Friday, December 09, 2005


JH: I've used Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) in three other poems, and will use him again. I've read a selection of essays by Sainte-Beuve (translated by Francis Steegmuller), and know his life somewhat from the biographies and journals of various authors. I've also read a translation of one of his poems in a Penguin book of French verse. I assign his name to a character who comments on poems as they are written (as they appear on the page, rather). Once, when I needed a duet of critics, I brought in Hippolyte Taine (1828-93), whom I know nothing about, aside from brief summaries and asides. I use Sainte-Beuve's name because he's a distinguished critic, and because he's long-dead: there are the questions of is he a ghost, a trope, is this poem set in the past, is this a chronological hodge-podge? "All and more," I claim, wanting it all. My Sainte-Beuve comments on the poems, but his utterances also help to write them, since he's IN the poem, not just name-checked (so, is speaking what it takes to be a character in a poem, or to be spoken of - described or addressed - at length? Can a mention be enough to guide a poem? When does an allusion become a character?).

The creator of the photograph in the link is Joel-Peter Witkin.

When writing the poem, I thought of his photograph "Anna Akhmatova", so I included it as an illustration of a limb that's severed from a spectre by the break of day (read in the context of the poem, the statue by the grapes becomes a representation of a maimed spectre). The poem was built on the first two lines ("long phantoms on short nights, / thine prayers have mine as full heirs") which had been running around in my thoughts like a spectre with her head cut off. My Sainte-Beuve adds a main plot point with "the break of day severs limbs and portions / that were caught inside the daylight minute / when spectres vanish at break of day", and it's ambiguous, due to the stanza breaks, if he is speaking any of the rest of the poem. The "I, the author of this portion (words)" is, then, unidentifiable.

AHB: I like the ambiguity. discussions of author function become fuzzy for me, but avoiding the solidification of the voice in a poem, and that sort of direction, is a good thing. making use of historical personages bears a level of insolence, I suppose, because it consists of a superfical flickering of the name, being based on quick assumptions. yet it is also an honouring of that person's energy. I think an allusion immediately becomes a character. however one refers, the reference is to the life of that person. so, subject shift. I've been remiss in this interview the past month, being busy, distracted and the degree, in fact, that I didn't know where we stood with this thing (and with our other collaboration). is the world sometimes too much with you? I've never gone long without writing, and never felt blocked. but there are times when life hasn't allowed a lot of time or energy for writing. does this happen to you? does his make you crazy?


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