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V— AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND POETICS
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V—
AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND POETICS


463

A Note on the Objective

Whether from an altogether 'scientific' attitude, or from some wish to disassociate, only, by way of the surface of language, one idea from another, objectivity has become the apparent trademark of the careful mind. Common use would put upon this objectivity the air of the cool head, that is, one capable of confronting divers phenomena in their own particulars, rather than as extensions of one's own senses. It was this battle, between the objective and the subjective , then, which had replaced the looser and more worn fight between classicism and romanticism.

But intentions, as is usual, belie results. Or are belied by them. Because, however actual an intention may be, however well considered, reasoned, etc., its result is not to be found prior to that act which effects it, and altogether useless to assume the intended victory before it's come to pass. In this case, objectivity is, in intention, the prime aspect of a method which plans to deal with the 'things around' as characters in themselves, having as their first claim on the attention, their own actuality. In matters of poetry, it amounts to the wish to transmit, free of imprecise 'feeling,' the nature of 'that' which has moved one to write in the first place. As such, this wish intends as complete a break as possible with the subjective .

In effect, this break is not actual, since the writing comes to (1) using this 'that' as a character for use (as content in the poem); and (2) using 'that' as an impetus for the act of writing itself—simply what's pushing. In short, while the first is concerned with

Goad , Summer 1951.


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abstracting the experience as objective data, the second is equally concerned with keeping it as subjective impulse. And pointless to comment: it's a fight.

A useless fight. However right it may be to damn the use of the subjective method as an excuse for emotional claptrap, it's apt to push us away from any understanding of the subjective in a more basic character, i.e., "belonging to, or of, or due to, the consciousness . . ." Impossible to write anything, lacking this relation of its content to oneself. Put another way: things have to come in before they can go out.

Perhaps best to junk both terms, or at least to understand this necessary balance, one with the other. We can't stand outside our content and at the same time we can't eat it like an apple, etc. And perhaps, finally, more to the point than either of these two stances is that one which maintains: a man and his objects must both be presences in this field of force we call a poem.


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Notes for a New Prose

"Language is not reality but another of the instruments by which man engages reality  . . ."

It is, certainly, reasonable to comment that Joyce's earlier work presents no such divergence from normality as does, now, even the mention of his name. There is, to be got at, a straight line of impact, search, through the early work, the poems, the play (which is all 'idea') to the fact of Ulysses and then Finnegans Wake . It is useless to avoid it, or to mistake its point. Which must be: it is not the content which is changed. It is the extension of the content into form that has been tempered, made strong.

To go back. We had been led to believe that connotation was this: the suggestions of 'meaning' beyond the supposedly exact, denotative meaning which custom of usage had put upon the phrase or word in question. Then, by way of the opening created by 'associational' content of phrase, gesture, practice, ways, in short, METHOD—connotation became meaning versus meaning, became the fight for sense, in shorthand. (Some call this 'symbol.') "It isn't what the words mean. It's what they mean to you . . ."

Just so, with Joyce. That is, the possible suggestions (which can now be called: manifestations) of sense (which was about to become: value) became the criteria for an ultimate 'sense' (though no millennium). Because this was done with language, or, more strictly, within the words themselves, there we took our sight, a

Origin , no. 2, 1951.


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bead on: what might be up. Wrong from the start, since it was not words for the sake of words, but, for the sake of what content, possible, might shape them, into sense. Taken as such, Joyce is the craftsman, casting about for a model, for the model—what is in the head. Not to make himself, but to make, what is in himself.

Form is the extension of content. This was the first rule.

2

"A man must create himself, if he is an artist, instrument also IN ORDER THAT his work be not expression but illumination  . . ."

Possible arguments for the supposition that poetry is, now, more able than prose, or more able to make itself an extension of the present context, this life, etc., have first to do with the fact of its ability, (1) to compress, and (2) to project supposition, as fact. In prose, the lean toward a 'solution' or a stasis of idea most usually marks the book as a failure; I mean, insofar as a writer of prose is willing to give space to this fixing of idea as the logical 'end' of movement, etc., just so far we usually won't go along with him. And I would figure that we are right. But we deny him, even so, the way out of it, this fix, or what could get him beyond these 'logics.' Take the idea of a man running alongside a train, taking notes yet. He would be about it, what is now expected—while the poet, at home, can project this iron monster to any place which may please him. It is, then, that we are still confused by the idea of 'reality' in prose. We do not as yet get the basic fact, that reality is just that which is believed, just as long as it is, believed. Poets are more used to this thing: reality as variants round the center, or, simply, what has been left us.

So how could a prose catch up? Difficult to make the competition actual. It isn't. Elsewhere, it had been pointed out that "poetry insists upon or suggests a quite different 'Universe': a universe of reciprocal relations . . ." The swing of idea, in stasis—is still poetry. But prose is the projection of ideas, in time. This does not mean that the projection must be an 'actual' one, date by date, etc. The word is law, is the creator, and what it can do, is what any prose can do. There is nothing more real, in essence, about a possible prose than there is about any possible poetry. The ordering of conjecture will remain as 'real' as the ordering of fact, given the right hand.

More to the point, to note the difference, again, between poetry and prose, one of the differences, since there are others as well. Po-


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etry, as the formulation of content, in stasis; prose, as the formulation of content, in a progression, like that of time. This is a simple way of putting it. But sufficient to show that while poetry depends on the flux contained , held within the form, in stasis, prose may intend such a limiting but cannot justify one. It has no beginning or end. It has only the length it happens to have. "Might be continued . . ." Just here is the key to its possible reach, that, in spite of itself, it has to continue, keep going—cannot stop.

So, in some sense, the usual idea of beginning and end has put upon prose an order alien to its nature. This is not to imply a 'necessary chaos.' It means only that it is, by nature, against conclusions—or is (as nature is) intent only on its present. It is the breaking out, of context, of form, and down or back, always to the progression, enforced by the nature of its content, and so determined.

It has neither beginning nor end.

3

"Are we not automatic, to think that because prose—and—the—novel did, since the 18th, & conspicuously, in the 19th, & dyingly, in the 20th, do a major job, that it need now be fruitful ?"

As soon as the novel, as soon as prose, generally, supposed for itself, a context other than what it might, on each occasion make, it had done itself the greatest possible disservice. And this is not to be mistaken. We can note, perhaps, that while poetry may have combined itself in several, to mean, one thing worked in the hands of several men, at certain times with success, prose has never been effectual so taken, as a job, or so treated. I can remember the notes that Kafka had written about his attempt to write a novel with Brod—or the more amusing attempts of Dylan Thomas, etc. Certainly, the novelist hates his neighbor, hates him for writing, to begin with, and hates him doubly, for writing prose. Perhaps this is a false lead. It matters little except that it can clear the sense of the necessary singleness of the man who writes prose. And that any constriction, is too much.

The suggestion that record-making can now be taken as one of the major jobs of those that make prose is wrong only in its supposition that there exists any occupation for prose, prior to its coming. It is wrong in the same way that positing any 'frame' for prose


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is wrong. Prose is a plausible and profitable instrument for making records. But stories? Novels? One wonders if it is to the point to set them an end before they have demonstrated their own. "As Rousset, e.g., wrote L'Univers concentrationnaire (not Les Jours de notre mort )—and, over a weekend, because he figured to die the next week of the Causes; or Martin-Chauffier, who has been a novelist, & who chose in L'Homme et la bête , to tell not even what he had heard others say (the last vestige of the novelist!) but only & precisely what had happened to him; vide Joe Gould . . ."

Joe Gould's HISTORY. One wonders. Or, who put him to such work? Joe Gould.

Pointless to argue such a thing. It is not that prose cannot be put to such work, that it hasn't that capability, that it couldn't deal with that end of things. Rather, like nothing else, it must be new. And if, say, tradition concerns itself with these frames, then prose has no tradition. None whatsoever. It should demand that it has none. More than we, or they, may have spoken.

It could be, has been, the collection of ideas. And nothing better, for such documentation. But records? It was the fact of its perspective, that made what it gave, of such, reliable. That it is without, frame. What makes it reliable. That it owns to no master, that it can't. Its terminals, ends, are fictitious. Someone dies. "It was the end of THAT period . . ." But continual, that it repeats, goes over and under, around. Has form, frame, only as it is such a going. As someone had said of Stendhal—it all fell into exact place, exact.

It stands by itself.

4

"The reason why, at this juncture of time, one fights so hard for prose is that it enables him to get in, to go by, that head of his, to let it play over his things, outside objects  . . ."

To go back to Joyce. To that mistaking we have made of him; and you may document this for yourselves or look to find who has made of those books something beyond the man who may have written them. Oddly enough, the most exact criticism of these things appeared at the same time that the books themselves did. At least, that first interest prevented the fatal preoccupations with the 'purpose,' of Joyce, with his own use, as symbol. At least for a time.

Speaking of James, Pound had written that the logic of the pieces


469

the former had written for the Yellow Book group was that need to push beyond the curve, in order to establish it. So, generally, position is established in prose, and intention. Hence, this idea of the assumed obliquity, itself a way of placing something, in the context. Is prose roundabout? It's not that question which should be asked. Any way could be the right one. What is got to, what is placed, would be the better thing to be asking, after it's done.

Again—de Gourmont's sentence, " . . . d'écrire franchement ce qu'ils pensent—seul plaisir d'un écrivain  . . ." And could it be less, granting it must be more?

A new prose . . . Better to think of this, only, as what may now come. I think we can hang on to those who have left us something strong enough to carry over into this time. Prose cannot exist free of its ability to apply; it can't be faked. So it would be that Stendhal can still give us the sense, or one sense, of the order, the 'form,' not to be taken as the form of poetry, nor as we come back to it, that more basic form of prose. There is the fact that the more correct translation of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground must be—"Notes from Under the Floor," or, "Out from the Cracks Like Any Roach."

Perhaps it will still be necessary to point to the fact that, while poetry will be the clear, the fact of the head, prose will be the coming, and going. Around. It is there that it can hit, beyond poetry. It is not a matter of better, or worse. There is no competition. The drift, in prose, and the way, of the swing, the reach—we have the necessary evidence, or I must believe we have.

   I am very old today, the sky is grey, I am not very well.
   Nothing can prevent madness.
   As an honourable man who abhors exaggeration, I do not know
what to do . . .

We begin, or end, there.


470

How to Write a Novel

The Beetle Leg , by John Hawkes. New York: New Directions, 1951.

The rules have been obvious enough—mainly the injunction to hold to 'character and action,' and one novelist, of at least some reputation, has said he was constitutionally in favor of 'plot.' But it means very little.

Otherwise, one can go back to even the hackneyed examples. "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent  . . . appeared on the 1st of January 1760." A simple fact; and from that time, hence, like they say, at least one major evidence, against the above rote, was there to be dealt with.

I am speaking, in short, of time —of what that is in a prose narrative, and of what it has done there. As frame, as the main means to a coherent order.

It is certainly very attractive. That is, it is a line, a very solid one, for the hoisting up of anything which may interest the novelist; his characters, etc., his apprehension of 'the meaning of life,' etc. And, more than that, what other continuum is possible; how else effect a reasonable series, how project, by language, the incident reality, say that it is there, and prove it?

At least that, for a clear sense of the problem. By some means or other, this demanded, a man must make of his narrative a cohesion of the things there occurring, must give them demonstrable rela-

New Mexico Quarterly , Summer 1952.


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tion. Which is order of a kind; and we've gone wrong, only, in believing it to be of one kind, no other to be admitted.

Beyond humor, Tristram Shandy is the narrative of one man's attentions, of what they found to fasten on. That is a defensible comment—there is very clear writing in this book.

"The lines were very natural—for they were nothing at all to the purpose, says Slawkenbergius , and 'tis a pity there were no more of them; but whether it was the Seig. Diego was slow in composing verses—or the hostler quick in saddling mules—is not averred . . ."

Go at it another way. Take it as your own headache, and think, then, if what counts is that the day goes by, etc., etc.; or that something in it, precisely in, was of interest, and that made it all otherwise. This is the contrary—if one can fasten on there.

Similarly, one thing leads to another—with or without time . An instant is a precise formulation, even of a universe. It doesn't finally matter much whether it lead to another; it has its own logic. Or say, perhaps better, that there are two ways of evoking a reality: that it has place in time , or that it is existent in space . There is some choice between them, at least for the novelist.

"Early in 1880, in spite of a well-founded suspicion as to the advisability of perpetuating that race which has the sanction of the Lord and the disapproval of the people . . ." Whereas this present table, with the typewriter on it, two books, milk bottle, is something else again. Or clearly a different field . It is that sense I am intent on making clear.

To write of one is not to write of the other. There is the escape of time , that escape which time affords; so that the man dies, too soon, or the book ends.

What else. ("Is this a fit time, said my father to himself, to talk of PENSIONS and GRENADIERS ?")

The divers techniques used to confront time , in the long narrative, are ultimately makeshift; they solve very little. Flashback, recall by certain of the characters, juxtaposition (too simply) of 'time' sequences—none of much use. Because, to be in that passage, to make that the sequence (that the days go by), is a definite commitment, and not to be dodged easily.

But put the weight on the other sense, of things shifting, among themselves—and time there to be a qualification among many—it is a release.

A release, immediately, of the very things themselves—not gratuitously, since relation is aimed at—why they all keep together.


472

And to the extent that time bears on that, all right, i.e., all right to make use of it. But not as the main line.

The present novel is attack on this ground. Clearly. Unequivocally aimed at that, to break time back to a use which isn't crippling. It is of very great interest.


473

To Define

The process of definition is the intent of the poem, or is to that sense—"Peace comes of communication." Poetry stands in no need of any sympathy, or even goodwill. One acts from bottom, the root is the purpose quite beyond any kindness.

A poetry can act on this: "A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader." One breaks the line of aesthetics, or that outcrop of a general division of knowledge. A sense of the KINETIC impels recognition of force. Force is, and therefore stays.

The means of a poetry are, perhaps, related to Pound's sense of the increment of association ; usage coheres value. Tradition is an aspect of what anyone is now thinking—not what someone once thought. We make with what we have, and in this way anything is worth looking at. A tradition becomes inept when it blocks the necessary conclusion; it says we have felt nothing, it implies others have felt more.

A poetry denies its end in any descriptive act, I mean any act which leaves the attention outside the poem. Our anger cannot exist usefully without its objects, but a description of them is also a perpetuation. There is that confusion—one wants the thing to act on, and yet hates it. Description does nothing, it includes the object—it neither hates nor loves.

Nine American Poets, Artisan (Liverpool, 1953).


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If one can junk these things, of the content which relates only to denial, the negative, the impact of dissolution—act otherwise, on other things. There is no country. Speech is an assertion of one man, by one man. "Therefore each speech having its own character the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form."


475

A Dilemma

Why people don't go out and get better jobs, or finally come to some sense of themselves which might allow a more profitable exploitation . . . On the one hand, there are too many people—you cannot kill them all, you cannot find a logic quite sufficient to do this. And if they will not die quickly enough with sickness, or tiredness, old age and the like, then at least they can be confined to those places where one will not have to, simply, consider them.

A logic is fashioned like this, a logic of impenetrable worthiness. It follows that, between a man and his wife, there must be constantly some means whereby she can spit on him—and he, likewise, on her. Love, at best, will become a question of sensation. And on good days she will sigh, "my lover . . . ," and on bad days she will spit, "my lover . . . ," etc. He will live in a room. With luck, someone will buy him, i.e., someone also bought, and so with means, will buy him—which is the hierarchy of how to live, literally. To make money—at the first, enough to live on, by which I mean, to eat with, to be clothed with, and then, very soon, also to allow that better stance, to be 'better' clothed, and so on.

But some people, if they are still 'people,' have been removed from this by war, by 'depression' areas, by many things finally, in terms of which they are neither very interesting nor important. And let me make very clear that this is not a question of any bitterness or sentimentality or whatever. Some people cannot 'live' any-

Black Mountain Review , Autumn 1954.


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more. There is neither reason for them to nor room nor means nor values, nor any of those things by which others, certainly more fortunate, may still claim 'significance.' And by much the same token, it is a little hysterical to feel our own securities are endangered by the specific reality of something like the hydrogen bomb, i.e., suppose one were to install, say, plumbing in a house, a toilet and all that, and then the toilet is flushed, and, all things being equal—can it be a surprise, or even the point, that (of course!) the toilet flushed?

Heretofore our dangers have been of two kinds, the one (big) metaphoric and the other (contained) literal. So that to trip on a stone, then, meant, (a) we stubbed a toe (literal) and (b) this pain was token of the possibility of all pain, accident, and what might happen (metaphoric). Now enough is accomplished to make an end to that, i.e., we can have the two as one. We can all die at one time.

Which is not, really, a relief. It might be, just as for some people any death not now too painful, not too long, might be. What is there for an alternative except the dreary love too often exercised as it is. Belief—in what. And so on. Dead people already, at best.

I am sorry myself not to care anymore, or not to care for much beyond one or two things. That, say, to love anyone becomes more impossible. "I did love . . . ," one says, etc. I still want to, etc. Perhaps against the distortion, lying, deceit, viciousness, horror, cruelty, and all that, it will still be possible to make that most minimal of defenses—at least the knowledge that there might be others likewise confronted.


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A Note

I believe in a poetry determined by the language of which it is made. (Williams: "Therefore each speech having its own character the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form.") I look to words, and nothing else, for my own redemption either as man or poet. Pound, early in the century, teaches the tradition of "man-standing-by-his-word," the problem of sincerity , which is never as simple as it may be made to seem. The poet, of all men, has least cause and least excuse to pervert his language, since what he markets is so little in demand. He must find his living elsewhere. His aim must never be deflected by anterior commitment, even to those whom he loves. Words cannot serve responsibly as an apology for those who may wish to make them one.

I mean then words —as opposed to content. I care what the poem says, only as a poem—I am no longer interested in the exterior attitude to which the poem may well point, as signboard. That concern I have found it best to settle elsewhere. I will not be misled by the "niceness" of any sentiment, or its converse, malevolence. I do not think a poet is necessarily a nice person. I think the poem's morality is contained as a term of its structure, and is there to be determined and nowhere else. (Pound: "Prosody is the total articulation of the sound in a poem.") Only craft determines the morality of a poem.

Louis Zukofsky offers A Test of Poetry as "the range of pleasure it offers as sight, sound, and intellection." I am pleased by that poem

Nomad , Winter–Spring 1960.


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which makes use of myself and my intelligence, as a partner to its declaration. It does not matter what I am told—it matters, very much, how I am there used. Our world has been so delivered to the perversion of language (the word qua trick or persuader) that my own soul, such as I know it, comes to life in whatever clarities are offered to it. Poems allow me to go on living, and I am grateful for my life.


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A Note on the Local

The local is not a place but a place in a given man—what part of it he has been compelled or else brought by love to give witness to in his own mind. And that is THE form, that is, the whole thing, as whole as it can get.

I think we will be fools to be embarrassed by it. We know the other neatness possible, the way of the neat pattern, and the dodging which it must call for. Grace has no part in that. At some point reached by us, sooner or later, there is no longer much else but ourselves, in the place given us. To make that present, and actual for other men, is not an embarrassment, but love.

First Person , no. 1, 1961.


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A Quick Graph

1. Recent BBC broadcasts of Pound interviews summarize the following:

a) Writing: "You can't have a literature without curiosity. You cannot have a literature without curiosity . And when a writer's curiosity dies out, he is finished. You can do all the tricks you like, but without curiosity you get no literature with any life in it. . . ."

b) Literacy: "A man has a right to have his ideas examined one at a time. . . ." (This parallels another comment made earlier, to the effect: literacy consists of the ability to recognize the same idea in different formulations. Both relate to Pound's insistence on the need to be able to dissociate ideas, i.e., to separate those living from those dead.)

2. Measure—which Dr. Williams continues to hammer at, as in a recent mimeographed sheet, "The American Idiom":

"We must go forward uncertainly it may be, but courageously as we may. Be assured that measure in mathematics as in verse is unescapable, so in reply to the fixed foot of the ancient line including the Elizabethans we must have a reply: it is the variable foot which we are beginning to discover after Whitman's advent. . . ."

One academic, Scully Bradley, some years ago made use of a shifting stress concept in an attempt to 'scan' Whitman—prompted

Floating Bear , no. 2, 1961.


481

quite probably by the need to regularize common to such men; yet he showed understanding of the fact that the stress may be variable and yet cohesive in over-all effect. Too, he made the point of the 'rhyming' implicit in parallel or recurrent thought patterns (much as those used by Allen Ginsberg). Our ears tell us, certainly, that syllables may be grouped in a poem in such a way that they defy usual concepts of metric, and yet maintain a decided rhythm. In practice this has long been established. What does need revision is the old practice of 'phrasal' grouping, qua line, a loose solution tending to fall apart as the 'idea' the phrase implies exhausts itself and/or reaches its end. Poems of this sort read: The man sat down/ on the chair/ and lifted his foot/ into the air, etc. At no point should the rhythms peculiar to the given word, in the context it comes to define , be lost track of. All rhythm is specific. (Which in turn explains the boredom implicit in generalized iambics, etc.)

3. A sense of order—Louis Zukofsky defines one in his essay, "Poetry":[*]

"With respect to such action ["utterance," i.e., the movement of spoken words toward poetry] the specialized concern of the poet will be, first, its proper conduct—a concern to avoid clutter no matter how many details outside and in the head are ordered. This does not presume that the style will be the man, but rather that the order of his syllables will define his awareness of order. For his second and major aim is not to show himself but that order that of itself can speak to all men."

Or reading backwards:

"The choice for science and poetry when symbols or words stop measuring is to stop speaking."

Such order proves as well "the contest any poet has with his art: working toward a perception that is his mind's peace," which Zukofsky has spoken of in Bottom: On Shakespeare .

4. Range—which can be variously characterized:

a) Zukofsky: " . . . the scientific definition of poetry can be based on nothing less than the world, the entire humanly known world."


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b) Olson's Maximus has built from a like premise, with the corollary:

He left him naked
the man said, and
nakedness
is what one means

that all start up
to the eye and soul
as though it had never
happened before

c) It is equally Duncan's:

        that foot informed
by the weight of all things
             that can be elusive
no more than a nearness to the mind
            of a single image

Range implies both what there is to deal with, and the where-withal we can bring to that activity. Range describes the world in the limits of perception. It is the "field" in the old Pythagorean sense that "terms," as John Burnet says, are "boundary stones" and the place they so describe the "field" itself.


483

"Statement" for the Paterson Society

A poem is a peculiar instance of language's uses, and goes well beyond the man writing—finally to the anonymity of any song. In this sense it may be that a poet works toward a final obliteration of himself, making that all the song—at last free of his own time and place. It is curious that this can be most true of that most personal, wherein the man leaves the environment of years and faces, to make his own the poem. But he can only do this, it seems to me, by the most scrupulous localism—because only the particular instance proves free in this way.

Again and again I find myself saved, in words—helped, allowed, returned to possibility and hope. In the dilemma of some literal context a way is found in the words which may speak of it.

Guatemala
January 31, 1961

Floating Bear , no. 6, 1961.


484

Why Bother?

An art begins prior to its conclusion—which is why there can be, with great use, an occasion offering that sense of means which conclusions per se deny. It can be put more simply. A magazine, not interested in being either the last word apropos some function, or taste, or simply a reflection of what is already 'valued' speciously or not—such a magazine may define the new possibility by being, quite literally, the place where it can be formulated.

No matter what becomes of it, art is local, local to a place and to a person, or group of persons, or just what's in the air despite how vague that sounds. It happens somewhere, not everywhere. When it does so happen everywhere, it has become a consequence of taste purely, a vogue or fashion, and/or what Pound calls 'style of the period,' and definition has given way to a reflection of a given effect.

No man can work free of the influence of those whom he may respect in his own art, and why 'originality' should imply, in any sense, that he should, is hard to follow. The light moves, so to speak, and those who see it have secured an 'originality' quite beyond that qualified by terms of personality or intent. In poetry, as in other arts, what is learned is first learned by the example, that is, by what exists in the art as a complex definition of possibilities: literally, this or that poem. Taste operates here as well, of course, but again Pound is relevant in that he said, damn your taste, I would

Tish , September 14, 1962.


485

like first to sharpen your perceptions, after which your taste can take care of itself.

May I submit that when the poem, or the opinion, or the taste, has come to that security of whatever large magazine—friendly or not—one may point to, then all has become primarily taste, an approval of taste, and that the actual work of definition which allowed taste its turn has gone?

A friend said once of his wife, that she said she wanted to be a singer, but what she really wanted to be was famous. One can be famous in many magazines, but not in those given to the definition of what a poem, right now, can be. There are no readers, and there are, even, few writers, who will care to be bothered by what may be an attention alien to their own. Can you blame a German, French, English poet for not caring specifically about what you face, here and now, as problems? But can you care for his, if all your mind is centered on the peculiar structure of that language given you, to effect, by its forms and its sounds, what it is, precisely, that you feel only as a poem? With nothing at all sentimental about it, and "Only the poem / only the made poem, to get said what must / be said . . ." as Williams writes all his life.

It is very possible that what one defines, as means, as possibilities, will prove only a temporary instance, a place soon effaced by other use, as when a whole city block is leveled to make a parking lot, or park. But that is the risk. One cannot avoid it, or do otherwise.

I believe in a magazine which is the specific issue of a few men, facing similar problems, places, things. They may, given ability, find the next step all must take if only because they are forced to take each such step with their own feet.


