April 15, 2007

Fleecy Textures And Tough Underlying Structures:[i] An Art Of Poetry.





What is poetry? We surely know what we mean when we speak of poetry. We also know what is meant when we hear someone else talking about it. What then is poetry? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not.[ii]


What is poetry? What poets make. Who are poets? The people who make poetry.[iii]


What then is poetry? Poetry is that which poetries.[iv]


What is the relationship between poems and poetry? Do poems poetry?


Some do, some do not. It is a long story. This is not the place to tell that story. So I will just say yes. When I say a poem poems take that to mean something very like poetry is that which poetries.


But but but I hear you say. Tell me how.


Luckily for you, some hints can be provided, such as: one word (e.g. pcoet[v] or grahoor[vi] or à-Dieu[vii] or love) then another if one is not enough (though there will be cases when even one word is too many). Go on until you are done. Then stop.


Here is another: if someone is chasing you down the street with a knife just run.[viii]


What else do you need to know?


But but but.


OK. “Lookee here,” as Buddy Guy says.[ix]


Among the many ways of poeming one is to poem amid the democracy of all being, looking directly and with great pleasure at this very moment’s bright-leaping essence.[x]


It helps if you commune with the powers of the universe – beyond the grave – through sinewy imagination, and energetically-charged language.[xi]


This may fire you along a comet’s path of spiritual discontent,[xii] but that is a chance you will have to take in order to poem with great dexterity and the perfect pitch of a machine urban dialect, to take (to be?) the measure of our cacophony in the darkness.[xiii]


However dark it gets, do not forget open-winged exaltation.[xiv] Or light-as-air wonderment. Do not forget to get some of that into your densely detailed, thickly textured, richly imaged stanzas.[xv]


If you feel no pull to poem amid the democracy of all being in open-winged exaltation, but prefer to tread the via negativa[xvi] through a dawn field in Provence on the path to the Absolute, you might want to try to pluck a music beyond hearing from the strands of a fallen world,[xvii] a kind of “aboutless” music, a beautiful sunset melody on the edge of silence.[xviii]


Dig deep into the interplay of ecstasy and lacunae,[xix] then burst out of the Big House in an explosive linguistic gunfight, and speed north on a getaway signifier.[xx]


And do not forget to leave as many signifieds as possible at home.


Or you might want to try a little gushing-forth of love affairs and chemical addictions.[xxi] Or to be absolutely truthful and an obsessed romantic at the same time.[xxii] Or to be an unironic, unsentimental optimist[xxiii] celebrating pleasure for its own sunlit sake.[xxiv] Not easy but you can do it if you want to. I have seen it done.


Good morning E--


I would wish you a happy new year (and I do) but I am having trouble interpreting this morning’s post, and am not sure that wishing you something so seemingly trivial as “happiness” is exactly in order, as you seem to be shooting for something bigger (I know you have warned me repeatedly not to confuse your persona w/your real self – whatever real self means – but ...).


I have two questions:


FIRST. You write:


“But what has all this taught me? That I have mastered absolutely nothing.


Nothing. Like, I actually once believed, The day I cease burning, I cease poetry.


Oh, Bite me, Tongue.


I have learned nothing and must start all over again.”


What’s wrong with that? Serious question.


My own answer is you’ve learned an awful lot. To KNOW you have mastered nothing is the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it? (not to go all Ecclesiastes or Buddhist “only don't know” (as a command) on you). Isn’t that poetry’s greatest lesson? Absolute beginning, every time? In fear and trembling (and burning)? To know you’re nowhere, nothing, not even on the first rung of the ladder, to not even know if there IS a ladder, isn’t that what the muse wants, no DEMANDS, from us?


Full disclosure: when I first set out on the path of poetry, I wanted to learn how to write a poem. I didn’t know what it was I was wanting, in a way. But I knew I wanted to make at least one REAL poem before I died. What I didn’t know was: there is and there isn’t at the very same time any such thing as a REAL poem. There is NO solid ground under a poet’s feet. So: I’m just where I was when I set out, wanting to learn how to write a poem. Now I can add, whatever that means.


So I may be reading you through my own glass darkly. But whether I am or not, (and if I am, it’s with all the compassion I’m capable of) I’ll ask you again:


“I have learned nothing and must start all over again.”


Again: What's. Wrong. With. That? Isn’t that GLORY?


SECOND. You write:


“.....where the shadows against stone shall peel themselves away from the walls so that her eyes, too, shall become stone. Stone seeing stone. Stone be-ing stone. One is World. Which is to say, the poet becomes Pure....


