baseball, poetry, and kim chi

Thursday, June 02, 2005

I am going to wear a hat that does not fit bc I am curious

Ah! criticism. So long as it helps. Been reading about WCW & Wallace Stevens. I am trying to decide if what I am learning (and if I am hearing this right) is 1. true 2. useful.

WCW uses common dialect in uncommon ways. Read: “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” W/O the line breaks. This is not the every man speak. Who talks like this? But he makes his words into a machine, and this machine works on the imagination. He says leave the real world alone, it will function without us.

Steven’s believes it is the act of creating the concepts of that creation that the world is waiting for. He belives the poem can be paraphrased. That a reader first reads for content and then for style. What is said before how it is said. His work is neither symbolic nor does it reference the natural world.

WCW makes objects for the imagination. If you hold a pyramid up, and ask the class to paraphrase it, the class can’t. They can describe it, but one can’t paraphrase an object. Something needs to be said before it can be paraphrased. WCW says nothing, he makes (or so the line goes).

Steven’s believes that his work can be paraphrased. Then, it must be about something else. Where is this reference? If not symbolic, where? With nothing else (religion has fallen by the side. poetry can interpret life for us.) man depends on this “noble imagery”. Poetry immitates a world it does not, and does not hope to, replicate. “the word must be the thing it represents, otherwise it is a symbol.”

So, a word is only that word? A group of words are only that group of words? Of course, I cant drink water out of C U P. So then what is he asking of us? It seems that he does not want us to go beyond the page, to see a word chair for a chair. Or else to be so there with the poem that we draw in nothing from outside the poem. He gives us the idea of a “supreme fiction” That anything writen is a fiction. The fanciful and the serious are both equally ficticious.

I get this, but most of the rest is troublesome to this (my) little brain

This is what I am seeing:

Can the poem be paraphrased?
wcw: no ws: yes

WCW seems to believe that his poems are tied to a diction (is the Red Wheelborro?) and say nothing, they make.

both WCW and WS create in the imagination. But somehow their relationship to the “real world” is different. WCW might say that the world will go on just as we see it even if we don’t see it. Steven’s might say that once we have interpreted anything we no longer are seeing besdies what we are seeing. That is as close as we can get. bc of this, what we see is only this great fiction, and this fiction exists soley inside of us. Sounds like George Berkeley.

So, are both making, and neither representing?

Yet, at the end of the day, we can talk about the meaning of Seven’s great fiction, but we can’t talk about (paraphrase) WCW’s work. Is that the big (theoretical )difference?

I’d really appreciate any thoughts you folks have. Name calling is fine, so long as you get me closer to an understanding. Really just want to see what is happening, or what you think the authors think is happening. This final convoluded sentence seems appropriate.


Blogger Dylan Hock said...

Well Jim, you've hit upon it. My feeling is that everyone is simultaneously right and wrong. Or, more to the point, the idea of right and wrong is irrelevant. It's more a line people follow for infinite minute reasons that stack into an "interest" or a "curiousity", something that spurs them in a directon. And everyone chooses different directons depending on the make-up of their unique lives/fictions. It's for this reason I don't put much stock in criticism. I do read it for what I can steal from it, but then again, I read everything. Criticism, even writers on their own work, can be troublesome because the ideas (and they are only ideas/opinions based on that person's particular life/fiction/foundational outlook) can be equally inept and don't always jive with what the reader gets or takes from the writing or artwork.

So what is important: the artists' intentions, or whatever is taken by each participant? It's all arbitrary fascination and playfulness. That's why I can dig criticism, but I don't put much stock in it. I've always had to work my way through things on my own in order to digest them and come to terms with the information. That's why I can be so passionate about my beliefs--I've put a lot of thought and consideration into them, however, I'm not too closed minded to be open to other possibilities, which is a way of expanding my foundational outlook and perceptions of the world around me. I think everyone gets too caught up in debates that are really quite seconary to just the experience of life and the acts of both creating and experiencing art.

10:13 PM

Blogger richard lopez said...

