Friday, March 23, 2007

Process and Warmth

I've been thinking a lot about process, mostly because I'm not writing at the moment, so it's easier to think about things I've done, etc., then to think about actually writing. I keep finding that process has an apparent divide between 'seeing' and 'hearing'. And perhaps there's a third category, 'memory'.

Memory is the most self-conscious because it involves, for me, retrieving some kind of story line, motivation, purpose, situation. So memory then comes with its own baggage that can make a drag on art. The more something needs to be detached from its moorings in the world of experience, the more self-conscious it becomes, the more it drags upon a pre-existing reality and does not create its own.

Seeing is a residue or reflection of an image, something imagined, or something seen by the physical eye--a snapshot the mind takes. I'm finding that I don't write many poems through 'seeing' for a lot of reasons. One of them might be a lessening attraction to metaphor--and every time I think about that, I start thinking perhaps I should explore that.

Hearing is the most complex, really, because it is the most caught up in some kind of emotional valence. It's not just the expression or retrieval of a rhythm--it's the surfacing of a score that's making a music of words: sound, rhythm, and they feel like notes. So this word patterning does create and carry semantic meaning, but it also carries musical communication. And, therefore, it's emotive, so it doesn't obey the elision and deflection commonplaces that seem to guide a lot of poetry right now.

I'm not trying to suggest that eliding and/or deflecting emotion isn't appropriate--and I enjoy a lot of work that participates in that. But I also sense in my own process and work some kind of desire for emotional intensity. No matter what I do, it keeps surfacing.

I think, sometimes, about T.S. Eliot and William Wordsworth. Both struggle with the issue of emotional intensity and discuss it in their critical writings. Wordsworth speaks of poetry as 'the overflow of spontaneous emotions . . . recollected in tranquility.' Eliot writes of a desire to escape personality, to escape intensity into the cold arms of artifice. Yeats also writes in "Sailing to Byzantium" and "Byzantium" and some of the later poems about a tension between the emotional coldness of art and the warm emotive depth of the physical realm.

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