Friday, December 12, 2008

BASHO'S POND: Aphorisms on Poetry and Poets

Poetry, Eros of Absence.—The sixth sense is the sense of loss. The ab-sense.
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Advice to a Bad Poet.—Try to write a bad poem. You may write a good one by mistake.
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Poetry humiliates ideas: it runs them to earth.
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Poetry is what is gained in mistranslation.
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The Oyster.—Give me one small imperfection and I will build a perfect world around it.
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Taming the Theorizing Impulse.—Apollo has a frenzy all his own.
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Don’t let your intellect make you stupid.
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Poets take nothing for granted. This is their gift.
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Look at the world as it performs itself on the time-lapse film of your imagination and growth and decay are suddenly sudden. The corpse of a deer is hyperactive with a zoo of living things feeding on fruitful rot. As the flower grows it exfoliates so quickly you can see it turning inside out. Finally the death appears, that which was innermost and most germane; now it is like ripeness from the seed.
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A poet is a topological magician who turns things inside out to demonstrate their true properties; before our very eyes they bare the life and death inside them as a single thing.
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Poets are closer to Heaven than the rest of us and also closer to the ground. Sacred and a bit silly. Monkey gods…
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Poet: More godlike and more monkey than the rest of us. (Stevens: a touch of the peasant).
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The poet: a kind of god. A kind of dog.
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Animals walk on all fours. Poets walk on all metaphors.
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Language: the clew and the labyrinth.
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The paths that thread this wilderness of words are made of words.
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Theseus, look down at the thread you are holding: fiber within fiber, it too is a labyrinth.
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Piranesi.—The labyrinth has no hope, it is lost, it has given up on itself. What you are threading is the structure of despair.
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The anti-taxonomy that is poetry picks apart dense categories, like balls of thread, into the separate filaments of their exceptions: oddities, hybrids, border phenomena, the hapax legemenon, the lusus naturae. These threads are then reassembled in Borges’ Emperor’s Catalogue.
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Words bead at the mouth of the world like the fat dew of the honeysuckle.
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Analyzing great poets is like shining a flashlight into a Klieg light. They illuminate us almost infinitely more than vice-versa.
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Wilde Reading Dante in Prison.—When he looked down at the paper, his eyes, whose powers of resolution suffering had greatly magnified, saw not the lines but that which lay under and between the lines: an intricate cross-weave of fibers resembling worms, or rope.
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Wilde’s sin was to live in the world as if it was his private Eden.
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Pose was Wilde’s repose.
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Because Wilde refused to take anything solemnly we assume he took nothing seriously. This is a mistake.
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There is a certain kind of poetry, full of a desperate cleverness, a plangent sophistication of philosophical abstractions, a snarky academic hipness, and dark intimations of Foucaultian knowingness, that can only be called “grad studenty.”
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The plop of the frog in Basho’s pond: the splash the poet makes. The sound of one hand clapping: the poet’s fame.
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Entertainers amuse, poets bemuse.
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Poetry is the most beautiful vampire that has ever known me.
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Once you have run through the totality of rhymes for a word you seem to have exhausted the totality of the world (insofar as it has no totality).
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A poem is an actor narrating the story of itself. It must deliver its lines flawlessly or we will not suspend our disbelief in it.
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In poetry, a poised complexity of tone is one of the last signs of mastery. Just as in learning a foreign language one masters intonation last of all.
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We are too hip to want to write a “classic” anymore. We only want to write something that will have an influence and be remembered. In other words, a classic.
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If you are willing to spend hours, or perhaps days, or perhaps years, worrying over the arrangement of three words, or the choice between two words, or the choice between one word and no words at all, then perhaps you will become a writer.
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Some of us are authors only in order to be readers. No one is writing the books we want to read, so we write them ourselves.
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A poem should end a little abruptly, a little sooner than it should. This frees its profoundest reverberations. A too-neat closure would merely trap them inside the poem. You wouldn’t feel them in your bones.
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A poem should stop just short of where you expect. If the poem were a car, you would be thrown slightly forward in your seat. You would suddenly feel the forces at work, their weight and speed and power. You would feel shocked—pleasantly shocked.
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Poetry teaches you what you are. Not in a pedantic way, more like the rope around Villon’s neck: It will teach my neck the weight of my ass.
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All poetry is experimental poetry.
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Poetry offers the naked poverty of everything but its excess.
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A great poem seen through the prism of a mediocre imagination looks impossibly awkward, like a whale in a swimming pool.
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Sometimes the part of you that only wants to write meets the part of the world that only wants to be written. Poetry is a kind of dating service for words and things.
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Writing is the art of writing down precisely what you did not know you meant until you wrote it down.
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Revising constantly is like playing a game of chess in which you get to take every move over and over again until your opponent finally resigns. At this rate, monkeys would defeat Grand Masters. (Perhaps the same monkeys who wrote the works of Shakespeare?)
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Poets are intellect’s ombudsmen.
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Poet’s Skepticism.—Sure it works, but does it look good on paper?
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The poet’s syllogism: I think, therefore iamb.
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The poet, that symbol-minded fellow.
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Dryden and Pope discovered the grandeur of stupidity.
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Blake, a brilliant mystic, hated the intellectually sophisticated with a sophisticated passion.
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Poe: three-quarter poet.
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Is it still possible to celebrate our American days through the sunlight of Whitman’s profane Ordinaries?
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Frost hid behind the mask of having no mask.
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It has been said that in America you are either a saint or a stranger. Stevens disguised himself as one of the saints, the better to survive among them as a stranger.
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Stevens.—Every poem is a last look at the ducks.
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The more puzzled and puzzling Ashbery’s poems appear to us, the more we believe in their authenticity. A kind of confidence game in reverse.
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The frightening fecundity of Neruda’s early work: each line contains several poems, each word several lines of poetry.
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Neruda as Walt Whitman as Magic Realist.—A torrent of surreal metaphors, each one born pregnant with other metaphors, all pushing for an explosive birth, in a war of extravagances—and here and there in the storm of these dreams, he is sitting in the barber’s chair, dropping off his clothes at the dry cleaner’s...
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Rimbaud.—I is not only another, I is several others, including me, myself, and I forget the other. This causes a systematic derangement of the census.
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A way with words? Away with words!
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I own the copyright to my poems, not their meaning.
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Beware doctrine, beware theories. The poem knows better than you do what the poem is about. It does not take orders from the Ministry of Meaning.
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There is meanness in expecting everything to mean. And a kind of mediocrity.
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The power of poetry is not that it gives us metaphors but that it gives us metaphors that turn out not to be.
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The silences in a poem say more than what is said.
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The poet makes words out of the absence of words.
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The mockingbird's cadenza has no beginning and reaches past its ending as if it had no end.

Arthur Chapin

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Extraordinary. By the way, is this a forum to critique? If so, I would suggest leaving one aphorism out in order to strengthen another around it (I'm not a poet but I drink in every one of these aphorisms--oh boy, does that mediocre metaphor pain you to hear? But I won't ask forgiveness, as I'm not a poet.)

Denise-from-the-site-of-origin-of-the-Bone Songs

Arthur Chapin said...

Denise, which aphorism are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

"The silences in a poem say more than what is said". I think leaving this out makes the following aphorism "The poet makes words out of the absence of words" more powerful. I was probably reading something on John Cage recently and his preoccupation with silence "speaking" in his musical compositions and didn't like the way that association interfered with my experience of your work--so I personally would prefer only the latter aphorism staying there.

Hope I'm not speaking out of turn, just jealously guarding my purity of experience, Denise