I want to do two things: first, try to show what projective or OPEN verse is, what it involves, in its act of composition, how, in distinction from the non-projective, it is accomplished; and II, suggest a few ideas about what stance toward reality brings such verse into being, what that stance does, both to the poet and to his reader. The stance involves, for example, a change beyond, and larger than, the technical, and may, the way things look, lead to new poetics and to new concepts from which some sort of drama, say, or of epic, perhaps, may emerge. A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it he will have some several causations , by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is a third term, will take away.
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I want to do two things: first, try to show what projective or OPEN verse is, what it involves, in its act of composition, how, in distinction from the non-projective, it is accomplished; and II, suggest a few ideas about what stance toward reality brings such verse into being, what the stance does, both to the poet and to his reader. The stance involves, for example, a change beyond, and larger than, the technical, and may, the way things look, lead to a new poetics and to new concepts from which some sort of drama, say, or of epic, perhaps, may emerge.
Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is the third term, will take away?
This is the problem which any poet who departs from closed form is specially confronted by. And it involves a whole series of new recognitions. Thus he has to behave, and be, instant by instant, aware of some several forces just now beginning to be examined. Or so it got phrased by one, R. Creeley, and it makes absolute sense to me, with this possible corollary, that right form, in any given poem, is the only and exclusively possible extension of content under hand.
There it is, brothers, sitting there, for USE. Now 3 the process of the thing, how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished.
It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen.
And its excuse, its usableness, in practice. Which gets us, it ought to get us, inside the machinery, now, , of how projective verse is made. If I hammer, if I recall in, and keep calling in, the breath, the breathing as distinguished from the hearing, it is for cause, it is to insist upon a part that breath plays in verse which has not due, I think, to the smothering of the power of the line by too set a concept of foot has not been sufficiently observed or practiced, but which has to be if verse is to advance to its proper force and place in the day, now, and ahead.
It is the king and pin of versification, what rules and holds together the lines, the larger forms, of a poem. I would suggest that verse here and in England dropped this secret from the late Elizabethans to Ezra Pound, lost it, in the sweetness of meter and rime, in a honey-head. The syllable is one way to distinguish the original success of blank verse, and its falling off, with Milton.
It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty, by these particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose. In any given instance, because there is a choice of words, the choice, if a man is in there, will be, spontaneously, the obedience of his ear to the syllables. The fineness, and the practice, lie here, at the minimum and source of speech. O western wynd, when wilt thou blow And the small rain down shall rain O Christ that my love were in my arms And I in my bed again It would do no harm, as an act of correction to both prose and verse as now written, if both rime and meter, and, in the quantity words, both sense and sound, were less in the forefront of the mind than the syllable, if the syllable, that fine creature, were more allowed to lead the harmony on.
With this warning, to those who would try: to step back here to this place of the elements and minims of language, is to engage speech where it is least careless—and least logical. Listening for the syllables must be so constant and so scrupulous, the exaction must be so complete, that the assurance of the ear is purchased at the highest—40 hours a day—price.
But the syllable is only the first child of the incest of verse always, that Egyptian thing, it produces twins! The other child is the LINE. Let me put it baldly. I am dogmatic, that the head shows in the syllable. The dance of the intellect is there, among them, prose or verse.
Consider the best minds you know in this here business: where does the head show, is it not, precise, here, in the swift currents of the syllable? It is true, what the master says he picked up from Confusion: all the thots men are capable of can be entered on the back of a postage stamp.
So, is it not the PLAY of a mind we are after, is not that that shows whether a mind is there at all? And the threshing floor for the dance? Is it anything but the LINE? And when the line has, is, a deadness, is it not a heart which has gone lazy, is it not, suddenly, slow things, similes, say, adjectives, or such, that we are bored by?
For there is a whole flock of rhetorical devices which have now to be brought under a new bead, now that we sight within the line. Simile is only one bird who comes down, too easily. The descriptive functions generally have to be watched, every second, in projective verse, because of their easiness, and thus their drain on the energy which composition by field allows into a poem. Observation of any kind is, like argument in prose, properly previous to the act of the poem, and, if allowed in, must be so juxtaposed, apposed, set in, that it does not, for an instant, sap the going energy of the content toward its form.
It comes to this, this whole aspect of the newer problems. We now enter, actually, the large area of the whole poem, into the FIELD, if you like, where all the syllables and all the lines must be managed in their relations to each other. It is a matter, finally of OBJECTS, what they are, what they are inside a poem, how they got there, and, once there, how they are to be used.
This is something I want to get to in another way in Part II, but, for the moment, let me indicate this, that every element in an open poem the syllable, the line, as well as the image, the sound, the sense must be taken up as participants in the kinetic of the poem just as solidly as we are accustomed to take what we call the objects of reality; and that these elements are to be seen as creating the tensions of a poem just as totally as do those other objects create what we know as the world.
The objects which occur at every given moment of composition of recognition, we can call it are, can be, must be treated exactly as they do occur therein and not by any ideas or preconceptions from outside the poem, must be handled as a series of objects in field in such a way that a series of tensions which they also are are made to hold, and to hold exactly inside the content and the context of the poem which has forced itself, through the poet and them, into being.
Which brings us up, immediately, bang, against tenses, in fact against syntax, in fact against grammar generally, that is, as we have inherited it. Do not tenses, must they not also be kicked around anew, in order that time, that other governing absolute may be kept, as must the space-tensions of a poem, immediate, contemporary to the acting-on-you of the poem?
I would argue that here, too, the LAW OF THE LINE, which projective verse creates, must be hewn to, obeyed, and that the conventions which logic has forced on syntax must be broken open as quietly as must the too set feet of the old line.
