The Bob Grumman Interview
interview was conducted by way of an exchange of e-mail letters
—Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino
You first define taxonomy as "the laws and principles covering the classifying of objects." For me, taxonomy is the systematic classification of objects. You then consider nomenclature to be "the system of names," which made me think about the fact that I do try to make up a terminology that is systematic—whose terms, that is, not only appropriately name things, but interrelate: e.g., I use "equaphor" as my general term for "figure of speech" or "trope," thus connecting it systematically to such specific equaphors as the metaphor and my "juxtaphor."
I like the word "eidetics," by the way, but don’t see how it covers visual poetry.
You and I agree that visual poetry "must," as you put it, "present two aspects; it must show as well as tell. And these two aspects must complement each other, the one completes the other, but such that 1) the one is inherent in the other, and 2) they together enjoy a synergetic, a cooperative relation (in that the total effect is greater than the sum of the parts)," but we are in a minority in the visio-textual art field in that. I feel that a visual poem should have a graphic element which fuses with its textual element—and, as you suggest, completes and is completed by the latter.
Your contention that "a lot of what (you) see passing as visual poetry is not exactly visual poetry, but is, rather, for instance, collage, calligraphy, graphic design" which makes it "difficult for (you) to justify the use of the word poetry in the term ‘visual poetry’" made me think of recent conversations I’ve had with Scott Helmes over whether some of his atextual work is visual poetry. He has interesting arguments on this about how some atextual pieces can be "read" as though they were texts and therefore can be described as poetry. Such pieces can’t be simply looked at, but must be linearly scanned. They usually form some kind of narrative. I’m still considering the matter though holding to my dogma of many years that a work has to be textual, even semantic, to be considered a poem.
"Still," to quote you again, "to be ‘poetic’ is not synonymous with poetry." Right. When discussing taxonomical questions, we need, I believe, to discard terms used . . . equaphorically. That many poems are "sheer music" does not make them literal music, for instance. I see little point in using the term "visual poetry" to represent a lot of the atextual material some have represented it with, except to give that material some kind of high-art veneer. This is what comes of a terminology’s being misused to judge rather than neutrally describe. "That’s not poetry" being the standard sputter of the Philistine instead of "That’s not good poetry." The proper answer to that, for me, is to show how the work is poetry, by some objective definition, unless it is not, in which case, the proper answer is, "So what? Whatever it is, it’s aesthetically effective."
When it comes to defining "visual poetry," I’m not quite ready to tell anyone how we should think about visual poetry, but am willing to say that I do think my way of thinking about it makes more sense than any other way I’m familiar with.
My definition starts with Verbal Expression. "All verbal expression, oral or written"—and now I'm quoting from an essay I have on the subject at my website—"can be split into three main varieties, according to its purpose: Literature, or the use of words in the pursuit of Beauty; Informrature, or the use of words in the pursuit of Truth; and Advocature, or the use of words in the pursuit of Goodness (or, more specifically, the Moral Good)."
I’ll skip, for now, how I distinguish poetry from prose to jump to what I call "visio-textual poetry." This consists of (a) visual poetry (poetry containing visual elements that are as expressively consequential as, its words), and (b) visually-enhanced poetry (poetry written in an elegant calligraphy, for instance, or with letters that look like trees or people or the like, as in illuminated manuscripts, or in any manner that increases the work’s ability to please but does not increase its core meaning.
There is also something outside literature, in my opinion, that I call "textual illumagery." It is illumagery (or visual art) that contains text without semantic meaning, or whose semantic meaning is irrelevant to the central meaning of the work, as might be the case of a cut-out of a human figure from a newspaper, for instance, if the only significance of the newsprint is to establish some kind of newspaper tone.
In the glossary of my book, Of Manywhere-at-Once (v 1, 3rd ed), I say visual poetry is "poetry whose visual appearance is as important as what it says verbally." I'm more exact on page 138, defining visual poetry as "that which results when the visual appearance of some portion of a poem’s textual matter contributes significantly to the poem’s central expressive value." This latter may be my hundredth attempt to define the term. In my book I spend several pages discussing my struggle to do so.
