These letters are to be as temporary as our poetry is to be permanent. They will establish the bulk, the wastage that my sour-stomached contemporaries demand to help them swallow and digest the pure word. We will use up our rhetoric here so that it will not appear in our poems. Let it be consumed paragraph by paragraph, day by day, until nothing of it is left in our poetry and nothing of our poetry is left in it. It is precisely because these letters are unnecessary that they must be written.
In my last letter I spoke of the tradition. The fools that read these letters will think by this we mean what tradition seems to have meant lately—an historical patchwork (whether made up of Elizabethan quotations, guide books of the poet’s home town, or obscure bits of magic published by Pantheon) which is used to cover up the nakedness of the bare word. Tradition means much more than that. It means generations of different poets in different countries patiently telling the same story, writing the same poem, gaining and losing something with each transformation—but, of course, never really losing anything. This has nothing to do with calmness, classicism, temperament, or anything else. Invention is merely the enemy of poetry.
See how weak prose is. I invent a word like invention. These paragraphs could be translated, transformed by a chain of fifty poets in fifty languages, and they still would be temporary, untrue, unable to yield the substance of a single image. Prose invents—poetry discloses.
A mad man is talking to himself in the room next to mine. He speaks in prose. Presently I shall go to a bar and there one or two poets will speak to me and I to them and we will try to destroy each other or attract each other or even listen to each other and nothing will happen because we will be speaking in prose. I will go home, drunken and dissatisfied, and sleep—and my dreams will be prose. Even the subconscious is not patient enough for poetry.
You are dead and the dead are very patient.
disappointing though. I’m afraid that the following
syllogism may be used by some in the future.
Turing believes machines think
Turing lies with men
Therefore machines do not think
Yours in distress,
Maybe what I want to hear is that this prenominate war is natural and necessary and a sign of Towering Intellect: maybe I want a pep-talk, because I have to tell you I don’t enjoy this war one bit. I think my fiction is better than it was, but writing is also less Fun than it was. I have a lot of dread and terror and inadequacy-shit, now, when I’m trying to write. I didn’t used to. Maybe the terror is part of the necessary reverence, and maybe it’s an inescapable part of the growing-up-as-a-writer-or-whatever process; but it can’t — cannot — be the goal and terminus of that process. In other words there must be some way to turn terror into Respect and dread into a kind of stolidly productive humility.
Today I received a very special scent (and letter) in the mail as a gift from my dearest Gemma. The scent is #OccupyWallStreet from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, which was specially made to raise funds to help feed protesters. I’m spoilt. The scent notes:
“Rock the protester cliché! This is a filthy friggin’ patchouli, dark, deep, rooty, and strangely sexy, with cocoa absolute, tobacco absolute, and bourbon vanilla.”
I thought the patchouli would be stronger but on me the cocoa, tobacco and bourbon vanilla really stand out on first application to my wrists. The scent isn’t overpowering, it’s soothing like standing on the verandah in a rainstorm.
I would never have started buying perfumes from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab if it was not for Gem and I while I have a signature perfume, I complement it with BPALs for day / ordinary wear depending on what mood I’m in (let me know if you want recommendations because ordering the samples is fun, and they have lots of nice neutral and masculine scents too).
This last week has been really hard. Tragedies and triggers that are beyond my control. I am usually the strong one, but the only way to survive sometimes is just. stop. Grieve. Try to breathe. I wish I had a bath tub. Instead I have drunk too many cups of earl grey tea, watched Season 2 of Boardwalk Empire, fallen asleep too late listening to the rain, and dabbed perfume on my wrists as a calmative. Gemma’s thoughtful gift, her love and friendship, and compliment that I am her “muse”, came at exactly the right time.
There is a lot of good, and a lot of good people in my life. A lot to be happy for. A lot of places to remember the scent of, so I can find my way back.
In November 1964, the FBI sent Martin Luther King Jr. a package, containing a letter and several recordings. Besides a few dirty jokes, the recordings mainly consisted of King having sex with women other than his wife. The letter concludes with a warning: “[T]here is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant. There is but one way out for you.” King and others interpreted this as a veiled threat, and a suggestion that he commit suicide. It’s unclear what the 34 days referred to, but presumably it was to prevent King from accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, on 10 December.
If you want to read more about this search “Cointelpro” (Counter Intelligence Program). There is a lot of information on the web but I’ll let you sort conspiracies (and FBI propaganda) from what you take as truth. I believe the anonymous activists (Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI) who broke in to the FBI to steal and leak these papers are as important and as deserving of respect as Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning.
When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.
