It is through the poetry of the Irrational Imagination where we find the contemporary shock of the sublime, the extremes of which can be mapped from Charles Wright, through Jorie Graham and Anne Carson, to Michael Palmer. Though any aesthetic position that has both Charles Wright and Michael Palmer as examples is predictably widely encompassing, there still can be seen certain sympathies, certain denials, that are made in the poetry itself—not a masking of story (or narrative), but a meditative unmasking that will never complete itself, an unmasking known to be futile, known as failure, but necessarily undertaken. Which is why, I believe, so many contemporary poets keep mentioning Stevens.
I am bored with the term postmodern, and I have little use for schools of poetry, and I'm tired of paeans to complexity, but I do think it's important to hold together, if only for a moment, poets and poems that attempt to go beyond the comfortable limits of understanding, who worry the edges of thought, and perhaps bring something back to show for their trouble. Poets who exist within and among knowns and unknowns, neither as far into the aphasic constructed/un constructed poetries of the leading edge of the avant garde, nor as far into the voice poem delivering learned truths as the post-confessional period style illustrates. But existing within, and in relation to, both.
Poetry, and here I’m speaking of poetry that holds itself open to its irrational elements, is the is that falls between the artifice of the too-well-wrought urn and the eternal and of journalism, between the staid and the unsettleable. And when confronted with the simplicity of that which is beyond us, it can only act As If. As George Steiner (among others) has said, the artist, when creating, is continually going toward the As If, the bargain one makes with imagination when confronted with that which is beyond knowing.
This type of poem is the poem of continuance: the poem as the journal of a tour. A tour that can exist only in reference to itself. On a tour, interruption and distraction can be as much the point as anything else. As Robert Duncan writes, “Everything that happens in writing the poem, as it belongs to the poem, must be acknowledged and undertaken as meaning.” The traveling is what gives points A and B meaning, is what gathers them together. One of the chief functions of art is to refuse limitation, both spatially and theoretically. The poem must move through discoveries, through layers, through attachments.
(new poetry = new way of seeing [point A, point B]).
Without a ground and a movement, we have no support for the sentences of our lives, we have a shapelessness of disordered, of willed, occurrences.
In the same way, then, this writing’s dwelling. Writing which isn’t heading for, or going after. Writing’s dwelling. Living in. Where everything that happens becomes part of the poem. Here one can think, as well, of Charles Bernstein’s “Artifice of Absorption.”
This poetry is aware within the poem that poetry can get no closer to signifier or referent than a middle ground. A tentative stepping out that aggressivity would rupture.
On the flip side: what does this hovering middle ground do with issues of actual time and temporality?
What the poem half creates by perception: that things as they are are not as the observer wills, but in the past remain so removed and colored by belief and desire that they pretty nearly are, is a difficulty that this poetry must continually face.
Poems of the irrational imagination are continually aware of the tonal power of grammar. How in seeing, by and through language, one is constantly in a tense relationship with that which has caused one to look in the first place. How intentionality tinctures one’s perceptions. Perceptions we hold and suspend at the same time, until that which propels us forward ceases, and we recognize, as Stevens phrases it, “our unique and solitary home.”
In this landscape, the parenthesis mark, as well as the material inside, is tonal design (—as is the dash: the colon, etc.). But it’s not willed —it arises out of the desperation one feels for wholeness, for a moment of unity. So the poetic use of punctuation is not toward the sentence but away from it, it resides outside of grammar but within it—post—so to speak.
For example: the parenthesis can make a place for ‘the other’—consider an old couple, long married, trying to get through a story —they support and supplant each other, they add but do not complete. This is the gesture of long acquaintance and competition, the desire to join in the telling. This is the manner of matter, of fragments, to coalesce. And in coalescing, to complicate matters, rather than simplifying them, rather than reducing them.
A) Stevens: A great disorder is an order.
B) Lyn Hejinian by way of Valery: Two dangers never cease threatening in the world: order and disorder.
The project of any poem is to find the principle of its regulation. To find its order. And for poems of the Irrational Imagination, the project is to find what exists one tick past order. When “things” haven’t fallen apart and yet no longer condition themselves as “whole”. To exist at the border of its disruption. And to find out how long one might reside in this liminal alterity. And then? One must strive to remain (for as long as one can) in the presence of that which is continuance. And in continuing, the poem must look for the individual code that the present circumstance calls for in its singularity so that the poem may center itself while decentering that which is taken for granted. But isn’t de-centering really just re-centering? This is the question that leads to further poems. This is the politics of art.
The poem must be aware that it is being enacted through a doubled voice (a self address, a personal utterance that is both objective & subjective). Through the poem the subject and the object merge as the many and as the one (“We have chosen the meaning/Of being numerous,” Oppen writes). One (as a noticer of stuff) has to discover what this page wants done. And move.
Charles Wright: . . . “listen to John, do what the clouds do.”