Now that I reflect on it, I see I should have said a visual poem was "that which results when the visual appearance of some portion of a poem contributes significantly to the central expressive value of the poem’s text." The problem is trying to make the point that making a visual poem is more than simply putting textual and graphic material on the same page. On the other hand, the graphic part need not physically fuse with the textual part.
No, it has to! But sometimes the interconnection can be carried out by negative space. Dotting a lower case i with a smiley face, for instance, would make the i a (trivial) visual poem, although the dot was separate from the rest of the i—because, for me, the white space between the dot and the body of the i would fuse the two.
This is a difficult-to-discuss area, but I hope my general slant is now apparant. Before going on, let me give my 102nd definition of visual poetry (and the 23rd final definition of it): "that which results when the visual appearance of some portion of a poem that is part of, or clearly integrated with, the poem’s text, contributes significantly to the central expressive value of that text."
Obviously, there are three potential areas of contention in this definition—spots where subjectivity is unavoidable, that is (and no definition is free of such spots): what constitutes clear integration, how does one judge the significance of the contribution of the visual appearance I speak of, and what is any text’s central expressive value." I can only say that in most cases, a consensus of informed readers will fairly readily agree on the answers to all three. In the cases where they do not, the definition will at least aim someone trying to determine the identity of an artwork at its most salient features.
Now, to go back to your set of questions, I would say that to appreciate a visual poem, you should just read it as attentively as you can and look at it with equal attentiveness—and bring as much of your knowledge of poetry and illumagery to it as you can. As for the history of visual poetry, I’m no expert, though I’ve tried to study as much of it as I can. My impression has always been and remains that serious visual poetry did not start until Apollinaire. Before that, there were isolated poets who made interesting visual poems, but very few that I know of who did more than shape poems to show ingenuity as opposed to achieve any significant equaphor (and I tend to believe any genuine visual poem will combine its graphic and textual elements into an implicit metaphor of some kind—a visiophor, in my terminology). Spelling "Jesus Christ" so that "Jesus" goes across the page and "Christ" goes vertically through "Jesus" was a lot more than cute when first done, but is still too primitive for me to count as a full-scale visual poem. Ditto the shaped poems of Herbert and others. I feel Apollinaire got visual poetry started toward true high art, and Cummings contributed significantly to its development, followed by Patchen, and the concrete poets like Grominger. The first generation of American visual poets consisted of Ronald Johnson, d. a. levy, Aram Saroyan, Emmett Williams and their comrades. In the next generation were Karl Kempton, Karl Young, K. S. Ernst, Marilyn Rosenberg, Scott Helmes and their comrades. A third generation would include people like Crag Hill, Geof Huth, and me (though I am older than many of the people in the second generation, since I’m going by entrance dates, not age).
All this is a very rough view, off the top of my head. The only thing I would stand by is that visual poetry did not come into its own in this country, in spite of many gifted fore-runners, until around 1960. It seems to have had two peaks—one around 1965, the other from the late eighties into the nineties—and about to have a third, on the internet.
just say here that if a person intends to make what he thinks is a visual
poem, and it fails to satisfy my criteria for visual poetry, I will
judge it not a visual poem without necessarily judging it not
a first-rate work of art. To me, an artist's intentions beyond
their manifestation in a given work are irrelevant except as possible
guides to appreciation.
First, about the tension I speak of, I feel all my mathematical poems produce tension that can be interpreted in many ways. You speak of the specific (the mathematical) versus the general (the words), which seems valid to me, although my words are often specific, too. In my discussion of "Mathemaku No. 10" I give the opposition producing tension as mathematical answer-seeking versus verbal question-revealing, which is more exact, I feel. The long division contraption in that work is one invented to lead to exact answers, but I feed very fuzzy "numbers" into it, including the drawn heart, all of which seem calculated to sabotage calculation and any kind of exact answer. Over-all, I feel that the following oppositions are in effect, besides the general versus the specific, and answer-seeking versus question-revealing: vagueness versus exactitude, the connotative versus the denotative, complexity versus simplicity, art versus science, sentiment versus hard-headedness, the person versus the impersonal, intellectual slackness versus intellectual rigor, intuition versus reason, the concrete versus the abstract, and probably others. Most of these are pretty similar, but I think the concrete versus the abstract is important, and significantly unlike the others.
