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"69 hidebound opnions"--by C.D. Wright

69 Hidebound Opinions, Propositions, and Several Asides from a Manila Folder Concerning the Stuff of Poetry

 Every year the poem I most want to write, the poem that would in effect allow me to stop writing, changes shapes, changes direction. The poem never sleeps unless I do, for if I were to come upon it sleeping, I would net it. And that would be that, my splendid catch.


 In my book poetry is a necessity of life, what they used to call a taxable matter. I cannot objectively trace how I reached this exaggerated conclusion, but perhaps I can summon the origins for my brand of tectonics in what would seem to many to be an age antithetical to the effort. Ultimately I don’t believe any age is antithetical to the effort. I do believe years of reaction promote a thwarted artistic front. "Art is like ham," Diego Rivera said. I have often been reassured by this inexplicable claim. "Sometimes art (poetry) is like a beautiful sick dog that shits all over the house," Frank Stanford scribbled in a notebook. Not without sadness, I agree with this claim too.


 Many writers maintain a guarded border between language thick with hair and twigs and the reified, rarified stuff. No matter which side of the border poets live on they tend to act as if they were being overrun. All I want is a day pass. I like to sleep in my own bed.


I am interested in fertile poetic constructions. I am aiming for the ode as a recourse, however short-term, to the same-old same-old careerist poem of no note, no risk and no satisfaction, and to the equally vulgar obsession with newness. The search for models in my terms becomes a search for alternatives.


My purpose is neither to hack away at the canon nor to contrive a trend.


My whole life I thought I was meant to do something useful. Not to everyone, nothing on the scale of inventing Kleenex and making a pile for doing it. But something in which I felt the usefulness of it, the goodness of it in a non-Byzantine* way. And I have come to feel separated from the possibility of being useful because I am an American poet. Maybe I did not choose poetry primarily because I believed it to be a necessary good, but I have abided by it because I believe this. Unlike, say, Oppen, I am not a purist. I am capable and comfortable with many vulgarities both in word and deed, especially in word. And I did not understand when I made this commitment that to choose being a poet meant I would be speaking what David Antin refers to as a "sacred language...the object of a specialized cult." Or if I did have such an inkling when I first undertook to write poetry, I didn’t think anything was wrong with that at the time. Now I am sure poetry’s status is as he defined it and I oppose this exclusive and near meaningless status, yet I persist. Therefore, some quasi- futile, sometimes productive, psychic suffering.

*Byzantine, Byzantinism or scholasticism is used here in Gramsci’s sense, meaning the regressive tendency to treat so-called theoretical questions as if they had a value in themselves, independently of any specific practice--a principle put forth in the Prison Notebooks.

 Never put yourself in the position of having to defend the work before it is done.


 Coming from generations of rootbound folk I have set my boxes down in umpteen spots in my adult life always to find each spot more Ozark-deficient than the one before. But I rock and roil at the phrase "a sense of place" in reference to poetry. Invariably it applies to writing that leaches the environment of its resources while attributing to the same what does not belong there. Yet the autochthons who get it right--lacking the exile’s dubious advantage of perspective as well as unfortunate predilection for nostalgia--who write with force and fidelity, they have my good ear. A special obligation is incurred by writing at the source: the author’s longstanding presence, in the present. The citizenry of such a poetry, be it populous, must be given their share of the yield and their comeuppance. Oil tanks must displace stacks of corn shocks, mothers end up with far less than they wanted from their sons; a father will die with his jawbone frozen open, animals drag a trapped leg through the rose-bed. Someone every knows will go hunting out of season; someone else gets up early, lets the dogs out and eats."

*Diurnal details from Philip Booth’s Relations (l986, Viking)


 Poetry is like food remarked one of my first teachers, James Whitehead; freeing me to dislike Rocky Mountain Oysters and Robert Lowell. The menu is vast, the list of things I don’t want in my mouth relatively short.


 I am looking for a way to vocalize, perform, act out, address the commonly felt crises of my time. These are spiritual exercises.


 Verbal energy on my part is expended on packing words down. I am concerned with density, setting up a chain reaction using the least amount of verbal material.


 Much has been declared about the musicality of poetry. Not so much about the physicality. The adamantine practice of poetry as it pertains to touch--an impression of which can be lifted off the ends of the fingers. These are some of the things I have touched in my life that are forbidden: paintings behind velvet ropes, electric fencing, a vault in an office, gun in a drawer, my brother’s folding money, the poet’s anus; the black holes in his heart, where his life went out of him.


