Friday, December 23, 2005


JH: I tend to dislike poetry that disappears when the meaning is deciphered (often a very rapid process). To me this is a quick definition of mainstream poetry. Also, I'm not too fond of poetry that foregrounds the formal, because then the form is the message that can be quickly processed. What is left visible when the meaning is received is charm, in the social rather than the occult sense. Sometimes a reader is charmed, sometimes not; it's subjective - in the personal sense of "subjective" rather than anything more complex. Yet, don't some of the words, such as images and syntactical disruptions, linger behind in the most decipherable poem, even when the obvious meaning is deciphered? (and what is the function of line break in such lingering?) All poetry is sneaky, yes? The sneakiest is the sublimest? Is the attraction of Babelfish (Babelsquirrel) in writing poetry due to the fact that words are sneakily hidden behind other words in such a way that is invisible - though some of the changes are apparent to the poet during the conversion? Babelsquirrel is fascinating in that histories of languages and translation-agreements (why "ciel" is commonly translated as "sky" and not "sun", "cloud", "outer space", etc) fly by at rapid speed, in the service of a poem.

AHB: Not big on poetry with a palapable design on you? Me neither. And the crappiest of mainstream would be such poetry as makes not so much the meaning readily decipherable, but the poet's intentions: look how sensitive I am. and you're right about foregrounding formality. I was reading some Elizabeth Bishop lately, and found myself disracted by her rhymes. and it need not be so. just the little tricks that Dickinson plays on rhyme and metre are enough to keep that formality at bay. James Merrill's long seance poem, tho it sparkles technically, suffers from the jouncing necessity of metre. as to Babelfish, you have it exactly. I love how an ur-text remains after translation. Jackson Mac Low was particular about the texts that he used in some of his work, because of the residuum. Babelfish misfires regularly in its translation, and it is fun to compound that. when I use it, I always always fuss with the results, riffing on the surprises. some 6 years ago I did a translation of the some of the Duino Elegies, simply going thru and replacing words and phrases with my own. I think some Duinoness remains, tho it's all rather silly. Have I mentioned being in Robert Grenier's class when we read Robert Lowell's poem "Skunk Island"? Grenier had us going to the syllable, hearing homephones and generally turning the poem into somethign Zukofsky might write. Whether this exercise had anything to do with Lowell's intention, I dunno (Grenier did study under Lowell, which I find amazing), but it was a fascinating re-envisioning. is a poem a net?


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