486

A Sense of Measure

I am wary of any didactic program for the arts and yet I cannot ignore the fact that poetry, in my own terms of experience, obtains to an unequivocal order. What I deny, then, is any assumption that that order can be either acknowledged or gained by intellectual assertion, or will, or some like intention to shape language to a purpose which the literal act of writing does not itself discover. Such senses of pattern as I would admit are those having to do with a preparatory ritual, and however vague it may sound, I mean simply that character of invocation common to both prayer and children's games.

But it is more relevant here to make understood that I do not feel the usual sense of subject in poetry to be of much use. My generation has a particular qualification to make of this factor because it came of age at a time when a man's writing was either admitted or denied in point of its agreement with the then fashionable concerns of 'poetic' comment. William Carlos Williams was, in this way, as much criticized for the things he said as for the way in which he said them. I feel that 'subject' is at best a material of the poem, and that poems finally derive from some deeper complex of activity.

I am interested, for example, to find that "automatic or inspirational speech tends everywhere to fall into metrical patterns" as E. R. Dodds notes in The Greeks and the Irrational . Blake's "Hear the voice of the Bard" demands realization of a human phenomenon, not recognition of some social type. If we think of the orders of

Times Literary Supplement , August 6, 1964.


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experience commonly now acknowledged, and of the incidence of what we call chance , it must be seen that no merely intellectual program can find reality, much less admit it, in a world so complexly various as ours has proved.

Recent studies in this country involved with defining the so-called creative personality have defined very little indeed and yet one of their proposals interests me. It is that men and women engaged in the arts have a much higher tolerance for disorder than is the usual case. This means, to me, that poets among others involved in comparable acts have an intuitive apprehension of a coherence which permits them a much greater admission of the real, the phenomenal world, than those otherwise placed can allow. Perhaps this is little more than what Otto Rank said some time ago in Art and Artist concerning the fact that an artist does die with each thing he does, insofar as he depends upon the conclusion of what possibilities do exist for him. Paradoxically, nothing can follow from that which is altogether successful. But again this risk is overcome—in the imagination—by trust of that coherence which no other means can discover. It would seem to me that occasional parallels between the arts and religion may well come from this coincidence of attitude, at least at times when neither philosophy nor psychology is the measure of either.

Lest I be misunderstood—by 'religion' I mean a basic visionary experience, not a social order or commitment, still less a moral one. Gary Snyder tells me that the Indians consider the experience of visions a requisite for attaining manhood. So they felt their enemy, the whites, not men, simply that so few of the latter had ever gained this measure of their own phenomenality. In this sense I am more interested, at present, in what is given to me to write apart from what I might intend. I have never explicitly known—before writing—what it was that I would say. For myself, articulation is the intelligent ability to recognize the experience of what is so given, in words. I do not feel that such a sense of writing is 'mindless' or 'automatic' in a pejorative way. At the end of Paterson V Williams writes:

—Learning with age to sleep my life away:
saying        .

      The measure intervenes, to measure is all we know . . .

I am deeply interested in the act of such measure , and I feel it to involve much more than an academic sense of metric. There can no


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longer be a significant discussion of the meter of a poem in relation to iambs and like terms because linguistics has offered a much more detailed and sensitive register of this part of a poem's activity. Nor do I feel measure to involve the humanistic attempt to relate all phenomena to the scale of human appreciation thereof. And systems of language—the world of discourse which so contained Sartre et al.—are also for me a false situation if it is assumed they offer a modality for being, apart from description. I am not at all interested in describing anything.

I want to give witness not to the thought of myself—that specious concept of identity—but, rather, to what I am as simple agency, a thing evidently alive by virtue of such activity. I want, as Charles Olson says, to come into the world. Measure, then, is my testament. What uses me is what I use and in that complex measure is the issue. I cannot cut down trees with my bare hand, which is measure of both tree and hand. In that way I feel that poetry, in the very subtlety of its relation to image and rhythm, offers an intensely various record of such facts. It is equally one of them.


489

"Poems Are a Complex"

Poems are a complex, and exist by virtue of many things. First, they are a structure of sounds and rhythms which cohere to inform the reader (whether he listen aloud or in silence) with a recognition of their order. In this respect, I much agree with Louis Zukofsky's note of his own poetics, which, as he says, comprise a function having as lower limit speech, and upper limit music. Pound's note, that "Prosody is the articulation of the total sound of a poem," has equal relevance.

Since words are the material, and words have meanings in other senses, that fact also has pertinence. But I do not feel that thing in the language we call a poem has to do with a literal issue of semantic meaning. Yet that aspect of meaning is a material also, and clearly enters into the issue of image, or statement—or all such effects of something said.

I think for myself the primary term is that words can move in the measure of song, although I do not wish to confuse poetry with music. But in a poem I tend to hear whatever can be called its melody long before I have reached an understanding of all that it might mean.

Finally, I use several measures though never with much literal consciousness. Two further statements of Pound's long ago attracted me: "Only emotion endures . . ." and "Nothing counts save the quality of the emotion. . . ." I have used that sense with respect to all instances of writing, but I would feel, as he, that poetry is that

A Nosegay in Black , Autumn 1966.


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most fully charged with meaning. To that I would now add a recent emphasis of Olson's: "That which exists through itself is what is called meaning."

In other words, poems are not referential, or at least not importantly so. They have 'meaning' in that they do 'exist through themselves.' I have no very clear sense of where they may come from, but I have felt them most evident when least assumed. Lorca's "Theory and Function of the Duende " is interesting to me, although I would not so simply discredit either the Angel or the Muse to gain the "dark sounds" only. But I do feel poems to involve an occasion to which a man pays obedience, and which intentions alone never yield.

There are many ways indeed to say any of this, and I can't feel any one to be sufficient. I think I first felt a poem to be what might exist in words as primarily the fact of its own activity. Later, of course, I did see that poems might comment on many things, and reveal many attitudes and qualifications. Still, it was never what they said about things that interested me. I wanted the poem itself to exist and that could never be possible as long as some subject significantly elsewhere was involved. There had to be an independence derived from the very fact that words are things too. Poems gave me access to this fact more than any other possibility in language.

July 30, 1965


491

A Statement about the Poem "The Name"

My own centers of feeling have much to do with my family—literally my wife, and my three daughters. Feeling, or perhaps best to call it emotion , is for me the most significant content of a poem. I don't always or even often care what a poem is talking about , but I do care very markedly about the senses and the intensity of the emotion thus engendered. This poem, then, was and is a way of feeling about the fact of my daughter—a way of making that feeling evident for a time when, perhaps, it will be a pleasure and reassurance for her to know both how she came to be, and how then that fact was felt. It is equally for all my daughters.

Too, I like the way this poem moves, in its lines, in the way certain words pick up echoes of rhyme in others, sometimes very clearly, sometimes only as a shading. I like the syncopation of the rhythms—most evident if you will make a distinct pause (called a terminal juncture! ) at the end of each line, and will read the words relaxedly yet clearly, one by one. I feel poetry as a complex of sounds and rhythms, which move in a parallel to music. In fact, I believe it is just this complex that makes poetry be the very singular fact of words which it is.

Poems for Young Readers , National Council of Teachers of English, November 24–26, 1966.


492

Notes Apropos "Free Verse"

I think the term "free verse" proves awkward just now in that it seems anchored in an opposition to a sense of traditional verse patterns, which are, because of their situation as history, more trusted. "Free" has such a width of associations—"free man," "free fall," "free prizes," etc. Too, it seems relevant that this sense of verse comes largely from American practice and that its primary figure is Whitman.

It nonetheless provokes a real situation. For example, Yvor Winters' tracking of "impulse" as informing principle in Emerson's discussions of poetry, as equally in Whitman's, and then in Crane's, cites the significance of this way of stating oneself in poetry as well as the historical range of its occasion. If one thinks of the literal root of the word verse, "a line, furrow, turning—vertere , to turn . . . ," he will come to a sense of "free verse" as that instance of writing in poetry which "turns" upon an occasion intimate with, in fact, the issue of, its own nature rather than to an abstract decision of "form" taken from a prior instance.

The point is, simply enough, why does the "line" thus "turn" and what does inform it in that movement? Clearly to say that it is "free" or equally that it is "unfree" is to say nothing of much interest. I was impressed a few years ago, reading Joshua Whatmough's Language , to find him saying, as a linguist, that there was no explicit understanding as to why poetry "turns" in any instance at the precise moment it does—that is, no device of measure then defined

Naked Poetry , ed. Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969).


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could anticipate the precise articulations of this shifting in verse, no matter the verse be "traditional" or "free." Linguistics has, in other respects, qualified usefully the assumptions of traditional metrical systems in making evident the varying "weights" observable in "stress" (at least four in number) which had previously been dealt with in patterns which qualified syllables as "stressed" or "unstressed"—in short, a very imprecise and clumsy approximation of the activity.

I am myself hopeful that linguistic studies will bring to contemporary criticism a vocabulary and method more sensitive to the basic activity of poetry and less dependent upon assumed senses of literary style. Jakobson's use of "contiguity" and "parallelism" as two primary modes of linguistic coherence interests me. Too, I would like to see a more viable attention paid to syntactical environment, to what I can call crudely "grammartology."

However, these are senses of things still far from my own experience in writing. So, briefly, as to that. I feel, as Robert Duncan put it, "a kind of readiness," much like that makes one feel like taking a walk, some imminence of occasion that has not as yet become literal. I have never, to my own recollection, anticipated the situation of my own writing in the sense of what I was about to say. It is certain enough that preoccupations recur—"themes," as Duncan has called them—but how these might gain statement as writing could not be proposed except as the literal writing then found means. I was struck by a comment Franz Kline once made: "If I paint what I know, I bore myself. If I paint what you know, I bore you. So I paint what I don't know. . . ." I write what I don't know. I feel the situation parallel to what Pollock suggests by his statement, "when I am in my painting. . . ." This, I feel, to be the condition Charles Olson defines in the key essay, "Projective Verse":

From the moment he [a poet] ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION—put himself in the open—he can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined. . . .

Pound notes Yeats' dependence upon "a chune in his head"—and it is that equally, an ordering that is taking place as one writes, which one follows much as he might the melodic line of some song.

The simplest way I have found to make clear my own sense of writing in this respect is to use the analogy of driving. The road, as it were, is creating itself momently in one's attention to it, there, visi-


494

bly, in front of the car. There is no reason it should go on forever, and if one does so assume it, it very often disappears all too actually. When Pound says, "we must understand what is happening," one sense of his meaning I take to be this necessary attention to what is happening in the writing (the road) one is, in the sense suggested, following. In that way there is nothing mindless about the procedure. It is, rather, a respect for the possibilities of such attention that brings Allen Ginsberg to say, "Mind is shapely." Mind, thus engaged, permits experience of "order" far more various and intensive than habituated and programmed limits of its subtleties can recognize.

I think each man writing will have some way, so to speak, intimate with his own condition. That is, I feel there will be an inherent condition for an ordering intimate to the fact of himself as literal organism. Again, one of the several virtues of Olson's "Projective Verse" was that of returning to poetry its relation with physiological condition.

For my own part I feel a rhythmic possibility, an inherent periodicity in the weights and durations of words, to occur in the first few words, or first line, or lines, of what it is I am writing. Because I am the man I am, and think in the patterns I do, I tend to posit intuitively a balance of four , a foursquare circumstance, be it walls of a room or legs of a table, that reassures me in the movement otherwise to be dealt with. I have, at times, made reference to my own interest when younger (and continuingly) in the music of Charlie Parker—an intensive variation on 'foursquare' patterns such as "I've Got Rhythm." Listening to him play, I found he lengthened the experience of time, or shortened it, gained a very subtle experience of 'weight,' all by some decision made within the context of what was called "improvisation"—but what I should rather call the experience of possibility within the limits of his materials (sounds and durations) and their environment (all that they had as what Pound calls "increment of association" but equally all they had as literal condition, their phenomenological fact). There is an interview with Dizzy Gillespie (in the Paris Review , No. 35) in which he speaks of rhythm particularly in a way I very much respect. If time is measure of change , our sense of it becomes what we can apprehend as significant condition of change —in poetry as well as in music.

In any case, Williams showed me early on that rhythm was a very subtle experience, and that words might share equivalent duration


495

even though "formally" they seemed in no way to do so. Pound said, "LISTEN to the sound that it makes," and Olson, in like emphasis, made it evident that we could only go "By ear."

Finally, there was and is the fact of, what it was one had to say—in Louis Zukofsky's sense, "Out of deep need. . . ." I never spoke easily and had to write, for the most part, just as adamantly. There is a section of Williams' "The Desert Music" which might be my own:

You seem quite normal. Can you tell me? Why
does one want to write a poem?

                           Because it's there to be written.

Oh. A matter of inspiration then?

                                                  Of necessity.

Oh. But what sets it off?

                  I am that he whose brains
                  are scattered
                              aimlessly . . .

Why after all say any of this—but for some fear one is not "doing it right" and isn't that, even, the occasion for such argument as still can exist on the subject of "free verse," which is at best some "historical" label. Williams, at the end of "The Desert Music," says all that anyone can:

                                                    I  am  a poet! I
am. I am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed

Now the music volleys through as in
a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all
about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself
seeking to become articulate

        And I could not help thinking
        of the wonders of the brain that
        hears that music and of our
        skill sometimes to record it.

December 11, 1966


496

"I'm given to write poems"

I'm given to write poems. I cannot anticipate their occasion. I have used all the intelligence that I can muster to follow the possibilities that the poem "under hand," as Olson would say, is declaring, but I cannot anticipate the necessary conclusions of the activity, nor can I judge in any sense, in moments of writing, the significance of that writing more than to recognize that it is being permitted to continue. I'm trying to say that, in writing, at least as I have experienced it, one is in the activity, and that fact itself is what I feel so deeply the significance of anything that we call poetry.

For some sense, then, of how it was I came to be involved with poetry, at the outset I was much more interested in writing apart from its designated modes, and perhaps I am characteristically American in that respect. To begin with, I was shy of the word "poet" and all its associations in a world I was then intimate with. It was not, in short, a fit attention for a young man raised in the New England manner, compact of puritanically deprived senses of speech and sensuality. Life was real and life was earnest, and one had best get on with it. The insistent preoccupation with words did begin for me early, just that I did want so much to know what people were saying, and what, more precisely, they meant by it.

I think the most significant encounter for me as a young man trying to write was that found in the work of William Carlos Williams.

Lecture delivered at the Literarisches Colloquium, Berlin, January 1967; published in Ein Gedicht und sein Autor / Lyrik und Essay , Herausgegeben und mit Einleitungen versehen von Walter Höllerer (Berlin, 1967), and in Harper's Bazaar , July 1967.


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He engaged language at a level both familiar and active to my own senses, and made of his poems an intensively emotional perception, however evident his intelligence. Despite his insistence on his Mediterranean connections, so to speak, he was as Puritan as I—or Lawrence, or Thoreau or the Melville of Pierre .

Otherwise, the forties—the time in which I came of age—were complicated in many bitter ways indeed. Not the least of the problems then evident for someone trying to realize him or herself in the world was the confusion about the very nature of "literature" itself. Coming from New England, I felt awkwardness about books to begin with, because they were for me often instances of social mark or measure, even at times a privilege of intellectual order—just as Hardy speaks of them in Jude the Obscure . I was very shy about communicating my own commitments in reading, and yet I used books as a very real place to be. Not merely an escape from the world—the difficulty was how to get into it, not away—books proved a place very deeply open to me, at moments of reading, in a sense few others were ever to be.

Thinking of that, let me note kinship with another writer—Robert Duncan—who has played a very important role in my life, both as mentor, very often, and as one whom I feel to share with me this particular sense of world, and writing, and poetry, which I most deeply respect. In a collection of his called The Opening of the Field , significantly enough, the first poem begins:

OFTEN I AM PERMITTED TO RETURN TO A MEADOW

Then continues:

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,
that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

This sense of a poem—that place , that meadow —has echoes of so many things that are intimate to my own sense of the reality experienced in writing. One would find that field or "meadow" in Whitman also, and it would be equally the sense of place I feel Allen Ginsberg many times to be entering, to be speaking of or longing for. Charles Olson too possesses its occasion in his sense of "open" verse or that open field , as he insists upon it, in composition.


498

I have found it deeply in H.D.'s writing: "I go where I love and am loved. . . ." And in Pound's "What thou lovest well remains,/ the rest is dross. . . ."

What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
                                               or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
    Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage. . . .

All of these are, to my own mind, not only tokens but evidences of a place, a very distinct and definite place , that poetry not only creates but itself issues from—and one in writing is, as Duncan says, "permitted to return," to go there, to be in that reality. There is a poem by Allen Ginsberg which has always moved me deeply. He calls it simply "Song" and it is included in the first collection of his poetry, Howl . The closing lines of this poem are:

yes, yes,
               that's what
I wanted,
              I always wanted,
I always wanted,
              to return
to the body
              where I was born.

That body is the "field" and is equally the experience of it. It is, then, to "return" not to oneself as some egocentric center, but to experience oneself as in the world, thus, through this agency or fact we call, variously, "poetry."

In the same passage quoted from Duncan, there is another sense of much interest to me in the emphasis he puts upon "made": "a scene," as he says, "made-up by the mind,/ that is not mine, but is a made place,/ that is mine. . . ." And again, two lines following: "there is a hall therein/ that is a made place. . . ." This emphasis takes its occasion from the sense of poet as maker, going back to the Greek root, poiein , "to make."

One of the few books I've ever had that was stolen—not by me, as it happened, but by a girl I persuaded to steal it for me—was William Carlos Williams' The Wedge . It proved fire of a very real order, and, for the record, was subsequently stolen from me in turn when I was teaching at Black Mountain in the mid-fifties. In


499

1944, when it was first published and shortly after which I got hold of it, its content was a revelation to me. In the preface Williams makes this statement:

When a man makes a poem, makes it, mind you, he takes words as he finds them interrelated about him and composes them—without distortion which would mar their exact significances—into an intense expression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses. It isn't what he says that counts as a work of art, it's what he makes, with such intensity of perception that it lives with an intrinsic movement of its own to verify its authenticity.

I think this is very much the way Americans are given to speak—not in some dismay that they haven't another way to speak, but, rather, that they feel that they, perhaps more than any other group of people upon the earth at this moment, have had both to imagine and thereby to make that reality which they are then given to live in. It is as though they had to realize the world anew. They are, as Charles Olson says, "the last first people." Now, in contemporary fact, they are also the oldest issue of that imagination—even in some ways bitterly so, because they have thus inherited the world as not only a place to live in, but also as that reality for which they are responsible in every possible sense.

However, I would mistake my own experience of poetry if I were to propose it as something merely intentional , and what men may imagine, either as worlds or poems, is not simply a purpose either may satisfy. Williams also had no sense of patness in the making of a poem, or of a world—but felt, as he says in one of his own poems:

Be patient that I address you in a poem,
                   there is no other
                                       fit medium.
The mind
                   lives there. It is uncertain,
                                       can trick us and leave us
agonized. But for resources
                   what can equal it?
                                       There is nothing. We
should be lost
                   without its wings to
                                       fly off upon.
The mind is the cause of our distresses
                  but of it we can build anew.
                                       Oh something more than


500

it flies off to:
                   a woman's world,
                                       of crossed sticks, stopping
thought. A new world
                    is only a new mind.
                                        And the mind and the poem
are all apiece.

To put it simply indeed, it is not the intention to write that matters, but that one can —that such a possibility can exist in which the mind may make evident its resources apart from the limits of intention and purpose.

In "The Desert Music"—for myself the loveliest form he left us—Williams makes further qualification of the poem in its peculiar and singular function of making real:

                                                                   Only the poem
only the made poem, to get said what must
be said, not to copy nature, sticks
in our throats

The law? The law gives us nothing
but a corpse, wrapped in a dirty mantle.
The law is based on murder and confinement,
long delayed,
but this, following the insensate music,
is based on the dance:

                                                  an agony of self-realization
bound into a whole
by that which surrounds us

                                                                      I cannot escape
I cannot vomit it up

Only the poem!

Only the made poem, the verb calls it
                                                              into being.

Act becomes the primary issue of "verb," or verbum , a word. "In the beginning was the Word"—and the word was the reality of the imagination . The "music," which the poem's title emphasizes and which becomes so central a content in the poem's activity, is that which vivifies, the anima mundi , lifeness and/or life itself. Our response to it or what it creates, its effects in the reality we are given, is the "dance."

Now the music volleys through as in
a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all


501

about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself
seeking to become articulate

Poems are very specific kinds of dancing , because language is that possibility most specific to our condition as human beings. But I do not speak easily of these things because I feel, always, a timidity and confusion trying to isolate a sense that can only be experienced in the literal fact of the poem itself. It is as though I were trying to make actual a sense of wetness apart from water itself.

It is possible, nonetheless, to continue now to use those men I have used so much, to make evident what senses of poetry have been for me insistent. In "Maximus, to Gloucester" Charles Olson gives measure of the occasion in a way that informs my own:

He left him naked,
the man said, and
nakedness
is what one means

that all start up
to the eye and soul
as though it had never
happened before

My sense of his statement is this: in the fact of our lives we are brought to primary situations, primary terms of experience—what they might have meant by "first things first" but probably didn't. "Nakedness" is to stand manifestly in one's own condition, in that necessary freshness , however exposed, because all things are particular and reality itself is the specific content of an instant's possibility. In poems we realize, not in discursive or secondary manner, but with this implicit and absolutely consequential fact of firstness , terms of our own life, manifestations of that life which, otherwise, are most awkwardly acknowledged. It is, again, that "field" that Robert Duncan speaks of as being "permitted" to enter. First things. We arrive in poems at the condition of life most viable and most primal in our own lives.

I've said that I feel myself to be a poet who is given to write. And I'm even awkward about using that designation, that is, to call myself so, a poet—because I do not feel I have that decision in it. Yet the complexity of the dilemma seems to me a very real one. How shall we understand Williams' painfully marked insistence just before the close of "The Desert Music":


502

                                                         I  am  a poet! I
am. I am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed

In America, we are certainly not poets simply, nor much of the time.

The saints of my own calendar are saints of this exposure, beginning with Columbus and like men whose imagination realized, reified , one might say, the world I live in. They are Poe—who, as Williams makes clear, forced the local to yield him a world apart from the habits of English manner; Whitman—for the permission of life he insisted upon; Melville—the primary imagination of the isolation of our condition; Pound—who, like any Yankee, makes intelligence an invention of necessity; Hart Crane—whose "failure" regained the possibility of our response to what we are given to feel. It may well be that in the absence of such allusive society as European literature, in its own condition, has necessarily developed, the American in contrast must so realize each specific thing of his own—"as though it had never/ happened before." I think of Williams' sharply contemptuous answer to the British English professor, met with in Seattle, Washington, of all places, who asked him after a reading, "where he got his language"—to which Williams replied, "Out of the mouths of Polish mothers"—meaning not Polish, but the harsh, crude, blocked "poor English" of those immigrant women he had as patients in his profession as a doctor. My "saints," then, are those men who defined for me an explicit possibility in the speech that I was given to use, who made the condition of being American not something chauvinistically national but the intimate fact of one life in one place at one time.

To speak then of the writing itself, which I can do only tentatively—just that I am persuaded by Heisenberg that "observation impedes function"—I have again much depended upon senses of procedure and examples (which are, of course, the point) given me by such men. In the forties there was so much talk about the poem, about levels of meaning, ambiguities, symbols, allusions. It was even felt that criticism itself would prove the most significant literary activity of the time.

Pound, in contrast, spoke of the literal condition of the writing, and it was he I used as guide—and continue to now, twenty years later, because his advice proved facts of perception as active to my mind now as when I first came to them. For example, his quotation from Remy de Gourmont, "Freely to write what one chooses is the sole pleasure of a writer," continues for me the only actual measure


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of the occasion I am aware of. He gave me the experience of integrity as "Man standing by his word." More, he spoke so clearly of the explicit situation of writing:

In making a line of verse (and thence building the lines into passages) you have certain primal elements:

That is to say, you have the various 'articulate sounds' of the language, of its alphabet, that is, and the various groups of letters in syllables.

These syllables have differing weights and durations

A. original weights and durations

B. weights and durations that seem naturally imposed on them by the other syllable groups around them.

Those are the medium wherewith the poet cuts his design in TIME.

Against the arguments of taste and opinion which criticism so largely depends upon, Pound called attention to the character of the activity:

Rhythm is a form cut into TIME, as a design is determined SPACE. . . .

LISTEN to the sound that it makes . . .

However, it is really Charles Olson I must thank for whatever freedom I have as a poet, and I would value him equally with Pound and Williams and those others I have mentioned. Freedom has always been for me a difficult experience in that, when younger, I felt it had to propose senses of experience and of the world I was necessarily not in possession of—something in that way one might escape to. I mistook, I think, the meaning of "freely to write what one chooses," which both de Gourmont and Pound may well have had in mind, because I took "freely" to mean "without significant limit" and "chooses" to be an act of will. I therefore was slow in realizing the nature of Olson's proposal, that "Limits/ are what any of us/ are inside of," just that I had taken such "limits" to be a frustration of possibility rather than the literal possibility they in fact must provoke. Despite Pound—or rather, because I could not hope to gain such means as he had—I had to find my own way, and at first I was completely ignorant of what it might be.

In consequence, what Olson made clear to me during the late forties and early fifties was of very great use. I am speaking of the kind of thinking that is evident in his essay, "Projective Verse," written during the same time. Let me quote an instance:


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The objects which occur at every given moment of composition (of recognition, we can call it) are, can be, must be treated exactly as they do occur therein and not by any ideas or preconceptions from outside the poem, must be handled as a series of objects in field in such a way that a series of tensions (which they also are) are made to hold , and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of the poem which has forced itself, through the poet and them, into being.

