Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lecture 2: The Work of Poetry (Revision & Process—Oppen & Spicer)




“I try one word and another word, reverse the sequence, alter the line-endings, a hundred two hundred rewritings, revisions—This is prosody: how to write a poem”—wrote George Oppen.

And Jack Spicer spoke of poetry as “transmission,” as “dictation,” from the outside, from an “invisible world”—the poet was a crystal set or radio receiving transmissions from outer space, or Mars. Specifically, West Mars.

A poet may begin with the idea of a poem, or a feeling; a poet may begin with poetic material, as for example the stuff of a notebook. From whatever beginning, a poet makes poems—the poem is the end or goal of writing poetry. (Or one end: poets may work in terms of larger structures as well, such as the series, sequence, or cycle—and these may span across many years and many books. And the book is another end of poetry, a constellation of poems in a meaningful relationship.)

What happens from the moment the poet thinks he or she is writing a poem and that moment when they feel the poem is “done”? What is the process of poetry? What is a poem in the context of a series, a book, a corpus, and a life? Why is it that Oppen doesn’t have an idea of what he wants to do when he writes a poem? (A poem is not made with ideas, it’s made with words.)

22 comments:

javierjwoo said...

This is the second time I quote León Felipe (1884-1968), a spanish poet that lived exiled in Mexico after leaving Spain due to the triumph of fascism. Leon Felipe translated the work of Whitman to spanish, and a few scholars consider that his poetry is "tinted" with some of the colors of Whitman.

In "Versos del caminante", he wrote:

Deshaced ese verso.
Quitadle los caireles de la rima,
el metro, la cadencia
y hasta la idea misma.
Aventad las palabras,
y si después queda algo todavía,
eso será la poesía.

vagoimperial said...

I suppose that in some cases it works as when you wake up and you feel the dream you've just had, and you try to write it down, and what you write turns out very different from the "original"... and you wonder if there was ever an original..

nanuka said...

...me gustó mucho Javier, pero soy malísima para hacer comentarios sobre los poemas, en general nada mas siento, pienso, y si me gustó, lo vuelvo a leer...

vagoimperial said...

quizá seas expulsada de la clase.

javierjwoo said...

Every word carries a burden of emotions and sensations. At this point, I think that Diana's approach to poetry is just the right. The language of poetry should "move" the feelings of the reader. The searching of "sense" (in the way we find sense in a logic proposition) in a poem is a worthless enterprise.

garrett said...

"and you wonder if there was ever an original" - I think this is a brilliant insight, really right on. One of the things poetry does is gets us to question the original, the thing we think experience is.

garrett said...

"Every word carries a burden" - I think this is also really right on. Sounds like something a poet would say. George Oppen wrote that an entire poems could be written about the word "the."

Mónica said...

Garrett commented earlier on how a good poem (among other things) is one that you can go back to time and again and find additional meanings and connections. The George Oppen quote led me to do just that with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot, which I have read several times but never before understood to be, partially perhaps, about poetry itself.

"And indeed there will be time (...)
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of toast and tea."

"In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."

I wonder if it could be argued that all poetry is metapoetical in a sense? Is the poet's preoccupation with language such that every piece of writing he/she puts out is on a certain level about writing itself?

Just food for thought... and since these are topics that I care about deeply, and that will likely be discussed tonight, I am truly sorry I won't be able to attend. My friend Juan Larrosa is presenting his first novel at 9pm today and I feel obliged to be there.

szalvador said...

Ya habrá tiempo
Y tiempo suficiente para
Mil indecisiones
Y para mil visiones y revisiones
Mónica
Antes de tomarnos ése té

En un minuto hay tiempo para Decidir y revisar
Lo que el mismo minuto
Volverá a cambiar

szalvador said...

Qué chida cita de LF Sr. Woo

garrett said...

Mónica, you are going to be with a novel tonight instead of poetry? ¡Ay! We'll miss you!!

