Saturday, May 13, 2006


JH: I think everyone fails poetry. That we can speak of poetry apart from the poem is a failure of poetry or of the reader? Or did the first poem put forth the idea of poetry in order to replicate itself, to stow away in the idea of poetry? Are all poems, and the idea of poetry that allows them to be composed, just the first poem in different guises? To fail to exactly recreate this first poem and so discover how to write a second poem, unique and distinct from the first poem, is an instance of how we have failed poetry. Sooner or later we'll get to that second poem. Linguistics have failed, and always will, to find a base for language through empirical methods. But poetry is irrational, and, luckily, self-referential - so it's feasible that the first poem could be blurted out. But how to know this first poem when it is written? This question is similar to a question I posed in January (about the lost texts of the world appearing again in new works of literature, word for word, and how could we know), but in this scenario those lost texts are but versions of the first poem. Would a completely new poem, unlike any other - and there have been plenty of attempts throughout history - be the first poem or the second? Do we even need a second?

AHB: There's just one poem, an exultation. Which is lofty sounding: but I'm not aiming for the Paris Review. But there are moments of absolute, of language fully attested. It's a dream state that we remember. You know, you have ideas of poetry as you write or read, and glimmers of the manifestation. But something misses, fails. To be an artist requires facing that fact constantly. Perfection, hahaha. A poem is a statement that is amazement. I return to Emerson saying that every word was a poem once. Blue is blue as blue as it can be, where you can even bring in the idea that colour is illusive, that things aren't coloured, the reflected light is, but not really. Whatever the science there, my point being that a word is an enclosure with worm hole possibilities. (My son, with Star Trekky awareness, sees wormholes and such as normative parts of the world). Casey Stengel once told the troops, line up in alphabetical order according to height. I don't do Zen, and koans make my brain go yikes, but I can cop to hurdling our confused sense of language into the zone of release. That's where poetry heads, or it leads us. okay, ponder all that, and meanwhile, some poems by JH at Otoliths. can you name the 231 persuasive literary giants? This poem “Faucet Hill-Paraoh Gazette—July 8, 1891” is absolutely curious with reference and syntax. What are you up to? Why do I like it?

Monday, May 08, 2006


JH: I don't do translating per se, but I am assisting a poet in translation of some of the plays of Elena Garro. I assist strictly and accurately, ideally. Have you also translated in traditional fashion? I really admire your translation via altered texts. as I've commented here before. Speaking of your poems, let me say how much I like your latest poems (very much!). Your "patr 1, his early, middle and late" is excellent:

Look, here's the latest history of Ted Berrigan. He was born in Tulsa, Rhodeland. Here he wrangled with a strict attention to how they sound. On each street he sees more guys, and people, and he struggles with temperament. He's just a lad in a groaning place. He learns to pay attention, but you can't buy much with that. Moving to Provider, Oklahoma meant that he was in charge of the next few years of American history. He fought in the war against the naming of other things by the names intended for these things of which we all are said to be familiar with. He got plug ugly with teachers, wrassled on the home team, left some places in a rush. He met Ron Gallup and Dick Padgett. Inside of minute they were fast friends, tho nowhere near the record. The record began with Motown beat, familiar and yet. They moved quickly and suddenly it was New York, honest. Have you fucking seen New York? It's like one grand toaster oven. Each piece of white bread you stick in that oven, it becomes its inner piece of toast. Same possibly could work for whole wheat, rye and other sorts of bread type conveyances but that resides out of the purview of this study. We're at the point when the story gets exciting. Here goes, in no particular order: Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Frank O'Hara, Larry Rivers, Anne Waldman, Joe Brainard. Already the list seems old fashioned, but poems used to include them like anything. His kids and all, stories, Pepsi, the choice of generation, etc. then some other stuff, written in that way that says: this is written this way. Then some other means of conveyance, cup, siphon, prodigy, off gold. Then dying in the last expanse.

"patr 1, his early, middle and late" has more dimensions than a piece I've always liked by Joe Brainard called "Van Gogh":

Who is Van Gogh?
Van Gogh is a famous painter whose paintings are full of inner turmoil and bright colors.
Perhaps Van Gogh's most famous painting is "Starry Night": a landscape painting full of inner turmoil and bright colors.
There are many different sides to Van Gogh, the man.
When Van Gogh fell in love with a girl who didn't return his love he cut off his ear and gave it to her as a present. It isn't hard to imagine her reaction.
Van Gogh's portrait of a mailman with a red beard is probably one of the most sensitive paintings of a mailman ever painted.
It is interesting to note that Van Gogh himself had a red beard.
When Van Gogh was alive nobody liked his paintings except his brother Theo. Today people flock to see his exhibitions.
Van Gogh once said of himself: "There is something inside of me - what is it?"