Not long ago, in conversation, Robert Duncan qualified his sense of choice as being recognition , that is, choice is significantly the act of recognition, and I believe it. What one "chooses" in writing is importantly of this nature, for me, and composition is the fact and effect of such activity. One isn't putting things into poems, then, at least not as my own experience of writing informs me. There is never a "subject" about which one constructs an activity called "poetry." Nor can one, as Williams says, "copy nature," take from that which is elsewise informed some felicitious appearance, whether a rhyme or a so-called sentiment.

However best it might be put, what Olson made evident to me was that writing could be an intensely specific revelation of one's own content, and of the world the fact of any life must engage. It has nothing to do with "personalism"—which, like personality, is a mirror or reflective image sense, a cosmetic of intentions. To the contrary, what emerges in the writing I most value is a content which cannot be anticipated, which "tells you what you don't know," which you subvert, twist, or misrepresent only on peril of death.

What I have written I knew little of until I had written it. If at times I have said that I enjoy what I write, I mean that writing is for me the most viable and open condition of possibility in the world. Things have happened there, as they have happened nowhere else—and I am not speaking of "make-believe," which, be it said, is "as real as real can be." In poems I have both discovered and borne testament to my life in ways no other possibility has given me. Can I like all that I may prove to be, or does it matter? Am I merely living for my own approval? In writing it has seemed to me that such small senses of existence were altogether gone, and that, at last, the world "came true." Far from being its limit or director, the wonder is that I have found myself to be there also.


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The Black Mountain Review

In hindsight it is almost too simple to note the reasons for the publication of The Black Mountain Review . Toward the end of 1953 Black Mountain College—a decisive experimental school started in the early thirties by John Rice and others in Black Mountain, North Carolina—was trying to solve a persistent and most awkward problem. In order to survive it needed a much larger student enrollment, and the usual bulletins and announcements of summer programs seemed to have little effect. Either they failed to reach people who might well prove interested, or else the nature of the college itself was so little known that no one quite trusted its proposals. In consequence a summer workshop in pottery, which had among its faculty Hamada, Bernard Leach, and Peter Voulkos, found itself with some six rather dazzled persons for students. Whatever the cause—and no doubt it involves too the fact that all experimental colleges faced a very marked apathy during the fifties—some other means of finding and interesting prospective students had to be managed, and so it was that Charles Olson, then rector of the college, proposed to the other faculty members that a magazine might prove a more active advertisement for the nature and form of the college's program than the kind of announcement they had been depending upon.

This, at least, is a brief sense of how the college itself came to be involved in the funding of the magazine's publication. The costs, if I remember rightly, were about $500 an issue, so that the budget

Introduction to Black Mountain Review , 3 vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1969), a reprint of the original magazine issues.


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for a year's publication would be about $2000—hardly a large figure. But the college was in such tight financial condition that it could not easily find any money for any purpose, and so its support of the magazine, most accurately the decision of the faculty to commit such an amount to that purpose, was a deeply generous and characteristic act. Too, it's to be acknowledged that Olson's powers of persuasion were considerable.

The nature of the magazine itself, however, and the actual means of its publication, that is, literally its printing, are of another story which is really quite separate from the college itself. In the late forties, while living in Littleton, N.H., I had tried to start a magazine with the help of a college friend, Jacob Leed. He was living in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and had an old George Washington handpress. It was on that that we proposed to print the magazine. Then, at an unhappily critical moment, he broke his arm. I came running from New Hampshire—but after a full day's labor we found we had set two pages only, each with a single poem. So that was that.

What then to do with the material we had collected? Thanks to the occasion, I had found excuse to write to both Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. I didn't know what I really wanted of them but was of course deeply honored that they took me in any sense seriously. Pound very quickly seized on the possibility of our magazine's becoming in some sense a feeder for his own commitments, but was clearly a little questioning of our modus operandi . What he did give me, with quick generosity and clarity, was a kind of rule book for the editing of any magazine. For example, he suggested I think of the magazine as a center around which, "not a box within which/ any item." He proposed that verse consisted of a constant and a variant, and then told me to think from that to the context of a magazine. He suggested I get at least four others, on whom I could depend unequivocally for material, and to make their work the mainstay of the magazine's form. But then, he said, let the rest of it, roughly half, be as various and hogwild as possible, "so that any idiot thinks he has a chance of getting in." He cited instances of what he considered effective editing, The Little Review and the Nouvelle Revue Française when its editor gave complete license to the nucleus of writers on whom he depended 'to write freely what they chose.' Williams in like sense gave us active support and tried to put us in touch with other young writers, as Pound also did, who might help us find a company. But with our failure to find a means to print the magazine, it all came to an abrupt end. I remember Pound's consoling me with the comment


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that perhaps it was wise for "the Creel" to wait for a while before "he highflyz as editor," but things seemed bleak indeed.

Happily, there was what proved to be a very significant alternative. Cid Corman, then living in Boston and having also a weekly radio program there called "This Is Poetry," had come to be a friend. I had heard the program, by some fluke, in New Hampshire, wrote him, was not long after invited by him to read on the program, and soon after we were corresponding frequently, much involved with senses of contemporary writers and writing. It was Cid, in fact, who got me in touch with Olson, by way of their mutual friend, Vincent Ferrini—who sent me some of Olson's poems, with his own, for possible use in the magazine that had not yet collapsed. In returning Olson's poems to Vincent, I made the somewhat glib remark that he seemed to be "looking for a language," and got thereby my first letter from Olson himself, not particularly pleased by my comment and wanting to discuss it further, like they say. The letters thus resulting were really my education just that their range and articulation took me into terms of writing and many other areas indeed which I otherwise might never have entered. But the point now is that Cid, once Jake Leed's and my magazine was clearly dead, undertook himself to publish a magazine called Origin . Significantly enough, its first issue includes some of the material I had collected—for example, Paul Blackburn's, whom I had come to know through Pound's agency—and features the work of Charles Olson, specifically the first of the Maximus sequence, as well as other poems and prose.

Origin was, in fact, the meeting place for many of the writers who subsequently became the active nucleus for The Black Mountain Review . More than any other magazine of that period, it undertook to make place for the particular poets who later come to be called the "Black Mountain School." In its issues prior to 1954, and continuingly, it gave first significant American publication to Denise Levertov, Irving Layton, Robert Duncan, Paul Carroll, Paul Blackburn, Larry Eigner, myself, and a number of others as well. Although I had, for example, published stories in the Kenyon Review and the New Directions Annual , neither place could afford me the actual company nor the range of my own work that Origin 's second issue provided. For me it was an acknowledgment I had almost begun to think impossible, and I am sure that Cid's consistent support of our writing has much to do with what became of it.

The point is that we felt, all of us, a great distance from the more conventional magazines of that time. Either they were dominated


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by the New Critics, with whom we could have no relation, or else they were so general in character, that no active center of coherence was possible. There were exceptions certainly. Golden Goose , edited by Frederick Eckman and Richard Wirtz Emerson, was clearly partisan to myself and also to Olson, and published my first book, Le Fou , and would have published a collection of Olson's, The Praises , but for a misunderstanding between him and the editors, when the book was already in proof. Both men were much involved with Williams, and made his example and commitment the center for their own. There were also other, more occasional magazines, as Goad —whose editor, Horace Schwartz, involved me in a useful defense of my interest in Ezra Pound, just that it helped clarify my own terms of value.

But, with the exception of Origin , and possibly Golden Goose also, only two magazines of that time, the early fifties, had finally either the occasion or the sense of procedure, which served as my own measure of the possibility. One, Fragmente , edited and published in Freiburg, Germany, by Rainer Gerhardt—whose acquaintance I was also to make through Pound's help—was a heroically ambitious attempt to bring back into the German literary canon all that writing which the years of the Third Reich had absented from it. Rainer and his wife, living in great poverty with two young sons, were nonetheless able to introduce to the German context an incredible range of work, including that of Olson, Williams, Pound, Bunting, and myself. I was its American editor but its literal activity was completely the efforts of Rainer and Renate. Their conception of what such a magazine might accomplish was a deep lesson to me. They saw the possibility of changing the context of writing, and I think myself that this magazine, and also the small paperbacks they were able to publish, effectually accomplished this for present German poetry—despite the bitter fact of Rainer's early death.

In like sense, a group of young writers of various nationalities centered in Paris was of great interest to me. They were led by a lovely, obdurate and resourceful Scot, Alexander Trocchi, and included the British poet, Christopher Logue, and the brilliant American translator, Austryn Wainhouse. Others too were of equal interest, Patrick Bowles, for example, who translated the first of Beckett's French novels into English—and Richard Seaver, who was later to become a decisive editor for Grove Press. Again, what these men proposed to do with their magazine, Merlin , and the books which they also published with the help of the Olympia Press as Collection Merlin, was to change the situation of literary context


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and evaluation. I've given a brief, personal sense of my relation to Trocchi in a novel, The Island , where he figures as "Manus." I was also invited by them to be an associate editor on the magazine—but by that time the funds necessary to continue publication of the magazine were not obtainable. But their translation of Genet and Beckett's work as well as their brilliant critical writing, which extended to political thinking as well as literary, made them an exceptional example of what a group of writers might do.

By 1954 my wife and I were already much involved with a small press called the Divers Press. We had moved from France to Mallorca, and had become close friends with a young English couple, Martin Seymour-Smith and his wife, Janet. It was Martin who first interested us in publishing books, since, as he pointed out, printing costs were exceptionally cheap on the island and so much might be done on a shoestring. But our initial venture together, the Roebuck Press, came a cropper because Martin's interests were not really decisively my own nor mine his. We did publish a selection of his poems, All Devils Fading , but our center was finally in writers like Olson (Mayan Letters ), Paul Blackburn (Proensa and The Dissolving Fabric ), Irving Layton (In the Midst of My Fever ), Douglas Woolf (The Hypocritic Days ), Larry Eigner (From the Sustaining Air ), and, though he comes a bit later, Robert Duncan (Caesar's Gate ). We also published Katue Kitasono's Black Rain , and it is a design of his that is used for the covers of the first four issues of The Black Mountain Review and the credits page. What I felt was the purpose of the press has much to do with my initial sense of the magazine also. For me, and the other writers who came to be involved, it was a place defined by our own activity and accomplished altogether by ourselves—a place wherein we might make evident what we, as writers, had found to be significant, both for ourselves and for that world—no doubt often vague to us indeed—we hoped our writing might enter. To be published in the Kenyon Review was too much like being "tapped" for a fraternity. It was too often all over before one got there, and few if any of one's own fellow writers came too. Therefore there had to be both a press and a magazine absolutely specific to one's own commitments and possibilities. Nothing short of that was good enough.

Origin had already done, in some sense, as much as one could hope for, and I remember having doubts about either the use or the practicality of simply another magazine more or less "like" it. I certainly didn't want to compete with Cid. But one possibility did seem to me lacking in Origin , despite occasional notes and reviews,


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and that was the ground that an active, ranging critical section might effect. I wasn't thinking of criticism finally as judgment of whether or no this or that book might be deemed "good" or "bad." What I hoped for, and happily did get, was critical writing that would break down habits of "subject" and gain a new experience of context generally. If I have any disappointment in the magazine in retrospect, it's only that this part of it does not extend as far as I had hoped. Still, Jung's "The Mass & the Individuation Process" (in the fifth issue)—which I remember he sent to "The Black Mount Review," which pun, unintentional I assume, was a delight—and Borges' "Three Versions of Judas" (in the seventh issue)—which I read with absolute seriousness, not realizing it was a "fiction"—are some instance of what I was after. But, and here I was much influenced by Olson, the possible range of such writing as we conceived of it was never fully demonstrated.

There have been various comments and summaries published with respect to The Black Mountain Review 's activity as a little magazine. Most lively and helpful, I think, is Paul Blackburn's account which appears in Kulchur (Vol. 3, No. 10, Summer 1963), called "The Grinding Down." Among other things, he identifies the initials used by reviewers in the first four issues, and also the pseudonyms used for signature in some other instances. Too, Kent State University Library, in one of its bulletins, provides an accurate and useful bibliography together with a brief note by myself. But now I think it best that the pseudonyms stay pseudonyms, and that initials, if not recognized (I used three sets, for example), be part of the present reader's experience. Often I, or some friend I could quickly get hold of, had to fill blank pages, to manage our length of sixty-four pages, or subsequently the longer format of two hundred and twenty plus. I at times had nightmares of having to write the whole thing myself.

The contributing editors listed in the first issue conform to that sense Pound had earlier made clear: get a center of people you can depend on for consistently active contributions, elsewise you'll have nothing to build with. Olson was to prove that center almost single-handedly, but Blackburn was also very helpful, with all manner of support including legwork around New York to get the magazine into stores as well as much sympathetic and practical handholding. Layton I had come to know through a Canadian mimeographed magazine, Contact , which many of us had been involved with as its contents will show. He had an intensive energy and obviously was restless with what was then the Canadian literary milieu. His


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brother-in-law, John Sutherland, editor of the Northern Review , no longer invited him to literary parties because Irving's conduct was too irascible. So he was an unequivocal cohort and wrote, happily, voluminous amounts of verse. If I remember rightly, I also asked others as well—in particular Paul Goodman, who answered he'd prefer being just a contributor, since his other commitments very possibly would not give him time to do more. Rexroth generously agreed although we had little information of each other beyond his own public figure. Less happily, by the time he'd read the first issue, he had realized his error and his withdrawal (as well as that of Paul Blackburn, whose reasons were happily less adamant) is noted at the back of the Fall 1954 issue along with a defensive comment by myself.

Many of the writers who became very decisive to the magazine are not so listed, however. Robert Duncan is very much one of these. His first contribution, sent at Olson's suggestion, was a poem I in turn suggested we print a section of—and Duncan's response was to the effect that if he had wanted a section of the poem printed, he would have sent it—and I learned much from him also. There was one very amusing confusion involved with a poem of his I did print, in the Fall 1954 issue, "Letters for Denise Levertov: For A Muse Ment." Apparently Denise, for some reason, took it as a parody on her own way of writing, and was thus hurt. And Olson too thought it was some kind of attack on him. I think that poor Duncan and myself were the only ones unequivocally to enjoy it, and it remains for me an extraordinary summary and exemplum of contemporary possibilities in poetry.

Denise herself, Louis Zukofsky (whom I found thanks to Edward Dahlberg and also Duncan), Jonathan Williams, and Robert Hellman (a close friend first in France, who subsequently came to teach briefly at Black Mountain), all were of great help to me in that they were there to be depended on, for specific writing but equally, for a very real sense of the whole act's not being merely a whistling in the dark but something making a way. God knows one often doubted it. Holding to Pound's sense of letting at least part of the magazine seem wide open, I know I printed work at times that any of them must have been puzzled by. Some things I just liked, for example, Gautier's "The Hippopotamus," which appears in the fifth issue. I still do. However, I've never found anyone to share my pleasure in "The Goat Man," by Harold Lee Drake, in the sixth issue. He wrote, to put it mildly, extraordinary prose—including one piece involved with masturbating by the seashore, which the


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condition of censorship in the fifties never permitted me to print. He was one of the contributors who came out of nowhere, and unhappily seems to have returned there, since I've never seen his work printed again.

Of contributors generally, I've defined, I think, the character of one group clearly evident throughout the magazine's publication. These are writers who have either come together earlier, in Origin , or who are "found" by the same nature of attention that Origin 's preoccupations had effected. Louis Zukofsky would be one of these latter as would be also Edward Dahlberg. There are also "occasional" contributors, like Paul Goodman, and those who simply appear with no previous or necessarily continuing sense of relationship, like James Purdy. I think we were, possibly, the first magazine to print his work in America, and that was surely a pleasure. He had found us somehow, submitted the story, and I printed it. The same is true of Sherry Mangan's story (a curious echo from the twenties) in the seventh issue, or of Alfred Kreymborg's "Metaphysical Ballad" printed there as well.

But two other kinds of contributor were particularly significant. Thus far the relation to the college itself must seem the fact that it was paying for the magazine's publication, and that Olson was the rector of the college. Although Hellman, Duncan, and myself were briefly on the faculty, this was somewhat after the fact because the nature of the magazine was determined otherwise and really prior to that fact. But if those contributors are noted who were either students at the college at the time, or had recently been so, then a relation of the college to the magazine, and particularly to Olson's influence as a teacher, becomes very clear. First there is Jonathan Williams—who is certainly not a "student" at this point, but who is much interested in the college and in Olson particularly, as his own publishing (Jargon ) makes clear. Look at the advertisements for his press in the various issues of the magazine, for further instance. Then there is Joel Oppenheimer, who had left the college not long before the publication of the first issue and so comes into its activity by that fact. Then Fielding Dawson—also absent at this point from the college, in the army in Stuttgart, but again much involved by relation to the college and so to the magazine also. Then there are those literally there: Edward Dorn, Michael Rumaker, and Tom Field. Dorn had published one poem in Origin , in an issue edited by Denise Levertov, and his story in The Black Mountain Review is, I think, his first published prose—and clear example of what is to be his extraordinary ability in that mode as well as in poetry. Michael


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Rumaker has his first publication of any kind in the magazine, with two stories I feel to be as fine as ever were published—in fact, "The Pipe" I think as exceptional a piece of writing as any of any time. Then, finally, Tom Field—actually a painter, but whose writing struck me usefully, though it has not proven of major interest to himself. But think of it—that a college having an enrollment of about twenty people as average during the time the magazine is published should have such gifted men as Dorn, Rumaker, Dawson, Oppenheimer, and Williams have so proven themselves to be. Hopefully, it makes excuse for the kind of eulogy these comments must now seem.

The college closed in the spring of 1956 and at that point Jonathan Williams became the ostensible publisher of the last issue—on the cover of which he put a little sticker to make this fact clear. There was hope we might continue. Some material for the next issue was in hand, some photos of Frederick Sommer's for one thing, and some essays of Edward Dahlberg's. But the last issue itself was almost impossible to manage. I had left Black Mountain, had been briefly in San Francisco, and was now living in New Mexico. The printer, of course, was still in Spain, and the delays in proofing, or even getting the initial printing begun, were almost impossible to manage. However, the last issue—with the addition of Allen Ginsberg as contributing editor—defines the last group of contributors who have particular relevance. Ed Dorn had moved to San Francisco with his family after leaving Black Mountain the year previous. I was in restless state, having separated from my wife, and being really at odds with much in my life. I wanted a new condition and so went west, where I'd never been, to see if that might be an answer. So I was also in San Francisco, in the spring of 1956—and for a writer there was really no place that could have been quite like it, just at that time. The contents pages of the seventh issue will make this much clearer than I can—Ginsberg, Kerouac, Whalen, McClure, Burroughs (Lee), Snyder—and another man I was deeply pleased to include, albeit from the East, Hubert Selby, Jr. It was unequivocally a shift and opening of the previous center, and finally as good a place as any to end. Other magazines had appeared as well, with much the same concerns, among them Big Table and the Evergreen Review . Whatever battle had been the case did seem effectually won.

A last note, briefly, about the divers reproductions and photographs that appear in the various issues, as well as the covers for the last three. . . . I valued these especially, in that they freshened


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everything when otherwise things seemed almost too dense. It was a particular honor to include Franz Kline, Philip Guston, Aaron Siskind, and Harry Callahan, because all had been teachers at the college, and, even more than that, had each made so actively clear a new way of seeing in their art. John Altoon I can never thank enough for so much it would be specious to try to list it—and he also had made very evident how extraordinary a painter he is. Dan Rice, a close friend of those days and first met at the college—the same. Edward Corbett I met while I was editing the last issue in New Mexico, and though I'm sure he thought I was simply hysterical, his cover as well as other generosities is a lovely fact of his concern. As for Laubiès—he saw it all.

So it's finally all well in the past, either as one's own experience of something, or else the communal fact of what the writers of that situation and time seemed to have had in mind. I don't think it can ever be very different. You want to do something, to see it happen, and apparently it can't, or at least can't with what then exists as possibility. So you try to change it, and you do or don't as proves the case. What really now delights me is that a magazine having a usual printing of some five hundred to seven hundred fifty copies, about two hundred of which ever got distributed, could have made any dent whatsoever. That should cheer us all.

Placitas, N.M.
December 15, 1968


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The Writer's Situation

1. Why do you continue to write? What purpose does your work serve? Do you feel yourself part of a rear-guard action in the service of a declining tradition? Has your sense of vocation altered significantly in recent years?

"Because it's there to be written," as William Carlos Williams said. I don't really know if there is more reason than that, in relation to some sense of purpose or intent. There are clearly things I've wanted to do in writing—specific forms I've wanted to try, as a novel, for example, or diverse ways in which an active seriality might be manifest. But the primary occasion in writing is a situation I've never been able to design, even when I've much wanted to.

Thinking then of why one continues—that's equally inexplicable, except that it is, literally, an active possibility for me, in my life. It keeps happening and the way the world then enters, or how I'm also then known to myself, is a deeply fascinating circumstance. Charles Olson makes a lovely point, that "we do what we know before we know what we do," and that really is the delight in writing, that much happens one has no conscious information of until it is there, in the words. I'm not thinking here of some sort of do-it-yourself psychoanalysis—that's of no interest to me—but a deeper fact of revelation I feel very actual in writing, a realization, reification, of what is .

The tradition to which I relate comes, as Robert Duncan would say, "from a well deeper than time." It's not yesterday's news one is concerned with. However one thinks to qualify it, the fact of being a poet teaches one that it is not an ego-centered occupation but a

New American Review , December 21, 1969.


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trust one had really no thought to undertake. But there it was. Suddenly. One morning. With the birds. I'm trying to say that poetry comes from a tradition far more complex and rooted in the human condition than any one 'time' can define. Better to consider Konrad Lorenz's sense of tradition as he speaks to it in his book On Aggression —the intuitive economy of human experience, biological and environmental in this case.

As to my sense of vocation—for a long time I was very tentative about saying in any forthright manner that I was a poet. It seemed extraordinarily presumptuous. But again, it's not a vocation one can earn, however one respects the responsibility of this literal 'calling.' In any case, being a poet is something I can acknowledge more clearly in my own nature at this point. It seems a consistently present reality, although I respect a qualification a friend, Max Finstein, once made: that one is a poet in the act of writing, not otherwise.

However, I realize the nature of this question has really to do with a sense of literary tradition, and vocation as some form of professional occupation, etc. I've always been an amateur insofar as I loved what I did. Olson said that Melville had over his work table the statement: "Be true to the dreams of thy youth." I respect that commitment deeply. If anything, I feel a deep blessing and good fortune in what my 'vocation' has given me as a sense of my life. Saying that—it seems suddenly a little convenient, in a way, but I do feel blessed by life, no matter that at times it is difficult and painful.

2. Do you believe that art and politics should be kept apart? Has this belief changed or grown more complicated during the past decade? What influence has the politicization of life during this period had on your work?

Having come of age in the forties (I started college the summer of 1943), 'politicization' was, it then seemed, so much a part of that time I don't know that it seems more so now. Perhaps it's some sort of weird sandwich one is experiencing, with the blandness of the fifties intervening, the bread being the forties and sixties. But having been in some ways active in the Henry Wallace party, also having been taught politics by the YCL while still in college—it doesn't seem to me that life is now more political. It certainly isn't quite as didactic, let's say, as was the membership of the PAC—or any friends then involved with post-war Marxism. I don't think


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there is quite the same insistence on the 'right' and 'wrong' ways that there was then.

Possibly political agency is regaining an active contest. But really the advanced younger people of this moment are, if anything, post -political, just that the available political agencies seem to them so bankrupt. The militant part of the black community might be the one active revolutionary group still intent on political possibilities. I know that many of the young showed an active commitment to Eugene McCarthy's leadership in the circumstances of the 1968 election, but I question, even with reluctance, that that had initially to do with political occasion or possibility. More, I think, they wanted renewal of a kind of presence , in public life, possessed of a demonstrable integrity, even one apart from the usual conditions of political activity. They wanted someone to be literally there—and this was, curiously, not the case either with Kennedy or Nixon. Both were finally part of a system the young have every reason to distrust, as, God knows, the elders might equally.

Obviously the disaster of the national commitment to the war in Vietnam is the largest 'political' counter of the past few years, and it served to energize political agencies in every sense. But again, I'm very intrigued by the hippie culture, so to speak, and its decisively apolitical character. It's as though a very deep shift in the conception of human relations and use of the environment were taking place—and indeed I very much believe that it is. We've come to that time when, as Williams said, we must either change our 'wishes' or perish. I don't feel that present insistence on ecological problems is simply a new game. We have literally to change our minds. In this respect, drugs in the culture have really two, among other, clear possibilities: (1) either to reveal a oneness in all manifestations of life-form of whatever order and thus change the mind by that revelation (certainly the most useful information to be gained from taking LSD); or (2) to kill anxiety, to lull intuitive perception of inherent peril, to simply get out of the 'world' one is actually in—and in this respect the elders are as committed to this use of chemical agency as any of the young.

In any case, I don't see that art and politics, or that order of present experience involved with the post-political, should all be kept separate. I don't see how they can be. One can't, perhaps, entirely respect an art committed to propagandizing or to a use of life not clearly initiated in its own activity. But when men and women are outraged by political malfeasance, it's hardly likely that their art will not make that quite clear.


