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Unread 11-26-2023, 01:11 PM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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Default Michael Hamburger on the 'mug's game'

“Everything I saw and heard and felt did something to me, though I’ve forgotten most of the details. That’s one reason why one writes: sooner or later almost everything about a life is forgotten, by the person who lived it and by the others. The great mystery of the written word and its justification in the teeth of everything that people say about the ‘media’ — instant communication and instant blankness — lies in its power to oppose biological time, to create its own time dimension, the dimension that distinguishes human being from animals. A novelist may deal in biological time, or try to, and so may an autobiographer, but by doing so he inevitably shifts his material into the other dimension. If that shifting fails, the work will be neither here nor there. A poet knows that biological time can be nothing more than his complaint. If the things in his poems aren’t at home in the other dimension, he’s wasted his time putting them there. His material is what he doesn’t know, what the other dimension demands. If anybody feels like taking the trouble to look at my poems in the light of the little I remember of my life, if they’re worth the effort — he or she will find superficial traces in them of my experience; but the real sources, connections and developments are underground. My guess about them would be no better than his or hers.”

“ . . . . the emphasis, in universities, was not on interests or enthusiasm — or insights, for that matter — but on knowledge, and the systematization of knowledge. I should never have been able to tell a psychiatrist what it was in me that resisted the pursuit of knowledge as an end in itself — and knowledge of literature, at that, when it was the practice of literature that taught me how little I knew even about my most intimate and intense concerns. Nor could I have told him about the complex of assumptions and obsessions behind that resistance, if only because I couldn’t see it myself, until poems I wrote brought it to light. I hadn’t yet begun to understand what Keats meant by ‘negative capability’, or Thomas Hardy by the ‘nescience’ to which poets cling more stubbornly than to whatever knowledge, subtlety or even erudition they may also have needed to acquire; but in every poet, living or dead, who mattered to me I recognized a core of commitment not necessarily to the ‘ceremony of innocence’ but to innocence itself. If that commitment was lacking in a poet, he could be knowing, subtle or erudite as he pleased, and his work would leave me cold. There would be no room in the poetry for the unexpected knowledge that comes in a flash, and comes only where ‘nescience’ has left a gap to be filled.”

“As for the ‘mug’s game’ of poetry, its pursuit has become harder and easier. Harder, because ambition, like every external incentive, has fallen away. Easier, because that loss is another liberation. I can be no more sure than I was thirty years ago that my poems are good enough to be worth the price paid for them, by which I mean not the time and work that have gone into them but the specialization they demanded, the concentration claimed at the cost of other pursuits and commitments. What I am sure of now is that, whether good or bad, durable or negligible, the poems I write are those I have to write. The profession of authorship has no bearing on that. The opinions and judgements of critics have no bearing on that. Nor have the anxieties that beset me when I couldn’t write. There are more than enough good poems, real poems, in print than any reader can exhaust in a lifetime. Ours is the first recorded age in which it has become almost a crime to reproduce the species. Much the same is true of the writing of poems, now that our world is over-populated with them; and, unlike even the best people, the best poems obstinately refuse to die and make way for others. I would much rather write no more poems than a poem I do not need to write.”

“Ultimately, though, it is not my business to ask why or how I go on, how or why my work appeals or does not appeal to those who read such work — a tiny minority at the best of times — nor even whether it will prove durable enough to have been worth the price paid for doing it. What matters to me now is the durability of that for which it was a receptacle and conductor. My business is to remain true to the wonderment and outrage as long as they recur, always unexpectedly, always a little differently, always in a way I can neither plan nor choose; and to keep quiet when there is nothing that wants to use me to make itself heard.”


Michael Hamburger
(String Of Beginnings)
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Unread 11-26-2023, 01:45 PM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
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I agree with almost all of this, which is dangerous. His Hölderlin translations I love also, but most of all his Celan.

The academy is not interested in apreciating: in understanding why I feel drawn to this writer, but not to this one. They prefer the "analytical" to the "continental" philosophy; the same goes, really, for literature. You have to propose a thesis: something a writer does to achieve x, then prove it through analysis of the "text". Behind it all is the creeping terror, that, despite how scientific they try to make themselves appear, the government will still turn its back on everything that doesn't lead straight like a shoot to the "labour force".
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Unread 11-26-2023, 02:44 PM
Nick McRae Nick McRae is offline
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The thing that's always attracted to me to poetry (and not longer forms) is that you can distill language into themes that are too heavy to express in more explicit language. In a certain light poetry is a form of philosophy.

So if there's too much poetry out there now it's likely because we're regressing to the mean thematically. Shakespeare already nailed most of it hundreds of years ago, how much is there really left to say with poetry? The same is true in almost every other artform. We've just been making art for too long now, and it's never been easier to make more of it.

But to the new poets, producing new work, maybe it's a process of self-discovery. The themes are old, but to them they aren't.
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Unread 11-27-2023, 04:23 AM
Andrew Frisardi Andrew Frisardi is offline
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Or as Keats put it, "I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the Beautiful even if my night's labours should be burnt every morning, and no eye ever shine upon them."

The rest is gravy.
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Unread 11-27-2023, 11:46 AM
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RCL RCL is offline
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I'll save this for a little essay.
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Ralph

Last edited by RCL; 12-01-2023 at 02:28 PM.
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Unread 11-27-2023, 12:08 PM
John Riley John Riley is offline
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He makes this true by the poets he translates. Although it's dangerous to say it a poet has to write from beneath the surface for the work to ultimately be worthwhile. That's what is so treacherous about university poetry. The careerism, the backstabbing and judging, the competition, and moving up the line on the recommendation of someone who has a position because of the school they attend or attended are all worthless before the end. You end up in a world where everyone is writing the same poem regardless of how much they change the style or the color and arrangement of the exterior paint. That's why the vast majority of poetry published today is about personal experience or politics and so little is the attempt to say what is unsayable. It is so much easier to write about the outside.
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Unread 11-27-2023, 01:41 PM
Nick McRae Nick McRae is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John Riley View Post
He makes this true by the poets he translates. Although it's dangerous to say it a poet has to write from beneath the surface for the work to ultimately be worthwhile. That's what is so treacherous about university poetry. The careerism, the backstabbing and judging, the competition, and moving up the line on the recommendation of someone who has a position because of the school they attend or attended are all worthless before the end. You end up in a world where everyone is writing the same poem regardless of how much they change the style or the color and arrangement of the exterior paint. That's why the vast majority of poetry published today is about personal experience or politics and so little is the attempt to say what is unsayable. It is so much easier to write about the outside.
Largely why I've read Leonard Cohen's last title four or five times now. He had screw you money, and enough notoriety to get it into a Chapters. You just don't see that. And by 'last title' I'm talking about Book of Longing, not The Flame.
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