I found ideas of madness at your door
He howled against the stupidity of paper walls.
Letters never swelled with lips or chest,
Like a mind wholly mind, perching
Its gooey wings; yet still its shit
Hit hard ground, hardly a ground
That was mine to understand,
Although inhuman, always of the world.
The paper was no persona. No more was he.
The screams and texts were not woven of words
Even if what he penned was what he traced.
Since what he penned had touched face to face.
It may be that in all his lines he graced
The clinging pulp and cutting pen;
But it was him and not these sheets I chased.
For he was the actor of the scripts he scrawled.
The ever-ruffled, blank-faced paper
Was merely the place in which he stood to speak.
Whose feather is this? I said, because I felt
It was the pen that he had used and felt
That I would touch it often as he spoke.
If only it was the feather of some bird
That wrote, or just alighted the aching hand;
If only it was the inner whisper of wings
And minds, of the charred branches paper-pressed
However light, it would not be black ink,
That Big Sur curl of ink, a moon-tide mass
Awash with moonshine ever canted
Or mere mass alone. It must always be more,
Never less than his voice, and mine, among
The pitiful danglings of paper and the pen,
Foliated distances, white palms dropped
On dumb desks, precarious litterings
Of throb and thrum.
It was his hand that pressed
The c keenest in its hollowing.
He sounded to the core its plenitude.
He was the sole believer in the objects
Of which he wrote. And when he wrote, the c,
Whatever character it had, became the character
That was his own, for he was its creator. Then I,
As I caught him howling there in quiet,
Knew that there would be some new knowledge:
Save the ideas he cried and, deaf, composed.
Wallace Stevens, tell me, if you please,
Why, as your mind deceased and I flipped
The final page, tell why the realest things,
The things in crude foyers of houses here,
As the walls unfolded, speaking of themselves,
Scaled the walls and sounded past the doors,
Mingling incarnate cantos and mending wings,
Resounding, quivering, vaulting the walls.
Oh! Mad quest for echoes, old Wallace,
The poet’s quest to echo the sounds of the real,
Sounds of glued mouths, thickly-scarred,
And of myself and of my own hidings,
In roomier constellations, suppler words.
—Written in tribute to The Idea of Order at Key West by Wallace Stevens
I wanted to repost this one because I am working on several other poems using the same technique. But then how did I write I found ideas in the first place?
The first thing to know is that the poem replicates the structure of Wallace Stevens’ original, The Idea of Order at Key West, in detail. That is to say, I used the same formal patterns or devices wherever possible. In lines with the same meter and the same length as the originals, I rhymed, used alliteration, and put punctuation in the same places. I was already a fan of Stevens’ work, but I read and reread a lot to get a sense of and draw on what you might call his tone, manner, or style—in short, his way of patterning sounds and images to carry weighty and mysterious thoughts with trademark whimsy and composure. I wanted to see what would happen if, given one initial line, I let the form of the poem guide the content—an experiment or puzzle of sorts in the vein of the OULIPO writers. It was a lot of work, it was exasperating at times, but I felt liberated within the constraints, it got the creative juices flowing, and completing the poem was as satisfying as, say, solving a Saturday crossword without cheating (which I’ve never accomplished so far).
The poems I want to imitate/work with next are Musée des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden and Paris, 7 A.M. by Elizabeth Bishop. In the first, tentatively entitled Musée Rodin, I want to talk about the innumerable hands Rodin made over the course of his career. My idea for the second is less concrete: I feel a certain resonance with the muted hum of panic that in Bishop’s poem inheres in the everyday experience of walking around your own home when you feel the state of the world is about to take a serious turn for the worse. It was written from her experience in Europe between 1935 and 1937. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
*The image is of Untitled II by Cy Twombly
It gives you an idea of what I feel like my writing (process) is at this point. Scratches. Copying line after line on a blackboard. Not even letters, but loops and swirls.