31 oct. 2006

I might have mentioned my method for reading Clark Coolidge. Going through Solution Passage, for example, I mark poems I like with a check mark, and poems that go beyond that with an additional star or asterisk. Although CC is one of my favorite living poets I am not at all an uncritical reader. As I've owned this book for many years the poems with stars are gradually increasing as a percentage of the whole, but there are still many poems I don't get. In order to get that check mark I have to be able to justify to myself the relation of part to whole. (Shorter poems have a certain advantage here.) Contrary to what you might think, I tend to value poems I understand better over those I don't, within the work of CC.

Here's an example of one that gets a star:


Lace back of mountains my fretted
vehicle on ice it shows

Blamed, all the stones, their streaks, then sky
opens bowl to the rained and rolling day

Fire, this chart beyond has got of crystal through
icicle wall of fricative semblance

Then PatternDemons whisper
in the PalmLines of my stone

Like taking a breath in vaccum light
the pounds of brain that store me

To me this is beatiful, coherent, and clear. It's only as difficult as it needs to be, not a step beyond that. I feel I could explicate it though I certainly don't want to do so pedantically. There are about 21 poems in this almost 400 page book that I like about this much, and maybe about 80 that have mere check mark. When I go back to the book then I have several strategies open to me. I can just go through and read twenty poems. I can read about 100 that I know I'll like. Or I can go in search of new poems that I hadn't quite appreciated on other multiple readings. Or I can go through a particular section and read poems in all three categories. I inevitably find a few that get a new check, or previously checked poems to be promoted with stars. I do appreciate the poems that have held out against me for many years. Such obduracy is to be admired in them.

It's hard to think of a really interesting poet who doesn't have some serious flaws. All significant reading is a back-and-forth movement of identification and rejection. I'm trying to think of any nonproblematic writers I am really devoted to. That's why detractive criticism is cheap. Any fool can see that Pound, Stein, and Lorca are deeply flawed writers. Any one can see that Creeley can be dull and sentimental; that Ashbery is garrulous, Stevens and Guest precious, Schuyler and Keats over-lush, Berrigan self-indulgent, Campion thin. However, if that's all you see then you aren't a particularly good reader either. It's like someone telling you that Beethoven is bombastic. Well yes, we already knew that thank you very much.

Blindness and Insight applies to the poet too, not just the critic. The problematic part of poet's work is usually so close to the core of that poet's achievement that it cannot be excised. The most irritating aspects of Pound's work are not found on the fringes of that work, but very close to the center.

6 comentarios:

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...


So what are the most irritating aspects of Coolidge's work for you?

Jonathan dijo...

The long barren stretches where the magnificent Coolidge language is still there but somehow there's some element missing that would make it more all more consequential somehow. I get bogged down in some longer CC texts because I can't do that work of aesthetic justification for each section. I just have to look for the parts that work better.

Mike H dijo...

I think deeply flawed writers who also produce stimulating writing enmeshed in wherever the flaws are tend to be the most interesting ones. Coolidge wouldn't be able to do what he's done if he were afraid of writing something another might call embarrassing. Can you imagine saying 'you should cut that line' to Clark Coolidge?

A common complaint about Coolidge might be that its random. But I think its about the act of reading it. His poetry's very intense, when one gets past the initial difficulty, and realizes that his writing is alot of times about the difficulty of writing itself.

Jonathan dijo...

That's true. That was what I was trying to say. The way the quantity of what he writes is wrapped up in his method of writing. It's not a matter of saying he should have edited himself better, though I can certainly understand people saying that. The weakness of his writing is wound up in its strength and you can't separate blindness from insight in such a case.

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...

"But the beauty is not the madness/Tho' my errors and wrecks/ lie about me./And I am not a demigod,/I cannot make it cohere."

I suppose those words apply to more than just one poet. . . .

Jonathan dijo...

The extremes of brilliance and stupidity are more visible in Pound than in many others; the attempts to separate the madness from the brilliance more difficult. The principle applies to others but in less dramatic a way.