As for the idea of the metapoetical, one answer to that is that in serious poets there is a high degree of self-consciousness about what it is they are doing, and this is often given expression in the writing. Another answer is that you can never be outside of language. Of Grammatology.

I'm keeping this response short because it's 5 o'clock and I haven't finished preparing my presentation yet....

lacatolica said...

Yo creo que sí hay un original, algo que uno desea comunicar, pero no sale. Así sucede con los sueños. Las palabras no son capaces de transmitir esas sensaciones. Lo que se plasma son sólo intentos, intentos que se repiten una y otra vez para intentar comunicar esa idea profunda.

nanuka said...

...ayer, casi casi, Salvador dijo que la comunicación humana era imposible en su totalidad...podemos trasmitir la experiencia propia? los sueños?

Mónica said...

Nos comunicamos a través del lenguaje pero no pensamos así. Lo que sucede en la cabeza es abstracto y para expresarlo se lleva a cabo una traducción... usamos palabras que representan pero no son. Por eso es que tenemos esta sensación de acercamiento al original pero siempre a través de un símil. Algunos poetas se han dado a la labor de expresar lo inefable. Un ejemplo es José Ángel Valente, un autor que poco a poco fue depurando el lenguaje para llegar a lo que se encuentra antes de la palabra. Aunque si se trata de mostrar el original,tal vez no sea la literatura el mejor medio, ya que siempre utilizará palabras, que ya se encuentran a un grado de separación de su punto de partida. Pero creo que la poesía, mucho más que cualquier otro género literario, permite acercarse a lo abstracto, sugerir, apuntar en la dirección del orígen. Tal vez por eso es que tiene un poder tan grande sobre sus lectores.

nanuka said...

...yo recuerdo la angustia de Alejandra Pizarnik al sentir que las palabras nunca eran suficientes ni adecuadas...

szalvador said...

E incluso podría decirse que a través de las palabras la poesía te puede transportar al otro lado, de tal forma que puedas sentir por tí mismo la experiencia de lo narrado...

(Alejandra, claro, sí)

garrett said...

"Algunos poetas se han dado a la labor de expresar lo inefable." Remember that poets like Pound, Williams, Oppen - all of Imagism then Objectivism, and through Olson and beyond - wanted to rid poetry of abstractions and vagueness, of innuendo and the aura of something beyond human perception and thought. Remember Oppen's whitespace - the gaps, lacunas - these are places where the poet thought to say something, to give it a name, would be inauthentic.

"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" - is how Wittengstein ends his Tractactus Logico Philosophicus.

And what is ineffable once it is effed? (I made up that word: alternately, what is the unutterable once it is uttered? What is the unsayable once it is said?)

"apuntar en la dirección del orígen" - begs the question of the origin of what? The origin of the word, the origin of the perception, thought, or experience, or the Origin?

And yet, the poetry about which we are speaking does not say, in the way we say, Otra cervza, por favor. Or, right now, I favor Baraka Obama over Hillary Clnton because I'm beginning to believe he has the vision, and the support, to change domestic and foreign policies of the United States. That is: the poetry we are looking at does not present a content which can be expressed in another way, in any other way.

szalvador said...

So, we must understand Objectivism as the way a poem is (itself) an object, rather than an objective approach of (other/the) reality?.

garrett said...

"Las palabras no son capaces de transmitir esas sensaciones" - I'm not sure I agree with that. Words themselves alone perhaps can't communicate these sensations, but language can, that is, language in poetry. A poem can in fact, I believe, give a specific sensation of vast grief, or dreamlike ecstasy, for example.

(But then again, my Spanish is so bad that I'm not positive I'm understanding!)

nanuka said...

...ni el lenguaje puede transmitir algunas sensaciones, ni algunos sentimientos, ni los sueños, pero es con lo que contamos...

szalvador said...

Lo lograste, lo transmitiste...
esa imposibilidad.

nanuka said...

...y yo que sentía al lenguaje como mi aliado...al menos oralmente...