.....absent such purity for failure is inherent,”


What does purity have to do with poetry, besides the fact purity sounds like poetry? (Maybe if one’s from Boston or thereabouts the two words are indistinguishable ...) I think poetry is a (pun intended) purely HUMAN endeavor. Humans have NOTHING to do with purity. Or, better maybe, being human has nothing to do with being pure. Except in the sense we’re purely human.


You also write:


“This is the year I shall rip away your Veil.


Rip it. Tear it into pieces I shall swallow and expel as luminous shit.


Poetry -- I shall give you exactly what you have given me. I shall


Damn You.”


Sounds to me you’re simply (?!?!?!?!) burning hotter than ever. My bet’s you will have a great (and painful) 07, as you will force a breakthrough into life/art realms yet undreamt of. And my bet is you’ll have poetry with you, every step of the way. Even if not one word gets written down.


What else are these rages except those of an absolute beginner? An absolutely passionate beginner? A devotee, a Mirabai?






Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must poem.[xxv]


If you are called to turn usual simplifying “time” into visionary space, bounded by endless insistent ocean,[xxvi] do not hesitate. Go for it.


If you are called to inhabit the grief-engorged plateau that lies between imagination and the already known,[xxvii] go for it.


It you are called to meditate on loss, presence, and the persistence of language to redeem what has vanished, if you want to redeem loss by folding it over into a capacious, labyrinthine process of response that turns the never-ending occasion of depletion into a recurring event of plenitude,[xxviii] go for it.


If you are called to be a surrealist of the sacred, whose poems are shimmering cornucopias of xylophones, gazelles, minarets and herons, spilling forth their abundance, the seen and the Unseen, suffused with spiritual awe and love of God,[xxix] an old wisdom tradition come up off the streets,[xxx] go for it.


If you are called upon to demolish inscribed cultural myths and to reawaken language to its larger consequences, if you are called on to ask whether we are to be plural and particular, or whether we are to sit in rows taking dictation,[xxxi] go for it.


If you are called to make exuberant excursions into the hyperreality of the cosmos, where William Blake merges with Sun Ra in the ecstatic flicker of evanescent transience, and blaze with an holographic imaginary that is our only defense against the Dark[xxxii] and to be “splendiferous” in your “blind electrical surges”,[xxxiii] go for it.


If you are called upon to levitate into a trance, into el momento, to create nuestra poesia,[xxxiv] go for it.


Get ready think differently.[xxxv]


Wield your poetry like a flint, striking sparks, cutting to the bone.[xxxvi] Touch the heart, not lightly, with a ping of pain, yet without wounding.[xxxvii]


Diary your dildo desire.[xxxviii]


With rare and perhaps dangerous words, lead us further and further into the enchanted forest.[xxxix] Revel in plainspokenness, in the polysyllable, in the linguistically convoluted, in plainspokenness.[xl]


Valorize “Old Growth” with an ear tuned to the music of time, an eye keen to see the traces of the past in the present, and a true traveler’s curiosity and empathy.[xli]


Query and glimmer and refract light in some miraculous way.[xlii]


Set your hair on fire.[xliii]


Let song sing itself[xliv] if it wants to. If it doesn’t want to, don’t make it. Whatever. It’s OK.


Whoop the wild silent whoop of intuition leaping the synaptic canyon that separates the rational and familiar from the wild and exquisite.[xlv]


Endure the vicissitudes of politics and fate.[xlvi] Sunlight falls on the odors of salt, horses, braided hair, and olive.[xlvii] Endure exile and belonging. Be utterly necessary.[xlviii] Like a palm tree.[xlix] Like a persimmon, the deep orange fruit arriving late in the year.[l]


Be utterly unnecessary. Be / Free, a genius, an embarrassment / Like the Indian, the buffalo / Like Yellowstone National Park.[li]




If you are a lyric poet, take it personally. If, outside, every signpost says “love”, make a coat of language and choose west. Lo! Madrigals drift from a yellow cab on the Lower East Side.[liii]


Save your work for 9 seconds.[liv] Then email it off to friends and enemies. Post it to your website.


2. i. m. LC, 7 January 2007 – 7 January 2007 (written 8 January, 3:19 – 8:48 a.m.)



And Abel’s

Baby died. Say



Write it

Down. Revise. Revise.



Still wrong.

It’ll always be



What else

Could it be?


