Friday, September 29, 2006


JH: To purpose the poem is to provide its first word, a word invisible to the reader, but a word not necessarily unutterable, since it may be utterable as "This poem is an elegy.". What then when the word isn't present to anyone but the author (in the case of an extremely personal impetus) or even to the author (the very first sonnet, or the very first poem in a literary movement yet to be named)? It doesn't bother me to purpose a poem. Sometimes a word arrives to begin the poem invisibly, sometimes visibly. In my latest GRANDUNCLES OF THE CATTLETRADE poem the last word of a line (the first, processionally) is in a phrase from which the last word is extracted to move down future lines, answering the question of where, in the GRANDUNCLES OF THE CATTLETRADE, does the processional word come from, and raising the question of where does the phrase come from. The processional word is included in a phrase only in its first and last appearance, in its other appearances the phrase is invisible, though the word is visible. The word "marble", for example, does not get a second visible phrase, but the reader knows "marble" is due for one. The phrase is not repeated the same way so the invisible phrase cannot be read, whether mentally or visually. It may be read imaginatively, but not the same from reader to reader or reading to reading. No other word in a phrase is repeated throughout the poem. The processional word in the first phrase (the first phrase to be read, actually the last phrase in the procession), or, rather, in the phrase at the beginning of the first visible line of the poem, and the processional word in the phrase at the end of the final visible line are indeterminate, lost as they are in a phrase whose each word is distinct from any word in the poem.


thought thee diminished; knit; just; dear; wrought our fall
with graces knit; just; dear; fall; diurnal star leaves cold this night
just the unjust will save; dear; fall; leaves; forget thyself to marble
Parthenope's dear tomb; fall; leaves; marble; might that noise reside
fall in universal ruin; leaves; marble; noise; languished hope revived
leaves of an unvalued book; marble; noise; hope; sceptre or quaint staff

The poem does not end with ellipsis points, as do other poems in this series, as this could indicate words omitted from the phrase. The introduction of this poem into this discussion presents this poem as an enactment of the word that appears from a mass of other words, on the page or in the poet's head, to begin a poem or to begin a line. A poem breaks free, and is open, but does it free itself, or open itself? Does a poem need the reader to do this for it? The poem is self-contained, so why shouldn't the interpretation/content (one, interpretation or content, cannot exist without the other?) be self-contained? The poem as an elevated speech (whether W.B. Yeats or Edgar Guest) whose message is humanly simple but whose language runs alongside the language it is written in (each word a pun whose second meaning, whose very status as pun, is lost on the human reader/auditor). The word arriving from nowhere could present the poet with an opportunity to use the comprehensible half of this pun to attempt to write a grammar of this language. Once the grammar is completed, a different kind of poetry (the word "poetry" as opposed to the word "poems") may be written (perhaps this has already happened), or the need for poetry will be no more, and any poems written from then on are but homages to (as opposed to elegies for) poetry (perhaps they already are). How would we know this grammar is completed? Or, how would we know a significant portion of this grammar has been completed? The attention paid to language in the last two centuries may be an indication that a portion was completed, or is nearing completion.

AHB: Maybe the poem is dead, and Poetry is thinking up another guise for its exhaustive antics. Your questions all seem bundled around whether or not the poem is participating with us readers, or if it has finished and moved on. Looking at some middle of the road poetic claptrap today, I won't bother to name the perps, and the form of so many of these poems, even the ones I enjoyed or respected, seemed plain done. poetry, however, goes on. the problem with those MOR poetry volumes is an attenuation of force (not a bang, a whimper). we've heard poems such as these, seemingly can't avoid them. it would be nice to call them bad poems, but that's not enough, nor is it accurate. many are crummy exercises, but not all are. the poems bother me with their complacency. these poems survive because they are familiar, obeying the strictures. the grammar, as you say, is completed. I don't mean my stance to sound so snotty, but I think there's a genre of comfortable poems. those are poems that are content in their restrictions. Poetry, on the other hand, is the vast question mark addressed to language. Poetry trumps poem every time. a poem is a microcosmic possibility, a point on the map. I don't know if I am answering any of your questions. I see in them a sense of poetry as a process of agitation. a general ennui signals that the grammar has been completed. the US Poet Laureates have, in recent years (not that I've paid much attention to these lofty figures of Parnassus), been big on developing ways to trick people into liking poetry. they may convince some few to like certain poems, but poetry requires an inspired dedication. homages are the last hint of the freshening wave.


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