from PHILLY TALKS
Response to “Struggle Against Misery: “to
Jude” (Continuous Discontinous:
Curve 2 [Potes & Poets, 1997], pp.
first three words of the first line, “articulation of it.” – starting in
the middle of an utterance, as indicated by the initial lowercase “a” and no
antecedents or following predicate – seems to refer directly to the title: the
poem will be an articulation of (presumably the poet’s) misery.
The rest of that line and the five lines that follow it,
… From my
world I jump through
my thoughts to what most
expresses my love
in the ‘outside’ that my
belongs what to do with
give the ostensible cause of
the misery: the difficulty of expressing his love – in words – to that which
is “outside” his consciousness. One
wonders whether he means by “outside” both the person loved and the rest of
the world unconcerned with his love. The
syntax of that second sentence seems to enact the difficulty.
There are jumps within the sentence itself after “‘outside.’”
It breaks into two syntactically disconnected dependant clauses: “that
my heart / belongs” and “what to do with words.”
The first begins to say what there is to express, but the second jumps to
the difficulty of expression itself. (And,
as we will come to see, it is the dilemma at the heart of this poem.)
following three lines tell what is happening during their writing:
My mind, if that’s it
discriminates & verbs
become something I can say.
First there’s a doubt that
it is “my mind” or something else that’s “discriminating,” and then we
notice that he’s already “said” several
verbs: “jump,” “expresses,” “beings,” “do,” “‘s’”
[=“is”], and “discriminates.” And the next line,
The world of floods,
is a sentence without
a verb. What is happening is
that “the world,” the “outside,” is flooding into the consciousness and
preventing the expression of love that seemed to be beginning.
But why, then, doesn’t it come out as “The world floods in.”
instead of the more indirect and abstract “The world of floods.”?
My whole body
from that world.
Is it that the body becomes
as “outside” as “that world” or that the self itself is dissolving in
following three lines seem in apposition to “that world”:
The baggage good and bad that comes
all that exists
in the things filtering through.
What is it that the good and
bad baggage is filtering through?
The mind-body’s skin? The
“discrimination” by the mind or something else?
after a strophe break, a doubting reflection upon the whole enterprise:
I would not altogether trust
every day and every hour for
the writing of poetry.
It’s as if the whole
attempt at expressing love is being abandoned.
It may be the wrong day and the wrong hour for the writing of any
poetry – not only a poem expressing love.
another jump to another clear reflection, seemingly couched in more abstract
Principles and the inner life
are alibis the moment
they cease to animate
external and everyday life.
But they jump to the heart
of the matter. The inner life is
not animating the external life. It
would seem, rather, that it is obstructing
it. Specifically, it is
obstructing the expression of love. Because
he’s jumped through his thoughts to
what most expresses his love, rather
than just expressing it and not worrying about whether this action “most”
expresses his love, it never gets expressed.
what “principles” are involved here? And
in what senses are they and the inner life itself “alibis”?
For not acting, but just thinking about action?
Then a huge jump, but perhaps no jump at all:
Walter Benjamin wrote,
“A writer who does not teach
other writers teaches nobody.”
Is the poet saying to other
writers, “Don’t let your inner life paralyze your external life?”
last strophe on the first page of the poem:
My lessons in a grey society
would be wearing the skins
of myself and the ghost of yourself
seeing the messages that give
is the most complex so far.
The lesson of this first page of the poem, what it seems
to be teaching, especially to other writers, is that one should not allow
the inner life and one’s principles (which to this reader, at least, remain
unspecified) to become mere alibis for not
living in the so-called external, everyday world.
(But we will see that it’s not only “not living” in the external
world that is lacking, but also not doing something
in it to change its nature.)
poet sees that the poem itself is not so much an expression of love as a
clothing of the very lessons it embodies in the skins of himself and of his
inner representation of the person he loves as they “see the messages that
give them Time.”
questions arise from these five lines: Why is this a “grey” society?
