Friday, June 19, 2009

ON FORM & INFINITY IN POETRY

Have been reading some beautiful things by 20th-cent. physicist Erwin Schrodinger (Nature and the Greeks). What a witty, wonderful writer he is! Philosopher-scientist. Interesting how the crisis of the 2 world wars & the Nuclear Age sent so many different kinds of thinkers & personalities back to origins of civilization (Schrodinger, TS Eliot, Chas. Olson, to name just a few...).

Anyway, reading his description of the encounter of earliest Greek science (Pythagoras, Thales, others) with the riddles of mathematics... it occurred to me that this all might have some pertinence in relation to poetry wars...

The thrust of the "new" (contemporary) formalists - & beyond formalism, the thrust of Poetry-as-Craft in general - is grounded in a concept of elegance : elegance, rooted in "number" in the poetic-mathematical sense. The poem is a sleek sort of toy - a verbal isometry between the concept & its expression (wit) - in which the evidence of mastery takes the form of elegant numbers...

Well, the problem I'm having with all this at the moment is that the idea of number... allied with the notion of craft & finish... & connected thus with the idea of elegance, mastery &, basically, success... (or authority)... well, all this runs head on into an aspect of Nature (that Nature with which Art is supposed to be elegantly married) which we might call either the Continuum... or Infinity... or Irrational Numbers...

an aspect of number which was a conundrum & embarrassment for the Greeks, & a mystifying puzzle for Cantor & other great mathematicians...

In my book, poetry is connected very substantially with the diagonal to the square of value "1" (ie. sq root of 2) - an irrational number... - & infinity - which scares & has frightened so many sophisticated poets, craftspeople, thinkers, calculators & operators - since it seems to open up again what they thought they had so elegantly counted out, measured, numbered, & closed off -

& why so? because infinity & the irrational are connected with the much-maligned "I" - that mysterious Subject - Shakespeare behind the arras - God - Keats' (negatively-capable) negrido - the Soul... & the great inimitable poets of all times are searching (elegantly, sublimely) beyond elegance... toward the (irrational square) root, the supra-elegance of... the ultimate Workshop (of the supernatural Author's... spiral jetty, or... Book of J...)... ie. the steep, the vertiginous, the vanishing point, that dimensionless point in Dante (& Joyce) wherefrom all the elegant magnitudes of creation proceed...

&, paradoxically, the oh-so-fumbly-stumbling quality of their (metaphysical, experiential) searching is precisely that dimension which allows the personal, the characteristic, the improvisational, to shine forth (very American) in their poetry... & make it inimitable & great... what they used to call Sublimity...

You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again with an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it
...

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