Either/Or: A Fragment of Life, Soren Kierkegaard
What follows below is an attempt to explain, to flesh out actually, the process responsible for the birth of a series of poems grouped under the heading " the untitled..." This collection did not spring into the world of its own accord. Rather, it is the result of 53 years worth of assorted ups and downs. To say that they are "esoteric" would be an understatement.
comments on the untitled, 12.9.96
The fact that the poems have taken physical form at a time when I hope to graduate college is,
I am thinking, not a coincidence. It is almost as if there were a funnel through which both the
untitled and I have been squeezed...on the other side of the funnels' spout exists a different
person, being, entity, what-ever-the-hell-you-might-wish-to-call-it with the untitled sitting
on his/my/its shoulder. I am different now not because of the untitled. Rather, I am different
because I have allowed the untitled their place in this world.
In The Beginning there were bits and pieces, just as with any life. Snatches. Flotsam. The foundation of a cognitive journey constructed of this'-and-thats' each drifting slowly, floating randomly hither and yon until they came to rest, entirely by chance. So was born the thread of an idea...
Note (written by me in 1992):
I see myself in that field, feet pointed towards our house, but I remember nothing after that -- gone the sun, the field, the tarpaper. A shutter opened quickly then closed. The frame gone blank.
I don't lay in the sun any more.
Snatches. Flotsam true. Foundations. What we remember, we become. So, now I sit and I construct. In shaping the untitled I have focused with deliberation despite the fact that I object to such corralling, such "planning," such "calculation." To act so is difficult because I have always considered that it is better to ramble, wandering here and there midst confusion, knowing that coherence would (might?) out.
While the deliberation pains, the desire to record, relate and relegate is strong. And, as I chose to heed that call I must now take responsibility for what has passed through the aforementioned funnel. No longer can I indulge an impetus self-supplied but, rather, must own up to a desire, a need actually, to draw in, excite, and interest those who I have always said mean nothing to me...namely you the general reader.
Note this written in 1974 when I was one year into what was to become a failed marriage:
With the untitled I have attempted to weave a web which, by definition, is opaque. And yet I wish the reader to be able to "see" within...to be able to view, by their definition what I have addressed. The tools I used are words calculated so as to avoid the usual yet not confuse. Yet they must confuse just so because I have always believed that "outsiders" have no rights as regards me and must "work" a bit to pry open any door through which I might be glimpsed. This could be termed a "character flaw," an approach which has been taken so often now that I react by habit to all persons exterior to me. Basically put, I make "things" difficult for my fellows and kept this in mind when writing the untitled. I wished the reader to " do some work," to wrestle, consider, ponder what probably, at first, is perceived as inscrutable.
The untitled are founded in many themes - pain, failure, fantasy, reflections, dreams and sadness...all are bound loosely with a "sense," a "feeling" really, that each theme interconnects to form a synthesizing pool from which a modified "me" has wrested himself. I used these themes, this raw material, because I have always believed that pain is greater than pleasure and sadness greater than joy. I believe They are the greatest Teachers.
Though joy is better than sorrow joy is not great;
Peace is great, strength is great
Not for joy the stars burn, not for joy the vulture
Spreads her gray sails on the air
Over the mountain; not for joy the worn mountain
Stands while years like water
Trench his long side. "I am neither mountain nor bird
Nor star; and I seek joy."
The weakness of your breed; yet at length quietness
Will cover those wistful eyes.
The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Robinson Jeffers
Each of my brushes with sadness, each touch of tragedy and despair has cemented a portion of the untitled. Each failure, or success, has pushed me on to this now (defined to a degree by the date, December 2, 1996)...thence on to an isolation (a key theme of the untitled), to a cyber-world wherein I can electronically embrace the planet at the flick of a switch and provide for world-wide publishing at the "untitled" World Wide Web site.
Tragedy. Despair. Failure. Success. Isolation. An electronic embrace. How to tie these? How to show a connection?
