Spontaneous Poetics – (Edward Marshall – 2)

Leave the Word Alone – Edward Marshall (title page spread, including print by James Kearns), Pequod Press, New York, 1979

This July 5 1976 “Spontaneous Poetics” lecture (a continuation from the July 2 1976 class, the opening class of the second session, recently transcribed) is introduced as “Lively Poetics” (which as Randy Roark notes, “may be the name given to this second-semester class to differentiate it from the session one class”). That class also had the interim moniker – “Spontaneous and Improvised Poetics”.

Roark goes on to note that “this class is recorded a great distance from the speaker…which will account for the difficulty in transcribing sections when several people are speaking at once, or when students are coughing, laughing, etc.”


AG: (Looking back to the previous class) when I was concluding discourse on open-form verse-arrangement on the page. I want to finish up with that. We ended with mindfulness as the basic principle of post-Williams formation of phrasing, spread out on the page. In other words, whatever way you put it out, put it out so you’re conscious of where it is, like flower-arrangement, or tea-ceremony, completely present and conscious of what’s going on, on your page. Balancing it out by any one of a number of considerations, among which were accent, vowel, mind-phrasing, speech-phrasing, syllable-count, gaps in your thought, chance, typography, (and) whatever else we went through. And I said, for me, (that) one of the first interesting specimens of the division of the thought on the page, division of vocal phrasing and thought, was “Leave The Word Alone” by Edward Marshall, which turned me on to a style (which) I used in “Wichita Vortex Sutra” – or adapted. It also turned me on to break-up of phrases, spaces between phrases and breaths between phrases (which I used in “Kaddish”). So I want to read a little bit of Edward Marshall’s poem. Has anyone looked that up? “Leave The Word Alone”?

Student: Is it in the Don Allen anthology?

AG: Yeah. I have the Don Allen anthology here. Has everybody looked at this book? Those who have raise your hands, please. Okay. Everybody should look at it. Go to the library and look at it (it has wavy red lines) on the outside cover

[Allen reads the opening of Marshall’s poem – “Leave the word alone, it is dangerous/Leave the Bible alone it is dangerous/ Leave all barbed wire alone they are/ dangerous…”…”the stocky guy that gave/ sperm to my mother/ still in the asylum/ Yes she is still in the asylum, not too far from my Concord/ NH residence – and I stayed in/the same asylum nineteen years later/and I remained there for five/ months.”]
Well, you see he’s beginning something very serious and emotional, and a confession (in the sense of “confessional poetry”), all at once, everything coming out . I’ll continue with a couple more pieces of it. It’s about ten pages.
[Allen continues reading Marshall – “When I was six the boy out back said my mother was/ crazy and thought he didn’t like my mother/ (present) who is my aunt/ by marriage.. “…”said I didn’t know about babies he said/his younger sister did./Never shall that be anymore. And that same/ year I was adopted..”]
You get the style. I’m going to put it on the..(library reading list).This is somebody’s copy that I stole of (Donald Allen’s) The New American Poetry, and it’s a poem (in there) by Ed Marshall called “Leave The Word Alone”

I just want to put the first stanza up on the board. [Allen writes on the blackboard] – He did it real simply. There’s no big complication. It’s just that he divided the first splurge of words out, beginning at the margin…
[Allen continues writing on the blackboard] – Is it visible? Can you read it? Can you see it? – So he began with the first spurt – the beginning of the Mind – “Leave the word alone, it is dangerous” (and he didn’t put (in) a comma, or he didn’t make a break)- “Leave the world alone it’s dangerous” – because that was like the first blast – “Leave the word alone it is dangerous”. Then, his next association, or what his next reference in the rhetorical swing (following) The Word (is) – “Leave the Bible alone” – and then he probably stopped – “Why?” “Why “leave the Bible alone”?”. And then he thought, “I’ll repeat it” – So he stopped. So he left a space – “(I)t is dangerous”. So there’s a hesitancy here, before he went on to “it is dangerous” in the second line. There was no hesitancy in the first line – “Leave the word alone it is dangerous”. “Leave the Bible alone – space, space, space – so you have some space for the Mind. Either the Mind made it, or the Mouth made it, but your Eye can make it (also). And then, third, he’s indented here also, as it’s the succeeding thought modifying the first thought – “Leave all barbed wires alone” – because that’s sort of like the opposite of the Bible, or whatever it was in relation (to) his mind – “Leave all barbed wires alone – space-space – they are” – another big space, why?- so then there’s a pause, either, again, coming from his mind, or from the typing, or he wants it spoken that way – “Leave all barbed wires alone they are” – and then it came to the end of the line there, came to the end of the paper probably, in the original writing.

So he dropped (the word) “dangerous” down here, and he put it under the “n” of “alone”. The “dangerous” fills out the line from “alone” to “they are”, and balances it. So there’s a visual balance here, bridging this little space-gap above. That might’ve made it a bit subtle, but, nevertheless, it’s there. I do that all the time, actually, if I want to link the “dangerous” to the “barbed wire” visually – “Leave all barbed wires alone they are”, “leave all barbed wires alone they are/ dangerous” – And if you bring the “dangerous” back here, see?, if you, if you start the “dangerous” out here [Allen further demonstrates on the blackboard] – “Leave all the wires alone they are/ dangerous”. But if you push the “dangerous” back to “alone” – “Leave all the barbed wires alone they are/dangerous” – You’ve got to run-on fast for your eyes to move back there. In other words, generally, if the eyeball has to move back to the end of the line, or that far back of the line, three-quarters of the way down along in the line, it builds – you pick it up as you’re going along. You pick it up as you go along after “alone” – the line proceeds, just optically, you’re reading fast.

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