11 July 2005

leaving space for the reader

I'm a long-form writer, no matter what I try, but my long explications often don't convey meaning. Part of my challenge is to write for a reader beyond myself. In Louise Gluck's Proofs & Theories, an essay called "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence" gives me ideas about how to let readers into my work:

I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. . . . what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinshed. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.

The argument for completion, for thoroughness, for exhaustive detail, is that it makes an art more potent because more exact—a closer recreation of the real. But the cult of exhaustive detail, of data, needs scrutiny. News stories are detailed. But they don’t seem, at least to me, at all real. Their thoroughness is a reprimand to imagination; and yet they don’t say this is what it was to be here.

Speaking of Rilke's poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo," Gluck says:

What wholeness gives up is the dynamic: the mind need not rush in to fill a void. And Rilke loved his voids. In the broken thing, moreover, human agency is oddly implied: breakage, whatever its cause, is the dark complement to the act of making; the one implies the other. The thing that is broken has particular authority over the act of change.


  1. The thing that is broken has particular authority over the act of change.

    Okay, that grabbed me. Hmmmmmmmm. I'm thinking about fragmentary writing lately (esp. in connection with the idea of reworking my long "Interstellar Static" poem in a fragmented form) and thinking too of what Rich did with language when it no longer sufficed, after "Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law," how her language blew open both in meaning and in form (blank spaces in the middle of lines, more ragged/uneven lines, etc). The physical blowing-open and fragmenting of language to express the unsayable. Rich: "This is the oppressor's language and yet I must use it to speak to you" -- and what do you do when you both must and cannot use the language that you have?

    Guess I should go read Gluck. :)

  2. they haunt because they are not whole