josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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22 Aug '03 10:25:57 AM

PERSONISM: A MANIFESTO

Everything is in the poems, but at the risk of sounding like the poor wealthy man's Allen Ginsberg I will write to you because I just heard that one of my fellow poets thinks that a poem of mine that can't be got at one reading is because I was confused too. Now, come on. I don't believe in god, so I don't have to make elaborately sounded structures. I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don't even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone's chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don't turn around and shout, "Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep."

That's for the writing poems part. As for their reception, suppose you're in love and somebody's mistreating (mal aimé) you, you don't say, "Hey, you can't hurt me this way, I care!" you just let all the different bodies fall where they may, and they always do may after a few months. But that's not why you fell in love in the first place, just to hang onto life, so you have to take your chances and try to avoid being logical. Pain always produces logic, which is very bad for you.

I'm not saying that I don't have practically the most lofty ideas of anyone writing today, but what difference does that make? They're just ideas. The only good thing about it is that when I get lofty enough I've stopped thinking and that's when refreshment arrives.

But how then can you really care if anybody gets it, or gets what it means, or if it improves them. Improves them for what? For death? Why hurry them along? Too many poets act like a middle-aged mother trying to get her kids to eat too much cooked meat, and potatoes with drippings (tears). I don't give a damn whether they eat or not. Forced feeding leads to excessive thinness (effete). Nobody should experience anything they don't need to, if they don't need poetry bully for them. I like the movies too. And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies. As for measure and other technical apparatus, that's just common sense: if you're going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There's nothing metaphysical about it. Unless, of course, you flatter yourself into thinking that what you're experiencing is "yearning."

Abstraction in poetry, which Allen recently commented on in It Is, is intriguing. I think it appears mostly in the minute particulars where decision is necessary. Abstraction (in poetry, not painting) involves personal removal by the poet. For instance, the decision involved in the choice between "the nostalgia of the infinite" and "the nostalgia for the infinite" defines an attitude towards degree of abstraction. The nostalgia of the infinite representing the greater degree of abstraction, removal, and negative capability (as in Keats and Mallarmé). Personism, a movement which I recently founded and which nobody knows about, interests me a great deal, being so totally opposed to this kind of abstract removal that it is verging on a true abstraction for the first time, really, in the history of poetry. Personism is to Wallace Stevens what la poési pure was to Béranger. Personism has nothing to do with philosophy, it's all art. It does not have to do with personality or intimacy, far from it! But to give you a vague idea, one of its minimal aspects is to address itself to one person (other than the poet himself), thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love's life-giving vulgarity, and sustaining the poet's feelings towards the poem while preventing love from distracting him into feeling about the person. That's part of Personism. It was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond). I went back to work and wrote a poem for this person. While I was writing it I was realizing that if I wanted to I could use the telephone instead of writing the poem, and so Personism was born. It's a very exciting movement which will undoubtedly have lots of adherents. It puts the poem squarely between the poet and the person, Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified. The poem is at last between two persons instead of two pages. In all modesty, I confess that it may be the death of literature as we know it. While I have certain regrets, I am still glad I got there before Alain Robbe-Grillet did. Poetry being quicker and surer than prose, it is only just that poetry finish literature off. For a time people thought that Artaud was going to accomplish this, but actually, for all their magnificence, his polemical writings are not more outside literature than Bear Mountain is outside New York State. His relation is no more astounding than Dubuffet's to painting.

What can we expect from Personism? (This is getting good, isn't it?) Everything, but we won't get it. It is too new, too vital a movement to promise anything. But it, like Africa, is on the way. The recent propagandists for technique on the one hand, and for content on the other, had better watch out.

Frank O'Hara
September 3, 1959

21 Aug '03 02:32:53 PM

Also, there are the long single paragraphs. But I like those even if I'm not sure I couldn't be working toward writing more short ones.

21 Aug '03 02:29:19 PM

For some reason I feel I've been using many more commas than usual, and using them to make very long sentences. I don't want to.

21 Aug '03 02:28:15 PM

That 'for a while' earlier is sometimes as short as three or four months, even for a record I had been listening to with pleasure for quite a long time before that. Combine that with my frequently blank memory (or rather, inarticulate memory) on the specifics of what I actually think of a record I haven't heard in a while, even if I haven't lost that feeling of personal importance, and it's easy to see why I'm so poor at making favorites lists covering a long period of time. Or a large number of records.

