Lauterbach on Stevens

From Ann Lauterbach’s “Is I Another? A Talk In Seven Beginnings,” as published in The Night Sky: Writings On The Poetics Of Experience:

Stevens moves me, because he comes to the very brink of transcendent vision, only to subvert it through a kind of alchemical pragmatism, where sequels of flamboyant mediation lead him back the “ordinary” and even beyond to the stripped profane dump, “the the.” In Stevens, the obdurate declivity between authorial subject and textual object quickens, so that Foucault’s “possible room for possible subjects” begins to emerge. In this regard, Stevens provides a prelude to Ashbery’s cast of shifting pronouns, where the idea of a single self, coherent and cogent, gives way to plural subject positions, aspects of perception and response, within a characteristic habit of mind. (37-38)

Peter Nicholls on Objectivist Poetics

This is from Nicholls’ book on George Oppen, an expansion I imagine of, among other writings, the essay I quoted from previously:

T. W. Adorno has a precise formulation for the kind of shift I am suggesting here when he speaks in an essay on Bach of ‘the emancipation of the subject to objectivity in a coherent whole of which subjectivity itself was the origin’. The subject is liberated from an impotent privacy into a world of material beings through the objectified form of the artwork. For the reader, such ‘emancipation’ derives not from some identification with the poet’s feeling, but from the syntax of the work, from a particular arrangement of words which, like the conjunction of planes in a painting, produces a sense of a materiality resistant to conventional grammars of thought and design. And, rather like the relation of abstract art to representational art, a language of ‘objectification’ amounts to a reconfiguring of the semantic field so as to accent particular items in a non-discursive way. Prominent features are inverted word order, indeterminacy or ambiguity attaching to pronouns, the emphatic use of prepositions to substitute for usual narrative markers, heightened attention to ‘minor’ parts of speech such as conjunctions, and a resulting disfigurement of anticipated speech-patterns. Such devices assure us that we are dealing not with ‘a performance, a speech by the poet’ but rather with ‘the poet’s self among things’ and a ‘thinking with the things as they exist’.

Approaching Gnosticism?

I recently mentioned Brenda Hillman, whose Loose Sugar (scroll down for review) I own and love, and how I feel distant from her Gnostic sensibilities, even as it profoundly shape her poetics, which I find resonant. Yes, there is a contradiction here.

I might be coming close, thanks to “On Song, Lyric, and Strings,” a piece she wrote that clarifies my recent reflections on the lyric. You can see her argument in Section 2, where she offers lyric as “an element in poetry, not a type” and talks about how “once lyric meant unbroken music, but since the nineteenth century, it may be broken.” I now realize my position, which is close to this, isn’t so much anti-lyrical after all.

Hillman also provides what I thought was a hilarious though insightful comparison between Emily Dickinson and Eminem, which I’ll quote here for certain key terms that mean a lot to the work I do (emphases mine)

In lyrics, identity quests might be aided when the certainty of a rhythm is crossed with a question; Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody—who are you?” and Eminem’s line “I’m Slim Shady I’m the real Shady” have in common the fact that their speakers present contradictory riddles as deflections for saying who they think they are—Dickinson in iambic and Eminem in trochaic rap. Much pop music has this gnostic quality, making animate assertions about losing the self while finding it. To the complaint that contemporary poetry is too musically inaccessible, I’d note that the temporary difficulties of such poetry instruct us about possibilities of meaningful expression of the quotidian

A lot of this makes sense to me, except for the question of how essential it is to Gnostic thought that it is about “losing the self while finding it.” If left at that, then it’s something that fits with my own poetic sensibilities. I may even accept the idea of knowledge as revealed in a-logical mystery, but I feel close to an understanding here.

I think I like the way Loose Sugar and other work by Hillman presents dualities without resolving them in a synthesis (Hegelian or something else). I think I can appreciate her use of Gnostic thought and alchemy as specific forms of negative capability or as a way to still function even when holding two fundamentally opposing views (I’m referring to the is-it-Fitzgerald-or-not bit in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). I’m just not sure it’s my way of doing so, since there are a whole lot of other approaches to the binary, such as apophenia.


Hillman’s article, which I only read last night is eerily in sync with a lot of what I’ve written in an essay I just finished, so much so that I am compelled to revise my essay and mention the Hillman to avoid being suspected of plagiarism.

On top of that, Hillman also specifically mentions HolderlinRobert DuncanWalter BenjaminPaul CelanGerald Manley Hopkins (an influence on W.S. Graham and John Berryman), and Annie Finch. I can’t help but wonder if this is this is the pneuma approaching.

“Where I’m From”

I’ve enclosed those three words in quotation marks–conspicuously missing from the Permalink–because I’m not going to talk about where I’m from, at least not here/now.

I will, however, talk about this poem as a writing assignment. It is a rather enjoyable experience, even if (more so?) one were to do it in a fashion that’s somewhat schematic.

My teacher used Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others, but I’m not sure my efforts, fun as they are, supports the claim that this exercise “has produced gorgeous pieces from the entire workshop with almost unfailing consistency.” My work seems to belong to that zone marked by “almost.”

I suspect a significant part of this is rooted in the unresolved simultaneity of my fascination for and my suspicion of the poet’s I, but there’s also the aversion I feel towards writing poems about my childhood (which could be traced back to issues that would give a Freudian fits, or simply my having listened to this at a formative age).

Or maybe I should just be a little more focused. I should really do a bout of intensely concentrated writing, rather than the lazy scribbling I’ve been doing, similar to the way I doodle when, say, over the phone. And I should really open the work to the exacting tasks and demands in what I’ve been reading lately (and not-so-recently).

Still, I suspect that my resolve to focus on craft might be a ploy to shift the emphasis away from something else.