Saturday, June 20, 2009

Form when you said Form

You asked, Why form? Your tone seemed to me to imply either that there should be another word for form, or a wish to retire form as a thing in itself. I brushed aside your tone even as I might have seemed to address it, with mere personal observations, and so we had a nice time.

But now, I am ready to address whatever concerns you might have about the word form or form as a thing in itself. Your concerns are my concerns, even as I confess that I am at my best self writing now. I mean to say, if you were to jump at me from an alley after I had had a long day at the office and wonder at the term form, I might not be so forthcoming as I am now. Perhaps then, for every value I assert from this point on, we should deduct a 20% wishfulness tax. I will let you decide that point.

True enough, writing is what gets written. So why form? One cannot be a formalist - or, be in a position of having been appointed with the term formalist - without having made clear certain broad decisions, or having arrived at a certain broad point of decision making, and having telegraphed same. From my interior perspective, I look upon a landscape that has little altered in twenty years. The landscape encompasses authors' works, scenes from relationships, places I have lived, paintings I have seen and painted, poems I have written, music I have heard (live and recorded), episodes from jobs, travels, vacations, daily routines - all these things, as I have said, occupy a landscape little changed.

So here we are at a defining perspective: the interior landscape has little changed even as the scenes populating the landscape have multiplied, some fading, others bursting into bloom.

What do I see in common to what I recall? Patterns and variations? Yes, I am impressed by patterns. More so - much more so - I am impressed by workfulness, by doggedness. I am impressed by thoroughness, by exhaustiveness. By fullness. By completeness. I am impressed by purpose as expressed in art. Whether it's Bach's works or Horace's or Pollock's or Milton's. I do put an author to the work, as individual determinedness impresses me. Passion impresses me. Expertness is fine, but a thorough, expressed passion trumps all else. The Ramones, AC/DC, Pollock (as I mentioned) impress me. And I am convinced that, while the particulars differed, we all of us share a similar interior landscape. That is, an underlying impression of purpose and place.

Another defining point: I emulate that which impresses me. And I am satisfied to emulate in purpose even as I produce new work. I seek to be as good an artist as the best artist is, insofar as our purposes are demonstrated in our work.

So, as to form as the thing in itself, it is an indicator of purpose, of will. I am persuaded that our will is our defining asset, and that it is in the operation of our will that we define ourselves as individuals. Form indicates an operation of the will. It is a signal of the individual poet's purpose in writing a poem. It is an assertion of purpose, and a challenge to the reader to match the poet's purpose. Rose and gauntlet, form predicates and affirms our purpose, our humanity.

A third point, and perhaps a final point. A person who writes in form has found a means in which to write. Form is a means, not an end, not a determination. Even as the form affirms, it gives way to the meaning of the poem in its specific, personal operation between that poet then and this reader now. The moral is, our purposes serve ourselves, our humanity, not mere things, or forms.

The will to form is underwritten by an understanding that will not pretend to permit purpose to surpass conscience. An urge to merely write in form produces thin, wishful works. A student's work. Rather, the form must be the vehicle for expression.

So, as to the word form, it is a word of purpose - of intention and measurement - like hammer, acre, or castle.

What do you say when you have finished for a time? I say, I hope to see you again, soon.