21 Aug '03 12:03:24 PM

Large record collections: fallout shelters hoped to protect against inevitable change. Stockpiles.

21 Aug '03 12:01:00 PM

This kernel of the personal is one reason I have often been reluctant to get rid of old records I no longer listen to. Even once I have acknowledged (to myself) somehow that I don't really think the music is that interesting or good anymore, or I just don't want to make time for it, time to maintain an interest in it (it takes work, more than you might care to admit, even for 'good' and 'great' records), I don't want to break off the contact with the record. Whenever I try to make lists of my favorite records, I fall into indecision quickly. The indecision usually gets bad as soon as I get into a spot where I think of records that I haven't really listened to for a while. Then, I worry: is the kernel still there or am I just trying to insist it's still there because I don't want to admit that it's gone? And if it's not there, I'm not really interested in putting the record down for other reasons, or fond memories. If I've changed, even if it's through my own inattention, then I've changed. Why not admit that?

21 Aug '03 11:50:08 AM

I find it surprising how little serious thought I give to anything at all. It's wasteful, lazy, almost.

21 Aug '03 11:29:55 AM

I don't read or even like the New Yorker, but since I was an undergraduate I've carted around a framed copy of the cover of the June 5, 1995 issue. It was hanging in the bathroom of the first apartment I lived in, and as my roommates moved out it eventually became mine. So, feeling untypically happy about sentimental tradition-building, I took it to my next apartment, where I lived alone, and kept it in the bathroom. In the next place I put it up above the bathroom mirror, and kind of forgot about it because it was hard to see. In my present home it's on the dining room wall next to the kitchen, but I would feel better if we hung it in our bathroom - to maintain the tradition. It's not that I find the picture very attractive or interesting. It's in the style typical of covers of the past however many years, and like other parts of the New Yorker it strikes me as smug. The theme, whatever it's supposed to be, is based around the use of multiple languages. A man is standing at bottom center, turned away from the viewer, and off behind him are signs and billboards (and a television image) for typical American products and institutions. But the words on each sign are in a different language: Smokey the Bear advising people to endut forest fires in German, a sign for the US armed forces in Russian, Bela Bartok advertising Gap khakis in Hungarian, something in some Romance language, maybe Portuguese or Italian, for the police or the fruit-pulp office or something, a Calvin Klein underwear ad in Greek, three squiggly languages of which one is Arabic and two are totally inaccessible to me without some sort of picture associating script and name of language, a Hebrew Pepsi ad, something Chinese I suppose, a billboard for Cats in French (or maybe a billboard for an animal dating service), and probably some others I am forgetting. I think the only English words, in Latin script, are 'Sony' (the logo on Smokey's television) and 'hotel' (disappointingly not at all associated with any of the transliterations and translations in the rest of the scene - unless it's 'hotel' in some other language). It pleases me slightly to have some idea what most of the languages are, but for the most part I don't find the cover that interesting in itself. Its familiarity to me, or not even that, maybe just its persistent presence, is part of why it's important to me. It's such a minor, personal importance. I wish I had a weaker word for it. 'Significant' is just as bad. If I lost it, I don't think I'd feel bad. Maybe as bad as I'd feel if I bought a hamburger and accidentally dropped it on the ground, or if I had to throw out the comforter on my bed. But it's mine and it's always there and it's been there, been with me, around me, for five or six years. That's nowhere near the attachment Tom and Isabel had, I'm sure, to their rabbit, and thus nowhere near the importance of her picture of their rabbit. But it's enough, for something. What, I don't know or can't say. But the thought that the same sort of personal attachment, seemingly based almost solely on shared proximity over some length of time, is present in so many of my experiences listening to records and thinking about them - that thought strikes me as wonderful in a suitably modest, ineffable way. Music is so much more important than my dumb magazine cover hanging on the wall, and so many times when it comes down to it it seems as if that little kernel of mine can share so much in the importance of music - particular records and time spent with them in any part of life - that it trumps any reason I might have to care what anyone else says about my music, or anyone else's. It's tempting sometimes to just opt for comfort, to let it trump everything, and just go off and listen to my records in peace.

21 Aug '03 07:56:25 AM

I wonder how much Django Reinhardt I have to listen to before the songs don't all sound the same (except the slow ones, of course).