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23 February 2009

Paterson - a diversion

Again, going back to university days, one of the unseen texts someone set us was an extract from Paterson, by William Carlos Williams. It's the bit in Book Five that begins:
There is a woman in our town
walks rapidly, flat bellied
in worn slacks upon the street
where I saw her.
neither short
nor tall, nor old nor young
her
face would attract no
adolescent. Grey eyes looked
straight before her.
Her
hair
was gathered simply behind the
ears under a shapeless hat.

I can't imagine now or remember what I said in response to this. But it clearly worked (actually, I loved it) and some time later I bought the book Paterson, a New Directions Paperbook [sic], which bears the printed price $1.95, and is browned and dog-eared. I remember that I read it all, with pleasure, but I remember nothing of what's in it (except the quoted passage). Looking at (not reading) it now, it's similar to the Cantos in that it's a collection of disparate materials, building up a picture of the town, historical and pictorial. In Paterson, though, there's a more obvious typographical structure: prose sections are set in smaller type, and there's more variation in indentation for different types of material. One page (137 in this edition) tilts the lines in ways I can't reproduce here, while saying "Salut à Antonin Artaud pour les lignes, très pures".

Generally it all seems more fun and more focussed than the Cantos. Was Ez taking on too much in trying to depict the whole course and curse of western civilisation? Obv, yes. Both poets are known for their miniatures: Pound for In a Station of the Metro and WCW for The Red Wheelbarrow. Here they are. Pound:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Williams:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Durr, they're both great, but work in different ways. To oversimplify: with Ez, it's the assonance or melody that clinches it, while with WCW it's the form, the rhythm; the balance of the syllable count (42323242) and the semantic link between 'red' and 'white'. And WCW uses the word glazed quite as elegantly as Ez does. So, both of them, in this lyric mode, earn the right to be respected as poets. It's like the drawings of a conceptual artist: delightful in themselves but proof they have mastered what they're transcending. In the long works, both of them feel free to exclude poetry when necessary, which is perhaps a recognition that poetry can't say everything, or is it a widening of what poetry is? Any poetry, like any writing, is an assembly of existing objects (words), which carry a lot of clutter. Why not assemble bigger units of language? Where would we stop? OK, to get personal, let's think about my time as a bookseller. I was really proud of the shop I created: those books, and the way they were arranged, seemed to me to be a statement about me and my beliefs. And I hadn't written any of them! Similarly, museum and gallery curators are, or can be, creative in the arrangement of the works at their disposal.

Well, what a diversion! These are ideas I haven't had for many years, if ever, and maybe I'm getting closer to the point of the Cantos, and work like it. The next one, 28, is a biggun, I've read it a few times and am still not ready to comment.

Oh, and I've just noticed that my edition of the Cantos, which I knew was pub'd by New Directions @ $25.95 is a 'Paperbook' too. Has no-one told them?

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