Monday, March 15, 2010

Early Oppen

George Oppen

New Collected Poems (Davidson)--

EDIT: The Introduction by Davidson and the Preface by Weinberger
(Sorry for the late addition/edit, it was unintentionally missed)

Discrete Series (1934) 3-35

Uncollected -- 291-309


313-314 (Stop at a Laced Gaiter)

Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers

Introduction -- 1

Three Poets -- 23

Please read and post once by Sunday, 21st.


  1. First off, an emotional reaction: I think we’re at a disadvantage as contemporary readers because as Oppen is generally mid-century, there have been many decades of people copying this style of poetry--badly--and I think it’s made us a bit jaded. Alright, maybe I’ll just say ‘me.’ It’s made me a bit jaded. I read this, roll my eyes because it’s, by now, become cliché. I read Oppen and see merely the seed of so much bad poetry that I can’t tell if this is necessarily bad or good. Just because he was the ‘first,’ does that mean it’s good? I don’t know yet. From sitting in class, I get the impression that general consensus is that, oh, Romantic poetry for example, can well be acknowledged as important for its time, but can now, in the Very-Busy-And-Important 21st century, be safely tucked away in the “Irrelevant and Dated” drawer. I have observed a double standard: that “formal” poetry is less urgent and more expendable than “modern” poetry (and I use “formal” and “modern” in the most general and lay-person way ever since I’m poetry-retarded), but even as “modern“ poetry recedes more distantly into the past, we still clutch to it. Is that because no one’s done anything worth our time since? I don’t know that either. But if at least one person, even if it’s only myself, reads Oppen and can only think of cliché, can we, as contemporary students, just disregard that observation? The poetry has been filtered thus through time, we are new people in a different world, this poetry was not written to us. We cannot deny the passage of time and the natural disconnect it has installed in this case. I suppose I’m having trouble with how interpretive the “value” or “quality” of poetry is. It feels far more reliant on trends and what’s fashionable than what I’m used to. This is just my observation and interpretation; however, I will continue to try to understand otherwise.

  2. Okay, now an academic reaction: This poetry, the early stuff anyway, is anorexic. There’s no meat I can grab on to, nothing to let me into the poem. While reading the introduction in the daybooks and papers, I was disturbed in coming across a letter from Oppen to Robert Duncan these lines: “We do not know before we complete the poem. Neither of us write[s] what we already know, and of course that’s the essential life of the poem”(6). What?!? He doesn’t know what he’s writing about either? Is that what that means? I don’t know. How, knowing that Oppen is probably does not “already know” what he’s talking about, am I supposed to know? I can only guess that I’m expected to inform the poem in question with my own experience, my own value. But as a reader I resent this. I don’t know how to access the poem in the “right” way, and even if there is not “right” way, if Oppen deliberately left these poems moldable, then what’s the genius? What’s the craft and ingenuity of this strategy?

    I want to test myself here. Looking at page 18 of the New Collected:

    The edge of the ocean,
    The shore: here
    Somebody’s lawn,
    By the water.

    Okay so the punctuation and syntax suggests a pause at the end of each line, similar to the rhythm of the tide. This is perhaps the music that is so important to the Objectivists. It is self contained as it begins with an indication of where the water meets the land, and end with the very same indication. There is a definite suggestion: a lawn. The owner of the lawn is “somebody” which means it is anybody. There is a sense of rested totality here, and the vision is clear. But so what? Somebody’s lawn is by the sea. So what? Even after understanding how the poem is working, I still don’t have access to what makes it poetic.

    I can only describe this in terms and a context I have an understanding of: we’ve all been instructed for ages to “show, don’t tell.” That is, to write from connected experience. In fiction, a piece will fail entirely if there is not a complete company of characteristics. Among these characteristics are Urgency and Empathy. Urgency is the distance between what is wanted, rarely consciously, and what is possessed. It is the fuel for the story’s momentum. Empathy is not so much what we think of when we stand in the Hallmark aisle, rather it is the most human part of our character that we recognize in the character, situation or series of events. It is a story’s breath, pulse and what makes us as readers care to turn each page and not simply throw the book down and walk away; it’s an economy, our investment in the story. Without these, as well as the rest of the company, no matter the subject, ingenuity or skill, the reader will ask “so what?”

