Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Edge / The Center / Vonnegut

“I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.”

—Kurt Vonnegut

Yes, but what is “the edge”? How each artist will define this is up to the artist. The edge of thinking. The edge of experience. The edge of life. The edge of sexuality. The edge of good taste. The edge of tasting good. Desire. On the edge of desire I will stand and reach one hand. The edge of reason.

And what view is gained from the edge? The edge that looms over the unexplored, the wild. Where there be dragons. Yes. And danger to some aspect of who we are, or thought we were.

And what is the center, then? Obviously, it’s the comfort zone. The wise thing said from long experience. The edge is not a place of long experience. The edge necessitates travel. The center abides. And abiding is what we want for ourselves most days . . . but where is the living in that? Can one live as a lion and as a lamb?

And from the edge we take a bit of that energy back to the center, because we cannot live on the edge. We don’t build our homes on the edge, or we shouldn’t. We build our homes in the protected center, where we hang pictures over our couches of the edge.

And what is the edge for our great 20th Century poets? Yeats? Stevens? The bird singing in the palm at the end of the mind? And Dickinson?

And now, in 2007, where is the edge for us? Is there anything left to us that isn’t already the center? Is the center accessibility? Is the edge the border of inaccessibility? Where we’re called to, and warned from?

And how to go there? And how to return? How to return with some of the real of having been there, of stealing some of the edge back to the center? Is it a gesture? A manner of engagement? Or is it a real and physical movement. Remember John Barr wants poets to go hunt wild game in Africa. Is that the edge, or the cartoon of the edge?

Am I on the edge right now? It doesn’t feel like it. I’ll try later. Go stand on my porch. The edge of withdrawal. The edge of distance. Maybe I’ll text someone.

It’s a condemnation of complacency, isn’t it, this call to the edge? But it’s also a warning against staying on the edge. Going over is not healthy. Of course. But neither is the slow death of the center. Of petrifaction.

And it’s an easy metaphor, in the end. Easy to twist to our benefit. And we can make of it what we want. One can treat it like tourism, perhaps. Or treat it like colonization, perhaps. So that for one the edge becomes so easy to navigate it's just another word for the center.

Make it new, right? Make it a new edge then?


At 4/15/2007 8:13 AM, Anonymous ljs said...

Thanks for posting this, John - I'm glad to have these questions to ponder during a Sunday Noreaster in NYC (and no porch to be at the edge at). I'll add a question of my own:

Where the avantgarde exists in poetry and writing in America today, who is doing the following, and how? If "the edge necessitates travel" (which I like as an idea), that's true of the avantgarde. I think a lot of important poetry is being written at the edge, or past it, or by those ignoring constructs of edge and center. But how exactly can those behind do the necessary following today and in today's publishing conditions?

Obviously there's no one answer, but I've been thinking about it for a while and thought I'd share.

Oh, and Barr urging the hunting and wildness: cartoon edge. Why, he's probably right now planning a big prize for the best poetry cartoons in America. Sigh.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home