But an analysis of how far a new poet can stretch the very conventions on which communication by language rests, is too big for these notes, which are meant, I hope it is obvious, merely to get things started. Let me just throw in this. It is my impression that all parts of speech suddenly, in composition by field, are fresh for both sound and percussive use, spring up like unknown, unnamed vegetables in the patch, when you work it, come spring.
Now take Hart Crane. What strikes me in him is the singleness of the push to the nominative, his push along that one arc of freshness, the attempt to get back to word as handle. If logos is word as thought, what is word as noun, as, pass me that, as Newman Shea used to ask, at the galley table, put a jib on the blood, will ya. But there is a loss in Crane of what Fenollosa is so right about, in syntax, the sentence as first act of nature, as lightning, as passage of force from subject to object, quick, in this case, from Hart to me, in every case, from me to you, the VERB, between two nouns.
Does not Hart miss the advantages, by such an isolated push, miss the point of the whole front of syllable, line, field, and what happened to all language, and the poem, as a result?
I return you now to London, to beginnings, to the syllable, for the pleasures of it, to intermit; If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die. That strain again. It had a dying fall, o, it came over my ear like the sweet sound that breathes upon a bank of violets, stealing and giving odour. For the breath has a double meaning which latin had not yet lost.
It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one act indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.
It is time we picked the fruits of the experiments of Cummings, Pound, Williams, each of whom has, after his way, already used the machine as a scoring to his composing, as a script to its vocalization. It is now only a matter of the recognition of the conventions of composition by field for us to bring into being an open verse as formal as the closed, with all its traditional advantages.
If a contemporary poet leaves a space as long as the phrase before it, he means that space to be held, by the breath, an equal length of time. There is more to be said in order that is convention be recognized, especially in order that the revolution out of which it came may be so forwarded that work will get published to offset the reaction now afoot to return verse to inherited forms of cadence and rime.
Already they are composing as though verse was to have the reading its writing involved, as though not the eye but the ear was to be its measurer, as though the intervals of its composition could be so carefully put down as to be precisely the intervals of its registration. II Which gets us to what I promised, the degree to which the projective involves a stance toward reality outside a poem as well as a new stance towards the reality of a poem itself.
From the moment the projective purpose of the act of verse is recognized, the content does—it will—change. If the beginning and the end is breath, voice in its largest sense, then the material of verse shifts. It has to. It starts with the composer. I myself would pose the difference by a physical image. It has excellently done itself to death, even though we are all caught in its dying. For a man is himself an object, whatever he may take to be his advantages, the more likely to recognize himself as such the greater his advantages, particularly at that moment that he achieves an humilitas sufficient to make him of use.
It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence.
If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way. This is not easy. Nature works from reverence, even in her destruction species go down with a crash.
Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts. And when a poet rests in these as they are in himself in his physiology, if you like, but the life in him, for all that then he, if he chooses to speak from these roots, works in that area where nature has given him size, projective size.
It is projective size that the play, The Trojan Women, possesses, for it is able to stand, is it not, as its people do, beside the Aegean—and neither Andromache or the sea suffer diminution. Such works, I should argue—and I use them simply because their equivalents are yet to be done—could not issue from men who conceived verse without the full relevance of human voice, without reference to where lines come from, in the individual who writes.
Nor do I think it accident at that, at this end point of the argument, I should use, for examples, two dramatists and an epic poet. For I would hazard the guess that, if projective verse is practiced long enough, is drive ahead hard enough along the course I think it dictates, verse again can carry much larger material than it has carried in our language since the Elizabethans. Eliot, it is not because I think they have solved the problem but because the methodology of the verse in them points a way by which, one day, the problem of larger content and of larger forms may be solved.
Yet O. Eliot is not projective. It could even be argued and I say this carefully, as I have said all things about the non-projective, having considered how each of us must save himself after his own fashion and how much, for that matter, each of us owes to the non-projective, and will continue to owe, as both go alongside each other but it could be argued that it is because Eliot has stayed inside the non-projective that he fails as a dramatist—that his root is the mind alone, and a scholastic mind at that no high intelletto despite his apparent clarities —and that, in his listenings he has stayed there where the ear and the mind are, has only gone from his fine ear outward rather than, as I say a projective poet will, down through the workings of his own throat to that place where breath comes from, where breath has its beginnings, where drama, has to come from, where, the coincidence is, all acts spring.
In the earlier of these, Olson asks: Has language only that property, that it enables the poet to traffic in between his self and your self, trading his terms for yours, and getting no more power out of it than your acknowledgment that he speaks for you?
But does he, even at his best? Can he, when you are your own involvement, and so engaged, willy-nilly, poems or no poems? You will speak in the next second by words which are, I propose, prior to all you are, and more necessary to you, if you are properly engaged with what it is to be human, than your toes, or your opposable thumb, that if you move as man has since either he or nature raised him to speech, to the capacity to speak, you move with or against yourself—you have more or less life—exactly to the degree that language empowers you.
What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet. The Letters of John Keats, p. We are the new born…
I want to do two things: first, try to show what projective or OPEN verse is, what it involves, in its act of composition, how, in distinction from the non-projective, it is accomplished; and II, suggest a few ideas about what stance toward reality brings such verse into being, what the stance does, both to the poet and to his reader. The stance involves, for example, a change beyond, and larger than, the technical, and may, the way things look, lead to a new poetics and to new concepts from which some sort of drama, say, or of epic, perhaps, may emerge. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is the third term, will take away? This is the problem which any poet who departs from closed form is specially confronted by.
Charles Olson and Henry Murray: Projective Verse and the Projective Test
In his influential essay on projective or open verse, Olson asserts that "a poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it he will have some several causations , by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. But the syllable is only the first child of the incest of verse. The other child is the LINE. And the line comes I swear it from the breath.