May 25, 2007

Impulse validated by attention

I remember being viscerally moved by Without, a book of poems* by the current Poet Laureate of the US, Donald Hall, which I had read in one sitting a few years back - reading the whole book non-stop deep into the night. The book includes poems written by Hall after the loss of his wife, the poet, Jane Kenyon. I cannot remember any book that I have read - and there have been many over the years - which had evoked such a powerful emotional response from me.

I have since read a few other poems by him as well as perused through the Collected Poems of Jane Kenyon and my admiration for Donald's poems has only grown since then.

So it is with great pleasure that I am enjoying an interview with Donald Hall in
Bill Moyers' The language of life - a festival of poets - a collection of interviews with various noted poets - and a good companion book to Moyers' PBS series The Power of the Word.

I am only half-way through the Hall interview and already found so many quotable quotes...that I am tempted to transcribe some here right away. The introduction to the book Bill Moyers also is chock-full of quotable quotes about reading and writing poetry but I'll get to that some other time.

Here then are some great excerpts from DH's interview. I'll add to it as I finish reading the interview. (Too bad that I do not take the time to sit back and read 20 pages at a stretch!)

DH = Donald Hall
BM = Bill Moyers

BM: "A successful poem is impulse validated by attention" -- your line. Is the attention at the desk there? Is that where you're sweating over it?

DH: It's twenty seconds of impulse and two years of attenion, but the impulse may be more important than the attention. # (wish Blogger had a way to do footnotes! Also subscripts/superscripts!)

BM: Why did you choose poetry as a way of life?

DH: I loved it so much. What other reason would you have for choosing poetry?

DH: When I make poems I'm consoling myself by making the poem out of loss, but I also have some notion that I'm talking to somebody else at any time now or in the future. The definition of a poem includes readers. I don't write a poem for myself.

BM: It's a very public experience.

DH: Young people feel as if they were writing for themselves, but that's only the beginning of the poem. When it's completed, the poem is a bridge from one to another.

BM: You keep notebooks, you write words down, then you leave them for a while to bubble and twist and turn, right?

DH: I do everything to words. I'd be happy to send them to Florida or buy them hot dogs, anything, if they'll just come through. THe work is prosaic, sitting at the desk every day and saying, "How can I make this better?" Such work is not, in itself, inspired, but by looking regularly at the poem I get so familiar with it that I'm working on it when I'm asleep. I wake up in the morning, look at the poem I worked on the day before, and see something I had not seen. Something has happened in between, probably sleep work. For that matter, something inside you is always working even when you're awake.

DH: ... Someone reminded me later of my advice to young writers, "Don't ever hold anything back. Put everything out that can possibly belong in that poem or story. Don't save anything for the next one." That's the only way to work. It's the only way to live, really.

#: Found an excerpt from another interview where Donald Hall expostulates a little bit more about what he means by "impulse validated by attention"

Myers: You speak of The One Day as something of a happy accident, "impulse validated by attention," though we know an imposing talent was behind it. But The One Day does read as though it was written in the way the long modernists poems were written: by a piecemeal process of composition, and with no deliberate intention. It succeeds, for me, through allowance of subject matter: You've permitted what came into it to stay.

Hall: When I used that phrase, "impulse validated by attention," I was not talking about a happy accident. I'm talking about working over the texture of its language. Impulsively, I set down a word or a phrase or even a series of lines; "impulsively" means I do it rapidly, in excitement, without malice aforethought, intuitively—in a manic state. By inspiration. But I don't just leave it there on the scattery page; I attend to it. I look at it every morning for one thousand mornings. After the eight-hundred-and-second morning, I find that I don't like this word, take it out and impulsively put in another. After the nine-hundred-and-sixty-second morning, I remove the new word and restore the old one. On the one-thousandth, two-hundred-and-thirty-second morning, I realize that two words here and two words there link up with seven words eight pages later in the manuscript . . . and I am pleased with myself.

Impulse is creation; attention is critical intelligence.

1 comment:

Bijoy said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

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