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Journal, Day Four

By Gillian Conoley

Thanks, Serpent, for your comment. I don’t expect representation to DO anything. I don’t think art necessarily does anything, but perhaps add its little piece of texture to the cultural ephemera, which is probably nothing to discount. What I’m most interested in is seeing, and representation has a lot to do with seeing, both on the part of the writer and the reader, hence my (at least current) obsession with representation.

What you describe as many poems being—as you so well put it—“underlined by the fact of the war” seems a very apt description of a kind of heavy thick blanket-like atmospheric condition the war expels, a part of what you phrase as “the larger eternal war of empire and culture.” The sense of it’s all war now, total war all the time. A highly palpable quality, abstract, and it makes sense that it would be manifested in the work that way—as permeating everything.

Another thing about representation, though, is how quickly it turns into style—which most often passes down from other traditions or previous generations whose poetics are still getting worked out—say the Objectivists, or the Surrealists, or The New York School, or The Language Poets, or a hybrid, or whatever . . . how do other windows open? How does one stay alive to one’s moment in every possible way—which would mean finding new modes of representation as well––I know these are impossible questions. And what interests me the most in looking back at Stein is the glimpse of the place/time/atmospheric condition we get from her work as she is providing us with a portrait of the war because she did precisely that—pushed the modes of representation––

Which brings us to Stacy Davis’s comment in which she brings up Stevens’ “The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words” and the enormous question of how one may respond to what she terms “Stevens’ notion of ethical resistance to the political as a kind of, well, politics.” I like thinking about Serpent’s description of an atmosphere “underlined by the fact of the war” and Steven’s notions of what he called the pressure of reality:

What I have said up to this point amounts to this: that the idea of nobility exists in art today only in degenerate forms or in a much diminished state, if, in fact, it exists at all or otherwise than on sufferance; that this is due to failure in the relation between the imagination and reality. I should now like to add that this failure is due, in turn, to the pressure of reality. . . . A variation between the sound of words in one age and the sound of words in another age is an instance of the pressure of reality.

The sounds of words in one age: isn’t that what Stein gave us? Was she alive to the pressure of reality?

Davis’ question of how I would think of Marianne Moore’s lines about a grasshopper: “As I unfolded its wings / In examining it for the first time / I forgot the war—” The close examination followed by a forgetting or an escaping is where I’m guessing your questions of the ethical or the responsible come in—but it’s interesting to note that Moore is not forgetting about the war in the line, the war is mentioned, it’s up front, in fact it’s foregrounded—what’s seen is different because of the war and though the actual words may be saying “I forgot the war” the poetry is not forgetting the war—

Jen X’s comment wondering if the war came up often in the Poetry Bus: I remember hearing in the nightly readings what Serpent described as poems “underlined by the fact of the war”—and I remember being struck by all the variations of how the war became manifest in the poems—and on the bus the war was always there, like it always is everywhere—and discussed as much as it is anywhere—no more or no less—

Let’s talk more about Stevens tomorrow because that’s a big one and Bush is getting ready to give his speech and I have to turn on the radio.

Rennie Stores—to find out more about the Volt war issue go to voltpoetry.com—there is a description of the issue there—out in spring.

So nice talking to everyone. Please do keep the comments coming—I really appreciate them.

Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, January 11th, 2007 by Gillian Conoley.