Bram van Velde, 1895-1981
(Photograph by Marc Trivier)
(Photograph by Marc Trivier)
Ferociously cold and furiously pedaling, the eyes tearing up. Sundry beatitudes of the wash. A man in a yellow rectangle reaching up into a T-shirt’s floppy recalcitrance. A cut-out row of crows topping a sycamore, each to its seat. Awaiting the unpleating, the expansion of that series of low clouds, clotted up along the easterly horizon. What gluey sempiternal mathematics keeps the bicycle upright, and me, gangly, astride? Virtue and fault, frustration and completion (I’m thinking of the lines in Spring and All: “The virtue of the improvisations is their placement in a world of new values— / their fault is their dislocation of sense, often complete.”) In a late 1928 letter to Louis Zukofsky, Williams, dickering with some intractable piece of writing (“Anyhow I grew bored. I almost got into a nervous fit over not having time to play with the points and arrange them . . .”) says, finally: “I slammed my random shots together and—so it always seems to go. More mania.” Justifying the method (in an earlier letter dated 18 October 1928): “I find invariably . . . that when the instinct has clicked the mind will come lumbering after.” Williams everywhere insists that writing be unthrottled, unwashed, unrefined, that it refuse to serve as mere collateral for thinking. (Out of The Embodiment of Knowledge: “The only real in writing is writing itself.” And: “It is pure writing that can’t get away from itself to be thought.”) Is Williams kin to Beckett? Thumbing Charles Juliet’s Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde (Dalkey Archive, 2009), seeing a Beckett “disjecta” (“La peinture des van Velde or le monde et le pantalon”) reduced to two lines:
Impossible to apply reason to what is unique. [...]Or I note Juliet’s reporting of “not signs of rewriting” in the manuscript of Waiting for Godot, and how, of it, Beckett admits: “It all happened between my hand and the page.” (Bram van Velde’s utterances agree: “You are in an area where knowledge fails. Where you have to advance in ignorance, not even knowing where you are going.” And: “Painting lives only through the slide towards the unknown in oneself.” And: “Mondrian? . . . The Constructivists? . . . They had certainties. They wanted a stable basis to work on, but I’m afraid that that was enormous arrogance on their part, Nothing is stable and no certainties are possible.”) A remark pertinent to the current “age,” its mechanically self-imposed “projects,” its sopping wet certainties found in constraint. (Williams to Ezra Pound (11January 1950): “Everyone is writing ‘poetry.’ My suggestion is that they start writing a few poems.”) Implying confrontment with the exigencies of unencumbered disorder, the sere terms of the irreparable blank, arrangements of self made selflessly out of words, words shared between us all, “words which have been used time without end by other men for the same purpose, words worn smooth, greasy with the thumbing and fingering of others” (The Embodiment of Knowledge). Sweet buttery light of morning made by the socius ejectus, with borrowed goods. One loses the unleashing, the cut scabs over under a blaze of suns, sundering the breach itself (and its apparent coherence). Is it sheer impertinence against the foibles of chronic reason, its hardy thinking, that points Pound toward the quasi-insufferable Uncle Remus gimcrackery? (See un peu partout in Pound’s letters, though I am partial to these lines to Williams (“[December 1954]”), replying to Williams’s query regarding an earlier use of “criks”:
Impossible to create order in what is elemental.
2 be more eggsPlicit.So we “purrJuice” away, instinctual and hugely accommodating . . .
criks is the buzzards what yakyaks about awt an’ le’rs without bein’ abl to purrJuice any (vulgarly spelled with 7 le’rs)