I've been dipping into yr blog for a couple of weeks now, and been digging yr words. as for WCW's claim that poems are machines made of words, this statement has always struck me as so much a part of his time, the times he uttered them, when industrialization of the world, the mechanized Great War and so on, seemed the whole of civilazations moved in lock-step toward a bleak future of robots and so on. at least that is how I read WCW. today, a poet may say something like, poems are bits of binary code.

Stevens is the more attractive of the two since I do agree the poetry is the supreme fiction, the one that can indeed penetrate truth(s) however they are defined by reading/writing.

I do read criticism but not a whole lot, since, like reading theory, useful in itself, I'm more interested in the practice. the best job of criticism is to clear a way to the threshold of the text toward illumination. no, poetry can't be paraphrased, I don't think, since I can read and reread texts with great pleasure without fully comprehending the full meaning,if there is one to be had. even poets may not fully know the meaning(s) of their texts.

I take poetry, the life of poetry, as a whole: reading/writing. one creature does not exist without the other living in the same organism. so criticism is important, but not too at the expense of the poem.

6:03 PM

Blogger Matthew Henriksen said...

Dear Jim, Fuck Williams. He's a bore. Stevens knew what he was doing and is thus way smarter. Dig into what you see and hear and not what you think and you will find that breaking WCW's shitty half poem into prose is exactly the proof you need to know that he belongs on the wayside. Stevens took blank verse to another world (post-anything you care to mention).

7:40 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

talk to me about this world. Too often i get feelings from poetry, and can not articulate what it is that works. I know it when i see it, but how do i explain it? Let me see what you are thinking. Can you bring me closer to the text? When you read, do you first feel and then understand? Maybe understand is the wrong term.

by the way. these past few days, since my internet connection has been down, i have been all over Crane. I dont think it was usefull that i read his bio first, and wouldn't have had his poems arived in the mail first. but why am i reading his work? Why am i enjoying the hours i am spending with it? How to describe this? There is speed and there are glimpses. But it is the magic and it is always the magic. that space between and in words. Who did Stein compare to a tape worm? Always measuring. Trying to see paintings in inches...
But that is not important. There is use in measuring. I just need to learn how to do it better.


forgive the spelling. Not on my computer. all is in korean.

8:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for taking a look. It was Stevens who belived that his work could be paraphrased. Not sure if he is right. what more would i get if i knew what the author's intent was? Do I want to know the details?


8:23 PM

Blogger Dylan Hock said...

I dig Stevens too, but there is no comparison between WCW and Stevens. Completely different poets, that's all. Not better or worse, just different. I've read all of Stevens a few times and frankly, I dig it, but a lot can be so far out, it's difficult to know what you're getting from it. I do know he was an insurance salesman (I think) and (and this part is for sure) he did not write from the "real world" as WCW did, but strictly from imagination. If he wanted to write about Paris, he wrote about the Paris he imagined, rather than the actual place. I like the poem especially with the "tigers in red weather". And I like that he wrote from imagination. It allows a freedom, to write whatever you want, regardless of how much i factually correct. It's only rock n roll, but I like it!

9:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


I like it too. I think a question i am getting at, and one pirooz mentioned on his "light saber" web page, is when we talk about work, and we use positive critical words, were those the first words that came to us, or did we say, "yes" and then try to figure out why we liked it? If we liked it from the beginning are we only trying to find words to justify that liking? I hope not. however, that is where i am at. I want to get better, to get past this.

I'd like to really see what it is that makes a poem work. however, i wonder if this is even possible. Wouldnt the best critics then also be the best poets?

This is not keeping me up at night. But I've been talking about teaching, and i believe this is my weakest area, so if i am going to be a good teacher, I should get more of an idea.

was reading last night. Sometimes we worry about killing a poem through piecing it apart. think it was T.S.E that said a poem is already dead. How about that? reading Kenner. maybe i need to read some TSE

again. forgive the sp. no idea how to check it on this comp.

4:06 AM

Blogger Dylan Hock said...


