Saturday, March 28, 2009
Saturday, April 4
4:00 to 6:00 PM
(F train to 2nd Ave, 6 to Bleecker )
Friday, March 27, 2009
Photo by Jonathan Williams
Every couple of years, right about this time, I find myself drawn to rereading Spring & All, William Carlos Williams’ 1923 volume of verse linked with critique – today we might say theory – that in almost all respects was not only his first “great book,” but the very best writing of his career. It includes the poems that made him legitimately famous – “The red wheel barrow,” “By the road to the contagious hospital,” “The pure products of
The poems are interspersed throughout the critical text. Its first assertion – that the fundamental impulse behind all traditional writing is plagiarism – has always struck me as unassailable, even obvious. But Williams’ second assertion – that what one represents in the poem is the imagination – has always made me feel uneasy. His insistence upon it is central:
(W)e are beginning to discover the truth that in great works of the imagination A CREATIVE FORCE IS SHOWN AT WORK MAKING OBJECTS WHICH ALONE COMPLETE SCIENCE AND ALLOW INTELLIGENCE TO SURVIVE
When in the condition of imaginative suspense only will the writing have reality . . . – Not to attempt, at that time, to set values upon the word being used, according to presupposed measures, but to write down that which happens at that time –
To perfect the ability to record at the moment when the consciousness is enlarged by the sympathies and the unity of understanding which the imagination gives, to practice skill in recording the force moving, then to know it, in the largeness of its proportions –
It is the presence of a
This is not “fit” but a unification of experience
That is, the imagination is an actual force comparable to electricity or steam, it is not a plaything but a power that has been used from the first to raise the understanding of – it is not necessary to resort to mysticism – In fact it is this which has kept back the knowledge I seek –
The value of the imagination to the writer consists in its ability to make words. Its unique power is to give created forms reality, actual existence
Writing is not a searching about in the daily experience for apt similes and pretty thoughts and images. I have experienced that to my sorrow. It is not a conscious recording of the day’s experiences “freshly and with the appearance of reality” – This thing is seriously to the development of any ability in a man, it fastens him down, makes him a – It destroys, makes nature an accessory to the particular theory he is following, it blinds him to his world, –
The writer of imagination would find himself released from observing things for the purpose of writing them down later. He would be there to enjoy, to taste, to engage the free world, not a world which he carries like a bag of food, always fearful lest he drop something or someone get more than he.
A word detached from the necessity of recording it, sufficient to itself, removed from him (as it most certainly is) with which he has bitter and delicious relations and from which he is independent – moving at will from one thing to another – as he pleases, unbound –
and the unique proof of this is the work of the imagination not “like” anything but transfused with the same forces which transfuse the earth – at least one small part of them.
Nature is the hint to composition not because it is familiar to us and therefore the terms we apply to it have a least common denominator quality which gives them currency – but because it possesses the quality of independent existence, of reality which we feel in ourselves. It is not opposed to art but apposed to it.
I suppose Shakespeare’s familiar aphorism about holding the mirror up to nature has done more harm in stabilizing the copyist tendency of the arts among us than –
the mistake in it (though we forget that it is not S. speaking but an imaginative character of his) is to have believed that the reflection of nature is nature. It is not. It is only a sham nature, a “lie.”
Of course S. is the most conspicuous example desirable of the falseness of this very thing.
He holds no mirror up to nature but with his imagination rivals nature’s composition with his own.
He himself becomes “nature” – continuing “its” marvels – if you will
It occurs to me that one could learn all one needs to know of writing just by typing up this book, phrase by phrase, line by line. It occurs to me also that this is the template, in tone if not in exact architecture, for Robert Grenier’s infamous essay “ON SPEECH,” which would appear within the year of the Frontier Press republication.
But what precisely does Williams mean by imagination? Does he intend – I seriously doubt it – the same facility through which a child spins out so many nonsense syllables, as if speech itself were but a game?
The works that come through the imagination do not speak of the world – a belief in the possibility of which proves fatal to all political poetry, also all love poetry, also poetry about dogs and cats. That is because, says Williams, works of art, if they are not a “sham” or “’lie’,” do not speak of the world. Indeed, they do not speak of. Rather they are themselves in the world, on a par with the writer, and with the world itself, not to mention wars, love, cats & dogs. The poem, even if it is a great one, is no better than a dog in that each is real.
The imagination, as defined by Williams, uses words, but is not to be confused with them. Rather, its unique power is to “make words.” It has taken me years, decades in fact, to realize that imagination, as William Carlos Williams employs the term, can only be language. Or more accurately langue, tho not parole. That dimension of language that exists only – and always – as its potential, the entire system & never an instance.
This is what separates
Which makes cats & dogs & the infinite varieties of red. Which determines the exact border between blue and green, which, although it is hard & fast, is in fact different for each one of us, a shade to the left or to the right.
Watching Williams talk of language without a vocabulary for it falls into one of the primary fault lines of modernism, when all of the elements of a linguistic science were starting to come together, but did not yet fully exist. The great tragedy of James Joyce was his reliance on philology, on the 19th century discipline of word roots & origins, with which to
But Williams, like Stein, fundamentally gets it. Though he almost undoubtedly never read a word of Saussure, he writes like someone who has.
What then is imagination?
More to the point, what is it that Williams, in Spring & All, his finest work, is telling us about the role of imagination, of langue, in the poem?
