An Author's Assemblage: Brief Notes and Notices

The accumulation of posts to this web page serves merely as an author’s assemblage of brief notes and notices: the collection of informal bits of information, quotations, and observations gathered as one way to display a personal reflection of perceptions on poetry, publication, and related selections of material drawn from my perspectives as a poet or professor of literature and creative writing.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Louise Glück on Ambition and Power of the Implied in Art or Poetry

“What I share with my friends is ambition; what I dispute is its definition. I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen; for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. A few years ago, I saw a show of Holbein drawings; most astonishing were those still in progress. Parts were entirely finished. And parts were sketched, a fluent line indicating arm or hand or hair, but the forms were not filled in. Holbein had made notes to himself: this sleeve blue, hair, auburn. The terms were other—not the color in the world, but the color in paint or chalk. What these unfinished drawings generated was a vivid sense of Holbein at work, at the sitting; to see them was to have a sense of being back in time, back in the middle of something. Certain works of art become artifacts. By works of art, I mean works of any medium. And certain works of art do not. It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.” —From Louise Glück’s Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry (Ecco, 1994)


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  2. You're talking about tanka. What you describe, we call 'dreaming room.' It is the negative space of the poem, the unsaid, the incomplete, the implied, the jumping off point for our dreams and ideas which lead each reader on their own personal and unique journeys. It requires the reader to be a co-creator with the poet, to participate in a journey that is fully finished yet always incomplete. A good tanka is like a pebble thrown into a still pond where the ripples spread long after the pebble has disappeared.

    It is difficult to imagine how a poem of a mere five lines and some 19 - 26 syllables can accomplish all this; but it is a very fine wine that has been pressed by fourteen hundred years of practice. No other poetry tradition currently in existence has been publishing major anthologies since before the written word... Yes, the Japanese first published an anthology of 4500 poems in 792 AD — before they were even literate in their own language; they had to write it down in Chinese characters poorly adapted for their own use. (The Japanese writing system was invented later and first saw major publication in the second major Japanese tanka anthology in 906 AD.)

    Tanka is now written in dozens of languages around the world. Thriving organizations, journals, and communities foster it, especially in the Anglophone world. To learn more about tanka, begin with and which will lead you to many resources.


    M. Kei
    editor-in-chief, Take Five : Best Contemporary Tanka
    editor, Atlas Poetica : A Journal of Poetry of Place in Modern English Tanka

    broken shells
    washed onto a muddy beach
    by cold waves—
    I see this in the eyes
    of everyone I meet



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