jack spicer—”poems should echo & reecho against each other..they cannot live alone any more than we”


 

The City of Boston

 

The city of Boston is filled with frogheaded

flies and British policemen. The other day I saw

the corpse of Emily Dickinson floating up the

Charles River.

 

Sweet God, it is lonely to be dead. Sweet

God, is there any god to worship? God stands in

Boston like a public statue. Sweet God, is there

any God to swear love by? Or love—it is lonely,

is lonely, is lonely to be lonely in Boston.

 

Now Emily Dickinson is floating down the

Charles River like an Indian princess. Now

naked savages are climbing out of all the graveyards.

Now the Holy Ghost drips birdshit on

the nose of God. Now the whole thing stops.

Sweet God, poetry hates Boston.

 

 

By Jack Spicer, in the Spring/Summer issue of The Massachusetts Review. Spicer, the author of seven books, died in 1965 at the age of forty. Found among his papers, this poem was written circa 1956. My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer will be published next month by Wesleyan University Press.

 

—from Harper’s Magazine, July 2008

 

More Jack Spicer, from www.poemhunter.com:

 

Fifteen False Propositions Against God – Section XIII

         

Hush now baby don’t say a word

Mama’s going to buy you a mocking bird

The third

Joyful mystery.

The joy that descends on you when all the trees are cut down

and all the fountains polluted and you are still alive waiting

for an absent savior. The third

Joyful mystery.

If the mocking bird don’t sing

Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring

The diamond ring is God, the mocking bird the Holy Ghost.

The third

Joyful mystery.

The joy that descends on you when all the trees are cut down

and all the fountains polluted and you are still alive waiting

for an absent savior.

 

 

Fifteen False Propositions Against God – Section XIV

         

If the diamond ring turns brass

Mama’s going to buy you a looking glass

Marianne Moore and Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams

going on a picnic together when they were all students at the

University of Pennsylvania

Now they are all over seventy and the absent baby

Is a mirror sheltering their image.

 

 

For Mac

         

A dead starfish on a beach

He has five branches

Representing the five senses

Representing the jokes we did not tell each other

Call the earth flat

Call other people human

But let this creature lie

Flat upon our senses

Like a love

Prefigured in the sea

That died.

And went to water

All the oceans

Of emotion. All the oceans of emotion

are full of such ffish

Why

Is this dead one of such importance?

 

 

Thing Language

         

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises

Tougher than anything.

No one listens to poetry. The ocean

Does not mean to be listened to. A drop

Or crash of water. It means

Nothing.

It

Is bread and butter

Pepper and salt. The death

That young men hope for. Aimlessly

It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No

One listens to poetry.

 

 

A Red Wheelbarrow

         

Rest and look at this goddamned wheelbarrow. Whatever

It is. Dogs and crocodiles, sunlamps. Not

For their significance.

For their significant. For being human

The signs escape you. You, who aren’t very bright

Are a signal for them. Not,

I mean, the dogs and crocodiles, sunlamps. Not

Their significance.

And yet more Jack Spicer, from http://epc.buffalo.edu/authors/spicer:

 


A Postscript to the Berkeley Renaissance

 

What have I lost? When shall I start to sing
A loud and idiotic song that makes
The heart rise frightened into poetry
Like birds disturbed?

I was a singer once. I sang that song.
I saw the thousands of bewildered birds
Breaking their cover into poetry
Up from the heart.

What have I lost? We lived in forests then,
Naked as jaybirds in the ever-real,
Eating our toasted buns and catching flies,
And sometimes angels, with our hooting tongues.

I was a singer once. In distant trees
We made the forests ring with sacred noise
Of gods and bears and swans and sodomy,
And no one but a bird could hear our voice.

What have I lost? The trees were full of birds.
We sat there drinking at the sour wine
In gallon bottles. Shouting song
Until the hunters came.

I was a singer once, bird-ignorant.
Time with a gun said, "Stop,
Find other forests. Teach the innocent."
God got another and a third
Birdlimed in Eloquence.

