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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

The Lines of Williams and Creeley

Between Walls

the back wings
of the

hospital where
nothing

will grow lie
cinders

in which shine
the broken

pieces of a green
bottle

For a brief second, I thought this might be the poem that convinces me to give Williams a solid second try.  But it still succumbs, I think, to Poirier’s criticism that Williams’ poetic ideology is too simplistic to be convincing of anything.  The line is the same as his Famous Poem, with the ending of each line in the two-line stanzas standing in contrast to the other, the first ending on an accented syllable (“the back wings”) and the second on an unaccented (“bottle”), but the incidental-ness of the green of the artificial object positioned “where/ nothing// will grow” and obviously mimicking the thing that should grow there—grass—seems just that: incidental, ignorant that putting this in poetic form makes this no longer just incidental.  In attempting to avoid the high-falutin’-ness of literary language in favor of “real experience,” it unwittingly emphasizes the linguistic structure which mediates our experience of the poet’s experience.  That structure is the real that it tries to bypass so it can return us to the ‘real,’ whether that be green glass glinting on dirt or demotic language. The only thing this poem refers to, as a poem, is the emphasis on “green” and the diminishing of “bottle,” which is, in its innocence, more of a gimmick than a completely ‘artificial’ rhyme or rhythm.

That said, the elision of the preposition that relates the cinder blocks, from which the glass shines, to the back wings—by? at? near?— is a dismantling stroke that I’ve never encountered in Williams before, and it is surely too prominent to be unwitting.

Contrast Creeley’s frustrated, diminished lines, where the breath and syntax of the lines becomes asthmatic, constricted, even as it propels its speaker and its reader to the end of the poem:

Kore

As I was walking
I came upon
chance walking
the same road upon.

As I sat down
by chance to move
later
if and as I might,

light the wood was,
light and green,
and what I saw
before I had not seen.

It was a lady
accompanied
by goat men
leading her.

Her hair held earth.
Her eyes were dark.
A double flute
made her move.

“O love,
where are you
leading
me now?”

It relies on that same deemphasized propulsion, with the ends of most lines—especially that bewildered last line—ending in an unaccented syllable.  The normalized experience (“As I was walking/ I came upon…”) develops into an abstract and mythological relationship, which immediately causes us to question— or causes me to question, what otherwise run-of-the-mill experience, specifically, could possibly underlie this monumental event, out of which the mythological breaks into the daily life of the author?  When the poem pivots on that perfectly iambic line describing the stereotypically “poetic” experience of chance revealing love at first sight—”before I had not seen.”—it reveals implicitly that what could underlie that experience is just that: the poetic, the “artificial.”  After the speaker encounters chance in the first stanza, that quintessentially absurd machinist, he decides to sit down for a spell, and, importantly, retains the right and the freedom to move “if and as I might.” His decision to sit down and stay is just as artificial—willed—as the poem, which would not have received its impetus without the initial artificial decision.  (Similarly, the “song” is not the song: stanza three, which uses a song-like rhythm, sets the stage for the quoted ‘song’ that does not follow a usual, song-like rhythm.)

Rather than simple contrast with an equally artificial emphatic ending, the under-emphasized line-endings of Creeley emphasize the contrivance of the poem, as well as its thematic cliché (“before I had not seen”) in the face of necessarily not cliché experience-itself of an unexpected encounter with the beautiful to which one then submits:

“O love,
where are you
leading
me now?”

And there is true chance’s place in poetry: the poem one sings and the poem one hears are suddenly indiscernible.

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Filed under: Poetry

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