 PHRASES I prefer to associate with the lexicon of music than of linguistics, that is, the distinctiveness of a poetic phrase seems better identified among notes, tones and rhythms, than among word aggregates with a single stress. By which I intend to say, a phrase is a sensory unit, physical but furthermore felt, not simply syntactic. "A cold rain." is a phrase to me. And a sentence. So is what follows the rain, "Quiet as a mirror." As are: "A praying mantis in a jar. Barns blown down. Her rainy underarms. Faith hope and hypocrisy," phrases and sentences. Near physical beings to my way of sounding/thinking/feeling. I tune my instrument against my own eardrums.


 Tell me, what is the long stretch of road for if not to sort out the reasons why we are here and why we do what we do, from why we are not in the other lane, doing what others do.


 We come from a country that has made a fetish if not a virtue out of proving it can live without art: high, low, old, new fat, lean and particularly the rarely visible, nocturnal art of poetry.


 We must do something with our time on this small aleatory sphere for motives other than money. Power* is not an acceptable surrogate.

*The eclectic Bulgarian scholar Elias Canetti fastidiously stylized his 550-page study Crowds and Power to conclude simply, "To be the last man to remain alive is the deepest urge of every real seeker after power."


 I am even naively willing to argue passion is what separates us from other life forms--that is, beyond the power to reason is our ability to escape from the desert of pure reason by its own primary instrument, language. And if it be poetry that makes the words flesh, then it is no less or more escapable than our bodies. But it is at least that free.


 Veering in the elusory direction of freedom, I would submit, it is a function of poetry to locate those zones inside us that would be free and declare them so. Always there are restrictions: as traditional conventions of rhyme and meter are more or less disavowed, others such as enjambment and assonance remain constant for longer periods, and another, such as anaphora is revived after long periods of disuse. Poetry without form is a fiction. But that there is a freedom in words is the larger fact, and in poetry, where formal restrictions can bear down heavily, it is important to remember the cage is never locked.


 I have been a keen but unsystematic student of book-length poems, in substance and design. Length admits them to the novel’s province of inclusivity and digression, but redoubles the requisite for form. The need for form arises not so much for containment but for support. Form naturally determines the poem’s movement, whether it be gradual, teleological, furious, or traveling in reverse. Otherwise, the stasis of art prose. Ugh.

At the margins of poetry, form is forced out of the frame under the sheer pressure of the language.


Poetry is tribal not material. As such it lights the fire and keeps watch over the flame. Believe me, this is where you get warm again. And naked. This is where you can remember the good times along with the worst; where you are not allowed to forget the worst, else you cannot be healed. This is where your memory must be exacting.... Even and especially in our day, in our land, poets are the griots, the ones who see that the word does not break faith with the line of the body.


I believe that many members of ‘the tribe’--not to say that we were the first but that we were the last--suffer the retrenchment of human possibilities, possibilities which for our thousand-and-one errors, we helped to create, which include the right and the delight in choosing writing, even writing poetry, over law, medicine, banking, engineering, physics and other manly, potentially predatory arts; and that in helping to create these possibilites we simultaneously infected other areas of the population with similar yearnings. Whether I can get away with what I write and withstand the vicissitudes and contradictions of my own character, I can’t forecast. If I don’t, better writers than I definitely will.


The bottom dropping out of a sack of black apples is dramatic enough for what I want to tell, which is after all proposed, not actual. If I tried too hard to be revelatory, well that was then; I don’t try that hard now. I know life is strange and reveals itself on its own terms. The word is all that is the case. Now: a man joins a woman in the kitchen. They touch the soft places of their fruit. They enter in, tell their side and pass through.

Never deprive the reader of opportunities for multiple exegeses.


By definition practice is distinguished from "profession, theory, knowledge, etc." But what is left once profession, theory, knowledge, etc., are excluded, except mechanistic repetition? Leave in, "...exercise in any art for the purpose of, or with the result of attaining proficiency." That’s better. For a long time the one poetry broadside in the lounge at my school said simply, "Practice practice put your faith in that," signed W.S. Merwin. After the building was painted, it no longer hung there, and I felt my resolve weaken.