I took classes at Western Michigan University in undergrad and I learned zero about writing. It wasn't until I studied Pound in Italy through the University of New Orleans that we started to work on the mechanics of poetry, and I literally learned more in one class than I did in 6 years at my undergrad. That said, learning the mechanics shows you how a poem is constructed, but it can't show you the life of the poem. When I read somethin I dig, I just say, yes! And maybe reread it again, but I don't question it. I go the Eddie Berrigan route. I just read and eventually reread (but reading new all the time) and eventually it snaps into place. I like it that way, because I don't have to dissect the life out of the poem to enjoy it, and eventually you'll get the whole tamale, if you persist, and there is actually a tamale to eat!

9:39 AM

Blogger Matthew Henriksen said...

Anon et. al.,

We go on our guts, and I don't feel we need to incriminate ourselves with explanations

but H. Crane is a perfect example of feeling, then understanding. He was the first poet I studied, and I studied him by default out of loving the feeling of his poems, and then, slowly, I came to understand his poems both in and beyond their music.

Stevens works oppositely, for me. I think I had to understand what he was saying before I could feel it. After all, he begins with "It Must Be Abstract and ends with It Must Give Pleasure." There are, as it always is with Stevens, counter examples, such as "The Comedian as the Letter C" and "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," poems that I feel but cannot claim to understand. I had a talk while back visiting in Fayetteville, Arkansas with my old professor, Michael Heffernan, whom I asked specificasll about "The Commedian as the Letter C," because I still had no idea what it means, or whatever, say, how to paraphrase it. And Heff, who knows these things, especially with STevens, I trust him anyway on this, said it doesn't mean anything but what it sounds like, more or less.

Other world? It's the world he elucidates in _The Necessary Angel_, the world most clearly painted in settings of his more narratively bent shorter poems in Harmonuim. I think in the later poems, from _Transport to Summer_ through "Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself," Stevens is speaking his way back toward the world, from that other side, which is abstract except in that all of its constituents resemble this reality.

And all blog comments should end on reality.

10:55 AM

Blogger richard lopez said...


not sure where Stevens's said poems can be paraphrased, but here in the _Adagia_ he said:

"A poem need not have any meaning and like most things in nature often does not have."

it is the artifice in Stevens's sensibilities as an artist and as a living human that I first responded to. like Matt said, I've no idea how to paraphrase many of Stevens's greatest poems. but I love them all the same.

unlike WCW who is extremely good and useful poet but a writer whose work nearly leaves me cold. perhaps the fault lies in me as a reader.

nonetheless, Dylan, I think Stevens is the poet of the imagination and who said, the imagination is not the real world. the Paris is the real Paris he wrote about even tho he never stepped foot on French soil. I'd hazard to say that it is indeed the real world, and by reading/writing texts we add to the stock of realities in this life. and it is only just this one life we have to live, in my opinion anyway.

Crane I read early, even before Stevens, and I love his artifice and the ambitions of work, to match Whitman in the great USAmerican experiment.

Eliot leaves me cold but for different reasons than WCW. can't really fathom an explanation for it, but Eliot's work is useful even essential to 20th C. poetry, but I've never warmed to it. perhaps it is his bleak visions of modern living.

excellent discussion. Jim, and Dylan, would you like to link blogs. have a look at mine should you so desire, and b/c me should you want to continue this discussion.

9:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does it feel so good to see that Steven's quote? Sound like a broken record, but i am not at my computer. When i am, i will get you the quote on the paraphrase. will also get the link up.

I am happy though i am happy this just makes me feel good. when i hear a poet say his work can be paraphrased, i worry. not lots. closer to little. concern yes. contradictions are where it is at. well, contradictions and typos


9:27 PM

Blogger Dylan Hock said...

Hi Richard,

I agree! Reality is only perceived through the infinite filters that make up our own perceptions. Stevens' Paris was Stevens' Paris. Imagination makes the world a more complete space. My own perceptions of my own reality are rampant with imagination, so entwined they are inseperable!

That's one problem with blog conversations, the written word loses the nuances of spoken inflection and meaning can become muddled.

I could have made my point clearer before, but I agree with you.

Happy to link up.

Nice to virtually meet you.


9:57 PM

Blogger Dylan Hock said...