What have I lost? At night my hooting tongue,
Naked of feathers and of softening years,
Sings through the mirror at me like a whippoorwill
And then I cannot sleep.

"I was a singer once," it sings.
"I sing the song that every captured tongue
Sang once when free and wants again to sing.
But I can sing no song I have not sung."

What have I lost? Spook singer, hold your tongue.
I sing a newer song no ghost-bird sings.
My tongue is sharpened on the iron’s edge.
Canaries need no trees. They have their cage.

 

The Unvert Manifesto and Other Papers Found in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library in the Handwriting of Oliver Charming.  by S.

 

The Unvert Manifesto

1.      An unvert is neither an invert or an outvert, a pervert or a convert, an introvert or a retrovert. An unvert chooses to have no place to turn.

2.      One should always masturbate on street corners.

3.      Unversion is the attempt to make the sexual act as rare as a rosepetal. It consists of linking the sexual with the greatest cosmic force in the universe  Nonsense, or as we prefer to call it, MERTZ.

4.      Sex should be a frightening experience like a dirty joke or an angel.

5.      Dirty jokes and angels should be frightening experiences.

6.      An unvert must not be homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or autosexual. He must be metasexual. He must enjoy going to bed with his own tears.

7.      Mertz!

8.      All the universe is laughing at you.

9.      Poetry, painting, and cocksucking are all attempts of the unvert to make God laugh.

10. The larger the Dada, the bigger the hole.

11. Sidney Mertz was the only man ever arrested for drunken driving of a steam locomotive. He is now the bartender of the American Legion bar in Jackson, Wyoming.

12. Jews and Negros are not allowed to be unverts. The Jew will never understand unversion and the Negro understands it too well.

13. An unvert loves only other unverts. He will, however, consent to perform an act of unversion with almost anything except lovers and mountain lions.

14. God loves God.

15. Mertz must be applied to sex. People must learn to laugh into each other’s gonads.

16. God is an unvert.

17. Sex without love is better than love without sex. Sex without Mertz is never better than Mertz without sex. Nonsense is an act of friendship.

18. The larger the Dada, the bigger the hole.

19. Nonsense, Mertz, Dada, and God all go to the same nightclubs.

20. So does Graham Macarel.

 


Excerpts from Oliver Charming’s Diary

 

October 31, 1953:
    "I must unvent someone named Graham Macarel. He should be about seventeen or eighteen and have a large Dada. I can use him as the hero and victim of my Mertzcycle . . ."

November 5, 1953:
    "Laughed all day. The elements of imagination are exhausting as Hell."

November 23, 1953:
    "It was more successful than I expected. He is beginning to become mythical. I saw him today and he told me that he is taking a course in his art school in which he has to clip examples of racial prejudice from Tarot cards and give their exact date. His art school’s name is the California School of Fine Flowers. His teacher’s name is S. We talked for awhile and I am already beginning to destroy his universe. . . . Method is everything."

December 1, 1953:
    "Love must only be applied at the wrong time and in the wrong place. It must be thrown at the unsuspecting like a custard pie made of poison . . . Nothing destroys Mertz more than custom. Nothing destroys it less than treason."

December 7, 1953:
    "I return to Graham Macarel. (Note – I must be sure to call him Mac. Graham reminds the uninformed imagination of crackers.) He has become a combination of a Boy Scout and a depth charge. He appeals to the primitive sources of nonsense and despair.
    I suspect that his teacher, S., is secretly an unvert  or, at least a spoiled unvert. Something is going on between S. and history. I wonder if Mac realizes that an unvert is an agent of Kubla Khan."

December 9, 1953:
    "’An unvert is an angel of Kubla Khan.’  that’s what Mac said to me last night in the men’s room of the Palace Hotel. At the time he said it he was . . . which is certainly Dada if not Mertz."

December 10, 1953:
    ". . . suspects . . ."

December 18, 1953:
    "It is Christmas vacation at the California School of Fine Flowers. S. was in the bars last night, very drunk. I think he is planning to unvert somebody."

