Thursday, April 12, 2007


JH: Punctuation allows some decision on the part of the writer, and there are rules about when punctuation may and may not be used. Are there any occasions when a line must be enjambed? In metrical poems, when a line has a certain amount of feet the next line begins. In free verse, what dictates the line break besides the author? Does it matter if a line is broken in two when it should be one line? If enjambment is important, isn't disproportionate enjambment equally important? If space between lines has meaning integral to the poem, does the introduction of extraneous meaning via disproportionate enjambment affect the poem? If so, does it affect the poem adversely? The poem can bear any meaning imposed from without, but it must not have disfiguring fractures if it is to be the poem that it is, which may be to say, if it is to be a poem (printing errors, such as altered letters, altered words, altered enjambment, and dropped or repeated lines, are the same as readings -- with the materiality being incidental). How to ruin a poem in writing it originally? Are there ways to damage one's poem besides disproportionate enjambment? How much damage can a poem take before it stops being a poem? The act of writing can often sway a poet from the act of making the poem appear through writing.
AHB: It's not exactly enjambment, but how Olson and Duncan space their work comes to mind. Or specifically, I'm thinking of the dot that Duncan uses in some of his later work, to indicate a punctuated unit. Williams flirted with the same thing. I find little impact in those dots but no distraction, a least. I can fuss a fair amount with a poem without rattling its equanimity overmuch. Shift words in lines, adjust enjambment, rephrase. Eventually, if I do something drastic, it becomes another poem, just as painting failures, torn up for collage, become new works. I've learned not to approach such rewriting with the metric of Good English too thoroughly in my head. When writing Good Prose, I try to be fairly consistent in, say, eradicating passive voice. With poetry, tho, I find that I cannot think that way. I have to listen to each example and decide. You can be fairly slavish to the rules of Good English when writing prose (qua prose, I mean) but with poetry, something gets lost if one proceeds so. Vitality and freshness, first of all. I can't identify specifically when corrections kill the poem but I can attest to the weakening that occurs. To the point when I lose interest in the piece, which effectively is its death. You are right: the act of writing can often sway the poet from the act of making a poem. The thing of prose is that it gallops along. Whereas poetry wants to define a space (of time?). If your poetry starts to gallop for the sake of galloping, you've lost the poem. In saying that, I accept that Howl or Song of Myself are not just galloping, that they too define a space, e'en tho that space is extensive.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


JH: Only the best questions for the best answers, then! I try to give to poetry what I suppose is poetry's, and to poetics what belongs to poetics. Poetry exists as its own object, with its readable properties evocative rather than referential. Allusions in a poem to historical and literary events are as coincidental as any of the words used. Immoderate polysemy, whether unavoidable by the author or imposed by the reader, does not destroy a poem, whereas it turns prose from informative to formless. Form in prose is its meaning, which comes from without, from the reader. Form in poetry is its line - in the individual line, in each individual line. This form is replicated from line to line, and an allusion to form is made in any patterning that may exist, such as assonance and alliteration, stanzas and cantos, sestina and sonnet. Any prose sentence requires the definition, dictionary or personal, received or exploratory, of all the words in that sentence. Poetry allows this only as it is a text that can be read, and requires something that would stop it from being poetry, but this has yet to be found. The self-sufficiency of poetry admits poetry's definition only tautologically: poetry is poetry because it has something, poetry, that prevents it from being prose. This is why poetry is not "prose plus X". Can this consideration of poetry and prose be extended to the consideration of the line and the sentence? Is enjambment another punctuation sign? If so, what makes it unique to poetry?

AHB: I learned enjambment from Creeley, tho it was actually from you that I learned the word itself. Enjambment provides breath and anticipation to poetry. It supplies a punctuating function but I don't think of it exactly as punctuation. Enjambment is not a full impedance, as punctuation marks are, but rather something like a subliminal hint. Pound cautions the reader not to stop heavily on Browning's line ends because you'll lose the prose sense of his lines. Browning did not think so much in the line but in the sentence, yet his writing was poetry. Browning filled the space between lines, which seems like the definition of enjambment. I shift words a fair amount in rewriting my lineated work to play the enjambments the way I hear them. I read recently that Ben Jonson wrote his poems in prose first, then versified. He wanted the thinking clear before he proceeded to formating. Prose unreels itself in a measured way. One races from one mark to the next, obeying each one. Even wild, adventurous prose proceeds thus. Poetry lives by its metric, its breath. Even Aram Saroyan's lighght has a metric. In fact, you can call its doubling an enjambment, a suggestion of time in the word. In a public reading recently, I read a lot of prose pieces, and suffered Dark Night of Soul(tm) about how this prose was received by an audience expecting poetry. Perhaps I work a sort of enjambment by not fulfilling prose's completion. “Good English” is taught with the idea of complete thoughts. The stretch of words from the initial capital to the period is suppose to be complete. which is fata morganna, but the directive of prose proceeds with the illusion. Whereas poetry, as you suggest above, isn't so clearly delimited. Such work that allows for expansive, inconclusive meaning is poetry, whether in strict sentences or whatever. That's my expert opinion.

Monday, April 02, 2007


JH: How much of the work is author process and how much is grammar and a specific language (such as English)? Can the process ever be fully displayed in the finished product? Can it be shown in sequential steps? Is the process made more plain in procedural poems? The inspiration for the particular procedural poem is made evident by the poem, whereas a non-procedural poem about a sunset could have an inspiration other than the sunset -- the sunset could be a trope, which raises the question, where does figurative language enter in a procedural poem? What exactly is figurative language? Does it come from the same place that allows something clearly read or heard to be understood differently from intent or context? What does it indicate about words that one meaning may be substituted for another without the word disappearing? Are words different from language? If so, does poetry partake more of words or of language?

AHB: Your 1st question is a good one, because I think we all seem to fall for the rules. Grammar leads me quite a bit, and yet anti-grammar, so to speak, also leads me. Aren't we constantly fighting the frozen forms? The point of procedure is to waylay one's own tendency with an engine of a different direction, but of course that engine could become a tendency as well. I don't know what figurative language is. It exalts a possibility, and that's “the figure”. And that magic of how a word can replace another yet disappearance doesn't occur, that's the figure. The flarfy exercise of replacing a word in a text with another illustrates the remaining structure and integrity. I guess words differ from language, words being the implements of language's design. And now I must ponder if poetry partakes more of words or language... poetry itself seems a language, yet it is process as well. The ordinary words of conversation, the ordinary phrases, even, become poetry. How? You scour texts and take them into your poetry, the texts may have been poetry but turn into another poetry (yours) thru your efforts as writer. I don't know how any of this comes clear. I'm struggling to understand the prose that I write, and how I can call it poetry. Can you define poetry? I sense music (sound) and image and essence in poetry but I wonder, truly, if I write poetry or some personal hybrid. And I don't mean this in some sense of originality, but that I am lost in the world of poetry. I'm at critical mass about this. Have you a similar struggle with these concepts? You pose all the best questions here but seem assured in your experiments.