Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (The Force of What’s Possible—Issue 48, December 2014)

Catherine Kasper
Fifteen Ways of Looking at Why I Write

If I were to list the reasons why I write, it would be a catalogue of books, including those still being written. [1]

The riskiness of art, the reason why it affects us, is not the riskiness of its subject matter, it is the risk of creating a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking. It does this by overturning the habits and conventions of previous generations. [2]

How does someone “organize a new life” from a “basis in art,” particularly with my working class background? This is something I struggle with everyday. [3]

The idea of a conservative artwork is inherently absurd. By emphatically separating themselves from the empirical world, their other, they bear witness that that world itself should be other than it is; they are the unconscious schemata of that world’s transformation. [4]  

There was a tacit agreement, equally binding on everyone, that the true state of material and moral ruin in which the country found itself was not to be described. [5]

The uncertainty of its economic position corresponds to the ambiguity of its political function. [6]

...you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. [7]

Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function. [8]   

Composition as transcription, citation, “writing-through,” recycling, reframing, grafting, mistranslating, and mashing—such forms of what is now called Conceptualism, on the model of Conceptual art, are now raising hard questions about what role, if any, poetry can play in the new world of instantaneous and excessive information. [9]

And ingenuity/follows the silvered/montage into a new elevation. [10]  

We live in an age of science and of abundance. [11]   

Then I’m dreaming back like that I begins to see we’re only all telescopes. [12]

What seems to me the highest and most difficult achievement of Art is not to make us laugh or cry, not to arouse our lust or rage, but to do what nature does—that is, to set us dreaming. [13]

Threading, I like threading things. [14]

Each reader will find the voices that speak to her, and there are many. Each new reader is thrilling to behold: the child who clutches a book as she disappears into the other room to savor it. One reader is a reader. [15]


[1]The avant-garde is inherently rooted in an historical time period for me, in the age of Modernism. Potentially, the texts are infinite. Given the breadth of questions of the avant-garde, I have chosen to concentrate on those “avant-garde” writers who, at this time continue to inspire me to write. This includes the reference to Wallace Stevens (“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”) in the title that signals an embrace of my unoriginality. We need a new name for all our Post-L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Post-Postmodernist works of experimentation, and perhaps Perloff will the one to name it? See note 9.
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[2]See: Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. (London: Jonathan Cape, 1995) 52. Winterson’s book is illuminating for her comments throughout, including her passion for the visual arts and books, and for her arguments on Stein and Woolf.
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[3]“Now, it is not the aim of the avant-gardistes to integrate art into this praxis. On the contrary, they assent to the aestheticists’ rejection of the world and its means-ends rationality. What distinguishes them from the latter is the attempt to organize a new life praxis from a basis in art.”  Extract from Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde, translated by Michael Shaw (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) 47-53.
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[4]See: Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor, edited by Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. Theory and History of Literature, Vol. 88, (Minneapolis: U of Minneapolis Press, 1997) 177. To which I would add: “Artist and poets undoubtedly get excited and ‘overexcited’ about things long before the general public.” Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading. (New York: New Directions, 1934) 82.
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[5]W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction, translated by Anthea Bell. (New York: Random House, 2003) 10.
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[6]Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999) 21.
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[7]Maybe the most quoted lines of Beckett’s work? Everything comes back to Beckett for me, and Joyce’s approach to the avant-garde versus Beckett’s approach. Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable in Three Novels by Samuel Beckett, translated from the French by Beckett. (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1958) 414.
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[8]Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1985-86, translated by Patrick Creagh. (New York: Vintage Books, 1988)  112.
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[9] Marjorie Perloff, “Poetry on the Brink: Reinventing the Lyric,” Boston Review May/June 2012, 4. See also: Marjorie Perloff, Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010).
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[10]Barbara Guest, Rocks on a Platter: Notes on Literature. (Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1999) 47.
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[11]Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, (New York: New Directions, 1934) 17.
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[12]James Joyce, Finnegans Wake. (New York: Penguin, 1939) 295. I cannot leave out this work anymore than all the works of Borges that imagine our digital libraries, or all the paintings of the twentieth century.
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[13]Gustave Flaubert, by way of the lyric essay by Susan Mitchell, “Notes Toward a History of Scaffolding,” in The Next American Essay edited by John D’Agata. (Saint Paul: Graywolf Press, 2003) 239. Her lyric essay inspires.
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[14]Said by a fictional character. Dubravka Ugresic, The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, translated by Celia Hawkesworth. (New York: New Directions, 1996) 14. One method: the craft of art that sews together the discarded scraps and fragments of the world to reveal, to expose the gaps, to sift, to unhinge.
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[15]Addressing the question of audience. “Is a reader” could be added here to salute Gertrude Stein.
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