In Defense of the Monarch Butterfly: A Letter to Three Nations from Poets, Writers, Scientists, & Artists
GRUPO DE LOS CIEN INTERNACIONAL
MAKE WAY FOR MONARCHS
A MILKWEED-BUTTERFLY RECOVERY ALLIANCE
14 February 2014
President Barack Obama
President Enrique Peña Nieto
Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Decline of the Monarch Butterfly Migration in Eastern North America.
Among the countless organisms that have evolved during the history of life on earth, monarch butterflies are among the most extraordinary. Sadly, their unique multigenerational migration across our large continent, their spectacular overwintering aggregations on the volcanic mountains in central Mexico, and their educational value to children in Canada, the United States, and Mexico are all threatened. Monitoring of the butterfly population over the past two decades indicates a grim situation. Following a long-term decline, the total area occupied by the overwintering butterflies plunged from the 20-year average of 6.7 hectares to a record low of 0.67 hectares in the current season, a 90% decrease. This winter, only seven of twelve traditional sites had any butterflies at all, and only one of those (El Rosario, 0.5 hectares) was substantial in size.
The decline has two main causes:
1. Loss of breeding habitat. The major summer breeding area of the monarch butterfly is in the floristically rich grasslands of central North America, where the monarch’s milkweed foodplants grow in abundance. However, over the past decade the planting of corn and soybean varieties that have been genetically modified to be herbicide resistant has risen to 90%. Shortly after the corn or soy seeds germinate, the fields are sprayed with herbicides that kill all other plant life including the milkweeds, the only plants that monarch caterpillars can eat. Furthermore, with economic incentives for producing corn ethanol, the planting of corn in the U.S. has expanded from 78 million acres in 2006 to 97 million acres in 2013. Fallow fields, row crops and roadsides that used to support the growth of milkweeds and substantial acreage of land previously set aside in the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program have been converted to monoculture crops. Further loss of habitat has resulted from urban sprawl and development. More generally, the current chemical-intensive agriculture is threatening monarchs and other native pollinators and unraveling the fabric of our ecosystems.
2. Degradation of overwintering habitat. Overwintering monarchs depend on the protective cover of undisturbed oyamel fir forest canopy in Mexico. While the Mexican government has largely stopped the major illegal logging that threatened the forests used by the wintering monarch butterflies, damaging small scale illegal logging continues.
What can be done? If the monarch butterfly migration and overwintering phenomenon is to persist in eastern North America, mitigation of breeding habitat loss must be initiated. As Mexico is addressing the logging issues, so now must the United States and Canada address the effects of our current agricultural policies. Managing roadsides for native plants, including milkweeds, could be a significant tool to partially offset the loss of habitat. There are 3.2 million miles of roads east of the Rocky Mountains. If 25-foot roadside strips and medians were managed to support the growth of milkweeds, then eastern U.S. roadsides could contribute more than 19 million acres of milkweed habitat. If two monarchs were produced per acre of habitat, then these roadsides could produce nearly 40 million monarchs, i.e., about one tenth of the 20 year average number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico. Within the agricultural heartland, a second mitigation effort should promote more extensive buffers of native plant communities at field margins. Collaborative exclusion of field margins in cooperation with farming communities could add substantially and help assure the continuation of the world's most revered butterfly. An incentive program to pay farmers to set aside toxin-free areas for milkweeds and pollinators could be a move in the right direction.
A milkweed corridor stretching along the entire migratory route of the monarch butterfly through our three countries must be established. This will show the political will of our governments to save the living symbol of the North American Free Trade Agreement. We the undersigned hope that you will discuss the future of the monarch butterfly during the North American leaders’ Summit that will take place on February 19-20, 2014 in Toluca, state of Mexico.
