Tuesday, October 1, 2013

John A. Nieves on "Spin-the-Globe Charades"


The Stakes of the Game

“Spin-the-Globe Charades” began as a kind of willful hallucination one summer afternoon. I wondered about the potential for games to connect playful imagination and the historiographical impulse to selectively narrate that often ends in distorted romanticism. I thought back to my childhood, when my little sister and I would pore over atlases wondering what places with names we couldn’t even say right were like. What did the kids play there? What was their favorite dessert? Of course, we were naïve to think dessert was universal, or even could be. A few years later, this game morphed into globe spinning. I would give my junior high’s library globe a spin once a week, then look up everything I could about where my finger had landed. Much of the time, that was ocean and I had to spin again—once six times before I hit land. The truth of the matter is that I was not really looking up places as much as the people who lived and died in them.

For the poem’s project, I imagined collapsing those steps as a kind of surrealistic game of charades. After the idea began to solidify, I went to my campus library and spun the globe until I hit land four times. The number four probably came from my seasonal mindset—I was working on a full moon sequence (one section of which, “Harvest Moon,” also appears in the new BPJ). Now I had material. I would research these four places then sketch them at specific moments in time. To assert the inexactitude of these vignettes (the amnesia of history about the details of the lives of those who lived it), I would withhold the identity of the places. I kept my eye peeled for both the beauty and the terror in each location I chose.

Then I began to tackle the problem of form. What shape would best deliver my hallucination, accenting both the rigidity of time/space and the mutability of historiography and memory? Again, I returned to the moon series. I decided that I would ground the poem in the dependability of the seasons. Each of the four sections (seasons) would have three stanzas, one for each of its full moons. I wanted regular stanzas to add a level of scaffolding to the quickly shifting images within them. The poem got unruly in drafts before I instituted that formal restriction. In the end, I settled on tercets for the unsettling effect they had; I did not want something as solid as quatrains or as reliably wispy as couplets. After I had found the shape of the poem, I created the image pool for each section, then laid the image pool on the frame of the game. It was difficult to strike the right balance between the game parlor time/space and the geo-historical time/spaces. I went through dozens of drafts before I felt sure I had reached the necessary balance.

At this point, it was four months after the idea struck me on that sweaty afternoon. I had a poem, but I did not have a title, and the asterisks separating the sections were not doing anything for the poem. I then began to understand that the poem’s premise was complex and that both the title and the headings should work to make it more apparent. In the end, the title introduced the idea of the game and the sections acted as touchstones for the reader to return to it. I also wanted a sense of progression, to mirror the march of history.

The last step (as much as there is ever a last step) in writing the poem was to rethink the soundscape of each section to make sure it closely approximated the content of its particular time/space. I paid close attention to sibilants, back and front vowels and the number of voiced stops in each section. I worked to make the sections as sonically distinct as they were lexically while also maintaining the poem’s voice. I’m not sure if I wholly succeed, but I gave it a solid go. I “finished” the poem just in time for winter.


I hope I captured side-by-side nonchalance and terror, play and display. I don’t fully know what it means, but I know it matters deeply to me to express it: that a globe is a story tied up in nostalgia for the wonders of a wide world, one which history hangs over in its selective recording and erasure. In the tiny moments I authored, I tried to speak to what has been forgotten insofar as any of us ever can. 

29 comments:

  1. I admire how intricately you balance all of these ideas inside the larger narrative. I love the idea of speaking histories, spinning the globe and contemplating others' existences. Great article, great poem.

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  2. Thank you very much. I often find the idea of history as time/space both fascinating and daunting--like at each convergence of where and when there is some cosmic fingerprint no amount of dusting will ever truly reveal. Sometimes, I go for the extreme partial anyway.

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  3. Love this poem, it’s such a lie. Like all fully realized fabrications, it now says precisely what it doesn’t mean, and how lucky we are not to have to believe any of it!

    Plato was so right, wasn’t he? Poets are never to be trusted and particularly not with our beliefs or with anything good, proper, clean or spherical for that matter. And the spiritual? Thank God for poets who send the spiritual straight back to bed where it belongs.

    A most wonderfully occult celebration of the geographer’s fantasy, I’d say, and one of the most effective love poems I’ve come across for a very long time.

    Many, many thanks, John Nieves. A delight and, high compliment, one that a creative reader can embrace over and over again without ever growing impatient or sated.

    Christopher

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  4. It's so interesting to read about the complex thought processes that went into the writing of this poem. I'm guessing that this is probably a fairly common part of your process of composition. When you make formal choices such as including four sections (for the seasons), with three stanzas each (like the season's moons), is this choice something you do primarily for yourself, to provide a (hidden) scaffolding on which to build the poem, or do you also intend for the careful reader to be able to discover some of these subtle manipulations?

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  5. I’m interested in the word "dusting" in John Nieves’ reply to Chelsea Dingman just above -- didn't get it at first which made the moment when I did even better. So the forensic expert "dusts" for fingerprints as both the archaeologist and the housewife do, but the former reveals the crime while the other two clean up the scene and, in the process, destroy quite a lot of the evidence.

    So can we ever outwit such a poem, Claire? And should we even try?

    Like looking for “the extreme partial” in the debris at the Large Hadron Collider. Isn't that what you meant, John? Isn’t that what you usually go for in a poem, the God particle, the ghost inside the weight of things after the weight itself has been obliterated?

    I know a painter who works by piling up layers in her paintings, each layer a distinct painting in itself, fully realized and complete. She feels the success of the final painting depends on this process although it has destroyed some of her best work to get there, work which can be seen only by the artist herself as a memory.

    The paintings are quite literally abstract sea-scapes in which the detritus of low tide is entirely covered up by the rising water.

    C.

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  6. Dear Christopher and Claire,

    Thank you for your amazing comments. Christopher, I did indeed mean "the ghost inside the weight of things after the weight itself has been obliterated." That is very well put. While we can only motion at gesture lost to history, we must try even if our movements never even get close. I think empathy lies in that motion, that stubborn attempt to feel something particular that we, in fact, haven't. Claire, I try to add as many echoes of meaning as I can to the poem in any way I can. I guess I believe that even if no one ever necessarily calls them out, that they somehow feel them. I know that is a wishy washy answer, but it as as true of one as I can think of. I am often very careful--though I try very hard to let moments of impulse punch through the careful planning. I only hope that shows. You both rock.

    Best,
    John

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  7. Thanks, John -- I'm always a bit nervous to say what I mean.

    And by contrast I'd like to reiterate that "Spin-the Globe Charades" is still for me a wonderfully rich and detailed love poem as well -- "moments of impulse" do indeed "punch through," indeed almost as deliciously as they do in Jane Austen. I mean, you don't know where to look!

    C.

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  8. John,
    Your ability to layer the poem so flawlessly with meaning has a spinning effect in and of itself. Will my brain land on interpreting it in a broad worldly historical sense, a personal historical sense, some other hinted meaning, or will I be fully swept up into this hallucinogenic state? The sense of urgency is well placed and strong within this poem and brings your hallucination to the mind of the reader.

    I am interested to know if the fact that you could never fully envelop the globe impacted this poem? Meaning regardless of how many times you spin the globe you can never hit every spot or become omniscient, there is always an "unknowing" for lack of a better term.

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    1. Dear Melanie,
      I think the "unknowing" you speak of is essential to a poem. In my experience, every poem is an act of discovery and that discovery is always partial. Every new shred of feeling or understanding a poem helps to accumulate becomes, for me, a new tool for empathy. Whether I am reading or writing a poem, I am always trying to grow in the process. I don't think I ever expect to know it all, or even very much, but I guess I always hope to have something I didn't have before when I leave an encounter with any well-wrought verse.

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  9. "Well wrought," John? You mean like a still unravish’d bride of quietness?

    Indeed, I’d say there is that well-wrought quality in “Spin-the-Globe Charades” too, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. And personally I’d prefer not to mess it about by pulling it apart to find out how it works.

    I think most contemporary readers are less interested in poems that are complete in themselves, they’re so conditioned to deconstruct what they read. "Beauty is truth?" Come on, they’re going to say, a poem’s got to signify more than that. There's got to be more going on than just what the poem says it’s about, otherwise what was the poet doing all that time, and what are we going to do with our time ourselves while we read it? We’re writers after all.

    The assumption is that poems don’t speak, just challenge an astute reader to find out how they’re made. It’s a writer’s market -- when we write about poetry in our times we write mainly about writing.

    I like what you say about how you made “Spin-the-Globe Charades” a lot, and I believe you, but a measure of the poem’s success is that the process never gets in the way of what it is. Which is simple, exquisite, attractive and fun with only the title to suggest it might refer to geography, though goodness knows we all know what we spin beside globes, and what's also geographic!

    Christopher

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  10. Hi Christopher,

    True that the mystery in the brief utterance is a strong part of its allure. While it was fun to write of the process, it is not the point of the poem. In fact, the process never is. The poem is, of course, an effect. A co-authored act of translation between two minds that may never meet. In that way, I suppose, all poems are about history and distance. This drives me in my work to try to reach as honestly as I can into that distance--to discover and maybe be discovered with. If that makes sense (I'm not sure I am saying that as well as I hope).

    Best,
    John

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  11. You know who does “mystery in the brief utterance” best in poetry, John? John Donne!

    Donne’s isn’t your style at all, and his philosophical concerns are completely different from your own. It's your faith that’s similar to his as you move toward the start of a poem, how you focus on signs that are important to you right to the limit of comprehension and beyond, seeing how far you can go in visualizing associations even to the point where logic and consistency break down -- and then taking delight in the accidental patterns that emerge, including narrative threads I feel sure you never dreamed were there – porticos, intruders, couches and ditches in vast theatrical landscapes as intimate as boudoirs, yet never forgetting where it started or getting overly excited. Even off-the-wall stuff like Giordano Bruno perhaps, or the scuola metafisica of Giorgio di Chirico, or the Red Book of C.G.Jung. Extreme trips into space that end up on the beach like Carl Sagan’s science in Contact!

    One suspects that most of the discoveries in modern physics have come about like this too, playing about with the extreme limits of language as much as with extreme mathematics, and having the courage and dottiness to believe seriously in what pans out!

    (Did you see that Peter Higgs just got the Nobel?)

    Christopher

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  12. John Nieves has had the generosity and skill to tell us how “Spin-the Globe Charades” emerged out of an intricate personal ritual, but he also insists the poem doesn’t depend on its origins – the author can tell us about the early life of a poem but the final product doesn’t have to depend on it, he suggests, and I certainly agree. In the end “Spin-the Globe Charades” comes to us as a well-wrought artifact, honest and streamlined –“simple, exquisite, attractive and fun,” I found myself calling it. That’s not to say such a ‘meditative’ poem can’t spin a reader as far and as fast as he or she wants to be spun -- which is, and always has been, a function of what could be called ‘useful,’ ‘practical’ or ‘relevant’ art. Indeed, you don’t have to write difficult poetry to transport a reader, as great poets like Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney have shown us over and over again.

    But how much of our poetry today is like that, i.e. useful to anybody but other poets, or practical anywhere in the outside world? Indeed, it would seem to me most American poets are marching to a very different drummer from the rest of us these days, but what is it?

    I've been thinking a lot about that in relation to this poem. Any ideas?

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  13. I'm compelled by your comments in regard to form, specifically, "In the end, I settled on tercets for the unsettling effect they had; I did not want something as solid as quatrains or as reliably wispy as couplets." Unsettling, yes, but as a reader I also feel as though the tercets provide a transitory effect, allowing us to move from spin to spin without the harsh grounding quatrains would have provided. I've been thinking a lot about form recently, so initially I questioned why "wispy" couplets wouldn't work for a poem such as this, but in unearthing it layer by layer, it seems as though couplets would not have given the reader enough of a foothold to truly dig deep enough into the poem.

