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The New World

Riprap , by Gary Snyder. Ashland, Mass.: Origin Press, 1959.

Hymns to St. Geryon and Other Poems , by Michael McClure. San Francisco: Auerbahn Press, 1959.

Memoirs of an Interglacial Age , by Philip Whalen. San Francisco: Auerbahn Press, 1960.

Watermelons , by Ron Loewinsohn. New York: Totem Press, 1959.

We describe our time as one in which relationships, rather than the hierarchies to which these might refer, are dominant. What is meant by politics, marriage, education, religion, or love itself, becomes modalities, terms between, people, the you and me of the subjective universe. If it is not my hat, then possibly it is yours; or if not yours, his , or hers —or theirs , a collective enterprise, yet one (as religion or philosophy, at present) given meaning by a possessional insistence. The hat itself is an occasion.

It is clear that poetry will reflect this sense of emphasis, and, if the given instance be sensitive, it will succeed in forcing a passage between individual sensibility and shared commitments (to live, to endure, and the like). Poems themselves are peculiarly suited to the present environment, because they are basically relational. In this way Charles Olson defines "A poem [as] energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way

Yugen , no. 7, 1961.


of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader . . ." The poem is not a signboard, pointing to a content ultimately to be regarded; but is, on the contrary, a form inhabited by intelligence and feeling. It is the way a poem speaks, not the matter, that proves its effect, and although this is an old insistence, it is one hard at times to remember when a great variety of desperations want a solution, a content capable of relief.

Gary Snyder's first book, Riprap , calls for a ground-sense of place, a world of substantial place, even primeval. Its manner is quiet, low-keyed like they say, with much solidity and peace—and that is a pleasure, offered as it is by a working intelligence and care:

No paradise, no fall,
Only the weathering land,
The wheeling sky,
Man, with his Satan
Scouring the chaos of the mind.
Oh Hell!

So that if we cannot escape, at least we can know, as Stendhal:

The pleasure brought by the cessation of pain consists:

1. In conquering all the successive obstacles that one erects for one's self.

2. In visualizing all the advantages of which one was about to be deprived.

From specific images of work-lines, farmhouses, intensities of physical life, the poem may come to:

      Thinking about a poem I'll never write.
With gut on wood and hide, a plucking thumb,
Grope and stutter for the words, invent a tune,
In any tongue, this moment one time true
Be wine or blood or rhythm drives it through—
A leap of words to things and there it stops.

But if it does not stop—if there the relation shatters, or, rather, shivers, oscillates, flips back and forth in an ecstasy of qualification. Ah well. It is again only an old enough irresolution—"no ideas but in things"—things ? What are things but ideas, until we bump our heads finally, and that's an end to it:

Allowing such distinctions to the mind:
A formal garden made by fire and time.


Arrived at such peace, then, all the landscape changes, and men walk quietly, enhanced by their relationships, defined by them, as women also. It is a beautiful and painstaking world which Snyder wants to live in, has by his poems made to live in—a successful relation of hope.

But the fires burn elsewhere, in other characters, and "No man can purify another."

Evil is done by the self alone, by the self alone
is evil left undone, by self alone is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on one's own self.
(Dhammapada )

Perhaps the present attraction of the Dhammapada , or other Buddhist texts, is just this emphasis—that the self is a self-isolated event, yet one which must find relationships. When contact is broken, becomes the touch of the mind, then hell becomes particular, and not at all a place where bad people go, etc. When the imagination projects for itself a world more real than that which it literally experiences, this is hell, a forfeit, as Dante said, of the goods of the intellect. Because such 'goods' are relational, joiners , describe a method of being-with, otherwise impossible.

The self grown huge is a common aspect of the Romantic, but it might be remembered that its size is one of sensation , of what is felt, and is not otherwise of magnitude. The danger inherent is what Lawrence called sensationalism , i.e., the repetition of a known sensation is sensationalism. This is what happens when all qualification exists as a method of feeling rather than as a posited consequence of actions.

Michael McClure describes the hair-edge of feeling qua sensation and feeling qua effect:


                                           The poem

is confusion. Love, Sex, Death, are within
us and we give them many names. Naming only

the heads, when the bodies are wound, woven
       together. Making

the parts of us abstractions, Knees unreal
their qualities are vagaries


It is McClure's virtue as a poet, that he gives to his language a space, a flux in language, held by a structure of words —not a program of predetermined measures, either metrical or ideological. It is, in this way, as much his risk, in writing, as it is ours, in reading—to undertake a composition.

