Writing in the absolute present (which fades away as I write), I am looking down on a field that was once a stretch of the Berlin Wall, now restored to native grasses. It had been storming last night, but this morning I see someone just waking up who had slept in the middle of the field, under a white blanket. His or her hair also appears to be white. To what degree were trust or terror a factor in selecting that site, from an "open field" of possibility? — “Reverse Maps,” Grand Piano 4:67
Every presentism is a historicism, and vice versa. I have been writing, over the past several years, on the concept of the historical “date” — neither narrative nor nonnarrative, but the index of a punctual unit of calendar time. This date, for instance, is marked as the first of the New Year, and I am looking forward to the present as it unfolds over the year. Without question, what we think of “the present” has changed — and I will be charting this over the next three months on this site. I will also be leading a graduate seminar at Wayne State University on "forms of the present," and naturally will bring our investigation into "the present" to this discussion. I also imagine that I will use the writing on this site as a contribution to our discussion. My seminar will explore an open and reflexive pedagogy, the third term of my focus over this project. How does poetics construct a present, and how is it understood in present terms? What are the political values of this constructed present; what kind of pedagogy can be extended from understanding the present in constructivist terms? My task will be to write, at intervals, on my understanding of poetics as a "presentism" in as many ways as I can.
To begin, I refer to the passage from The Grand Piano cited above, which I see as an argument against the view of time in a lyric poem by Robert Creeley. Could poetry—especially lyric poetry, especially Creeley's work — be understood as a kind of datable event? Imagine before you the cover of A Day Book (1972). What Creeley wanted at the time was a poetics of occasion, in which the temporal register of the poem coincided with the event of living, for as long a duration as possible. It is a standard for poetry that is worth much respect. When I came to rethink the poetics of the date in the passage from The Grand Piano, I realized, on the one hand, that I often kept Saturdays free as a day for writing, and that Saturdays in general had a particular association with that freedom and its duration. Whether I wrote this on a Saturday, however, is not now clear. It was early morning, and the scene that I described adds to the moment of writing an account of the present of a storm, with its duration; a homeless person, and his or her life history and prospects; and half a block of empty urban space (probably long since built in) where the Berlin Wall once stood. I wrote on the passage in an academic essay, published in the Journal of Narrative Theory (and available here). It is not the last time I will return to that passage, I am sure.