6 – 10 January 2007


—John Bloomberg Rissman


[i] David Miller on Christopher Gutkind’s Inside to Outside; blurb sent me by Beth Sibley, to whom this ars poetica is dedicated.

[ii] After Augustine, Confessions.

[iii] Dictionary.

[iv] à la Heidegger, for whom a thing things, nothing nothings, the world worlds, etc.

[v] David Melnick, PCOET.

[vi] Michael McClure, Ghost Tantras.

[vii] Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas.

[viii] Frank O’Hara, “Personism”.

[ix] Patrick Pritchett on Anselm Hollo’s Braided River.

[x] Jane Hirshfield on Ko Un’s Flowers of a Moment.

[xi] Anne Waldman on Alice Notley’s Grave of Light.

[xii] Publisher’s Weekly on Alice Notley’s Alma, or The Dead Women.

[xiii] Mark Irwin on Alice Notley’s Alma, or The Dead Women.

[xiv] Donna Seaman on Patiann Rogers’ Firekeeper.

[xv] Albert Goldbarth on Patiann Rogers’ Firekeeper.

[xvi] Michael Palmer on Gustaf Sobin’s The Places as Preludes.

[xvii] Andrew Joron on Gustaf Sobin’s The Places as Preludes.

[xviii] Robert Baker on Gustaf Sobin’s The Places as Preludes.

[xix] Frederick Garber on Steve McCaffery’s Seven Pages Missing, vol. 1.

[xx] Sianne Ngai on Steve McCaffery’s Seven Pages Missing, vol. 2.

[xxi] Liz Rosenberg on James Schuyler’s Collected Poems.

[xxii] Howard Moss on James Schuyler’s Collected Poems.

[xxiii] Ken Tucker on Kenneth Koch’s The Collected Poems (which should be titled The Collected Shorter Poems, but don’t get me started...)

[xxiv] Thomas M. Disch on Kenneth Koch’s The Collected Poems.

[xxv] Cf. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

[xxvi] Robert Creeley on Eleni Sikelianos’ The California Poem.

[xxvii] Fanny Howe on Eleni Sikelianos’ The California Poem.

[xxviii] Patrick Pritchett on Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Drafts (39-57, etc.)

[xxix] Carolyn Forché on Daniel Moore’s The Blind Beekeeper.

[xxx] Coleman Barks on Daniel Moore’s The Blind Beekeeper.

[xxxi] Michael Palmer on Bob Perelman’s Ten to One.

[xxxii] Charles Bernstein on Will Alexander’s Exobiology as Goddess.

[xxxiii] Douglas Messerli on Will Alexander’s Exobiology as Goddess.

[xxxiv] Cecilia Vicuña on Jaime Saenz’s Immanent Visitor.

[xxxv] Bernadette Mayer on Eleni Sikelianos’ The California Poem.

[xxxvi] Barbar Kingsolver on Martin Espada’s Alabanza.

[xxxvii] Howard Zinn on Martin Espada’s Alabanza.

[xxxviii] Kevin Killian on Eileen R. Tabios’s Ménage à Trois With the 21st Century.

[xxxix] John Ashbery on Andrew Zawacki’s Anabranch.

[xl] John Koethe on Andrew Zawacki’s Anabranch.

[xli] Anselm Hollo on Andrew Schelling’s Old Growth.

[xlii] Fanny Howe on Rae Armantrout’s Veil.

[xliii] Cf. “Anna May Wong” on Archie Rand and John Yau’s 100 More Jokes From the Book of the Dead.

[xliv] Robert Creeley on Tom Pickard’s Hole in the Wall.

[xlv] Forrest Gander on Jose Lezama Lima’s Selections.

[xlvi] Carolyn Forché on Mahmoud Darwish’s The Adam of Two Edens.

[xlvii] Michael McClure on Mahmoud Darwish’s The Adam of Two Edens.

[xlviii] Naomi Shihab Nye on Mahmoud Darwish’s The Adam of Two Edens.

[xlix] The palm tree is from a line by Darwish.

[l] Ann Y. Choi on Pak Chaesam’s Enough to Say It’s Far.

[li] Philip Whalen, “Further Notice.”

[lii] Boston Review on Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem.

[liii] Tom Raworth on Simon Pettet’s Selected Poems.

[liv] Cf. Horace, “Ars Poetica”:...let [your works] not come forth / Till the ninth ripening year mature their worth. (tr. Philip Francis)


Posted by dwaber at April 15, 2007 02:21 PM