The language of poetry can’t be enclosed in any category, can’t be summed up in any function or formula. Neither instrument nor ornament, it scans a word carrying the ages and the fleeting space, founding both stone and history, welcoming their dust. It moves about in the energy that makes and breaks empires. It is in this dilapidated back yard, overgrown with grass, its walls covered with lichens, that the evening light lingers a moment.
No one justifies poetry and it needs no defense: I am only trying to see what in myself so precisely guided, goes in such an unchangeable way towards that nightly groping, searching another, a harsher precision. To understand and not, to knock up against, to break, to lose oneself and still to understand. I want to assume all the contradictions, to exceed them. For everything in me knows that I am speaking always the same language (that which speaks me, constructs me, in speaking, in expressing) on different levels. And it isn’t a matter of more or less perfect degrees of elevation, higher or lower. What designates them is a particular movement, a particular organisation , a relation to the human and the world. The abruptness of a proof without name and the patient methods of a fragment.
I see no gap between language (or the expression which is differently animated matter), human discourse, and society. Levels of emergence, of composition, of vitality and drying out, perhaps of sickness, of an identical word that shows itself in discontinuous signs, included in the game of a formidable combinatory, a game whose matter, rules and energy, text, syntax and writing, it is.
What my ceaselessly interrupted word is seeking, ceaselessly insufficient, inadequate, breathless, is not the relevance of a demonstration, a law, but the exposure of a gleam that is ungraspable, transfixing, of a fluidity in turn benevolent and devouring. A breathing.
To class, isolate, fix; these exercises led to their somnolent usefulness, now we are ready for the insomnia of genesis.
All these paths I am following open onto something impossible where only the upright use of the word maintains the motion: menace, happiness and loss. And nowhere any term that would resolve, reassure. Nothing but this narrow evil, nothing but this excessive width. You cannot close off poetry: its central place dissolves in itself, in a compacity that consumes itself, makes holes in itself. An unfounded silence where, against any proof, the fragile word, the scandalous word, the crushing word, the useless word moves forward. The poem is not an answer to a questioning of the human or the world. It only digs into and aggravates the questioning. The most exigent moment of poetry is perhaps the one where the movement of the question is such—by its radicality, its bareness, its irrefutable progress—that no answer is expected; rather, all reveal their silence. The breach opened by this gesture effaces the formulations. The separate values, duly catalogued, that create the coming and going between opposite shores are, for a moment of lucidity, caught up in the force of the river. From this word to everything that is burning, the mouth lost forever.
Our meaning and our thought are ceaselessly encumbered with reflections, losing this vivacious flow that we sometimes call soul. But someone stops near a dilapidated wall of mud, near a stone where words are missing. He palpates the seed of an offwhite, secreted light. He touches a porous crackled glass, with the rough texture of the voice. Moving through the strata, he works in the very motion and breath of language. An architect of the statute-book, he shapes the material of signs at their birth. Ceaselessly taking up again the veins of an order at the source of their energy, he leads them to a meaning that disappears. This endlessly thirsty seeker, this eternal inadequate person, this scorner of the impossible is above all a worker of language, a worker despairing and laughing. Going to the very fibers of the weave, to the sources of the chemistry, he wants first of all to wipe off gently the vapor, the vapor of the vapors, to look through this ungainly hole at the slow migration of the landscape.
Poetry is sometimes capable of conducting (like good metal conductors) a quivering of language, communicating to words its fluidity its corrosive and forgetful power. So the word—the image—transforms itself from a simple chemical element participating in the constitution of a composed body (a seme), into an enzyme able to operate the synthesis or the lyse, the unexpected creation of new compounds, which give rise, in what burns them, to different flames.
This place of high energy, where words are ordered, that we call poetry is our part of the infinite act in the world, a force field of the laws of our own motion, where our constellations are composed and undone.
Here is a molecule that provokes the saturation necessary for the formation of a crystal, an enzyme that unleashes such a construction, or “recognizes” elements that without it had no meaning, at least not the same one.
And here is this breach opened by a sound, a relation of words, a joining of images that permits us to see where formerly we simply looked. To breathe where we only talked.
The person who is capable to set alight those gleams that can be born from such articulations or such defeats in the constellations of language, who knows how to forge them, provoke them, how could we not recognize him? In listening to him, perhaps once, we will comprehend without any frontiers.
