Page 46 - Jack Foley | The true litterateur
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Robert Duncan, great poet that he was, did us all the service of attempting to
                make an exact equivalence between the poem as “scored” on the page and
                the poem as read aloud...The suggestion that the typewriter can “score” the
                poem  comes  from  Charles  Olson’s  “Projective  Verse”  essay,  but  Duncan
                follows Olson’s suggestion more strictly than Olson himself did. For Ground
                Work  I:  Before  the  War  (1984),  Duncan  persuaded  his  publisher,  New
                Directions,  to  print  a  facsimile  of  his  typescript,  so  that  his  careful  spacing
                could be reproduced exactly. Still, when we hear Duncan read the poems, it
                becomes immediately apparent how little of his voice the page can contain—
                though the page in itself has considerable interest. As his work makes clear,
                there is, at best, only a limited connection between the sound of the poem and
                its visual appearance on the page.


                It is in this gulf between sound and print that my poem takes place.



                The poem touches on a number of the themes I have been writing about in
                this essay. When I wrote the poem, I had been thinking a great deal about the
                work of the composer Charles Ives. Often Ives shifts keys so quickly that, by
                the end of the piece, we have lost all sense of key signature: the next note can
                be, literally, anything. Something analogous happens here. When we listen to
                someone  speak,  we  are  usually  listening  primarily  for  content.  It  is  only
                “secondarily” that we listen for the sound of the person’s voice. In my poem
                we are given so many assertions, so much “content”—and contexts shift so
                quickly—that  finally  we  are  “listening”  to  nothing  but  the  sound  of  the
                speakers,  the  “articulation  of  sound”  which  is  going  on  precisely  at  this
                moment. Content draws us away from the present; my poem insists on what is
                happening right now, forces the listener into a present in which she or he is
                immediately involved. And what is this “present”? It is the intense perception

                of a poem being spoken in a room. The poem, directed into the consciousness
                of  its  hearers,  is  in  this  sense  transformational,  shifting  its  listeners  out  of
                content and context into the pure perception of sound. When the two voices
                suddenly  stop  and  pause  before  going  on  to  conclude  the  poem,  the
                experience of silence is a deep one. Paradoxically, it is this moment of silence
                which  gives  the  poem  its  maximum  sense  of  self-awareness.  Hearing
                “Chorus: SON(G)” for the first time, a friend wrote to me that it “seduced the
                listener  into  the  willing  participation  in  chaos.”  That  seems  to  me  an
                extraordinarily apt description of the poem’s effect: the “chaos” is the chaos
                of voices—all wildly different from one another—inhabiting the same space.




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