When I speak of "getting a person into two (or more) places in his brain at once," I mean it literally, for I believe that the brain is divided into what Howard Gardner calls "intelligences" but I call "awarenesses," and dive further, into "sub-awarenesses." In the case of my poem, the aesthcipient who experiences as I want everyone who comes into contact with it to, will "read" it in both his verbal sub-awareness and his mathematical sub-awareness. He may even weakly read it in his visual sub-awareness because of the heart.
I suppose there are many ways of interpreting the tension that will probably arise, but mine has to do, simply, with what the aesthcipient expects of the poem and what it actually does against those expectations, or—more exactly in terms of my theory of psychology—what his brain, relying on past experience, predicts that the poem will lead to, and what it actually leads to. The tension results from the expectations or predictions going wrong, and the brain's attempts to adjust. What happens, I believe, is the brain lays down a pattern for the poem to follow, based on previous poems the subject has been exposed to, and sends out warning signals when the poem fails to follow the pattern, and tries to find a logic that will render the poem nonetheless harmless. Part of the derailment here consists of the poem's going into arithmetic instead of properly remaining words—or, more likely, going into poetry instead of remaining a proper long division example.
In any case, we call the signals symptoms of tension. Or, as I believe you have it, signals of the need of some kind of resolution. I suppose one can call the whole process intuitive, but I consider it neurophysiological and thus entirely rational. But, then again, I consider intuition a form of rationality. It differs from "normal" rationality only in that it carries out its function before the subject's verbal awareness has begun describing to the subject what it is doing in "thoughts." The resolution I believe the person involved automatically seeks can be anything that allows the poem, finally, to make sense—usually some kind of enlargement of the initial pattern called into play, or its revision, or even its rejection for some other pattern. Properly to discuss this would require several thousand words about my theory of psychology that I'd prefer not to have to try to come up with right here. Suffice it to say that the resolution here is the aesthcipient's realization that the poem's words are both verbal symbols and, figuratively, numbers, and the heart a graphic symbol and number, and that the idea that the heart times "poetry" will yield "somewhere, minutely, a widening" is logical, makes sense, can fill a pattern synthesized from the patterns for "heart-felt poetry will enrich a life" and a times b equals c—to put it very roughly.
The resolution should produce a satisfaction; meanwhile, the brain's gyrations in trying to find a resolution will cause it to try many patterns out, relaxing the memory into a looseness which throws it into a wide range of the connotations the words and heart can lead to. The hope is that some of these connotations will be sensual—for instance, in this case, that the aesthcipient may actually experience a door opening very slightly on a sunrise or something. This would put him in one extra place, and also fulfill another major aim of poetry, for me, the conversion of words back to what they stand for, or the sensualization of the reading process. In your terms, I would say the poem causes a flawed intuition which does battle with the poem that, if successful for the person involved, leads to a final idea—more an image complex, in most cases—that corrects the intuition and resolves the problem.
I like your idea of the poem's having a "tension-quotient, and this in proportion to the problem—or, 'the thrill of solving' that problem—that it poses." That my mathematical poems have the potential to give someone the thrill of solving them is, in my view, a salient virtue of them—or, really, of any poem. I hope they have many other virtues.
As for what we can take literally and figuratively in this poem: All the words are to be taken literally, and the heart as a smear of its recognized symbolic meanings: "heart" and "love." And also as your "synecdoche for the whole of one's desires." The literal meanings of these things should include as many of their reasonable connotations as possible. The long division apparatus is to be taken literally insofar as I intend a genuine long division to occur, but the long division it tells us about is a metaphor, the words and heart metaphorically doing various kinds of arithmetic.
