What generates the space in which one’s writing lends itself more toward expression than construction, vice versa? As of late, I keep hearing discussions on the difference between the aesthetics of the two (Reginald Shepherd’s old blog posts), mostly discussions noting that this type of discussion is occurring and less that it has any merit beyond such offhanded/handed-off auspices. What is striking about this particular analysis is that it deals quite specifically with what we occasionally call the “response poem,” or the poem that knows it is doing something in relation to something else, even if that doing is never seen as done. Coincidentally, since labeling is always a hot topic and the key for relational commentary, the poems many young writers have, as of late, offered up and sutured into journals can indeed be called response poems, or at least poems that know something of what they are doing, or are done from having just encountered something that invites the royalty behind their veil to want at do.
Yet this sort of analysis, of other said analysis, might only leave us betwixt the poem and the voice creating its totality, the thing and the thang, for can it not always be said that certain po-hums are more expressive and certain others more constructive? Yes, yes it can and now has been, but the particular gut of this conjecture is originally reacting to the idea of making space.
When one knowingly constructs the shape of a work, that is to say she/he boats the words with the current cringing below them, thus striding out to tide, they are concurrently abiding by the expression that an allotment of space has made and/or is making. For instance, the place Samuel Delaney, in his moving and commendable work Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, meets the same man over the course of years in the right rear of a pornographic movie theatre, is a known and even comfortable place for the continuance of pleasure. The space is a part of a larger place yet it is confined in its routine, albeit an oppositional untracking of the understood regulations of routine. Delaney, in turn, learns to construct an amalgamation of intention, resorting to the multifaceted organs of pleasure inasmuch as they are being met in a more defined pantheon of comfort—he goes to a place that in comparison to where we go (the poem) needs an inside and communal arena with similar voices and understood silences. Plainly slated, as poets we rarely shuck the awareness we have of that which precedes the poem, but when done, when neither construction of nor expression of known content faces off first, a poem reaches a pleasing height where its delicacy is a cruda we feel we are chomping on for the first time. However, and not entirely unnoticed, the removal of the idea of the poem, or as with Delaney the dislodging of the central meeting place, allows a poetic scope to careen from outside this very arena, almost as if it births then watches its kin settle into a space without ever governing that space with the laws of verse arrival.
So, what the fook am I getting at? Remember Stan, the gentle protagonist of Burnett’s Killer of Sheep? Okay, if not then pretend—now remember when he places the warm coffee cup against his cheek, checking out of the moment, sitting in the center of a place he is half-nakedly laboring in, shutting up the banalities of survival while reveling in one of the most arguably soft but revealing moments of the film? Consider the expression here: as an audience we are inclined to receive this moment as Stan’s expression of having found some calm in the impoverished off-hours of a gritty Los Angeles graydayscape. We are also aware that he may or may not be constructing, from sentience, a form of solidarity otherwise unattainable, especially given the societal boundaries the film black-and-whites us with. What shins me here is that warm cup against the cheek, the poem after the pornographic movie theatres have been dismantled, the prose encased in a completely unknown offering of voice as bound by neither expression nor construction but the ability to be just flat out of its known productions. As with Killer of Sheep, the most intense and visceral moments of such aesthetics reside in a sort of loud-mouthed silence, in a charge of wordery so heavy from the buds that its tongue slaps its spittle down without any sign of it having come from within or even outside of poetry’s convoluted mouth. Needless to say, I am now always searching for cheek moment of poetry.
I believe the debated relevancies of aesthetic expression and construction needn’t be at the forefront of our own productivity, but instead strut as sort of an aside to the ongoing play our poetry is for ourselves and for others. Whether or not one believes all their work is a grain in the sandcastle of their own poetic proficiency, it can still be said that each minor but advantageous output is rooted in something we search for in the mad and desirous realm of our own work. We (we being used quite generally) are less entering the field that magnetizes our passions and anxieties as writers and more so arising from that sensory field that has certain lines both raw and revolving—the things around us. I am forever reminded of Joshua Clover’s poem “Poem,” in which the following lines rattle all heretofore discussions: “we lie down in categories/and wake up in concepts.” Even if this is a farfetched question in relation to Clover’s lines, I offer it up for some purified think: what are the categorical constants that we sit down to when we make poems and do we come out of them with something notably conceived of? Do we have the street name of our first house hung above our scribble? Are the pleasures entwined in our inhabiting our own physical and mental places revamped for commercial betterment when inked? Where do we sit in the spectrum of voice, our scribble, and the relationship to that which clearly veins us all and will hopefully forever? No agenbite, just inwit.