Hey Richard,

PS: I'm editing a lit zine: Watching the Wheels a Blackbird, if you'd like to submit. Details are on my blog.

Take care,


10:25 PM

Blogger richard lopez said...


I worry too when a poet thinks poems are paraphrasable. but then, I get annoyed when a poet is too coy about his/her intentions when writing. e.g. I recall one poet who had read when I was in grad school, a devout christian whose poems were often about the fleshly and the devine, ya know, the kind about sex and salvation. anyway, when I asked him some questions, not about meaning, but his belief systems informing his work, he responded by simply saying, Yes, as a blanket for every query. my annoyance must've showed since he then tried to reel himself in and answer at least partly. but that ain't nothing about meaning or paraphrase, only that writing/reading refuse to be so pinned. but yes, contradictions are where it's at.

thank you Dylan, for the invitation. nice to virtuallymeet you, and Jim. I've updated my links on my blog.

2:16 AM

Blogger JWG said...

From “A Homemade World” by Hugh Kenner:

“No one can page through his (Wallace Stevens) letters without being struck by his confidence that his poems have a paraphrasable content, worth the extracting. In the thirties, to Ronald Lane Latimer, and in the forties, to Hi Simons, he tirelessly explicated, explicated. “In ‘A Facing of the Sun’ the point is that, instead of crying for help to God or one of the gods, we should look to ourselves for help. The exaltation of human nature should take the place of its abasement.”

8:56 AM

Blogger Sean Mac said...

My hunch centers on the link between stevens as poet of the imagination and a bent towards an idealism contained in that. I doubt anyone wants to say Stevens is a Platonist, but there is a drive towards this abstracted crystallization at the very edge of meanings which to him seems to clearly point to this "supreme" other.

But pooie (how do you spell pooie?) on this notion of some more real world beyond our debased one. It is to tempting to read the utter quietitude of Steven's life as the world from which he sought escape through writing - a sense of writing as diversion, but a transcendent diversion. That is my mean trashing of his work. Do you think we could spell it pooey? as long as the kids get it, but its lovely to be back in that Chaucerian winging-it period of spell it like you say it.

So I'll add to the above that I spent a few years in college loving Stevens and trying to emulate his density and intelligence. But Williams hasn't gotten much attention here, and critically a least, I would like to challenge Richard's historical consideration of poem as a machine, or rather, to suggest that while his specific trope might be outdated, the basic motor itself - whether code or machine) still runs: the poem is a material set - quantifiable, observable, before us - which performs work. Which effects change. It is a construct for further construct. What I love about this definition is that it highlights a useful, even revolutioanry aspect to the question of a poem's telos - and then there's the complication that - in language (at least from my viepoint) the poem is a machine whose work can not be predicted, or so narrowly defined. I mean, poetry does work, sure, but that owrk varies from reading to reading, reader to reader. Poems work in different directions at the same time, contradictions and tensions abound, it is a machine as likely to destroy or frustrate as to cause bliss or uderstanding. I suppose, at the end of the day, I can't say why I lve this definition, but William's poetics has been - and I've seen this here a lot - useful to me. Stevens have not.

But then I am at a juncture where I am trying to psyche out if my whole relation to poetry is one of "supreme distraction" (ie hobbyist) or (and I probably idealize this other route) a more committed, revolutionary pursuit ("passion"?) Anne Waldman's sense of "A Vow to Poetry". As Dylan points out, these concerns often become masks to adorn/avoid the banality of our daily life.

And in his work, I admire Williams return to this dailyness as much as I am suspicious of Stevens fleeing of it (which allows - always) other forces to proceed unnoticed, unworded (say the unavoidable intrusion of the routine and psychic mindset of the insurance industry/in a larger sense, capital). Unexamined. The opacity of Stevens referants (if that makes any sense) to me is intensely problematic, it seems to predicate an existing outside of the forces of history which he (not a hermit) doesn't merit. Perhaps this I my only-child reading of him (but what do I know - idealist, I am talking about the Sevens of my mind, a memory, not a set of printed pages).

Yes there is a passion here. Whether its a wise (or we could say seasoned) one, I don't know.

3:30 PM


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