Lamb asleep in the ewe’s shadow
Custer “museum” in the back of a Texaco
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To clarify complexity without reducing it.
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A Jewish story about the creation of the universe/world. God’s own infinite nature made impossible the creation of the world as there was no place empty of God’s presence. The first act of creation was “divine retraction.” God withdrew, and in withdrawing opened up the possibility of something other than God—did so by creating not something, but nothing. An open nothing. It is on this fecund absence that God took the letters of the alphabet and carved into nothing the words that precede existence—or is it, those words that cannot be told apart from existence? To imagine the letters properly we are supposed to see them as vessels radiant with a shining energy. The word is a form that contains emptiness and carves on emptiness a deeper emptiness, and etched nothingness that makes of nothing an absence legible. (Blake is in here, his process.) In carving the words that are the world the vessels broke into countless shards, and those shard fell into the substance of the world they named. The shards still exist in all matter, a shattered divine creative spark whose potency is evoked in every honest naming. To speak with such a notion in mind is to participate in the ongoing creation of the world.
If genius is, as Emerson has it, that which creates, it repairs as it creates. Genius as a form of repair.
Form’s economy constrains and restrains the expansive nature of a poem’s expression. The poem discovers its limit. The source, though, of creative life is not initially expressive; it is the formal impulse that withdraws in order to create. The self removes itself. The will removes itself. To begin one must understand how to begin with nothing.
The lyric poem opens and sustains within itself that ambiguous territory in which contraries co-exist. Mind and heart. Clarity and obscurity. Surface and depth. To clearly refuse to draw the easiest distinctions.
Also competing senses of language. Deep in lyric sensibility is that ancient sense, magical in its way, in which every object carries within it or upon it its signature. Object that declares within itself its use. The poet then names that which already bears its name. Agamben on Paracelsus: “The Euphrasia, which has a marking in the shape of an eye, thus reveals its capacity to heal the diseases of the eye. If the plant called Specula pennarum cures women’s breasts, this is because its shape recalls that of breasts. Pomegranate seeds and pine nuts, having the shape of teeth, alleviate their pain.” Here we feel not only lyric’s didactic life as a renewed necessity—revealing to us again the text always already revealing of itself—but also the poem becomes a charm, a kind of medicine, protecting those who read it from the danger of the world by introducing us to the danger of the world. To not dismiss this feeling that we must read a poem in order to heal ourselves.
But by the same token, we read the poem to keep our wounds open, to refuse to let the damage diminish, to betray our own need of order with a continually renewed capacity for disorder. To let the world in. Oppen feared that way in which a word seemed to preceded the thing it named, and yet one can say that in an elemental sense of language as signature, name and object-named are simultaneous. “The wild deer bedding down— / that they are there!” The poem can only have a stake in reality if it takes seriously a sense of language almost wholly dismissed. But it cannot be simple, cannot be naïve. It cannot dismiss our sense of language as also being arbitrary, signified and signifier and the awful distance (innavigable) in between. The poem promises a world, offers a world, but also removes that world. The work of language itself which the poem cannot help but demonstrate. It is a process that mimics mythic paradise—save the poem doesn’t seek return to Eden. The poem finds its paradise in ruins. See? The ruins bear their own names. Bitten splendor of the fallen world.
Heraclitus: “Too much and not enough.”
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Whitman: “The attractions, fascinations there are in sea and shore! How one dwells on their simplicity, even vacuity! What is it in us, arous’d by these indirections and directions? That spread of waves and gray-white beach, salt, monotonous, senseless—such an entire absence of art, books, talk, elegance—so indescribably comforting, even this winter day—grim, yet so delicate-looking, so spiritual—striking emotional, impalpable depths, subtler than all the poems, paintings, music, I have ever read, seen, heard. (Yet let me be fair, perhaps it is because I have read those poems and heard that music.)”
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Read in the paper today that the effort to access memory alters the memory retrieved. It does so each time the memory is accessed. It is as if within ourselves our life continues in its experience, ungoverned by the conscious surface of our life. Not just dream, but memory continues its life within us, multiplying, denying accuracy as a measure of truth. All the memories do. Alcibiades accused Socrates of being like a statue of Silenus—ugly outwardly, but broken open reveals that it contains golden figures of the gods. We break ourselves open and find the accusation holds equally true.
To write a poem breaks oneself open. To read breaks open the poem. Each willful act produces a different outcome. We add consciousness to that which has its own vitality, and in doing so, we change the nature of that vitality. We exert a force. Sometimes that force is called intent.