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As far as my own work is concerned—I've not been able to write directly to a purpose of political involvement. It's not given me in my own nature to be able to do so, but I hope that I've made clear where I stood nonetheless. I hate the outrage of human beings that present political acts now effect. One must protest them—they are literally against life itself.

3. What are the main creative opportunities and problems that attract and beset you in your work? Which movements, tendencies, writers, if any, do you find yourself identifying with or supporting? Which ones do you oppose?

It's difficult to qualify just what 'creative opportunities and problems' are primary. Just that something does come to be said, is an opportunity of very great magnitude. Too, poetry as I've had experience of it is not, finally, at the service of other conditions or orders of information, however much it may serve them once it exists. Olson says that art is the only true twin life has—in that neither is to a 'purpose' apart from the fact of themselves. They don't refer , so to speak. There's no excuse .

The 'problems' occur when one gets lost in such possibility, muffs or misuses the nature of what's given. It is, again as Olson says, something as actual as wood, or fish, that one has to do with. It's not in the mind in some sense that one can now exercise a discretion upon it—thinking about it in some privileged way. On the contrary, there is a feeling that adamantly does insist one is being told something and had better get it right the first time, else there won't be another chance. One is told once . For this reason I find it hard ever to revise—'re-see'—just because the initial seeing has to be responded to with all the ability possible because I'm not given another chance. It's very like seeing someone you do respond to in the instant and having thus the choice of going home and thinking about it, or making that response a manifest act. I agree with Robert Duncan that choice is recognition—not a debate between alternatives. So if one doesn't know 'what to do,' given such circumstances, clearly there's nothing really to do.

Otherwise I'm not much concerned with either creative opportunities or problems. I love a particular poem by Kenneth Koch, beginning something like, "Thank you for giving me this battleship to wash . . ."

'Movements, tendencies, writers . . .' There is a company , a kind


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of leaderless Robin Hood's band, which I dearly love. I'm sure there is even a horn to summon us all. There is no company dearer, more phenomenal, closer to my heart. A few weeks ago I happened to spend the night at Allen Ginsberg's farm and coming down to the kitchen in the morning, met with Allen's charming remark, "All the poets are up!" Which very truly we were, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Allen and myself—while five others also there slept on.

Whether learned by intuition or by act, one comes to respect and to love that company of writers for whom poetry is, in Bob Rose's phrase, "active transformation," not a purpose, not discretion, not even craft—but revelation , initial and eternal, whatever that last word can mean to one whose life is finite. Consequently I both identify with and support—and hope I might be permitted the company of—any man or woman whose experience of writing transcends some sense of its value as money in the bank, or edifying addition to one's identity, etc. None of the so-called Black Mountain writers wrote in a literally similar manner. That is, Olson's modes of statement are certainly not mine, nor are they Duncan's, nor Denise Levertov's—and so on. What was, then, the basis for our company? I think, simply the insistent feeling we were given something to write, that it wasn't something we could 'think' to write, that it was an obedience we were undertaking to an actual possibility of revelation. Which to say one might own would be absurd.

What I find abhorrent is any assumption that one has gained the use of writing as a private convenience, to me the ugliest of all attitudes.

4. Has writing entered a 'post-modern' era, in which the relevance of the great modern writers (Joyce, Eliot, Mann, Faulkner, et al.) has declined? If so, what seem to be the literary principles of the post-modern age? If not, what principles of modernism are still dominant and valuable?

Supposing 'modern' to define the primary consciousness of a decisive shift in the conception of reality , which becomes increasingly clear toward the end of the nineteenth century, then one may feel that that consciousness is now a general condition in human experience. The world cannot be 'known' entirely. Certainly it cannot, in the way men are given to live in it and to know it, be 'perfected.' In all disciplines of human attention and act, the possibilities inher-


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ent in the previous conception of a Newtonian universe—with its containment and thus the possibility of being known—have been yielded. We do not know the world in that way, nor will we. Reality is continuous, not separable, and cannot be objectified. We cannot stand aside to see it.

Writing, and all of the arts as well, have entered the altered consciousness of our situation in the world. One might speak, possibly, of 'the modern' as the first impact of that realization in the arts: Eliot expressing both regret for previously possible order and recognition of the new experience of how the world happens—simply what takes place. Yeats, in a late note on modern poetry, understandably with frustration, speaks of modern poets as asking us to "accept [a] worthless present," If one thinks then quickly of Samuel Beckett's use of that 'present,' "where to be lasts but an instant where every instant/spills in the void the ignorance of having been," a measure of the change involved is apparent.

Much that the modern writers got said seems to me still of great relevance. Both Williams and Pound—or Lawrence, Stein, H.D., and many others also—point up the dilemma of what may be called individual sensibility in an environment insistently generalizing all circumstances of apprehension and decision. That problem hardly seems solved. However, what is at first feared as a loss of coherence—felt most in the loss of history's authority—starts to become less that as other situations of experience occur. High and low art begin to melt as historical valuations blur. All being now , all that is there has possibility.

The ego's authority tends to relax and conceptions involved with proposals of 'good, better, best' also lose ground. Most interesting to me is the insistent presence of what has been called the chance factor in the activity of all the arts of the past several years. Whether in 'happenings' or in the music of younger composers like Cornelius Cardew, one sees that a discipline, so to speak, is being gained to discover a formal possibility in a highly variable context of activity. It may well be that 'beauty' is simply being returned to 'the eye of the beholder,' but what the eye expects to see is nonetheless much altered.

Still it does seem that terms such as 'modern' and 'post-modern' are habits of art history. One tends to use all that he can get hold of and I don't know that one 'time' is thus distinct from another, in the actual practice. Here is where one seems to be.


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5. Has there been a general collapse of literary standards in recent years? Are you conscious of a conflict between your past standards and your present ones?

I remember an incident, like they say, involving a critic I much respect, Warren Tallman, and an Englishman, in a radio discussion of Jack Kerouac's Big Sur for CBC. Warren was plugging for Kerouac's genius in being able to make so articulate and substantial all the data of the senses. What impressed Warren was the fact that when some thing or activity was spoken of, one's experience of it was extraordinarily vivid. The Englishman, however, felt that some canon of literary form had been broken. When Warren pushed him to qualify just what 'standard' he was referring to, the man hedged, unable actually to state it—then said, "Well, we know enough to know these standards exist, even if we don't know what they are."

Kind of a wistfully moving point, actually. But I'm extraordinarily wary of any 'standard' not the direct result of an active experience in the practice of the art involved. Or as Olson puts it, "telling me what in the instant I knew better of," and this is not by any means an egocentric response to 'rules' imposed by taste and opinion, that have nothing to do with the nature of the language and all the possibilities therein. Pound quotes Remy de Gourmont, "Freely to write what he chooses is the sole pleasure of a writer"—and I agree with that utterly. 'Standards' are only interesting in relation to the possibilities they recognize. In the forties I felt them arbitrarily restrictive and dominated by the practice of criticism apart from the practice of poetry itself.

So far from feeling there has been a collapse of literary standards, I feel there has been a reconstitution of them in the practice of writing itself. Think of the victories actually won: relaxation of censorship in the use of specific words, admission of serial order as a complex and diversely organized phenomenon, a riddance to all senses of 'poetic subject,' poems bien fait to some dull mold, and so on. The list is happily a long one. In short, I think that such standards as poetry involves, and they exist unequivocally, are again the issue of the practice—not a viciously parasitic addendum put on the practice of poetry by people in no wise committed to it.

My past standards continue to be my present ones. I permit myself possibly more freedom now—not by a relaxation, but in the broader range of perception I am able to respond to in writing, in


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the degrees of emotional condition I find I can speak. Man standing by his word —Pound's translation of the Chinese ideogram for sincerity —stays as my own measure, but I have begun to apprehend too the complexity of that situation. It's not a simple honesty, etc.

6. Have literary criticism and journalism kept pace with, and faith with, the best fiction, poetry, and drama produced in the sixties?

A lovely novelist we know, world-famous no less, writes on a Christmas card just received: "For Christ's sake keep up the good work and don't be sidetracked by Christmas or the goddam reviewers who are ugly people . . ." As far as I'm concerned, and speaking particularly of the situation of poetry, there is no correspondence of any interest to me between the activities in contemporary criticism and that poetry I am myself most engaged with. Even if one considers a particular critic of intelligence, Richard Howard, who is also a writer of poems, the score is still lousy. In his book, Alone with America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950 , there are gaps I so deeply question that the book itself becomes a fine instance of mandarin writing—i.e., an 'entertainment' of 'sensibility.' And he is, in my own estimation, perhaps the best. Where 'journalism' may be in any of this, I simply don't know. Reviewers are either so tardy or so absent one can hardly consider them as 'keeping pace.' A fellow wrote recently to tell me he'd been asked by The Nation to review my collection Words for one of their coming issues. The book was published in 1967. Pieces , a subsequent collection of poems, was published last August, and possibly that might be reviewed in the far, far distant future. But really, one hardly depends on it.

The point is, if one meets with an exceptional critical intelligence—e.g., Kenneth Burke, D. H. Lawrence, Edward Dahlberg, Ezra Pound—then that's the point, not 'literary criticism.' Joshua Whatmough says, in a book called Language , that literary criticism is just an exchange of opinion and has no authority in relation to the activities it criticizes. That cheers me up. When younger, I was not 'criticized' at all. Now older, it seems I rarely do things right, or five years ago I did them right, not now. As for literary criticism 'keeping faith'—I didn't know it had faith to keep. If one is thinking of people active in the arts making notes, etc., then the whole question obviously changes.


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Writing

I

Some years ago I was trying to buy a truck in Boston, and the salesman after some conversation asked me if I might be available to tutor him, to "improve his English," as he put it, so that he might secure a better job. I think that habit of attitude toward the fact of speaking, and writing and reading equally, is deeply ingrained in anyone who passes through our usual system of education. There is a sense adamantly present that a "right" way and "wrong" way exist and what one is trying to teach and/or learn is the correct approach. But writing, insofar as I've had to do with it, is absolutely hostile to such an assumption. There can be examples obviously, facts of writing one responds to and respects, and these become the literal measure of one's own practice. Such measures are, however, inevitably personal, no matter how much they may seem instances of general or topical interest. Millions of people may be involved by what Bob Dylan is saying, but the more significant point, for me, is that each one hears him as a singular occasion.

That, in fact, is one of the delights of writing, that it involves such a one-to-one relationship. At least its most active possibility lies for me in that fact. I know that many people may reach college with a marked resistance to writing, but again, assuming that they have been subject to the right and wrong emphasis, it seems very evident

Jonathan Baumbach, ed., Writers as Teachers/Teachers as Writers (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970).


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that writing as a discipline has been used primarily against them. Even when they've done it correctly , the effect is most often a complete generalization of their own concerns, and what hopefully they began with—some explicit fact and their own relation to it—has become "correct usage" only.

Of course language, a language, is a system, and acquaintance with the nature of that condition is most useful. But what a difference there is between the usual college grammar text and such a book as Ernest Fenollosa's The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry —or Gertrude Stein's notes on parts of speech in "Poetry and Grammar"—or Edward Sapir's Language . Clearly these represent my interests, and I cannot assume their relevance for another—but the point is, I would like to, and in teaching I would absolutely depend on texts having explicit involvement with language as a system rather than the generalized "rule books" all too frequent.

But this gets the cart before the horse, just that in teaching writing, or any other possibility, one begins with the students themselves. If I speak French and they speak Chinese, no communication occurs. It's not indulgence that argues the use of knowing the terms and active content of those one proposes to teach. So, then, "why write?"—and is any possibility to be found in it that they themselves value? What do they read, if they read? What uses do they find in writing, if any? Is it an activity merely demanded by their various courses—reports, analyses, explanations, etc.

Don't be discouraged if, at first, nothing much happens at all. I was once in a writing class taught by Delmore Schwartz, who began with the reasonable assumption that there must be one writer that all of us respected in common. Unhappily there wasn't—and the class sat in that dilemma for the full length of the semester. It isn't that he was wrong or right, but rather that any assumption about what can or should happen must yield to the actual situation. Most frequently the people one is trying to teach will have been habituated to feel that reading and writing are activities having as necessary purpose the gaining of a didactic information, and in a class which, hopefully, is not intended to center upon a "subject," or to make known specific content of such order, a significant number may well be disgruntled, feeling that the course is a waste of time. Others, proposing more sympathetic interest, will want immediately to know what ways of writing will be most useful to their intentions and will expect to be taught these in a rather literal manner—with appropriate notes as to adequate and inadequate "performance." I'd suggest that both attitudes be balked—there is nowhere one is


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necessarily going, there is really nothing more to say than what seems of interest to them at the moment, and if no one has such interest, then that's true—for themselves as well as for you.

If such a way of beginning appears to be extraordinarily lax—granted that writing is, in one sense, a discipline of very complex and actual particularity—do remember that one's own interests and commitments in no way involve the possibility of others until those others have entered their condition. My excitement will only be an irritation for anyone who finds himself sharing neither my situation of experience nor my own commitment to the terms of the activity involved. How, then, engender such circumstance as makes a common ground?

First of all, begin with what's there—by which I mean, the literal fact of the people. You can ask them "what they want to do" and may well get the answer, "nothing"—but that's enough, i.e., push that, "what is that state of activity," or literally do nothing, if that is chosen as the state of possibility. In such a situation the one thing most dulling seems to me to insist that such and such is a "great" book or that this or that way of writing is most "effective" and to argue consequently, but only with oneself, all the possible justifications.

You may choose to impose upon them the necessity of writing something—there is obviously no reason not to—but don't limit it too didactically to a "subject" and don't look for what you think it should say. The dreary habit of parroting so prevalent in contemporary education comes of such insistence, and profits no one at all. Take what is said as the context and use that as the means of exchange. You cannot apply to an alternative or to a rule you may respect, which the writer himself has not experienced. In other words, make known to him that what he is saying has the possibility of this or that extension—not that what is unknown to him is a constant and frustrating limit.

Having once taught the first grade, I can remember that lovely experience of witnessing someone's coming into the possibility of reading and writing, so that the literal fact of speech gains extension in time and space in immeasurable senses. It is an absolutely human delight, and if people have forgotten that, it may well be due to the fact that this incredible agency has been so hedged in by impositions of purpose , and necessary meaning , and all manner of didactic insistence. As if the only point in learning how to swim were to get from A to B . . . Poets were once called "makers" and the word poetry comes from a root meaning "to make." But what to make—despite all insistences to the contrary—is as viable as language and human condition can make manifest. It's hardly permis-


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sive to want to return some of that possibility to senses of teaching and learning.

In fact, that seems finally the point—that unless writing does become that pleasure, it remains a drudgery and only an occasion prompting more criticism, more "doing it wrong." How to make it such pleasure no one can easily tell another, nor can one assume that all people will share equally in its delights. But you don't have to kill it. You don't have to humiliate and ignore and find contemptible what may be the very possibility you are committed to foster. I am sick to death of "taste" which wants to convert all experience to terms of fashion and the social. Rather, respect Pound's "Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions, after which your taste can take care of itself." Your own are involved as well as those of your students.

How you do what you do remains your own possibility, and invention. It may or may not involve books, newspapers, films, television—or any fact of activity possible to your life and that of your students. Writing is an activity, not a subject. You cannot propose an isolated area of its relevance.

What follows, then, is an instance of my own involvement with teaching and writing, specifically with poetry—although writing is, for me, all that is made with words and written down.

II—
Contexts of Poetry[fn*]II—
Contexts of Poetry[*]

What Allen suggested, and what I thought would be a good idea, would be to begin with some sense of writing in the most literal of possible contexts. Now the supposition, I suppose, on the part of some of you who've come, is that we write poetry; in other words, this is what we do. And we, in effect, have been given a definition publicly as poets. We've published books and all the rest. But that kind of qualification is something I'd not like to take on, in this or any other context. So I would like to take up the issue of writing as a physical act. What I will tell you is how I write, and Allen, then you take it from there, you do the same. In other words, I want to speak of what is involved in writing for me.


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When I first met William Carlos Williams, for instance, I remember he took me upstairs to show me where the bathroom was, and as we went by the—I think the bedroom—he showed me the desk that had been in his office when he was in active practice; and he showed me his typewriter, which was a large old office machine, and the way it fitted under the desk; and he showed me the prescription pads that he used to use. And again, Allen and I were thinking of how the qualification of the size of the paper, for example, will often have an effect on what you're writing, or whether or not you're using a pencil or a pen. Habits of this kind are almost always considered immaterial or secondary. And yet, for my own reality, there is obviously a great connection between what I physically do as a writer in this sense, and what comes then out of it. So I want briefly to qualify it. I was curious to know how I do it myself, in the sense of what really do I do. Well, say, first of all, I write always with a typewriter. I get very nervous about using a pen, because pens run out of ink in a way . . . ball points are what I would use, as and when I do write that way . . . pencils have to be sharpened, I get so involved with the sharpening of the pencil. Also, I think it goes back to a sense I had when younger, that typewriters, typewriting, implied a "professional" context. If you were going to be serious, or going to claim seriousness for yourself, the instrument that you used in writing had to be particular to what the act of writing was. So that I had, I think, a basically naive sense of this kind. I wanted to be able to do it with a typewriter. Now, equally, I never learned to type. So I mean my typing is a habit that's developed, with two fingers. I never took a class in high school or any other place that taught me how to use the full, you know, all your fingers when you're typing. Think again, that begins to be a qualification of how fast I can write. In other words, I find that the pace of my writing is concerned with the speed with which I can type. Now, I can type actually about as fast as I can talk, with two fingers. I find, for example, if I have to work on somebody else's typewriter, I'm displaced, because there may be a slight variation in the space between keys. I find that now I can use the typewriter I do use without looking at it, so that I can be thinking of something without consciously wondering where my fingers are. I find . . . let's see, I want to keep on a little bit in this sense of what the physical conditions are . . . because again, I started writing in a context where I was embarrassed. I didn't want to bother anybody. I didn't want, you know, like, don't mind me, but just go right ahead with what


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you're doing, with your serious business , with your serious preoccupation. This was primarily in a former marriage, and the problems thereof . . . I didn't want to call attention to myself, because doing that might force me to define what I was trying to do—which is obviously impossible. So, the next thing I would do would be to create a context in which there was a residuum of noise, constantly present, so that my own noise wouldn't be intrusive. And so I find often I turn on the radio. I used to—back in New Hampshire, where I think I really sat down to think of how to write or what to write—I used to play records all the time. We had at that time, I remember, one of these big Jensen speakers and all, and amplifier, and I'd put on the records that I then much valued, as Charlie Parker and what not—but just because that rhythmic insistence, I think, kept pushing me, I kept hearing it. And lately for example, in the last year, I finished a long prose work, a novel, and I found that what I was writing could be actually stimulated by playing particular kinds of music. In other words, I don't know . . . I'm not a psychologist or even interested in this aspect, what I'm . . .

What kind of music?

Well, for example, the whole first part is written primarily to an old Bud Powell tape, a record, where you get these great kinds of almost concert style . . . let's say a poor man's concept of beauty, you know, where you get these great crescendoes of sound, and where you get actually a basically simple melody, as "I Got Rhythm" or anything, playing through this, and then you get this involvement that constantly comes back to the simple statement because it's embarrassed actually with its own hope. So this first part of the novel is written in that sense. Then the whole middle section is written primarily to John Coltrane, where you get deliberate dissonance and you get fragmentation—I wasn't conscious of this—and then the last part is written to a kind of Nancy Wilson, you know, where you get a "where love is gone," dig? And you get a real slick pretension. In other words, where she's singing, in effect, the memory of some authenticity which she no longer even . . . she never meant it. I saw her on television and . . . she's no slicker than any professional, but she's singing in a manner which is now a manner . She's not an innovator, as was Sarah Vaughan, or, more particularly, Billie Holiday. Again, the middle section involves Billie Holiday. But what I'm trying to say is: so, that's a physical requirement for me. I find it very useful . . .

Even in poems?


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Even in doing anything. It gives me something to focus on or to relax back into as a place where I feel safe. Anyhow: the typewriter, the insistence of music, rhythm, something with a strong rhythmic character, not too loud, subtle enough so that you can always go back to it . . . and paper. Usually an 8 × 11 sheet. I best like, most like, the yellow copy paper that's not spongy, but has a softness to it, so that when you type, the letter goes in, embeds a little. I hate a hard paper. When you erase this paper you take a layer off. And I remember again—now this is why I want to point out, this is not ridiculous—because I remember one time when living in Spain, there was none of this particular size copy paper that I was used to using. So I got a legal size sheet. And it was suddenly a terror, because I would finish what was normally my habit of dealing with the paper and realize that I had about six inches left at the bottom that was blank. This set up a whole different feeling. I remember writing a story actually using this paper, and it seemed to me that things were taking an awfully long time. In other words, the whole balance or pattern of the way of working with the thing was being changed. So the paper is significant. Again, Allen and I were talking about the way Jack Kerouac . . . the qualification of his writing that occurs when he is working in small notebooks. Or could I say the same of Robert Duncan, for example, who uses a notebook and writes in ink, and the composition of his books is obviously done as he's writing. There is, for example, an actual instance of a book of this kind that he did, called Fragments of a Disordered Devotion , in which it's reproduced from the actual . . . well, actually he wrote it as a copy of his own manner. It's an imitation of his manner by himself, so it has that. . . . But you realize that it's all happening visually as well as intellectually or mentally. Olson, in his letters . . . you begin to realize Olson's spacing, the ordering of where things occur in his thought. He'll begin a letter like, "dear so and so," and then start with the information, and before he's, say, halfway through the page you've got these things jumping all around . . . the movement, is moving, trying to locate like, let's put that there . . . no don't, now this goes there, oh but you can't forget that . . . but you can't forget this too . . . you can't put them like that, because it's a lie, they don't exist that way, you've got to . . . He's trying in effect to give the orders of thought—in no pretentious sense—and a typewriter for him, for example, is something that has much defined his habits of writing, as he said himself in Projective Verse . But equally, he has a speed in handwriting that's fast, a very fast style of writing. . . .


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But positions and textures of papers, envelopes and what not . . . I find again that in order to be taken seriously by myself that I again had to create a context in which I could exhibit the instance of professionalism. I remember some friend, for example, who said he always washed his hands before he started to write, because he wanted to be clean, he didn't want to get anything dirty. I can remember equally, when I had run out of paper . . . the circumstances of living at some remote place . . . I would really get . . . it would be awful. And then you'd start to improvise paper from envelopes—but very carefully folding them and all but ironing them out to get the right feeling. What I'm trying to say with all this rambling, is that the particular habits of writing that you begin to develop will have, curiously, a great significance for what you write. If you think I'm fooling, you might for example try to see what happens if you write with different kinds of media. In other words, try writing with large crayons, or—I wish we had access to this—it would be interesting to see what happens if you try to write on something the size of this blackboard. I taught first grade also . . . I remember this . . . where you're writing things like [moves to blackboard] . . . I could do this, in teaching handwriting. . . . Now, I can't write like this, I get so absorbed, involved with the voluptuousness, the sensuous . . . it's distracting to me. Because what I'm trying to do, if I'm successful . . . I am not anticipating what I'm thinking, I am not anticipating any content before it occurs. At the same time, I'm trying to recognize, or rather, I'm awfully bewildered by confusions between certain terms—the states of consciousness—e.g., the difference between recognition, understanding, realization, knowing. I'm trying to describe a state in which one primarily feels what is happening as a fit balance. If you do things like ski or swim or drive, for example, you know that sense of feeling when the car is operating smoothly, when the balance of the steering and the movement of the car is coinciding with an intention of your own and is following with a sense of grace, an appropriateness. Everything is, in effect, falling into place. You're not intentionally putting it there, but you're recognizing the feeling of its occurring there. So that when I'm writing myself, if something becomes dissonant or something becomes jarred, arbitrarily, then I have to stop. One other thing I should note, also about the sense of the physical act of writing, is that the same habit of wanting it to be "perfect" in its appearance, means that if I'm writing and I make a mistake, I take the paper out and copy it down to that point, correct


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the mistake, and then throw the paper away. In other words, I have a great difficulty writing on the paper. For example, I can never write in books. And I get awfully upset if other people write in my book . . . writing in my book . . . seeing dirty hands all over my book . . . Because I don't really think that I can own a book. I don't think that I have the right , to write.

In college itself . . . now let's go back there, because that's where we are again . . . I was in the context of other younger men of that time who wanted to be writers also . . . Donald Hall, for example—that was in Harvard in 1946, a group which then centered around Wake —Seymour Lawrence, now editor for Atlantic Monthly Press, Kenneth Koch. I remember, say, Kenneth Koch one time invited me up to his rooms for, I think it was sherry, and to listen to records, like Bach and what not, and to read me a few poems. Well, I can remember going up to his room, and it was, you know, it was a very comfortable room. Kenneth comes from a family that has money, and so that was evident in his room. It had very tasteful reproductions, there was furniture that he'd bought . . . I couldn't do that. At that time I wasn't writing anything that I felt was that significant. I mean I was desperate to understand what would actually be a poem. Again, as Allen and I were talking yesterday—you've really come at a good time!—because I think each of us in our own circumstances has come to that point where the very definition of a poem as a possibility, not as a possibility perhaps, but as an actual construct, is something we are very unable to state like that. In other words, I cannot define a poem. It's a curious state of mind to have arrived at. I cannot tell you what I think a poem is. I think that has to do with the fact that all the terms of consciousness are, at the moment, undergoing tremendous terms of change. We were again talking, thinking of the context now in the States. There is an alteration of a very deep order going on in the whole thrust or push of the consciousness, literally the Negro consciousness, that has been for years relegated to a kind of underside or underworld. As Duncan says, "I see always the underside turning . . ." Well, see, the Negro personality in the States has been forced to live in this underside world, except in contexts which he could control. LeRoi Jones, for example, grew up in a fairly secure middle-class background that had, let's say, the securities of that status. But you see, there was always a limit to it. You could always take one step beyond the control of the neighborhood and you were suddenly in a world which was utterly unresponsive to your reality. Now this reality,


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which has become the dominant reality in the States today, is the Negro reality, it is not the white reality, it's the Negro reality. You may want to interpret the activities of the Kennedys as large, liberal recognitions that have been long overdue, but I think it would be utterly naive to do so. I think that the Kennedys are being washed along in a shift that is not only located in the States but—now Allen can tell you much more accurately these terms—but is coming from a whole shift of controls and communication terms that are actually centered in Africa and Asia.

