He wishes to join again, an unreasonable speech out of context
Oppen's work strikes me, but I cannot say that it inspires love in me. Mostly,
I think, because such love would be unnecessary to his vision, running
dangerously close to antithetical--his world is wholly founded on a physics of
Firstly, he loathes the past tense, working out the patient puzzle of existence
through a series of affirmations: "There are things/we live among..." "The
emotions are engaged... This is, therefore, the language of New York". You can
count on one hand how often he uses the round vowels and extra consonants of
the past tense, and when he is compelled to do so, he quickly moves the
introduction of the past to a continuation of the present--either moving
forward to now, or taking now backwards to then, or he introduces a
conditional- could, may, if/then propositions... he seems to admit nothing but
an immediate sense of Time but an infinite, though often interchangable,
conception of space.
This style becomes a wholly new way of viewing the world when combined with his
avoidance of imagery, creating, instead, a kind of rhetorical moment that
posseses all the coherence of the image, or metaphor, but exists only in the
unique potentiality of language... "The bright light of shipwreck." "It is not
the wild glare/Of the world even that one dies in."
Or, in one of my favorites, one that brings me closest to what I would call
Because the known and the unknown
It is ennobling
If one thinks so.
If to know is noble
It is ennobling.
What sort of poetry is this? It is the style of the pedant transfigured by the
rapture and humility of the poet-- expository, phenomenological, but ever on
the edge of freedom, and often transfigured into it, and never without
yearning... but for what? (One a side note, the ease with which he uses the
words of others in his spare poetry, either quotes from authors or friends and
loved ones, moves him even further into a kind of poetry as essay...)
It is probably not surprising that a poet possesed by an inescapable present
and the mineral despair of matter itself would sieze on a numerical method of
inquiry, a dialectic between one and many, between a lost tribal past, who
"were credulous/Their things shown in the forest" and the city, New York, of
Or war. Only Crusoe attains singularity-tho it is denied, in the end, by
civilization's rescue-and he, even, is not a man, but an idea.
More than any poet I've read, Oppen has confronted openly-and despairingly-the
metaphysics of modern life-which is no longer metaphysics...
"These things at the limits of reason, nothing at the limits of dream, the
dream merely ends, by this we know it is the real
That we confront"
The dream is almost a condition of poetry, historically, a drug, an opiate that
transfigures the mundane into the sacred--this poetic mode Oppen shuns,
choosing instead an unyeilding sobriety and a present world that never goes
away. The future is only glimpsed in women and children-and not in them
personally, but in the fact of them. He uses poetry not to make the world go
away, or to bring down bits of heaven, but to crowd us with it, to examine
it... convinced that we are our civilization, and we are not now what we were,
and that "We will produce no sane man again."
Thank you very much for lending him to me. I need to start finding books of
my own of his; I feel like I've dipped into the middle of profound chess match,
but I don't know the opening, nor who wins. I feel, also, that his language is
good for me, as sobriety is rarely as tempting as drunkenness.