Homero Aridjis Dr. Lincoln P. Brower
President, Grupo de los Cien Sweet Briar College, USA
Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan
Co-Facilitator, Make Way for Monarchs
INTERNATIONAL MONARCH BUTTERFLY SCIENTISTS
Dr. Alfonso Alonso, Smithsonian Institution, USA
Dr. Sonia M. Altizer, University of Georgia, USA
Dr. Michael Boppre, University of Freiburg, Germany
Dr. Lincoln P. Brower, Sweet Briar College, USA
Dr. Linda S, Fink, Sweet Briar College, USA
Dr. Barrie Frost, Queens University, Ontario, Canada
Dr. Jordi Honey-Roses, University of British Columbia, Canada
Dr. Pablo F. Jaramillo-López, UNAM, Michoacán, Mexico
Dr. Stephen B. Malcolm, Western Michigan University, USA
Dr. Karen Oberhauser, University of Minnesota, USA
Dr. Robert M. Pyle, Grays River, Washington, USA
Dr. Isabel Ramirez, UNAM, Michoacan, Mexico
Dr. Daniel Slayback, Science Systems & Applications, Inc., MD, USA Dr. Orley R. Taylor, University of Kansas, USA
Dr. Stuart B. Weiss, Creekside Center for Earth Observations, CA, USA
Dr. Ernest H. Williams, Hamilton College, USA
Dr. Dick Vane-Wright, the Natural History Museum, London, UK
Dr. Myron P. Zalucki, University of Queensland, Australia
WRITERS AND ARTISTS
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Jewell James (Lummi Tribe)
Robert Kennedy, Jr.
A. E. Stallings
Terry Tempest Williams
City Lights Books
Juan Domingo Arguelles
Marco Antonio Campos
María José Cuevas
Paz Alicia Garciadiego
Hugo Gutiérrez Vega
Silvia Lemus de Fuentes
Pura López Colomé
Fernando del Paso
Juan Carlos Rulfo
Alberto Ruy Sánchez
Roger Von Gunten
John Ralston Saul
Pierre Alechinsky (Belgium)
Ivan Alechine (Belgium)
Gioconda Belli (Nicaragua)
Yves Bonnefoy (France)
Breyten Breytenbach (South Africa)
André Brink (South Africa)
Kjell Espmark (Sweden)
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi (Member of Parliament, India)
Gloria Guardia (Panama)
Alejandro Jodorowsky (France/Chile)
Nicholas Jose (Australia)
Dr. Helga von Kügelgen (Germany)
Prof. Dr. Klaus Kropfinger (Germany)
Norman Manea (USA/Rumania)
Hasna Moudud (Bangladesh)
Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize, Turkey)
Jonathon Porritt (United Kingdom)
Sergio Ramírez (Nicaragua)
Lélia Wanick Salgado (Brazil)
Sebastião Salgado (Brazil)
Simon Schama (United Kingdom)
Ali Smith (United Kingdom)
Lasse Soderberg (Sweden)
Hugh Thomas (Lord Thomas, United Kingdom)
Tomas Transtromer (Nobel Prize, Sweden)
Lucy Vines (France)
Per Wästberg, (Sweden)
Fred Viebahn (Germany)
SCIENTISTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS
Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan (Make Way for Monarchs, U. of Arizona, USA)
Dr. José Sarukhan K. (Mexico)
Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute, USA)
Ina Warren, (Make Way for Monarchs, USA)
Scott Hoffman Black, (Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and IUCN Butterfly Specialist Group, USA)
Laura Lopez Hoffman (University of Arizona, USA)
Elizabeth Howard, (Journey North, USA)
Don Davis, (Monarch Butterfly Fund, Toronto, Canada)
Claudio Lomnitz (Center for Mexican Studies, Columbia University, USA)
Amory B. Lovins (USA)
Gail Morris (Southwest Monarch Study, USA)
Serge Dedina (Wildcoast, USA)
Eduardo Nájera Hillman (Costasalvaje, Mexico)
Wallace J. Nichols (California Academy of Sciences, USA)
Arturo Gómez-Pompa (University of California Riverside, Mexico/USA)
Scott Slovic, (Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment,University of Idaho, USA)
Garrison Sposito (University of California at Berkeley, USA)
Georgita Ruiz (Tierra de Aves A.C., Mexico)
Manuel Grosselet (Tierra de Aves A.C., Mexico)
Diana Liverman (Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona, USA)
Valeria Souza (UNAM, Mexico)
Eduardo Farah (EspejoRed, Mexico)
Daniel Gershenson (Mexico)
Joaquín Bohigas Bosch (Instituto de Astronomia, UNAM, Mexico)
Jo Ann Baumgartner, (Wild Farm Alliance, USA)
Jack Woody(Regional Dr, Int. Programs,US Fish & Wildlife Service, Retired)
Native American Land Conservancy (includes the following participating tribal communities: Chemehuevi, Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, Navajo, Paiute).
