Tuesday, July 28, 2009


On my most recent trip to Las Vegas. On midsummer's evanescent reach. On delight in my daughter that amplifies daily.

Living in prose if not quite for it. Wrote my first poem since the Ammons verse diary in our room on the twenty-second floor of the Bellagio thinking, as that town inclines me to do, about pleasure and the apocalypse. Vegas as sinking ship, Titanic, flocked to by the thousands who won't admit the party's over. Pleasures of the apocalypse. The poem is called "The Millions" (upper limit of thinkable quantities) and I think I'll write some more.

Looking for innovative fiction. Recommended to me: Lance Olsen, Shelley Jackson, Steve Tomasula. On my own I've found Lynne Tillman and Laird Hunt. More?

As far as the Oulipians go, I'm still midway through Jacques Roubaud's The Great Fire of London and have been meaning to pick up Perec's Life: A User's Manual. Will save A Void for the next void.

When I began with poetry I thought of it as a tool for discovering striking images. I didn't think about music, I just did it. And when I began with fiction (reading fiction) of course like everyone else I wanted to be taken away. The image was secondary to narrative, and music barely registered as a consideration.

Now when I write poetry I want to write what I think of as most fully proper to poetry, what it alone can accomplish. The effects, and poetic cognition, made possible primarily by putting pressure on syntax, appeal strongly to me. White space, line breaks, meter: the devices that shift and transform emphasis, that make an other(-ed)(-ing) syntax possible: for me that's what poetry is for.

But this is my Platonic ideal of poetry. My actual poems are fallen things, trapped in the slow-moving amber of a residual romanticism, and as such they often turn on images and micro-narrative (bits of local narrative that can function in the way proper to a poem, that is, as syntax) and macro-narrative (the transcendent electrical arc from the world I write about to the void variously filled by God, nature, capital, Spirit, the proletariat, history, etc., etc.).

If I feel a compulsion now toward fiction it may depend on a rebellion against my own powerful sense of decorum, expressed above as the sense of art's needing to focus on the territory proper to it. What's proper to the novel is heteroglossia and the mixing of genres: there is no form of textuality alien to it. I still remember the shock of pleasure from first reading Ulysses and discovering the Nighttown playscript and the newsroom headlines and the syntaxe féminine of Molly Bloom. And the songs, of course, which I was already accustomed to thanks to Tolkien.

Plus I may as well admit rediscovering the sheer pleasures of storytelling. I create a character and he or she begins to talk, or I talk about him or her, and a world unfurls. It's no different than a poem in that sense except that the characters exist together in a different way than poems do (but I remember Jack Spicer's claim that "poems cannot live alone any more than we can," his argument for writing in terms of books rather than individual lyrics, one-night stands). I think Bakhtin was essentially right when he argued that the poem is monoglossic and tends toward purity. You can do a lot of interesting things poetically by trying to subvert that—by insisting on a heteroglossic lyric, for instance—but in novel-writing I feel there's less resistance and one can just go.

I want to write the novel only a poet could write.

I want to transgress my sense of decorum through radical fidelity to it.

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