Well, when I just checked in at the Sphere, I notice that the two poems at the top of the board were Word
—ha! That comic coincidence of terms exhorted me to finally get cracking at my reply, which has been getting more complex as so many engaging comments accrue.
Cameron, you have objected to the change in rhythms in the couplet. Actually that change comes right after the volta
, for the whole sestet is somewhat "bluntly end-stopped". I assure you that is by design. When I began writing formally, it was in Pope's heroic couplets, and he taught me how dramatically one can alter the rhythms of couplets in order to avoid monotony. Like Bill, I find many sonnets mired in "sameness", and I know what John means by the creaking of a sonnet. What you call consistency
I often find excruciatingly dull. Given the limited space which a sonnet affords one to develop an idea, I've found that the sonic pattern is an effective way to slip in musical alterations in perspective which cannot be spelled-out otherwise without spilling over the boundaries of those precious fourteen lines. I am always amazed at how tiny a concept must be to achieve a sonnet, how quickly the ramifications of what one considers a small scrap of thought can expand during composition and prove too large for the container of the sonnet to hold. That was much the case here: I had to surrender many of my thoughts, ones I considered crucial to the subject. It's why, Orwn, I settled on that "too on-the-nub" title. It seemed an unequivocal nod to my own experience in writing the sonnet: how I had to erase around the edges of my head to isolate the heart of the poem. In a half-conscious way, the rhythmic changes in the sestet kind of reassured me that I had discovered that heart through it's heart-beat. What had been erased from the huff-and-puff of thinking simply vanished without a trace once those repeatedly end-stopped nuggets hurried me toward conclusion. I guess I've always liked my couplets heroic and conclusive, even when they speak of (or to) the inconcludable. The title is also tidy, much like a sonnet; and yet at the same time it opens in a variety of directions, like any word when simply isolated on the page. I worked for a long while without a title, until the word erasure
just settled there like a fallen leaf. I will let it lie there, gathering weight.
So, Jan, the style of the octet you are unsympathetic towards is very much the style I used to write in. Even when I was writing surrealistic youthfully wild-verse, people would accuse me of being dryly discursive in my delivery. I was always puzzled by such critique, but I did learn something about that style of my voice. And my voice has
changed much over the course the years (and it is perhaps only this
moment's voice that you know as my own), but I still have access to all the other voices I have played ventriloquist's dummy for. In this poem, the change from octet to sestet is not so much a "disjunction" as a reflection that parallels those changes in my own maturing voice—changes that begin with a prayer
and will one day conclude in silence & death. That is the larger theme here (and everywhere, ha!), though it is overlaid with a mosaic of variously shifting elements.
That clump of descriptors which Cameron and Matt and Andrew F. have objected to seems to embody the "naively over-zealous memory" of that moment: stuffing the memory as full as that line is full of modifiers, holding too tightly to all that is deemed so essential. I knew it was somewhat awkward when I wrote it, but I became attached to it for that very reason—and its technical weaknesses seem to make it more vulnerable to reconsidering the attitude that congealed it as a description.
And, Mark, you are right that this is an idea poem, rather than a more sensual one like the poems about objects I have been writing and posting lately. Just like my long-held but since long-broken vow to eliminate the first person singular from my poems, the "I" — I also (under the spell of Rilke's Dinggedichte (thing poems)
, rejected idea poems for a long while, seeking my subjects outside my head, out in the tangible world. One can take the tangible and etherealize it with one's own ruminations, or one can gel the ethereal world of thought into the ding
of the thing of a poem—it's only a difference of focus and direction. So I've never really lost my taste for thinking in verse, just as I have never really repented any of my own past voices.
