Friday, September 27, 2013

Notebook (Will Alexander, Lissa Wolsak, J. H. Prynne, &c.)

J. H. Prynne

Three statements, a neap congeries for the boundless illimitable, the involuntary lingual reaches summoning the capacious world. Out of Will Alexander’s Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose Texts, Interviews and a Lecture 1991-2007 (Essay Press, 2012):
Taking Issue with Ubiquitous Reduction

      To be forbidden one’s volcanisms, one’s quarrels, in favor of the dust of a plainspoken warren, is to exist in terms of ubiquitous reduction. Language in its purest state exists as primal capacity, and the challenge of such capacity is to engulf delimitation, to advance the circumstance which completely alters the common mean. And by the common mean, motion is understood as digressive utterance, always in keeping with quarterly reports, with scheduled breaks, with logs which replicate preplanned proceedings. To such perspective I remain extreme, being no more to the civil eye than a cave fish, or a cephalopod, or the strangeness of an owl combined within the remnants of an ice bear. I utter sound, but it is not prone to the same template as the work bench, as the written thoughts from the paymaster’s dungeon. I say this because as poet I owe my utterance to other saturations, to other exhibits of sonority. As if I were a hawk shunted aside, as if my singular utterance sprung from indigenous Malay. Perhaps my English is the parallel of indigenous lorikeet or Malay. Perhaps it is a network of glass scattered by sonorous visibility, where the Sun proclaims a different hue, where the dawn rises backwards, where the sea enacts its weather from a parallel momentum other than the moon.

Lissa Wolsak—in “shared electro-epistolary plane” conversation with Pete Smith—out of Squeezed Light: Collected Poems 1994-2005 (Station Hill, 2010):
I vehemently see no reason to dumb-down the sheer and useful beauty of language. What ~ of cultivating an ability to see in, pre-positionally through, of, with, the space between atoms, space less tyrannized. I know what to write because language lightens itself to reveal the pan-psychic shock / sleep of being alive, anatomies of collectivity / possibility, juste-milieu . . . the lucre of subjectivity.
I have an antipathy toward flatland embrittlements within normative sentence making because I have not often enough experienced the truth of their / my constructions. Moreover, the mind is non-local and undermines my smooth to the eye approaches. I choose, rather, to activate consciousness, and to keep a loose hold on the smoky, beguiling and sometime fatuous muse of controlled meaning, but not to exclude the genuinely intended or navigable. I am more a receiver of shape and form than an architect of same. By its very fracture, I write to surprise myself.

J. H. Prynne, in a letter—out of the Helmut Bonheim and Raymond Federman-edited Mica 5 (1962):
      . . . I am prompted by my present isolation from people and books to offer a few vague, unsupported and highly compressed reflections about the kind of work you are printing, much of which seems to be in the mode most prevalent among a section of the more interesting American writers. Briefly, my viewpoint is this: current American writing doesn’t seem to have gone much further than the basic Imagist resolution at the beginning of the century—the breakthrough of Pound and Williams. Not only do few writers seem to wish to go any further—or advance in any other direction—but hardly any of the current endeavor at new experiment seems aimed at developing technical means for a change of attitude or approach.
      The implicit anti-intellectualism of the current short lyric—its explicit dogma is the pre-occupation with Zen and derived vatic utterance—leads to the capture of the small moment of contact between humans; but more often of the instantaneous insight by the percipient into a landscape or environment not containing other beings that we can conceive of as living—over days and weeks—their own, various lives. The area of complete, fused success is that (generally) of momentary perception, mostly a sensitive refraction of what is seen and heard. We are not, really and in fact, far from Pater, though infinitely more poised and well-disciplined into the tentative casualness of mood that is so much more seriously outward than ever Pater was. And the sense of urgent concern, the voice speaking from the center, is there; but working always through the small, amenable event, the personal image. The writer’s total involvement opens out the relevance of this experience to infinite dimensions, fills the horizon, and genuinely. This is a vast achievement, especially in view of the deliberately small aims and over-developed musculature of most English writers of verse, sheltering with provincial timidity behind the irony inherited from Eliot. It stimulates in a way that American verse has never done before, and English not (perhaps) for over 150 years: but there is seldom evidence of equipment or intention to control and shape that stimulation, which often remains a near-vicious indulgence (I overstate, this I realise). But a lot of American poems now being written are opiate, offering substitutes for experience instead of modes of access. Once we enter the world of these short poems, we may move at will over a wide plain, shape the course of our progress through it according to a personal choice. The real concern behind the writing is enough to exclude the outer world and provide the motive power for movement; yet the precise direction is our own.
      Hence perhaps the importance of the journey itself as an image, especially in longer poems; the motif of action without sufficient motive; the conscious arbitrariness with which the small event becomes the occasion for serious writing; the general rebuttal of the will as an element in human experience. Hence perhaps the way so many poems need the pool of silent reflection that follows their close, into which the strong concerns not shaped into final relevance by the last line can lose themselves in free contemplation. For the concern must have a fully articulated object (so I believe); the object should not be the poet’s anterior experience (Eliot’s fundamental error), but the poem’s achieved shape. This is not only the words as isolated monads, but their ordering; the grammar of feeling; the movement forward speeded or checked by the adverbs, bent, inverted or split by the conjunctions, maintained always by the constant verb. And this is not simply the imitative verse-movement of the Augustans, but a unity on a much deeper level. It is the mind at work, directing the convictions or importance to what is in fact important, working every preposition into the final contours of the poem and the shape of its own defining.*
Signed: “J. H. Prynne, Outer Hebrides.”
* Larry Eigner’s reply—reprinted under the title “Like a Dog Bark in Music” in the Benjamin Friedlander-edited Areas Lights Heights: Writings 1954-1989 (Roof Books, 1989)—out of Mica 6 (1962):
      J.H. Prynne’s comments seem penetrating, but I wouldn’t know exactly, being so fragmented myself that I can’t take a survey (can’t see much into the verse of Prynne himself, for instance). But the object he says the concern must have, if not the “strong concerns” which he pleads be “shaped into a final relevance,” doesn’t it, or don’t they, lie beyond poetry or certain poems, which are pieces of language, nodes of language risen in thought out of the general continuum to prompt or orient us? Objects beyond the action of language? One idea may be that a poem should gain a reality capable of being renewed always, or an illusion of reality, by evoking, dragging in, or referring to something beyond the poem, so to have it less isolate, since isolation of any appreciable degree, in more or less time diminishes the real, a part being taken for the whole, while on the other hand too many things are too real nowadays, and to consider another side, daydreaming or whatever is crowded out and life is exhausted. Right now John Glenn is eating the Waldorf. Empathy must have moderation, otherwise it dissolves distance and does away with itself. Everything should be taken for itself, but not too much, otherwise it is lost.
      Then how does the extrinsic turn intrinsic at times, the extraneous become digested? “A poem is a machine made of words”? Anyway, the dragging in of things from beyond the poem can’t be carried out very thoroughly. In a sense everything has to come of itself, unexpectedly, and has to be faced.
In Mica, Eigner’s letter is dated “February 28.” Seemingly stretching into the next day: “John Glenn . . . eating the Waldorf” undoubtedly referring to the unnavigable excess and spectacle of the ticker-tape parade in New York following Glenn’s earth-orbiting Friendship 7 space flight.

“. . . the voice of the city never grows hoarse . . .”