Discrete Series George Oppen 1934

Prior to publishing his first volume of poetry, George OPPEN was mainly known for his association with the objectivist school; Discrete Series (1934), however, brought him individual attention. Measured purely by word count, Discrete Series is shorter than this entry. In its original form, the white space around the poems gives the words a concrete presence that Louise glĂĽck refers to as "restraint, juxtaposition, nuance" (29). Indeed, the first thing that strikes the reader of Discrete Series is how the few words of the poetry cling to visibility against the overwhelming white of the page. In the original edition (as opposed to its placement in later collections), where the words are distributed over 30 pages, there are rarely more than four words per line or 10 lines per page, and there are never more than 50 words on a page.

The ostensible subjects of the poems are everyday objects and people in Oppens New York life. A car, elevator signs, tug boats in the harbor, refrigerators— oppen finds them all noteworthy. This tangible, empirical world of objects that oppen describes is mirrored by the sparse, hard words that comprise a poetry joined together more physically than grammatically. oppen explained that he took the title of his work from mathematics, where the term discrete series refers to "a series of terms each of which is empirically derived, each one of which is empirically true" (161). Each page, each poem, indeed, each word is so concrete as to have been "empirically derived" and placed in the series as a constitutive term to be read on its own. This discrete nature makes it difficult to know how many poems there are in the series or whether the poetry is even divided into "poems."

out of print for many years in its original form, the series is available in both the 1975 Collected Poems, where the poems are crammed into 12 pages, and the New Collected Poems (2002), where the poetry is paginated more like the original. The series itself is punctuated by numbers and lines in bold type that both Collected Poems take to be titles. According to this schema, the contents page (notably absent from the original volume of Discrete Series) would list seven poems: an untitled preface; two pairs of poems, each numbered 1 and 2; the longish "Party on Shipboard," which takes up more than half the book; and the short final poem, called "Drawing."

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