“A young negro is bending over a pressing machine/ in the tailor’s shop on the corner/the white steam rising into his face”
Well that’s, more or less, mostly, what I mean by something seen in a moment of inattention, or open-mindedness (that is, attention to what’s there, but inattention to… there’s no purpose, no purposeful attention, just open mind), something seen that within itself has elements of magic (the white steam rising into the negro’s face) but something that you would not necessarily be able to figure out is a poem until it recurred maybe several days later, or an hour later. You would have seen it and then the image would have returned to your mind.
In the process of sitting meditation such images do recur often, nameless pictures, pictures that have no name and no attachment, sort of unborn pictures, that is, pictures once seen that have no particular interpretative meaning, and yet have a kind of clarity that makes them, so to speak, eternal, in that they’ll recur over and over and over, until your death bed. Very often in sitting, a number of very early traumatic scenes will arise that you don’t count as part of your official history but which are definitely a part of it, which return and recur over and over, as life reveals itself, as you get older and realize that they were actually early determining traumatic fixation moments. During sitting (or any other moment of inattention as well as sitting) they’ll likely rise, and it’s a question of recognizing them, (not necessarily getting attached to them, but just recognizing them), and realizing that they’re being offered to you to appreciate and make use of, if you want, for aesthetic purposes (that is as a picture, or a haiku, or a poem). It’s the other parts of your mind that you’re not intending that are poetry. It’s sort of the.. what rises on its own without your effort, what, naturally, rises because it’s intrinsically exact and precise like – “A young negro is bending over a pressing machine in the tailor’s shop on the corner/The white steam rising into his face” – It’s something Reznikoff must have seen once or twice but was so clear.
So why didn’t he make a big poem out of it? Well, he made a little poem out of it. Because, at this point in American mentality, American poetic mentality, it was just the beginning of time, the beginning time of just trying to explore mind itself, explore natural, simple, straightforward, direct poetics. There was an argument between (William Carlos) Williams and (Ezra) Pound. Pound said, “I’m interested in the finished aesthetic product. You’re only interested in the raw material – and (so) you’re not a real poet, you’re just interested in the raw material, you’re just collecting a lot of raw material”. And Williams wrote him back and said, “Absolutely, yes, that’s it, that’s it, I have no idea what poetry is, I have no pre-conceived notion, I’m just collecting. I’m observing mind, observing speech, observing the raw material, collecting specimens of raw material, like a scientist, collecting specimens. Perhaps some later generation will be able to make use of these. Perhaps they will be of some importance, as indicators, or sign-posts, or helpful experiments for a later generation, but it will take many many generations for America to develop its own poetics, that is, making the break from English poetics and standard (conventional) metric meter. It will take many generations for America to evolve its own forms of poetry and its own poetic mind, as distinct from the already-developed English poetic mind.” So Williams was just interested in gathering specimens, and all these folks were just interested in “isolate flecks”, as he says, “isolate flecks” [Editorial note – The phrase is, of course, from Williams’ “To Elsie”]. So they were all doing the same thing around the same time. If this (Reznikoff) is 1934, if you look at Williams around that time you’ll get some similar thing.