The "aesthcipient" you ask about is merely a person experiencing an artwork. It is a poor coinage of mine because of the difficulty of pronouncing it. "Auditor," which it replaces, is superior in all respects except for its connotation of judgmentality. Lately, I've leaned toward the latter term, anyway. Some word, however, is needed to indicate a reader who must do substantially more than read to appreciate an artwork or a viewer who must also read and perhaps do other things to do that, and so forth. It has nothing to do with "intertextuality," I don't believe. I'm not sure, though, because I don't know what that is, though I've come across the term enough times. I'm not a reader of Kristeva.
You speak about poetry as not totally an intellectual experience, a sentiment with which I completely agree, although I would claim that it is never not an intellectual experience. As for my relationship with my poetry, I consider "Mathemaku No. 10" a statement of that relationship. In it I say that sufficiently inspired poetry will produce a minute "widening" (in one's experience) that is almost equal to existence at its height (italicized). In other words, poetry is powerful stuff (and I intend it to be a synecdoche for all the arts). In fact, the poem shows that mere "existence" (unitalicized) is substantially less than what poetry can produce, or: existence is nothing without poetry. An irony about this poem is that it is so much an assertion that I almost think of it as advocature rather than literature—propaganda rather than art. Only the possible sensuality of the heart and the phrase, "somewhere, minutely, a widening," deflect it (I hope) into what I call art. My "Mathemaku No. 6a" and the two other poems in the set it begins seem to me much more personal.
First I have some quibbles about what you say about my term, "aesthcipient." You say you take it to mean "that reader who has been educated so as to perform his role. . . ." For me the term does not mean the "reader" but the "recipient" of an aesthetic experience, such as a person listening to a concerto. So, yes, "substantially more than just read"—but also "not necessarily read, at all." I would also quibble with your calling an aesthcipient one who has been educated so as to perform his role. That may be so, but there are also aesthcipients who have "learned" to perform their role. (Note: I'm motivated here by my bias against formal education.) I would point out as well that I use the term, "aesthcipient," more neutrally than you seem to want to: for me, an aesthcipient is simply a recipient of an aesthetic experience. Whether he is a perceptive one or not is beside the point. Later you say something about an aesthcipient's expectations going (as I would put it) wrong / right, asking if that goes along with my definition. Yes, but only when the aesthcipient has a successful aesthetic experience. He needn't have one, however, to be an aesthcipient.
Now going over what I said before, I've come up with a replacement for "aesthcipient": aesthespient. Aes-THES-pie-ent.
About Emily Dickinson. As you know I'm not a big fan. I still believe that she punctuates as though she were a punctuational illiterate—and I think due to a dislike of hard work. In any case, she uses dashes everywhere. How that forces a reader to punctuate, as Pearce claims, I don't know. It forces me to try as best I can to ignore her incessant breathlessness. To force a reader to punctuate would require a writer to leave out punctuation, I would think, not put in inept punctuation. I think it a duty of a writer to use clear language and punctuation. I don't go in for reader participation in anything but where the writer's connotations go. I do think that a poet should maximize the connotative potential of his work—but not by mystifying its denotative value.
I'm not sure I wholly follow your discussion of oppositions real and apparent. An example of a poem in which a generality and a specific interact would be helpful. I go along with both "(1) the resolution .. . . may take the form of an intermediate idea, but one according to which both identities are transformed, are compromised," and "(2) the [resolution] is such that the one is transformed or subsumed into the other." But I think both occur. I would add that one needn't take precedence (as you claim): the ideal would be each reaching peak strength simultaneously. To put it in concrete terms, at least according to my theory of psychology, I think the general term turns on a different area of the brain than the specific term, and that the successful poem gives the aesthcipient (or aesthespient!) a way to connect the two turned on areas.
