Pitfalls in Poetry

AG: The pitfalls are circular thinking and self-consciousness – in other words, writing about writing, or writing about “I’m-sitting-here-writing”. In other words, say, not going out with the breath, and going out into the outer world, and leaving yourself behind. See, if you leave yourself behind and just describe what’s around, you don’t get that self-conscious, Surrealist, stream-of-conscious nastiness. When people first try to do that they think it’s supposed to be wild, or be weird, rather than be slow, natural, stumbling, humble, quirky. There’s a tendency to exaggerate the strangeness of the mind, and to over-stylize it, and over-rush it, and make it too speedy and too exciting, rather than resting with it, or resting with what’s there.

Then there are other people who get dumbfounded by the idea and think the same thought three times and then another thought, and they say,”Well, maybe the first thought was better?”, and just write dumb simple sentences. “The wall is brown..” – sort of abstract – “The sky is blue. I am writing” – there’s no need for that. You can go beyond that easily enough. You just get rid of it and go on to what’s further out – Yeah?

(Student: Yeah. I was wondering…when you were talking about (Charles) Rezni(koff).._
AG: Yes, “minute  particulars” [Editorial note – the phrase is, of course, William Blake’s]
(Student: That works for me real well)
AG: Uh-huh
(Student: And the more abstract poems still get across. (But)>I was wondering… because it seems like…. (“minute particulars”) we speak more abstract kind of thoughts, (Why isn’t it..) if you talk abstractly, then you’ll be able to write “minute particulars” of your own (surely)? You see what I mean?)
AG: Nope
(Student: It’s like… )   [tape breaks here]
AG:  (With abstraction, there is a) …crystal ball of abstractions and anybody can read into it anything they want
(Student: But then…)

AG: And there is a kind of poetry like that. Some bad, like Kahlil Gibran  – bad, in the sense of so unreferential that you really don’t know what he’s talking about, and who cares, anyway? – Certain poems are like that. And you have to be pretty shrewd and crafty and grounded to begin with to get the right kind of abstraction. I wrote some poems like that in Empty Mirror, that were just generalizations and everybody applies their own (meaning), but I found that my own mind, naturally, (tends towards, or) my temptation is toward, abstraction, and I’m better off, I feel better, I actually feel better if I actually catch something that is real. The example I gave the other day was the haiku I wrote in the Courtroom which ended with “the stenographer yawns into her palms”, The “palms” just locked it in. (It) locked the thought-form into something so real that anybody could see it. They can take anything out of it they want, too, anyway.

Hart Crane‘sAtlantis” is, in some respects, that kind of crystal ball of abstraction. People read into it whatever they want. I read into it tremendous homosexual yearning, tremendous yearning for union – union with God – a bridge to..(the) heart.. That’s why it’s so tearful.. (You want to cry)..sometimes, because his longing is so true..pure and so heart-felt, you gotta cry for him, because he didn’t make it, he didn’t touch a nipple – or he was longing for someone but he couldn’t ask…

Student:  (It’s like you look into a crystal ball and what you see, that becomes the poem)
AG: Yeah. But, then, in that sense, you wouldn’t even need a poem.
Student: Right
AG: Besides which, when I read somebody, I want to see what they saw, not what I saw. I already see what I saw. I like to look through somebody’s eyes and see what they see.

Another point to bear in mind is that the basis of most modern poetry has always been specific, rather than opaque, or rather than crystal-ball abstraction.

It’s quarter of, so maybe we’d better break. I’m not sure what we’ll do (next) on Friday, but I’ll figure that out. Read anything you want. I might bring in some (William) Shakespeare, (perhaps, “The) Tempest”.

[tape and class end here]

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-two minutes in and concluding at approximately fifty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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