Sunday, November 21, 2004


Laura raises some interesting problems in her comments to my last post. One of them is about whether the poem's being a discrete unit of work done implies its self-containment, or stand-alone character. I don't think it does.

Suppose a poem is a machine of sorts. A machine is only useful if it is connected to its environment in manifold ways. It is not connected to its environment in an infinitude of arbitrary ways, but it is connected in ways that are unknown to the machine's inventor (who often has no conception of what it will end up being used for). I think this analogy is useful because it doesn't make the machine's "working" depend upon a relation that points back to the inventor. The inventor may have been a genius, but the machine's importance does not lie in its being a sign or trace or symptom of that genius. It's just a brilliant piece of equipment.

Machines can always be improved, and go through all sorts of provisional designs, models, mock-ups, prototypes. None of these are intended to stand alone, but to connect to the (test) environment in specific ways.

That is, to see a poem as a discrete unit of work done is not to suggest that it is cut off from its environment. On the contrary, the poem is open to its surroundings in especially intense ways. It is this special intensity, this specific openness, that we read poems for. And we try, of course, to be as discrete about it as possible.

So on my view the whole idea is to get away from the idea of a poem or a philosophy as a gift. (This is what I'm least sure of at present, I'll add. And I'll say something later about the suggestion that the poem ought emerge from the philosophy of the poet.) And the hope is precisely that the poetic/philosophical process does not have to "keep churning", but can complete itself, albeit tentatively, in completed work along the way followed by periods of well-deserved rest.

The tinkerer's satisfaction with gadgetry. Making something that works.

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