Delivered February 14, 2014 by Homero Aridjis to the Mexican Secretary of the Environment and the U.S. and Canadian Embassies in Mexico, D.F., as initiated by the Grupo de los Cien under the directorship of Homero and Betty Aridjis. The posting of the letter on Poems and poetics is a recognition too of Homero Aridjis’s extraordinary & very specific work as a poet-activist on behalf of a range of endangered species & habitats (grey whales, sea turtles, monarch butterflies, & Lacandón rainforest). Or to quote him further: "The task of poets, and of holy men, is to tell this planet's stories - and to articulate an ecological cosmology that does not separate nature from humanity." The letter coincides with the meeting of the three American heads-of-state in Toluca, Mexico. (J.R.)
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 8:00 pm,
The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church
131 E. 10th Street, New York, NY
Celebrating the life and work of Thomas McEvilley (1939-2013) and the publication of his new books The Arimaspia: Songs for the Rainy Season, from McPherson & Co,, and Seventeen Ancient Poems: Translations from Greek and Latin.
My introducton to the book is here.
The tribute will feature Carolee Schneemann, Holland Cotter, Pat Steir, Les Levine, William Anastasi, Susan Bee, George Quasha, Richard Fletcher, Bruce McPherson, Stacy Szymaszek, Dove Bradshaw , Ann McCoy, David Shapiro, Joyce Burstein, Charles Bernstein (emcee), & special video tribute by Marina Abramovic .
McEvilley was a scholar, poet, novelist, art historian, critic, and translator best known as a provocative and influential art critic. He wrote many books on art and classical philology including The Shape of Ancient Thought, Sappho and three novels. He lived in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley.
"If Ezra Pound and Alexandre Dumas were to become one author and pen a historical novel about Greek philosophy and Indian spirituality in Late Antiquity, the result might be The Arimaspia. Best known for his writing on contemporary art and his novels, the late Thomas McEvilley was also a formidable philologist with a mastery of Greek and Sanskrit, and his neglected masterpiece, The Shape of Ancient Thought, dealt with the mutual influences of these two philosophical worlds. Arimaspia (his last novel) covers the same vast subject — but now as an adventure romance in which the escapades are metaphysical — and sexual. Alexander the Great and Nagarjuna appear, as does an unnamed modern college professor with a roving eye for sex-crazed graduate students — who may be a reincarnation of the unnamed Syrian/Greek narrator who makes the journey (on foot) to the East. Both characters are simultaneously cynics and mystics, all-too-human yet somehow immortal. Frankly I haven't had such a pleasurable reading experience in a dog's age: — like holding The Symposium in one hand and The Count of Monte Cristo in the other."
—Peter Lamborn Wilson
In a way, McEvilley was always neglected, because he was usually caught in the fact that he was the best art critic of his day. He was much more. The new book shows that he was a poet among anthropologists, and an erotic novelist in the line of Lolita and Pnin. He is by the by a hilarious breaker of taboos. To understand McEvilley one has to read his book on Sappho, where his sense of the psychological lyric is heartbreaking. He is a translator, and also a wild mistranslator. He had a lover’s quarrel with the world of pedants, and he played poetry with the nets up and down. How much of him is involved with a classicist’s vision of Tantric practices glazed with the rainwater of American poetics. Now we know not to place him too easily. His work is like a Twombly sculpture, a flower, a rainbow of jibes and whistles. His full work is a masterpiece of comical thought. With his introspective zeal about Yves Klein and primitivism, he is really nonpareil.
The Arimaspia is a work of grand collage and radical pastiche, in which McEvilley’s own poems, translations and narrative are hard to distinguish from the cascade of borrowed materials. Indeed, The Arimaspia is replete with citation and quotation: even the material that was not appropriated sounds as if it could have been –and each rubbing (as of an epitaph) comes across as fresh insight, made new for new time. Stunning in its archaic originality, The Arimaspia is a work of extraordinary learning, steeped in classical references that go well beyond the ken of most readers. At a certain point, the dance of the sources gives way to an immanent experience of refamiliarization, in which long-elided classical works come to life.
