Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Roger Smith, “Mason Jars,” 1943
(“Jar at the left, having been sterilized, is ready to be filled. Second jar shows the position of the lid immediately after filling, the rubber gasket is placed in between the lid and the mouth of the jar. Third jar: the metal band is screwed on tightly and then slightly loosened and processing begins. After processing is completed, band is tightened again. Jar at the right shows how the band can be removed when the food has thoroughly cooled and the vacuum will hold the lid tightly in place. A truly all-glass package. To open, insert a knife to break vacuum, and lid lifts off easily.”)

To be idiomatic in a vacuum,
it is a shining thing!

        —Frank O’Hara, out of “Poem” (1957)

The self, in any case, is a vacuum: nothing until it is filled. Continuity of perception . . . is all we can call mind.

        —Guy Davenport, out of “Ernst Machs Max Ernst”
        (The Geography of the Imagination, 1981)

I tread the stars
in perilous anatomy

over bottomless pit
only intricater,
I thread evolving Heaven

“nequaquam vacuum”
flamestitch I symmetries:
weaver oriole’s nest

I construct ahive
suns one can’t gaze upon
surpassing foresight,

only Hand with Language . . .

        —Ronald Johnson, out of “ARK 96, Arches XXX” (ARK, 1996)

. . . They had signed themselves with such noms de plume, such fiery plumes as Total Wreck, Eccentric Scoop, Link-Block, Vacuum, Maple Leaf, Plug and Foam, Gravity, Smoke Box, Short Rail, Third Rail, Signal, Smoke Stack, Headlight—and not necessarily because they were shy or were afraid that their efforts to express themselves might evoke ridicule.
      A greater reason for hiding under various noms de plume was the fear that they might be considered incendiaries by their employers because of their knowledge of mechanical problems or because of their accusation that many accidents were avoidable and were caused by the company’s failure to replace old rolling stock with new railroad stock—old wheels with new wheels—old hand-and-pin mechanic with new foolproof air brakes.

        —Marguerite Young, out of Harp Song for a Radical:
        The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs

                                        The whole is stable within
Instability, a globe like ours, resting
On a pedestal of vacuum, a ping-pong ball
Secure on its jet of water.
And just as there are no words for the surface, that is,
No words to say what it really is, that it is not
Superficial but a visible core, then there is
No way out of the problem of pathos vs. experience.

        —John Ashbery, out of “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (1975)

            Unclutterable provenance. Where vacuum of
the notes not hit outline the ones that are.

        —Clark Coolidge, out of “L.A. in Time” (Odes of Roba, 1991)

We cannot discern whether we have entered a microcosm or a landscape or a lackadaisical simulation of time. Pleasure is a figured vacuum that does not recognize us as persons. We stand annulled in our ancient, ostentatious coats.

        —Lisa Robertson, out of “Seven Walks”
        (Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture, 2003)

      The most important events make no stir on their first taking place, nor indeed in their effects directly. They seem hedged about by secrecy. It is concussion, or the rushing together of air to fill a vacuum, which makes a noise. The great events to which all things consent, and for which they have prepared the way, produce no explosion, for they are gradual, and create no vacuum which requires to be suddenly filled; as a birth takes place in silence, and is whispered about the neighborhood, but an assassination, which is at war with the constitution of things, creates a tumult immediately.
      Corn grows in the night.

        —Henry David Thoreau, out of the Journal (26 February 1840)

The late plays of Shakespeare are aerodynes, in which, by a series of baffles (the verse, with its emphasis on quantities), they have their power straight from the element they move in, that they displace, and they go in speed from zero to as fast as sound. They are motion, not action—by power of vacuum, they use it and occupy it at the same time.

        —Charles Olson, out of “Quantity in Verse, and Shakespeare’s Late Plays”
        (Human Universe and Other Essays, 1965)

                                                                          . . . when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit and in no
way winces from its storms of generosity; when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf, rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take, then
the heart moves roomier, the man stands and looks about . . .

        —A. R. Ammons, out of “The City Limits” (Briefings, 1971)

Reality is a vacuum.

All men are murderers.

        —Wallace Stevens, out of “Adagia” (1930?-1955)

—Did you know that a handkerchief and a cannonball fall at the same goddam speed in a vacuum? Well that’s where we are, in this great big goddam vacuum where a handkerchief and a cannonball fall at the same goddam speed, you know what I mean?

        —William Gaddis, out of The Recognitions (1955)

. . . the new thing that has happened, or the old thing that has happened again, namely the breakdown of the object, whether current, historical, mythical or spook. . . .
      The artist who is aware of this may state the space that intervenes between him and the world of objects; he may state it as no-man’s-land, Hellespont or vacuum, according as he happens to feel resentful, nostalgic, or merely depressed.

        —Samuel Beckett, out of “Recent Irish Poetry” (1934)

Heaven’s, but forty is a terrible age at which to take a year’s leave of absence. I feel that a vacuum cleaner in under my hair would be a great boon. So he put to sea.

