The Second Poem
I write a lot. Call it some obsessive-compulsive disorder, or some terror of not being able to write, or what you will, but the truth of the matter is I just write a lot.
And part of writing a lot is this question:
What do you go in search of after you’ve written many poems?
When the first idea is gone, or THE idea, or what you can conceptualize, is gone? It happens to everyone at some point (and often gets folded into the work itself as a floating anxiety, as well as overt content), and it’s often called the waning of talent. But that’s too easy. It’s more like the waning of subject matter. Or the waning of a stance. Or just that the room you’re sitting in starts getting old and falling down.
There are some lucky ones (John Ashbery, for instance) who are so connected to process itself, that continuance doesn’t seem to be much of a bother (that we can see)—but for others, which is, most of us, the choices of each poem, the open possibilities of the next poem, continually narrow as we write more poems.
What to do?
1. Repeat yourself
2. Do something new
Most of us opt for repetition. And who would blame us? We can always say that we’re further investigating the space of a looking. And there’s some truth to that. There are many examples of just this sort of focused looking over time. And those who opt for something new are just as likely to utterly fail as to achieve anything much.
Who wants to start at zero continually?
The idea being that there are no new thoughts, just new combinations of thoughts. In that way, we’re always starting at near zero anyway . . . so maybe we should opt for a large newness, not a honed furtherance of investigation.
One of the things that’s always fascinated me about this very old dilemma is, thinking positively, how can one draw a line between repetition, and genuinely new work, if each poem is a narrowing of possibility for the next?
I’m reading Wallace Stevens again. Harmonium was an amazing book, and in its achievement, it cast quite a shadow across his later work. He had to grow old before he found a way into a stance that could add to Harmonium, and not just follow its nuances.
Robert Lowell, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, John Berryman all were able to make a jump from one success to another (at least once), and then what?
I’m not sure what I’m saying with all of this.
But the question is always open at the start of the second poem, there in the space filled by the first. For us, the mortals, how do we find our way to new work? How does one continue to investigate reality, or investigate the room of one’s ability to perceive, without repeating the gestures into hollowness, or the poems that first allowed the room to open?
Change the lighting?
Look for a new room?
Open a window?