–Charles Bernstein, from the preface
Poetics Diplomacy II
Writing on the debate over Israel/Palestine and BDS, while reflecting on the poetics conference I attended at Tel Aviv University in 1997, I am aware of the limits of discussion in public and academic spheres. The boycott itself has occasioned acts of recrimination, but at the same time there is a lack of more general discussion lest prior, fixed commitments be unveiled. While ASA's call for suspending contacts with Israel was put forward along with a claim for the right to argue for the boycott itself, the immediate response was unconcerned with any such subtlety as freedom of speech. This was in part due to the proposal itself, which divided the issue into boycott or not—as a result, the proposal was easily characterized as an attack. In return, the National Lawyers Guild has issued a resolution that defends the right to boycott, citing the First Amendment and a statement by the AAUP on the rights of faculty "not to cooperate" with persons or institutions "with whom or with which they disagree" (one wonders about the scope of that pronouncement, however). Meanwhile, in an article for the Chronicle for Higher Education, MLA President Marianne Hirsch describes the distorted, hate-mongering responses to its session on BDS and its resolution to protest travel restrictions to occupied Palestine. The conduct of the debate indicates the real limits on "speech" in public contexts, and these are worth interrogating: how did they come about? What forms of self- and group censorship are in force in our communities, including poetics, over what may be said? In academia, disciplinary structures work to keep controversy within micromanaged limits, but a similar result obtains, often without any perceptible leverage applied, in arts communites.
That said, I want to continue my discussion of the 1997 conference. My theme image, above, is precisely the kind of material I encountered outside the institutional context but which made it so valuable to be there. On one of my many walks from the hotel down the November beach front of Tel Aviv, I came across a series of hotels or apartments with seemingly futuristic design. Our conference on the avant-garde might have found a reference to Tatlin, Sant'Elia, or Lebbeus Woods in these deconstructed towers, which appeared to strip away the quotidian reality of everyday living, with its holiday balconies, to their infrastructural or militarized core. Seeing the above example as a dialectical image, I could not help associate it with the burning towers of Beirut during the siege of 1982—a psychic object to be reenacted in 2001. Condensing that occasion with the founding of Israel, the building seemed to encompass its own destruction as a traumatized horizon continuous with everyday life. When I travel, I like to scan—my cultural transcoder is looking for evidence of whatever kind—and the tower struck me as a site for questioning where I might find out something about where I was. There were a number of such moments in my travels after the conference; the tear-streaked face of the bald mannikin in the previous post, in a Tel Aviv boutique, was another.
As conferences go, this was a fine one: there was every reason to discuss contemporary poetics under the auspices of the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics. The results, as I have said, have been published in two volumes by Poetics Today (20:4 and 21:1); the conference proceeded with professional standards and quite a lot of added excitement in impromptu discussions. The usual celebratory occasions—welcome by the dean; readings by poets—could easily have been staged at MLA or MSA. There were moments, however, where the external context broke through; the first that I recall was a lunch held, I was told, in the confiscated manor of the former owner of the land on which the university had been built in 1948. The building was shown off as a cultural trophy in the otherwise cement-cast, modernist university buildings. At the reading, I recall the dean was by no means copacetic about the humanities in a time of crisis; he likened the work of poets to that proverbial dwarf standing on the giant's shoulders of history. I riled at this a bit, countering with a reference to our 1989 poetics conference in Leningrad—truly a twilight moment where poetry and history coincided for a flicker of an instant. Not wanting to bypass a present occasion, I included in my texts for the evening reading this section of Bad History on the first Gulf War:
Iraqi: various scenarious for wearers of a mark of distinction and/or shame. "My husband was a driver on the Iraq-Amman highway, transporting food. On the way back, there was an air raid at the al-Rutbah area, at the 106-kilometer mark from Baghdad to Amman. The air raid took place, and he was killed. He was driving with another man sitting beside him. My husband jumped out of the cab after the bombing and ran about 25 meters from the truck. The planes came back and strafed him; he was hit with machine gun fire." Thus the consequences of appearing to be Iraqi at a particular moment in time. "I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley after an embarrassing lunch with J— M—, during which I had been very conscious of the Iraqi pin on my shirt. Guys would loom out of the crowd saying, "Hey, an Iraqi!" This was some time about the beginning of February. But I always remembered to take my pin off for official meetings at my work. (Bad History, 16–17)
I read this poem at Tel Aviv University, which I would not have been able to do had I not been there. The response was immediate; after a round of congratulatory back-slapping for my daring act of speech, I learned about the first Gulf War from the perspective of people in Tel Aviv who had to seal their windows in anticipation of missile attacks, along with details of the landing of the few that got through (and the inaccuracy of the Patriot missiles said to intercept them) and with deep vilification of Saddam Hussein. My exercise in testing the limits of speech, I think, was as much a continuation of the shame of not having an adequate political response to the first Gulf War, except to wear the Iraqi pin (on the Iraqi pin project, see Constructivist Moment, chapter 5). This was the true beginning of the conference; I had come there to find out, not just to assume the adequacy of prior knowledge.