    Back to the poem above, I’ve not been given urgency. There’s no fuel for movement. I am, however, going to let that slide because of my comprehension of what rested totality means. You win this round Oppen! But, empathy is another matter. There’s nothing provided for me to have a connected experience, nothing in which to recognize my own humanity. There’s a “Somebody” which we read as “Anybody,” but they are presented as no more alive or important as the water, shore or lawn. Rested totality has made of this beach a tomb, killed its only resident and expects me to care about the fossils? I don’t think so.

  3. I don't know, Brandon. I just don't know. My reaction to the reading today was so completely opposite to your own. I find myself, finally, in a state of relief. I find myself actually having feelings in response to poems. I find myself mildly in love with Oppen. I don't, actually, find myself mired in cliche at all. And I'm not bothered by Oppen's claim to not know what the poem is about before it is finished. He writes and learns. Writes to learn. Writes as a process of thinking. He knows what he thinks when he comes to the end. In the poem, Oppen discovers, and in that process so do we. Weinberger also points out that Oppen was heavy with revision. So, as he revises, he refines the ideas, what he's learned. That's why he doesn't publish everything. He seems so... careful. Differently than Z was. And that difference I'm not sure I can wholly articulate, though I think it's largely aesthetic.

    As for the poems, I usually dislike this searching for a "right" way to read a poem. There is poet, reader, and text-- text is changed in context. Whether it's fiction or poetry it doesn't matter. What you bring to a reading will be different. For example, your search for urgency. I'm not sure that I seek that in a poem, at least not in your terms. I don't need the poems to be peopled, and Oppen's concern with the object seems to allow for that. People can always be implied. If you look at the poem, there is distance. There is a clear division. There is the shore/lawn. And structurally the poem is divided on that line. It creates an underlying tension between "civilization" & "wilderness." I think this comes across most fully by the use of the word "lawn"-- a word that mostly means grass or yard or space, but contemporarily has connotations of ownership, of taming a wilderness. (I say we burn the lawnmowers!) The lawn implies people, and people controlling, owning, manufacturing, etc. Certain priorities that, especially during the depression, would be volatile topics, I'm sure.

    I agree with you that in this moment Oppen reaches Z's "rested totality" and that only strengthens the contrast between these two objects. There's no explanation. Just contrast, and then what that draws upon in the reader. For me, that's striking.

    That is not to suggest that I find Oppen entirely translucent. (The poem on pg 6 completely baffles me, and yet I find it stunning, reading and rereading-- the single lines "The Red Globe." "From the quiet//Stone floor...) But I'd also suggest that the poets I've truly loved are not entirely clear, not really ever. They are poems of discovery, of relearning, of excavation (to use my own term from talks of Z-- but hey, people like different kinds of difficult poems). I get more every time I read.

    Still, there's something in an initial read, for me, with Oppen that makes me want to reread.

    Perhaps it's the "question" that he talks about. His poems not only enact, but pose questions as he attempts to answer them. There is all of this somehow wrapped up in them.

    Either way, there's that flutter in my gut on a first read. Excitement. Simultaneously drawn in by the language, the music, the images toppling on top of each other, the gaps that occur. (Like a reaching-- it was noted he descends, poetically, from E Dickinson, & I see that heavily in his use of punctuation, of gaps, of lineation, etc).

  4. Take page 32:

    On the water, solid--
    The singleness of a toy--

    A tug with two barges.

    O what O what will
    Bring us back to
    the shore

    Coiling a rope on the steel deck

    In the first stanza, The tug boat is read as a toy (referring to size, but also play?), and the fact that it is single implores responsibility, loneliness, on solid water. But also, the tug boat as solid (physical object, but also sturdy).

    And the rhythm caused through repetition and lineation of the second stanza. It's not overbearing or contrived, seems natural even. And the way repeating "the shore" seems to mean doubly-- both as the shore the speakers want to return to but also the shore is coiling the rope on the steel deck. And at the same time, the rope is what will bring the person to shore. And all of this deals with agency, with responsibility, with dependence or reliance.