To opt to be a poet, is to have some resolve. It leaves you free--to sing as you will, with the lungs god gave you--even if no one but god might hear. It leaves you that naked and obligated to sing your best. Suzuki teaches that "in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilites; in the expert’s mind there are few." Beginner’s mind then, is not only where you start, but where you must remain. It is what will keep you--long after you have children, job, house, dog, too many keys on your ring--free.


Synchronous with so much deliberation, an element of spontaneity must be exacted. To draft us into the situation, the situation should be ongoing. However, it should not be inclusive, not try to show beginning, middle and end.


Closure can be avoided by as many strategies as can beginning. "Endings just drag me," Miles Davis said in a Downbeat interview.


One configuration I admire is distichous. Symmetrical asymmetry. Clarity pressed into opacity. One sentence allowing the one behind it to pass.


While lyric is traditionally viewed as being at the opposite end of narration, it seems a drastically inept and unfulfilling term for the kinds of machines now feeding onto the expressway. The term lyric--though it might suggest a larger area of abstraction than does narrative--does not satisfy but a portion of poems being written in real contrast to recognizable narratives.


 An atmosphere of depression will arouse artists’ attention over an atmosphere of prosperity nearly every time. Because it derives from consciousness, art is critical. Also true, ruins are beautiful to us; the Blues make us feel good; it is through the wound that we perceive the body whole.


 (We have come a long way from currying the favor of royalty--from the original laureates. We have returned to our more enduring function as seers.

Naturally some see better and further than others.}

 For we cometh, for we cometh to judge the light paling the door, not the darkness it obscures.


 Regarding omission: As Celine nailed the weightiest narrative under his ellipses; as Greek tragedians wrote the critical scenes to be performed off-stage; as the farmer who kept his diary for fourteen years might enter a rare "nothing happened today," one must maintain a vigiliant sense of when to leave off. When to skip. When to depart. Abjure. Leap. When to let the inferences fly. Rarely should a writer stop at a pre-destination. It is the quality of omission or suppression I believe which determines the quality and degree of a reader’s participating in the telling--what is latent in the work that the reader alone can render active and integral to it. A long-time favorite of mine is but a fragment from Sappho, adapted by Pound under the title "Papyrus":

Spring......../Too long........../Gongula........... If you know Gongula is a woman’s name, you know enough.

 Nor is the behavior of one’s expression desirably static.


 For limited periods I like being lost. Perdition per se is not an obstacle to achieving something beneficial I cannot quite name. Anything could happen in the strange cities of the mind.


 What landscape is: not a closed space, not in fact capable of closure. With each survey the corners shift. Distance is the goal; groping the means. Imagine flying in concrete.


 What elegy is, not loss but opposition.


 By any means necessary being the only directive I can adhere to with any consistency.


 The artistic reward for refuting the recieved national traditon is liberation. The price is homelessness. Interior exile.


 Poetry and advertising (the basest mode of which is propaganda) are in direct and total opposition. If you do not use language you are used by it. If you not recognize the terms peacekeeper missile and preemptory strike for oxymorons, your hole has already been dug. If you do not detect the blackest of ironies in the Army’s made-up-on-Madison-Avenue, Be all You Can Be, never mind the perennial for no one will remember you.


 If you are afraid of ending up with an opinion, afraid it will color your work, you might ask yourself how transparent is your refusal to make choices, how disinterested can any work be and still stand. How obvious is your withdrawal. What is the artistic advantage of neutrality, allowing such a condition even existed. How would it be distinguished from indifference or mere self-interest. What matters a poetry of indifference. To whom.


 Regardless of specific subject poem by poem, human experience is partly, not wholly political. How can language, unless it avoids experience, avoid the political weather wherein it launches itself. Politics in a natural state is not a subject but an aspect.


 Like serious poetry, serious political discourse is carried on in a contained nearly entropic environment. Being an American poet I resent that the only exhortations allowed to air nationwide are those uttered by greedheads, warheads, and other vicious throwbacks who assault the language in order to assail the earth.


 I know who poetry can’t accommodate, the tourist. I don’t mean it is necessarily more "highborn" than shell art, though the effort, the ardor of it goes toward being "borne up." But I believe it can’t be identified with the compulsion to shop instead of the desire to touch, be touched. Cables to the Ace: "How should he (the tourist realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesus."--Thomas Merton


 Lately silence, as a high poetic value, has begun to seep into the marrow. Lately silence, as the formal element I have been missing, has shattered the noise.


 It is poetry that remarks on the barely perceptible disappearances from our world such as that of the sleeping porch or the root cellar. And poetry that notes the barely perceptible appearances.


