Sunday, October 22, 2006

W.S. Di Piero - On Poetry

W.S. Di Piero, a poet with whom I'm not very familiar, and who, from his recent essay in Poetry, I doubt would find much value in my poetry (the list of people to whom NOT to send review copies is growing!), writes:

"Poetry doesn't have much to do with other arts, but there are coordinates. I'm bored by theatrical prophecy, by poetry that makes one fraught statement then another, without shapely sound or rhythm, without an availably complex density of phrasing and patterning, and I'm bored by poetry that achieves its effects only tonally or by clever invention."

I guess he and I wil just have to sit on opposite divides on this one. What is "shapely sound or rhythm"? For me, that sounds like Rae Armantrout, though I doubt that's who Di Piero has in mind. And what is "clever invention"? Isn't that craft? You know, the "machine made of words"? And how might he and I argue over the "only" that he places next to "tonally"? But, that aside, what I found most interesting is where he goes next:

"A coordinate: De Kooning's brushstroke enshrines its own passage: in its moist, elided, sumptuous impasto we see color broken down and surging. We get, as in certain kinds of poetry (Weldon Kees, Alan Dugan, Louise Bogan), both dreamily episodic eruptions and the entire shapely course of the surge, the rush and flush of the whole."

De Kooning! He and I both, apparently, like De Kooning! This just goes to show that what one says about one art doesn't transfer well into another. I would never think to link De Kooning with Alan Dugan, Weldon Kees, or Louise Bogan. Is that what a De Kooning looks like to Di Piero? Even though he's not interested much in what tone can build in poetry (and I think tone is job # 1 of poetry), I still can't see how he could miss everything about De Kooning except the color . . . first, wouldn't that be tone? The way TONE can ATTEND past the rational, past the reductive actual, to the blossoming actual. The mystery of place joined to the fact of place. To me, that's what "enshrines its own passage" means. Enshrining one's own passage sounds to me like a tonal, cleverly inventive act . . .

Anyway, Di Piero goes on to write:

"Most days, writing takes on the emotional lucidity of dream life, its bite and garish clarity, but it's also bereavement, tracing or tracking what's no longer among us. The more you write, the more you feel something is missing, will always be missing; that ache makes you want to write more, inviting more of the same. So bereavement is a kind of grotesque bounty. Some mornings, gulping the oxygen of waking life out of a dream's suffocation, I feel bereft, though I can't remember what exactly has been lost, other than the dream state I wanted to escape, can't remember any shape of face or body, just an ectoplasmic force, the spirit of the human presence in the dream now transformed into a felt compulsion. Write it down, then. Write it out. Getting older, I don't so much want to remember things in poetry, I want to keep them."

Is this true for me? Does writing take on "the emotional lucidity of dream life"? If so, what would/could such a poem look like? I think I'll never get it, the way some people talk about poetry and the arts . . . De Kooning and dream life . . . and then, with all that radical mystery and open possibility available, not only available but openly stated, and then takes all that energy and reduces it down to the sort of poem I suspect he's endorsing here. The sort of poem that Silliman would label, if I'm remembering correctly, the "school of quietude," or somesuch. I'm open to enjoying a poem of this variety, after all, one of my first poetry loves was Robert Lowell, but I'm still waiting on an explanation of how this kind of poetry enacts anything like a De Kooning, or Klimt, or some enacted dream state.

An aside: Poetry is the most boring literary journal in America today, not because of the value of what they publish, but because of the value of what they do not publish. I define it by its exclusions.

The only thing I can think of is that Di Piero is only talking about the state of writing the poem, not the state of the poem's existence. That somehow depresses me. It makes the state of poem making superior to the state of the poem itself existing. Or am I missing something?


At 8/29/2008 7:03 AM, Anonymous John Domini said...

I was entirely engaged by your thoughtful comments on Di Piero's essay -- typically wide-ranging, provocative, & itself deeply thoughtful. You came up with a sensitive response, & my compliments. But you really must read some Di Piero poetry. His reputation stands on that, not his reviews or essays (though both generally prove brainy & far-sighted). If I were to recommend a single collection, it would be BROTHER FIRE, from '04, though I must add that his crowning achievement so far may be a sequence having to do w/ the working-poor South Philly of Di Piero's upbringing that straddles both FIRE & its predecessor, SKIRTS & SLACKS ('01) -- poems stonily true to their immigrant milieu, utterly devoid of sentiment, often having to do w/ bewildering late-in-life returns. For a overall career retrospective, bearing out his excellence regardless of subject, see CHINESE APPLES, '07.

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