McClure, reading aloud, speaks flatly, without color, so that the words fall into relationships which they themselves, almost alone, seem to determine. In the poems capitalization is used for divers lines as a point of enlargement, a center and/or focus for the movement. Like this:

            Sleepwalkers . . . Ghosts! Voices
like bodies coming through the mists of sleep,
               we float about each other—

         bare feet not touching the floor.
               Talking in our lover's voice

The movement of the poems makes clear an insistent disattachment, or better, a recognition of distance qualified as separation, perhaps forever. There is a vacuum all but unentered by purpose, form, consequence—wherein events relay between a shifting possibility of relation, to come to:

I am sure of my movements I am a bulk
    in the air.

This center of self (rather than 'we' or 'they') has become a mark of the new poetry, to my own mind not unreasonably since it depends on real crises in real homes. It is very hard to make one's self understood, most of all by another—sadly, truly, etc. If culture now derives from mass orientation—and it seems that it does—kitchens and bedrooms and ultimately bathrooms house, god knows, the shaken egos of our time. Poetry, beginning with the protest of the thirties (a self-centered evaluation), moving through the chaos of the forties, loss of meaning and the huge arrival of apparently non-human activity (the atom, then hydrogen and cobalt, bombs, and too, such devices as the blowing up of an airliner to kill a mother-in-law, i.e., the new potential seen as property of the individual, also) comes through the fifties finding a language in a common hysteria, a nervously singular presence of mind, in which feelings are


dominant as they are felt, are registered as static blurring the voice of ordinary explanation, which says that everything is all right (when it is patently not all right). At times it will, as parody, take on, in grotesque approximations, the 'walk, don't run' character of current political and social jargon. Death, love, hope, and other qualities of attitude, will appear then as crudely erected statues in vacant lots, i.e., vacant states of mind aroused by a scarecrow of desire. From all this, this vacant density, appear to come many crowded voices—as if each 'I' wanted to believe it was to be, in some miraculous way, taken away from all this, and was to wake up to a warm familiar bed, in which its place was assured.

In this situation the intelligence becomes primary, is itself the contact with the real. But being so used, it is almost necessarily suspect, and so must be itself examined—as a possible last ditch of the deception suspected. Self-Portrait, from Another Direction is an instance of "Philip Whalen," a series of mentally approximate images of this man's activity. One day it may be, as Norbert Wiener suggests, "that one might conceivably travel by telegraph, in addition to traveling by train or airplane." States of mind seem to show relay points in the complex which, admittedly with an overweight of emphasis, we call self . Whalen is not engaged in vindicating, or in revealing, himself, but in thinking himself: "I think what is thinking . . ." He presents, then, all the dilemma, and all the gain, of a man wandering around in a battle area with the constant question, what's happening:

Now it is here.
Now it is falling.
Now it is there.
                                        which we agree upon . . .
What comes next?

Any word you see here defies all fear doubt destruction
    ignorance & hatefulness
All the impossibilities unfavorable chance or luck . . .

Whalen's formal invention develops as the range of his intelligence increases, not wisdom-wise but methodologically, to contain those relationships overtly, which mentality in itself seems to involve. It is hard to suggest, much more to say, where such an emphasis may lead. Yet the areas of consciousness which are related (as in Whalen's poem) by such attention are argument enough. Conditions


of thought are now too volatile, too open to a variety of persuasion, not to be examined; and Whalen makes a good lighthouse.

In The Human Use of Human Beings (quoted previously) Norbert Wiener says also: "The individuality of the body is that of a flame rather than of a stone, of a form rather than of a bit of substance." The human entity, person or self, depends on its environment as a context for its reality. Such proves the modulation of its own reality, felt more than known or determined. What is so new about this—except that time has entered space, and place itself is insubstantial. So both poems and people rely upon an act of thought.

It is hard to live, yet by use of the resources given, and responsible consciousness, one may find a sudden reassurance—as Loewinsohn's:

The thing made real by
a sudden twist of the mind:
relate the darkness to a face
rather than
impose a face on the darkness
which has no face, in reality.
("The Thing Made Real")

Ron Loewinsohn knows the common institutions of marriage, working, and friends, and in that way his poems are common too. The intelligence is, however, very specific, again an instance of self determination and need.

The stillness of the poem
a moment full of silence &
portent, like
the sudden halt of great machines.
Silence that becomes a fabric
to clothe the consciousness . . .
("The Stillness of the Poem")

What do we want from it? I don't know, but think that the poem is a form, derives its nature from the language of which it is made, is "charged" by the emotion(s) of its writer. But into that then comes the great modality of the occasion, the where and when—on some time-screen with blurred and shadowy presences. A man cannot live without the use of his intelligence. There may be, now, no common union except in the attempt to survive that intelligence, the


risk of all writing or thought. Snyder, McClure, Whalen, and Loewinsohn each make their own form qua poem, and the world whereto these relate comes after, or at the same time:

                   . . . A small room
without windows & only one door;
its acoustics make even laughter dissonant.
Every ocean, orchard, city, speech,
sin, book & body I've ever known
lie scattered all over the place.
(Loewinsohn, "The Occasional Room")


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