 It is left to the poets to point out the shining particulars in our blunted lives like the strands of blue lights Cotter, Arkansas, draped every haunting Christmas from one empty storefront to the empty storefront across the street for eight unoccupied blocks.

 Formal options are virtually unlimited; one has to train oneself to recognize and utilize them, as well as discover and rediscover them. It is the fit lexicon for one's preoccupations that is elusive; it is the preoccupations themselves that have to be transmuted into considerations larger than the mind they occupy.


 Of Ron Silliman’s thousand-and-one dicta in Tjanting, one I find irksome (and I admire many of his dicta) is that the most political thing you can do is face the language. What does that mean? I appreciate the return of reflexivity to the writer’s linguistic province, but does that mean, the province of the writer is language period. What of what Agee named "the sorrow, the effort and the ugliness of the beautiful world." What about EVIL. I am anxious to understand and apply what I apprehend to what I judge applicable, the furious theory of my urban cousins. But if I rolfed my own language, if I turned on it with a vengeance, I doubt it would ever walk again, ever hope to cross the country again bearing some new word to the old world. Or old word to the new world. But my real difference with this one claim is that it is strictly scientific.

It is engrossed solely with technique.


 Regarding the territorial conflicts of urban intellectuals, I admit a measure of relief coming back to the hills where writers and non-writers alike are more practically delineated. Flannery O’Connor divided people into only two classes: the Irksome and the Non-Irksome without regard to sex.


 I would like to insert here that just as I reject the notion of a politically neutral poetry, I reject the notion that certain concerns evidently appropriate to one genre are therefore inappropriate to another--a chair is not a lamp is not a toaster.... this is another unnecessary limitation. The foil of expertism.


 If I wanted to understand a culture, my own for instance, and if I thought such an understanding were the basis for a longterm inquiry, I would turn to poetry first. For it is my confirmed bias that the poets remain the most "stunned by existence"; the most determined to redeem the world in words....


I admire poetry which confutes its own formal conditions--poetry which due to the exigence of its own matter exceeds its own limits. Some of us do not read or write particularly for pleasure or instruction, but to be changed, healed, charged. Therefore, the poet’s amplitude may take precedence over her strategies. When aiming for a language nearer one’s own ideals and principles, a tongue wherein everything is at risk--there are no certainties. This has been dubbed unimproved poetry. Untrammelled is Merwin’s stately word for the poem’s inalienable right to freedom. The French formalists, known as Oulipo (an acronym for Ouvroir Pour La Literature Potentielle), name it pejoratively shriek poetry or eructative poetry. Unfettered was Kurt Schwitter’s turn-of-the-century word. The punks would have called it thrash poetry. Oh yeah.


 The very terms of one debate currently absorbing a pride of American poets--new formalism versus free verse--seem bald misnomers from the outset. These terms are also descriptive of that part of the field wherein the most blunted action is transpiring. Meanwhile, beyond the margin of familiar liberties and familiar constraints, all hell is breaking loose and the old paradise is in chains.... Only by strict avoidance of contemporary formal strains such as Language Poetry and Oulipo could the R(hyme) & M(eter) Formalists call themselves "new." I, for one, am hard pressed to accept the fixed-foot-flat-earth-survivalist school of poetry calling itself new formalism as being new much less formally interesting. By the same measure, only by lack of scrutiny and challenge could free verse poets, myself included, call ourselves free.


 To choose to be an American poet is to a certain extent to choose to be despised, in as much as invisiblity is loathesome in America, and poetry, which is naturally solitary and nocturnal, is scarcely seen though poets are numerous. As I understand it, once you begin to despise one another you augur your own end. Herein we underscore our separateness, whereas it had been my own aspiration, when I first undertook to write poetry, to read and make poetry, that it would bring people together. My aspirations are still pitched high, though my expectations of it being either a source or beneficiary of this virtuous by-product have somewhat subsided. At times I am half persuaded the reasons for these exhaustively articulated divisions are real. At other times, I think they are fundamentally French. For the most part I suspect the skirmishes are more pertinent to our removal from the public sphere, the near total disenfranchisement of the American intellectual, eventually leading to the proverbial in-fighting that undermines any worthwhile effort.


 I like most poetries, especially most contemporary American poetries. The plural is used deliberately here--because the lines are being drawn with increasing coldness, the constituencies increasingly discrete. Somewhere between The End of Our War on Them and The Last Big Junk Bond Deal Gone Bad, we left off being pluralist and turned armed survivalist.