I don't want to take us too far afield, but my point is that the very premise on which consciousness operates is undergoing modifications that none of us I think are at the moment capable of defining. We can only recognize them. Let's say, that if Pound says artists are the antennae of the race, I think that any of us here is in a position to be responsive to this feeling that's so immense, so definite, and so insistent. Not because we can do anything with it. It simply is, it's a big change, it's a deep change in consciousness, and I'm curious to see what's going to happen—which is a mild way of putting it. Indeed! But you have a poem, Allen, in which you say, "Where all Manhattan that I've seen must disappear." And this for me is what is happening in the States in a different relationship, in a different context—where all the terms of consciousness that I grew up with must disappear, are disappearing momently, daily. The terms of reality are changing. Even the terms of this course are changing . . . by which I mean, this course would have been impossible ten years ago, by definition. Senses of writing would have been impossible to present in this fashion ten years ago. We were, happily, involved with a reorganization of premise that gave us our particular occasion. Yours is going to be perhaps even more a mess. I mean that I think that the change which is occurring now is more significant than the Second World War by far, because it's the residue of that war in reference to the atom bomb and, equally, the shift in all terms of human relationship that have been habitualized since, oh God, thousands of years. This goes back to correct, not to correct, but to reorganize premises that have existed for thousands of years, concepts of person. . . . Look, I'd like you to talk for a while . . .

 . . . the last time I wrote was on a train to Kyoto and Tokyo. I suddenly had a great seizure of realization, on a whole bunch of levels. I was thinking of a poetic problem which is not along lines. . . . It's another matter. Also, about an emotional problem which was just resolving itself. And I was suddenly having feelings for the first time, certain kinds of feel -


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ings for the first time in about a half year. I was feeling something that had been growing and growing and growing and all of a sudden appeared to me on the train. So I had to get it then because I knew in an hour when I got to Tokyo I'd be all hung up in Tokyo—you know, looking for a room in Tokyo—and I'd be having other feelings, or going back to material problems of arranging things. But here I had that moment and. . . . That's what I don't understand about your writing, what happens to you if you suddenly realize something—do you have to, arrange your paper? What do you do then, you lose it!

You're right! No, I was just thinking as you were saying this, that the limit of my ability to write, at the moment, and has been for the last two years, is that I have to secure a physical context in which I can "work." It not only has to be qualified by having paper and the rest of the paraphernalia, but it has to have equally a social qualification. I remember, for example, friends walking in when I'm working. I literally stop. I cannot work when someone's looking at me. So that, I envy you. I remember . . . again this experience of knowing both you and Jack in San Francisco, and Jack equally will walk always with a notebook and be writing away. Or Robert Duncan, again. . . . That's why I suppose I always end up living in these circumstances that are very isolate, in other words, where I won't be disturbed. Yet I don't think it's a pretentious thing. It's frankly a need I . . .

 . . . what you set up . . . does that actually catalyze feelings?

It seems to create a context in which those feelings can occur. The thing is that I'm so shy—in no specious or stupid sense—but I'm so worried about keeping myself together when I'm in public, so to speak, as even now. I mean these habits of speaking are, after all, the habits that I got from teaching. But when I'm writing, you see, that business of Olson's, "He left him naked, / the man said, and / nakedness / is what one means . . ." In order to be in that state of nakedness, I have to be where—it isn't so much distraction—but where I can open up this equally small thing, and feel it with the intensity of all the perception that I . . . that the ego bit can recognize, and then destroy the ego by its own insistence. It's shy in other words . . .

Situated where there is no threat .

Well, equally, it's an . . . see, I would be embarrassed for years. I remember when I got to the Southwest, the people there have a very easy and pleasant habit of embracing one another when they meet; that is, in-laws or friends.


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It took me years! I was, frankly, when I saw you for example, I was so pleased that I could put my arms around you as an old friend and hold on to you. It took me years to be able to do that, and maybe one day I'll be able to do this too. I'm not satisfied with the habits of limit that I've created for myself, because not only have I given myself a million excuses for doing nothing nine-tenths of the time, but I've created a context in which only—I realize now—only certain kinds of feeling can come. In other words, after all, when you've got the fort, like all the guns mounted and ready to blast until you're utterly safe, and you let out this little agonized thing . . . it skips around the room, you know, and you're embarrassed, you hear someone move in the kitchen, think O my God they're coming  . . . no wonder the poems are short! I'm amazed that there are any at all! At the same time, you see, one is stuck with one's actuality, at the same time this is the only point I can begin, this is the place where my feelings are most present. I mean that in the sense of I have a horrible training. . . . Olson speaks of being trained to speak, you know. He said that when he was a younger man—he's a very large man—and as a younger man he was . . . obviously must have been awkward, and his presence was a problem. He'd walk in, people would, like, duck, or they'd respond to him in ways that were not particular to his feelings at that moment. I equally had somewhat the same thing. I found that my feelings had an awfully bothersome quality for people I wanted to get to. God I'd, you know, I'd do anything to please them, and I found that I couldn't. I mean I couldn't in a way that I could depend upon. So that the poems anyhow began to be a way of dealing with things that I was otherwise prevented from having. Well anyhow a sense of security . . . I don't mean security in the sense of insurance or not being afraid. I think in those instances within that room all hell breaks out, as you well know, in the sense that everything is possible there in a way that . . . Again and equally, if I walk on, if I'm sitting on the train with a notebook, I'm so self-conscious about it. Again this habit of my environment. I think what we're trying to do with all this is to insist to you that these aspects of what we're talking about are not immaterial. In other words these are the . . . I don't mean to give them undue significance or to . . . I don't want to qualify this way at all. What I'm trying to say is don't start thinking of writing as some particular activity leading to some particular effect for some particular purpose. It is just as relevant what size paper you use, as whether or not you think you're writing a sonnet. In fact, it's more relevant. And this aspect of your activity ought to be, you ought to be aware


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of it, simply that you should begin to feel as rangingly all that is issuing as a possibility and as a qualification of that possibility. In other words, if you want to write with a paper like this, please do! If you find yourself stuck with habits of articulation, try doing something else, try shifting the physical context. . . .

A Postscript

The preoccupations here evident were, in fact, more decisive than I could then have realized. I had trusted so much to thinking , apparently, and had gained for myself such an adamant sense of what a poem could be for me, that here I must have been signaling to myself both a warning and the hope of an alternative.

Not too long after I began to try deliberately to break out of the habits described. I wrote in different states of so-called consciousness, e.g., when high, and at those times would write in pen or pencil, contrary to habit, and I would also try to avoid any immediate decision as to whether or not the effects of such writing were "good." Some of the poems so written are to be found in Words , among them "A Piece," "The Box," "They (2)," and "The Farm." These were, however, still written on the customary 8 × 11 sheets and in the security of my usual home. But nonetheless they began to gain for me the possibility of scribbling , of writing for the immediacy of the pleasure and without having to pay attention to some final code of significance.

When Words was published, I was interested to see that one of the poems most irritating to reviewers was "A Piece"—and yet I knew that for me it was central to all possibilities of statement. One might think of "counting sheep"—and I am here reminded of Williams' poem, which Pound chooses to include in Confucius to Cummings , "The High Bridge Above the River Tagus at Toledo":

In old age they walk in the old man's dreams
   and will still walk in his dreams, peacefully
   continuing in his verse forever.

To count, or give account, tell or tally, continuingly seems to me the occasion. But again I had found myself limited by the nature of the adding machine I had unwittingly forced upon myself.

Slowly, then, I came to write without the mechanic of the typewriter. I also began to use notebooks, first very small ones indeed, and then larger—and I found many senses of possibility in writing


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began consequently to open. For one, such notebooks accumulated the writing, and they made no decisions about it—it was all there, in whatever state it occurred, everything from addresses to moralistic self-advising, to such notes as I now find in the smallest and first of them:

This size page forces the
damn speciously gnomic
sans need for same—
    —it
        it—

There was no hustle to argue the virtue of any possibility instantly, nor to do more than write, which same "freely" to do, as Remy de Gourmont in Pound's quotation of him insists, "is the sole pleasure of a writer." How long it took me to realize that in my own life.

It would be impossible to thank Allen Ginsberg enough for what he was somehow able to reassure me of—or to thank those other friends whose way of writing was of like order: Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, and the many others, who were wise, like they say, long before myself. It's lovely to do something with your bare hands and mind, in the instant it is possible, and finally I know it.


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On the New Cultural Conservatism

Some years ago an elder friend was much disturbed by "campus unrest," although any instance of its literal effects was very unlikely to reach her. It seemed her fears were really the fact of her being increasingly unable, physically, to defend herself or to "get out of the way," should some "violence" occur in her environment. There must be a large number of people indeed who, biologically, one wants to say, find themselves unable to respond to any change of this order and who want it "as it was," just that that stasis, they feel, secures them in their own increasing limits of possible activity.

I find that attitude deeply human. I remember Pound's saying somewhere, that "after fifty one can't keep one's eye on all the sprouting corn," that one has to get one's own work done if it ever is to be got done. Hopefully, one learns something about the possibilities of an art, be it sewing or singing, and having done so, one wants the center of that information and the possibilities of working with it to stay put.

Perhaps even more to the point, art is by nature conservative—which is to say, it pays a strict and constant attention to the materials and modalities wherewith it comes to make a thing. In that sense I remember Charles Olson's insistence that "we are the last conservatives," those who were given to care, in John Winthrop's phrase, about the kind of world we live in.

Politics, sadly, does not seem to care about that world except in small, preferential segments of its existence. The only political

Partisan Review 39, no. 3 (Summer 1972).


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group I find myself consistently attracted to is, paradoxically, that of the black community. They would seem to be engaged in both gaining and saving the possibilities of distinct human life. That their actions are often "radical" only emphasizes for me the precise conservatism of their intent. They are not fooling, so to speak, and their action tends to follow the literal pattern of their commitment. The farm workers are another, if smaller, instance of the same nature of action.

As a poet I will do anything to secure my own realization of what the possibilities of imagination are. Obviously such a commitment can be at times a destructive and isolating phenomenon. But the conservatism of my own nature—that endlessly insistent "save the baby" demand I feel—will not let me act otherwise. I am a literalist. I am confused by what seems to be, yet when actually approached or met with, proves not to be at all. To recognize that another artist is painfully and arbitrarily limited in what he or she feels possible because some group "doesn't like it" strikes me as outrageous. In that sense I have tended to be far more open to other artists in their work than I have been to their critics, radical or conservative.


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The Creative

Why wert thou a creature wanting soule?
Or, why is this imortall that thou hast?
MARLOWE Dr. Faustus

One seems to begin at a beginning, and then, after a time as difficult to recognize the actual measure of as any other thing that may or may not happen, one comes to an end. In that literal situation of what one calls experience, the outward , call it, of the content of perception, a life is lived in the explicit package of meat one calls the body. A mind thinks of it, at first so intrinsically the organism itself that there is, apparently, no separation experienced. The eyes see, the mouth tastes, the nose smells, the ears hear, the hands touch and hold, the legs stretch and walk. Hair, skin, bone, the body fills, voids, heats, cools, sleeps, wakes. An interminable one of many, the thought of life apart from itself is vague, impossible to consider. There is no one but instantly proves all, people some vast horizontal of seemingly similar size, a growth then of precisely repetitive proportions.

I want to speak of creative in the simply complex situation of: what creative means to me. Ezra Pound wrote of the deceptive syntactical simplicity of the request, "Buy me the kind of Rembrandt I like"—as complex in actuality as the numbers of people who might make it. Speaking now, it must be that this factual person, me , is familiar, so like so many, in fact, his hair, teeth, pants, etc. But the I , as Wittgenstein put it, is what is "deeply mysterious." In a world

Black Sparrow Press, Sparrow 6 (1973).


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of objects, mes , this is the one manifestation of existence that cannot so see itself as literal thing . It is my experience that what I feel to be the creative has location in this place of personal identity.

A friend recently here told me of a book he'd been reading wherein the creative as a concept is attributed to Renaissance art and its artists, although they felt their notion to have in turn roots in their own sense of historical past. This fact—as it instantly, 'creatively,' became one in my thinking—coincided with another I had got from Giedion's discussion of abstraction in the first volume of The Eternal Present . As he says, "Like the symbol, abstraction came into being with the beginning of art. It existed: nameless. It was simply there . . ." Certainly these two agencies, symbol and abstraction, have a powerful resonance in any situation we speak of as 'creative,' or surely they have had. To take from this that, to make another—this must, in thinking, be an extraordinary act of mind—to have of another a one, itself thus thing of the other, symbolic, and yet apart, abstract—so becomes the magic we feel in all transformation. Initially, as Giedion assumes it, there were two possibilities in abstraction: the ability to make of all the seemingly endless divergency and occasion of thing a general agreement, a one in which the all of its situation might come to rest and be recognized; but also, the impulse to have the one be a part of the whole, in a way which overrode it, became specific more intensely than all the other 'parts' otherwise equally present, an 'I' that wants so much more than to be merely 'human' or 'people' or, simply, 'like them.' Giedion notes that there is an increasing social egocentricity in that time between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, although it is myself who calls it 'social'—a feeling that what the elders of our own time felt as 'individual sensibility,' an insistence on the intrinsic value of what each one of us may feel, think, or value as singular persons, was growing in multiple social senses at this time. Giedion also emphasizes that it is this same dominance of egocentricity that permits Descartes to say, "I think, therefore I am," and to make thus separation of emotion and intellect in the context of human experience. The abstraction here accomplished is of the second kind.

We may feel as common persons of the world a terror we will not be given specific witness, that no one will ever know our actual lives have been lived at all. But why, I wonder, do we so imagine our lives not to have their own inherent orders, as Charles Olson might say—or why do we so wish to extend ourselves beyond the literal,


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the usual, even the casual circumstances of any day we do so live? As such persons we yearn for the possibility, as we would say, of doing something truly 'creative,' 'different,' not at all like anything anyone has ever done before. It is as if that sadly insistent 'humanism' of Descartes, that intensely flat and drab rationalism , had taken us to pure possibility—We think!—and then left us there to ponder: What can we think of now? Unhappily there is an automatism just as actual in processes of thought as might be felt to be in processes of digestion. My own irritation with the notion of creativity, as it has to do with writing, and, frankly, with living as well, is that it has been so given this place of the will—as though an act of thought resolved as an intention became thereby instanter revelation.

I had hoped, ignorantly, that create and credible might share some root, thinking of the Spanish creo (I believe )—because it would be lovely indeed if creation and belief were joined at some initial point in their experience. However, that is not the case, but 'create' is issue of such lovely company I see no reason to be disappointed: "ker -. To grow. Suffixed form *ker-es - in Latin Ceres , goddess of agriculture, especially the growth of fruits," whence our cereal . Or in the Latin creare , "to cause to grow." Or the o-grade forms in "*kor-wo -, 'growing,' adolescent, in Greek kouros, koros , boy, son" and in *kor-wa , "in Greek kore , girl, maiden, pupil of the eye." Or that most lovely, possibly: "Compound *sm-kero -, 'of one growth' (*sem -, same, one . . .), in Latin sincerus , pure, clean": whence our sincere . "Only the most absolute sincerity under heaven can effect any change."

One should, after all, have danced more, under the moon, and been a farmer, instead of a man given to thought. At least one has been father and teacher, giving such care as one knew how to, sincerely, to that growth of persons, in places very possibly not the most suitable. One had created them—hearing sometimes as blessing, sometimes as snigger, fruit of my loins. Fruit of the loom, loam. You fruit. First fruits. The fruit of their labor . I remember that early create meant make , for me, insofar as I had apparently created a disturbance, had made a mess. Woodenly, I could see no very clear difference in the fact and stubbornly set out to make a poem, a man, of myself. I thought you could think of it, and, having plans, follow them till the thing appeared, gloriously, complete. In like sense the creation of the world seemed to me a specific labor of God's in the same way this building seems the specific labor of carpenters. My


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company in this dilemma was obviously a number of my nineteenth-century countrymen, who seem to have made love, money, and monsters, all with the same convictions. One can hear even now, for example, that anguished voice shouting, "I have created a monster!" The possible 'disturbance' was unquestionably the real point in mind.

Our contemporary 'creations' are somewhat drabber: dresses, new styles, sad brittle poems written in sterile surroundings to mechanical senses of the possibility. But why should one be so hostile to what is, after all, a very human hope that something might thus change, might come to be said—be new? What does one know of creation except that insistent "Make it new," which Pound so emphasized? But he says also, "I have brought the great ball of crystal; / who can lift it? / Can you enter the great acorn of light?"

It is possible we live entirely in that act we so call 'creative,' that that is, in fact, the place of our possibility and recognition of life—that that fact of place is a mind, that body is equally the idea of it which possesses us. I am struck by the situation of schizophrenia wherein the experience of body may so place the hands or feet or anus in the consciousness so affected, that no communal agreement as to their location is possible. A self-created reality in that way dominates and isolates the one who has become, even without intention or agreement, its world.

In like sense, one of the human dilemmas of artists, particularly of writers who are participant in a kind of image-making that has as agency that most powerful, possibly, of human abstractions, language , is megalomania, delusions of greatness, of exceeding power or omnipotence. There is persistent impatience with those unwilling or unable to enter the world so proposed, and its obviousness to the one who has served as its creator makes him appear fascistically , in the political sense, determined upon its actuality and harmonious economy. One can think instantly of a diversity of writers who exhibit that situation in greater or lesser degree: Knut Hamsun, Céline, Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, and Ezra Pound himself. The world, so to speak, depends upon them for its own realization, but as they work to accomplish this reality, another world, equally present, insists upon those limits, which they, humanly, must accept.

To say of someone, that his or her appearance is pleasant , or ugly —each is a creative act. A 'world' in each case occurs in which that person takes place, whether or no his or her agreement is given. "Give a dog a bad name . . ." is not a specious homily but recognition, however casual, of the power of naming. "A rose by


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any other name . . ." might well smell as sweet, but not the rose —that would no longer exist, and an odor only would be the point. For years I have been intrigued by a quotation of Louis Zukofsky's from Wittgenstein: "A point in space is a [the?] place for an argument . . ." Think of it. Is that the point? What point? What has come to it? Who is present and realizes that to be the case? When? Is there the possibility of agreement in any such situation? "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" True questions of a reality experienced as created —that is to say, in this case, something said. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I loved, love, will love—you. Here. There. Then. Now." "The indefinite period of time yet to be . . ."

It is that spell of words that now comes to mind, and one had forgotten, thinking back all those years, to fusty smells of oiled corridors and boots and wet coats, sitting, trying to think, to remember, how does one spell 'patient' . . . Spelling! So obviously and so simply evident—and the grammar, the glamour , is instantly present, the patient 'patient,' and the heavy dead odor of the sickroom, roses in a vase beside the bed, because roses, not dandelions, cost explicit money and betoken care and tender concern. So you do have me 'under your spell,' and it is 'that old black magic,' again.

But quickly that other 'world' I had mentioned asserts itself, demanding time, demanding one be in it, physically actual . Robert Duncan, with characteristic clarity, posits the situation of these two 'worlds' as reality and actuality . The real is what we value in real estate, and has to do with things of this life: res, rei —possession, thing. Republic—dig it . . . One for all and all for one. But the actual has got that 'act' in it: "actus, an ACT." It's moving, causing things to skitter and bump, get on with it in some actual sense. One can return to reality by way of the actuarial , having to do with the computing of insurance risks and premiums, etc., etc., but it will never be the same. Which is to say, the tree is real, but when you hit it, it's actual.

"Don't you poets get tired of living in a world of your own imagination and want to get back to reality?" Whose reality? Who owns all this? The Swedish poet Lars Gustafsson pointed out to me that marriage, like the car, is an invention. It is not actual, although for many people indeed it may be real. But one doesn't drink it, or stumble over it, throw it on the fire. It isn't flesh or fur or fin. You'll remember the story of the sad fisherman who was given three wishes, who was both married and caught in reality, so that the demand upon him was to get more and more of that substance. Things upon things upon things—and no place to be. No one actually


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home at all, no matter it was all too real. It's an equally sad mistake to think that what is called 'creative' in poetry seeks a bargain in space and time, wants to exchange this for that, hike up the prices, so to speak. When Robert Graves writes, "There is one story, and one story only, that is worth your telling . . . ," he claims for poet that power of revelation , that care specific to this gift that the elemental nature of existence not be lost in the thought of it.

At the funeral of Jackson Pollock, Wednesday, August 15, 1956, the minister, the Reverend George Nicholson, read from St. Paul's statement, Romans, Chapter 8: "The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God's purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope." Later he said, not really having known Pollock but in a very certain sense cognizant of the occasion: "It seemed to me that at that moment when the art world had collected around that grave, on that beautiful day, all our skills & philosophies added up to a fragmentary & sorry collection. Like Plato's cave we were men living in a shadowy illusory world of sounds & sights—like dogs in an art gallery—sniffing around at corners.

"No, I didn't know J. Pollock. But in the Epistle to the Romans Chapter 8 there is more than a hint of glory and greatness—always in short supply."

Charles Olson's response to 'creative' social thinking was a muted sneer, "Oh, change it altogether . . ."—much like Pound's, "you who think you will/ get through hell in a hurry . . ." The point is: "Who even dead, yet hath his mind entire!/ This sound came in the dark/ First must thou go the road/ to hell . . ." "First came the seen, then thus the palpable/ Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,/ What thou lovest well is thy true heritage/ What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee . . ."

Pound's respect for Confucius, for that "sound given off by the heart's core," the possibility of things said, is measure of the sincerity I had earlier invoked. Whitman insisted, "The theme is creative and has vista," and in his sincerity, the heart of the matter, an imagination found the literal body of its impulse realized, made substantive, transformed. For it is imagination , only, which has this possibility. Hear it. "Only the imagination is real!/ I have declared it/ time without end . . ." "Light, the imagination/ and love,/ in our age,/ by natural law,/ which we worship,/ maintain/ all of a piece/ their dominance." Realize that you have been told, by the myriad men and women for whom creation is the literal place we live in, under sky, on ground, by water, in air. Pollock said, "When I am in my paint-


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ing, I am not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well."

What is here to discover is neither new nor significantly esoteric. Henry Corbin, in the introduction to Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi , makes this useful point: "Today, with the help of phenomenology, we are able to examine the way in which man experiences his relationship to the world without reducing the objective data of this experience to data of sense perception or limiting the field of true and meaningful knowledge to the mere operations of the rational understanding. Freed from an old impasse, we have learned to register and to make use of the intentions implicit in all the acts of consciousness or transconsciousness. To say that the Imagination (or love, or sympathy, or any other sentiment) induces knowledge , and knowledge of an 'object' which is proper to it, no longer smacks of paradox." Thus you will recognize the sadly familiar, and useless , difficulty William Carlos Williams meets with in "The Desert Music": "You seem quite normal. Can you tell me? Why / does one want to write a poem?// Because it's there to be written.// Oh. A matter of inspiration then?// Of necessity.// Oh. But what sets it off?// I am that he whose brains/ are scattered/ aimlessly . . ." At the close of this extraordinary poem the moment of revelation is literally accomplished: "I am a poet! I/ am. I am a poet, I reaffirmed, ashamed// Now the music volleys through as in/ a lonely moment I hear it. Now it is all/ about me. The dance! The verb detaches itself/ seeking to become articulate . . ." The word dances , in the literal garden of desire .

Louis Zukofsky wrote, "Out of deep need . . ." But what nature of need is it? To eat, to sleep, to find a form merely? I question that. In Berlin I am delighted to discover that the eminent scientist Heisenberg, himself in Munich, has fallen upon the arts as though upon a blissful bed of flowers, knowing , in his age, as Gregory Corso would say, that the conceptual dilemma of the sciences leads them round and around the careful maze of their various contexts , true Bottoms but alas no Shakespeares to love them and get them home. Zukofsky also writes of these things made , these poems , as being source of profound solace—where the heart finds rest. It is the need to enter what we loosely call the vision, to be one with the


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Imago Mundi, that image of the world we each of us carry within us as possibility itself. What can we say otherwise? Peace, brother. It's going to be all right. It's soon over and it won't hurt.

