Dan Beachy-Quick
A January Notebook                          (page 6)


Thinking about/from Wittgenstein:

To say “I have an image” defies sense. I cannot “have” a thing which another person is denied the ability to have. The imaginary object. It cannot exist for me or for another until it is given expression. Language puts even the things of the mind in common. To make it mine I must make it another’s. The lyric poem becomes not as is commonly thought a refuge within identity, a proof of the self who writes the poem, assembling a series of images that maintain for her a private code of personal importance, but a form in which the boundary of the personal drifts into the impersonal, into the common, shifts the nature of the ego away from self and toward that fundamental subjectivity whose essence is not “me” but is perceptive. Self as sensory organ more than self as social or psychological construction. (Indeed, the lyric poem might be the profound refuge from the tyranny of psychology as final explanation of self and self in relation to world. In the poem we return to an earlier point.) That I cannot help but write the poem is a form of fate, but the poem is not reduced to the fate of the one who wrote it. It maintains its own life as stringently as it maintains its own world, and it does not depend on “me” to do so.

* * *

The poetic line is as Ariadne’s thread—it guides those who hold on to it out of the labyrinth. But the poetic line is what reveals the maze. The cost of rescue is coming to know you’re in danger. The cost of escaping the maze is being lost.


Furious effort of the poem to become its own source.

Some sense in which the traditional poem—the poem that cannot remove itself from a consideration of the history that precedes it—must be the most radically experimental. (It won’t necessarily look “experimental.” Its violence isn’t a gesture, but a kind of being—the experiment seen nowhere but in the fact of its own existence on the page.) Such a poem doesn’t venerate tradition but destroys it, or is willing to destroy it. The traditional poem asks a question of which tradition is not the answer sought, but that origin before tradition, underneath tradition. The traditional poem does not accept, as the more easily “experimental” poem does, that tradition is the only means of transmitting that history of which it seems the bodily evidence. It cannot take for granted the means by which it has come to what knowing it has come to, but must critique, must examine, re-arrange, tear up and tear apart, the very history that makes the present poem possible. It wants to be its own source, before the tradition of which it speaks. And to do so it must disturb its own roots.

It also disturbs that root that is the poet. Such a poem, traditional in this radical sense, works violently toward its own knowing. It does so in a way that distances itself from the subjective knowing that common sense would prescribe as its origin. (How can the poem be the result of anything other than the poet’s own knowing?) The poem does not prove the poet’s subjectivity through whose effort the poem is written. The poem works within itself, a kind of genius of otherness. The uncanny result of writing the poem being that the poem seems to know you more than you know it.


Why do I keep reminding myself that Homer wasted away to his death, refusing to eat or drink, because he could not understand what the young boys fishing meant when they said, What we caught we left behind, and what we missed we bring home. Homer being that poet who is some figure of us all, that poet who went blind because he refused to alter what he wrote about Helen when Helen’s spirit demanded he retract. He could not see through the riddle, and so he died. The boys were speaking about lice.

* * *

Heraclitus noting that the lyre’s string and the bow’s string are one and the same.

Song that wounds / wound that sings

* * *


    32   Whoever is alive
           Is pleased by song

    35   And the heart
          Is pleased
          By one thing
          After another.

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