"No facts but in things"
Signed: “J. H. Prynne, Outer Hebrides.”. I am prompted by my present isolation from people and books to offer a few vague, unsupported and highly compressed reflections about the kind of work you are printing, much of which seems to be in the mode most prevalent among a section of the more interesting American writers. Briefly, my viewpoint is this: current American writing doesn’t seem to have gone much further than the basic Imagist resolution at the beginning of the century—the breakthrough of Pound and Williams. Not only do few writers seem to wish to go any further—or advance in any other direction—but hardly any of the current endeavor at new experiment seems aimed at developing technical means for a change of attitude or approach.
The implicit anti-intellectualism of the current short lyric—its explicit dogma is the pre-occupation with Zen and derived vatic utterance—leads to the capture of the small moment of contact between humans; but more often of the instantaneous insight by the percipient into a landscape or environment not containing other beings that we can conceive of as living—over days and weeks—their own, various lives. The area of complete, fused success is that (generally) of momentary perception, mostly a sensitive refraction of what is seen and heard. We are not, really and in fact, far from Pater, though infinitely more poised and well-disciplined into the tentative casualness of mood that is so much more seriously outward than ever Pater was. And the sense of urgent concern, the voice speaking from the center, is there; but working always through the small, amenable event, the personal image. The writer’s total involvement opens out the relevance of this experience to infinite dimensions, fills the horizon, and genuinely. This is a vast achievement, especially in view of the deliberately small aims and over-developed musculature of most English writers of verse, sheltering with provincial timidity behind the irony inherited from Eliot. It stimulates in a way that American verse has never done before, and English not (perhaps) for over 150 years: but there is seldom evidence of equipment or intention to control and shape that stimulation, which often remains a near-vicious indulgence (I overstate, this I realise). But a lot of American poems now being written are opiate, offering substitutes for experience instead of modes of access. Once we enter the world of these short poems, we may move at will over a wide plain, shape the course of our progress through it according to a personal choice. The real concern behind the writing is enough to exclude the outer world and provide the motive power for movement; yet the precise direction is our own.
Hence perhaps the importance of the journey itself as an image, especially in longer poems; the motif of action without sufficient motive; the conscious arbitrariness with which the small event becomes the occasion for serious writing; the general rebuttal of the will as an element in human experience. Hence perhaps the way so many poems need the pool of silent reflection that follows their close, into which the strong concerns not shaped into final relevance by the last line can lose themselves in free contemplation. For the concern must have a fully articulated object (so I believe); the object should not be the poet’s anterior experience (Eliot’s fundamental error), but the poem’s achieved shape. This is not only the words as isolated monads, but their ordering; the grammar of feeling; the movement forward speeded or checked by the adverbs, bent, inverted or split by the conjunctions, maintained always by the constant verb. And this is not simply the imitative verse-movement of the Augustans, but a unity on a much deeper level. It is the mind at work, directing the convictions or importance to what is in fact important, working every preposition into the final contours of the poem and the shape of its own defining.*
No, but I'm definitely gonna get a copy of the Kenner book soon. I read a few things online about the Papyrus poem, first saw it in poems for the millennium but didn't have a clue what it was when I first read it.have you read the chapter off the pound era called 'fragments'?