George Stanley Reads a Prose Statement About Poetry

By Harriet Staff


The Spring 2011 issue of The Capilano Review is all George Stanley (here here!), and includes pieces about, surrounding, or for Stanley by Kevin Killian, Joanne Kyger, Beverly Dahlen, Peter Culley, Bill Corbett, George Bowering, Meredith Quartermain, Lisa Jarnot, and many more.

TCR has also posted on their blog a special recording, plucked from the rafters at Simon Fraser University's Contemporary Literature Collection. TCR writes: "Warren Tallman invited George Stanley, Joanne Kyger, and Ebbe Borregaard to a Poetry Conference at UBC in March 1970. This 12 minute recording features George's reading of a 'prose statement on poetry in 1970.' The statement is a series of letters written to Clayton Eshleman on the subject of 'power, money, and poetry.'" Stanley also must respond to whether poets can talk to Nixon, when really he wonders how one can functionally write a letter, where and how real meaning is made. . . .

It's worthwhile to listen. We've transcribed a bit here too (not sure if "parrot" is quite right!):

Now I'm sitting here staring at the wall. OK. I realize I haven't said, "what I mean yet." I've got some thoughts, but they would take a lot of hemming and hawing like, that power behind Nixon is inertia. It isn't really power. It's what happens when we somehow...legally make it impossible, wrong, wrong, for us to exercise our power. Then that's something to being, like a raging void. It's like what Wiener, Norbert, said about entropy being similar to the Augustinian idea of evil: random, destructive of complexity, life, beauty...I think poetry aims at beauty. Beauty is very complex. Here I am way up at the top ladder of aesthetic theory, but I will stay here just a minute and follow this out. What I mean is, at least beauty, or poetry, must seem complex to the poet. If he could step outside his humanity, and be God, or a parrot, then it might all seem simple. Listen: there is this temptation to disown limitations of humanity--reflexivity, mortality, and carry, oneself or others, and just float up there like God does. Jeffers did this. But I don't believe it. To me it is defensiveness and avoidance. Sterile and irresponsible. Some kids are talking like this now too. Laying on us and each other great dynamic vision, echo and cosmological, where we're supposed to forget it's a human being deny the human context is to impoverish the universe.

Originally Published: June 15th, 2011