Edward Dorn, 1929-1999
Friday, the customary day for “vaguer gleanings.” To browse and crosshatch. To see what, unsought by thesis and specified by whim, catches in the reticulum. Grid city conjunctures, and blessures. (Wounds without stigma.) All week under the plotz’d black sky of six a.m. I toy with a sentence about how “the mind, singularly adept in its suasions and curvatures, is nevertheless like a coastline, or a cauliflower, allowing sweet mimickry tenancy in its reductions, and its accretions.” Fractal goulash. Or I finick (“to mince, to affect airs”) with a negligible “piece” under the self-defeating (though accurate) title of “Beginning with Unh,” oblivious in the vocable-rampant lurch:
Unh is one way, gruntingNo wonder my seriousness quotient is so low. (Mimic here the obligatory sass-sincerity—a difficult “strain” to reach, or repeat—of O’Hara’s lines about “wondering whether you are any good or not / and the only decision you can make is that you did it . . .”) Somewhere Marianne Moore quotes Edith Sitwell’s lovely pourquoi écrire remark: “The behaviour of the world affects our beliefs and incites the mind to tumult to speak as a Cassandra or as an elegist.” Only to follow it with Robert Frost’s “It is what every poem is about—how the spirit is to surmount the pressure upon us of the material world.” (Elsewhere Moore says Frost labels it: “—the triumph of the spirit over the materialism by which we are being smothered.”) A way of puncturing (incite, incisor) the usual massy continuum (I think of a cloud, shapeless, wholly blotting) and its way of dopily effacing—what? one’s own preternatural, heroic way of attending to it?
out the putative residue of
a minimal thinkable, a monaural
nudge at meaning. Another is
to spar with the routine
lingual faineance by using two
red leather boxing gloves, ass-
fat, to punch a way
out of the usual cul-
de-sac made by heaps
of used-up words. Unh.
Unh-unh. The two approaches
commingle to make efficacy of
any mere contingency, the clean
uppercut subsumed by a flurry
of random fisticuffs, the punch-
drunk yatter of the amnesiac
annulled by deep Okeanos steering
‘all things through all things.’
Loss itself is thus regained
by its own preternatural gain-
saying, irregular, predetermined, and lit.
Thus the nights go by.
Thus one is pitched into
the light of rebuke’s ordinary
smoldering book, discursive as Vesuvius.
One style: grunt avoidance. Blasé word fervors. Vocab shrug. Skint verbal rigidity of the merely petered out. Or of the defiantly pruned. Tomas Tranströmer (in the memoir sketch Memories Look at Me (New Directions, 2011), a piece culled out of the Robin Fulton-translated The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems) talks about drawing, on rolls of brown paper, cartoon strips “consumed only by myself”—though he’d taught himself to write “at the age of five”:
But it was too slow a process. My imagination needed some speedier means of expression. I didn’t even have enough patience to draw properly. I developed a kind of shorthand sketching method with figures in violent movement: breakneck drama yet no details.Another style: denaturing glut. See Edward Dorn’s remarks in the 1977 talk “Strumming Language”:
To a certain extent my interest in the extreme heterogenous vocabularies of English is fanatical. I “think” I need a large rush of data coming in all the time. I like the media in that respect. I spend a lot of the day monitoring the flow of news and so forth, watching how the language is being used. But the way in which these contexts fold in on themselves and overlap and disappear at the margins and so forth is interesting, and since I myself don’t have those classical kinds of habits of writing, which have always been said to be precise times of day and constancy, I tend to float until the pressure says I have something I want to say badly enough to stop monitoring the news.And, later (“two approaches / commingle”): “. . . one of the consequences of paying attention, perhaps inordinate attention, to the ebb and flow of language is that . . . the language tends to disappear, because that behavior, that attitude, that relationship to the language, tends to reduce the language. It’s a refining process, it tends to make the language granular, and for me recently it’s resulted in shorter and shorter piece of expression . . .” Elegy out of tumult. The fork-tongued snakes of Apollo’s temple cleaning out Cassandra’s ears (licked clean by rampant utterance itself) that she may speak, riddling disconnectedly (“breakneck drama yet no details”) of the past, of the future. Ineluctable merger of means. “Unh. / Unh-unh.”