Something

I approach with such a careful tremor, always I feel the finally foolish question of how it is, then, supposed to be felt, and by whom. I remember once in a rented room on 27th street, the woman I loved then, literally, after we had made love on the large bed sitting across from a basin with two faucets, she had to pee but was nervous, embarrassed I suppose I would watch her who had but a moment ago been completely open to me, naked, on the same bed. Squatting, her head reflected in the mirror, the hair dark there, the full of her face, the shoulders, sat spread-legged, turned on one faucet and shyly pissed. What love might learn from such a sight.

This poem fulfils many of the injunctions of the 'Projective Verse' essay. In particular, it confirms Olson's thesis that the structuring of lines as breath units would lead to an increase in pace and dynamicism. The fact that every break is already pointed for the listening ear by a terminal juncture allows Creeley to avoid end-stopping eighteen of the twenty-four lines of the poem. Lacking terminal punctuation, most of the lines end in an unwritten question:

I remember (remember what?)

once in a rented room on (on what?) 27th street, the woman I loved (did what?) then, literally, after we (we what?)

had made love on the large (the large what?) bed sitting across from (from what?) a basin with two faucets, she (she what?) had to pee . . .

The stranglehold of syntax on lineation is broken, the reader being propelled from line to line by the need to conclude the sentence. The precipitous forward propulsion, momentarily checked by successive terminal pauses, leads to an increase of stress on the first syllable of sequent lines: 'the woman I loved (pause) then, literally, after we (pause) had made love on the large (pause) bed. . .'. With line lengths varying between five and ten syllables, the pumping of these added stresses falls into no predictable periodicity. The result is a kind of syncopation, the inherent rhythm of the phrasing being counterpointed by the intrusive stops and starts arising from the breath patterns. In Creeley's case, this is used to register the nervous garrulity of a timorous narrator forced by the pressure of emotion into reluctant utterance. In the example before us, the stuttering hesitancies of the poem's progress down the page culminate in an apparently confident assertion which, on second thoughts, can only lead to the further question: what might love learn from such a sight?

In places, the syncopating of the rhythm is enhanced by inversions, excessive use of the comma, and by the dislocations of syntax consequent upon the depending of innumerable qualifiers from each principal clause. Even written out as prose, a sentence such as the following has an extraordinarily fitful and impulsive movement: 'I remember once in a rented room on 27th street, the woman I loved, then, literally after we had made love on the large bed, sitting across from a basin with two faucets, she had to pee but was nervous, embarrassed I suppose I would watch her, who had but a moment ago been completely open to me, naked, on the same bed'. The tortuous structure bespeaks its author's struggle to bring sensitive matters to exact definition, such awkwardnesses as arise being earnests of the narrator's sincerity. Olson's use of the words 'projectile', 'percussive' and 'prospective' to augment our understanding of the term suggests that it was this propulsive, staccato quality which most prompted the choice of the designation 'projective' for the verse which he had fathered. Certainly, the agitated and compulsive rhythms that result from pausing for breath at the end of every line regardless of punctuation or sense characterize Black Mountain writing as a whole.

This same poem will serve to elucidate the second characteristic of projectivism, the diminishing of the tyranny of the ictus by basing the poem's prosody on quantitative or, in this instance, syllabic intensities. Syllabic prosody measures only the number of syllables per line, stress or accent being applied as a device of embellishment and not a criterion of the basic metrical structure. As the syllabic pattern only emerges in integers larger than the individual line, the verse paragraph or stanza tends to be the primary structural unit. Most pertinent of all, it is a convention in syllabic verse to pause at the end of every line in order to point the numerical patterning for the listening ear.

There is no question of Creeley slotting his lines into preconceived grids in the manner preferred by Marianne Moore: his poems are played by ear, not plotted on a graph. Nevertheless, in the poem before us the recurrence of the three-line stanza, the roughly approximate line-lengths, and the predominance of monosyllables (90 of the poem's 125 words), all tempt the attentive ear into trying to descry a syllabic plan. Nor is this a futile activity, for the poem perpetually hovers over, without quite settling into, a fixed permutation based on the seven-syllable line. The seven-syllable line is the most common. The seven-syllable line is the average. Every stanza bar one contains a seven-syllable line. The only stanza which does not contain a seven-syllable line approximates to doing so by being constituted of lines of six and eight syllables. There is no five-, nine- or ten-syllable line which is not adjacent to one of seven syllables. And the last line of the poem is one of seven syllables. Configurations of this kind may be arbitrary, the inevitable consequence of juggling with a few fixed quantities. Nonetheless, what we have here is a syllabic piping which stems from number as surely as does the more calculated carolling of Marianne Moore. As Cid Corman said, 'it is not a matter of counting syllables, but of making syllables count'.

That Creeley's syllables do count is easily demonstrated. Consider, for example, the terrific spinal column of internal rhymes that, vertebra by vertebra, provides the poem with its hidden backbone: stanza one, approach-such; stanzas two and three, whom-room; stanzas three and four, love-love[d]; stanzas four, five and six, she—pee—bee[n]—completely—me; stanza seven, hair—there; stanza eight, turn[ed]— learn, might—sight. To those attuned to its subtle orchestration, such mastery is a source of exquisite pleasure.

Of the comments on typography in 'Projective Verse', the one which had most influence concerned the use of textual spacings to notate silences in oral performance. In the hands of an Olson or a Paul Blackburn this could lead to poems that zigged, not to say zagged, dynamically across the page. For purposes of illustration, however, one might consider a less frenetic work such as 'The Hermit Cackleberry Brown, On Human Vanity' by Jonathan Williams:

caint call your name but your face is easy come sit now some folks figure theyre bettern cowflop they aint not a bit just good to hold the world together like hooved up ground that's what

This poem has the aforementioned characteristics of projectivism. There is the same use of the terminal juncture to dislocate syntax in a manner that propels the reader from line to line in the attempt to conclude the sentence:

now some folks figure theyre (theyre what?) bettern (bettern what?) cowflop they (they what?) aint

And there is the same relaxing of accentual patterning by laying down a gritty succession of monosyllables (31 of the 36 words in the poem). But what concerns us here is the function of the spacings. Knowing the poet's love of hitchhiking through the American South, we may take it on trust that the text is a direct transcript of the speech of the hermit named in the title: the poem is an objet trouvé. Granted that transcripts of conversation are usually regarded as prose, Williams has cunningly deployed his spacings so as to reveal within the text that more highly patterned utterance we call verse. The poem consists of three main stanzas; each of these stanzas is followed by a typographical space; and after traversing each of these ruptures the reader comes across a terse afterthought to the preceding statements. The sense that the recurrent model of stanza—pause—afterthought constitutes a kind of poetic structuring is added to by the fact that the three terse appendages are near-rhymes: come sit; not a bit; that's what.

At the same time, these spacings neatly augment the poem's scrupulous attention to the speaker's pungent colloquialisms. Consider the first four lines. The opening distich records Cackleberry's salutation to our narrator:

caint call your name but your face is easy

Having greeted his visitor, the speaker pauses long enough to decide whether or not to invite him to stay and, having made his decision, offers him a chair:

caint call your name but your face is easy come sit

Having offered him a seat, Cackleberry pauses again to allow his guest time to get settled, only then launching into his main subject:

caint call your name but your face is easy come sit now some folks figure . . .

Each of these typographical rifts is a meaningful hiatus into which we read certain undescribed physical or mental operations; we decipher the spaces as well as the print. And what we glean from the spaces hardens our conviction that this is not a fictive text, but is an authentic rendering of an actual exchange between real people. The erasures in it help lend the text its whiff of authenticity. Jonathan Williams may be a miniaturist, but in a poem such as this he displays a tact and exactitude not always found in the work of those who employ a larger canvas.

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