It is very difficult. We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem - and yet the immediate always has hundreds of its own words clinging to it, short-leved and tenacious as barnacles. And it is wrong to scrape them off and substitute others. A poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer. The words around the immediate shrivel and decay like flesh around the body. No mummy-sheet of tradition can be used to stop the process. Objects, words must be led across time not preserved against it.
I yell “Shit” down a cliff at the ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fade. It will be dead as “Alas.” But if I put the real cliff and the real ocean into the poem, the word “Shit” will ride along with them, travel the time-machine until cliffs and oceans disappear.
Most of my friends like words too well. They set them under the blinding light of the poem and try to extract every possible connotation from each of them, every temporary pun, every direct or indirect connection - as if a word could become an object by mere addition of consequences. Others pick up words from the streets, from their bars, from their offices and display them proudly in their poems as if they were shouting, “See what I have collected from the American language. Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!” What does one do with all this crap?
Words are what sticks to the real. We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem. They are what we hold on with, nothing else. They are as valuable in themselves as rope with nothing to be tied to.
I repeat - the perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.
— Jack Spicer
“…Who is not more than his limitations,
who is not the blood in a wine barrel
and the wine as well? I too, having lost faith
in language have placed my faith in language…”
It really seemed to matter to everybody that other human beings were being treated in that way.
We didn’t just talk about it, we did things, I remember boycotts and marches and demos all being held because we couldn’t bear that people were being treated like that.
A few years ago I watched a documentary about life in Palestine.
There’s a section where a UN dignitary of some kind comes to do a photo opportunity outside a new hospital.
The staff know that it communicates nothing of the real desperation of their position, so they trick her into a side ward on her way out.
She ends up in a room with a child who the doctors explain is in a critical condition because they don’t have the supplies to keep treating him.
She flounders, awkwardly caught in the bleak reality of the room, mouthing platitudes over a dying boy.
The filmmaker asks one of the doctors what they think the stunt will have achieved.
He is suddenly angry, perhaps having just felt at first hand something he knew in the abstract. The indifference of the world.
“She will do nothing,” he says to the filmmaker. Then he looks into the camera and says: “Neither will you”.
I cried at that and promised myself that I would do something. Other than write a few stupid jokes I have not done anything. Neither have you.
“Realize, Allen, that if all the world were green, there would be no such thing as the color green. Similarly, men cannot know what it is to be together without otherwise knowing what it is to be apart. If all the world were love, then, how could love exist? This is why we turn away from each other on moments of great happiness and closeness. How can we know happiness and closeness without contrasting them, like lights?”
— Kerouac to Ginsberg, September 1948
“The point is that all thought is in-existence and unreality, the only reality is green, love. Don’t you see that it is just the whole point of life not to be self conscious? That it must all be green? All love? Would the world then seem incomprehensible? That is an error. The world would seem incomprehensible to the rational faculty which keeps trying to keep us from the living in green, which fragments and makes every thing seem ambiguous and mysterious and many colors. The world and we are green. We are in-existent until we make an absolute decision to close the circle of individual thought entirely and begin to exist in god with absolute unqualified and unconscious understanding of green, love and nothing but love, until a car, money, people, work, things are love, motion is love, thought is love, sex is love. Everything is love. That is what the phrase ‘God is Love’ means.”
— Ginsberg to Kerouac, October 1948
(via armenotti) (via poetbabble)
In May 1972 school students all over Britain went on strike over their conditions and future prospects. Although largely forgotten now, the Schools Action Union was front-page news, and as one of the six members of the committee that ran the SAU, seeing school students join university protesters in the past few weeks has been nostalgic.
Of course, age and experience brings wisdom. After nearly 40 years I would like to say this to the youngsters expressing their frustrations on the streets today: You probably think, as I did so long ago, that adults have ruined the world, accepted compromise and allowed a situation to develop that you are going to suffer from. You probably think that you are ignored, taken for granted, and expected to conform to a system that has ruined the ecology and which you will be expected to clean up. You may think that you have inherited a financial world system that you had no say about but which will direct your entire lives. You probably think that you are justified in breaking windows and shaking police vans – that’s what I used to think in 1972. You are absolutely right. I apologise on behalf of my generation of activists for not doing enough, not trying harder, for letting everything (except rock music) get progressively worse, and leaving you to run the revolution for us. Just try not to get nicked – it takes you out of action for too long.
SAU executive committee member 1971-72
What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting ‘extraordinary rendition’: flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.
So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.
Marlene by Gilberte Brassaï (1937)
“You are getting so beautiful they will have to make passport pictures of you 9 feet tall. What do you really want to do for a life work? Break everybody’s heart for a dime? You could always break mine for a nickel and I’d bring the nickel.”
-Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Marlene Dietrich (1950)