Meditation and Poetics – (Reznikoff – 3)


AG: Then in this book (Charles Reznikoff Poems 1920) is the beginning of some amazing poems which are narrative poems which tell stories which have the compass of an entire short story or even a novel, but in twelve lines or twenty. The key here seems to be encompassing the trans-shiftings of time, getting one generation to another generation, the whole story of a generation (like you get in (Charles) Dickens or (William Makepeace Thackery), one or two or three generations, but all condensed into twelve lines with the active details so perfectly selected that it jumps from epiphanous traumatic moment to epiphanous traumatic moment.So, on page 32, my favorite, or the first poem that I read of Reznikoff that actually made me cry, it was so truthful and so clear.

(11) She sat by the window opening into the airshaft./and looked across the parapet/ at the new moon./ She would have taken the hairpins out of her carefully-coiffed hair,/ and thrown herself on the bed in tears;/but he was coming and her mouth had to be pinned into a smile/If he would have her, she would marry whatever he was,/ A knock. She lit the gas and opened the door./Her aunt and the man – skin loose under his eyes, the face slashed/with wrinkles./ “Come in,” she said as gently as she could and smiled.”

Well, what you’ve got there is the directly observed detail, unpoetic for it’s time (“airshaft”, or “window opening into the airshaft”) – a bit of poetry here (“looked across the parapet/ at the new moon” – a little classic, elegant eye view set next to the airshaft) – “hairpins…her carefully-coifed hair” – totally modern – “and thrown herself on the bed in tears” – (well, that could be Ophelia or Shakespeare) – “but he was coming and her mouth had to be pinned into a smile – (that’s a little poetic. that’s the only somewhat fake note in this poem) – “her mouth had to be…”, except that it’s…

Peter Orlovsky: He’s a tailor, remember. It’s subjective.

AG: Yeah, it’s all these immigrant ladies with pins in their hair and in their..

Student: (Isn’t it obvious?)

AG: It’s obvious, yes, forced into a smile, but kept in a smile, pinned in a smile – But is this poeticism or is it appropriate?

Student: It seems very simple

AG: It is pretty simple. (But) tricky.

Student: She’s got pins in her hair.

AG: Yeah. All of those immigrant ladies had pins all over. They worked in pin factories. So there is some home-made quality to that which makes it a little more genuine, I would say.

Student: It works a little better than (the line in a previous poem), “food, the great comforter”

AG: Yes, well, “food the great comforter” has a kind of basic… Anyway – “if he would have her, she would marry whatever he was,/ A knock. She lit the gas..” – (which is really perfect (whenever he brings in the gas you really have this period-piece, time-capsule) – it’s like a movie there) – “Her aunt and the man – skin loose under his eyes, the face slashed/with wrinkles” – (I mean, that’s neither modern or un-modern – that’s just a good description) – “skin loose under his eyes”

Student: “(S)lashed” might be a little….

AG: Well, “slashed/ with wrinkles”(I’ve always wondered about “pinned” and “slashed” – those are a little violent)

Anyway, what you can see and hear, however, is how close he is to becoming perfectly ordinary mind, how close he is (to) becoming no poetry at all, how close the thing is to becoming, like, some totally tearful, sad completely tragic, completely understandable, completely known, completely empathetic grounded piece of information about what happens – without even bothering whether it’s a poem. I mean you don’t even need to begin to bother. Poetry imitates this. This is so true that a poetics will rise to imitate this kind of writing. Of course, the book is called..Rhythms, I guess, or – what is it called?  Poems – they’re called Poems, the earlier books are called Rhythms he was just experimenting with spoken speech rhythms.

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