Jorie Graham On The Region Of Unlikeliness

In this excerpt from a 2003 interview with Jorie Graham that appeared in The Paris Review, she talks about several of my preoccupations–autobiography, parenthood, lineation, philosophy in poetry, addressing the reader, confession, etc–and how they played out in her collection Region Of Unlikeliness:


In Region—after using works of art, then myth, in the previous books—you turn to autobiography. The poems were all your own stories, at that point. Why was that?


Perhaps because once you’re a parent, you enter into a completely different relationship to time. History becomes dominant, and then, perhaps, personal history becomes dominant. You are suddenly at that point where facts—both the facts that your child is learning, and the facts of your life your child wants to know, needs to know—become important. You become a bit of story that needs to be told.


The lines in these poems are shorter. Why?


Many things made the line shorter. Once you begin talking from the position of being a social creature, you go back to the line in which social discourse takes place, the pentameter. It’s a more exterior line, which, since Shakespeare, we associate with people speaking to one another. On either side of it stand more unspeakable lines—longer lines for the visionary; shorter and more symmetrical ones for song, spell, hymn; and shorter yet for the barely utterable, the shriek, the epitaph.


And the second line?


The indented line became a very useful place to negotiate and control the music of the poem. I was still very interested in the sentence, in the kinds of energies the sentence awakens—desire for closure, desire for suspension of closure, desire for simultaneity in a stream of temporal action that defies simultaneity. I guess I still am. For example, what happens along the way of the sentence that you’re in the process of undertaking, the thing you can’t put alongside but that has to actually happen in the sentence as a “dependent” phrase? If you’re telling the story of your life, in a way, or if you’ve gone back to autobiography or history, you’re in a place where sentence-making is connected to time, as opposed to those epiphanic escapes from time which would employ a different kind of syntax—in Erosion for example.


So, the indented line . . .?


The indented line allows you to modulate the sentence and keep it capable of carrying so much without collapsing. It’s all a matter of freight carried to speed of carriage, to mangle Frost’s quote. It gave me a kind of lift—and three musical units: the full line; a shorter fragmentary line that condenses stresses on very few words (often words that would never carry a stress—prepositions, articles, conjunctions) words that if stressed truly alter the nature of what the actual inquiry of the poem is; and the “landing,” the oftentimes single word on the left margin, which takes the strongest stress of all. Those “landing words” gave me a kind of propulsion that made a rather long poem continue to feel like a containable lyric utterance. I wanted to pack a lot into the lyric, but not go beyond its bounds. Some have written that I wanted to expand what the lyric could do. I just want the hugeness of experience—which includes philosophical discursiveness—to move at a rate of speed that kept it (because all within one unity of experience) emotional. Also, often, questions became the way the poems propelled themselves forward.


And that does what to the reader?


It brings the reader in as a listener to a confession? A poem is a private story, after all, no matter how apparently public. The reader is always overhearing a confession.

Jim Powell On Sound And Sense

I wish I could read the entire essay from which this came from:

It was Bunting who discovered in a German-Italian dictionary the translation Pound made into a slogan, “dichten = condensare” — ‘to compose poetry is to condense.’ This desiderates compression of sense, economy of means, the quest for le mot juste, for the one right word that supplants a half dozen blurry approximations, the fusion of phrase and perception that subverts habits of thought and speech to embody insight and survive, weathering the erosion of dailiness and the passing of fashionable ideas, rewarding repetition. But in poetry sound and sense are consubstantial, and compression of sense requires corporeal embodiment in the simultaneous melic condensation of verse. Memorability, durability in the mind, has always been recognized as one of the primal functions of poetic form (incantation, hypnosis, is another), and memory is a hedonist. She lives in the mind, which is a carnal thing, and wants corporeal nurture, wants in verse the carnality of a substantial music–impedance, weight, solidity, resistance: impedance like a burr to snag in recollection, resistance to outlast the corrosive blizzard of oblivion, solidity that like Yeats’ “stone in the midst of all” troubles the recourses of memory and reflection, a weight of phrase that sinks beyond the currents of ephemerality into the deeper reaches of our lives.

via Chicago Review 34:2 (Spring 1984)

Three Reasons To Study Simonides Of Keos

For being “the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition,” or so claims Anne Carson in Economy of the Unlost: Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan.

For being the seminal figure in the development of spatial thinking as a mnemonic aide, or so claims Joshua Foer in “Secrets of a Mind Gamer.”

For being a particularly contentious thorn in discussions of the dichotomy Plato establishes between poetry and philosophy, or so claims Adam Beresford in “Erasing Simonides.”

Peter Nicholls on George Oppen

Here are two points on Oppen’s poetry that have made a significant impact on how I think about my own work.

On the multiplicity of voices that speak in a single poem:

“Quotations are everywhere in Oppen’s poetry, especially in his later work, where he began to distinguish them by using italics rather than quotation marks, thus marking them not as speech but as another layer of text. Increasingly, the incorporation of ‘foreign’ materials does not point outside the poem, but functions rather to disrupt any sense of unified poetic ‘voice’ even though sources are often obscured.”

On poetry as a form.of knowing:

“The poet may recall a past experience, then, but that experience is fundamentally recast, perhaps so as to be almost unrecognisable, when caught up in the force-field of present perception. We are dealing not with a situation in which a given subject appropriates something other as an object of knowledge, but rather one in which (as for Heidegger) thinking and being are somehow elided. In this sense, the poetic imagination intuits rather than knows…”

From “George Oppen and the Poetics of Quotation” by Peter Nicholls