“The Time of Composition”

Ted Berrigan (1934-1983)

Charles Olson (1910-1970)

Student: Can I ask you a little bit of an off-the-wall question?

AG: Yes.. Why don’t we leave this time open now for just general..

Student: In our (Ted) Berrigan class  tonight, he said this comment that,  “The time of the composition is the time of the composition”…. (I’ve been trying to understand that)  and I’ve been trying all night.  And he says “Well, you should know that with every poem that you read, (before you start out).

AG: The time of  the composition is the time of the composition,

Student:  Well, what does that mean to you?  I mean  in this sense, here, talking about the music, and…

AG: Well, I’ll tell you. It’s complicated. You can take it various different ways. I would say, first of all, the way he means it, is the application of it in modern poetry, right?

Student: Yes

AG: First, to start there – is that,  any way you say it, is the way you say it,  and the way you said it, is the way you said it, and that’s your time of  composition – or, whatever form comes out (assuming you’re not a shithead or something – assuming, like, you know, that you’re there, to begin with, and that you’re there, and you know what you’re doing, you’re not trying to impress somebody, you’re not trying to make a fake emotion and you’re not trying to write about something that doesn’t exist, but that you’re actually in the world, there, really in the world, writing something that is real and to real people for real people, for yourself, for your brother, or mother, or whatever),  that, if you’re speaking with sincerity, you’ll come to some cadence, or time, and ratio between lines and words and breaths, that will be fitting to the way you’re saying it.  Like, with say, (Charles) Olson saying, “Oh, that the Earth had to be given to you this way”. (he’s got a poem on the death of..Europe)…Somebody died –  I stand at your grave, throwing dirt onto your coffin – .”Oh, that the Earth had to be given to you this way” – (it’s really poignant – and it’s a great idea, the idea – it’s this beautiful thing to say – some young person, you know, suicided at the age of twenty-eight, and you know, and he’s writing an elegy, and you say “Oh that the Earth/ had to be given to you/ this way!”)  – So the way that that’s broken on the page. So there’s a cadence there that’s right out of the emotion, that comes right out of the middle of the solar plexus – that “Oh” – So the time of the…  Nowthat’s not a classic cadence. I mean, I’m sure he wasn’t measuring it out like this, it’s just coming out of his body. So.. that poem is “The Death of Europe – An Elegy For Rainer Gerhardt” and it’s the Don Allen anthology.  And Olson has other lines that are like that, that seem to be spring naturally out of his body and out of his feelings. And so in that sense, the time, the time ofthe poem is..

Student:  ..is the time of composition

AG: Is the time of..?

Student: ..is the time of composition.

AG: “The time of composition is the time of composition”.  Well, okay, so, assuming that those thoughts come to you naturally, and that you write it down naturally, (and) the time it takes you to write it down (is) about the time you’d say it, the time it takes you to think it up and say it to yourself is.. then you write it down, and that would be the time you read it.
So that would be, instead of someone saying “what is the time in this?, what is the meter in this?” (that is, “what’s the ratios?”).
So it’s organic cadence, you might say, it’s organic cadence, different from trying to check it out in advance and make a paradigm and make a system, like that. However, in other words, what I’m beginning to point out, what I’m trying to point out – that certain advanced..cadences that we’ve been discussing, like “Go, lovely rose”, or “Go dumb-born book”, or Rose-cheek’d Laura, come”.. –  (dig the similarities in those two lines (Thomas) Campion”s – “Rose-cheek’d Laura, come”,  or “”Go, lovely rose” – it’s just the difference of where the caesura is, where the halt is there. I like both of those. it’s, like, perfect for singing) .But those cadences also come out of the body. I mean, if you’re lying in bed with somebody, you can sure say ‘Da-da da-da”,  or  ‘”Da, da-da-da” – You’re going to be falling into that every time. if you’re going to be having any fun. Otherwise, you know, you might be talking out of the side of your mouth like Dick Tracy, but, ordinarily, if you’re breathing together in a delicate relationship where there’s actually an organic.. if it’s an organic thing, it is likely that the whispered love breaths and adorations will be in those meters. So the time of the composition of those meters is the time of composition.

Well, I’m just pointing out how accurate those meters are to intimate.. moments of intimate emotion. (and I think they should.. might as well be.. cultivated).   I don’t know really what to do, except…  I don’t think people write consciously, calculatedly, in these meters. I think the meters should be a..  I think the thing is to acquaint yourself with the fact that such things exist, and that they’re like your own speech at beautiful moments, and so, you recognize when you have a feeling like that, and a speech like that, and a cadence like that, (that) you use it, just right then and there, recognizing “oh yes, that’s the classic..  if you get some similar cadence.  So the purpose of teaching this is not to .. is not necessarily as an exercise in imitating it, but as a way of introducing into your nervous system, so that you..  so that it’s a recognized cadence, recognizeable cadence, recognizable cadenced emotion – or  “Only objectified emotion endures” – so this is… you recognize the emotional object that comes out of your body, and make use of it.  Otherwise (because there is this complaint that I’ve heard that.. which is true – that I’ve been teaching here [at Naropa], and everybody else has been teaching here, nothing but “Cut-up”, or William Carlos Williams hinayana-attention-to-detail-bare-facts – no romance, no feeling, no spark. Well this is.. now I’m introducing the element of emotion into the cadence, in a sense, or encouraging, saying this is the classical way that emotions are expressed – Yeah?

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventy-six-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately eighty-two-and-three-quarter minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *