Sunday, April 30, 2006


JH: Is this ("Prose answers, but poetry doesn't") because poetry is closer to language as it was first formed? There's a lot of mythology ("mythology" meant non-pejoratively) out there about the origin of language, but there seems to be an agreement that the origin is not with us, nor its immediate environs. Is poetry (just) a gesture toward the origin of language? Often poetry is commentary on the origin of literature, or of writing (poetry or otherwise) in particular, which may be yet another gesture toward language. What are your thoughts on removes - Plato's ideas on art being a remove from nature which is a remove from the Ideal, and Hegel's ideas on removes of consciousness (self-consciousness from consciousness, and, I believe, various degrees of self-consciousness -- I don't know much about Hegel, but I recall that you've read quite a bit of him), for two examples? Is poetry a leap over the idea of removes - creation of a poem being an origin and thus a reflection or instance of the origin of language? If so, why would poetry be privileged above an utterance such as "Have a nice day"? Wouldn't poetry and "Have a nice day" both partake of the origin of language, though they are cluttered with historical removals and social codes? Poetry is exceptional as poetry, but when isolated as a mass of words, how then is it distinguishable from "Have a nice day"?

AHB: Yeah, Poetry is a gesture towards the origin of language. I get lost in removes, and in a way think they may get in the way. I mean, too much thought of how the bicycle works and not enough where it is going. Tho those are entwined, so I may just be excusing my lack of depth. In a sense, art is removed from nature, but in another sense, art is nature. Art has life and lives its ways, which are akin to but not the same as our lives. I've read Hegel, and the (weird) pleasure I've taken from him is as a leap over the idea of removes, altho in another sense his work absolutely is a remove, if remove means a distancing or separation. I read Hegel and hardly get it, but the work offers a similar pleasure to walking in the fog. I guess I walk the fog (not dog) as I effort to answer your queries. As Emerson says, all words were originally poems, excitement of a communicative discovery. “Have a nice day” can be a poem if someone (Captain Picard?) makes it so. if the words are uttered (written) as poetry, then they are poetry. (Not to enter any debate as to whether said poem is 'good'). Those words can be a sincere wish, a mindless gratuity, an ironic sneer, etc. poetry is intensity, but not just that. Lew Welch writes of wanting the same desperate intensity in his work as a yell he heard a tourguide yell at a child about to fall into a vat. But that's not to say the yell was a poem, just that its demand was essential. And poetry is that as of essences... I mean, this is a boggling question, really. Jeff Koons did a work, basically it was a Rose Parade float, a sickeningly cute cartoonish dog. In one sense at least it is indistinguishable from a Rose Parade float, even made from flowers. Koons' intent, however, is art, certainly it wasn't to make a mawkish float for a parade. There's something tricksy and perhaps overly hip here, but there's an adamant look present in the work. That look is what poetry does to language. Make sense?

Thursday, April 20, 2006


JH: A "monadic chunk of language" is an excellent definition of a poem! And that's an excellent point about prose being always rewritable - once a poem is through, then it's through. What then of different versions of a poem - are they different poems with similar lines, or an art project whereby parts of the poem are covered with new words and/or erasures? And, speaking of prose commentary, which, prose or poetry, provides the dead end for textual commentary? Can one go on and speaking about poetry, or must one eventually stop and defer to mystery? Or does prose cause commentary to end first? And whatever isn't the dead end, what kind of commentary keeps it in play - prose or poetry? When discussion stops, does it turn into allusion? Is the act of quotation (as in excerpt) prose or poetry? How much can a poem be commentary before its innards turn to prose?

AHB: Sometimes different versions of poems are different poems, more often they illustrate process. Emily Dickinson gave variant word choices in the fascicles she made of her texts. And those were each new poems. Like coming to a fork in the road and taking both options. When I've done flarfy things, I go thru a lot of intermediate steps. Those steps could be poems themselves, and radically different from the other steps. I haven't always retained those steps, they're gone. Some artist I read about in one of Peter Schjeldahl's collection of art reviews did a work which consisted of boxes in which works were placed. Supposedly this artist made new works to place in the boxes. These boxes were never to be opened but somehow it was important actually to do this, make new works that would never be seen. Making the gesture concrete, I guess. A poet has the freedom of saying anything is a poem. A reader can't really say no to that, but the reader can certainly declare that poem of no interest. Which is a position one should be wary of, critical surety being a step towards dogmatic limitation. Yes, you finally defer to mystery. Prose answers, but poetry doesn't.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


