Friday, October 15, 2004

The last three nights, I've picked up some books I haven't read in years--first Eliot's "Four Quartets", then the Norton for random leafing, and then last night the Fall 1994 issue of The Paris Review.

Eliot I found much easier going than I used to--actually, this goes for all the texts I returned to, but most striking with Eliot. I've forgotten how important he used to be to me, as an example of rigor and of intelligence. But what used to seem to me unintelligibly convoluted, his strainings for spirituality, now struck me as awkwardly lovely, and elegant in their attempt to delineate some sense of religion. Now, as far as the Norton goes, I used to know the whole thing, and if not all by heart a not-insignificant amount so. It served the function it is supposed to, and it is decried for, it gave a mind a place to turn for the study of what this hard-to-put-into-words thing poetry might be. Again, I was drawn to the more rigorous and involved poems, but loved poems like Raab's "Attack of the Crab-Men" (I think it was called, like I've said, my memory has been nothing to what it was since my life turned) and pretty much everything. The available range felt established; that is, what was primarily important was that the aesthetic approach each poem/poet established for itself was whole and, for lack of a better word, 'honorable'. A similar, if smaller-scale, attachment, I felt for that issue of the Paris Review, which accompanied me to work (copy editing) on the train/subway each day. I really got to know it very well. More to dislike in it, of course, but lots to learn from and enjoy as well.

I don't think there's as much I attend to the way I used to these texts (and others, of course, but these are what I've fished out these past days). I do think I apprehend the poetry available in poems much faster and more completely now, I'm a practiced reader, my practice did me well. But there are other variables, and there's something about accepting a text as it that allows a certain quickening, an enlivening of one's own going-ness into words and the world, that perhaps belongs to a younger approach to the question of what poetry is and what one is in relation to it. The paragon of such would be, I suppose, Keats with his Shakespeare. I don't know if I'm capable of slowing down enough like my quick attention used to be only on Ulysses, say, for the years it was. Or even the summer of Proust (there, the length and intricacy served to induce such a state, and one I'm still in, in a way, regarding that book). But it woke me up deep.

One function of difficulty, then, is to force a mind to dwell on a text long enough for the text's thoughts to become alive in the mind; to teach a mind to think something out of its own habit, and apprehend that poem as if it were a thought thought by itself, from within. That's what technique means, to me. A fifth-column approach, though benign. That's kind of been my aim with what I've done. If I've missed the boat on fashion, on current modality, as I sometimes think I have (other times I think I haven't, most of the time I don't bother thinking about it of course), well. Risk of the game. And time. And arrogance.

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