    It seems to me these aren't fossils at all, but thoughts, somewhat elusive for simple articulation but in a manner, felt.

    Or if they are fossils, perhaps that's ok. People spend their lives digging, to learn from them. We learn from fossils all the time. About ourselves, our histories, cultures. Isn't that largely what archeology and anthropology are about? Learning about people and the world?

  5. Brandon- I admire your willingness to dig into these poems despite your resistance to their formation. I think if you haven’t been reading contemporary for a while (or even modern poetry) coming into contact with Oppen would be quite a challenge. But I would like to discuss some of the things you are contesting.

    First, I think the desire to cling to Modernism is really interesting, and I think you are right that we are still very interested in this era. I don’t think it is because no one has written anything worth talking about since then. Anyone who has read Robert Creeley or Erin Moore or Alice Notley would disagree, probably violently. I think we talk about Modernism so much for two main reasons:

    A. it takes a while to form a discourse, and because we are academic we like discourses. The discourse of Post-Modernism is still developing and therefore is much harder to talk about. I’m not suggesting we’re not up for a challenge, but there is a lot more academic response for us to work from concerning Modernism because there has been more time. We can also safely assume we are no-long Modernists. Is this true? I’m not sure, but I think so and I’m not sure we could say we’re free and clear of Post-Modernism- although I think some people are arguing this.

    B. modernism is HUGE. We have to look at it so intently because everything poets do now is a reaction to Modernism. Historically, that is a period where the world changed drastically. The World Wars happened, God died (see Nietzsche) etc. Poetry/Art changed drastically as well, and we are still looking so closely at it because it is our heritage. Granted, Keats is also our heritage, but we are much more interested in our parents than our great-great grandparents.

    Next, in response to your search for the “right reading,” I’m not sure any school of poetics was ever that concerned with the correctness of the reading. I think is also a symptom of calling a poem an object- once it is a text it becomes a thing separate from its creator and with its own intentions. At the point from which we read Oppen, the poems dictate their own meaning, not the author. Therefore, why would it be so important that the author be aware of what it means during its inception?

    There are a couple of other ways of looking at this. The first one is this: This is a painting by Mark Rothko (one of my favs). What is the right reading of this painting? It is lovely, but I can’t tell you it is about a complicated relationship between Rothko and his mother. I can’t tell you that it is about communism. What I can say about it is that I want to return to its mystery over and over, the same way I want to turn to the lyric on page 6. I agree with Amber, it is one of the most exciting in this series of exciting poems.

  6. Yet I am not sure if this extreme ambiguity of meaning is what Oppen was aiming for. I think he might be more concerned with how we language ourselves into meaning. Davidson said in the introduction that “Sincerity does not mean presenting a verbal mimesis of head gasket… but finding some linguistic approximation of cognitive acts engaging in apprehending such objects.” R. was concerned with directing mimicking the world, but Oppen’s sincerity isn’t concerned with the tree but how we represent and understand the tree linguistically. In this case, Oppen’s statement that he doesn’t know what the meaning of his poems are as he’s writing them makes sense. He is learning (Denise Riley uses the term “retrospective learning”) through his linguistic representation. Consider when you’re writing, especially when you are writing fast, have you ever produced something that surprised you, a line that intrigued you but you weren’t sure what it was or where it came from? You might have to revise a lot to make it seem relevant to you, but it might lose its potency it you were to make it less of a mystery.

    I find it interesting that “honesty” and “clarity” are such import words in Oppen’s aesthetic. It’s clear that his poetry is not as “clear” as R.’s work, in the way that we could say what the poem is immediately about. But it seems more honest (to me) in that our seeing isn’t clear but linguistic. It seems like R. was looking at the tree, and Oppen was looking at how R. was looking at the tree. Which is more honest, (T)ruthful or clear?

    Sorry- this is epic.