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  14. Thank you, Christopher and Jordan for your fine and engaging comments.. Christopher, I see many contemporary poems still offering useful emotional information, little bits of empathy I could not have arrived at on my own. Granted this is different than some of Frost or Heaney's most didactic work, but I still ind it useful. I also find some bits of wisdom in some of the more gnomic moments of contemporary poetry. Granted, not all poems have much to offer. I do read some poetry that is hopelessly glib or gimmicky and wonder what it could be trying to communicate really. Jordan, I really enjoy your analysis. I often find that eventually the poem will tell you the shape it wants--or more accurately, it will refuse every shape it doesn't want until you land on one it agrees with. In the case of this poem, the shape was/is actively part of what I want to say, if that makes sense. Actually, I think probably, for me at least, that is always true. I guess I'm Bakhtinian in that sense. I don't see a separation of form and content. Do you in your work?

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  15. To reply to you first, Jordan, I just don’t read this poem in the same way you do, I'm afraid, so you’ve got to help me. For one thing, I thought tercets were based on a regular rhythm and rhyme scheme which defines the form, not just by groups of 3 lines. I like the way “Spin-the-Globe Charades” looks on the page very much, and that certainly helps me to relate to the images section by section as well as to the fact that each section is performing a ritual over and over again as the title suggests. I think that is what you mean by “spin" as well, or is it more than that? But I don’t hear any of that in the tercet form as employed in the poem -- if I simply heard the poem read out loud without seeing it on the page I wouldn't get any of that. I mean, the syntax and enjambment completely obliterate the tercet form, don’t they?

    That’s not a criticism of the poem as an artifact, which I much admire -- it's more a criticism of the terms which you are using to talk about it. It seems to me they just aren't appropriate.

    I do get an echo of the beautiful Italian origins of the form but only in the visual lay-out, not in the sound or the sense. Indeed, I would say the term “tercet” could even be a bit misleading in the context, but then I’m not quite sure what you mean by it (I think for John Nieves it’s about composition in a visual sense, and that it is one of the ways he has created what is essentially a magical event. And spinning is the same. (Am I right, John?)

    Another word you use that is hard for me is “layers” – I just don’t see them. What I like so much about the poem is the flatness of the imagery, in fact, a sort of surrealist stage-lighting that makes each object in the tableaux stand out sharply and unambiguously almost like a bas relief -- di Chirico, Balthus or Puvis de Chavannes, or Giotto even. Layers would suggest shadows to me, nuances, adjectives and adverbs, for example, or qualifying phrases with deliberately ambiguous objects, and there just aren’t any at all.

    Finally, is this really a poem that you “dig deep” into, any more than you “dig deep” when you contemplate a gilded icon? It’s more a poem for meditation than exploration, it would seem to me, for staying still in one place in a trance-like apotheosis more than submitting to analysis.

    Great icons are said to be written by the hand of God, not painted. I would say this was a poem like that, and that John Nieves’ painstaking preparations for writing it are more like spiritual disciplines than rhetorical craft. Indeed, I'd say that’s what is so special about it.

    Christopher

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  16. Interesting reply, John -- I think I'm with you almost all the way.

    But Robert Frost and/or Seamus Heaney "didactic?" I mean when -- I mean, please give me an example? They're both such consummate artists neither of them would be capable unless they were writing a caricature!

    I get so irritated by that word in the context of our poetry discourse --- as if having an idea were somehow less substantial than having an epiphany or a bowel movement, indeed as if any human word weren't essentially an opinion!

    And what's so wrong with the realm of ideas anyway, I want to know? The next thing you know MFA programs will be banning the urn from the "Ode" because it teaches beauty is truth!

    Christopher

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  17. Hi Christopher,
    Perhaps we do read poems differently. I see poems as both a seen form and a heard form--my personal favorite poems have a tension between the two. To me, one of the main differences between poetry and prose is that the line of poetry has the potential to mean in more ways than just its syntax, so I personally always strive for that.

    As far as poems of ideas, I am all for them. In fact, my own poem, "Labwork," which appeared in BPJ a few issues back is a poem I consider idea driven. For the sake of your request for examples, let's for the sake of ease, stick with Frost and greatest hits. I concede any of these could be troubled by a careful reader, but to many "The Road Not Taken," "Out, Out," and "Mending Wall" are poems with accessible lessons. I think that because of how hyper media-soaked society has become, people are always being told from every angle what they should or should not think about certain things. Because of this, they have less of a penchant for works that do the same--unless they are called out as such.

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  18. I don't think the lessons in "The Road Not Taken," "Out, Out," and "Mending Wall" are so "accessible" at all -- Indeed, all three say precisely what they're not supposed to say about our failures both of nerve and of vision. "Has made all the difference?" You bet it hasn't --that most famous of all "didactic" cop-outs is in reality a sad, slow-motion train-wreck, an insignificant, incontinent dactylic slow-burn.

    And "Out Out?" It's the brief candle if there ever was one, and the tale told by a true idiot for sure -- how we're all so proud of ourselves when we do a man's work even when we don't know how to handle the machinery and aren't men yet anywhere near. And we all look on, and we're all implicated in our own children's folly and often the cause of their deaths. And how many of the painful events of the Frost household weren't just like that, and the child in fact lucky to be dead!

    And "Mending Walls?" Does anybody teach that any more? Obviously some do as there are still so many who haven't come to terms with the whole, horrible Frost who emerged when the biographies really got going, what is more came to love what he said as much as they came to see how they were just like him.

    Too personal they'll say next?

    Tell me what isn't!

    Christopher

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    1. Dear Christopher,
      Nearly everything is personal, certainly every poem, which is an intimate exchange between author and reader. Regardless of where we agree or disagree, I am very happy to meet someone so passionate and excited about poetry. Thank you for how much thought and effort you have put into these comments. I am looking forward to how the rest of the month unfolds. Also, I read "Connemara Trousers." I found it moving and engaging. Beautiful poem.
      Best,
      John

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    2. Thanks for that, John -- and of course "Connemara Trousers" is a visual poem too, one that has to be seen laid out line by line and section by section if it is to be fully grasped, indeed as much so as "Spin-the Globes Charades."

      I had hoped you would understand I wasn't suggesting in my remarks to Jordan that your "tercets' were deficient, just that as you used them they were creating a visual as much as a poetic event -- "seen form and heard form" you call it," and yes, the tensions between the two can be fierce, sometimes even a rivalry!

      C.

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  19. I’m just about to fly off to Wyoming for 3 weeks, so I have to get in what I want to say now or never. So please forgive me, John Nieves – and remember, everybody, that I love “The Spinning Globes Charades’ just as it is, indeed, I’d say it’s as fine a product of our poetry today as you can find. And that’s why it’s such a good spring-board.

    So is there anything in particular that defines poetry in America today as opposed to in other places? Aside from the sheer number of poets that is, which is in itself a phenomenon?

    Here’s a parable from my own life that might help cast some light on the question.

    Many years ago I had the great good fortune to do a full Jungian analysis with a very old lady who had been one of C.G.Jung’s closest disciples – one of the greatest adventures of my life. I rented a small laborer’s cottage not far from her country house in the Cotswolds with neither running water nor electricity, and carried my coal in through the fields on my back to keep warm, negotiating stiles and small streams for over a mile from the nearest road.

    Was it the landscape, or the solitude, or the old darkness that turned me back into a world of myth and legend such as I had never experienced before and which, I can now tell you almost 50 years later, I would never experience again? For I dreamt precise Jungian dreams galore every night, and must have been a source of endless delight to my mentor. I was in my 20s, she was over 80, but we were almost like lovers -- we were as in tune with each other’s archetypes as that, and the collective unconscious bathed everything we expressed to each other in its magical light.

    The same could be said of poetry today, that it’s walking a walk as much as it’s talking a talk. We Americans assume that all poetry is edited before it’s read for a start, also that a developing poet of course has a mentor who knows where it’s at, that our poetry is ‘new’ as well, breaking the mould every time so that nothing old remains, that it’s never ‘didactic,’ and of course never tries to ‘mean’ anything either, indeed that if a reader is looking for meaning in poetry he or she isn’t qualified either to write it or talk about it!

    What we forget is that, like me and my ecstatic Jungian creations in the Cotswolds, we are dreaming our peculiar contemporary American poetry-models to perfection – and we’re dreaming them for our mentors as much as for each other, all of the above poets-like-us. We are the proof of our own pudding, so to speak, but tend to forget that nobody has ever eaten a poetry pudding quite like this one before, never so packed or so prolix or so personal and at the same time inscrutable, never so referential at the one extreme or so hors de contest at the other. Indeed, we’re part of a cultural poetry movement based on a participation mystique as well as a model of the universe that may or may not last -- which remains to be seen, particularly if our national default stumbles into permanent dysfunction accompanied by natural disasters, and all our MFA programs close down!

    Think about this: among the first eight of the Academy of American Poets ‘Poem-a-Day’ authors this October, 2013, six have published between them twenty-five books of poetry, and all six teach poetry in college. The other two are Thomas Gray and D.H.Lawrence.

    Just a few days later this month was Edgar Guest’s turn – 20 volumes, 11,000+ poems, no degree or teaching position, and “A Heap O’Livin” sold over a million copies.

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  20. [cont.]

    I’ve tried hard to make this non-judgmental. And of course I admit that I’m tainted myself even though none of the unique conditions for being a modern American poet apply to me -- other than the fact that I’m a poet and an American.

    I also know very well that if poetry weren’t so lonely, hard and unrewarding I wouldn’t be so interested in it, and also that I’d begin to cheat too if somebody published all my books and then paid me to do nothing but talk about what I love with my friends. Indeed, I might even begin to feel comfortable.

    Wherein lies the rub as well as the drug!

    Christopher Woodman

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    1. Dear Christopher,
      I am saddened that as a parting offering, you have chosen to leave a diatribe to forward political and personal grievances. I will not debate merits here, but instead say that you paint with a very broad brush stroke and make assumptions about many people. Unfortunately, that is a common move, one I often see on the news, but not one I was hoping to find in this forum. Also, "non-judgmental" is something I find people only say when they are being judgmental--which is your prerogative. Anyhow, I hope you have an excellent trip. I also hope we get to talk poetics again.
      Best,
      John

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  21. Dear John,
    I've landed in Jackson Hole and had a nice bottle of red wine with my sister-in-law from Taiwan and my brother and others at 36 degrees in the Tetons after over 30 hours in the air from the tropics, and I'm tired beyond belief. But "diatribe," "political and personal grievances," "assumptions about many people?" Is this really how you read what I said?

    Does anybody else feel what I said was that way over the top? The reply should be more, "So what, Christopher, literature has been through many revolutions including the printing of the Guttenberg Bible, and it recovered. So learn to live with it.”

    Irrefutable, John, but not what you say.
    C.

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  22. Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed the poem and the description of the process. Spin-the-Globe-Charades I felt was startling as it in effect made a game of a persons attempt to become a still life or a photograph in his or her interaction with events in global history. This created for me both a strange sort combination where the couple playing the game are both reporting and witness while it stayed by its nature passive, or past. They are only able to mimic not change.

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    1. Dear C. Alexis,
      Thank you for your comment. I agree that the space of post-witness literature is interesting. I have been thinking a lot about it lately and the way authors like Sebald, Chabon, Krauss and Simko inhabit that space. It seems the intersections of narrative past and narrative present suffer from an active disjunction since the past is, indeed, only mutable in the way it is remembered. In that way, the past belongs to the tongues & pens of the present whether they want it or not. I think this is where the strange sense of both responsibility and separateness comes from. I, of course, don't mean to put my own work on par with such greats, just to say we are intersecting in a similar conversation.
      Best,
      John

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  23. At 8500 feet up and minus 16° it’s hard to get on the internet...