JH: Yes, I'm always interested in how a poem can preserve its self-sufficiency as a poem, more than its content being preserved 100%. Though how much content can be lost before the poem itself ceases to be a poem and starts to become an art-object (or if it no longer bears the appearance of a language, a plain object)? For instance, going back to our discussion of prose and poetry, how does a poem preserve its self-sufficiency when surrounded by prose on the page? The poem may be quoted complete as subject for commentary, or quoted complete for an illustration (illustration here also becomes illustration as in picture, for the poem may as well be the reproduction of a painting or drawing in such a context), or the prose-author's own poem may be provided as part of the story, as in Poe (examples include Ligeia, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Assignation). Why doesn't the poem stop being a poem that stands alone and instead becomes a part of a new preserved work - never to be reprinted except as part of the prose text that includes the poem? This happens in cases when the poem has not been preserved elsewhere, when the poet's works (Collected Poems, etc) are not reprinted, or when the poem is not anthologized. But in the case of canonical (no matter how tenuously) poems, why is a prose text that quotes the poem not the final text?

AHB: there's an act that says, here is a poem. The poet first says so, presents the work as poem. Then the reader say, this is a poem. It is interesting that a poem defines its territory. A lot of poems 'look like poems', having lines and stanzas. People have sometimes read my poems written in prose as having lines, due to how the sentences fit with the margins (tho line lengths is wholly arbitrary, certainly not produced by a musical or metric reckoning). WCW threw prose and poetry together in a number of works (Spring and All, Kora in Hell, Paterson). In his case, there is a right tension between the two, I mean gravitational. Whereas a critical work, say, quoting a piece, that's kind of the opposition of right and left brain: the two modes remain discrete. Seems like part of a word, newly found, by Sappho, would be regarded as a poem, just because we have this cultural acceptance. I've pretty much gone awk awk regarding the boundaries. A poem is this intense coalescing, a monadic chunk of language. Whereas prose is always rewriteable. I think your last question has something to do with left brain / right brain, but this is wicked slippery territory for me. Suffice to say that I probably can't suffice to say.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


JH: August Strindberg is definitely in the region of poetry (in fact, he also wrote poetry, though I haven't been able to find any translations of his poetry), and astrology for me is closer to the novel, with its interests in social interaction. Though astrology is considered a forerunner of astronomy, it is more accurately a forerunner of sociology, with stars instead of economics and mores as the first principle of the study. Stars are poetic, astrology not so much. The mention of Strindberg leads me to considerations of translation. How can anyone unfamiliar with the language know a poet in that language, even through translation? There is always simply the act of looking at a language word by word, line by line, which is an act of reading. How could one tell if a text in an unfamiliar language is a prose poem or a government document? If the text uses the Roman alphabet, one could look for sound patterns (aka letter motifs). But what if no such patterns are used? I used prose as an example, but could also use lineated texts. How could someone who didn't know the language tell the German Billy Collins from the German Clark Coolidge when confronted with texts of similar physical shape (line lengths and stanzas)? If the text uses Cyrillic, cuneiform, Arabic, Hebrew, or some other alphabet, and the reader is unfamiliar with the alphabet, how does that reader approach a poem? Does every text in an unknown alphabet become a poem, or is it all prose? What would assigned values, which may be an indispensable component in reading / literary attention, look like if one wished to create a poetics of a never-to-be learned (in the traditional sense of studying it with a person or text who knows the text's language as well as the reader's) language?

AHB: I suspect that every text in an unknown alphabet is a poem. In The Pound Era Kenner points out a passage in Shakespeare that gets misinterpreted nowadays because people aren't aware that the term golden boys refers to dandelions (don't make me hunt out the book, just trust me). I don't know how a foreign Billy Collins would look to me compared to a foreign Clark Coolidge. Presumably stanzaic poetry is still stanzaic in Cyrillic.I think the reading of such texts would free the texts of meaning. Unless the reader was wicked good at code-breaking, and detect the patterns in this unknown alphabet, the reader could make whatever out of the written shapes. I don't know if we're to credit Gaudier-Brzeska's ability to read ideograms with no prior knowledge. It sound nice. Maybe he was just riffing. Your questions really just put me back on my heels. Translations very often leave me dissatisfied. I'd rather read Pound's Chinese translations, which he wasn't shy abut changing for his own purposes, than the perhaps more scholarly, but dry, Arthur Waley ones. And I don't like the ones Amy Lowell was involved with, garnished with flowers. I think my point si that the translation should be poetic, and likewise the readers reading of an unknown alphabet. Poetic, that is, rather than 'accurate'. We have the example of abstract painting whereby the forms on the canvas are what they are not what they seem. Thus, I suppose, if you give me a Cyrillic text, I'm going to see something, influenced by whatever is present in me at the time (Rorschach test?).are such question as you posed above ones that you frequently ponder?