Thursday, April 17, 2003

I'd like to quote Kasey quoting Jonathan quoting Pound:
I throwing the object (fixed or moving) on to the visual imagination.

II inducing emotional correlations by the sound and rhythm of speech.

III inducing both of the effects by stimulating the associations (intellectual and emotional) that have remained in the receiver's consciousness in relation to the actual words or word groups employed
(ABC of Reading p. 63).
When I think about my own process of writing I feel like I've moved from I to III over the course of my brief career. I think it was always III when I was a teenager because I was and am fascinated by the "stickiness" of words: the way they stick to their associations, denotative and connotative, and the way they would stick to each other when placed in unexpected juxtaposition. Then for a long time, right up through my first year at Montana, I was convinced that image was everything. I wrote lots of landscape poems which never failed to wrap themselves up in a tidy epiphany or two. It wasn't until I started encountering poets whose main tool was not the image drawn from nature (or from cityscapes) that I began to intuit that my first inchoate thoughts had been the best ones. Reading Modernists like Pound and Stevens more closely than I had as a teenager (in a poetry class I took one summer; I still use the Norton Anthology of Poetry, Third Edition that my parents purchased for the occasion), and then reading literary theory, Wittgenstein, etc., helped provide further justification for thinking about poetry what I'd always felt about it. That's why I got stuck on my WCW-patented "made of words" hobbyhorse. What experience has further taught me is that although one of my poems always has to start with verbal stickiness it doesn't have to end there. Rather than simply receiving the radio transmissions from Mars that tell me to stick X next to Y in euphonious fashion (this is where the odd man out, no. II, melopoeia seems to come in) I can also throw my own needs, or the occasion's needs, into the mix, and guide the emerging poem into a particular territory much more easily than I once could. Which is not to say that many of my best poems don't continue to stem entirely from the dictation provided by the intellectual and emotional associations stimulated by a single word or group of words (that all-important first line) without much guidance from my consciousness.

Where thinking about this—thinking as a poet—gets more complicated for me is when I start to probe the nature of those associations, particularly the "intellectual" ones. If I'm simply reaching into the web of language as it exists for me—into the network of relations that gives a particular word or phrase its meanings—aren't I simply reproducing those relations? What inner quirkiness, vision, or Martian am I relying upon to free those words somewhat from their usual patterns (especially patterns which conceal the historical and/or hegemonic nature of certain bits of language)? Is it my critical intelligence, or something more? Imagination? Inspiration? Or is it (here's that word again) a dialectical relationship between my intellectual response to a phrase (unpacking layers of association that range from Shakespeare to Pepsi ads to Donald Rumsfeld) and the simultaneous emotional responses? Two kinds of memory (it's all memory) come into conflict and produce sparks. If image becomes again important to the poem, it might be an attempt at a Benjaminian dialectical image: a presentation of contradiction that's supposed to shock the reader into a more direct apprehension of a slice of reality, like Proust's memoire involontaire. Or more simply it might be Pound's formula for the image: "An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."

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