Tuesday, November 21, 2006


JH: The piles of writing you speak of reminds me of something that's been on my mind for a year or so: a poet's abjuring of a poem or body of poems. This progression of the poet's thoughts goes beyond the limits of the poet's thoughts needed by the particular poem to get itself written. If a poem didn't need a poet to write it, the poem (if the word "poem" can even be used in this context) would appear as a dream or a thought. The writing, letter by letter, of a poem is the poem's growth into maturity. As an infant cannot speak, so the poetic, appearing as inspiration (and thus much like a dream or idea), cannot speak. A poem that becomes, however quickly or slowly, unacceptable to its poet may be less formed in a worldly shape (lack of factors, whether classifiable or of the je ne sais quoi variety, that would assimilate it into a civilization's idea of the poem). This may be due to the poet's literary tools, but a poet can only work with the materials presented, whether by a civilization or by the poetic. Perhaps a poem's power comes from what is left upon the subtraction of civilization and the poetic. What we speak typically resembles prose more than poetry, but prose is written, formed from previous sentences (today's newspaper, Sir Thomas Browne, etc). A key element in writing is alteration before presentation. This element is as unalterable as any element, since it exists as a potential (it may not occur to one to change a note reading "Going to the store be back soon", but one has the power to add, eradicate, or substitute any part of the note before it is read). Our thoughts present themselves to us as unchanged -- our own thoughts and we cannot dictate their initial appearance. In writing, we can give the appearance, to the reader and to our own intellectual satisfaction, of going far back to the very hint of a thought. On the page, speculation can give the promise of an answer, that will come from a reader or from the author (in another work, or further down the page). Rhythms, as dictated by punctuation and varying word length, are controlled by the author (again, potentially). Rhythm, the pace of arrival, is uncontrolled outside the page, within the sphere of thought and natural phenomena. The poetic is what explicitly asks for the poem, for writing. Writing, that is to say, what can be altered, both scene and letter, is a potential result for any thought, but is necessary for the poem.

AHB: Great riff! "The poetic is what explicitly asks for the poem", c'est vrai. It may be enough to say all that writing that one does is process, but to do so only hints at the story. And it is a story. It is this narrative of fixing onto the inspiration (if I can use that word, meaning the instigation to write), finding the words, accepting the terms of the writing (choosing what to alter). In Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh ponders the mysterious message 'bizzy baksun'. The message was intended as ordinary speech: busy, back soon. The non-standard English and the enigma-seeing bear without a brain combine to place a poetic in the world. It is the reader who discovers he transmogrification, the language that twisted. anyway, I was taken by your thoughts here because any writer or artist will have lots and lots of work that finally he/she abjures. Though abjures may say it too strongly. It may be that the artist failed the work (or vice versa?). It may be that the artist's needs later have been transcended. Certain artists, because of their fame, are known for every available scrap of work they did. Picasso, for instance: people are avid to see anything of his. Partly, mostly, this is because of the commodification factor that envelopes Picasso. But that respect for all his work (respect, not necessarily adulation) gives us an opportunity that most of us do not bequeath to ourselves. I think most artists want to run from their earlier work, or their casually done, or their failed. With Picasso we honour (that is, we pay attention) not just to his juvenilia but his napkin doodles. The very hint of a thought, as you say. The artist develops those hints, or develops a means to deal with those hints, those rhythms, those dreams. Those hints, rhythms, dreams are hard to see.


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