Thursday, January 19, 2006

It was a sign of just how strong my reaction was to Linh Dinh’s latest book, Borderless Bodies, that when I picked up the new issue of The Poker and started reading the two poems of George Stanley that lead off the journal, they felt like echoes of Linh Dinh. Here is the second section of Stanley’s “Common Areas”:

We meet here, on our way
from the inside to the outside,
the outside to the inside,
in this place that is neither in nor out,
this common place give for us to use,
coming in or going out.

When my fellow tenant and I are both going out,
we are each going into the world,
into our secret lives.

When we are both coming in that is worse,
we each know the other is going to his apartment,
where he has grave duties to perform.
When one is going out and the other in,
there is a sense of irrelevancy;
this non-meeting might as well take place
outside, on the street.

There is a surrealism of the commonplace here, accentuated by the repetition of the words out & outside, which between them occur seven times in these 16 lines. The opposing figures, in, inside & into occur even more often, nine times, although they tend to disappear upon reading, a consequence of the softness of i followed by n. But beyond this one heightened aspect, Stanley’s has little in common with Linh Dinh. Reading Stanley’s poem again a day later, I realized that there was no echo, really, beyond a sense of magnifying minutiae to make them visible in the poem and an idea  they seem to share about the integrity of the stanza. What I really had here was an instance where a strong poet, using vibrant language, was leaving behind an echo that might have washed over whatever text came next, but which definitely did so here, because Stanley’s poem is deliberately muted, accentuating its own quietness – what else is the role of that third line in the first stanza? And this in turn made me think about quietness in poetry. Not to be confused with Quietude, which is a literary movement of anglophiles that historically has accumulated & concentrated what little institutional power may be available to poetry while denying that it exists. 

Quietness, on the other hand, is tonal, one effect among many. It’s one that I often think doesn’t get taken seriously enough, because poetry – perhaps especially within the post-avant tradition – tends to reward gauds. The number of New American poets who were essentially quiet is particularly few – it’s not how you would describe Olson nor Ginsberg nor Frank O’Hara nor Jack Spicer nor Amiri Baraka nor Kenneth Koch nor Gregory Corso etc. Creeley can be, from time to time, as can Duncan, tho neither comes close to Cid Corman in this respect, let alone George Oppen.