This is how my mind works.
Contact me: email@example.com
...And:Ask me anything
When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.
It is very difficult. We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem - and yet the immediate always has hundreds of its own words clinging to it, short-leved and tenacious as barnacles. And it is wrong to scrape them off and substitute others. A poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer. The words around the immediate shrivel and decay like flesh around the body. No mummy-sheet of tradition can be used to stop the process. Objects, words must be led across time not preserved against it.
I yell “Shit” down a cliff at the ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fade. It will be dead as “Alas.” But if I put the real cliff and the real ocean into the poem, the word “Shit” will ride along with them, travel the time-machine until cliffs and oceans disappear.
Most of my friends like words too well. They set them under the blinding light of the poem and try to extract every possible connotation from each of them, every temporary pun, every direct or indirect connection - as if a word could become an object by mere addition of consequences. Others pick up words from the streets, from their bars, from their offices and display them proudly in their poems as if they were shouting, “See what I have collected from the American language. Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!” What does one do with all this crap?
Words are what sticks to the real. We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem. They are what we hold on with, nothing else. They are as valuable in themselves as rope with nothing to be tied to.
I repeat - the perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.
— Jack Spicer
“…Who is not more than his limitations,
who is not the blood in a wine barrel
and the wine as well? I too, having lost faith
in language have placed my faith in language…”
On her side, reclining on her elbow.
This mechanism, this apparition,
Suppose we call it Projection A.
She floats in air at the level of
The eye, completely anonymous,
Born, as she was, at twenty-one,
Without lineage or language, only
The curving of her hip, as motionless gesture,
Eyes dripping blue, so much to learn.
If just above her head there hung,
Suspended in air, the slightest crown
Of Gothic prong and practick bright,
The suspension, as in solid space,
The suspending hand withdrawn, would be
An invisible gesture. Let this be called
Projection B. To get at the thing
Without gestures is to get at it as
Idea. She floats in the contention, the flux
Between the thing as idea and
The idea as thing. She is half who made her.
This is the final Projection C.
The arrangement contains the desire of
The artist. But one confides in what has no
Concealed creator. One walks easily
The unpainted shore, accepts the world
As anything but sculpture. Good-bye
Mrs. Pappadopoulos, and thanks.
Marianne Breslauer Self-portrait, Berlin 1930
When I started writing, when I was a teenager, I mostly wrote absurdly hard-boiled stories about detectives standing in the rain at funerals, or drinking coffee in diners and talking to equally bleak waitresses. Nothing of “writing what I knew,” but had I watched Cowboy Bebop through 5 or 6 times, read every issue of Hellblazer and spent a lot of time trying to sound like Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past. I thought there was something about the Noir form that could carry more story than anything else I knew, at that age.
The extent to which I might have been right was obscured by years of Creative Writing seminars, where “writing what you know” is an article of faith. That’s not wrong, just incomplete. It’s true, I was never going to say anything deeply meaningful about being a detective, or even about being as weary as the characters I wrote, but that wasn’t the point. Such as they were, the stories were mostly about impossible love and being overwhelmed by the world. The form is just that, a structure to tell a story with and it worked, such as it did.
The stories weren’t great, they weren’t even good, but I remember how wonderful it felt to write them. That all came back, courtesy of the incomparable Warren Ellis, reading through the first 5 pages of Fatale. Haven’t felt that in years, which means, I think, I’ve got a thing on my hands, here.
…But first the rhetoric of decline, and let me read you another piece of gloom:On many sides we hear confident assertions…that the work of Greek and Latin is done—that their day is past. If the extinction of these languages as potent instruments of education is a sacrifice inexorably demanded by the advancement of civilisation, regrets are idle, and we must bow to necessity. But we know from history that not the least of the causes of the fall of great supremacies has been the supine-ness and short-sightedness of their defenders. It is therefore the duty of those who believe…that Greek and Latin may continue to confer in the future, as they have done in the past, priceless benefits upon all higher human education, to inquire whether these causes exist, and how they may be at once removed. For if these studies fall, they fall like Lucifer. We can assuredly hope for no second Renaissance.
