Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Nothing to say about Topic A. Nothing to say. Helpless with anger and guilt. Nothing to say.

Acquired two last books before leaving SF at City Lights: Laura Mullen's The Tales of Horror and an essay on Oppen by Susan Thackrey, George Oppen: A Radical Practice. This will probably pull me deeper into my Heidegger fixation. Had to return an overdue book to the library today that I checked out a year ago and never read about Heidegger called Poetic Thinking. Of course glancing through it before returning it I wanted to read it. I've acquired all these books and I don't want to read them, I want to read an academic book on a topic I already know. Being willing to encounter only what one already knows is of course the quintessential Heideggerian situation, and the origin of Sartre's bad faith. Being human is a surrealism.

I do find myself able to read Matt Zapruder's American Linden for some reason—they demonstrate a kind of humane surrealism (Surrealism Is a Humanism). Here's a short poem of his that speaks very well to my own process of writing, when I'm able to write, when I'm able to think. I like how it starts with morning, because I find that mid-morning between ten and noon is my own peak creative time:
Before the Poem

Morning plays a fine false tune in the crook of the tree.
I get up to dance, I sit down.
Each leaf is a possible ending.
Great events are taking place in the house across the street.
Four actors rehearse a play I have written and left on their threshold.
Their shadows move from window to window, disappearing and reappearing.
I could shrink the world into a clouded watchglass, this is proven.

No matter which way I swivel my head,
there is light on the edge of the teacup.

I turn back
from a great abyss.
What separates this from the kind of domestic strangeness that characterizes much of James Tate's work, or Ashbery's? Maybe its quietness, maybe the sense the poem conveys of there being a great deal at stake, even as it thematizes the poet's solipsism. Or maybe it's in the voice of a reader, moving from poem to poem ("I get up to dance, I sit down. / Each leaf is a possible ending") looking up out at the window, looking down at the page. So not only does the poem speak to my sense of the creative process—the hush that takes over my mind when I'm trying to read, a kind of papery stifling, which suddenly opens and becomes the choice of writing or not writing, a choice that didn't seem to exist before that moment—it also recreates the sense I get when reading poems. I read poems like this—I mean a whole book, leaf by leaf—very rarely. It reminds me of what it was like to sit on the couch last fall and read through all of Harmonium. Zapruder's poems doubles the experience of the reader into the experience of the writer, so that the poem is a kind of rewriting or rediscovery of the territoryof this Wallace Stevens poem:
The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

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