In Which Were Syntax Actually Cardiovascular, We Would Not Have to Ride that Recumbent Bicycle So Often
by William Hubbard
I have come far enough
from where I was not before
to have seen the things
looking in at me through the open door
and have walked tonight
to see the moonlight
and see it as trees
and shapes more fearful
because I feared
what I did not know
but have wanted to know.
-- "A Form of Women”, Robert Creeley
The psyche recalls circling its body, saying "I have walked tonight/ by myself/ to see the moonlight/ and see it as trees." To walk by one's self, past or around it, observing. And where one set of eyes sees the moonlight, the other sees only the moonlight in the eyes of the first, or more precisely the reflections of trees that bear in turn the reflected light of the moon, itself a reflection. How utterly complex is seeing any object by moonlight, how lovely the compacted testimony of so many mediums.
We do well to see, always, “shapes more fearful” than the ones met and actualized—always the “things looking in…through the open door”, informing, mediating present concern but not yet, in any definite sense, revealed to the self. I suppose we never really know where we are, what we are seeing, only that we are someplace removed from where we have been, what we have seen, places and people we know intimately by their disappearance.
A new place, its shape: a new body, literally, to live there. Where the old one has gone is for those who knew its specificities to wonder; it belongs to them now, however intangibly, launched upon a path separate from its successor. The living self, the evolving form, goes about inhabiting psychic terrain through and throughout the constant flux of knowing and forgetting. And yet another duality emerges, the idea of the self stepping away from its form, its container, observing, and still not knowing how to assuage the body’s losses.
Applied to poetry, we might say that there is writing poetry with particular attentions, and then there is writing attentive poetry. The subject, ever complex and elusive, resists being written about, and is not above changing itself into something else to avoid its own revelation. The subject is faster than the poet, more intelligent, and discovers the poet’s attention while the poem is being written, launching into a metamorphosis he can only pray to document. In this sense, a good poem evidences the chosen content’s avoidance of the form imposed upon it, the result being that the form reflects the natural dynamism, the uncontainable, chimerical quality of the content itself.
"Form is never more than an extension of content."
Creeley reiterates elsewhere, "the plan is in the body, the plan is in the body." The particularities, the joints, of language, foregrounded as possible, are, in the poem’s case, that body. What will be said, and what will not be said. The idea that the language—English, yes, but not necessarily—possesses within it the wisdom, by where it will go and where not go, and how it will go there, to inform and direct the vary actions it also documents. Syntax itself is cardiovascular, distributing the energy that keeps the body vital.
As for the classroom itself: if one is to know the particular mind and body he or she has been given, it becomes necessary always to fight the homogenizing force. We misunderstand ourselves most frequently and most gravely in thinking we hold things in common with others. That said, attention to the imperatives of ‘sense narrative’ is more than an interesting experiment. The one addressed is so often the lover, and therein the need to communicate directly sees finally its ultimate iteration. Irony that the lover is gone, must be, always, in the moment of the poem’s company.
The idea of faith, faith in the love of some thing not oneself. And knowing it will go away. To love poetry, for example, is a comfort—that such a love will exists amid the rest of life, happening, happening, regardless. To step away and say, even that may go, even the purest of faiths, because in the end there is only complexity, changes, endings. Even the faith in love, the love of faith—that these two may also die, and we live on without them. Our bodies of course remain, eating, fucking: and what fun are these without their respective faiths?
And yet there is also nothing sublime, to my knowledge, about relinquishing faith and care for all persons and objects. Tangible things, too, can have a sustaining, otherworldly mystery. Such mystery lies in our own habitation of an object outside our body, in our thinking that it might become us, or us it, and that one of the two would be improved by the alteration. Poems habitate. And there are always the two sets of muscle and bone living in the sad hut of a poem, the one that thinks to get rest and the one that wishes to journey on, to move past the exhaustion.
Learning is always a process of interpretation. In the classroom, Creeley spoke of whatever he wanted, whatever occupied his thoughts most immediately, which was rarely poetry as poetry. The first line of his syllabus always said, "all roads lead out of Rome, rather than into, in this instance." And of course we all “fear what we did no know but have wanted to know.” Fear alone draws us into the black hallway, groping about anxiously for the light. We want to know nothing is there. And if something is there, better to confront it and get the macabre scene over with. Nothing is worse than awaiting the desperate terms of slow horror.
In short, there is a responsibility in saying anything at all, and it is the particular duty of the poet to accept and fulfill every obligation associated with saying, being the sayer. Elsewhere, of course, language is about deception, about disguising who is talking. High school essays and business memos and government reports—webs of passive syntax hiding the action and subject of every sentence. Inanimate, powerless, or dispensable objects are foregrounded as if they were responsible for the confusion, for the policies, for the fuck-ups and disasters. Language, as always, is in danger of losing the people that produce it, in danger of becoming self-generating, redundant, and dead. Words want us, need us, to come into being, and though they possess wisdom themselves, we have the bodies that say them, that write them, that are written upon.
William Hubbard is a writer living in New York.