Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Surprise, me

A friend, schooled in experimental poetics, wonders at having written a narrative poem, when of course all poetry is a narrative of the poet having chosen to write this or that particular poem, regardless of style. There is nothing to wonder at in conflating, abridging categories. Categories such as experimental, narrative, are not controlling factors. There is nothing in a category to prevent one from anything. No one suggests that what you know will control what you do next.

If I am undiscovered that is because I have not let myself be uncovered. The risks I take - and I must be at capacity to take those risks, for they require effort - are what uncover me to myself. Then I write. Then I can say what I have written, but I will never know what I might write next, nor do I want to know.

All this sounds cool and confident. Writing in form however I am faced with knowing to a certain degree what I will write next, and so the task of writing is complicated in that I must freshen the form while surprising myself. I tend therefore to write in arcs. I have some basic set of controlling impressions in mind, which will to a greater or lesser degree guide what comes out of me. This mode of writing produces manuscripts from ten to thirty ages long, which I title, then put to the side. I now publish those manuscripts as books, which activity should pretty much encapsulate my efforts to make myself known.

But, again, even as I publish, and therefore ostensibly uncover myself to others, I become more known to myself and less capable of surprising myself, or uncovering myself to myself. Well, I suppose that much of my life is given over now to fulfillment rather than surprise. I think there is a twist in all this which I have not yet uncovered. All it takes is one surprise to set the record straight.


Chris said...

If all poetry is narrative, because it is a narrative of the poet having chosen to write that poem, then all poetry is similarly utterly unnarrative, because it is just a sequence of phonemes or graphemes that can be appreciated one after the other without drawing connections between them.

But if there is nothing to wonder at in conflating or abridging categories, then it is because we are unnarrative creatures, living our lives as a series of discrete and independent events, without any interpretive superstructures. It is never remarkable that categories can be conflated -- that's just a thing categories can do. But when we have to recategorize ourselves, when we have to lay aside our categories (probably to forge new ones) -- that is something to wonder at, is maybe a definition of what is involved in the process of "wondering at".

Is your longing for "one surprise" the desire for the narrative of your having written a poem (or sequence) to fit a traditional model of some radical "wonder at" moment of reinterpretation of categories right before the final scene?

Patrick Playter Hartigan said...

Chris, wonderful. Thank you.

I do not accept the notion that words are just a sequence of phonemes or graphemes, though I certainly accept writers and thinkers who think that way! I believe that the phonetic or graphic character of language is an intrinsic and transparent matter. The substance of linguistics is constituted within theory, but cannot transgress the boundaries of theory. So, the sytem is closed to experience and feeling, and therefore, in my view, does little to explain much.

As a person sits down to read, or to listen, she is more than merely attending to her knowledge of what constitutes the transparent nature of language. Though, in her consciousness of that knowledge and passion for it, a poem may be created. It takes feeling to write a poem. Feeling for a thought? Absolutely. One can uncover oneself in thought.

So, my wondering at stems not from knowledge, but from feeling. Writing within form, I am conscious of a wavering, modulating perimeter where the action is, which I cannot get to just now - then suddenly I am there. And I have found that I dwell in a mode of doingness (such as all this publishing, of which blogging is a part, etc.) apart from a mode of uncovering myself to myself, of genuine risk-taking, of being able to bridge to that perimeter where the action is.

So - the next poem is always the one surprise. I cannot project beyond that point.