18 March 2005

Distinctly American

Tomorrow I'm skipping JSF in favor of Robert Creeley. Excitement abounds!

Robert Creeley in Conversation with Alan Riach:

I remember British friends were saying, 'God! You Americans are endlessly talking theory and prosody and all this bullshit! Don't you have anything? Don't you have any tradition? I mean, don't you have any way of writing that at least locates you in the same way that you might, you know, locate ways of dressing or furniture for your house or something? But do you have to be so endlessly paranoid about what you're doing? I mean, who cares? If you like the poem isn't that the point? And there's theories and projects and I mean...'

'Well,' I said, 'It's probably we're defensive and we've got to have some means whereby to explain ourselves to some possible other who hasn't as yet come along but one day may show up.'

There weren't a great number of people asking about how do you write a poem but something like Williams's I Wanted to Write a Poem is poignant in that way...


AR: Does that mean that so much of this is essentially personal, lyrical, individual expression? That the poetry has to emerge from a kind of imagination that's worked from a charge that is personal, rather than something, let's say... Well, Pound, for example, one of the weights he bequeathes, is his position as a man speaking politically for people in a public way. He might be misguided, or horrible, or wrong, but he's engaged in a social language which isn't the language of a love lyric, or of a personal confession or expression of personal belief or faith or love. It's a different kind of address...

RC: It is and it isn't. [...] One can think of Faulkner, who might be proposed to such, but he really isn't doing that. These are very singular and isolating stories, although they propose to be a landscape of various social climate in fact they are, literally, they are the Snopes family, and they're very particular. Look, they're not the world by any imagination. And then you think of someone like Dos Passos. No. The authority in Dos Passos is Dos Passos, not the world that he's... It's like the photographer, he's taking those pictures. By and large the American genius such as it is and I think it is has to do with the singular lyric.

You know, I think it's Walt Whitman, 'Song of Myself' -- I think that's the prototypical American gesture, poetically and imaginatively and artistically, and I think it's as true of Emily Dickinson as it is of Pound as it is of Poe as it is of Melville. I think Melville again could be that, certainly, could be an epic possibility, and yet its resolution is Ahab and the white whale and that's not a collective enterprise no matter whether it takes whaling to get there. So that I think what defines American art is (quote) whatever it is we call 'lyric' and the singular.

And I think, for example, I remember years ago as a kid, my dear friend Rainer Gerhardt, and we were talking about just this fact of things, and he said, 'You know, even during the worst moments of Hitler's regime,' he said, 'when I wrote or said anything it never occurred to me I wasn't writing for all of Germany. Not writing to it, but as a person of it. Never thought of myself as separated. No matter how obviously shattered the country was, I was always all Germany.'

And I said, 'Well, you know, in America, I can't think of a single person I know who would ever presume or think that he or she was all America.' You know, 'I hear America singing' -- and that's as close as you'd get to it. It wouldn't be: 'I am America singing' -- it would be: 'I hear...

AR: That's a very important point.

RC: I thought so. I've never forgotten it.

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