"Van Gogh" is almost a piece of found poetry (but re-written as in information regurgitated - someone asks "Who is "Isaac Newton" and the reply is, typically, a re-phrasal of encyclopediaesque entries), with some commentary. When I said your "patr 1, his early, middle and late" had more dimensions than Brainard's "Van Gogh" it wasn't necessarily a criticism of Brainard's piece, but "Van Gogh" has the sense of recital of information, instead of narration, with the commentary presenting itself as more information masquerading as a human speaker (the information realizing, in the mouth/pen of the speaker, that more words, with an appearance of the extraneous, are needed if it is to come from a speaker, instead of from a collection of data that had the human removed from it in order to be information). "patr 1, his early, middle and late" is poetry, dodging pure information and its masquerade. Intentionality is a (yet another!) bugbear of poetics, and procedure may or may not come into the consideration of intentionality. The poem is free of intentionality and procedure upon completion, though the poet has nostalgia, perhaps, for the process and intention, and a false idea of the poem, certainly, if he or she thinks of the poem at all -- True or false? Regardless, could you say a few words about "patr 1, his early, middle and late" (and about Brainard's "Van Gogh", if you want - does the reader, as well as the poet, have a false idea of the poem? Who reads poems? What are we in fact reading when we read the words of a poem? Has anyone ever read a poem?)?

AHB: I've doodled translations using my high school French, but aside from my wobbly skill in French, which makes it more of a casual game than anything literary, I'm not all that interested in strict translation. I'd be more interested in translation like Pound's Cathay. He was, first of all, trying to make interesting poems, rather than accurate translation. Arthur Waley may present a more accurate rendition of what Li Po wrote, but I'd rather read Pound's work. “patr 1” should really be part 1, it's just my typical rush typo as I sent the thing off to the Wryting list. But as you accept that spelling, you've given it coinage, so that I guess that that is how it should be. It is 'part 1' because I meant to write more, but so far have only writ one other section. And it is partly an informational poem, wherein slurred facts are presented (you can't get the news from poems). We've discussed using characters in our work, and Berrigan, with the facts that I impute (impugn) to him, is another. Brainard's poem brings to mind a couple of songs by They Might Be Giants. In one, the lyrics are taken verbatim from a children's book about the sun. All these robust, almost toxic bits of info about the sun are straightforwardly sung to the point of vapid ridiculousness. And yet. TMBG also have a song about about the electrifying James Polk (when I was young a cereal offered little statuettes of presidents in each box. I got Polk, which thoroughly disappointed me because I'd hope for a more interesting president like Washington, Lincoln or Franklin), again plain data concerning Mr 54-40 or Fight. I think those questions that you ask are apt insofar as Ted Berrigan is in our midst. I've been reading his collected, and his work confronts those questions head on and obliquely. His freewheeling play confronts questions of poetry (what is) and facts. And audience, oh my god! Sometimes I wonder if people have read poems, because in their exultation of having read something, the reaction suggests something different from the glowing conception in my brain when the word (capital P) Poetry comes to mind.. I don't mean that snobbily. It's more like that Poetry is almost more than we can handle, unless you're Dickinson (with the top of her head exploding) or some like. Do you find poetry more than you can handle? Do you find that you fail it, or it you, not just the writing but the reading?

Sunday, May 07, 2006


JH: Digging up my copy of the Penguin Nerval, I find that Sieburth quotes (translates) Nerval quoting (translating) Goethe's remarks on the subject of poetry being translated into prose: "In his preface to his 1840 translation of Faust, he quoted the Sage of Weimer himself in justification of this practice", writes Sieburth, and then he gives this passage (Goethe by Nerval by Sieburth):

"All honour no doubt should be accorded to rhythm and rhyme, for they are the primordial and essential attributes of poetry. But there is in a poetic work something far more crucial and fundamental, something that produces the profoundest of impressions and that works with the greatest effect upon our spirits - namely, that which remains of a poet in prose translation, for only this conveys the true value of the material in all its purity and perfection."

Poetry comes first in civilization, before writing. The act of writing is prose, once it goes beyond magical symbols. To write poetry is to visit the two (contrary?) spaces, of civilization and barely-human thought. Words themselves are prose, once they evolve past their first primordial utterance and come to have a quotidian utility, a use outside of themselves, no longer a song. Poems are built from this prose. If you build a palace out of bottle caps, people are going to see the bottle caps along with the palace. Prose is seen in the most hermetic or lyrical poem, since it is made of words. Prose is words considered as the act of writing, which is why words may be passed over and still the prose is read. Poetry is the words themselves (including the punctuation, with any lineation considered as punctuation), without reference to what lies outside the poem (any outer reference the reader sees is coincidental, due to a common language). Skip over but one word in a poem, you have not read the poem. There's a tension in the meeting of the poetry of the word and the civilization of the written text (prose). In poetry, lines or sentences are words in themselves. In prose, the word by word is dispersed widely in the process of getting the meaning across. Prose is allusion, rather than conjuring. Poetry is conjuring a scene that would not exist except as in a poem, even if the poem is a description of a sunset. The sunset in/of a poem is not outside the poem, it is the poem. In prose the sunset is the sunset that happens every twilight, no matter how specifically the sunset is described. Why does poetry refuse to be prose? For a poem to be prose instead a poem would be for the poem to never exist in the first place so it could pass into prose - the prose it was to evolve to, if indeed that is a naturally-intended progression, would have to allude to the poem, and once the poem is written, or formed in the mind enough where it could be written, it can only refer to itself. The poem as poem stops with the poem, and can only turn into prose from the outside, via commentary or translation. So, is there more tension (in the meeting of the poetry of the word and the civilization of the written text), more of a risk, even, in prose poems than in lineated poems? How about in prose translations of lineated poems?

