Tuesday, July 25, 2006


JH: Thanks! You writes gooder tho: "those critical knots that Donne ties in his clanking machines, worry beads of metaphor that hold you"! Love also your Benchley and Thurber background, which bespeaks a commitment to literature that seizes on words that carry something extra with them (humor, surprise, sprightliness). "Poetry can't be directed, even when fitted into forms, even narratives." is an excellent point. I wrote that one can write poetry with or without the assistance of literature, and would like to ask now if literature cannot allude to poetry with the same integrity as poetry can allude to literature? What is the meeting point? We've established (for the nonce, upon shifting sands no doubt) the word as the meeting point of prose and poetry. What is the meeting point of literature (how to define literature?) and poetry, and is it one-way, with poetry alone coming and going at will? Literature, as an instance rather than a set, could be defined as a text whose words allude (deliberately, but how to define intent in a text?) to other texts as well as the meanings of the words (the words singly and together). But the instance is instantly part the set. What is to be subsumed: is this an apt definition of literature? Anny Ballardini in a comment to Antic View 79 asked "Which elements are made available to the poet when writing?", which currently I can only answer with another question, "What makes a poem a poem and not literature or prose when the poet is writing?" Is it sheer will, or habit? Some elements made available to the poet when writing are imagination, taste (an old-timey term for what one considers a proper poem), and what one has written before (as an enemy as well as a guide). Imagination is composed of pre-existing elements, too. So the elements are refined more and more from their original shape until they are suited only, or primarily, to the poetic? If so, what separates these mutated elements from my ersatz definition of literature? The fact that they are not public (and barely private)?
AHB: One easy answer can entail how literature is culturally accepted. Shakespeare, of course. I must've read Merchant of Venice in 9th grade, found it less heinous than I expected (expecting little offered in public school as any too pleasing), but, offered medicinally: that was literature. when I read Shakespeare later, on my own: that was poetry. the difference somewhat defined by my receptivity, but also the 800 pound gorilla aspect. the term literature probably guides us, giving us cairns along the way. you can see poets becoming literature. The Cantos, say: that news has been scoped. what was once the edge and avant has been taken in by 'us'. which doesn't mean The Cantos are over, just that the work has lost that initial surprise. you even see this in the Beats, what once was seen as rough and demanding has now been cottoned to. it's a regular cultural process, I suppose. poetry perhaps is a singular state, for reader and writer both, whereas you read literature along with everyone else. does that seem a fair statement? I don't think one can presume to write literature, literature lacks the immediacy of this life's present, tho it comprises great sweeps of time. literature is somewhat an honourific, but also evidence of impact. I don't want to make poetry sound too rarified, but I think its vitality is its focus. or essence. perhaps literature is a structure in which poetry can live? is all hard to say. literature and poetry meet where we are most human, in the face of love, life and death. it's hard to set such terms down, for fear they will seem inflated, but damn it, they aren't.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


JH: What of a poetry that is without any innovation, and is thus without surprise to the poet or reader? Examples could be Augustan poetry, or avant-garde poetry that presents familiar disjunction. What does such presentation enact? A point of Neoclassic poetry is to provide a poetry that is classic, a square peg in a square hole. Contemporary procedural poetry does much the same thing - words filling their intended formal slots. Do such poems present an idea of literature, rather than an instance of poetry? "Yes" would be my immediate answer, though mulling it over (as I shall) may raise a qualification or two. Antic View (is Antic View outside us personally as much as Monster?) has raised a dichotomy of literature and poetry; one sentence in the definition of literature may be that it can exist as a closed book. In writing prose commentary on poetry, Antic View has been approaching poetry as literature: Here It Is, without many particular examples. Thousands of examples would be chicanery, deferring an eventual awareness of the treatment of poetry as literature. One can write poetry, with or without the assistance of literature, but can poetry ever be written about, without being prose about the ornamental (other adjectives could be used, I'm using "ornamental" to suggest that the poetry is visually subsumed by the prose of the commentary) verse within the commenting prose?
AHB: First of all, you writes real good, a language of strange immediacy. I notice this as I scramble to reply. You are right that a non-surprise quality of poetry can exist. Formal works can please within their formality. Which, maybe, qualifies as the surprise I brought up as essential. Certainly iambic pentametre poems in abab rhyme can surprise by content. Think of those critical knots that Donne ties in his clanking machines, worry beads of metaphor that hold you. What's crucial isn't the form but the content, or some tight equation of the two. That is, cliches and banalities can be writ in formal or informal structures. Those square pegs in square holes are, to me, a phony poetry. Emphasized by a necessity to get something across. When I think of Poetry, the magazine, the guff it presents seems linked solely to some idea represented: here's something that looks like a poem. Not a true enactment of the active poetic influence. The same way that when you see a Hollywood movie, and recognize all the elements (need I list them?) consciously added to satisfy the idea of a Hollywood movie. I really don't know what poetry is. I probably already have mentioned that the first writing I did was inspired by Robert Benchley and James Thurber. Both humourists, but I thought I was writing poetry. I couldn't write their particular feuilleton, but did see this possible expanse, predicated on surprise (as humour is surprise). I guess likewise I'm satisfied to think of Antic View as POETRY, at least because it aint rigid. And perhaps because half of it is out of my hands, and furthermore because I'm riding waves of surprise as I respond to what you write. Commentary is prose because of its direction. Poetry can't be directed, even when fitted into forms, even narratives. Oh gosh, I dunno. Poetry is a megalopolis. We're all denizens.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