December 19, 1953:
    "I had a conversation with S. late last night. He was again very drunk. ‘Why did you have to invent Graham Macarel?’ he asked me angrily.
    ‘I thought it would be good for your poetry,’ I answered.
    ‘Why didn’t you invent syphilis instead,’ he asked contemptuously. So yesterday I invented syphilis. Today I am going to . . ."

December 22, 1953:
    "S. is in Los Angeles."

December 23, 1953:
    "To appear as human among homosexuals and to appear as divine among heterosexuals . . ."

December 24, 1953:
    "Nobody remains in this city and I have done all my Christmas shopping.
    The Dada in painting is not Duchamp. The Dada in poetry is not Breton. The Dada in sex is not De Sade. All these men were too obsessed with the mechanism of their subject. A crime against nature must also be a crime against art. A crime against art must also be a crime against nature. All beauty is at continuous war with God."

December 25, 1953:
    "Merry Christmas, Graham Macarel."

December 26, 1953:
    "It continually amazes the unprejudiced Mertzian observer that even the people who struggle most against the limits of art are content to have sex in ordinary academic ways, as if they and their bed-partners were nineteenth-century paintings. Or, worse, they will change the point of view (top becomes bottom, male becomes female, etc. etc.) and think, like the magic realists that they are, that they have changed something.
    Everybody is guilty of this – from Cocteau to Beethoven."

December 28, 1953:
    "A sailor asked me last night what the unvert thought of Kinsey. I told him that we held that Kinsey was a valuable evidence of the boredom of un-unverted sex  that ordinary sex had become so monotonous that it had become statistical like farm income or rolling stock totals. I told him that Kinsey was the Zola preparing the way for the new Lautréamont.
    It is remarkable how even science fiction has developed no new attitudes toward sex. The vacant interstellar spaces are filled with exactly the same bedrooms the rocketships left behind. It is only the unvert who dares to speak Martian in bed. I wonder if Kierkegaard had wet dreams."

December 29, 1953:
    "How The Zen Masters Taught Sex To Their Disciples – such a book would be the most useful book a man could publish. Sex is a metaphysical experience. Zen taught that man can only reach the metaphysical by way of the absurd. No, absurd is the wrong word. What is the Chinese for shaggy-dog story?
    The book should be illustrated pornographically but the general style of Mad Comics. It should have a blue cover."

December 30, 1953:
    "S. is in town again. I saw him at the Black Cat. He looked confused at all the lack of excitement around him, as if he believed that a holiday was like a snowstorm and people should notice it.
    We began discussing homosexuality. I, by bringing in subtle pieces of unvert propganda, and he, embarrassed and overintellectual as if he thought, or rather hoped, that I was trying to seduce him."
    ‘We homosexuals are the only minority group that completely lacks any vestige of a separate cultural heritage. We have no songs, no folklore, even our customs are borrowed from our upper-middleclass mothers’, he said."
    The trouble with S. is that he doesn’t understand Martian. I must tell him about the time . . ."

December 31, 1953:
    "I rebel against the tyrrany of the calendar."

January 1, 1954:
    "My analyst is teaching me French."

January 2, 1954:
    "S. says that it is inconsistent for an unvert to have a psychiatrist. He does not understand unversion. The relationship between the analyst and the patient is the firmest and most hallowed, if the most conventional, sexual relationship in the modern world. This is precisely why it must be shaken. It is our task to experience and unvert all sexual relationships."

January 3, 1954:
    "Sometimes, in moments of depression, I think that all this talk of Dada and Mertz is merely the reaction of the unsuccessful cocksucker or artsucker who doesn’t understand beauty when it offers itself to him. Witness Western civilization or the bar last night . . ."