But the heart aches —"Out of deep need . . ." Corbin: "This power of the heart is what is especially designated by the word himma , a word whose content is perhaps best suggested by the Greek word enthymesis , which signifies the act of meditating, conceiving, imagining, projecting, ardently desiring—in other words, of having (something) present in the thymos , which is vital force, soul, heart, intention, thought, desire . . . The force of an intention so powerful as to project and realize ('essentiate') a being external to the being who conceives the intention, corresponds perfectly to the character of the mysterious power that Ibn 'Arabi designates as himma  . . . Thanks to his representational faculty . . . every man creates in his Active Imagination things having existence only in this faculty. This is the general rule. But by his himma the gnostic creates something which exists outside the seat of this faculty . . . In the first case, as it is exercised by most men, its function is representational; it produces images which are merely part of the conjoined Imagination . . . , inseparable from the subject. But even here, pure representation does not, eo ipso , mean 'illusion,' these images really 'exist,' illusion occurs when we misunderstand their mode of being. In the case of the gnostic . . . , the Active Imagination serves the himma which, by its concentration, is capable of creating objects, of producing changes in the outside world . . . When in contemplating an image, an icon, others recognize and perceive as a divine image the vision beheld by the artist who created the image, it is because of the spiritual creativity, the himma which the artist put into his work. Here we have a compelling term of comparison, by which to measure the decadence of our dreams and of our arts . . ."

Well, no use no way, and comparisons are odious—and the plan we had was that all this was going to get it together and be a happy place to be in , like. But that himma shit, man, that's really my kind of people. Heart-felt. I really mean it, this time, this place, this—. He forgot the word, walking around, was momently in Bolinas, Berlin, Oslo, Bergen, London, Bolinas—time's like that, sometimes. Days spent watching surfers, days spend time like there was no end to it, forever. "He wants impossible liveforever . . ." "Capsules wherein we wrap up our punishable secrets . . ." You going to read us a poem , Bob? "Who even dead, yet hath his mind entire!"

You really have to believe in it, as Coleridge said, all those years ago, so gently, "the willing suspension of disbelief . . ." Like that


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lovely, 'once upon a time . . .' I knew a man once who had a lovely team of horses, this was in West Acton, Mass., and one of them kneeled on a nail was in the planking of the stall, and the knee got infected—Mr. Green was his name—and Mr. Green, who lived alone with his wife, both about in their seventies, he used to, literally, take the blankets off their bed, this was in winter, and go out into the stall and wrap up that horse and put poultices on her knee, to draw out the poison, and he'd sit there with her, all the night, and finally the old horse, old in its own way as him, got well.

Take it from there, cut through. Breaks in time, head. Allen Ginsberg feels poems to be 'time capsules,' messages you don't really get the fact of till later. Have those bones begun to sprout—Eliot? True poet, not at all that he wanted to be—so rational, so Augustan in that old elegance. Let's create a spectacle! The sixties had 'happenings': "I painted 'I love what I'm doing' in orange and blue. When I got to 'what I'm doing,' it was going very fast, and I picked up one of the jars and drank the paint, and then I poured the other two jars of paint over my head, quickly, and dove . . . through the canvas . . ."

Such report as I had of studies done some years ago at the University of California at Berkeley, and at Stanford, of the situation of 'creative' behavior and personality with respect to specific persons, seemed to indicate a rather low return of information. Who can be anticipated as being in a situation with a high potential for creative behavior? No one apparently, with any surety. One may be born into a family of ten children, or one, have both parents actively present, or none, have a high degree of affluence present, or none, be black, white, yellow, red—without much proving the case. In like sense specific training in areas deemed creative, as music, dance, art, writing, may or may not effect anything. The composer Morton Subotnik pointed out that by far the greater number of eminently competent classical musicians, call them, in this country were the children of Russian Jews, simply that no other group could so unremarkably oblige their children to practice their instrument for six to eight hours daily, from the tender age of three onward. He himself was an exceptional clarinetist and had lovely wish fulfillment dreams in which both his arms were removed from his body, blissfully. He even joined the army, hoping to break the spell—but was instantly put into Special Services, to play the clarinet. Finally, in his early twenties, he managed, of his own will, to put it down. What he had wanted to play, aged three, was the trombone, but he could not name it for his parents, and when they


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showed him endless pictures of musical instruments, in consternation and fatigue he pointed to the clarinet as being most like that thing he had seen in nursery school.

We must respect the fact that what we call the creative cannot be simplistically 'included' in a rationalistically based 'program.' Art schools do not of necessity make painters, although a significant number of them may, variously, come to be there. But that is not why they are painters—if they are. We must respect equally the fact that we do not know why people are painters, or composers, or poets. In usual, mundane reality, to be any of those 'things' is not a simple, nor even desirable, situation of experience. My mother, with very gentle discretion, used to say, "I like to think that Bob could get a job if he had to." Olson's advice, "Poets, you should get a job . . ." makes clear the other side of this vacancy, if by 'poet' one proposes some idealistic creature who is too tender to manage the harsh buffetings of 'real life.' There must be some place to live in, together, and if poets tend to get people overexcited, emotionally, as Plato felt, then we simply have to take that chance. We must know by this time that reason, often, can only excuse itself, and it really doesn't seem to be an initial —by which I mean a 'first time'—situation in experience. Gregory Corso used to say to people who invited him up to their penthouses for a closer look, "Why don't you just give me the money and let me go home." The creative is frequently a situation of that order, but it isn't a question of, "Give me the tools and I will do the job." Poets have got the tools. They just want to live a little.

So there is this world one thinks of, and another, no doubt, that seems to be there no matter. Jung called them the creatura , significantly enough, and the pleroma , the first being the mind's world, the world of ideas, differences, distinctions, thought, and the second, the world of physical event purely, having no 'idea' of itself, no 'imagination,' no this or that. Having two things, worlds or whatever, the mind wants to ask immediately, which one is better —or rather, the Western mind does. But you have to give up that 'better,' it just doesn't work—or of course you can go on being a sternly humanistic rationalist, but it won't get you here . Because there will always be here too, to really drive you out of your head.

One wants to keep growing. One looks for whatever signs seem the issue of that possibility. The plans are to secure that situation, but the hope may be a sad one. I don't want to say that there's no use in living in whatever imagination of the universe is your own. Democracy is literal and will tell you where you are inexorably. You


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know the people and they know you. Each day, night, you are alive will be specific, even if you are in some body state that seems altogether inaccessible to the others. 'Creative,' as actuality, is here always, never elsewhere in any sense.

I think that where my own confusion lies, in trying to think of 'creative' as an adjective, as some descriptive term, is in the fact that I cannot conceive of 'creative' as something available to an attitude of discreet choice—as though one were able to agree or not, as its interest quickened or waned in one's thought of it. Life continues as it makes more life? Is that the self-growth principle? Are we a circumstance of cells having as limit the ability to exhaust the environment in which we find ourselves? "Well met by moonlight . . ." A dream of universe that has affections, qualities, and kinds. How did we get here, like they say. I was born some years ago and I have paid attention as I was able, to all that came to attention. I'm an honest man, I pay what I owe. He was speaking in some heat, irritated that those who listened to him were not apparently impressed. "How can we tell the dancer from the dance . . ." Who was it that wanted to. Olson's sense, that art is the only true twin life has—it 'means nothing,' it doesn't have a point. The painter Arakawa's delight in zero set , the real nitty gritty for any head-trip. Or—wanted to forget it, get out of the whole demand. On automatic pilot. Is that 'the creative.'

Basil Bunting said his own recognition, that he was to be a poet, was , in fact, came to him while sitting on the hearth at the age of four or so, listening to his parents talk about the Russian-Japanese conflict. It was only hard, he said, because he didn't know clearly what a poet was. Does one only say that later. I don't think so. I don't think it's really any different than the recognition that D. D. T. has such harsh effect on the environment—an idea become substantial, something's really having happened. Richard Alpert told of a man's jumping off a four-story building, then dying, smiling through blood, in the street. He said the man must have been happy—smiling . Is it discreet, this life. It is discrete. The growth must have multiple phase, like water boiling or freezing, must have multiple condition, transfer—transformed to other energy, agency. Eat it up—is eaten. The farmer feeds the horse a little less each day until he arrives at that point where the horse is subsisting on nothing at all. Succeeds, then—but the horse dies. There is no reason why the idea should not be successful, with or without the horse. It only depends on what you want.

Seeds dormant thousands of years, given chance, luck, might—


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could—did grow. They eat the flesh of the mammoth frozen millennia, in ice. Hold it! They got the picture. Article in old Reader's Digest: "New Hope for the Dead." Simple-minded con trip deigns to speak of 'the rest of us.'

If I could just create the kind of world I'd really like to live in . . . I wouldn't be there. 'I' is an experience of creation, which puts up with it no matter. There's a lot to get done. You've been born and that's the first and last ticket. Already he changes his mind, makes the necessary adjustments, picks up his suitcase and getting into his car, drives slowly home. He lives with people whom he has the experience of loving. It all works out. He says. It has to. One to a customer. It's late. But they'll be there. He relaxes. He has an active mind.

For My Mother: Genevieve Jules Creeley

          April 9, 1887–October 7, 1972

                    Tender, semi-
                    articulate flickers
                    of your

                    presence, all
                    those years
                    past

                    now, eighty-
                    five, impossible to
                    count them

                    one by one, like
                    addition, sub-
                    traction, missing

                    not one. The last
                    curled up, in
                    on yourself,

                    position you take
                    in the bed, hair
                    wisped up

                    on your head, a
                    top knot, body
                    skeletal, eyes

                    closed against,
                    it must be,


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                    further disturbance—

                    breathing a skim
                    of time, lightly
                    kicks the intervals

                    days, days and
                    years of it,
                    work, changes,

                    sweet flesh caught
                    at the edges,
                    dignity's faded

                    dilemma. It
                    is  your  life, oh
                    no one's

                    forgotten anything
                    ever. They want
                    to make you

                    happy when
                    they remember. Walk
                    a little, get

                    up, now, die
                    safely,
                    easily, into

                    singleness, too
                    tired with it
                    to keep

                    on and on.
                    Waves break at
                    the darkness

                    under the road, sounds
                    in the faint
                    night's softness. Look

                    at them, catching
                    the light, white
                    edge as they turn—

                    always again
                    and again. Dead
                    one, two,

                    three hours—
                    all these minutes


552

                    pass. Is it,

                    was it, ever
                    you alone
                    again, how

                    long you kept
                    at it, your
                    pride, your

                    lovely, confusing
                    discretion. Mother, I
                    love you—for

                    whatever that
                    means,
                    meant—more

                    than I know, body
                    gave me my
                    own, generous,

                    inexorable place
                    of you. I feel
                    the mouth's sluggish-

                    ness, slips on
                    turns of things
                    said, to you,

                    too soon, too late,
                    wants to
                    go back to beginning,

                    smells of the hospital
                    room, the doctor
                    she responds

                    to now, the
                    order—get me
                    there. "Death's

                    let you out—"
                    comes true,
                    this, that,

                    endlessly circular
                    life, and we
                    came back

                    to see you one


553

                    last
                    time, this

                    time? Your head
                    shuddered,
                    it seemed, your

                    eyes wanted,
                    I thought,
                    to see

                    who it was.
                    I am here,
                    and will follow.

                                                      Bolinas, California
                                                      October 15, 1972


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Inside Out

Notes on the Autobiographical Mode

for Jane Brakhage

         I'm telling you a
        story to let myself
        think about it. All

        day I've been
        here, and yesterday.
        The months, years,

        enclose me as
        this thing with arms
        and legs. And if

        it is time
        to talk about it
        who knows better

        than I?

There was a time—primary but not primitive—when experience of consciousness did not separate it from the sensory and perceptive as an agency somehow isolated from those other situations of experience. I mean, the concept and location of mind is relatively 'new' to us as people. Some obviously felt it a significant step forward, as Bruno Snell in his book The Discovery of the Mind . Others were less happy, feeling that the isolation, thus, of the mind in

Black Sparrow Press, Sparrow 14 (1973).


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body, and its use as a decision , call it, for all that otherwise constitutes body information, overweighted the mental as against what I'll call the physical .

Mental and physical are aspects, clearly, of one primary unit or organism called a human. But, curious now to realize, there was a time when the eye saw, the hand held, the skin felt, ear heard, nose smelled, etc., each in a primary input to the body as total organism. There was no debate, so to speak—the thought occurred in the experience: Bang! Once mind could think of itself, and so propose an extensive condition of its own function, these primary inputs—and they must remain so, no matter what's 'thought'—seemingly yielded to the mind's activity. Thus, if one were cold, the trick was 'not to think of it' or else 'to think one was not very cold,' hence warmer than one was apparently feeling.

I love these tricks of the mind, yet feel increasingly uneasy concerning the impact upon us of their authority. A few years ago Tuli Kupferberg promoted a lovely, if terrifying, slogan: Kill For Peace. How could that be? Well, you had these bad guys, that is, one thought they were 'bad,' and these good guys, similarly created, and if you killed all the bad guys, then of course the good guys were 'free'—as they had been to kill—to live in peace. Get the appropriate context and anything in the world can be very simply thought of as 'true.' I smoke, for example, not because it may give me cancer and kill me, but because I like to, or I have it as a habit, or I think it gives my hands and mouth something to do. I—what I experience as my mind thinking of me —have no problem in removing the causes of possible distress. After all, it's only my body that dies in any case. My mind never will, etc.

Auto-bio-graphy I translate as a life tracking itself. One interesting factor here is that bios (life) did not initially extend to animal life but was involved with human only. Later, in compounds, its meaning is made to cover organic life in general: biology. It would seem that even at this point life had something very significantly to do with life thinking of itself. What is my life to me? Is it a good life? Organic or animal life happened . It could be acted upon, even obliterated—like the dodo bird, but its occasion seemed inextricably involved with its event. There's a large lion in the forest, said the man to his wife whom he had thought of one night in April and thus married. It's me, she said, looking at him. What does it mean: there's a large lion, anywhere, and has anybody told the lion?

I want to think for a while, of anything. Say birds—I like them. People—terrific, if they like me. What a great life we're having, if


556

comfortable in our seats and minds and hearts. Or horrible,—rejected, unloved, in pain. I want to think it over. And over and over and over. Will thinking get me anywhere? To Detroit, possibly. Or here, for those of us who came from elsewhere, truly another abstraction.

In fact, it was that we could haul it away, like some ultimate garbage crew, that we came to be here at all, in this place with heads alert to learn, aching for information: The New-s. Abstraction, that yanking from one thing—call it organic life—just enough of it to let it still be there somehow, like the Venus de Milo, and then to use the arms to indicate the whole, so to speak. Obviously she was a lovely woman and her arms were really great to have around you. Once home, with them safely tucked into bed beside you, it possibly occurred to us, as to you, that something precisely to be desired had been left behind.

So what happened? That's where one possibility of the autobiographical can clearly enter. Try to remember. Statue. Arms. You. What did you do with them? What day was it, or night? Think. We'll give you all the time you need. "Lives of great men all remind us/ we can make our lives sublime/ and departing leave behind us/ footsteps (prints?) on (in?) the sands of time . . ." I can't remember. Simply write as clearly as you can what you think was the situation. It's your life.

Or, paradoxically, it may have little at all to do with memory. Or let's say, memory is a source of material, fantasy as well as fact. I remember! "I remember, I remember/ the house where I was born . . ." Like a movie my wife told me of in the old days, of doctor coming home in carriage with horse through driving rain, finally pushing his way through door into house, wife all excited and waiting for his first words, which are: Tonight history was made. I have just delivered Louis Pasteur!

You begin at any point, and move from that point forward or backward, up or down—or in a direction you yourself choose. In and out of the system, as Buckminster Fuller would say. It's a system—of valuation, habit, complex organic data, the weather, and so on. Usually the choice is to track it backward, that is, most autobiographical impulse tends to follow this course. One can think of one's life as not worth remembering, in fact one can want to forget it—but if what has constituted it, the things "of which it was made up," as William Carlos Williams says, are dear to your memory and experience of them, then it may well be a record of them, a graph of their activity as 'your life,' is an act you would like to perform.


557

This mode of autobiography is close to our usual senses of history, his story as we said in the fourth grade, and it is also useful here to note history comes from a Greek root, historein: to go find out for yourself. This was Charles Olson's clear point of emphasis in his own procedures, that self-action —the middle voice—was crucial in human existence. Why he so insisted, I think, comes of his belief that humans get truly lost in thought and language insofar as no substantiating act, particularly from and of and to the human itself, takes place. You can't be taught if you won't learn—just like the horse who won't for whatever reason drink.

So here then is possibly a motive, as well as a mode, for a kind of autobiography that might well be interesting to any of us. Olson also said, we do what we know before we know what we do. That's deeply interesting to me—it's where our bodies return to our minds, among other things. I feel a threat, not a pleasure, in Descartes' statement: I think, therefore I am—if that experience is felt to be somehow the most significant thing we can do. Again it's the situation of the abstract that I am uneasy about, that we can be here as thought , and that we will so be , with primary reality—which of course we also have thought—no matter what else may prove our actual state of being. Or it may be that he was just defining the word 'I'—that I thinks, and me is otherwise the case.

Me leaves many traces. Diter Rot made works of art the accumulation of what me -ness in the physical world is: rooms or apartments which slowly filled with casual input, bags, papers, garbage, junk, and when they were no longer habitable, being simply too full, he sealed them, then left, deeming them actual in a way another record of his existence within them could not accomplish. Another man suggested taking daily pictures of one's physical self, face or whatever, at a photomat, say, so that a 'track' of that aspect of one's life might be documented for referral. In each case it would seem that the point is not the thought of one's life but rather the fact which no situation of 'I' can gainsay.

Autobiography in this circumstance might be very interesting indeed. You know the way people say, we all have a story within us—something specific in our lives that would, could we only get it said, be something worth hearing. That may well be true but I don't think art is particularly involved by it. Writing, for example, is an activity dependent on words as material. It may be felt that it matters what they 'say' but far more decisive is the energy gained in the field or system they are used to create. Small hambones versus big beef cutlets . That is, you may see literal things thus sug-


558

gested, but you are hearing also a system of sounds and rhythms that these materials are effectually creating. In like sense, the "Chef's Special" may sound good to you—but it may be awful to literally eat, and you won't know what it is until someone who does know tells you.

Again—stop it all. The boat's left, it's gone, nothing comes back from that place. You can run the film backward but it won't be the same. E.g., Ken Mikolowski has a lovely poem simply of the fact you can reverse linear patterns: Oh say can you see becoming See you can say oh . Time is either an imagination or else a phasing inherent in the system, organic or inert (including abstractions). What is your life that you're going to write it down, or make films of it, or whatever it is you had in mind. The one thing clear about your life is that you are living it. You're here—wherever that is. Whitman was quick about it, saying, "Who touches this book touches a man." He knew that whoever was holding the book to read it would physically be there. And that, believe it or not, is really fast thinking. I write these words , muttering, thinking, to myself. Cross fingers and I may well be dead before I ever chance to read them to you—a powerful and dangerous thing ever to say even to oneself. Witness what the words have done to me as I gains locus.

We—that unimaginable plural of I!—want our lives to be known to us, we don't want it all a seeming dream, back to Plato's cave again. We want the light —even a rock band or particularly a rock band called Plato's Cave, if nothing else seems to get it on. We don't want to hang around waiting to be x'ed out at some 'later date.' Henry M. Yaker writes: "Certain primitive cultures have no past or future tense in their language, and express all events of life, real or mythological, in an 'eternal now' . . ." That sounds fair enough. Everybody's here at this point, and they always were—despite the lack of communication. Of course a 'we' will still be found to flood thousands of acres of forest at the headwater of the Amazon, regretting they haven't means to inform the divers people living in those forests of the impending 'event.' That's another mode of autobiography, 'think big.' This will really get them in Des Moines. And so I tell you, friends and neighbors, although I come from humble origins, early in life I took the big chances—and won. You want to work for someone like that? Don't—even if you have to. Fuck him up, like they say. He's taken everything else.

Is autobiography, at least the written, just a means of self-justification, the 'facts' that excuse you? A few days ago in New York I got five parking tickets in forty-eight hours. When I put that


559

into my linear patterning, it fair broke my mind—and I felt like leaving for California that very night. The car, happily, was already there, viz. California license plates—so, I'll be back. But not always to say, gee, I'm sorry, or, wasn't it nice yesterday. Shucks.

Too often we are told to generalize ourselves in the pattern of an idea that may or may not have specific relevance for what we feel as persons otherwise. The imagination of a commonwealth must make that sharing literal—there cannot be an invested partiality hidden from the participants. When the New York Police Department has persons within it who will literally threaten to run other persons down with trucks in order to gain their compliance, no matter how 'guilty' those threatened may be, one cannot accept the agency. Realize that the general , the we-ness proposed in various realities, may well prove to be this kind. Obviously any 'we' must, willynilly, submit to the organic orders of its existence: must sleep, must eat, must drink, must move, must die. But that is very nearly the totality of the actual demand. Elsewise, the "geography leans in," as Olson put it. Place is a real event—where you are is a law equal to what you are.

To discover a precision in this situation, to act in the specific context, takes all the wit and alertness any one of us can bring to it. You'll recognize that people tend to check one another out, coming from divers places. With hitchhikers a few nights ago, I had an extraordinary information of routes that can move us across this country, bypasses, numbers, weather, places—and the people to be met with in every major nexus of persons from here to L.A. Time as well was particular—as it is insistently for the Guatemalan Indians, who have a precise vocabulary of explicit measures for the way in which you are moving—on foot, say, or on horseback, truck, etc. And these are not interchangeable, only translatable.

What the autobiographic does, primarily, is to specify person —at least it has that capability. Reading, for example, Mandelstam's widow's book, Hope Against Hope , persons become actual—there is no generality of impression such as, Russia is hostile to the Jews. A literal man is demonstrated as experiencing a viciously insistent persecution, finally resulting in his death. One can, of course, feel the report exaggerated, simply that it is his widow who relates the story. But her words are again, literally, a person saying them. You, as person also, can make up your own mind—and the question isn't one inviting you to feel that poetry in Russia should be more respected. The fact is, it is respected—so much so that Mandelstam dies because the power of his gift is so feared. Think: scrawled on


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the wall of a death camp by someone waiting to die, a line of Mandelstam's, one not even to be found in a so-called book but carried in the ear, mind and mouth, person to person, all that bitter distance.

One time, years ago now, Allen Ginsberg was at a party in New York talking with a young woman about the apparent hostility publishers then felt toward the younger American poets, myself in particular. She was, as it happens, a junior editor at Harper's, and listened patiently to his irritation. Then she said, we've been in business for over eighty years and I think we know what we're doing. At which point Ginsberg naturally flipped—You? You've been in business for over eighty years? Why you're only twenty-two years old!

Why not speak for yourself. Sooner or later you'll have to. There are no sure investments. Watch the dollar do the dirty float—like a mind, a dead idea, fading out.

I'm tired and I want to stop this mumbling. But I've made a commitment, and I want to respect it. That's true. What other experience of 'I' is interesting, except that which manifests its patterning, the laws of its own imagination and possible experience. Tell me who I am. Amnesia, but the person continues eating, sleeping, begins again. In group therapy investments of the experience of 'I' are relinquished, even forced out. Richard Alpert recalled his first experience of LSD as being a loss of all ego support—his sense of himself as a brilliant young psychologist, a professor at Harvard, a successful son, and much more, melted like ice in hot sun. Can you melt yourself, 'autobiographically,' can you stand, literally, not to be some absent dream of glory, just what your mother always wanted.

Or consider Gregory Corso's reaction to people talking about the joys of ego loss: lose your egos? You're not even good enough to have egos. Agh.

So keep on tracking—life. "To measure is all we know . . ." You want to use somebody else's ruler, that's your business. I don't know that all the emphasis upon individual sensibility isn't some simple con game, simply 'divide and conquer.' But who are you, and why does your life propose itself as a collective. Is it a premise got from the fact we constitute a species, 'we are many'—which is certainly attractive to any me of myself I can experience as I . There's no pleasure in being by yourself finally, always alone.

I love the possibly apocryphal account of nineteenth century people in Russia going up to absolute strangers in the street, grabbing them by the knees, and then confessing to them some incred-


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ible act. Like Dostoyevsky's account of the rape of a child with which he had been involved. Or Ginsberg saying to the old poet in Peru, I want to know your dirtiest secrets. We've had a lot to do with those 'secrets,' lately. In the My Lai inquiry soldiers told humanly awful stories in seemingly unquestioning tones of voice—such as giving a pesty kid a spam sandwich with a thermal device inside it, which then flared in the kid's throat and stomach, killing him. What gave them containment was the general —the United States Army in this instance. You give each of the six men of the firing squad a gun, only one of which has a live bullet. You shuffle the guns first of all, so that even you can't identify the lethal weapon. Then you check your own commands, and then you give the order to shoot. No one has killed anyone, specifically—he's just dropped dead. Suddenly I think of the general of an army, old Mr. Abstraction himself. Ours not to reason why—ours just to do it, and let those mothers die.

Autobiography might be thought of, then, as some sense of a life responsive to its own experience of itself. This is the 'inside out,' so to speak—somehow reminiscent of, It ain't no sin/ to take off your skin/ and dance around in your boh-hones . . . Trying to take a look, see what it was all about, why Mary never came home and Joe was, after all, your best friend. Not to explain—that is, not to lay a trip on them—rather an evidence seems what one is trying to get hold of, to have use of oneself specifically as something that does something, and in so doing leaves a record, a consequence, intentionally or not.

The sculptor Marisol speaks of using herself, over and over, in her work. "When I show myself as I am I return to reality." When one wears a uniform or otherwise generalizes the condition of one's experience of oneself, that "reality" is most difficult to enter. There was, sadly, a professor employed at the University of New Mexico who one time began a lecture with the statement: As I was shaving this morning, seeing myself in the mirror, Professor Jones, I said . . . That is the end of the story, just another professor, no one otherwise home. There can be a different experience of that situation as one of the earliest discovered occasions of written language makes clear: I, John, foreman of Pit 7, hereby testify . . . Or words to that effect. This is the responsibility of identity, not its specious investment. Do you know how to drive the car, can you stop this bleeding, are you a competent doctor, lawyer, teacher, father—or are you just out to lunch.

There must be times when the experience of being oneself is al-


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most unendurable—by which I mean, something has happened, oneself being the agency, and it is unspeakably difficult to accept what one has thus done. Williams, a markedly autobiographical writer, spoke of poems as "capsules wherein we wrap up our punishable secrets." That is a Puritan sense certainly, but Puritans have been great practitioners of autobiography—Thoreau, D. H. Lawrence and Edward Dahlberg among them. Any context which makes one feel singular in life, a specific isolated consciousness in the universe, intensifies the attraction of this situation of statement. Camus' first draft of The Stranger uses an I which is markedly himself, I am told, and certainly 'existentialism' is a Puritan stance.

No doubt there are clear signs of a kind of paranoia in this mode, just that the I feels itself surrounded by a they to which its experience of itself cannot easily refer. Paranoia in the arts is by no means unfamiliar. The artist must often feel that he or she has been deliberately cut off from some generality of social grouping, and so must both state, and implicitly justify, the fact of his or her 'life.' Since no one else apparently cares, I will speak of myself to myself. I know that I, as an artist, have never dared to imagine in working that an actual audience might be literally attentive to what I have to say. Therefore my primary experience of an audience has been my own eye, or ear, listening to what it was that was being said. My wife tells me that I often mutter when writing, and also frequently laugh—both instances of the situation I am describing. Now, older, when I am at times asked to say something specifically to an audience, I am still dependent primarily on what I hear in saying it, not what the audience may hear. In that respect I am very thick-skinned, and can take a good deal of abuse, as long as that which is getting said is of interest to me. Another situation of statement would obviously stop, confounded, when it found that response, apart from its own experience of itself, was hostile.

When Angus Fletcher speaks of the change in the imagination of how persons may experience the world, from Marlowe to Bunyan, say, he is emphasizing the shift in consciousness from a communal locus to a singular one, to an I that has discovered the possibility of its own assumption of the right , self-defined and self-asserted, to be an I co-present and equal in that sense to all other possibilities of reality. It is a giddy moment, and perhaps a deeply tragic one. Bunyan, despite the fact that Pilgrim's Progress uses the form of autobiography, is far indeed from its literal experience as we would now define it. He is a deeply communal man and cannot speak as one . Marlowe, on the other hand, seems very present in Dr. Faustus —we


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think of his literal life, witnessing that play. With Goethe, we are in a different 'place' entirely, far closer to social 'mythology.'

It is Castaneda who 'autobiographically' tells us of Don Juan's teachings. Don Juan is not interested in 'himself' in that way, as those teachings, even so filtered, make clear. I think it wise to be aware of this problem, so to speak, insofar as any autobiographical mode can seem to be significant in itself —just as the I of its creation has assumed, ipso facto , that what he or she has to say is significant. If, by significant , one means that the statement signifies something, no matter what, then all seems well and good. Anything that happens 'signifies.' But if there is otherwise an intention, an ulterior motive as it's called, then the problem is very much more complex. Is that great man's life, which reminds us, in itself directed to do so? That is, did he literally live it for that purpose? Possibly yes. But what he thought he was doing, no matter how directed, can never to my mind be as actual or as significant as what he was , literally, doing. Which is to say nothing more than that Hitler must have been no less possessed by an idea than was Jesus, and we know that what affects us is the event of that fact in each case.

When people are very old, and there is the consciousness of death coming upon them, a very marked impulse to tell what their lives have been occurs. I don't think it is simply loneliness in that situation, or that they have lost otherwise a place . The grandfathers, and grandmothers, are the great storytellers—and in societies alert to that human need they are of course so used. They tell a life of I that becomes more than singular consciousness in isolations of intent or assertive energy. They are, as it were, taking the I back to its center. Olson once told me that the initial sign for the pronoun I was a boat. Insofar as I is a vehicle of passage or transformation, its powers are clear. Realized as will or personality, that 'mealy seal' as Olson called it, the power vitiates as soon as the energy necessary to sustain it exhausts itself. "L'état, c'est moi" is truly the end of a period.

Those of us who came of age in the forties remember the extraordinary turmoil within human consciousness, which was, on the one hand, the Second World War, and, on the other, existentialism. We saw what Jung might call the 'individuation process' enter the nightmare of 'divided creation,' torn from centers of physical reality. The heroism of Allen Ginsberg in the fifties cannot be overemphasized: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical . . ." Come back into the body. We do not go 'backward' or 'forward' in the mind—we live


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and die. Olson, dying, was relieved, almost to delight, that the fundament , that physical thing we are, had not been lost in the firmament , that mind world of stars and extensions.

What can one do? "Tell the story." "To tell / what subsequently I saw and what heard / —to place myself (in / my nature) beside nature / to imitate nature (for to copy nature would be a / shameful thing) / I lay myself down . . ."

To bear witness. To be here, to hear. To tell.

Buffalo, N.Y.
March 22, 1973


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Foreword to Robert Creeley:
An Inventory, 1945–1970

by Mary Novik

I came to writing with some awkwardness, just that nothing in the situation in which I grew up seemed particularly involved with that possibility. My sister Helen, however, four years older than I, was an intensive reader, and it was she who gave me both Conrad and Dostoyevsky to read when I must have been about twelve or thirteen. She also wrote poems which had gained the approval of Robert P. Tristram Coffin among others. At school I had several exceptional teachers, all of whom increased my articulation and also my perception of what "saying things" could accomplish. One, for example, had us translate sections of Joyce's Dubliners into Basic English, an exercise which made very literal the actual agency that the words in Joyce's text were making. When it came time to go to college, I sent applications to Amherst, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard. The first two offered excellent preparation for veterinary medicine, which I then hoped would be my profession, and both offered me substantial scholarships. Harvard's acceptance, however, despite the lack of any financial assistance, must have turned my head, coming from a small town in Massachusetts as I did. In any case, the decision to go to Harvard was also a decision to commit myself to writing, no matter that I was probably not that certain of it at the time. My friends there quickly expanded senses of writing I had had to include Pound and Stein among others. They were also the first to publish me and to invite me, generously, to be one of the editors of the Cummings issue of the Har-

Mary Novik, Robert Creeley: An Inventory, 1945–1970 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1973).


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vard Wake . Willy Gaddis, Jake Bean, Bernie Weinbaum, and Bill Lieberman also had myself and Gordon Rollins elected to the Harvard Advocate , but our subsequent conduct caused the university to expunge all record of that fact.

The rest of it, so to speak, is to be found here. It's a very strange feeling now looking through the various entries, much like seeing the rings on a tree stump. I have never had the sense that I was getting very much done, and so it's a particular pleasure to see how much has accumulated no matter. I'm grateful, of course, that it has mattered to others, those readers who I've never dared assume might be there. I felt I was doing something very like tossing pebbles in a pool. The way the rings have gone out is a very deep pleasure.

I must say I have very few of the books, pamphlets, magazines, etc., that are here listed. We have moved so frequently in past years—twenty-two times in the past fourteen—that it was impossible to keep any such backlog in hand, even had I wanted to. So I thank Mary Novik very much indeed for recalling all of them to me. Her conscientiousness has been an act of extraordinary generosity.

Bolinas, California
December 31, 1971


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Last Night

Random Thoughts on San Francisco, March–June 1956

There are lovely moments in the world when persons and place "burn with a like heat," as Olson would say. Who knows why, finally, except that some intuition or habit or simply coincidence has arranged that this shall be the case—and all those to be blessed, truly, will be present.

I felt that way, arriving in San Francisco in March of 1956. The city was humanly so beautiful, but that fact would not have changed my mind in itself. I'd left Black Mountain just at the turn of the year, in real despair, with a marriage finally ended, separated from my three children, very confused as to how to support myself—and so I had headed west, for the first time, thinking to be rid of all the 'easternisms' of my New England upbringing and habit. I had friends living in New Mexico—a phenomenal place in its own right—and thought to settle there, but after a month or so I found myself restless, dependent, and in no sense clearer as to what might be my next move. An old friend and student from Black Mountain, Ed Dorn, was living in San Francisco, so that's where I headed—to see the Pacific Ocean, if nothing else.

I got there mid-afternoon, if I remember correctly. Ed and Helene gave me a whirlwind tour of the city, in their tiny Morris Minor, and we drank a lot in celebration. Ed told me that Rexroth had generously invited us to dinner but that he had to go to work at the Greyhound Bus Terminal at six. I in the meantime was getting

First published in French as "Hier Soir: Au Hasard de Mes Souvenirs de San Francisco (mars—juin 1956)," Entretiens 34 (1975). Translated from English by Etienne de Planchard.


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drunker and drunker, and recall vomiting heavily in the street before going up to Rexroth's apartment. People had already eaten, but tactfully made no point of my late arrival. Later that same night, returning to the Dorns' apartment, I was charmed by the arrival of Allen Ginsberg at midnight (he got off work at the Greyhound Terminal at that hour), and we talked much of the night about writing and "Projective Verse" and his own interest in Kerouac and Burroughs. My information of the former was meager, but fascinating, i.e., Robert Duncan had told me that Kerouac was the man who had written a thousand pages in which the only apparent physical action was a neon sign, over a storefront, flashing off and on. Burroughs, in a story that had him confused with Jack, was said to have been asked at a party to demonstrate his expertise with revolvers by shooting an apple off the head of his wife. A gun was given him, he took aim and fired—and sadly killed her. His apocryphal remark was: I should never have used a 45. They always undershoot . . .

Rexroth's weekly evenings proved an intensive meeting ground. The Place, a great bar with genial host Leo and sometime bartender John Ryan, was another. One night Allen asked the Dorns and myself to meet him there after he got off work, so he could introduce us to Jack Kerouac, now back in the city. We got there early, and sat at a small table in the front of that small space—and waited, peering about to try to figure out which one of the others might be Jack. I was particularly drawn to a man who was sitting up against the back wall, on the way to the toilet, seemingly alone, sort of musing, with extraordinary eyes and a head that had somehow larger than 'life size' intensity. When Allen came in, he asked us if we'd seen Jack, and we said, no—and then he pointed to this man I'd been watching, and said, there he is. But we had little conversation that night, unhappily. Jack was pretty comatose from drinking, and when we all got back to the apartment he was sharing with Al Sublette to eat—the large steak, I remember, kept getting dropped on the floor in the process of being cooked—Jack passed out on a bed, and when I was delegated to wake him up, he regarded me with those extraordinary eyes and I felt like a didactic idiot.

Remembering now, it all tends to swirl. Great parties at Locke McCorkle's house out in Mill Valley—Allen and Peter charmingly dancing naked among a dense pack of clothed bodies, flowers at the prom! Jack and I sitting on the sidelines, shy, banging on up-ended pots and pans, 'keeping the beat.' Gary Snyder's wise old-young eyes, his centeredness and shyness also. Phil Whalen's, "Well,


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Creeley, I hope you know what you're doing . . ." Visits to Mike McClure's with Ed—Ronnie Bladen upstairs in their undesignated commune. Mike practicing the trumpet (in the cellar?)—anyhow, blasts of sound, and talk of Pollock, energy . Lawrence Ferlinghetti, standing outside his great and initial City Lights Bookstore, asking me what living was like in Mallorca—cheap? He'd had the care to review The Gold Diggers for the San Francisco Chronicle , and that was surely a first. Walking around the city with Allen and Phil, Allen reading us Howl , which he had in a big black binder notebook, each time we'd stop at a curb or in a cafe (Mike's—great Italian food) or just on a bench in a park. Later I typed the stencils for a small 'edition' of that transforming poem—I was trying to get work and Marthe Rexroth gave me the job, as I remember, Allen had given her—prior to the City Lights publication.

There were other dear friends of that time, James Broughton (an old friend of Duncan's), Kermit Sheets, Madeline Gleason. (Duncan himself was in Black Mountain, but his care that I should be at home in the city was so kind.) I'd go to them when I was exhausted, and that was frequently. I finally managed to get an apartment on Montgomery Street, though I never succeeded in living there. I did write some poems, though—on a huge typewriter Marthe had got me: "Please," "The Bed," "Just Friends" (old Charlie Parker favorite), "She Went to Stay," "A Folk Song," and "Jack's Blues" among them. One night I invited the gang over, like they say, and one of the company was a particularly ominous heavy , whose pleasure was turning school girls on (there were two with him) to heroin, and finally I got freaked. Peter Orlovsky, true angel, somehow managed to clear the whole room of people, then paused himself at the door before leaving, to say, would you like me to turn off the light?

We talked endlessly, day and night. We rehearsed our senses of writing, possible publication, shop talk. Jack was not going to let the editors cut up On the Road the way they had The Town and the City —he was getting himself ready for Malcolm Cowley's impending visit, 'to talk it over,' which Jack rightly feared might be heavy-handed 'advice.' Both Ed and I were asked a lot of questions about Olson and his "Projective Verse"—was it just more razzle-dazzle intellectualism? McClure and Whalen were particularly intrigued, and were at this time already in correspondence with him. Allen, as always, was alert to any information of process that might be of use.

So time went by—and it was so packed with things happening , it seems now strange to me it was such a short time—only three


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months. Came June, and I was restless again, and so headed back to New Mexico, with huge rucksack (I managed to get all my stuff and Marthe's typewriter into somehow) and sleeping bag Jack had helped me locate in an army surplus store on Market Street. I still have them. The sleeping bag, in fact, is presently on the bed in the next room.

Why does that matter. At times it seems all we have of the human possibility, to keep the faith —though why an old sleeping bag and a primordial army issue rucksack now looking like a faded grey ghost should be the tokens, one must figure for oneself. Each time I drive cross country, in the underpowered battered VW I likewise hold on to, hitting those Kansas spaces (where Burroughs rightly remarked, one gets the fear ), I think of Neal Cassady and that Pontiac he could wheel round corners as if on a turntable. Pure burning energy. Listening to fantastic "Bombay Express" Indian record of Locke's, Neal flagging the train on through . . .

People give you life in that way. Things you didn't think you knew or could do. Suddenly it's possible. Answers you never expected to come out of your own mouth. One time—after a nightlong party at Locke's—people had variously come to rest either in the house at the bottom of the hill, great sloping ground of musky eucalyptus and grass, or else in the small cabin toward the top, kids and big people all together in one heap—Jack proposed he and I sleep outside just to dig that wild soft air and tender darkness. I woke in bright dazzling morning light, with Jack's face inches from mine, asking in mock sternness: Are you pure? To which I replied, as if for that moment in his mind, that's like asking water to be wet .

Buffalo, N.Y.
September 13, 1974


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Was That a Real Poem or Did You Just Make It up Yourself?

As I get older, I recognize that my thinking about poetry may or may not have anything actively to do with my actual work as a poet. This strikes me as no thing cynically awry, but rather seems again instance of that hapless or possibly happy fact, we do not as humans seem necessarily aware of what we are physically or psychically doing at all. One thing, therefore, that does stay put in my head, as something said in youth, is "we live as we can, each day another—there is no use in counting. Nor more, say, to live than what there is, to live. . . ." I did not feel that a pessimistically argued reality back then, nor do I now. It is very hard for me to live in any projection of reality, in a plan or arrangement of the present moment that uses it primarily as a 'future' term. I have long experience of my own restlessness and impatience, and have managed quiet and a feeling of centeredness only when the here and now literally discovered it for me. Elsewise I have battered myself and the surroundings with seemingly useless energy, pleased only that something at least was 'happening.'

My writing seems to me no different. Of course I learned as much as I could about the how of its occasion. Like many of my contemporaries I felt myself obliged to be an explicit craftsman so as to have defense against the authoritative poetry of my youth—whose persons I'd like now not to recall just that it's taken me so long to forget them. So, from that initial, crotchety purview, I've continued, finding and choosing as heroes men and women who must

Black Sparrow Press, Sparrow , 40 (1976).


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at this point be familiar to anyone who has read me at all: Williams, Pound, H. D., Stein, Zukofsky, Olson, Duncan, Levertov, Ginsberg, Dorn, Bunting, Wieners, McClure, Whalen, Snyder, Berrigan—and so on, being those I can almost see out the window if I look. Put more simply, there's been a way of doing things which found company with others, and in that company one has found a particular life of insistent and sustaining kind.

That has been part of the situation of 'what poetry means to me,' but dear as it is, it has not been either the largest part nor the most significant. A few months ago I was sitting with friends in a lovely house on a lovely afternoon, and we began a collaborative poem, on impulse, using an electric typewriter that was on a nearby table. It took me real time to get to it because it intimidated me—I've never used one particularly—and also intrigued me, and so my feelings and thoughts began to singularize me, isolate me in relation to the others. But I've always been able to do that, so to speak. But is it some necessity of my own working? In any case, my contribution to the poem stood painfully clear in its twisted, compressed statement—even the spacing of lines shrank to a small fist of words, defensive and altogether by itself.

No wonder that I've never forgotten Williams' contention that "the poet thinks with his poem, in that lies his thought, and that in itself is the profundity . . ." Poems have always had this nature of revelation for me, becoming apparently objective manifestations of feelings and thoughts otherwise inaccessible. Did I love Mary—a poem or story would quite usually make the answer clear, no matter it might take years to know it. A pleasant woman met this spring pointed out, for example, that "For love—I would/ split open your head and put/ a candle in/ behind the eyes . . ." was a literally violent proposal that was not demonstrably involved with usual senses of 'loving' the recipient. Yet I had always felt that poem a true measure of an ability to love, and possibly it is.

As a young man, then, moved by poetry, feeling its possibilities as inclusive, bringing all the world to one instant of otherwise meaningless 'time,' I wanted, not unexpectedly, to participate in that wonder. We struggle with them a good deal, mutter, mistake, but words seem even so significantly common and in that respect accessible. My own commitment to them was not easily understood. Was it that nothing else was open to me? Did I turn to them simply that no other act or substance permitted me such occasion? I know that I felt in those years now past very often useless in other attempts to find place in the world. As so many of that time, I married pri-


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marily to reify what might be called my existence. The fact of wanting to be a social person, as well as a private one, seemingly demanded it. Again, there was nothing I otherwise 'did' that argued my relevance to a general world.

In short, I was markedly self-preoccupied, lonely, inarticulate at crucial points in my relationships, and again, and again, restless. If they did nothing else, words gave instant reality to this insistent flux, which otherwise blurred, faded, was gone before another might in any sense witness it. That poems, stories, fed on this experience of reality was of great use initially. Just as I had used reading as a place to be, a world of volatile and active nature yet also 'unreal,' not 'flesh and blood'—and yet that surely, how else could it be—so now the possibilities that words might engender became a deep preoccupation.

At various times I've put emphasis on the fact that I was raised in New England, in Massachusetts for the most part. So placing myself, I've argued that that fact clarifies my apparently laconic way of saying things, especially so in my early poems. But might that use of words not come also of feeling tentative with them, unsure of their appropriate significations—as though there were a right way that was being distorted, lost, by fact of one's ignorance? I sense an aspect of this dilemma in Williams' plaint, "many years of reading have not made you wise. . . ." I know that he did share with me a tacit fear of the well-trained, academically secure good English he felt the comfortable equipment of various of his contemporaries. We both depended, it would seem, on enthusiasms, rushes of insight or impulse, read only to a purpose if the appetite underlying would settle for nothing else. I was delighted, for example, to realize that Williams did not spend long hours researching Paterson in the library but rather, as Michael Weaver first told me, got his information from a lovely, old time local historian. To this day I am so intimidated by the nature of libraries, the feel of them, the authority of their ordering of books on shelves, etc., that I rarely if ever go into them. I feel toward them much as I feel toward telephones, that their function is disastrously limited by their form, no matter what efficiencies are also clearly the case.

But why worry about that? If one has spent close to thirty years writing books, in effect, why be so fearful of this one place they may come to rest? Why be afraid of poems , for that matter? Thinking of that world 'out there,' and recalling my own tentativeness in trying to find my own use in it, always the general measure of reality can hurt me, can say, in short, 'of course you like it, you wrote it—but


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what about other people, don't you care what they think or feel or want?' More specifically, why not write poems the way they are supposed to be written—as simple acquaintance with poetry as a subject would easily define. Thus, if you seriously want to be a poet, you study the prevailing models of its activity and you set yourself to their imitation as diligently as you can. And slowly you acquire, or do not, the requisite ability.

I don't believe it. I know that attention to what has been written, what is being written, is a dearly rewarding experience. Nonetheless, it is not the primary fact. Far closer would be having a horse, say, however nebulous or lumpy, and, seeing other people with horses, using their occasion with said horses as some instance of the possibility involved. In short, I would never buy a horse or write a poem simply that others had done so—although I would go swimming on those terms or eat snails. Stuck with the horse, or blessed with it, I have to work out that relation as best I can.

Posit that music exists despite the possibility that no one might be consciously able to make it, that what we call poems are an intrinsic fact in the human world whether or no there be poets at this moment capable of their creation. That would characterize my belief—which gives me no rest, which, too often, causes a despairing sense of uselessness and ineptitude. Why can't I write them, fall in love, reveal the actual world, and be the hero in it? Isn't it mine . No. Yours? No. Theirs? No. Ours? No.

Days, weeks, months and sometimes years can pass in that sad place. Nothing gets done, nothing really gets even started. A vague, persistent echo of possibility seems all that is there to depend upon. Perhaps tomorrow, or later today—or even right now. To work. Useless paper, useless pen. Scribbles of habit and egocentric dependence. But you did it once, didn't you—they said so, you thought so too. Try again.

Sometime in the mid-sixties I grew inexorably bored with the tidy containment of clusters of words on single pieces of paper called 'poems'—"this will really get them, wrap it up. . . ." I could see nothing in my life nor those of others adjacent that supported this single hits theory. Dishonest to say I hadn't myself liked it, haiku, for example, or such of my own poems that unwittingly opened like seeds. But my own life, I felt increasingly, was a continuance , from wherever it had started to wherever it might end—of course I felt it as linear in time—and here were these quite small things I was tossing out from time to time, in the hope that they might survive my own being hauled on toward terminus. Time to


575

start over, afresh, began to be felt at first as increasingly limited, finally as nonexistent. The intensive, singularly made poems of my youth faded as, hopefully, the anguish that was used in the writing of so many of them also did. I was happier? Truly pointless to answer insofar as I lived now in another body and with an altered mind.

More, what specific use to continue the writing of such poems if the need therefor be only the maintenance of some ego state, the so-called me -ness of that imaginary person. Lost in some confusion of integrity, I had to tell the truth, however unreal, and persisted toward its realization, even though unthinkable. So writing, in this sense, began to lose its specific edges, its singleness of occurrence, and I worked to be open to the casual, the commonplace, that which collected itself. The world transformed to bits of paper, torn words, 'it/it.' Its continuity became again physical. I had no idea of its purpose, nor mine, more than a need to include all that might so come to mind and survive to be written.

My tidinesses, however, are insistent. Thus forms of things said moved through accumulated habits of order, and I felt neither ease nor possibility in the jumbled or blurred contexts of language. No doubt I will repeat the manners of small kid with mother town nurse and older sister most articulate in West Acton, Mass., 1930 to 1935 forever. Only the town is changed, to protect the innocent.

If one were a musician, the delight might be sounding again and again all that composite of articulation had preceded one, the old songs truly. In poetry, the dilemma of the circumstance is simply that someone is supposed to write something , and it becomes a possessive and distracting point of view. It is interesting to remember that Archilochus and Sappho are known to us because literacy comes to 'write them down,' no necessary concern of theirs nor of lyric poetry more generally. Yet I am very much a person of my time in wanting to leave a record, a composite fact of the experience of living in time and space. It was Charles Olson's hope to make an image of man in writing The Maximus Poems —not at all to write some autobiographical memoir. I use all poetry to write anything, and only wish I might know more of its vast body, which is seemingly as various as the earth itself.

What is poetry? In a dictionary I've hauled around for almost as long as I've been writing (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary of Current English , Fowler and Fowler, in a "New and Enlarged Edition revised by George Van Santvoord," 1935), it says to my horror: "elevated expression of elevated thought or feeling, esp. in metrical form. . . ." If I turn to a more recent dictionary, The American Heritage Dictio -


576

nary of the English Language , 1969, I'm told that poetry is "the art or work of a poet," which has got to be a cop-out. So all these years people have been screaming that one was not writing real poetry—and it turns out nobody, certainly no one in that crowd, knew what it was to begin with. No wonder they insisted on those forms! They wouldn't know it was a woman unless she was wearing a dress.

So now I will make up poetry, as I always have, one word after another, becoming something, as sounds, call them, as beats, tum tum . All very familiar. But each time I take the bus I do see something new, somehow. Eyes possibly? Certainly a turning world. Verse turns, and takes turns in turning—which are called verses , in my book, like changes—and not those stanzas or stops, standstills. Onward then, multiple men, women too, will go with you —boohoo. Which is a poem because I say so, it rhymes . That was a primary requisite for years and years. But so lovely when such rhyming, that congruence of sounds which occur in time with sufficient closeness, to resound, echo, and so recall, when that moves to delight and intensity, feeling the physical quality of the words' movement with a grace that distorts nothing. To say things—and to say them with such articulation can bring them physical character in the words which have become them—is wonder .

It is equal wonder when the rhythms which words can embody move to like echo and congruence. It is a place , in short, one has come to, where words dance truly in an information of one another, drawing in the attention, provoking feelings to participate.

Poems have involved an extraordinary range of human and nonhuman event, so to discuss that fact seems pointless. We will talk of everything sooner or later. Americans have had the especial virtue in the last hundred years of opening both content and form in an extraordinary manner, and the energy inherent continues without apparent end.

But again, one lives a life, and so, personally, one speaks of it, and of the people and places it was given to find. I cannot say that my children particularly respect or find other interest in my being a poet, and, at first, that bothered me because I wanted them moved by what moved me. False hope, I now think—although it might otherwise come to be the case. At times I hear the niggard comment that poets seem only to have other poets as an audience. It is certainly true that the dearest company I've had in reading has been so. But many people otherwise have heard too, through no intent of mine. I couldn't predicate they would, in writing. As a


577

young man I questioned that anyone would ever hear at all, although it did not occur to me that I might therefore stop writing.

The tacit lament in this way of speaking strikes me as pathetic. Getting a purchase on writing, so to speak, was for me a one-way ticket to bliss. I've never really come back. In those long, lonely nights I've wailed the sweetest songs, possibly, certainly those most designed for my own pleasure. Years back, again, Williams said, why don't we make clear we write for our pleasure, that we like doing it? It's a fair question. Nobody wants their pleasures criticized, and that fact no doubt explains why nobody really wants to be explained, nor wants to explain either. And I suppose that's why one uses either a tendentiously 'critical' vocabulary in speaking of 'his work' or else pushes clear with a, gee whiz, fellers, it's really nothing.

At first I was intent upon getting anything to hold, so that the experience in reading had the same qualities as the impulse in writing. But then I don't really know, nor have I ever, what's being said until it comes to some close, and it's now there to be read through, as one thing. Elsewise I trust the location implicit in feeling it's going well, opening, moving without a sense of hesitance or forced intention. I don't want to write what is only an idea, particularly my own. If the world can't come true in that place, flooding all terms of my thought and experience, then it's not enough, either for me or, equally, for anyone else. It must be somehow revelation , no matter how modest that transformation can sometimes be. Or vast, truly—"the world in a grain of sand."

The title for these divers thoughts comes from a lovely story told me about 1960 by John Frederick Nims in Chicago as he afforded us a charming lunch in his role as editor of Poetry . It concerned a friend of his, another poet, who had been on a tour of readings in the Middle West. And, as was his wont, he invited questions from the audience at one particular college, on completion of his reading. And a guy puts up his hand and says, tell me, that next to last poem you read—was that a real poem or did you just make it up yourself? Terrific. That's stuck in my head so lucently so long! Much as the phenomenon of another friend and student at Black Mountain in the middle fifties, who in truth could perceive no demonstrable difference between a cluster of words called poem and a cluster of words called prose . She felt the typographical form of the poem was all that apparently defined it—and that of course was a very arbitrary gimmick, to her mind. I tried everything, "Mary had


578

a little lamb," tum te tum, clapped my hands with the beat, pulled out the vowels à la Yeats, probably even sang. Still it stayed flat and arbitrary. She felt the beat and texture of the sound was imposed by will of the reader and was not initial in the words themselves. All the usual critical terms were of course useless, far too abstract. Finally I truly despaired of gaining more than her sympathy and patience. Then one day, we were reading Edward Marshall's "Leave the Word Alone," and for some immaculate and utterly unanticipated "reason" she got it, she heard all the play of rhythms and sounds bringing that extraordinary statement of primary humanness into such a density of feeling and song.

Would that all had such a happy ending—and 'American poetry,' like they say, soared on to the stars. Senses of progress, also familiar, really want that in the worst way. Meantime one's brothers and sisters are out there somewhere wailing on, to make the night a little lighter, the day a little brighter, like. Bringing that sun up and bringing it down again, every time. I don't know where it's supposed to 'get to' in that sense, more than to persist in the clarity of human recognitions and wonder. Poetry, as Duncan says, comes "from a well deeper than time." It's 'contemporary' in the way that fire, air, water, or earth might be said to be particularly involved in any apprehension of present existence. Sadly it can, as these, go away, be lost to other appetites and acts. Talking to Michael McClure a few days ago, thinking of the primary stances in the arts, to the three most familiar (Classicism, Romanticism, and Surrealism) he felt a fourth might be added: the Beat, which, distinct from the other three, does not propose 'the world' as a stable, physical given but, in ecological terms, realizes its fragility and thus the need for human attention and care.

As a poet, at this moment—half listening as I am to the House Judiciary Committee's deliberations—I am angered, contemptuous, impatient, and possibly even cynical concerning the situation of our lives in this 'national' place. Language has, publicly, become such an instrument of coercion, persuasion, and deceit. The power thus collected is ugly beyond description—it is truly evil . And it will not go away.

Trust to good verses then  . . . Trust to the clarity instant in being human, that knows and wants no other place.

                                                                                                                                                        Bolinas, California
                                                                                                                                                        July 31, 1974


579

A Note for Hello

Coming to New Zealand in our spring (your fall) of 1976 (momently to be my fiftieth year)—I knew, intuitively, a time in myself had come for change. I don't mean simply clothes, or houses, or even cities or countries or habits. I mean, all of it—what it ever is or can be. No doubt one's a poor tourist, so preoccupied—but one needs specific places for specific acts, and if the demand be that one step out into space, that life as we say we presume to live, then best it be a giant step, as far from what's known as one can manage.

Thank God you speak English, however—no American is quite that daring. My invitation to come was, in fact, from a dear fellow-poet, Alistair Paterson, and it was our common concern for what could be done with the English language in New Zealand or American poems, that resulted in the divers lectures and readings I gave, either alone or in generous company, the length and breadth of your pleasant land.

But you know that, as I do—and what seems far more to the point is to cite, here, such senses of New Zealand as stay put for me. For example, the clouds of your country—especially in Wellington—are so active and so lovely. I know the wind blows too, often harshly, but those clouds are such a cosmos of possibility. Then there's New Zealand light —intense, clear, particularizing, ruthless, unlike any I've ever previously known. In my own concerns, it brought all things factually to stand in the light , and that's where finally one wants to see them.

Robert Creeley, Hello (Christchurch, New Zealand: Hawk Press, 1976).


580

Coming from a mainland, with three thousand miles between its eastern and western coasts, your two islands seemed fragile and vulnerable. In humor, but also in a curious seriousness, I wondered if one might not extend oars from either side of each, and row them about in celebration of some appropriate festival. Thus you are out there , humanly, in the vastness of the Pacific, truly a human dream in a seeming eternity of endlessly moving water . I realized that no one of you ever lives so far from it that it is not a daily, substantive reality.

So, too, your mountains. I'd ask, at times, in the company of classrooms and the like, if anyone had ever lived out of sight of them. Apparently not. Mountains are one of the two primary dimensions, and you will know, as few others, the human accuracy of, I will lift mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my strength  . . . They too abide.

Finally, people—so good to me, so often. As now, sitting here, I'd particularly like to thank the patient persons of a pub in Wellington who, gamely, attempted to sing with me Breaking Up Is Hard To Do and that other, even more deeply instructive old time hymn, Farther Along . Hopefully I'll be back, and we can continue from where we left off.

Thanks to all, in short—to the dear households who accommodated me, to the persons and agencies of the QE II Arts Council and the NZUSA Arts Council who put it all together—to those friends of my heart now forever.

Buffalo, New York
May 31, 1976


581

Letter from Berlin

It's now some years since one had wandered in various states of mind Berlin's present main drag, the Kurfürstendamm, along whose two-mile stretch, as the Berlin Tourist Office's very useful guidebook tells us, are "1,100 shops, department stores, boutiques and art-galleries . . ." Whatever it is or was that accounts for the scaffolding surrounding the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, adjacent to the Europe Center, the heart of the city's swirling consumerism, this blasted remnant of World War II bombings still echoes without apparent change the world that did, in fact, end here.

I am classically new in town, a writer who speaks only one language, and that with remarkably little confidence. I share what has been my country's persistent and statistically determined lack of interest in a language other than English. Yet I have been brought here by an intensively active academic sponsor, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst or more exactly, its Berlin Artists Program—which interestingly, provides for foreign artists to be brought to no city other than Berlin. DAAD, as it's called ("Day-Ah-Ah-Day "), provides most usually for a year's residence without duties except for the presumption that one will have company with local artists, hardly very much to ask. So, shortly after my arrival, Ted Joans, also American and a poet, gets me out to Wannsee on a bus that takes us through a substantial patch of the Grünewald to the edge of a lake where the Berliners go in the summer to enjoy

Washington Post Book World , December 18, 1983.


582

"the white sandy beach . . . one mile long and 250 feet wide . . . ," again as the guidebook says.

Our fellows are met at the Literarisches Colloquium, whose fact and influence has much to do with the poet-professor Walter Höllerer, now in his sixties. Through such magazines as Akzente and Sprache im technischen Zeitalter , and in the landmark anthology Neue Amerikanische Lyrik (Young American Poetry) , edited with Gregory Corso here in Germany in the early '60s, he has argued for a freeing of German diction, particularly in poetry, and so had much to do with the authority which American poets such as William Carlos Williams (through Enzensberger's excellent translations) and Frank O'Hara (possibly the most presently valued) have had. The Colloquium has been for years an amiable and far-reaching consensus of mutual interests beyond the simply national.

Back in the street, I am slightly claustrophobic as I again construct in mind die Mauer , the Wall, that literally encloses this city and has done so now for almost forty years. As I ride on the excellent buses and subways, I watch, furtively, my fellow riders and wonder if their covert studying of me is only my own paranoia. But here one is close to all the proposed bogeys of American propaganda. A visit to Berlin's Amerika Haus involves a confrontation with the security guards our embassy has put there since a bomb incident of about a year ago. Several stand outside the two-story building (a block or so from the central Zoo stop on the subway, where the junkies used to hang out and one can mail a letter twenty-four hours a day). Inside Amerika Haus are several more guards, who question those who enter for the art shows, the movies or lectures, or just for private business as myself. The guards' effect on public sense of Americans would be interesting to know.

Writers here are of a very particular world. For example, I asked the poet Karin Kiwus if feminism was an active center for women writers as it is in the States, and was answered that neither it nor any similarly determined factor of sexual nature, e.g., gay lib, had such attention, although they were certainly present and provoked the usual responses. It was the peace movement that engaged all articulate women and served as a political base among them. She gave as instance the East German poet, Christa Wolf, whose first book, published in the '60s, is aptly called The Divided Sky or Heaven —the German word Himmel translates as either. Her newest work, Cassandra , uses that archaically echoing voice of prophetic challenge—the artist's only resource against the increasing abstrac-


583

tion of human presence in the increasingly complex manipulations of power.

In a sense it is curious that writers and artists here generally have insisted upon information from their East German confreres. The first Writers Conference involved with this exchange was held in East Berlin about a year and a half ago, and the most recent was on this side of the Wall, last February, at the Akademie der Kunst, of which Günter Grass is now president, Karin Kiwus head of the department of literature, and K. P. Herbach, one of the city's most significant bookmen and authors, the secretary of press and public affairs. So writers such as Wolf Bierman and Sarah Kirsch have become as significant in West Berlin's literary and social thinking as they have been in the East.

What is harder to convey is the extraordinary spate of public readings, some forty a week at present rate, and all with an audience of some eighty to two-hundred people utterly pleased to be there. I watched, for example, the charmingly elder Berlin author and actor, Robert Wolfgang Schnell, read from his expansive autobiography, Sind die Bären Glücklicher Geworden? (which certainly sounds good!) and was impressed that a decorous lady to my right was rolling soundlessly in fits of laughter, while a gentleman to my left snorted with Germanly reckless abandon. It must have been funny. Next night I was at another reading, this time with American novelist and playwright Cecil Brown, who got more than a fair hearing from a predominantly young group of night-clubbers, and finally, the third night, at an art gallery where Ted Joans was having a finissage of his surrealist and historical artifacts—including a great film of himself in Timbuktu, which the Germans loved, with fine readings by Richard Anders, a poet we should know far better, the younger Ernst Bauerschaum, and Ted himself. By and large such readings are characteristically sponsored by book dealers, art galleries and cafes rather than the academic or institutional sponsors familiar to Americans. They feel local, almost like neighborhood action, and it is quite true that Berlin has its favorites, as the actor Schnell or the inimitable Johannes Schenk, with his great hat and country manners, who may or may not be known beyond the city limits.

So—es geht ganz gut! And now to learn some German. . . .


584

Berlin, Etc.

For whatever reason, living in Berlin sans any adequate language ability or practical interest in being there, other than the money and domicile provided, opened a flat and unredeemable perspective into the bleak past of one's own public lifetime. It's like an oldtime movie, locked in a vocabulary "we" gave it in 1945, reemphasized soon after by die Mauer , the wall that cuts off the historic center of the city, Unter den Linden and all the rest, from what's now the "Western" half. Then, of course, the city politically "ours" is separated from its own country by some hundred miles of physical distance, and must be arrived at by either a "corridor" which planes use, else carefully monitored rail and freeway systems.

Yet Berlin, West Berlin, that is, is Germany's New York, at least in imagination, and the young long, seemingly, for its privileges and dispensations. For example, one is exempt from the draft if one lives in Berlin. A bus costs about half of what it does in comparable cities in other parts of the country. Food, housing, significantly subsidized, are all cheaper. There is much pressure to keep this segment of the old city "alive" by pumping in various cultural action, an energy of synthetic order despite the persons or things so brought may have undeniable integrity. But here they float somehow, just that the appetite is so distracted by expectation, by not being where any such possibility has come from. Never was the sense of a city feeding on its surrounding context more vividly illustrated.

It was impossible for me not to have strong memories of my own, of coming of age in the early 40s and all the implications thereof.

Continental Drifter 11 (1984).


585

The first time I came to Berlin, a few years previous, the plane landed at the Tempelhof Airport, and for moments I hadn't the least problem seeing in imagination those incredible gatherings there I'd first witnessed in newsreels. Thankfully one now arrives at Tegel, a less dramatic occasion in all respects. It was early October when we arrived in what's certainly a northern city, grey, frequent rain, cold chill of winds, a flat close sky often, but with monumental clouds and a sense of evening space I was very moved by, almost Eliot-like in its "The winter evening settles down . . ."

I don't know what I'd expected. There were a few friends there, then others unexpectedly met again, as Ted Joans, who lived upstairs in the same building as us. He was very helpful with simple directions, ways one could deal with it. He said Berlin finally bored him despite he kept a social action going of extraordinary range and good-nature. Our family did a lot of daily walking, of taking buses, sitting in parks, going to the zoo, museums—whatever was free and simple of access. We were insistently domestic, went to bed very early, and had little money over and above the cost of our daily living. Therefore, like it or not, we lived in one respect very commonly.

The feel of things seemed depressed and depressing. There was none of the street action I'd known in other cities, for example, no spontaneous emotion such as sudden laughter, playfulness, or even anger. It wasn't that people were careful, discreet. Rather it seemed the habits of their activity were so ingrained they offered no room for willful edges of response. The only time I met with much strength of feeling was when I dumbly broke a rule, tried to get on a bus with my small son before the drivers had finished the very particular exchange of their authority, one coming on duty, one going off. I watched a policeman working a stop-light on the Ku'damm (as it's called) manually, mid-morning one Sunday, no traffic to speak of, a mean sleety rain and a cutting wind. He was timing the action precisely to his watch, ignoring the few cars or persons passing, involved in the peculiar need to be mechanically "accurate" against any alternative of a more perceptive judgment. In like sense, one rarely sees anyone cross a street against a light, despite there may be no traffic. It seemed the whole country was didactically committed to its procedures. On another occasion, given only five minutes to change trains in Frankfurt, I was told that trains are never late and that the time would be sufficient. My train was late, as were several others I took, and I missed that connection. Remarking it later to my hosts, I was told again that German trains are never late. I dropped the subject quickly.


586

Older women of a secure social class are merciless in Berlin, will push, shove, all very discreetly yet firmly, to get their way. A younger German woman told me of two elders trying to crowd into her cab, having to be physically held off, unheeding of the invitation to share the cab, etc. That will is very disquieting. Although there is, I was told, familiar paternalistic emphasis on family, children, there is in fact no clear social room for the former nor much interest or liking for the latter in any respect. My American sentimentalizing of "kids" may blur the evidence but I rarely if ever, not even in children's playgrounds, found much active place for children in their own social needs. The equipment was remarkable, the care all one might imagine possible, no broken glass, dogshit, but equally no humor, no invention (except for very occasional congeries of Cocteau-like adolescents who took over care of their younger siblings). All somehow drab, patient.

I was intrigued by a Liegewiese (a lying-place?) which was just in front of the post office I went to in Wilmersdorf, at one end of the park there, a substantial rectangle of public ground landscaped to make curiously planed rectangles, each a little larger than human body, so as to accommodate public sun bathing, the angle of the ground making exposure optimum and permitting shifting as the sun did. A surprising "nude beach" permission, it seemed, in a city of this size—and it was, in fact, met with frequently in parks adjacent, despite the chill weather. There was nothing sexual about the nudity, as one says, rather a doggedly "intelligent" proposal that the sun was very interesting, however faint.

The museums were incredible, all the accumulations of that nineteenth-century bourgeois mercantile appetite. They were good at it and, like all things German, thorough. So one walks through virtual acres of artifacts of all manner of cultural kind, from high Renaissance to Easter Island, whatever, wherever. I spent a lot of afternoons killing time out in Dahlem, where the US Army base is and where we'd managed to get Willy into a drop-in preschool. I hung out with him, till he got settled, talking with the other children, stories of where their grandma lived in Bakersfield, or Bolton, Mass., and where was I from, American talking as the fall came on more, leaves dropped, cold standing waiting for the 60 bus. I'd walk, once Willy was settled, to a museum a couple of miles away. I liked simply cruising in that sense, nothing in mind. Just watching traffic, people I'd pass, kids coming out of school about three, the crowd in the museum. They were very polite about coats and stuff, at the check-stand, toilets were good, food not hopeless. For an average of six marks (something under three dollars) one could get


587

a big poster of this or that show from extensive stock. They helped brighten our walls, like they say.

But a contemporary show at the National Museum seemed drab echo, almost a mannered "street" harshness, cozy political gesturing. Sad. It was at the time of the protest against the missile deployments, a solidly massive gathering in many cities all over the country. As I was landing in Hanover, for instance, the plane's company was alerted to avoid the downtown sections of the city, else one might be engaged by the demonstration. Many older people, settled and middle class, were involved, which seemed good news. I asked Walter Höllerer in Berlin what might be the effect of the numbers of the protesters, and their clear seriousness, on political thinking. Sadly, he felt it would be little, just that the political/economic patterns of the country were so locked into American program. It was therefore impossible to think of an accommodation, given the relation. In like sense the general political tone moves increasingly to the right, and neo-Nazi elements that ten years ago would have been judged criminally liable are now looked to as the firm, no-nonsense guarantors of public welfare and sane thinking. Some of the Literarisches Colloquium's funding, remarkably, is now taken to pay for a commitment to an MIT project with military overtones. The small fact is, the arts fare poorly. The large fact, it's vèry much one world, this side of the wall at least.

Hard to leave Berlin without more positive a disposition, but in truth we fled, provoked by fears for my wife's pregnancy, but also just plain running. Too much there was locked echo of my life's failed symbols and political, social despair. I grew up in New England where people occasionally do go to their graves without speaking to one another, the dumb result of an argument, whatever—just the will left, locked in abstract place. In Berlin that sense one could die, live and die, in such an abstract manipulation of one's literal world, the neighbors, the days and nights spent, the job, children, all of it so determined by attitudes that didn't even deign to look at you, just looked over and past at the designed enemy . . . It is awful to live with that sullenness, the truculence, righteousness, sophistication, appetite so prolonged. No matter the young get there, and long to, it's a classic place of the middle-aged, the middle-class, the variously self-conscious dispositions of that limited privilege. In short, a use found in habit that long ago lost impulse. I thought of Fassbinder a lot, also of Günter Grass—who no longer lives there, though he comes often to the city and is head of the Akademie der Kunst significantly. He's a very useful man. (Then Kafka also spent time in Wilmersdorf, etc.).


588

I met Richard Anders early on, one evening at the Colloquium's monthly gathering in Wannsee. Ted had taken me out on the bus, a long trip through what seemed young forest of straight-rowed fir, all very picked up, small in scale, long horizontal as bus kept going. Place we were in was faded old baronial hall. Someone said Goebbels (?) had had it during the war. Something. (There is always an echo of the past. The Hanovers at Göttingen, Richard Wordsworth at Heidelberg, aptly enough.) Anders proved tall, lanky, shymannered contemporary, from part of Germany now in the East, teacher, translator, writer, poet. Surrealist of quiet order. A week later I went up to see him at his place, old apartment top of building, lined with books as they say, wife sadly dead, son comes in with cake for us, sit drinking tea in late afternoon.

So, what's poetry doing in Germany? Not very much. Return to more conservative, classical determination after time of active experiment—like Maoists move abruptly to Buddhism, served by fact both don't like "talking about it," as disciplines so-called. We ate cake in pleasure, musing. He tells me of time he is, as soldier, condemned to death, is in group to be x'd, and war collapsing about them, officer says, oh, go on, get out of here. He is now off to India, for the first time, somewhat in pursuit of love he hopes possible there, a girl, but to be moving, I think, just somewhere else. But not to America, for whatever reason, however many there may be.

"Ich Bin  . . ."
for Richard Anders

Ich Bin
2 Öl-tank

yellow squat
by railroad

shed train's
zapped past

round peculiar
empty small

town's ownership
fields' flat

(Note: An earlier and shorter report was published in the Washington Post's Book World , Dec. 18, 1983, p. 15: "Letter from Berlin" (see pp. 581–83). Of the poems, "Ich Bin . . ." was written on a train just before getting to Frankfurt and takes off from yellow bomba or "oil tank" that was on the platform of small town train station we went through, with advertising on it as quoted, viz., "I Am 2 Oil Tank(s)." Onlywords really understood, of that morning (11/4/83). Then "Late Love" and "Den Alten" are both parodies, of a sort, of two poems by Richard Anders, "Rat" (from whence "Den Alten") and "In Seiner Mauerhaut" ("Late Love"), Preussische Zimmer (1975). They are not translations, nor even adaptations—rather free play on sounds and occasionally understood words of those texts—in homage to his own patient clarity.)


589

production towered
by obsolescent hill-

side memory echoing
old wornout castle.

Den Alten

Then to old Uncle Emil,
den du immer mimst ,
you always

missed,
missed most,
häng einem alten Haus

in fear, hung
from a rafter, a
beam old

Uncle Emil you
immer mimst
over the logical river

Fluss  in the
truly really
feuchten  clay, fucked finished clay.

Late Love

Stuck in her stone hut,
he fights to get the window up.

Her loopy Dachshunds
have made off with pupils

of his eyes, like, or else
now from summit to summit

of whatever mountains against which
he thinks he hears the stars crash,

sounds truly nada
in all the sad facade.


590

Form

The Whip

I spent a night turning in bed,
my love was a feather, a flat

sleeping thing. She was
very white

and quiet, and above us on
the roof, there was another woman I

also loved, had
addressed myself to in

a fit she
returned. That

encompasses it. But now I was
lonely, I yelled,

but what is that? Ugh,
she said, beside me, she put

her hand on
my back, for which act

I think to say this
wrongly.

David Lehman, ed., Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms (New York: Macmillan, 1987).


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Form has such a diversity of associations and it seems obvious enough that it would have—like like . Like a girl of my generation used to get a formal for the big dance, or else it could be someone's formalizing the situation, which was a little more serious. Form a circle, etc.

It was something one intended, clearly, that came of defined terms. But in what respect, of course, made a great difference. As advice for editing a magazine, Pound wrote, "Verse consists of a constant and a variant . . ." His point was that any element might be made the stable, recurrent event, and that any other might be let to go "hog wild," as he put it, and such a form could prove "a center around which, not a box within which, every item . . ."

Pound was of great use to me as a young writer, as were also Williams and Stevens. I recall the latter's saying there were those who thought of form as a variant of plastic shape. Pound's point was that poetry is a form cut in time as sculpture is a form cut in space. Williams' introduction to The Wedge (1944) I took as absolute credo.

"The Whip" was written in the middle fifties, and now reading it I can vividly remember the bleak confusion from which it moves emotionally. There is a parallel, a story called "The Musicians," and if one wants to know more of the implied narrative of the poem, it's in this sad story. The title is to the point, because it is music, specifically jazz, that informs the poem's manner in large part. Not that it's jazzy, or about jazz—rather, it's trying to use a rhythmic base much as jazz of this time would—or what was especially characteristic of Charlie Parker's playing, or Miles Davis', Thelonious Monk's, or Milt Jackson's. That is, the beat is used to delay, detail, prompt, define the content of the statement or, more aptly, the emotional field of the statement. It's trying to do this while moving in time to a set periodicity—durational units, call them. It will say as much as it can, or as little, in the "time" given. So each line is figured as taking the same time, like they say, and each line ending works as a distinct pause. I used to listen to Parker's endless variations on "I Got Rhythm" and all the various times in which he'd play it, all the tempi, up, down, you name it. What fascinated me was that he'd write silences as actively as sounds, which of course they were. Just so in poetry.

So it isn't writing like jazz, trying to be some curious social edge of that imagined permission. It's a time one's keeping, which could be the variations of hopscotch, or clapping, or just traffic's blurred


592

racket. It was what you could do with what you got, or words to that effect.

Being shy as a young man, I was very formal, and still am. I make my moves fast but very self-consciously. I would say that from "Ugh . . ." on the poem moves as cannily and as solidly as whatever. "Listen to the sound that it makes," said Pound. Fair enough.


593

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