The next revelation occurred with a group dinner at an Arab restaurant in Jaffa, not far from the Gaza Strip. We were taken, in what amounted to a convoy, to a tourist restaurant atop a defensible hilltop that was otherwise stripped of any obstructions, its parking lot lit by security lights. Orientalism IA identified this establishment with many other bordertown establishments serving colonial cuisine: an Israeli version of Tijuana. Finally, there was the chartered bus up the coast to the Roman ruins of Caesaria and the port of Haifa, which at the last moment I agreed to join. A half hour at the ruins was more than enough, in part due to the American evangelists who were staging a revival meeting, with country and western band, in its amphiteater (Christians had been sacrified there, it was said). It seemed equally historical how the sand dunes, like those we were seeing, had been turned into flowering gardens. Counter to these ideological moments, I had an informative conversation with a Russian-born scholar on the benefits of the surge in post-Soviet immigration for the Israeli Right. On the way to Haifa, I jumped out of the minivan and hailed a cross-country bus back to the Tel Aviv Museum, where I had scheduled an appointment with the poet Rony Someck, who had recorded for John Zorn's Masada project. On the bus itself I had a lengthy literary discussion with an Israeli novelist and noticed the social space created around a black Ethiopian Jew, who stood alone at the front.
[At this point, the organized part of conference was over and I was left free to explore on my own. I went on to visit Jaffa alone and Jerusalem in the company of M—, T—, and C—. Further perspectives will be described in my concluding post.]
Joglars #1 appeared in Spring 1964, and its lineup of eleven contributors closely followed the tendencies that the Coolidge-Palmer correspondence was already indicating: a strong showing from the Black Mountain group (Fielding Dawson, Joel Oppenheimer, John Wieners, Jonathan Williams), two Bay area poets (Gary Snyder and Michael McClure), and the Objectivists Zukofsky and Niedecker. The lineup of poets is supplemented by the magazine’s first in what would be an ongoing commitment to work in other arts and media--in this case, a score and performance instructions for an orchestral piece composed by Zukofsky’s son Paul. The remaining two contributors, Carol Bergé and Robert Kelly, can be seen representing the Downtown New York poetry scene described earlier in this chapter and of which Dawson and Oppenheimer were part as well in the wake of the Black Mountain College diaspora precipitating the school’s closure in 1965.
By June 16, 1964 Coolidge is able to report to Palmer the following: “3 copies sent to all contributors. . . 100 copies sent to ‘divers’ poets & people free free free!! I don’t like to come on poverty but, other bookstores & library-circulars (for which many thanks!) have gotta wait.” Nevertheless, favorable reviews of the first issue of Joglars were coming in from all quarters:
A Letter, of ecstatic praise (“best first issue of a mag I’ve ever seen...” etc.) from somebody named Sam Abrams (claims he met me at LeRoi’s reading [. . . .]) Card from Louis, “thanking”, says “we’ll be talking soon” [. . . .] 2 letters from Paul Blackburn -- first, very praising to Joglars “keep it up” &c. with 3 poems, not bad very Blackburn, at least one we might be able to use.
A week later, June 23, Coolidge reports high praise from Creeley: “Thanks very much for the copy of your first issue--which I think a fine job indeed.[...] So really all of it is a pleasure, and again thanks for sending it.”
In addition to the praise, Coolidge finds himself inundated not only with submissions for future issues--“running out of tongue licking reject envelopes,” he tells Palmer on October 8, 1964--but also, consistent with the gift economy and free exchange that so often characterizes the small press poetry world, free copies of numerous other publications, as he reports to Palmer on June 23, 1964: The Outsider, edited by Jon Edgar Webb out of New Orleans; Burning Deck, a short-lived magazine that would eventually evolve into Burning Deck Press, edited by Rosmarie and Keith Waldrop in Providence; Set, edited by Gerrit Lansing in Gloucester, Massachusetts; and the last issue (#9) of visual artist Wallace Berman's magazine Semina, inscribed with the words “dug yr first issue--cool selection.”