Now, as you will have guessed from the rhetorical style, that was not written yesterday (although you could have heard much the same points made yesterday). It is, in fact, by the Cambridge Latinist J.P. Postgate, lamenting the decline of Latin and Greek in 1902…
…All this seems almost preposterous to us; for, in our terms, [Postgate and Jefferson are] voices from the Golden Age of classical study and understanding, the age that we have lost. But they are an important reminder of one of the most important aspects of the symbolic register of the classics: that sense of imminent loss, the terrifying fragility of our connections with distant antiquity (always in danger of rupture), the fear of the barbarians at the gates and that we are simply not up to the preservation of what we value. That is to say, tracts on the decline of the classics are not commentaries upon it, they are debates within it: they are in part the expressions of the loss and longing and the nostalgia that have always tinged classical studies. As so often, creative writers capture this sense rather more acutely than professional classicists. The sense of fading, absence, past glories, and the end of an era…
…The truth is that the classics are by definition in decline; even in what we now call the “Renaissance,” the humanists were not celebrating the “rebirth” of the classics; rather like Harrison’s “trackers,” they were for the most part engaged in a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the fleeting and fragile traces of the classics from oblivion. There has been no generation since at least the second century AD that has imagined that it was fostering the classical tradition better than its predecessors. But there is of course an up-side here. The sense of imminent loss, the perennial fear that we might just be on the verge of losing the classics entirely, is one very important thing that gives them—whether in professional study or creative reengagement—the energy and edginess that I think they still have.
…Same as it ever was.
Jeff Buckley - New Year’s Prayer
…Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are
Feel no shame for what you are…
By some miracle, you set aside a day to tackle that project you can’t seem to finish in the office. You close the door, boot up your laptop, open the right file and … five minutes later catch yourself thinking about dinner. By 10 a.m., you’re staring at the wall, even squinting at it between your fingertips. Is this day 50 hours long? Soon, you fall into a light, unsatisfying sleep and awake dizzy or with a pounding headache; all your limbs feel weighed down. At which point, most likely around noon, you commit a fatal error: leaving the room. I’ll just garden for a bit, you tell yourself, or do a little charity work. Hmmm, I wonder if my friend Gregory is around?
This probably strikes you as an extremely, even a uniquely, modern problem. Pick up an early medieval monastic text, however, and you will find extensive discussion of all the symptoms listed above, as well as a diagnosis. Acedia, also known as the “noonday demon,” appears again and again in the writings of the Desert Fathers from the fourth and fifth centuries. Wherever monks and nuns retreated into cells to labor and to meditate on matters spiritual, the illness struck.
“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
Currently in the entrails of Los Angeles.
Take This Book: The People’s Library at Occupy Wall Street by Melissa Gira Grant, on Kickstarter
“This used to be a library: thousands of books, thousands of people, tended to by a dozen or so librarians in Zucotti Park, the first home of Occupy Wall Street…”
Somewhere in that library was my name, printed and bound above the first story I ever published. On a livestream, I watched it being destroyed as riot cops rolled through the park, as journalists were arrested and the airspace over lower Manhattan closed. I watched the police dump a library full of books into piles on the wet street and dump those piles into trucks, to be carted off.
It’s a testament to symbolism that the office of Mayor Bloomberg felt compelled to trot out some remnant of the library, a fraction of what it contained before the police had their way with it, to demonstrate that they weren’t so cartoonishly villainous as destroying books might suggest. It’s a testament to symbolism that the People’s Library existed in the first place.
Libraries and livestreams…the stories are numerous and so much is about their telling, about how you tell them and where and when. Now, there’s a story to be told about the library itself. Melissa has a book about how this remarkable thing came to be, the people who helped it come to be and what comes next. There are only 3 days left to donate for the project to meet its funding goal. I just doubled my pledge, because we’re all in this together and someone has to write these stories down and someone has to read them. Because…
We are pressed, pressed on each other,
We will be told at once
Of anything that happens
And the discovery of fact bursts
In a paroxysm of emotion
Now as always. Crusoe
We say was
So we have chosen.
By the shipwreck
Of the singular
We have chosen the meaning
Of being numerous…
Make a run for it. You better get the hell out. Quick.
“Make a run for it…”