        —William Carlos Williams, out of a letter to Marianne Moore (27 December 1923)

Life keeps insisting. Nights I worry
about the spiders inside the vacuum cleaner.
I notice the squirrels look simian bounding.
foot over branch, about the trees
and wonder if I wasted my youth
imagining this future.
Do I hold a sword or am I a ghost,
marking the tedium between
drunken midnight, wistful sunrise
blood-mouth metronome beats
between here and deep unconsciousness
a sea of little niggling tasks.

        —Jennifer Moxley, out of “The Sense Record” (The Sense Record and Other Poems, 2002)

I remember the washing machine and the vacuum cleaner going at the same time.

I remember, when one stops before the other, a moment of “fake” silence.

        —Joe Brainard, out of I Remember (1975)

      There are no finalities in Nature. Everything is streaming. The Torricellian tube was thought to have made a vacuum; but no; over the mercury is the vapor of mercury, and the mysterious ether too enters as readily through the pores of glass as through chimney of a volcano.
      If I come to stoppages, it is I that am wanting. To the wise navigator, beyond even the polar ice is the Polynia, or open water, —a vast expanse.

        —Ralph Waldo Emerson, out of the Journal (31 December 1853)

Hour on hour, rise after rise, it is the fugal space, coiling and repetitive, never outrun, never encircled or sucked dry. It is, accordingly, an unresolved landscape, a demanding one full of mock vacuum and suction and woo. You watch the land for signs and signals, for inflection, the way a sailor scans the sea, and for the words to size and fit them. There are rumples, crackles, and squalls of hills. There are flurries and flutters, bulges and swells. There is a salience, a shrug, a pizzicato. Chops and shoals. There are stillborn or baby bluffs, buds of buttes. Lips and flares, feints and fade-aways, yelp and bone and dimple.

        —Merrill Gilfillan, out of Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains (1988)

All he had was a sleeping bag, a bible and a doorway out of the snow. These words scratched my way slowly into existence. Drill-like, the sound of an upstairs vacuum cleaner. Bath salts. I see suffering.

        —Ron Silliman, out of “Paradise” (The Alphabet, 2008)

Meditating among liars and retreating sternly into myself, I see that there are really no liars
      or lies after all,
And that nothing fails its perfect return, and that what are called lies are perfect returns,
And that each thing exactly represents itself, and what has preceded it,
And that the truth includes all, and is compact, just as much as space is compact,
And that there is no flaw or vacuum in the amount of the truth—but that all is truth
      without exception;
And henceforth I will go celebrate anything I see or am,
And sing and laugh, and deny nothing.

        —Walt Whitman, out of “All Is Truth” (Leaves of Grass, 1860)

Naturall reason abhorreth vacuum, that is to say, that there shoulde be any emptye place, wherin no substance shoulde be.

        —Thomas Cranmer, A Defence of the True and Catholike Doctrine of the Sacrament (1550)

      I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness—in a landscape selected at random—is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern—to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.

        —Vladimir Nabokov, out of Conclusive Evidence (1951)

                                      You can dodder in the slop,
septic with a rage not for order but for the love

the senses bear for what they do, for detail
that’s never annexed, like a reluctant crumb
to a vacuum cleaner, to a coherence.

You can be bead after bead on perception’s rosary.
This is the sweet ache that hurts most, the way
desire burns bluely at its phosphorescent core:

just as you’re having what you wanted most,
you want it more and more until that’s more
than you, or it, or both of you, can bear.

        —William Matthews, out of “Nabokov’s Blues” (Blues If You Want, 1989)

      What is a poem? A poem is nothing. By persistence the poem can be made something; but then it is something, not a poem. Why is it nothing? Because it cannot be looked at, heard, touched or read (what can be read is prose). It is not an effect (common or uncommon) of experience; it is the result of an ability to create a vacuum in experience—it is a vacuum and therefore nothing. It cannot be looked at, heard, touched or read because it is a vacuum. Since it is a vacuum it is nothing for which the poet can flatter himself or receive flattery. Since it is a vacuum it cannot be reproduced in an audience. A vacuum is unalterably and untransferably a vacuum—the only thing that can happen to it is destruction. If it were possible to reproduce it in an audience the result would be the destruction of the audience.

        —Laura Riding, out of Anarchism Is Not Enough (1928)

Dear Russ,
      I am writing to you in the middle of a poem about Helen. What there was to her about your body I should have never ceased to wish to know. It is as if there was a dark fleshy space between us labeled, “I am not myself.”
      There is utterly no reason for imagining Helen. Whether she was in Troy or Egypt, she would be the same figure of imagination put into being by a vacuum, the same vacuum by which I write poetry or you paint, or, I suppose men fought for her.
      Or becomes more unreal every minute. I do not love her. As the thought of you or anyone I loved.
      Hold us to the real, lady of the seven webbed fingers, hold us to their hard hearts bouncing to and fro against each other.

        —Jack Spicer, out of “Helen: A Revision” ( My Vocabulary Did This to Me, 2008)

These swift intrusions of real meaningful intent gave me an insight into what our communicative troubles are about: it’s just a kind of fear of being understood, or misunderstood, with love as the basic energy—for to be understood completely implies a kind of vacuum.

        —Jack Kerouac, out of a letter to Allen Ginsberg (18 September 1948)