race so valiantly,"
he tells them, and His Word is Law,
"I'd like that bright lad's kidneys—
and either honor him by changing his with mine
or find some others for him, as opportunity offers."
No sooner said than done.
Thus once again The State is rescued—
and Unus over all, drags on till next time.
Do I foresee that day, while gazing across, as though that realm was alien
Forfend forfending of my prayer
that if and when and as such things should be
those (from here) silent monsters (over there)
will have by then gone crumbled into rubble,
and nothing all abroad
but ancient Egypt's pyramidal piles of empire-building hierarchal stylized dung remains.
Oh, I have haggled nearly sixty years
in all the seventies I've moved along.
My country, as my aimless ending nears,
oh, dear my country, may I be proved wrong!
"Eye-crossing," I had said? The harbor space so sets it up.
In Walt's ferry-crossing, besides the jumble of things seen
(they leave him "disintegrated")
even the sheer words "see," "sight," "look," and "watch" add up
to 33, the number of a major mythic cross-ifying.
In the last section of the Waltman's testimony
there is but "gaze," and through a "necessary film" yet . . .
"Gaze" as though glazed? It's not unlikely.
"Suspend," he says, "here and everywhere, eternal float of solution."
And the talk is of "Appearances" that "envelop the soul."
Between this culminating ritual translation
and the sheer recordings of the senses
there had been intermediate thoughts
of "looking" forward to later generations "looking" back.
Walt the visionary, prophetically seeing crowds of cronies
crossing and recrossing
on the ferry that itself no longer crosses.
Six is the problematic section.
There he takes it easy, cataloguing all his vices
as though basking on a comfortable beach.
His tricks of ideal democratic promiscuity
include his tricks of ideal man-love.
In section six he does a sliding, it makes him feel good.
Blandly blind to the promotion racket stirring already all about him,
he "bathed in the waters" without reference to their imminent defiling
(Now even a single one
of the many monsters since accumulated
could contaminate the stream for miles.)
He sang as though it were all his—
a continent to give away for kicks.
And such criss-crossing made him feel pretty godam good.
Flow on, filthy river,
ebbing with flood-tide and with ebb-tide flooding.
Stand up, you feelingless Erections,
Fly on, O Flight, be it to fly or flee.
Thrive, cancerous cities.
Load the once lovely streams with the clogged filter of your filth.
even to the moon and beyond yet.
"There is perfection in you" in the sense
that even empire-plunder can't corrupt entirely.
And what of Hart's crossing by the bridge?
"Inviolate curve," he says. Who brought that up?
The tribute gets its maturing in the penultimate stanza,
"Under thy shadow by the piers I waited."
Hart too was looking.
But things have moved on since the days of Walt,
and Hart is tunnel-conscious.
And fittingly the subway stop at Wall Street,
first station on the other side,
gets named in the middle quatrain of the "Proem"
(Wall as fate-laden as Jericho, or now as mad Madison
of magic Madhatter Island.) Ah! I ache!
Hart lets you take your pick:
"Prayer of pariah and the lover's cry."
(If crossing now on Brooklyn Bridge by car,
be sure your tires are sound
for if one blows out you must keep right on riding
on the rim. That's how it sets up now
with what Hart calls a "curveship"
lent as a "myth to God."
I speak in the light of subsequent developments.)
Elsewhere, "The last bear, shot drinking in the Dakotas,"
Hart's thoughts having gone beneath the river by tunnel, and
"from tunnel into field," " whereat "iron strides the dew."
Hart saw the glory, turning to decay,
albeit euphemized in terms of "time's rendings."
And by his rules, sliding from Hudson to the Mississippi,
he could end on a tongued meeting of river there and gulf,
a "Passion" with "hosannas silently below."
Treating of our culture's tendings
as though its present were its own primeval past,
making of sexual oddities a "religious" gunmanship,
striving by a "logic of metaphor"
to span whole decades of division,
"I started walking home across the bridge,"
but he couldn't get home that way.
Only what flows beneath the bridge
only that was home . . .
All told, though Walt was promissory,
Hart was nostalgic, Hart was future-loving only insofar
as driven by his need to hunt (to hunt the hart).
And as for me, an apprehensive whosis
(cf. Bruxistes Panallerge, Tractatus de Strabismo),
I'm still talking of a crossing on a river
when three men have jumped over the moon,
a project we are told computer-wise
involving the social labor of 300,000 specialists
and 20,000 businesses.
Such are the signs one necessarily sees,
gleaming across the water,
the lights cutting clean all through the crisp winter night.
"O! Ego, the pity of it, Ego!"
"Malice, slander, conspiracy," the letter had said;
"your spitefulness ..."
Just as the roads get jammed that lead
each week-day morning from Long Island to Manhattan,
so the roads get jammed that lead that evening
from Manhattan to Long Island.
And many's the driver that crosses cursing.
Meanwhile, lo! the Vista-viewing from our windows at burning nightfall:
To the left, the scattered lights on the water,
hazing into the shore in Jersey, on the horizon.
To the right, the cardboard stage-set of the blazing buildings.
Which is to say:
To the left,
me looking West as though looking Up,
it is with the lights in the harbor
as with stars in the sky,
just lights, pure of human filth—
or is it?
To the right,
the towerings of Lower Manhattan
a-blaze at our windows
as though the town were a catastrophe as doubtless it is . . .
“Eye-Crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan" Video: Artist Statement and Reflection by Victoria Carrico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. "Eye-Crossing—From Brooklyn to Manhattan" appeared originally in The Nation, 02 June 1969. (c) 1969 by The Nation. Used by permission.