That brings me to the repentance
of the poem. And to the nature of the crime
. Really, the interpretation of my book-scribbling as a crime is coming from outside of me, at least initially. When you were a child, was there no stern twenty-foot librarian to impress upon you the heinousness of the act of filling the pages of a book with your blasphemous crayon-scribbles of a thought? It was one of school-and-library's capital crimes, no? One of the things that did not make it into the poem was coming upon the notes or underlinings that others had made in used books I was reading. That made the crime more personal, putting me on the other end of it. Still, the book-defacing crime specified becomes ultimately more sarcastic in light of the far vaster crime of erasing the entire volume, of writing with an eraser, even of erasing the eraser (as Susan prophetically suggests). The original crime seems too "rudimentary," too crass, too petty, in light of the huger crime of the inevitable vacancy of the utterly emptied memory. And yet that crime is entirely natural, as is death, and many writers disappear every day along with all they have written and also all they have never written down. If my repentance begins with erasing the little penciled-in marks from the margins of books, it ends with something more calmly catastrophic.
The poem had not been about writing until that closing couplet. It had been about memory's grasping, and so it needs to be read mostly in terms of memory's attachments, and only about writing at the abrupt conclusion. The books in question were most of them not poetry at all, but volumes of the religious Hermetics I was making a study of. Among them was Francis Yates' book The Art Of Memory
in which she discusses at length Renaissance scholar/heretic Giordano Bruno's development of early Greek memory systems. Memory is posited as a place that one can return to, in order to pick up things which one had earlier deposited in deliberate spots. Memory is a walk through a familiar place, where every landmark suggests something which might otherwise have been lost without its spatial co-ordinates. I made a study of this and other "memory theatres"
, some of which pre-determine later centuries' computer design—albeit in far cruder form. Living as we do in the age of information, the crime of erasure takes on new supernumery proportions, no? I remember some executive at Google saying that in x number of years (the number was a small one) a small chip in your pocket could hold every book ever written. But so what, if no one ever reads any of them? Yet my underlinings in books were an attempt to create such a system for myself, and each book I read was like "a place I'd entered once, on turning that first page"
which I was thus trying to "reconstruct" at will by the utilization of key sentences and phrases. I did this, Matt, as
I read, so the selections were inflected with emotions that had not yet passed, and which, later, sometimes, left the words stranded high and dry and out of context (as if they been marked by someone else). Eventually I entered thousands of them into a database which I have since lost track of in my move from computer to computer. Ahh, information for its own sake is the real crime somehow, is insanity even, the insanity that we are beginning to live through right now in our Information Age.
But the whole world is information, every bird-wing-flit and leaf-drop, every car-engine-rev and person-speak, every wind blowing voices away, it is all information. And we can't grasp after it, we have to just let it flow through us. Why should texts be any different? So the poem is really about the nature of memory and mind. It's "a life full of holes", and it is our relationship to those holes that is crucial, as crucial as our relationship to what those holes are in. The poem is only incidentally about writing, because it is about living, and so much a part of my life is writing. Will my voice change again given my ever-changing views? Will it simply fade away? (Given the verbosity of this post, apparently not.
Ah, the dam of the sonnet has apparently created quite a reservoir of thoughts in the mind behind it, yes? But erasure will do that, leave a blank space, and so much will rush in to fill it. That may be how an author survives his or her physical death, by leaving a drained lake bed (or one of J.G. Ballard's drained swimming pools). Andrew M, has the the space one leaves, even when something is erased, still been indelibly altered? Like "silenced thunder", might it still thunder, the silence, to those ears so attuned? It isn't that I repent of my past processes of life. But neither do I shrink from my anonymous future as a handful of dust in the wind.
I love that quote, by the way, Daniel.
And Susan, you cut right to the chase.
And Jim, yes I have been collecting the remarks, revising the poem, erasing the revisions.
Freedom from attachment means freedom from all
attachments, or else it will merely mean attachment to unattachment. Yeah, I know, sounds Buddhist, and I guess it is...but passed, as in the game of telephone
, through the thousand whispering lips and curled-in ears of my own soul experience.
This has been, somehow, the most engaging thread I have every posted on the Sphere. Thanks all.
As for revisions, well, if I do any, my thought was to give this a go as a crown of sonnets.
But that may be too tall an order at this point in the life of an invisible man.
[Cally, I erased my comment to you.
Silence is so often enough for us.]