Composition and Condensation – 1

Basil Bunting tries his hand at editing Shakespeare

AG:  And then there was another thing.. I was talking with…Rachel [sic]…with Rachel..and we were talking about composition and condensation of poems and ..some ideas crystallized that might be useful. I’ve talked about it before I thought but apparently I had never said it around Rachel (tho; I thought I said it in any number of..over a dozen classes) there was that idea of Basil Bunting‘s, which (Ezra) Pound handed on, which was that poetics was condensation – and I think I’ll talk about that – and I’ve applied it in the sense that if you can take any line and rewrite it/rearrange it so that you can cut out a couple of syllables, yet still have the same key words and the sane data, you’ve got a better deal, more condensed, more dense, more packed in, more iron-like, harder. more durable (durable in terms of time, durable through time). In other words, the maximum amount of information or data in the minimum amount of syllables, which is putting it on an almost kind of scientific basis. And I think that’s true. And the examples of that are Sappho and Catullus and some Shakespeare. However… Then the problem is that (there’s) a kind of a pigeon-talk code-style has arisen, in the last twenty years actually, Since Pound, Willliams, Bunting, ideas were infiltrating into American poetry, so that people now write about “sitting on fountain/boy with bicycle passes/buildings” (in other words, all the articles are cut out , totally, so that, actually, it doesn’t sound natural any more, it doesn’t sound like anybody talking for real. So the corollary of that is that you have to..steer a middle path between another consideration, between two poles of consideration – one is maximum condensation and the other would sound as if you were talking..maximum vermacular-ese, vernacular rightness, vernacular charm, vernacular easy-ness, vernacular talk. So that you could say it in a way that you wouldn’t be embarrassed if you had to say it to your, mother or to your best friend, as if it were…

Student : I told her I finished my piece, you know

AG: Pardon me?

Student: I told her I finished my piece.

PO: He told her he trusted his peas!   – Is that what he said?

AG: He trusted his peas? – Right, Yeah, so.. – or your best friend (if you’re following what we’re saying!) – That is to say, in a line of poetry, you’ve got to bring it back to how it sounds if you’re talking to your mother, yes your mother, or, or, or a friend, or just talking to the bus conductor, or talking in class, but at least so it sounds like it meant,,, you meant to talk   . So, you can’t go too far either way towards condensation. On the other hand, if you just go toward loose talk, it’s much too lax and unmuscular, the line, and the verse, so that you don’t really have any sense of electricity in it (and) any sense of poetry, it’s just like what’s the difference between that and prose? So it’s like a middle path between maximum condensation.. So what I do, actually, when writing, when rehearsing writing, learning writing, or revising, first I check out for the maximum condensation (you know, I cut a line down). Then I read it and see if it sounds normal (and if it doesn’t sound like normal talk, I begin expanding it again, putting in one syllable here and there, wherever it needs some kind of conversational stylistic filler. So it’s half-way in-between the two poles.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately twelve minutes in and continuing until approximately sixteen-and-a-half minutes in]

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