You see, all my "working" life I have "related." In the Marine Corps ('61 - '65) I "read" news releases to my peers - an odd endeavor for an "infantryman" to be sure. In New York City ('67 - '73) I painted. At sea I wrote ('73 - '95) and was responsible for a newsletter.
Always there were transmissions of one type or another and each transmission contributed to the building of a breakwater of sorts. This breakwater built itself of its own accord and provided an insulation, a period of calm within which I was able to examine, reflect and determine what was really of consequence to me. The outcome of my reflection was a decision to leave the sea and move to Vermont...in my mind's eye I was returning to Montrose.
Just as in the beginning, now I am relating, albeit in a different medium, as I did many, many years ago. There is a thread. The connection is firm.
Co-incident with my first residency at Goddard came the decision to allow for access to the untitled via the Internet's World Wide Web (WWW). I created a WWW site at which individuals could expose themselves to the collection. At this site I solicited advice concerning the poems. In my opinion most readers find this material to be confusing and comments about the poems have been few and far between.
Can you imagine what it is to "know" that just beyond, just through the trees, there is a flicker, a dancer glimpsed yet never quite within reach? This, a phantom really. Perhaps never to be grasped but still...it's there, beckoning. Luring, to be precise. Arms open, for a very long time I have followed this flickering phantom.
Consider the following "forced" transition process:
The Reinchantment of the World, Morris Berman
Yes..."In Learning III we literally rise to a new level of existence, and then look down and recall, perhaps fondly, our past consciousness, fraught with what we thought was irresolvable contradiction." I am much attracted to this relation about the porpoise.
As I interpret the exercise, the porpoise have been "forced" to evolve as "thinkers" by their "teacher." While my "education" has come to me in bits-and-pieces, so too in much the same way as evolved the porpoise there have been "frustrations" which served to "force" me to consider alternatives to the life I lived as a SeaMan.
In 1973 I "went to sea" at the ripe old age of 31. I worked hard and gradually wended my way to a position of consequence, that of Boatswain. Along the way I gained a reputation for hard work, fairness, and some degree of flair. I never hesitated to tell the truth and always believed in "definition." I believed that in working hard for the "Company," the Company would take care of me. While this approach was heartfelt, I always examined the workplace from my peculiar viewpoint. One certainly does form a "world opinion" by the time he is 31. I had been around and had very definite opinions as to what was what. I believed (and still do) in truth, fairness, and commitment. These beliefs directed how I approached both my fellows and my "superiors."
As with any workplace, some things I believed were wrong and I objected the issue of informers, stoolies, rats, and lapdogs. The following article was published in the March, '95 issue of the non-profit newsletter, Pick and Shovel. The "Preface" to the article was fiction constructed entirely by me. Six months after the publication of this article I (the newsletter's editor) was recommended for removal from federal service.
At the time of the removal recommendation I had over 22 years of active service as a civil service employee:
In response to my effort to address this "problem," the Government responded:
That the Government felt I was actually advocating violence I found incredible...this after 22 years of service. The ante had been raised and I was about to make a "vault" just as did the porpoise...
To find a voice, a terrain, an environment if not of comfort then one truly unique and of my own making...this is one of the points of the untitled. I have attempted to transform past and present experience into something new as per Ranier Maria Rilke:
Lettres (Letters to Clara), Rilke
Yes...a derangement...this is part and parcel of what I write...and why I write.
Claiming Breath, Diane Glancy...Tsalagi Elder
Oh, yes...the Hammer and Chisel. This IS the untitled. Just as fire fragments and then reassembles, it is often the catalyst for change, the passing through. My cuts, my bruises, my darkness speckled with bits of hope have served as a springboard from one dimension to another.
For me it was this pushing, the nagging, the tragedy and sadness which proved to be the prods, the initiators of creativity. For I believe one must pass through a literal funnel...one must be passed through a fire of sorts. One must feel the pain. These act as initiators and serve to prompt creation.
comments on the untitled, 12.9.96
Goddard's 1995 residency over, I drove South to Virginia, to an answering machine on which resided advice that my youngest daughter had just tried to commit suicide. Late at night...message delivered. This was to be the first of five separate attempts.
