Whitman: “Is there not something about the moon, some relation or reminder, which no poem or literature has yet caught?”
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The surface of the poem as an imbricated mirror, each word a mirrored scale (as of a fish or the pangolin), syntax the order in which one scale fits beneath the next. The question is how to enter into that which is inside the poem. What work is it that lets us in?
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Some fragmentary thoughts on ethics:
Oppen: “Relevant thinking begins with the distrust of language.” Perhaps true. It is an admonition to the poet to understand the material the poet works in. But the next order of work is not to simply distrust language, but to write in a language itself capable of doubt. Not to doubt the language, but to let the language accomplish its own doubt.
Language as a totality, a system entire. There is some limit to what can be said, indefinite horizon on every side, as the universe too has an indefinite edge, existing even as it expands. Word and world in endless mimicry. To experiment in one is to ask a question about the other.
Thoreau’s sense that oneself is a double-edged blade, and to strap virtue’s side means the return stroke hones vice’s. T.’s sense that vice is as important, is as useful, as one’s virtue. Maybe more so. His distrust, even dismissal, of the “moralizers.” (He’d rather be struck than kissed).
A doubtful language—let’s say the language of the poem—harms the system of which it is a part. Double-edge of every line. A poem uses language against itself, doubts the total, harms the whole. When a poem founds a world, it removes itself from the world as such. “There is another world and it is in this one.” The moral order is collective—social, or socio-cosmic, or cosmic—regulating how those individual elements in the world act (be it person or be it word). A poem disregards the “law” of the word, the “law” of the world those moral words express. Grammar as a form of behavior; representation as a recognition of authority (i.e. to speak this way makes sense, to show in this manner is recognizable). The poem’s violence toward received orders of existence, even to the received order of its own. It must break itself apart and use itself to do so. The poem marks that realm where ruin seeks morality, and the result is a kind of rubble, a thoughtful rubble, but also the beginning of ethics. The poem as an ethical training. It establishes itself not in relation to the poet merely, but as the penetralium between poet and reader. The ethical poem confuses the extremes into one.
Intention without intent.
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Form as creative restriction. I remember wandering through the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and coming across a fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. A triangular fragment, whose translation (roughly) read: “To study circumcises the heart, the book steadies the heart, if not, anger, anger.” Poetic economy restricts the expressive urge and so brings it to pressure. Thoughts that if the universe is of a certain density the expansion stops, and it returns back to a singularity. Dark matter as the unperceivable formal element. Somehow poetry indebted to this conception. The formal life of the poem marks a limit, a boundary, that the language of the poem seeks. It is a motion like self-knowledge, that is, the discovery of the fact of oneself. This hope of the poet to never cease beginning, but to do so, one must always reach an end. The formal life of the poem marks a boundary the language cannot know ahead of time, otherwise the effort simply replicates a mere knowing, proves the very system the poem must seek to disrupt, to doubt, to question. To understand that the sonnet as a form is as a universe as a form, a world as a form—the laws exist ahead of the self who must discover the truth of them. Even the self is such a form. Gnothi Seauton. & so Socrates wandered. Not “self-empowerment.” To establish so as to destabilize the actual grounds of faith and doubt.
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The only release from the work being the work itself.
WCW, Spring and All: “poetry: new form dealt with as a reality in itself”
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But the writing of the poem, the work of it, also asks permission to enter—asks, oddly enough, permission to trespass. Sometimes I can feel that every poem I’ve ever read is linked to every other poem. Curious thresholds demand offerings before they will open. To write a poem may be to make just such an offering. The poem as sacrificial in nature. The brazen act does not cry out Look at me! It calls out, Let me in.
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Suddenly to remember: the ancient Assyrians carved words into every surface, including those surfaces no eye would see. The back of a wall. The underneath of a floor.