 Now that I am beyond the initial paralysis of calling one’s first teachings into question, I am left with: be critical and sing.


 The barrier of objectivity, it is the banal standard of professionalism.


 Poetry is the language of intensity. Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is a necessity.

 Extended awareness, isn’t that central to the art?


 What I want from poetry, is akin to to what I get from looking at certain paintings:

 Light permeating color, intensity modified by tone, and design ordered by scale. A sense of wakefulness, of being present for what you’re looking at to reveal itself in more absolute terms....the total picture should cast back light.

 The optical source of the light be expressed as coming from within. Every picture with a "felt life." And nuance. If fifteen layers of paint are applied--that the weave remain visible; if only one is allowed to graze the surface--that the paint stay wholly committed to the canvas. Texture built up where insisted upon, but never for its own sake. Neither excess nor wash-out.

 Practically speaking every image has to be contained and the design respect the boundaries whether effortlessly or reluctantly. And while the images be thoroughly executed in the given spaces--that they should continue to burn not so much beyond as through the borders.


 Asked informally "What’s a young poet to do," Robert Creeley proposed, "form a company." He meant--start a magazine or book press, publish yourselves. One press flies by night, start another by day. Form a company* in the repertory theater’s sense of the word ensemble--let each do their part.


 Another strategy is to create new structures which further the art (for its own sake). Create a language the unborn can speak.


 While some writers are choosing generic sides, others are building intricate arches over the gorge. Laying track. Crossing the borders by dark to take what they need from the novel here, history or astronomy there, and no more. Such authors have designed new orders that allow the most aleatoric admissions to stand solidly or sleep soundly in the context of their individual works. The spirit, be it lost, if it comes to nothing and verges on perishing, thrives here, beating and constellated, among the country’s warring poets.

 *It has not been my lot or my proclivity thus far to form or fall into an exclusive company. Doesn’t make me an isolationist.


 Poets should exceed themselves--when demands on us are slack, we should be anything but. Pressing the demands of the word forward are not only pertinent but urgent. If our country does not vigorously cultivate poetry, it is either poetry’s ineluctable time to wither or time to make a promise on its own behalf to put out new shoots and insist on a bigger pot.

 Give physical, material life to the words. Record what you see. Rise, walk and make a day.


 What I believe poets John Wieners and Frank O’Hara have offered toward a new ode is in part the peculiar American talent for dirtying the waters. The poem of The Court becomes the poem of The Rabble, in their splendour. The panegyrist returns to the page as author and civilian. Personhood is restored to the old authority of Poet. One’s friends are welcome whether they are famous painters or merely passengers in frumpy old coats. The trademark of the work is openness. And a new ode could flow from this tradition.


 If like Keats you find yourself longing to escape from a low-grade funk in which "men sit and hear each other groan" there may be a welcome breeze admitted in raising the ode back up.

 Homo loquens, creature with the gift of tongues. It is, is it not, who we are.


 We are the bankrupt aristrocracy of letters. We wear our coat of arms with a shabby haughtiness that sometimes lands us in the company we think is our birthright, but usually leaves us to simply look down upon one another which we manage to do with a vengeance. How dreary that it should come to this, and what fun it was to be broke in our youth. "How is it that you live, and what is it you do?" Wordsworth asked the leech gatherer, who was not the one complaining.


 These then are spiritual exercises: walk don’t drive, when you do drive, drive slowly, make room for the one behind you, when you drive don’t read, listen; when you read read poetry. Furthermore to paraphrase the leech gatherer, if this is how you live and what you do, persevere, and gather your leeches while and where you may.


 Does the writer have a mission? Yes, to write, to recognize the total absence of this particular activity’s neutrality. As regards the old saw, you cannot achieve excellence within the confines of a position, I submit the reverse is true. I moon the notion that political motivation is not the purlieu of the literati. We are qualified by virtue of being citizens with the ability to express ourselves. Nor do I accept that partisanship need be divorced from personal writing of the most unbearable intensity, "If you live alone and are afflicted by your solitude why not speak about it if it is yours?" begs the poet from Chiapas. What is more, I argue that maintaining a viewpoint is not incompatible or even distinct from the causes and capacity for celebration. Ergo sexism (including corporate so-called feminism) can be attacked with writing which is pro-femina, that is keeping feminism contextually defined, living the life. Thus through hundreds of lyric lines Frances Mayes has exhorted that the relentless association of women with misery belies the richness of our lives. As Zora Neale Hurston rejected the label ‘tragically colored,’ Mayes abjures ‘tragically female’; and in doing so infuses comestibles, colors, blooms, furnishings, as well as solitude, friendship, love with authority customarily reserved for almost any other arena.