In what sense is it grey? Is
it that the society is one that encourages a barrier between the inner life and
the outer, between the feelings and action, so that when one tries, for instance
– the whole experience becomes an example
of the kinds of dilemmas that arise in the society – to express love, one
wanders away or floats away “upward” from the expression of love to
articulating general lessons about the society in which all this is taking
last two lines are a little obscure to me – at least up to this “point in
time” when I am writing the concluding words of my response to the first page
of the poem. How do these messages
– essentially, it occurs to me now, the major “message” [of this
page of the poem] is that of Lambert Struther in Henry James’s meditation
on similar dilemmas, The Ambassadors:
“Live!” – how do these messages “give” the poet and his representation
of the person he’s addressing “Time”?
Do the “messages” make them aware of the present, of the contingent,
of what is happening at each moment in the world that is always both internal
don’t think these questions are answered or were meant to be.
Once the “grey society” has been allowed explicitly into the poem,
quite other things begin to happen:
Thoughts just barely themselves
before they too begin to change.
Machines of thought do not exist.
Is the poet referring to
his own thoughts as they were happening during the writing of the poem?
It seems so. Strong general statements occur now, averring the
nonexistence of “machines of thought” and the existence of
“reproductions” (presumably of thought).
The latter declaration inevitably – because of the earlier reference to
Walter Benjamin – brings to mind the latter’s essay “The Work of Art in
the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” which has become overwhelmingly a propos
during the years since Benjamin wrote it. Works
of art are not only increasingly and more accurately being reproduced – they
often include within them (as in the works of Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns)
both accurate reproductions of earlier works of art as well as ones made
deliberately less accurate by fragmentation, blurring, partial obliteration, and
similar processes of image-degradation. Often
now, reproductions constitute many works’ only existence.
reflections and others take their places in the “preconscious” of the poem.
The poet rebels against the supersession of thought by its “mechanical
reproduction.” It may
be all very well that the “aura” of works of art be dissolved by the
processes of reproduction (as Benjamin averred in middle ‘30s).
Few except art dealers and buyers and museum curators value
“authenticity” nowadays. Both
the “authentic” works and their reproductions are valuable commodities,
though the former are still much more valuable than the latter in the
marketplace. Which leads directly
to the next strophe:
It must not turn
into an object of consumption.
Nothing exists inside the marketplace.
Here Marx’s observation
that the processes of capitalism dissolve all existing things into thin air by
the process of commodification thrusts its way into the poem.
This very strongly prescriptive strophe is declaring that thought must
not be allowed to be dissolved into an “object of consumption” in the
marketplace. Thought would cease to
exist. With this forceful precept
the whole tone and atmosphere of the poem changes.
This thought is fully itself!
he turns to the quality of life of those existing (or dissolved into
commodities!) in the market society:
Buried in work. Is that
in men and women? Did anyone,
without external reference, ever find
peace in poems? Has that
headed ‘the ink’s desperation’?
But the poem turns again,
within the oppressive representation of the commerce-driven “grey society,”
to the writing of poetry. A despair
that it may ever lead to peace. (or
secondarily, that reading it may do
so). Or – does the despair come
from its being “without external reference”?
─ Does “the ink’s desperation” come from the lack of
connection, between the poetry, “the inner life,” and the “external”: if
the “inner life” does not “animate / the external, the everyday life,”
it is like isolated sterile “principles” are mere “alibis.”
An immaculate imagery
must be a fiction.
time to choose.
The lights burning out
pull down the shades.
Tend to your business.
Alibis for inaction! It is
time to choose whether to make “immaculate” nonreferential poetry or to
do something, presumably in one’s writing, as well as in one’s life.
Here “fiction” means mere fiction - it is a worthless
fiction when the lights are burning out. The poet has to do more than make
metaphors. The poet’s “business” is to “animate the external and
everyday life” - all that is real - authentic thought as well as all other
things of intrinsic value must be must be rescued from the marketplace.
─ the business of the commerce-driven grey society of the marketplace
─ but helping effectuate our rescue from it, to resurrect men and women
from the grave of work and consumption in which they are buried, from the grey
society which has dissolved everything into thin air except its “busy” self
─ this is the poet’s business,
and the poem ends with that ominous and urgent admonition: “Tend to your
York: 26 - 27 October 1997