When you say, "Rather, I can conceive of these oppositions as standing on their own, in the form of an opposition, and having significance as such. The tension that, let us say, accompanies this significance is then [resolved], or more accurately, addressed, not by neutralizing that opposition, but by sublimating this tension into literature—and I'm thinking in terms of my artistry as a poet, and of my artistry as a reader," we may well be using very different language to say the same thing. All I can say for sure is that I don't think in terms of sublimation. I think in the strictly concrete terms of two images that cause the equivalent of static in the brain because they don't connect—at once. Once the aesthespient connects them, if he does, he experiences pleasure (by, sure, expressing his own artistry.) That's it. The tension is his discomfort due to the static. Yes, I guess you could say that in getting rid of that tension by connecting the images, or whatever, he sublimates it. I prefer to think he cures himself of it. Probably because I don't go along with much of Freud's concept of sublimation.
I'm not sure what you're saying when you speak of artworks "as truly cultural products" that "have significance beyond their identification with a school or movement" that "can obscure the poetry, forcing attention, rather ironically, on the writer's intentions instead." It's hard for me to understand how an artwork can have any significance through its identification with a school, or how a human being can make anything that is not a cultural product.
My next quibble is with your use of the terms "modern" and "postmodern." I don't like them. They are attached to chronology, which is not very relevant—because some "modern" poetry is as "problematic," for instance, as any "postmodern" poetry, and much "postmodern" poetry is less problematic than much "modern" poetry. I prefer my term, "burstnorm," to describe all poetry that breaks convention, starting with Pound and Eliot, and continuing through the so-called Language poets, and pluraesthetic poets. Another key trait of many artists called postmodern, by the way, is their willingness to combine expressive modalities, often in a not very problematic way, except for aesthespients who can't accommodate mixtures of the arts, or of the arts and sciences. I don't much care for the term "problematic" as a critical term, either. What is problematic, what not, seems to me an almost completely subjective matter.
Your discussion of my mathematical poems in terms of sentence structure is interesting. I'm not sure I entirely agree with what you say, though. The dividend would seem to be a long-division mathemaku's subject. The verb is the box it is in, which I call the "dividend shed," and it and the quotient and divisor make up the predicate. Actually, I would consider a long division poem to contain more than one sentence. A second sentence would consist of the divisor and quotient, and their product. A third would consist of the product, the remainder and the quotient. Yes, "subordinate clauses," as you have it, I guess. (I would love to know the established term for what I call a "division shed," but have not been able to find out what it is, or even if one exists.) It is true that I generally compress my poems as much as possible, as you seem to be saying. The best haiku are my models for this. But I have also used complete sentences, and whole paragraphs, and even a complete page of a book, in my mathemaku. Anyway, what you're so flatteringly saying my texts do seems to me what the texts of any poems are intended to do. I can live with your focus on the general and specific in my mathematical poems, but I really don't feel I think that much in those terms when composing them. I think more in terms of the abstract versus the concrete. Not that that is much different from the general versus the specific.
not sure my most intimate poems are my mathematical ones, for I believe
I've been quite intimate in many of my other kinds of poems. Deciding
how intimate a given poem is, is a rather subjective matter, anyway.
As for the origin of my mathematical poems, I think I started making
them simply because I've always wanted to find new ways of saying things.
I saw the potential of mathematical symbols almost immediately upon
seeing the symbol for integration used with words instead of numbers
in a piece by Louis Zukofsky. I had the same experience with regard
to typographical experiments when I first saw what Cummings did with
them. A simple Wow, look what you can do with typography, or math!
That was enough to make me do what I've done in burstnorm poetry.
don't have anything more to say about Emily. As for my term, and I'll
go with "aesthespient" now, though it's losing its initial
appeal for me. (A recipient of an aesthetic experience IS my formal
definition of the term.) It is not equal to what you mean by casual
reader / casual listener. It is equal to ANY reader / listener
/ viewer / smeller / perceiver / feeler / etcetera-er, casual and uncasual.
You and I seem near-obsessive about defining our terms so it's hard for me not to respond to the first part of your "question" with ten- or twenty-thousand words. But I fear I'd get confused, anyway. Make that "too confused." So I'll just say that I tend to agree with you about "aesthespient," but it's my best attempt, so I'll stick with it for now. As for your ideas about nihilism, etc., I will only say that I believe in certainties and the ability of words to express them. If I didn't, I wouldn't waste my effort trying to explain myself here. What would I use to do so?