  7. The largest issue I'm having is this grand ambiguity, that a poem can be, well, vague enough to do anything for anyone...that tug boats can be a comfort or something sinister depending on who reads the poem. This seems like coy writing, like lazy writing, like the writing of someone without the guts to really say something with skill, with craft. Really, I'm not being snide when I say this, but as for:

    The edge of the ocean,
    The shore: here
    Somebody’s lawn,
    By the water.

    ...okay, i can do a lot of the work myself to take these triggars out of the way-out-general and imagine a lovely scene, mostly of my own invention. But so what. So what? So what.

    And I KNEW I'd get in trouble by using the word "fossil" and I knew it was going to be interpreted in a way I didn't mean. Pretend I said shadow instead. Shadows are vague, shifty, and you have to bring a lot to the table yourself to reasonably deduce what it's a shadow of.

  8. Well, for what it's worth, I'm enormously underwhelmed by Oppen, too. I find myself glad to have read every 7th or 8th poem; the others leave me asking "so what?" like Brandon. I do like this quest for sincerity, and I can quite understand the adulation of the young people later in his life that he had a cause and stood by it faithfully. I am sincere when I say that I came open-minded and willing to believe, but I'm not enjoying this "everyone find what you will" poetry. It feels just like watching clouds and deciding one looks like Caesar Augustus to me, and you see a cat; when it comes right down to it, they are still clouds. Yes, I've exercised my imagination - but Oppen's poems are probably not intended to be exercise. I'll grab a bite to eat and come back with an example of what works/doesn't work for me. :)

  9. I am interested in what Genna said here: "Consider when you’re writing, especially when you are writing fast, have you ever produced something that surprised you, a line that intrigued you but you weren’t sure what it was or where it came from? You might have to revise a lot to make it seem relevant to you, but it might lose its potency it you were to make it less of a mystery."

    I agree that making something less a mystery sometimes ruins its potency, musicality, etc. (of course, it's the bane of my poetic existence) but it seems we must walk a careful line towards relevancy. Who is this poetry truly relevant for, besides Oppen? I can understand how the irritating word play Zukofsky experimented would alienate many; I happen to have admired the craft and enjoyed a lot of his poetry. Here I'm not sensing the craft, and even though I"know" that Oppen spent much time in revision, I can't personally find much to admire in it; I like the word "anorexic" to describe it.

    I did have one large exception to my distaste: the spare quality of the New England poems, which seemed to fit the austere nature of the work and the people and the place he wrote about. But there is a definite place, an identifiable place, behind these poems. They are fleshed out, specific. They don't have to "mean" anything at all (even the New England ones don't seem to). But they do have to "say" something of value to me, and many do not.

  10. I should have written that whole post in Mainah-speak. Dang.

  11. Ok, here goes...some responses to y'all. :)

    In response to Brandon's academic reaction - the poem you point out - you want to know the "so what" which is a perfectly reasonable reaction. Upon first reading it, I was wondering "so what?" as well. It doesn't seem like there's much in those four little lines. But I think with Oppen we need to look outside the bare bones of the poetry and take into account all the context. Oppen is a member of the Communist party, or was for a time, so he has some difficulties with Capitalism (to put it very mildly). This poem, describing a lawn by the sea, is practically a blatant criticism of Capitalism to me. Who can afford a lawn by the water, especially if this is New England...well even if it was Mexico (which it might be if the poem came later) costs a lot of money to have a lawn (which is the epitome of luxury in some an agrarian society, using your land for a lawn instead of crops is the height of decadence) right next to the sea. People with lots of money in our society, or in Oppen's society, are the people who are generally good at navigating the Capitalist economy. So really, it seems like this particular poem you're looking at is a comment on Capitalism. I don't know that all of his little poems are this deep - some of them seem perfectly ordinary, a brief image that doesn't do much beside exist on the page. Granted, even this poem may not be that deep.

    I must say I like Amber's reading of wilderness vs. wild that is implied by the poem. So there's a couple of things you might be able to take away from it? I'm sure there are more that aren't being talked about as well. And I have to agree with Amber that there's a sense of relief in reading Oppen - though maybe not for the same reasons. After wading through Reznikoff it's refreshing to come to Oppen's small, dense lyrics and have these little puzzles to work through or moments to savor.

    Does all this hidden meaning make the poem poetic? I have no idea. It gives it a "so what" but does a poem need a "so what" to be poetic? I think the general consensus would be, "Yes, a poem needs a 'so what' to be poetic," but at times I don't think so. I can't think of any examples (which may prove the point against me), but I believe poetry can exist as the beautiful image or moment without having any sort of philosophical or deeper meaning.

    On another note - in response to a miniscule moment in Genna's post - and this is going to sound like I'm picking at trivialities, and I'm sorry - are we more interested in our parents than our great-great-grandparents? Speaking in terms of poetry, personally, I find the Modernists much less interesting than the Romantics or the Elizabethans or even Medieval poetry. While I can't deny that the period of Modernism is fascinating simply because of what it did to literature, it's these "fossils" of poetry that continue to inform what we do today - we've brought up New Formalism, for example, and that's basically just people appropriating what their poetic great-great-grandparents have done. I don't mean to rant, but it seems dangerous (for lack of a better word...I'm tired...) to relegate them to that long-ago time where they're not quite as relevant as the poets who are nearer to us in terms of time. That isn't to say that Genna doesn't have a point - lots of people feel that the Modernists are of more value in terms of our poetic heritage than the Romantics. I just can't agree.

    Anyway, I'm enjoying reading Oppen. His poetry is completely not what I expected it to be, though I'm not quite sure what it is I exptected.

  12. I’ve always been fascinated by Riley’s idea of “retrospective learning,” of not knowing what you’re saying in a poem until you’ve finished saying it. I find Brandon’s reaction to this idea peculiar, if not surprising. His is a common complaint (common not in the sense of irrelevance—rather, its historical prevalence suggests an ongoing, legitimate concern). The traditional concept of communication follows Brandon’s logical thread—you find that you have something to say (an idea), you formulate how you want to convey it through language, and the standard of a successful exchange is determined by how well your original intention is received by an audience. If this were a technical writing class I would agree with Brandon wholeheartedly, that Oppen should know what he has to say before he says it, but I’ve always found that creative writing (and poetry specifically) functions differently in terms of how it fulfills its function to communicate.

    In common terms, we tend to view a poem as somehow “alive” or “dead” according to how we can converse with it. Some of the most boring (dead) poems I’ve read have a definite meaning—the poet has something to say that he articulates clearly, but when we as readers come to fully understand his intentions, when the poem has been drained of all its mystery, what else is left? I think we’ve all had this experience at one time or another, either in our recreational reading or a workshop or some other venue, of realizing that a poem with only one way of being read has somehow died. Whatever conversation we could have had with or about it has been stifled, because disagreement in essence is the one necessary mechanism of discourse. If we agree about everything, why talk about anything?

    There is, of course, a problematic tension with this argument—in saying that it’s okay not to know what you’re writing before it’s written, you are in a sense required to give up authorship of the poem. I think that this gets at the heart of what Riley means when she says that calling oneself a poet carries with it an element of “guilt”—whether or not one has deliberately considered this problem, one implicitly understands that the writer has limited, if any, control of his faculties. Language, being the only tool we have to intellectually react to the world, dictates our use of it. To make a ridiculous (and arguably inaccurate—sue me, I’m tired) analogy, you can’t toast a piece of bread with a hammer. If language is our hammer, then we have to hammer the bread in some fashion, even if that’s not really what we wanted to do.

  13. um...hehehe. i was about to post again with a long quote and some boring postulation, but now that Zach has brought out the hammer I'm just going to watch the bread become something else.

  14. Kate- I’m not suggesting that Romanticism is somehow a fossil. In fact, it is a part of our poetic heritage and we wouldn’t be were we are today if it weren’t for Keats, Shelley and the like. I also think it is inaccurate to say that we even treat it as a shadow. Look at this school for example, there are a lot more courses on literature pre-1900 than post-1900. Janet and Cheryl’s courses were the only courses this semester (with the exception of workshop, which is kind of a different story) that were teaching anything Modernism and beyond, and Cheryl’s course was cancelled. I’d argue that in general, we spend more time looking at the Romantics, Elizabethans and Medieval poets than we do at Modern poets, at least in academia. I also think it is important to read these poems in a way that acknowledges they are not fossils. I think Zach said it very well that these poems are living things that continue to suggest new meaning every time we read it, including meaning the author might not have intended.

    I’m probably mixing up my fashion history here, but as an example: I don’t wear a corset when I read John Keats. My context has changed in a way Keats couldn’t have foreseen. Therefore, the impressions I get from “Ode to a Nightingale” are different that those intended by the author. Does this make the poem less crafted? I don’t think so, but that seems to be the question at hand.

    Also, in terms of the Modernism issue. I would say that most poets these days read Keats and enjoy him. We read Wordsworth and enjoy him. But it is really important that we also work deeply with Modernism. The major shifts in art at that time are the immediate influence on what we are doing today, and what we write today is still a reaction to Modernism (hence post-modernism). If you write poems that ignore the influence of Elliot and Pound but desire to go back to the style of the Romantics, the work will be archaic, dull and irrelevant. Keats is part of our heritage, and I think that we are often trying to grapple with the same issues that he was (life/death/how to understand what we can’t), but we do not view and understand the world the way he did, and there is no possible way be can. The affects of capitalism, the World Wars, a production based culture have changed our world view drastically- and Modernism and Post-Modernism are the artist response to those changes. To ignore these movements, or at least refuse to admit them as our influence, would be like wishing you could wear a corset to class.

  15. Genna. I hope you check this before class. Ironically, today is Billy Collin's birthday!

    It's the birthday of the best-selling poet Billy Collins, born in Queens, New York (1941). He thinks that too much modern poetry lacks humor. He said: "It's the fault of the Romantics, who eliminated humor from poetry. Shakespeare's hilarious, Chaucer's hilarious. The Romantics killed off humor, and they also eliminated sex, things which were replaced by landscape. I thought that was a pretty bad trade-off, so I'm trying to write about humor and landscape, and occasionally sex."
    He was in his 40s when he published his first book, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), and he has become one of the country's most popular poets. His book Sailing Alone Around the Room (2000) has sold almost 200,000 copies, more than any other book of poetry in this century. His collection Ballistics came out in 2008.

    Since we were speaking of him, I thought it altogether too convenient.

  16. It is interesting that you bring this up. I think it says a lot about a sense of dissatisfaction of the contemporary that I am hearing from people. Has Billy Collins read much contemporary poetry? A lot of it is really funny. Read: Zach Schomburg (sp?), Josh Beckman, Erin Moore, Christine Hume, Dean Young, Tong Hoagland, James Tate, Ana Bozecevic, Wallace Stevens... The list goes on. And sex?! Really? I'm pretty sure there are at least two poets in our class who have a hard time NOT writing about sex. I feel like making this claim suggests that he hasn't actually read anything since the Romantics. You could maybe make that claim had you only read W.C.W. and given him a shallow reading. Sex and Humor are everywhere in modern/post-modern poetry. What is Collins talking about?

  17. Collins is in his own world. I don't think he reads anything but his own work.

    The more I read Oppen, the more obvious his "resistance to surrealism" becomes the source of my indifference to much of his work. That's the missing link. I can take all the ambivalence in the poetic world with a dose of surrealism, or heavy metaphor - without it it's just, well, hammered bread to me. I guess I need to be clobbered with words, overwhelmed with them. When I read "the New Englander was boatness" from "Product," I have my moment; Sara the "little violent, diligent seed" in "Sara in Her Father's Arms" is the same.

    I come to poetry seeking a truth I can't visualize alone; articulating how I find it is difficult, but the Objectivists are helping me develop that vocabulary.

  18. Sure, there are far more courses in pre 20th century lit and poetry this semester, and perhaps every semester, who knows. But I've always gotten the feeling that there's a remarkable separation taking place in those classes. It's as if we take those courses because we feel obligated to, mostly because we have to show that we've paid our respects to something that "was once" great but really, deep down, you just want the hour to be over. Like going to visit your great great grandma in a nursing home, who you've met like twice in your life, just to be respectful, but the entire time you're just counting the minutes before you can get the hell out of there. This is natural, we feel like that person has nothing to do with us, and they probably don't. But it has to be respected what they went through, the great depression for example, the wars, whatever and how those experiences have shaped our present. I'm not saying that the modernists shouldn't be respected, only that they ought not be revered any more than all those other history changing dead writers. When considering the past, all we have to left to experience as 21st century people is the ripple effect their cumulative actions have caused. I'm saying that it's unfair and irresponsible to think one ripple more relevant than any before or after it because they all function together as the tide upon which we float.

    I fully admit I'm out of my depth most of the time in this course, but as a poetic "outsider," I've observed, this semester and others, a far more vocal and earnest respect for what happened in the first half of the 20th century than any time before or after. I think it's partly because it's more recent, partly because some of it is good, partly because it seems fashionable, and partly because it's accessible to the collegic atmosphere. The "breakthrough" concepts seem to appeal to the psychology of twenty-somethings, so it's easy to become enamored.

    On a different note, I don’t buy that I’m supposed to have a thorough biographic understanding of the author to be able to glean a “so what” from the text. If the seaside/lawn poem reads as a commentary on Capitalism for some, it seems like a trick of the author. It’s almost like self promotion, or a PR scheme. Like saying, “You won’t get it unless to know ME, and read all my other work.” If the poet supposedly intends to release the work into the world, and claim guilt in calling himself the author, how does this all compute? Publish anonymously if that’s really the case. Since they didn’t, and we’ve already read a poet who tirelessly self published to ensure his work would live, I can assume that in addition to any artistic principles these people had, they were also motivated by what we all are motivated by, whether we admit it or not: immortality and money. I don’t feel these are to be ashamed of, we all wish for both. It’s part of our DNA.

  19. and before i get into trouble, when i say "these people" in that last paragraph, i mean the modernists and all other poets before and after. the same applies to writers, artists, musicians, etc. the economy of expression is a lucrative one.

  20. The "So What" of Oppen's discrete series lies in it's important and immediate look at the experience of things. I would say that the prevalence of the personal computer and the internet as wide-spread consumer tool is a sign of what is important to see in the Discrete Series:


    White. From the
    underarm of T

    The red globe.

    Down. Round
    Shiny fixed

    From the quiet

    Stone floor...


    Hides the

    Parts - the prudery
    Of frigidaire, of
    soda-jerking -


    Above the

    Plane of lunch, of wives
    Removes itself
    (As soda-jerking from
    the private act

    Cracking eggs);


    Today, so much of our experience comes from objects and interfaces that are not understood as a conglomeration of parts but as some unified whole that is discrete to itself. This is not the truth, even as you read this blog. While on the screen it appears as if an object is emerging to meet your gaze, the truth is there are millions of processes that under-gird the experience of this website. Just as an elevator's floor indicator is so difficult to discern from an enumeration of its parts: we experience these parts only as the manifest to our needs.

    When Oppen switches the focus from individual parts to the hole, he does so by indicating that those parts are "hidden" from our view. The juxtaposition of soda-jerking and cracking eggs further indicates the cognitive dissonance between that appearance of a thing and that which sustains the thing without being seen. Soda-jerking is a service which fills a particular need, but it's not the most important or the most substantial. Oppen does acknowledge, however, that it gains a prestige over the "private act of cracking eggs" (which is a source of sustenance) because it appears in the public, and serves a need that is more visible.

    The discrete series does this constantly, though often from the opposite viewpoint: by looking at the thing most visible (As in the poem Drawing, where he admits it's

    Not by growth
    But the
    Paper, turned, contains
    This entire volume

    )he undermines a more readily available abstraction in order to demonstrate the distance we as modern people has placed between us and the workings of our world.

    These poems are as relevant, or more relevant, now as they were when Oppen had written them. The mind process that are used to properly function in a digital landscape are at a high cultural premium, but that process of thinking necessarily requires a divorce from the object itself. Oppen's Discrete Series is like resetting a broken bone: it hurts to heal.