Spontaneous Poetics – (William Carlos Williams – 8)

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Ginsberg on Williams continues:

AG: There’s lots of short poems (of Williams) that might be looked at. What does he do (for example) when he gets into a violent scene, where all perceptions are jarred? [Allen proceeds to read William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Last Turn” “Then see it! in distressing / detail – from behind a red light/at 53rd and 8th/ of a November evening, the jazz/ of the cross lights echoing the/crazy weave of the breaking mind:/ splash of half purple, half/ naked woman’s body whose jeweled/ guts the cars drag up and down -/ No house but has its brains/ blown off by the dark/ Nothing recognizable, the whole one/ jittering direction made of all/direction spelling the inexplicable:/ pigment upon flesh and flesh/the pigment the genius of a world,/ against which rages the fury of/our concepts, artless but supreme” – That’s (a) kind of sitting-on-the-fence (I guess), in the sense that he’s finally seeing that what we see is also a pure concept – particularly in moments of (a) car-crash!

Student: How does those last few lines go. He somehow (introduces) the concept and then he…

AG: “Nothing recognizable, the one whole (sic)/ jittering direction..” – the one whole jittering direction – “made of all/direction spelling the inexplicable” – It does get a little corny there (I’d say “spelling the inexplicable” sounds (a bit) like my father there, a little bit). That “spelling the inexplicable” –  it’s not (a) visual image, so he’s violated his “No ideas but in things” (there). Shock did it. But he did get that “November evening…jazz/ ..the cross lights echoing../crazy weave of the breaking mind:/ splash of half purple, half/ naked woman’s body whose jeweled/ guts the cars drag up and down” – he did get a flash-photo before he went off. “Pigment upon flesh and flesh/the pigment..” – that’s a little bit back to the original image – “Pigment the genius of a world” – I guess, “flesh/the pigment the genius of a world,/ against which..” – actually, I don’t understand the end of the poem – “against which rages the fury of/our concepts” – I guess, actually, the flesh, the genius of the world, is artless, but supreme (rather than our concepts) here.  So maybe he isn’t on-the-fence after all  [turning to one student (J.S.) – I thought for a minute he was taking your position]

“The Thoughtful Lover”  – [Allen reads, in its entirety, Williams’ poem, “The Thoughtful Lover” – “Deny yourself all/half things. Have it/ or leave it…”…”But today/ the particulars/of poetry/  that difficult art/ require/ your whole attention.” – “The Thoughtful Lover”

Here he (is) in a very minor, tiny, poem, called “Silence”, where he returns to the haiku form, or approaches again that haiku silence – [Allen reads Williams’  “Silence” – “Under a low sky -/ this quiet morning/ of red and/ yellow leaves -/  a bird disturbs/ no more than one twig/ of the green leaved/ peach tree”] – “A bird disturbs/ no more than one twig/ of the green leaved/ peach tree” – so he noticed that. That’s a pretty close thing to notice, a very delicate thing to notice. You have to keep thinking about writing a poem to do that. That’s sort of an arty – artful – one.

Student: Say some more about that one, will you? Thinking about writing a poem?

AG: What poem was that? “Silence”? – I forgot about that poem a minute after I read it! – Silence – What did I say?

Student: Just that sense of..  I got a sense that you meant that (the poet) was aware (of)…

AG: Oh, writing a poem. I see. That was (actually) a little after-thought that I was (immediately) ashamed of, I immediately amnesia-ized it. Okay – ” “Under a low sky -/ this quiet morning/ of red and/ yellow leaves -” – so he’s got to look out there and see – that’s red, that’s yellow – you call that a red leaf? that’s.. how do you describe it? Well, “quiet morning”, “red and yellow leaves” – At least he’s got he red and yellow leaves keeping the morning quiet. And then, well there must be a poem here, or maybe not even thinking about it, but just noting that he’s looking at it – and then a bird disturbs one twig. So he noticed the lightness of the bird, I guess, coming in or zooming out, and then, at some point or other, he must have noticed that it was… well, the title of the poem is “Silence” – so there’s a funny correlation between just the one twig moving in total silence, and (how) almost imperceptible the complete universe of the bird was, except that he was happening to look at it. So at some point or other he must have remembered or recollected just having seen that, and then maybe looked out the window again to get some more detail – “red and/yellow leaves” – a quiet morning of red and yellow leaves. It sounds like something he may have revised also, to order the sequence of perceptions in their chronological order (or at least with the background of red and yellow leaves).
But “no more than one twig” is a very odd phrase –  “disturbs/ no more than one twig” – so he was thinking, “Gee, it could have made a big mess, come splashing down like the great Roc and splintered the whole tree, or come thrashing in” – but, apparently, the bird was quite conscious of how it alighted, so it was a little consciousness of the bird that he was noticing, the delicacy of the bird (which may have made him think of his own art, and the exactness and delicacy and precision of his own mind, lighting on objects and then adjusting words, or hearing words in his head perhaps). So “no more than one twig” – the word “one” there is sort of like.. you’d have to think up a word to deal with the piece of wood that moved, the piece of living wood that moved, you’d have to notice that it was only one, and that’s sort of a language thing. It’s an odd language intrusion on the picture, to label the twig “one”, and to label the action, to locate, to settle the action (with) just the word “one” and “one twig”. “No more than one twig” is kind of strange. It’s almost abstract, rather than a description of what happened. To have thought that that was the characteristic noticing-point or highlight of what happened with the bird – “no more than one twig” moved.

Student: What I’m intrigued by is when you said that (there was) that sense of a craftsman looking for things to write about. So his perception is very conditioned by….

AG: By his practice.

Student: The goal of his..

AG: Yes

Student: By what he’s (observing)..

AG: It’s a circular system. Having gambled for that world, he’s reduced to looking for instances to prove his theory.. It’s as if he’s produced this as an instance – and that’s why he’s using this Chinese (sic) haiku form, a very literary form (or perhaps he was reading haiku, and that reminded him he could do a little notation like that). But it’s a very bare notation. It’s (a) very clear bare notation. It’s a good example of Williams practicing. It’s like practice, in the sense that sitting meditation (as it is called “practice”)  does (after all) consist, not in (the) accomplishing of a consciousness, but in the practice of switching consciousness around, from one place to another… Could this (poem) be called a meditation, a form of meditation, I wonder? or a by-product of vipassana? – that a bird disturbs no more than one twig of the green leaf tree. Well, it’s meditation mixed with ambition-for-writing-a-poem!

Student: What we’re doing, though, is ambition-to-meditate rather than poetry.

AG: Well now, say it clearly (again).. What we’re doing is what? Ambition to meditate..

Student: The way… the way you’re reading the poem is sort of a.. or what you’re using to illustrate, is the poetry of the ambition-to-meditate.

AG: You could say that, but it’s also poetry. A little more clearly, it would be “poetry displaying characteristics of meditation”..

Student: That, that’s…

AG: Including ambition to meditate.

Student: What?

AG: Including ambition to meditate, which is only one of the characteristics. The other characteristic is that if you do it, you see something (or you see the silence too!)

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