Beyond simply a free exchange of goods, however, such interaction ultimately serves as a means of mutual support between fellow poet-publishers. For example, Coolidge writes to Palmer on October 8, 1964 that the “Insect cats sent Burroughs’ address -- so I wrote him and sent mag.” The reference to “insect cats” remains a mystery unless one knows that the Insect Trust Gazette was a little magazine edited by Bob Basara, Leonard Belasco and Jed Irwin out of Philadelphia that ran for three issues from 1964 to 1968. While William Burroughs never appeared in Joglars, Coolidge would include Basara’s work in the final issue, and his “Bond Sonnets” ran in the Summer 1965 Insect Trust #2. An example of his own efforts in cut-up and collage techniques, the “Bond Sonnets” were largely forgotten until I discussed them in an essay published in a joint issue of New American Writing and Jacket (2001); Craig Dworkin has since made the text available on his Project Eclipse website. (Information on the magazines mentioned in this paragraph can be found in Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980 [New York: New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998].)
As the Coolidge-Palmer correspondence housed at SUNY-Buffalo indicates, one challenge faced by the young editors of Joglars was coming up with a name for their publication. In the letter to Palmer dated November 26, 1963, Coolidge writes: “NAME for the 'creature' still hangs me -- maybe (a la tzara) open dictionary, aleatory style? I agree tho -- staying away from pop-toon, & intellecto titles.” As Palmer explains in his interview with Peter Gizzi:
I’ve always been drawn to circus performers, but also to that aspect of poetry which has to do with juggling and tumbling. In doing Joglars with Clark, we were proposing that other side. There was the magazine Trobar, which suggests the more auratic sense of the poet, of the troubadour, the fashioning of trobar. The joglar was the clown and camp follower who went along and performed and ripped off other people’s songs; but that’s also a side of the poet. (Exact Change Yearbook #1 , 175)
Perhaps, if Coolidge and Palmer had agreed to avoid “intellecto titles,” they nevertheless took a rather educated route to convey the clowning side of poetry. Then and now, readers of the magazine are often uncertain how to pronounce the title (zho-GLAR).
While the journal's name is obviously an important issue, greater significance lies with aesthetics and politics that younger poet-publishers need to work through in order to define and shape the literary field as they not only see it but emerge into it. We can see Coolidge go through this process at length in a letter to Palmer dated December 28, 1963.
What interests me tho, “now”, that ole saw: “the personal” -- how far you can run with that (like, in most poesy I wanta see signs of the man hisself -- voice, eyes, lips, etc. -- all else seems so much literatour) (forget GROUPS!) & of course -- the MUSIKS (Zukofsky: best field general) or more simply, inclusively, -- sounds -- what kinda sound organization can be got to -- what happens, then, to meanings (Z’s cats?) -- so here’s where the aleatory gang (Cage, Wolff, Feldman --) interests me (Burroughs too?) -- almost despite any natural desire for control...... -- Well -- two points of attack -- contradict each other maybe? maybe, but it keeps me hoppin’.
Beyond the individualist stance (“forget GROUPS!”) and the dismissal of mere “literatour” that echoes, however consciously, the French Symbolist Verlaine (“all the rest is lierature”), Coolidge clearly demonstrates the oppositions he is working through here--between “the personal” and “sounds,” intentionality (authorial control) and non-intentionality (the chance procedural methods of the New York School of composers and William Burroughs), and what might customarily be thought of as form versus content but might in this context be more fruitfully thought in terms of sound versus sense, “what kinda sound organization can be got to” versus “what happens, then, to meanings.”
Notice the implications of Coolidge’s specific phrasing here: different kinds of sound organization are an objective, goal or destination, something that one “gets to,” with the result that something then happens to meanings. To begin with sound and then see what happens to sense as a result is already to place a poetics in an experimental mode that runs counter to many other poetries. As I will show later, Coolidge is here already reiterating a line of thinking that he came upon and described in a notebook over a year and a half prior to this December 1963 letter to Palmer; what he may not have known then is that his life’s work as a poet will be spent working through these very issues.