To express oneself, to integrate oneself, to melt, keeping firm the thread of this singular movement. The full sweep of the weave envelops the disturbed dreams of the rocks, the fright of the depths. Capillaries of freshness of birth forgotten: lightness of the earth under the unexpected cure. Vast steppes and their reaches of tall grasses that rock the slithering of beasts, blood and space of a single melody; you lovers knowing how to go with almost no traces.
Don’t look for the absolute. It is in you like a ravine of dryness which will undo you. All language plowing the earth bears its thirst. Love and doubt. Bitter grass and fruit, the pulse attuned and defeated.
The poetic text is the text of life, worked by the rhythm of the elements, constructed, eroded by everything that is; fragmentary, full of gaps, showing more ancient signs in its faults. Texture of ardor and of circulation: everyone can read there something else and also the same thing.
What we pompously call creative activity is only just a faculty of combining, of constitution of new ensembles starting with existing elements. What reveals itself really in some moments is a quality, a taste, a coherence and a disintegration proper to this new compound. But perhaps, to staunch this thirst for composing new bodies, to assemble no matter what to no matter what? There is something of everything in nature. Some persons find their happiness (or their “truth”) in the strangeness of dream, of chimeras of the imagination, others are forever fascinated by life which moves, breathes and carries on (but it’s also what produces dreams and chimeras), unfolds itself here, comes apart there. Still others try to name, to show through these so friable words, what has from always invented motion.
The central paradox, the absent key of a certain poetry today is that it tries to break into a domain where the logic of language stops short. Modern physics has had to admit a similar failure of ordinary conceptual language when it was a matter of saying, for example, how an atom went about emitting or absorbing light.
It might happen that the clear water of a language between the words of a poem would send us back to the origins of all tongues and of all language, an augural domain which calls upon us like an unexplained disquiet.
There is a vein of energy that is language, that makes its continuous way from cosmic dispersions and geological folds to the weaves of life, to the most abrupt motions of the imagination and song. When voice reveals itself there, an inseparable motion, it’s as if it recognized a face, a modulation, a fundamental relation proposed by the world; as if our language were to throw together all our architectures of stones and winds, suddenly plunged from the present to the ages without memory, recognized its unknown act. Recognized itself.
At the threshold of this indecisive day: the poet with his small packet. Naked in this desert. And naked to scream and deserted to lose any meaning. Who will hear him in the atelier of unusable dust? Even here, in the laudable work, who will perceive his silent excavation? What place to anticipate, avid as we are of brightness outside, for a lamp that simply breathes? This man has nothing to propose that will transmute excrement into gold, which will transfigure the misery of outside into the currency of salvation. Nothing. Some words in a crude foreign tongue that he hears as a native tongue.
But what poet has ever doubted that language was a river in the river and breath in the breath?
To pursue the poetic process into its last refuges, to hurl it above the last wall of words which break the stride of the prophet. There where the discourse, too timidly, leans over an abyss of language.
To write a poem that would not be an abstract of traces, a translation or formation, a waning of the different levels of the lived, of its prodigiously entangled treegrowths—the writing of a reading at another level —, but a growth and a motion both simple, issuing from no center and no beginning, its branches, its leaves, its fruits not being there to refer to anything else, to symbolize, but to conduct the sap and the vivacity of the air, to be their humming and their activity, nourishment and seeding. And reading would no longer be deciphering a code, receiving a message; it would no longer be a matter of reading from an observer’s post so prudently exterior, but rather letting oneself flow into the unforeseeable progress which is, with the same gesture, motion and its laws, difference and identity, form constructing itself and undoing itself. To read and to write: to welcome, to accompany, to dig down, to breathe, to flash forth.
“Approach of the Word” by Lorand Gaspar translated by Mary Ann Caws, from Sol Absolu (Absolute Earth) translated by Mary Ann Caws and Nancy Kline forthcoming from Contramundum Press. (Rail fiction extract part 1 of 2)
Mary Ann Caws
Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and French at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. Her many areas of interest in 20th-century avant-garde literature and art include Surrealism, poets René Char and André Breton, Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury group, and artists Robert Motherwell, Joseph Cornell, and Pablo Picasso. Conceptually, one of her primary themes has been the relationship between image and text.