That it is the duty of the poem to make langue visible, perceptible, so vivid you can taste the salt on its surface, can hear its hum. That, he is arguing, is the poem’s only duty.
Labels: William Carlos Williams
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Carrie Olivia Adams, Intervening Absence, Ahsahta Press, Boise 2009
Lisa Birman, For That Return PassageL A Valentine for the United States of America, Hollowdeck Press, Boulder 2008
Abigail Child, CounterClock, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009
Norma Cole, If I’m Asleep, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009
Ben Dollar, FAQ:, Ahsahta Press, Boise 2009
Suzanne Frischkorn, Lit Windowpane,
Elisabeth Frost, Rumor, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009
Michael Gizzi, New Depths of Deadpan, Burning Deck, Providence 2009
Laura Hinton, Ask Any Mermaid, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press, New York 2009
Rodney Koeneke, Rules for Drinking Forties, Cy Press, Cincinnati 2009
Thomas Meyer, Kintsugi, Punch Press, Buffalo 2009
Robert Sheppard, Warrant Error, Shearsman Books, Exeter 2009
Carolyn Smart, Hooked, Brick Books,
Jeffrey Thomson, Birdwatching in Wartime, Carnegie Mellon UP, Pittsburgh 2009
Dennis Barone, North Arrow: Stories, Quale Press,
Lee Ann Brown & Tony Torn, Sop Doll: A Jack Tale Noh, Tout Court Editions of Mermaid Tenement Press,
Charles Simic, The Renegade: Writings on Poetry and a Few Other Things, George Braziller, New York 2009
American Poet: The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, vol. 36,
Barrellhouse, no. 7, no location given. Includes Alex Irvine, Rachel B. Glaser Ben Stein, Michael Czyzniejewski, Matt Bell, Mark Wisniewski, Elissa Matsueda, Greg Hlavaty, Ken Hines, Peter Davis, Alan Michael Parker, Caroline Knox, Mark McKee, Wade Fletcher, Farid Matuk, Matt Williamson Blake Butler, Sandra Beasley, Laura Ellen Scott, Flavian Mark Lupinetti, Kaethe Schwehn, Kate Angus & Joni Tevis.
Bird Dog, no. 10,
Invisible Ear, no. 3,
Ocho, no. 21,
Other Formats (Broadsides, DVDs, CDs, etc.)
J. Gordon Faylor & Edward Hopely, Tremblies: (Arcus & Recer), Poem Trees + Squashy, no location given, 2008. Two chapbooks tied together with a long (also old & grungy) string, each of which also contains material in an envelope glued to the inside of the rear cover under the general heading of Verdicts Enclosed. Apparently to be used like the cards in a game of Clue or Cluedo.
Nicole Peyrafitte & Michael Bisio¸ Whisk! Don’t Churn!, Ta’wil Productions,
Abe’s Penny: A Micro Magazine, vols. 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, 1.1.4, postcards with color photos by Tod Seelie on one side, 4-line poems (one may be prose) by Brandon Johnson (probably not the linebacker) on the other
Still a big stack of books
waiting to be noted here
Labels: Recently Received
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
The portrait of Marjorie Perloff
by Emma Bee Bernstein
I wrote about yesterday
(click for larger image)
Ange Mlinko on Fanny Howe
Poetry in motion at
Ugly Duckling Presse
Translating Joe Cocker into English
on Umberto Saba
Language is a social object,
not a psychological one
The 2009 Gil Ott Book Award
The Book of Frank
At Beyond Baroque, April 3,
the life & times of Lew Welch
rereading LeRoi Jones
International Summer School on
Embodied Language Games
& Construction Grammar
Jane Mayhall has died
T.C. Boyle on
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“The Dissembling Poet:
Seamus Heaney and the Avant-Garde”
New Zealand Poets
Glossing is a Beautiful Thing:
The Past, Present and Future
NY Times catches up
to the Barthelme bio
& the Boston Globe
Another review of Beckett’s letters
Talking with Alan Moore
April is the cruelest month
with Garrison Keillor everywhere (PDF)
& the Great Wall of Quietude
Rufo Quintavalle’s Make Nothing Happen
Comparing the poetry of Mark Strand
to 19th century painting
introduces a new detective
Meirion Jordan’s Moonrise
If the world of poetry
to just 25 books
Wyndham Lewis & Modernism
on retiring as laureate
20 years of editing Updike
The death & life of
great American newspapers
Will NPR save the news?
A major source of newsprint
struggles to survive
How to build Stonehenge
T.J. Clark comes to Picasso
Where is the Snow of yesteryear?
Monday, March 23, 2009
L-R: Lyn Hejinian, Emma Bee Bernstein, RS,
Susan Bee, Bruce Andrews & Susan Howe,
One of the many pleasures of being in Atlanta Saturday for the marriage of my nephew, Daniel Silliman, to Beth Jarvis was getting to see my half-sister Nancy meet my brother Cliff for the first time ever. Our father, Glenn Sherman Silliman, died in 1965 at the age of 38 from burns suffered in an on-the-job explosion, having had three marriages & leaving behind shards of family everywhere he went. Forty-four years later, we’re still putting the pieces back together.
My father’s nickname was Lucky, which may seem macabre in retrospect, but if he had not walked away from an airplane crash in
Going to & from
Labels: Emma Bee Bernstein