an image diary

"And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be? ... You'd be nowhere. Why, you're only a sort of thing in his dream! If that there King was to wake you'd go out -- bang! -- just like a candle!"

"Hush! You'll be waking him, I'm afraid, if you make so much noise."

"Well it's no use your talking about waking him when you're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real."

Monday, June 27, 2005

"I am a kind of burr, I shall stick." --Measure for Measure

"So much for self--self, that burr that will stick to one." --Shelley, letter to Leigh Hunt on the anonymous publication of Julian and Maddalo

Feeling quiet lately; thinking about something Jake said to Jonathan in response to his questions for Silliman and Everybody, some small thorniness in question number 2 that comes up in Jake's post to question number ten that sticks to me fast and a little painfully for its hard accuracy.

Jonathan asks:

2. How would you define contemporary poetic practice? (Say, the typical poem that would be published alongside one of yours in a magazine where you are published.) How does this practice relate to the tradition defined above? Does poetry of the "past" (however you define the past for these purposes) occupy a different corner of your mind?

Jake says:

I think the second question supposes a clear sense of artistic or aesthetic community in a contemporary setting, and that question asks something of my I cannot provide [sic]. I suspect many of my blogging peers, with the possible exception of Gina Franco feel much more comfortable and connected to main lines of contemporary practice, and many of them seem to have a much more well-defined community of interest.


practice: v. 1. to do or perform habitually or customarily; make a habit of : practice restraint. 2. To do or perform repeatedly in order to acquire or polish a skill. 3. To work at, esp. as a profession: practice law. 4. To carry out; observe. --n. 1. A habitual or customary action or way of doing something. 2.a. Repeated performance of an activity in order to learn or perfect a skill. b. Proficiency gained through repeated exercise. 3. The act or or process of doing something; performance. 4. Exercise of an occupation or profession. 5. The business of a professional person. 6. A habitual action. [praktikos, practical]

--American Heritage


To do or to perform. Say there are two sides to this word "practice," as in "the practice of poetry": 1. the introverted doing--the habit of writing words down, the compulsion behind the morning exercise, the doing it again and again, and the refining that comes through repetition--and 2. the extroverted performance, the vocation of the poet, or the profession of poetry. One has to do with preoccupation while the other involves occupation; you practice your skills that you might practice in your field. The former does not necessarily lead to the latter, nor should it, but if you are a publishing poet I suppose you are a practitioner of both introverted doing and extroverted performance.

What I'd rather not suppose is that what you practice is what you preach, though I might suppose it all the time. I might call you derivative or experimental or traditional or political or ____X____. Especially when you publish in ____Y____ and hang out with ____ZZZ's____. Nothing against Crystal Williams but she once introduced me to a peer as "a kind of new American formalist," I suppose because I was bringing sonnets and terza rima to workshop. I published my collection of poems with "Camino del Sol: a Latina and Latino Literary Series." Those poems are primarily narrative, I think in a neo-Romantic "Ruined Cottage" sort of way, though the back of the book says the poems are "drawing on a rich tradition of storytelling in Latino literature." I don't want to know what you suppose that means about my aesthetic values. I don't. But I can't keep you from supposing that my poetry is my poetics.

"Practice" suggests that even introverted doing works to achieve some kind of mimesis, some internalized grid of Platonic perfection that's been floating around "out there." Internalized because once external, of course. It was a consensus, perhaps, sometime: "now that is a great line, title, rhyme, etc." Everyone nods. There is no way around this extroverted interest for the practicing poet. It is poetry's history or its empiricism at work. I am interested in what poetry can do, for example, because I have a sense of what it has done and I would have it do it again differently that I might do it better. There is always likeness to contend with, and for those with a predilection for simile, metonymy, juxtapostion, there is the seduction of likeness too: the sweetness of repetition, the safety of community, the logic of aesthetic consistency, of editorical bias. You know the places you might publish. Where you might find a home out there.


But this is language we're talking about, common ground, so these terms--likeness, difference--make us/me very nervous. The colonizing imagination begins naming, raising up gods and myths and canonicity, killing off populations or keeping 'em too poor to eat, or wiping out aristocracies by the unfraternal headfuls, and does so in the name of likeness. Re-form:

"Why don't you write more like us? Like me? Like what I like? Because I'm sick of mainstream poetry, confessional poetry, objectivist poetry, Adrienne Rich and Leslie Scallopino, nature poetry, and the way contemporary poets are all using the word 'how' these days":

how the burr sticks. How I am a kind of self.

How would you define contemporary poetic practice?

Self: a kind of burr that sticks.


But in the warped mirrors of my imagination, I do have a little "community of interest." It occurs to me now "they" are perfectly ignorant of my sense of "them," because, well, it's all about me again and my introverted doing, which each of them once engaged with, generously, profoundly. Selflessly. Besides my mentors, there are only three of "them." All beautifully idiosyncratically burrsome. I love them for it. They don't know this. They probably don't remember that they helped me know what I think. What interests me.

(Karen Anderson, Jasper Bernes, Jake York)


Read somewhere recently that history begins in heresy and ends in superstition. In with the new, out with the old. Dull dull dull! Karen once said, "as a poet I want everything available always available to me," or something like that. Me too. Absolutely. No practiced restraint, no closed venues. No progressivist tyrannical hierarchical fantasies. No no. And I don't care if it's impractical.

I'm so sick of being tired of you.

"and what is the use of a book...without pictures or conversations?"

[contact me:]

what o'clock it is


live flowers