JH: Very well-put! I don't mind tardy responses, as they're worth the wait. Speaking of collaborations, Anny Ballardini's comments in our comments field about Van Gogh possibly showing Gauguin something that might escape common sense raises the topic of common sense and poetry / art. As to poetry, does common sense play a large part? Does it in yours? In mine, the common sense is the common store of Western literature I share with most of my readers. Anny's comments also lead me to speculate on the non-literary behavior of the poet (and whether any behavior of a poet is non-literary). A lot of a poet's personal experience (this includes reading and writing) does not appear in the poetry. There's more experience lived than poetry written in a poet's life. Why do certain experiences make it into a poem, and other's don't? Why is a poet, or indeed anyone, interested in a certain thing more than another? Does this spur to interest come from the same place as poetry does - i.e, from outside? And, in speaking of the poet, is interest part of the poetic? What can be said about interest in considering procedures whereby the material comes from outside the poet's experience (by this I mean typically autobiographical experience; I realize that the materials for selection and combination are philosophically the poet's experience)? I'd say that the poet's interest lies in the choice of procedure rather than the specific content of the poem, and in choosing to write a poem procedurally. Does interest shift in the writing of a poem, first in the topic / procedure, then, in the case of non-procedural poems, from word to word and line to line and stanza to stanza? Is this a way of escaping the prosaic, this shifting of interest? It may also underscore the uncertainty of human thought, of the suspicion that nothing is finally final, which I think is part of the poetic. Often this interest shifts itself right out of the writing of the poem, causing the poem to be abandoned, temporarily or otherwise; what is to be said about this? The poetic as it appears in a frame of time does not always coincide with a particular poem. When the poem cannot shift and remain the same poem, the poem must come to a stop. One can go on writing it, though. Then you have literature masqing as a poem within the poem.

AHB: I should just say I dunno and be done, but where's the mystique in that? Just kidding. You tend to place tacks on the road in front of my rollicking bicycle: a lot of the ideas you throw out are ones I've never considered. Thus I flail. I don't know why certain experiences appear in one's work, while many others don't. Let me think... You are right that procedure is key. Such of my reading that casts a particular narrative can find its way into my work. Like lately, having read a number of books about climbing Mt Everest (a thing I would ne'er do in this life, thanks), I have written poems out of that. The narratives allow a procedural step. Flarf interests me because it is a conscious move toward areas of concern that one mighn't allow or acknowledge. Perhaps the bad in taste, perhaps the inarticulate. When I write with the flarf hat on—it is bright green, btw—I look for oddity, surprise, misadventure. I think readership has gotten caught up on a superficial aspect, and do not acknowledge the power of the inarticulate. I speak of the chat room sort of rage and wonder that flowers in flarf. The inarticulateness of that rage and wonder is poetic. But I don't mean to isolate on flarf. Poetry isn't common sense at all, it is the uncommonest sense. Van Gogh's ear is an emblem of vast, barely expressed intensities, Starry Night versus D'ou Venons nous. Except that it isn't a battle of eradication but what, together, comes after or from. Zat make sense? Paul and Vincent were poorly matched as personalities, yet there was some sort of making between them. An artistic formulation. Their clash escaped prosaic. I lean towards a hoky fantasticalness, writing of Fu Manchu and Tarzan and a frisky Lenin. Proust chose class strictures, but made them fantastical. Woolf went into sex and class. Etc etc. I think you're onto it, with the idea of shiftiness. Artists look for territories where their feet don't stick to the ground. When the feet stop moving, that's when adventure loses out, and the determined and prosaic lives on. So we write to surprise ourselves, keep the engine running.

Friday, July 07, 2006


JH: Not cool at all! Sometimes I clip along merrily, for a few lines, but there's always something in poetry, for me, that resists writing. That the poetic winds up in the words that prose uses is something that the poetic resists mightily. So I'm a nervous nutty wreck, too. For me poetry cannot be planned - it could happen at any moment, and it could stop after a few lines. The poetic comes from nowhere, but the solely human has to write along with what the poetic provides. What makes me nervous is wondering, as I'm writing, which is the poetic and which is me. When I get a thought as how to finish a line, and what line should follow a particular line, and where to enjamb a line I feel it's me doing the thinking, being of the intuition that the poetic does not allow me, or indeed any poet, into its thought process. Do you think the poetic arrives fully formed, but incompletely recognizable to the human mind (thus requiring writing to bring it more into view)? Or do you think the poetic itself is a process given to the poet and the final product, the poem, is something the poetic wants (though often the poet realizes that the poem is very much removed from the original process)? Considering these ideas of the poem as a collaboration between the human and the poetic, does a collaborative poem between two poets, such as Monster, shine any light on the matter?

AHB: First, apologies that I'm so slow in responding to you. I take a pointless pride in my usual writing quickness (altho I am very poky in formal, thesis-type writing), but I am living in a high disractability. Anyway. Fully formed and incompletely recognizable, verily yeah. That iffiness is important, I think. It exists as a kind of desperation or at least ill ease whilst trying to read or write poetry (or come to grips with any art form). The artistic experience suffers (I use the verb guardedly) a randomness, in which the artist doesn't know if what he/she does is 'The Real Thing”, and the one partaking doesn't know either. Not in the classic 'I know pornography when I see it' way. I mean, okay, top of the head blows off, that's a good clue, but I don't think even Emily had that surety all the time. Certes she fussed her poetry, equivocated. Perhaps a collaboration does illuminate the thinking here, insofar as half the process goes on beyond you and me, each singly. Speaking clearer (would that I could), I mean we throw leaps at the other that aren't easily mapped. I wonder how you got to some point, and vice versa, and we, collaborating, feel we must make up the distance and try to continue. Which we do. We make our artistic decisions but Monster seems to develop on its own. We do not, in distinction from some collaborators, have much discussion as to how to proceed. Even if we did, there's still you, me, and the thing itself, creating the Monster. We each have only so much control of the reins. I think I agree that the poem is what the poetic wants, and the poet goes along for the ride.