I'm quite ready to say more than a little in response to your interesting packet of remarks and questions about narrative, compartmentalization, lyricism and poetics, though. The first of these, narrative, is not something I think about much when composing my long division mathemaku (and long division mathemaku are about the only kind I currently compose). I guess, though, that you could say that each of these is the story of one image's division into another, and must be followed linearly. But I also feel that in one sense I liberate my images from ordinary grammar, so producing a collage effect, not—I think—compartmentalization. On the other hand, by making each image a separate term of a long division example (e.g., divisor or remainder), I compartmentalize them more than the author of a conventional poem compartmentalizes his images.
I hope, too, that the poems make interesting designs, though the verbal is always more important to me than the visual, so sometimes my mathemaku are plain, or even ugly. I'm speaking of my last two or three dozen. The first ten or fifteen were only very occasionally visual—though even with them, I tried for pleasant-looking "stanzas," appropriate to their subject, like most poets always have.
Narrative does come into play overtly in my mathemaku sequences, which generally show some kind of evolution—for instance, in my "Mathemaku for Beethoven" in which a dividend in its "dividend shed" attracts divisor, quotient, etc., and in four or five steps becomes a finished, or solved, long division example. But plot is rare in my mathemaku, which are mostly situations only: images thrown together and forced to interact in a surrealistically mathematical way to see what will happen.
There is a bit of narrative in another set of my mathemaku, "Mathemaku into the Spectrum," or whatever name I've given it, or will give it. I just finished the fourth in this series, "Mathemaku into Violet." The other three are on display at (Thank You) Eratio. In each of these there is a lengthened long division narrative, but I also try for a vague narrative along the top of the dividend shed—most effectively, I think, in "Mathemaku into Blue: "winter sleep thought Proserpina timelessness"—with the last word truncated to indicate the unfinishedness of the narrative (and the poem as a whole). I won't say what story I read from this, but I hope a similar one will be there for others, and / or other stories. I also hope the rest of the poem contributes to whatever story the top line tells.
As I was writing the above, I thought how little different what I've described is from what I earlier described (if I remember rightly) as a scattering of images on a page for an aesthespient to make whatever he can of, but I do believe there's a more strongly implied narrative in these top lines I've been discussing than there would be in a genuine scattering.
I'm pleased that you and others find my work "lyrical," even though I suppose everyone has a different idea of what lyricism is. For me it has to do with a focus on a single image or interelated image-cluster. It is divorced, for me, from songfulness, though I'm all for aesthetically effective sound effects—or auditory images—in a poem, even a visual poem. I do tend to go along with Yeats and so many others in hoping my poems come across as spontaneous, however infrequently they truly are. After thinking about it just now, though, I wonder if spontaneity ought to be as prized as it is; it would seem that not being spontaneous is now considered a serious flaw. I don't think I've ever tried in a poem to seem unspontaneous, but it strikes me now that it would be quite valid poetically, and a nice change, for a poem to seem very thought out, very worked on. I'm sure some poets have tried for that, but I can't think of any, right now.
As I've admitted before somewhere in this interview (I believe), much of my work is sentimental (as you describe it), or—as I guess I'd prefer to call it—celebratory. Often whimsical, too (as you also suggest)—but never, if I can help it, only whimsical. I hope most of my poems make people smile. Of course, I also hope to produce higher enjoyments, enjoyments that last. Lyricism, for me, means joy unalloyed with morality or any kind of "teachings." (Not that I don't veer on occasion from pure lyricism.)
And now we get to your questions about my poetics. One reason I was unprompt in doing my part in this portion of the interview is the size and complexity of that topic. It's hard for me to deal with any aspect of it in brief. Even to say much about my poetics' main sources, I feel I have to work out just what it is, in reasonable—therefore lengthy—detail. Actually, I'm not sure I have a poetics. I guess I do. At first, I thought that if I had any poetics, it consisted of little more than the hit & miss comments I've made in reviews that indicate a general outlook on the nature of poetry. Certainly, I have a taxonomy of poetry, but that seems to me a basis for a poetics rather than a poetics, or part of a poetics. I also have, if only in uncirculated manuscripts, a substantial theory of aesthetics, but I've rarely applied it to poetry. Perhaps, I will here.
Is whatever I have a Ur-poetics, or a Ur-anything? I suppose my taxonomy is a going back to a proto-taxonomy. But only slightly. It is only a development of a fairly wide-spread definition of poetry as lineated prose. One of my teachers in the early eighties used that as her working definition. I'm sure I've seen it advanced in critical writings from long before that, too. In any case, it was my definition 25 years or so ago. Whether I took it from someone else or arrived at it without direct help, who knows. It is so empirically sound, I should think many people invented it independently. Where I've been at all original is in extending it to cover texts without lineation but offshoots of it that I consider poems—and for application to forms like visual poems that have no real lines to lineate. I bring in the concept of what I call the "flow-break." A flow-break is simply some sort of blockage in a text where words would be expected if the text were prose: a large white space at the end of a line that would continue to the edge of the page if it were prose for instance, as in standard lineation. Or such a space in the middle of a line, or at its beginning. It can also consist of asterisks, or any other kind of symbol (or spoken sound) without a clear punctuational or other semantic use. Poetry, in my taxonomy, is verbal expression that makes consistent, significant use of flow-breaks. (All writing has flow-breaks, but in prose, they're sporadic, incidental, rarely significant.)
My rationale for the centrality of the flow-break in my definition of poetry is that, for me, poetry's main function is to use words to put people significantly into the sensual sections of their brains. Prose puts them into the verbal sections of the brains, and rarely does anything to put them into their sensual centers (although, in narrative prose, a text tries to put readers in what I call their sagaceptual sections—and, usually, in the anthroceptual, or people-related, sections, of their brains, as does narrative poetry). The aim of the flow-break is twofold: (1) to signal to the aesthespient that he is in a poem and should open his senses, and (2) to slow down the aesthespient so the words and other matter he takes in have time to awaken sensual images and feelings. Of course, poetry uses other means to accomplish these things, such as the use of richly sensual images, a beat of some sort, or the sound or visual appearance of words. A poem's emotional effect is important, too—but not in determining whether it is a poem or not, only in determining the value of it. To get back to what I was saying about lyricism, I try entirely to give pleasure with my poems, so consider them successful to the degree that they cause that emotion. All these aspects of my poetics are pretty standard, though I—like just about all critics—have my own idiosyncratic way of talking about them. I'm not up to outlining my whole poetics—and I now believe I have one. I do think it built on what others have done in the field, starting with Coleridge and heavily including the new critics—and excluding your favorites from France! I. A. Richards, T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound are among those I most admire among prior critics.
It does occur to me that I ought to mention the central place of the
metaphor in my poetics. For a while, I considered it a defining
element of "true visual poems": I felt that a visual
poem had to combine its visual and verbal elements into a consequential
metaphor to be taken seriously. I've since lowered my standards—since
no one else will accept them, but also because I have to admit that
few verbo-visual texts meet my standards, even among my own, and that
many combinations of the verbal and visual manage to do a great deal
without metaphors, or the equivalent. I think at one time I even
believed that textual poems required metaphors. Williams's "The
Red Wheelbarrow" changed my mind. I still hold that—"equaphors,"
as I term all verbal expressions in which one image is directly or indirectly
equated with another—are the most important of the poetic devices.
They are the best means of putting people in "manywhere-at-once,"
which I claim in my book of that title is what all the best poetry tries
for. In that book, I mention other means, including rhyme (which
puts an aesthespient of a poem in the auditory part of his brain while
the verbal meaning of the rhymes keeps him in the verbal part).
They can sometimes be extremely effective, too, so I would never belittle
them. But equaphors—principally metaphors—seem to
me to have the potential, at their best, to do much more than other
Bob Grumman in situ: