Gambit

Pt. 1

Albert Renger-Patzsch, “Mary Wigman’s Dance School,” 1935.
Albert Renger-Patzsch, “Mary Wigman’s Dance School,” 1935.

The poem is broken.

Can’t we admit it, out loud, if only to each other? Or else, more accurately, “the poem” (-qua- “revelation”) is broken. We’ve known this, intuitively, at least since developing the good sense to invite our readers to the table. We asked them to build the poem with us, to play Maxwell’s demon at the sliding door, orchestrating the poem’s force in an endlessly productive positive feedback loop (what Zukofsky calls “liveforever”: “Of the artist — failing he must blame himself — He wants impossible lifeforever” (Louis Zukofsky, “A”-12). But once they turned to face — said readers — eager to play ek-stasis, entropy be damned, we refused to actually acknowledge them — what they need to know and how they come to know it — listening instead to the wires “dance in the wind of the noise our poems make. The noise without an audience. Because the poems were written for ghosts” (Jack Spicer, “A Textbook of Poetry”). 

How can we make the most of this comportment — O’Hara’s Lucky Pierre — unless we’ve articulated (if only to ourselves) the essence of the morphing tool? We forgot to tell them — said readers — it ain’t still, won’t go down whole at supper; we forgot to say it’s not enough to make the puppet dance: we want a real boy, and we want to make it move together. Sacrificing poiesis’s radical passivity (its “letting” or what Heidegger calls lassen) at the altar of accessibility and didacticism came at a steep price, despite knowing damn well the money-shot’s in surplus, what’s left of immanent transcendence, hovering both outside and within the poem’s folds of inoperativity.

To readers, we gave the lie that the poem’s virtual and evental reach is mere cipher, waiting to be cracked by the attentive co-collaborator in one fell swoop; however, while they’re busy — said readers — we’re talking back to ghosts, even if we’re only donning the sheet for our flesh and blood compeers, our fellow poets (our only real readers ... we think), because it’s more convenient to invite Pierre to the orgy if he (already) knows (how) to please. Pierre speaks geist, even if his brood “cannot hear the noise they have been making” because “the ghosts the poems were written for are the ghosts of the poems” (Ibid.). We game at letting readers haunt our dwellings, wide-eyed, ex-sisting before the splendor of our noise, but instead, we’ve left them in the cold, out of doors.

In truth, our poems are alive and well — I genuinely believe this to be true, I do — they’re just not what we say they are. Because we’re too ashamed or afraid to talk about what they do, even with each other. Perhaps it’s too difficult to see them naked in the light of day. Or maybe it sounds too mystical when we own up in public. We’re afraid to say out loud that they do do, that there’s a level of genuine efficacious force despite running directly counter to market democracy’s vampirism. Even the NEA proudly asserts that “poetry reading is up” (five percentage points since 2012, we’re told) as twenty-eight million adult Americans attest to supping at someone’s spread, perhaps solely because technology allows readers to entirely side-step books. The hard truth, however, is that poems on the gram further miscast and denude our expectations for robust and concerted collaboration. That the poem has been resuscitated might very well be its death knell.

Over the next few months, I’d like to think about the poem, with you, together — specifically its ontological status in relation to social efficacy and the resultant epiphenomena that fluoresce through readerly engagement. And I want to do so by thinking, specifically, about process, praxis, surplus, ritual, energy, kenosis, apophasis, dissonance, grace, eschatology, pleroma, and the void. This writing will serve as the prolegomena to an expanded meditation on what I’m calling “process poetics,” an aesthetic meditation running parallel to process theology, and we’ll take it in small steps, starting with what it means to approach the poem as a reader, and how we hope to engage with readers as writers. See you next week …