Dan Beachy-Quick
A January Notebook                          (page 7)


Two types of poems (among many others): those whose lines build one on top of another as if to build into a tower (Kafka: the Tower of Babel would have been allowed if one did not need to ascend it in order to build it), and those that in every line dig down (Thoreau: My head is an organ for burrowing). No poem simply flat in the page; there are dimensions, expansions, progressions.

The poem that digs down beneath itself with every line conducts a kind of archaeology. The traditional poem digs down when it is also rooting through itself to find the nature of its experiment (as opposed to the “traditional” poem that is but prosody’s ornament). Tradition as archaeological versus tradition as historical. The latter proves again only what another poem has proven, and becomes a kind of helpless veneration to the monuments of literature that precede it. The former roots through itself and the inevitable influences of other poems inherent in its own song are also shaken. The fundament has it in a fault line a certain kind of poem seeks. Such seeking relates to meaning—not to make meaning, though that end perhaps cannot help but happen, a kind of accident, but a necessary one, like a lightning strike in sand fusing the sand into a fulgurite. Such a poem digs violently down (how else can the motion be described?) in order to ask a question about how meaning is possible. The poem beneath the field.


As Wittgenstein says of philosophy, so too of poetry: tormented by questions which bring itself into question.

Peace of having one’s confusion clarified into song. Not the peace we expected.

          When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut,
          Your roaming round me end, and under be my boughs?
          When, when, Peace, will you Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
          To own my heart: I do yield, you come sometimes, but
          That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
          Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

          O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
          Some good! And so He does leave Patience exquisite,
          That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house,
          He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
                     He comes to brood and sit.

Not the peace we expected. Peace with work to do.


Agamben: “While we perceive something, we simultaneously forget it. Every present thus contains a part of non-lived experience. Indeed, it is, at the limit, what remains non-lived in every life, that which, for its traumatic character or its excessive proximity remains unexperienced in every experience . . .” Within this notion, especially the excessive proximity, Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas: “She always says she dislikes the abnormal, it so obvious. She says the normal is so much more simply complicated and interesting.”

A motion in poetry, certain and uncertain both, that pushes toward excessive proximity. Not to bring the things that are too near to be seen into objective clarity, but to bring them even closer; not to discover their secret, but to grasp them in their secrecy. When the eye loses the ability to see an object for the fact of its very nearness, then the imagination must alter the lens. A poem may bring us what we see in it just such a way. It reaches through the little hole in the eye and puts the thing in mind, that realm in which perception and forgetting are simultaneous, where every presence coincides with a corresponding absence, where experience, as in an old iconic painting, holds aside the breast of its garment to reveal not a burning heart, but a nothing that pulses and is on fire.

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