AHB: It has been useful for me to consider these questions and angles that you propose. It is right yet odd to think of poetry coming first, then prose. I've gotten somewhat lost in poetry's vastness, the possibilities of poetry. Thinking of poetry as rhymed and metered writing proved simpler (and remains so for many readers). And then there's the generational fisticuffs as to whether this or that is poetry 'really poetry”. Which is an overly pop perspective, if you ask me. But anyway, prose as poetry is a fuzzy conception. Tho it goes the other way as well, by which I mean those poems that narrate stories, Don Juan, for instance. And it may be that what makes a prose poem poetry lies in the lack of utility in the prose: the words are not being put to a specific charge of meaning but are allowed to find their own manners. I don't like Ron Silliman's binary distinctions, his School of Quietude, but I know poems exist that partake of palpable intention. Once again I can reference Keats, the Egotistical Sublime. I don't know if prose poem runs a risk of turning prosy, prosaic. I think it is important to be open to irregularities when writing it, and not let the rules of prose write the poem. Rules don't write poems. Prose translations of lineated poems admit that the music is lost in translation. I think risk gets mystified in that process. The translator tries to render calmly the poem's dream, a difficult task. Do you translate? I often take texts and change words, so that a sense of the original remains yet the meaning is much altered. The original shows in shadows and memories, let us say. The risk in that, and also or prose translations of lineated poems, is in not forcing the complexion of a tendency, like adding irony or sentiment or such into and onto the original. Could you be content to translate strictly and accurately?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


JH: Certainly. I do like Jeff Koons' sculpture, which I think is called "Puppy" - over 40-feet tall and made of living flowers - something like a more whimsical instance of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Speaking of the essence of poetry, and, going back a bit, of translation, what are your thoughts on prose translations of lineated poems? I don't know how far back this goes - but Nerval was doing it in the middle of the 19th century in his translations of Goethe and Heine. Nerval writes (I'm getting all this from the Penguin selected writings of Nerval, edited by Richard Sieburth) that the essence of poetry is what can be transmitted via prose (prose translation, and paraphrase could be a synonym for translation, yes?)! This I found a bit alarming - poetry as not what survives translation but as what can be translated, and into prose at that. To me, poetry is in the order of the words as much as the words themselves, with punctuation playing a crucial part. If the poetry is lineated, I feel the translation should preserve the lines, in number and enjambment. Always having the original text next to the translation is indispensable to the reading of a translated poem, as it shows where the translator has added or removed words, punctuation, and lines. But this remark of Nerval suggests that poetry is ideally an earlier draft for prose. And indeed, poetry/song comes before prose in the development of a civilization - could it be that poetry stops before prose? Poetry plus more time would always be prose? Why then does a poem refuse to be prose to begin with? Why the halt? I'm using prose here in the simplest sense, as in the newspaper, this blog entry, and not in the sense of a string of words that fail to have a rhythm or quiddity of poetry. Is prose only a shape, or, more accurately, a lack of shape? The words are the thing?

AHB: Seem like Nerval got it bass ackwards, and I'd say that to his face. For one thing, you lose the music that the poet heard. Which'll pretty much happen with any translation. Lineated poetry admits to different strictures than does prose, so there's a serious skew there. I too would take the prose (or any) translation if I also get the original, with which I might also tussle. And you're right, Nerval's idea suggests that poetry is a draft of prose. That prose being, I guess, what you would explain to your therapist. That's like so Harold Bloom. There is something about the shape of poetry, that it gets to play about the page differently than prose. Which almost says that prose indeed is about just the words. When I committed to prose myself (it was a solemn rite), it was something about not always being convinced by poetic form. You can think of a sonnet, that the poet is forcing the words into that box. I wondered long ago why so many poems by Robert Bly were made of numbered sections, usually three sections. I don't think he considered his form (the dope), it was some bland necessity, like voting the Republican ticket. So I allowed myself to write my poems in prose. And while I try to Strunk and White that prose, I also accept disjunction and “errors in good English” as poetic means. And yes, the words are the thing. Still, in prose, you pass over words. You don't stop at the word of and wonder what the heck it means. Whereas in poetry... Zukofsky's poem “The” (“the desire of towing”) forces (or suggests to) the reader to look at the determiner. Poetry has no alluvials. But you tell me: why does poetry refuse to be prose?