Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poem of the Week 7/22/2009: I Know a Man

I Know a Man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking,--John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.

Robert Creeley 1962

Ezra Pound's ABC of Reading argues that the most descriptive and accurate definitions are those that provide sight of exactly what is in front of one; he provides a definition of a canzone given by Dante: "A canzone is a composition of words set to music." This definition, Pound argues, works from what the audience can see or hear, so that when they hear a certian kind of music accompanied by words, they will know the canzone. No need to infer about the worldview, the meaning, or the greater category of music this form inhabits; the facts are legible, and that, Pound argues, is the most grounded form of knowledge.

So this is one idea about literature given by Ezra Pound, and while he is certainly open to literature of fact and that of abstraction, his idea does raise some interesting questions. First, is he right? There seems to be much literature of worth that is highly abstract and yet beautiful beyond measure, helpful, informative, etc; in one of Coleridge's works, for example, barely a fact remains in the poem, and yet one's encounter with that poem may be as moving or more moving than with Homer, who I regard as writing "legibly," from fact. Not that Coleridge can trump Homer; I am trying to say that they each have their value in whatever class they inhabit.

So it might do to test Pound's hypothesis, to observe it when one has the chance to do so--after all, I, for one, am still trying to work out how to read, and will happily take advice from and test Pound's theory in hope of learning a bit more. I regard this week's PotW, Robert Creeley's poem "I Know a Man," as a stellar example of a legible work, one whose facts are all entirely visible. And in testing Pound's theory for myself, the next step is to see what results from the careful and particular examination of a little conversation between friends.

"I Know a Man" does not stray at all, really, from the event of a conversation-- a conversation in which one man attempts to speak philosophically and sentimentally, and the other replies to go ahead and drive. It's a concrete experience--the attempt to make an abstract statement, to connect with somebody, and yet to Entirely Miss the Point! Which is not to think so hard, possibly. That's it, though we could talk about the syntax a little if I was a motivated person. ....

But here is the real point:

I was stopped for days in the middle of this blog, right before the last paragraph in fact, keeping on "slow roast" what Creeley's poem was a snapshot of; I couldn't recall a taste of this experience, you know? So I couldn't explain the poem other than technically, which can be tiresome. I was stopped, that is, until I really experienced it, that is, until I tried to philosophize with a friend I was trying to connect with instead of just listening and chatting, normally. I was all bent on interfering and look what happened! Exactly what robert creeley's poem promised would happen, no response, really at all. So perhaps Pound's observation does have something meaty to it, though it certainly demands something of its reader!

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