January 4, 1954:
    "Now that I have Graham Macarel, S., and a psychiatrist, all that I need is an angel. One cannot, however, safely invent an angel . . . Lot was the last person to safely invent an angel. He was bored with his lover, with their children, and with all the inhabitants of the immense and sandy Turkish bath that they were living in . . . He invented an angel and then everybody had to kill him . . . Everybody had to kill him not because the angel was as dangerous as a hydrogen bomb (which he was) and not because the angel was beautiful as a Florida hurricane (which he was), but because the angel was a stranger and it is always the habit of Jews and homosexuals to kill strangers . . . They almost caught the angel once in Lot’s chimney, and a sailor once managed to catch hold of its groin as it was disappearing into a broom-closet, but soon fire and brimstone were descending on the town and Lot was walking with his lover along a deserted road on the first range of foothills carrying a packed suitcase . . . The lover looked backwards, of course, to make sure that the angel was not following them and was immediately turned into a life-sized salt statue. It is very difficult to suck the cock of a life-sized salt statue or to sample the delight of sodomy with a pillar . . . Lot left him there and trudged onward alone, with an angel on his back.
    I must take warning from this. There are some inventions even sex does not make necessary."

January 5, 1954:
    "No angel as yet. I wonder if I could steal one. By a bit of clever propaganda I have arranged that Mac will have to report on angels to his history class. This should bring things into focus.
    Mac asked me about angels yesterday  whether I thought they really existed, what they did in bed, etc. etc. I told him that very few people under twenty-five had angels at all. That they were like a kind of combination of Siamese cats and syphilis and for him not to worry if they occasionally tugged at his pubic hairs. He was still uncertain: ‘How can I find any chronology in it?’ he asked plaintively."

January 6, 1954:
    "There is a morning when it rains in the corner of everybody’s bedroom."

January 7, 1954:
    "My psychiatrist, Robert Berg, considers that it is his duty to unvent angels. It must be understood that unvention is as different from unversion as psychoanalysis is from poetry."

January 9, 1954:
    "Mac tells me that he saw an angel resting in a tree above his art school. This must be the angel we have been waiting for."

January 10, 1954:
    "I have seen it too. It is a bearded angel, small as a bird, and answers to the name of Heurtebise. S., being what he is, pretends not to believe and says that it is only an owl or some unlucky night creature. He says that he is sorry for it."

January 11, 1954:
    "The angel keeps screaching in the tree. It is behaving more and more like a bird. We are doing something wrong . . . Perhaps it isn’t our angel."

January 12, 1954:
    "I am gradually able to have the most Mertzian sexual…

 

Three Marxist Essays

 

Homosexuality and Marxism

 

There should be no rules for this but it should be
simultaneous if at all.
  Homosexuality is essentially being alone. Which is
a fight against the capitalist bosses who do not want
us to be alone. Alone we are dangerous.
  Our dissatisfaction could ruin America. Our love
could ruin the universe if we let it.
  If we let our love flower into the true revolution
we will be swamped with offers for beds.

 

 

The Jets and Marxism

 

  The jets hate politics. They grew up in fat cat society
that didn’t even have a depression or a war in it. They
are against capital punishment.
  They really couldn’t care less. They wear switch-blade
knives tied with ribbons. They know that which runs
this country is an IBM machine connected to an IBM
machine. They never think of using their knives against
its aluminum casing.
  A League Against Youth and Fascism should be formed
immediately by our Party. They are our guests. They are
ignorant.

 

The Jets and Homosexuality

 

  Once in the golden dawn of homosexuality there was
a philosopher who gave the formula for a new society
"from each, according to his ability, to each according
to his need."
  This formula appears in the New Testament  the
parable of the fig tree  and elsewhere.
  To continue the argument is fruitless.

 

 

Second letter to Federico Garcia Lorca

Dear Lorca,

When I translate one of your poems and I come across words I do not understand, I always guess at their meanings. I am inevitably right. A really perfect poem (no one yet has written one) could be perfectly translated by a person who did not know one word of the language it was written in. A really perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.

It is very difficult. We want to transfer the immediate object, the immediate emotion to the poem and yet the immediate always has hundreds of its own words clinging to it, short-leved and tenacious as barnacles. And it is wrong to scrape them off and substitute others. A poet is a time mechanic not an embalmer. The words around the immediate shrivel and decay like flesh around the body. No mummy-sheet of tradition can be used to stop the process. Objects, words must be led across time not preserved against it.

I yell "Shit" down a cliff at the ocean. Even in my lifetime the immediacy of that word will fad. It will be dead as "Alas." But if I put the real cliff and the real ocean into the poem, the word "Shit" will ride along with them, travel the time-machine until cliffs and oceans disappear.

Most of my friends like words too well. They set them under the blinding light of the poem and try to extract every possible connotation from each of them, every temporary pun, every direct or indirect connection – as if a word could become an object by mere addition of consequences. Others pick up words from the streets, from their bars, from their offices and display them proudly in their poems as if they were shouting, "See what I have collected from the American language. Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!" What does one do with all this crap?

Words are what sticks to the real.We use them to push the real, to drag the real into the poem. They are what we hold on with, nothing else. They are as valuable in themselves as rope with nothing to be tied to.

I repeat  the perfect poem has an infinitely small vocabulary.

Love,
Jack

 

 

First Letter (from Admonitions)

 

Dear Joe,

Some time ago I would have thought that writing notes on particular poems would either be a confession that the poems were totally inadequate (a sort of patch put on a leaky tire) or an equally humiliating confession that the writer was more interested in the terrestrial mechanics of criticism than the celestial mechanics of poetry  in either case that the effort belonged to the garage or stable rather than to the Muse.

Muses do exist, but now I know that they are not afraid to dirty their hands with explication  that they are patient with truth and commentary as long as it doesn’t get into the poem, that they whisper (if you let yourself really hear them), "Talk all you want, baby, but then let’s go to bed."

This sexual metaphor brings me to the first problem. In these poems the obscene (in word and concept) is not used, as is common, for the sake of intensity, but rather as a kind of rhythm as the tip-tap of the branches throughout the dream of Finnegans Wake or, to make the analogy even more mysterious to you, a cheering section at a particularly exciting football game. It is precisely because the obscenity is unnecessary that I use it, as I could have used any disturbance, as I could have used anything (remember the beat in jazz) which is regular and beside the point.

The point. But what, you will be too polite to ask me, is the point? Are not these poems all things to all men, like Rorschach ink blots or whores? Are they anything better than a kind of mirror?

In themselves, no. Each one of them is a mirror, dedicated to the person that I particularly want to look into it. But mirrors can be arranged. The frightening hall of mirrors in a fun house is universal beyond each particular reflection.

This letter is to you because you are my publisher and because the poem I wrote for you gives the most distorted reflection in the whole promenade. Mirror makers know the secret – one does not make a mirror to resemble a person, one brings a person to the mirror.

Love,
Jack

 

 

Second Letter (from Admonitions)

 

Dear Robin,

Enclosed you find the first of the publications of White Rabbit Press. The second will be much handsomer.

You are right that I don’t now need your criticisms of individual poems. But I still want them. It’s probably from old habit – but it’s an awfully old habit. Halfway through After Lorca I discovered that I was writing a book instead of a series of poems and individual criticism by anyone suddenly became less important. This is true of my Admonitions which I will send you when complete. (I have eight of them already and there will probably be fourteen including, of course, this letter.)

The trick naturally is what Duncan learned years ago and tried to teach us  not to search for the perfect poem but to let your way of writing of the moment go along its own paths, explore and retreat but never by fully realized (confined) within the boundaries of one poem. This is where we were wrong and he was right, but he complicated things for us by saying that there is no such thing as good or bad poetry. There is – but not in relation to a single poem. There is really no single poem.

That is why all my stuff from the past (except the Elegies and Troilus) looks foul to me. The poems belong nowhere. They are one night stands filled (the best of them) with their own emotions, but pointing nowhere, as meaningless as sex in a Turkish bath. It was not my anger or my frustration that got in the way of my poetry but the fact that I viewed each anger and each frustration as unique something to be converted into poetry as one would exchange foreign money. I learned this from the English Department (and from the English Department of the spirit that great quagmire that lurks at the bottom of all of us) and it ruined ten years of my poetry. Look at those other poems. Admire them if you like. They are beautiful but dumb.

Poems should echo and reecho against each other. They should create resonances. They cannot live alone any more than we can.

So don’t send the box of old poetry to Don Allen. Burn it or rather open it with Don and cry over the possible books that were buried in it  the Songs Against Apollo, the Gallery of Gorgeous Gods, the Drinking Songs  all incomplete, all abortive – all incomplete, all abortive because I thought, like all abortionists, that what is not perfect had no real right to live.

Things fit together. We knew that  it is the principle of magic. Two inconsequential things can combine together to become a consequence. This is true of poems too. A poem is nver to be judged by itself alone. A poem is never by itself alone.

This is the most important letter that you have ever received.

Love,
Jack

 

 

"This ocean, humiliating in its disguises"

 

This ocean, humiliating in its disguises
Tougher than anything.
No one listens to poetry. The ocean
Does not mean to be listened to. A drop
Or crash of water. It means
Nothing.
It
Is bread and butter
Pepper and salt. The death
That young men hope for. Aimlessly
It pounds the shore. White and aimless signals. No
One listens to poetry.

 

 

Sporting Life

 

The trouble with comparing a poet with a radio is that radios
     don’t develop scar-tissue. The tubes burn out, or with a
     transistor, which most souls are, the battery or diagram
     burns out replacable or not replacable, but not like that
     punchdrunk fighter in a bar. The poet

Takes too many messages. The right to the ear that floored him
     in New Jersey. The right to say that he stood six rounds with
     a champion.

Then they sell beer or go on sporting commissions, or, if the
     scar tissue is too heavy, demonstrate in a bar where the
     invisible champions might not have hit him. Too many of
     them.

The poet is a radio. The poet is a liar. The poet is a
     counterpunching radio.

And those messages (God would not damn them) do not even
     know they are champions.

 

Six Poems for Poetry Chicago (poems #1-4)

 

1

 

"Limon tree very pretty
And the limon flower is sweet
But the fruit of the poor lemon
Is impossible to eat"
In Riverside we saved the oranges first (by smudging) and left
     the lemons last to fed for themselves. They didn’t usually
A no good crop. Smudge-pots
Didn’t rouse them. The music
Is right though. The lemon tree
Could branch off into real magic. Each flower in place. We
Were sickened by the old lemon.

 

2

 

Pieces of the past arising out of the rubble. Which evokes Eliot
     and then evokes Suspicion. Ghosts all of them. Doers of no
     good.
The past around us is deeper than.
Present events defy us, the past
Has no such scruples. No funeral processions for him. He died
     in agony. The cock under the thumb.
Rest us as corpses
We poets
Vain words.
For a funeral (as I live and breathe and speak)
Of good
And impossible
Dimensions.

 

3

 

In the far, fat Vietnamese jungles nothing grows.
In Guadacanal nothing grew but a kind of shrubbery that was
     like the bar-conversation of your best best friend who was
     not able to talk.
     3
Sheets to the wind. No
Wind being present.
No
Lifeboats being present. A jungle
Can’t use life-boats. Dead
From whatever bullets the snipers were. Each
Side of themselves. Safe-
Ly delivered.

 

4  

The rind (also called the skin) of the lemon is difficult to
     understand.
It goes around itself in an oval quite unlike the orange which, as
     anyone can tell, is a fruit easily to be eaten.
It can be crushed into all sorts of extracts which are
     still not lemons. Oranges have no such fate. They’re pretty
     much the same as they were. Culls become frozen orange
     juice. The best oranges are eaten.
It’s the shape of the lemon, I guess that causes trouble. It’s
     ovalness, it’s rind. This is where my love, somehow, stops. 

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chapters iv & v of williams’ the great american novel: “the word is the thing”

IV


That’s all very fine about le mot juste but first the word must be free. — But is there not some other way? It must come about gradually. Why go down into hell when —

Because words are not men, they have no adjustments that need to be made. They are words. They can not be anything but free or bound. Go about it any way you chose.