I poured myself a drink. There were no tears. No quickening of the blood. Only silence and, perhaps, a resignation. Almost a "So..?" Nothing more. I was untouched. Numb? No. Not numb, simply untouched. Why? This is a necessary question for I constantly search for "catalysts." Initiators. Prompts. Issues, occurences, happenings which, when encountered (or participated in), jump-start the creative process.
Failed this and that am I. Oh yes, we all are such. And me a failed husband, seeker, friend, lover, dreamer, sometimes liar and much more...these things all. Oh yes...but each has cemented some thing. Each failure, or success, has pushed me on to now...to this isolation, a cyber-world wherefrom I can embrace the planet at the flick of a switch. For with my entry into Goddard came full-time involvement with the Internet and the idea to allow world-wide access to my poetry. This access has enhanced those poems.
Consider this said by me in 1974:
For a long time I have fancied myself a thinker. How different life might have been if I'd never gotten involved with that illusion.
Of course, one is usually prodded. Molded. Lied to. Led to believe that to question, to analyze, to examine oneself is the road to salvation. Rather, it became the road to delusion. Oh, the years I wasted. All those times I considered myself on the right track due to forced deliberate self-examination. Such a precious waste of time:
The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Roan Stallion, Robinson Jeffers
Can you see me? See the one who would not go to his Father but instead left him in tears? The one who showed no reaction to the word suicide or his brothers hurt? Am I as I was?
It often seems to me that I have broken from the "mold." That I have, somehow, become a creature liken to my fellows only in appearance:
J.S. Dill, 1977
This would explain the insensitivity, the insulation from the "norm."
Have I become what was written about so very long ago? Such queries I find chilling. For, if there's been no change...even from the earliest days, then I have been preordained and my path has been tracked. Am I moving, remotely controlled, with no freedom, chained in place, a burden welded to my spine? Or, rather, have I always understood that what "was," was.
The Sacred Chao, Hung Mung
Yes. Definite anti-deliberation advice. To seek is not to do so. To want will not fulfill. To act as Hung Mung advises will cause "things to come to life of themselves."
But, in the beginning I had to have a "cause." I had to declare myself. Construct a mission. Be this or that. Do not all the young act so?. And was I not, to some degree, defined by these deliberate acts? Were they not necessary to whatever foundation came later? All the while Hung Mung was standing quietly, waiting, on the horizon...
Eleven years later....In 1961 I barely graduated from high school. Prior to graduation I was given an ultimatum by my Father: "What are you going to do? Get a job or go into the service?" Having just a few weeks earlier seen the movie, "The DI" (Drill Instructor) with Jack Webb, and being too "good" to get a job, I chose the Marine Corps.
One day during boot camp at Parris Island I was "selected" to leave from breakfast early so I might to monitor my fellows for the Drill Instructor and report who was smoking.
As I look back on my life this was the first time I was really put on the line. On one hand I had the Drill Instructor, fully capable of beating me into the ground or killing me for lack of cooperation, and on the hand stood my peers, commoners just like me trying to survive the most notorious boot camp in the free world.
What to do? Well, I really had no choice, did I? I opted to side with my peers. The die had been cast. That night I was beaten badly for not doing as I was told.
Somehow I believe that the 1950 ladder incident (Montrose) and my failure to measure up as an informer (Marine Corps) are related. Connections, threads, interweavings, Montrose (where I first scented "fear"), Marine Corps (where I mastered fear's scent), Haight Ashbury (where the mastery of fear provided direction), New York City's East Village (a gateway to the Sea), Vermont (in my mind's eye a return to Montrose)...all are related. We are the result of our travels (or rather, our illusions?)...Where we have been affects our future.