 My story is not important, but odd like horses lying down. I am of the opinion your story is no more or less important. Just last week I took the bus to work because my car was in the shop. I transferred downtown. And not being too familiar with the lines, I prepared to get on any bus that stopped. Close to where I stood, an older woman pulled me back to the shelter of the department store overhang. "That’s not your bus," she said, "I can usually tell." And this being Providence, she was right. There are those who stay below, and those who mount the hill. I was dressed to take the hill. Another sentence or two was exchanged, somehow making it possible for her to tell me, she lost her brother in the Coconut Grove fire of 1943, four hundred dead. Also that the rest of her family went quickly after the first death, her fat

her within a few months. She had bought him Lucky Strikes on the evening of his death; they were fifteen cents a pack then. And he died on the couch, before pulling the red string from the cellophane. She lived, she said, in the Four Seasons. I knew she was telling me the name of her apartment building. That she was implying that I, a stranger, might visit her there. I was as struck by the phrase, "I live in the four seasons" as I was touched by the proposition. There are how many--two hundred and thirty million--stories in the naked land. All unimportant, all our own.


 If I could have written some of the poems Yeats wrote in the late twenties and early thirties, or if I could have broken the ground Beckett broke, I might have a sense of my own solidity and prowess. I still feel I might turn an irrevocable corner. I want to keep pressing toward the outer edge of my own enterprise, and I want to apprehend, my own burning core, before the winds blow into their final snuff routine.


 Going home, to the very town, the street and very house where we grew up is more often than not an overwhelmingly inarticulate experience. The onslaught of memories alone may not be manageable. However thin and colorless and tiny we remain in our original contexts, it is the one we are forever challenged and most equipped to render lucid.


 Gradually one comes to fathom exactly what it is one has chosen--what is poetry. Poetry avails itself of the listener, the watcher. Whether called upon to emancipate, comfort or forecast, poetry responds. The possibility that the poem you were born to write, will not join you on the porch this summer or the next, looms taller than the sunflowers and the hollyhocks. It could have taken the fork to the river or ended up at the slaughterhouse. It could have died as quietly as the moth on the screen. Or just borne itself up on the breeze. Who can say. This is the poet’s choice: to attend a presence no one else was aware of, to spend the better part of a lifetime preparing for an arrival, that could not occur but for her attention, that would not in fact otherwise make its blaze on this world.


 According to the late Frank Stanford, his introduction to the venerable Malcolm Cowley, whom he had come to help interview on film, was met with surprise bordering on suspicion. Seeing in him an uncanny resemblance to young Hart Crane, a photo album was produced by Mrs. Cowley that Mr. Cowley might make the point. Also according to Frank: when the novice poet pressed his first collection The Singing Knives upon the famed editor, Cowley barked, "My boy you know what art is." Young Stanford was quick to admit, "No sir, not I sir." And Cowley quick to bark, "It’s an ostrich, sticking its head in the sand, shitting bricks." Followed a lengthy pause. "Thus the pyramids."


 WHAT IT IS: a rhomboid. Brilliant. Impenetrable. Which occurs in a pure state. ("As dense at the edge as at the centre"). A widely distributed non-radiocative element. therefore, not to be confused with uranium. What is brought about by some of the most lustrous, least attractive wordsmiths. What cannot be fashioned into prose. Let that go as a very hard and a very cold definition.

--C.D. Wright

from By Herself (Molly McQuade, ed., Graywolf Press, 1999) 

Author's note: This piece selects commentary, obervations, and opinions taken from various of my talks, essays and articles. I would like to thank the editors of the following publications from which a few of these passage,s sometimes with minor revisions, were reprinted:: Antioch Review, Arkansas Times, Associated Writing Programs, Field, Five Fingers Review, George Street Journal, Ironwood, Poetry East, Poetry Pilot, Providence Journal Sunday Magazine, raccoon. I further wish to thank the following institutions and organizations for inviting the talks which inspired written versions: the Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College, Brown University, Intersection Center for the Arts, Associated Writing Programs, University of Central Arkansas, and Lyon College.

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