The word is the thing. If it is smeared with colors from right and left what can it amount to?

I’d hate to have to live up there, she said with a frown. It was the soul that spoke. In her words could be read the whole of democracy, the entire life of the planet. It fell by chance on his ear but he was ready, he was alert.

And the little dusty car: There drawn up at the gutter was a great truck painted green and red. Close to it passed the little runabout while conscious desire surged in its breast. Yes there he was the great powerful mechanism, all in his new paint against the gutter while she rolled by and saw — The Polish woman in the clinic, yellow hair slicked back. Neck, arms, breast, waist, hips, etc. This is THE thing — The small mechanism went swiftly by the great truck with fluttering heart in the hope, the secret hope that perhaps, somehow he would notice — HE, the great truck in his massiveness and paint, that somehow he would come to her. Oh I wouldn’t like to live up there!

FOG HOLDSUP LINERS say the head lines. It is a blackness, a choking smother of dirty water in suspension. — You should have been here this morning. You could look out and see nothing but a sea of cloud below us. Right at our feet the fog began and stretched off as far as the eye could perceive.

Up out of the trees with a whirr started the sparrows. With a loud clatter the grouse got up at his feet. The ground was full of mushrooms. Everything, no matter what it is must be re-valuated.

The red grass will soon open into feathers.

Peter Broom, yes sah, my grandfather sah, the greatest man in Prince George County. He had three hundred children.

So many things, so many things: heat.

What then are you trying to say in THIS chapter? And what of your quest of THE word? What of A.N.T. ant?

Why someone has offended Wells. He has retorted with NEO-ACADEMICIAN: And: No new form of the novel required. Lack of substance always takes the form of novelty mongering. Empire must be saved! Saved for the proletariat.

On the side of the great machine it read: Standard Motor Gasoline, in capital letters. A great green tank was built upon the red chassis, FULL of gas. The little car looked and her heart leaped with shy wonder.

Save the words. Save the words from themselves. They are like children. Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Save them while they’re still young. Words must not be allowed to say, to do — Geld them. They are not REALLY words they are geldings. Save the words. Yes, I repeat SAVE THE WORDS. When Voronoff would have had words to transplant, interstitial words — he said save the words.

And what has anything Wells says to do with serious writing. FIRST let the words be free. The words are men, therefore they are not men. They cannot, must not, will not be mustered of the people, by the people, for the people. They are words. They will have their way.

Puh, puh, puh, puh! said the little car going up hill. But the great green and red truck said nothing but continued to discharge its gasoline into a tank buried in the ground near the gutter.

And the fog had coalesced into rain. Rain to soak the firewood the boys had left beside their old fire, like good scouts, for those to come after and the great car continued to discharge.

V


What then is a novel? Un novello, pretty, pretty Baby. It is a thing of fixed form. It is pure English. Yes, she is of Massachusetts stock. Her great grandfather was thrown out of the Quaker church for joining the Continental army. Hates the English. Her life is a novel — almost too sensational.

The story of Miss Li — so well told.

Qu’avez-vous vu? Or they that write much and see little. Not much use to us.

Speak of old Sun Bow pacing his mesa instead of Felipe Segundo in the barren halls of El Escorial — or asleep in his hard bed at one corner of the griddle.

My mother would have a little Negro boy come with a brush and sit at her feet and brush her legs by the hour.

Expressionism is to express skilfully the seething reactions of the contemporary European consciousness. Cornucopia. In at the small end and — blui! Kandinsky.

But it’s a fine thing. It is THE thing for the moment — in Europe. The same sort of thing, reversed, in America has a water attachment to be released with a button. That is art. Everyone agrees that that is art. Just as one uses a handkerchief.

It is the apotheosis of relief. Dadaism in one of its prettiest modes: rien, rien, rien. — But wait a bit. Maybe Dadaism is not so weak as one might imagine. — One takes it for

granted almost without a thought that expressionism is the release of SOMETHING. Now then Aemilius, what is European consciousness composed of? — Tell me in one word. — Rien, rien, rien! It is at least very complicated. Oh very.