In writing the untitled I have tried to do so without the type of deliberation one might normally associate with writing. I say this by explanation of the "how" of the process...Much of what has been referred to above has ended up in the Untitled and associated poems...whatever is written comes directly from experience...not much fiction there. But, of course, I am steeped in fiction...and the fiction seeps into me:
Fall, 1996, JS Dill
I don't remember when untitled One was written. But it was some time well after the residency, after the first suicide attempt...September, 1995 perhaps. I hadn't made any conscious decision to not return to sea. In truth, though, I was not going to and will not now... Starting in Virginia and following me to Vermont, the untitled have been largely responsible for my decision not to return to sea.
In Vermont I ended up living over the Teago Country Store in South Pomfret. Two rooms for $300 per month heat included...a "garret" actually...I am proud of it, and me for being here...
When I sleep my head points toward the East...when I type I face to the North...immediately to the West the building is bounded by a stream...the triangular spit on which the store resides is bounded on its three sides by roads. This is referred to in some of the untitled as the " triangle."
A triangle...in the symbolism of numbers a triangle is equal to the number three:
A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E. Cirlot
I am comfortable in this place. Am comfortable here in the triangle...a form which "symbolizes fire and the aspiration of all things toward the higher unity...". And, while one can't build his life upon symbols there must be direction, some reason, some purpose to all times and places. Such is the consequence of now.
comments on the untitled, 12.9.96
In 1948 I was five years old. My Grandmother took me visiting one day and I found myself in a small house in whose parlor hung a large (to my eye) painting. It was nightime and a lone wolf stood on a snow-covered hill. Down and to his left was a cluster of houses. Snow covered roofs and lights bright shining through the windows. The night is cold, or so I think/thought. The wolf is alone and knows that what resides below can not be for him...
This painting has followed me thoughtout my life. A tattered copy sits here now with me...I am the wolf. I am alone. But, I did not openly choose this lot. Such was decreed a very long time ago. Now, you tell me something. Did I choose the wolf or did he choose me?
The untitled are built upon a foundation...one steeped in William Blake, Kenneth Patchen, Robinson Jeffers, dear sick Keroauc, Robert Graves and Sir James George Frazer...not to mention Jorge Luis Borges.
That I have been drawn to relations of sadness and fantasy can be deduced by the writers referenced above. Need I here itemize their affiliations? Their affinities? Or, rather, can I not by definition direct you to them and through them see the me of me? Is this not part of your responsibility? You must do much of the work.
As to the foundation? What say I about that? What really is there to say of one who chose a lot all wrapped in sorrow, pain, and lingering want? Think you that I have never asked the WHY of this? That I've never considered there might be some "stain," some inherent " personal despair?"
But such questions are irrelevant. What is, is. Is that wolf on the hill going to change despite a longing, perhaps, for a different life. No, we are as we are. There can be no changes and as for me? Well, I accept the mantle given me for one reason or another. Rather than rail against this I have tried, via the untitled, to give life to a shadow world unchosen.
Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills to view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.
The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question "Whither?"
Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a reason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a reason?
taken from the collection A Boy's Will, Robert Frost
I am not an admirer of Robert Frost. Nevertheless, this poem speaks to me for I too have "...climbed the hills to view and have looked at the world and descended; I have come by the highway home, And lo, it is ended." I am finished with some things. The pendulum has swung. Still, "...[my] heart is still aching to seek..." Indeed. Still, I wonder about the "why" and, of course, " the whither."
Lettres (Letters to Clara), Rilke
You see, in writing the untitled I have attempted (initially without deliberation) to give "form" to that which had none...:
The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard
The Poetics of Space was encountered after the fact...well after the 25 untitled...but, the description, the philosophy(?) fits...I have attempted to...to...give form to "something." This " something" is driving me somewhere...driving one who has no faith...one who sees not beyond the horizon but instead strives to place each foot, in stepping, with deliberation and care all the time moving forward while causing as little damage to his surroundings as possible...
As I hope is obvious to the reader, in the untitled I have created a map of sorts...defined a journey(?)...but, is there a point? Does there need to be a point? Or, perhaps, am I only defining a part of my life:
The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard
Yes...this is all that I am doing...pure and simple...