    Dear C. Alexis,
    That’s beautifully said, “a strange sort of combination where the couple playing the game are both reporting and witness while it stayed by its nature passive, or past.” The artist and the work of art, the art and the artifact – this is just where we’re at in dealing with this very personal yet impenetrable poem.

    What’s so interesting about “Spin-the Globe Charades” is that it’s so final – “well-wrought,” I called it before. Indeed, it’s like a perfect craft-object made in a medieval workshop -- the Master leaves no trace of himself in his work, no obfuscations, no attention seeking gestures or personal ticks that might say who he was or even what he was trying to do. Indeed, there’s no act remaining in such an artifact at all by the end, just a small miracle, a non-personal event that challenges us to see and live better.

    In his introduction John Nieves has chosen to let us in on the creative ritual itself, one which the medieval Master would not have revealed except to his most accomplished apprentice – or the hierophant to his worthiest, most disciplined disciple. We get a glimpse into a uniquely private ‘séance,’ so to speak, one which otherwise we couldn’t know – because, as he said himself, it’s not in the poem.

    That’s a very important point, it seems to me – the process and the poem are not the same thing when a poem is perfectly finished. I think that’s what Eliot achieved in his finest work, and why he was so adamant that he wasn’t there personally in his poems, and I believe him despite what I know of his personal life. Wallace Stevens achieved that too, who was almost faceless, and Yeats despite his passion, Dickinson utterly beyond belief, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop and, remarkably so, John Ashbery.

    And dear John.
    That’s why “Spin-the-globe Charades” triggered off what I wrote, not because it was flawed.

    Yes, I did challenge certain assumptions about poetry that are distinctly American, but I really don’t understand why that so upset you of all people.

    The BPJ consistently publishes some of the best poems in America today and in addition gives us this forum in which to discuss some of them. I would say every one of these poems can stand up to any challenge simply because they’re so good.

    So why shouldn’t I also mention the occupational hazards encountered by all poets and critics in America today? Are we so safe in our towers we don’t need to look out?

    Christopher

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  24. Dear John,
    I’m disappointed you haven’t felt able to reply to what I said, partly because I agree with you that the BPJ Forum is a special place and should be respected. On the other hand, to attack someone as dismissively as you attacked me and then not to go on with the exchange is disrespectful too, anywhere. Indeed, it implies the offending person is beyond the pale, or at least that his or her views are intrusive.

    As many of you know I’m sure, I was a regular on Foetry until its demise in 2007, and subsequently the co-editor of Scarriet until 2010. What you may not realize is that there was no formal grouping behind the Foetry movement, nor did the leaders ever meet off-line or, in many cases, even know each other’s real names. What Foetry was arose quite spontaneously, and when it was done it was done.

    I would also like to say that I'm not an internet denizen, far from it. Indeed, I only write occasionally on my own blog (you can click on my name above to see what interests me now), and of course on this Forum. That’s all.

    As we're running out of time, here’s what I thought you might have said, John, or something like this.

    Dear Christopher,
    There have been many poetry movements that arose out of elite groups including most Provençal poetry, Dante, Petrarch, almost all the Elizabethans poets (as opposed to the businessmen who had investments in the theatre), Sappho, Cavafy, and even the Romantics writing as late as that cockney upstart, John Keats.

    Our own, distinctly American MFA movement is vibrant and self-sustaining, I'd say, and although it does look inward, most certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that in a society that looks so much outward. Indeed, the Poetry Workshop Movement in general has been a huge consciousness-raiser in America, and although you may be right that in no time in history has poetry been read by a smaller percentage of the reading public, the numbers are still very large as almost everybody reads!

    So get over it, Christopher. Literature survived the printing of the Gutenberg Bible so it’ll cope just fine with this revolution too, whatever it is.


    Something like that, John, and I’d have loved to discuss it with someone writing gold-leaf poetry like you.

    I’ve already said what I have to say -- I just wanted to be sure this thread included some sort of rejoinder. To be balanced, open.

    Christopher Woodman

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