Dan Beachy-Quick
A January Notebook                          (page 5)


The poem breaks the poet apart. The basic violence of that which is internal being made external, expressive. What was mine is no longer mine, brought from an inner realm in which doubt is but a temperament into an outer realm where doubt is a fundamental reality. But this violence is generous, even kind. The formal impetus of the poem insists the poem makes of itself a structure of dwelling. What the poem breaks of the self isn’t its nature but its habit, the ease of the limit by which the self is defined. The self awfully liberated from the self, and as in all such births, the first result isn’t wisdom or knowledge or truth, but the basic acts of emerging into a world not wholly known. One gropes. And where one gropes toward is the dwelling the poem has made of itself. To write the poem so as to be within it. Thinking begins in the poem; it cannot begin outside of it.

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The image works differently than the name or the name would suffice. The image must find a way to do more than call forth in the reader some memory by which the image gains a degree of palpability. If not, the image simply reifies that which it should threaten. Not to forget that poetry has at its roots not only a desire to examine the world, but partially relies on magical means to do so. Such an image acts more as a conduit than a name, bringing back into use, as in a concentrated and potent point, the force of the object the image shows forth and names. The image is that point that lets the imaged/imagined exert an influence in a sphere not its own, keeps open the threshold between separate orders of being, refuses to let the connection sever. It isn’t simply that the image works by resemblance. More importantly, it works by that aspect of “likeness” that marks difference at the same instant it marks similarity. We recognize and then we sympathize; then we find ourselves within the undecidable terrain in which image both is and isn’t the thing it shows.


An old tale from the Middle East:

A young man wanted to become a poet, and went to a master to ask if he might be allowed to begin writing verse. The master said that the young man could not write a line of a poem until he had memorized one thousand pages of poetry of every type: charms, incantations, lyrics, epics, songs, fragments . . . The young man went away and for many years worked on memorizing all these poems and when he had accomplished his task he returned to the master. “Master, I have memorized one thousand pages of poetry. Now may I begin to write poems?” The master looked at him and said, “Before you can begin to write verse, you must return to your home and forget the thousand pages as thoroughly as now you have memorized them.” The young man protested, “But that is not possible.” “Nonetheless,” the master said, “it must be done.” And so the young man returned home and begin forgetting all he had learned, a process that took many more years than it had to commit all those poems to memory. When we had forgotten all as completely as he had known it, the young man—no longer young—returned to the master. “Master, I have forgotten all the poems I had committed to memory.” The master looked at him. “Now you can begin to write a poem.”

Again, we find that what is needed to create work is to first create within oneself a negation, a nothing, whose absence marks not abyss, but possibility. There is also this awful bind. I can will myself to memorize a poem, or a thousand poems. But I cannot will myself to forget.


An absence which points at the form it lacks.

The poem offers a world, impossible supplement to the world that already exists. But the world of the poem makes strange claims to reality. It is and isn’t in equal measure. It excites in us the work of perception, the line itself a mode of perception hurtling toward consciousness, but then denies the nerve the ability to be filled by a material world. One could say the poem gives us the world we lack. The poem gives us a lack in surplus of itself. This lack is that realized force that breaks through the formal boundary of the poem—here, let’s say, a horizon that does not evanesce, horizon-line we walk toward, that marks the edge of the world so that we know where it is this world ends. The poem gives a world and then leaves in us a gap that is the shape of that world. What imagination apprehended returns to the absence from where it emerged, but leaves the apprehension intact. We feel desire because we experience loss, desire the world because we lost a world. The aporetic nature of the poem bewilders us with presence in order to orient us to lack—this absence which points at the form it lacks, and points outside of itself to do so. Desire points us outside of ourselves, breaks the border of the ego’s self-sufficiency just as it also breaks the boundary of the poem’s. We not only find ourselves back in the actual world, attuned to a reality that we desire newly and fervently by virtue of the poem’s work, we find ourselves back in the world as a place we do not yet know, the unknown undermining and illuminating that which we seem to recognize. Gift not only of saying I am here. Gift also of asking am I here? Desire that transforms a statement into a question. Certainty given momentum.

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