poetry

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notes toward a poetics of living

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If there are different kinds of poets, then it’s probably a good thing for poets to try to say what kind they are–as a sort of orientation for both themselves and others. Poetry directs lives–that is, gives direction and, on many levels, conducts the way one lives and the way one holds one’s life. And “kind” may have to do with the way one takes aim, or lets aim come about.

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Poetry for me is the core awareness, the matrix of view, that hones the most essential life principle, however that might be defined. It is not primarily a cultural phenomenon, although it is obviously and unavoidably answerable in some degree to culture/history/tradition. Nor is it mainly a “profession” in the most common senses; if there were a word to stand in that place it might be “vocation,” although the religious implications are problematic (while not irrelevant). One does it, in my view, because it is self-evidently the right thing to do, the necessary thing. Practically anything one can say about life one can in some way also say about poetry. And that saying moves toward a poetics, which is the body of principled discourse about the operative (the living) principles that come to mind when trying to understand the poetic.

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In my own mind I mostly call myself poet before I call myself artist–and that, I’m quite sure, reflects a contextual pressure in the way art is defined in our culture. On a moment’s reflection I quickly assert the non-distinction in my mind, where I am always engaged in poetry and art, and can’t imagine keeping them separate. Calling myself artist frees me a bit from all the limiting factors that “poetry” imposes (especially the problematics of the social/cultural/historical/traditional perspectives–the “poetry world”); then calling myself poet does the same corrective freeing up (for the “art world”). I apparently need both to be able to keep the space open in which the work I do happens. I’m not easily at home in either “world.” So, I’m the kind of poet who engages in creating a world.

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Just about anything one says about one’s work and view of poetry can be both helpful and distracting. Poetry is a big reality that can barely be defined. In my work in video art, I have a quite large ongoing project called art is/poetry is/music is in which I ask artists/poets/musicians to say what “it” is. The vast majority begin by saying either that they can’t define it or that it can’t be defined. Then they go ahead and define it in their fashion. I usually say that I acknowledge that it is impossible to really define it but that those who make it do for the most part engage the process of definition in one way or another, and that that discourse is mostly suppressed, repressed, or simply avoided (at least in public). Part of my interest is in seeing what kind of discourse arises when this reluctance to engage the essential is released. I’m interested in disclosure as a threshold experience in language. In my view that is a poetic focus–what language does that was previously undisclosed. And how that happens, as well as what is actually happening, is a matter of poetics. The art is project is an art work in a poetics medium–revelation about language revelation; reflection of and in the reflective process itself. And when you string a bunch of these together you get a sense of art or poetry or music saying itself, almost speaking in its tongues–in fact, doing something it doesn’t quite manage to do on its own. And this seems to also be an instance of language speaking. That’s exciting. Framing moments of language as intensification such that it speaks beyond itself–outside our limitations–is part of what I call poetic. It’s another window on the intrinsic poetic nature of language brought to a self-true intensity.

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Poetry is language-altering language. There! I’ve gone and done one of those defining things myself. Defining can itself follow a poetic principle: as a free act of discriminating projection that reaches into the further possible understanding of conscious discourse. And my saying this is probably a riff on Blake’s endlessly suggestive The eye altering alters all. Therein lies a particular poetics; indeed, a poetics of the singular. It’s axial–it moves in its own free space of self-bounding integrity–in its ability to suggest self-interfering surfaces of attention: the eye altering itself alters all that it sees; self-altering alters the world; the intimate act of perception resonates beyond itself into the actual world at large; no act of perception is without consequence and is in radical co-creation with everything it engages; and so on. Poetry is in this focus the creative principle by which language is consequential and non-trivial. To say something self-true, a singularity, has function and is in some way world-generating/world-altering.

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Poetry involves “a stance toward reality” (Charles Olson). Among the things that a poetics can clarify is how it is inherently political to work in a transformative relation to language (donner un sens plus pur aux mots de la tribu–Mallarmé).

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[continues]

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books published in print and online

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NOTE: The complete published books are slowly being uploaded to this site and linked to this page.

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[live links in blue]

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Amanita’s Hymnal (1970) (online publication: 2010)

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Magic Spell for the Far Journey (1971) (online publication: undecided)

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Somapoetics [1-58]: Book One (first-fifth series) (Sumac Press: Fremont, 1973)

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Word-Yum: Somapoetics 64-69 (seventh series) (Metapoetics Press: New York, 1974)

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Giving the Lily Back Her Hands (Station Hill Press: Barrytown, 1979)

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Ainu Dreams , with Chie Hasegawa (Station Hill Press: Barrytown, 1999)

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Preverbs (Station Hill Press: Barrytown, forthcoming)

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p~

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poems published in periodicals, anthologies, and online

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NOTE: A large body of work, both published and unpublished, is slowly being uploaded to this site and linked to this page.~

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torsion poems [1970]

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The Stones of Gloucester [1972]

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axial poems [1986- ]

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