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The forties were a hostile time for the writers here included. The colleges and universities were dominant in their insistence upon an idea of form extrinsic to the given instance. Poems were equivalent to cars insofar as many could occur of similar pattern—although each was, of course, 'singular.' But it was this assumption of a mold , of a means that could be gained beyond the literal fact of the writing here and now , that had authority.

It is the more ironic to think of it, remembering the incredible pressure of feeling also present in these years—of all that did want 'to be said,' of so much confusion and pain wanting statement in its own terms. But again, it is Karl Shapiro's Essay on Rime (written in the South Pacific at a military base, "without access to books," in iambic pentameter) which is successful, and Auden is the measure of competence. In contrast Ezra Pound, H. D., William Carlos Williams (despite the token interest as Paterson begins to be published), Hart Crane, and especially Walt Whitman are largely disregarded.

Donald Allen and Robert Creeley, eds., The New Writing in the USA (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1967).


The situation of prose I remember as much the same. Despite the apparent insistence of digression in the work of Joyce, Faulkner, Céline, and others who are valued, there is nonetheless the attempt to shape all discussion of their 'form' to the context of an overt pattern, a symbolism, an explanation again anterior to the instance. In short, it is a period when criticism enjoys control of literary reference—so much so, that it can propose itself to be of primary value quite apart from its 'subjects.'

The sense of form which comes of this insistence is defined by Robert Duncan in an essay, "Ideas of the Meaning of Form":

Form, to the mind obsessed by convention, is significant insofar as it shows control. What has nor rime nor reason is a bogie that must be dismissed from the horizons of the mind. . . . Wherever the feeling of control is lost, the feeling of form is lost. The reality of the world and men's habits must be constricted to a realm—a court or a salon or a rationale—excluding whatever is feared. . . . Metaphor must be fumigated or avoided (thought of as displaying the author's fancy or wit) to rid the mind of the poetic where metaphor had led dangerously towards Paracelsus' universe of psychic correspondences, towards a life where men and things were beginning to mix and cross boundaries of knowledge. Poets, who had once had dreams and epiphanies, now admit only to devices and ornaments. Love, that had been a passion, had best be a sentiment or a sensible affection. . . . The struggle was to have ideas and not to let ideas have one. Taste, reason, rationality rule, and rule must be absolute and enlightened, because beyond lies the chiaroscuro in which forces co-operate and sympathies and aversions mingle. The glamor of this magic haunts all reasonable men today, surrounding them with, and then protecting them from, the darkness of possibilities that controls cannot manage, the world of thought and feeling in which we may participate but not dominate, where we are used by things even as we use them.

Confronting such rule , men were driven back upon the particulars of their own experience, the literal things of an immediate environment, wherewith to acknowledge the possibilities of their own lives. This alternative must now be familiar, but at that time there were few indeed to propose it. It is first found for me in Williams' introduction to The Wedge (1944):

Therefore each speech having its own character the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form. . . . 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 ex-


pression of his perceptions and ardors that they may constitute a revelation in the speech that he uses. . . .

It is, in fact, a congruence of "the darkness of possibilities that control cannot manage" and that "revelation in the speech" that Williams emphasizes, which informs the first major work of Allen Ginsberg, Howl. He writes of its composition as follows:

By 1955 I wrote poetry adapted from prose seeds, journals, scratchings, arranged by phrasing or breath groups into little short-line patterns according to ideas of measure of American speech I'd picked up from W. C. Williams' imagist preoccupations. I suddenly turned aside in San Francisco, unemployment compensation leisure, to follow my romantic inspiration—Hebraic-Melvillean bardic breath. I thought I wouldn't write a poem , but just write what I wanted to without fear, let my imagination go, open secrecy, and scribble magic lines from my real mind—sum up my life—something I wouldn't be able to show anybody, writ for my own soul's ear and a few other golden ears. So the first line of Howl . . . .

It is relevant that he says, "I thought I wouldn't write a poem , but just write what I wanted to without fear . . ."—as does Duncan so emphasize that it was fear that felt "The reality of the world and men's habits must be constricted to a realm . . . excluding whatever is feared. . . ." The need becomes, then, literally:

to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head,

the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here what might be left to say in time come after death,

and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered the cities down to the last radio

with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.

(Howl , Part I)

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