You damned jackass. What do you know about Europe? Yes, what in Christ’s name do you know? Your mouth is a sewer, a cloaca.

Complicated consciousness quite aside from a possible re-valuation. It has no value for ME. It is all very interesting and God knows we have enough to learn. The swarming European consciousness. But there it is much simpler — No good to us.

Swarming European consciousness: Kreisler and Ysaye were the only ones with any value. They had a few pennies over and above expenses. They swarm here now for something to eat. But the funniest are the ones from Russia; each excoriates the playing of the other and calls the other a Sheeny. Wow!

Really you are too naive. They are merely reacting to the American atmosphere — It is their work that counts. And besides a virtuoso is not really creative in any serious sense. Would a great artist, say Kandinsky —? In any case it all seems to preoccupy you so, and in a book about America, really —

Take their work. I resent it all. I hate every symphony, every opera as much as a Negro should hate Il Trovatore. Not perhaps hate it in a purely aesthetic sense but from under. It is an impertinence. Where in God’s name is our Alexander to cut, cut, cut, through this knot.

Europe is nothing to us. Simply nothing. Their music is death to us. We are starving — not dying — not dying mind you — but lean-bellied for words. God I would like to see some man, some one of the singers step out in the midst of some one of Aida’s songs and scream like a puma.

But you poor fellow, you use such inept figures. Aida has been dead artistically in Munich for fifty years.

Wagner then — Strauss. It is no difference to me. Tear it all apart. Start with one note. One word. Chant it over and over forty different ways.

But it would be stupid —

It would, if it were what I mean — it would be accurate. It would articulate with something. It would signify relief. Release I mean. It would be the beginning.

Do not imagine I do not see the necessity of learning from Europe — or China but we will learn what we will, and never what they would teach us. America is a mass of pulp, a jelly, a sensitive plate ready to take whatever print you want to put on it — We have no art, no manners, no intellect — we have nothing. We water at the eyes at our own stupidity. We have only mass movement like a sea. But we are not a sea —

Europe we must — We have no words. Every word we get must be broken off from the European mass. Every word we get placed over again by some delicate hand. Piece by piece we must loosen what we want. What we will have. Will they let it go? Hugh.

I touch the words and they baffle me. I turn them over in my mind and look at them but they mean little that is clean. They are plastered with muck out of the cities. —

We must imitate the motivation and shun the result. We are very few to your many -But what is all this but waste energy.

No it is not. It is as near as I can come for the present to the word. What good to talk to me of Santayana and your later critics. I brush them aside. They do not apply. They do not reach me any more than a baby’s hand reaches the moon. I am far under them. I am less, far less if you will. I am a beginner. I am an American. A United Stateser. Yes it’s ugly, there is no word to say it better. I do not believe in ugliness. I do not want to call myself a United Stateser but what in — but what else am I? Ugliness is a horror to me but it is less abhorrent than to be like you even in the most remote, the most minute particular. For the moment I hate you, I hate your orchestras, your libraries, your sciences, your yearly salons, your finely tuned intelligences of all sorts. My intelligence is as finely tuned as yours but it lives in hell, it is doomed to eternal — perhaps eternal — shiftings after what? Oh to hell with Masters and the rest of them. To hell with everything I have myself ever written.

Here’s a man wants me to revise, to put in order. My God what I amdoing means just the opposite from that. There is no revision, there can be no revision —

Down came the rain with a crash. For five days it had been pending. With a loud splash it seemed to strike the earth as if it were body meeting body. The poplar leaves swirled and swirled. The gutters were wedged with water.

Oh you fool you are thicker than rain drops.

Give me to Musorgski. I am tired. Take me to the opera tonight and let me see Nijinsky dance his Till Eulenspiegel for I am tired to death with looking for sense among American poets. Igor will retrieve my courage. I could sit and listen in his lap for ever. Were not the American Indians Mongols? Or they must have been. Why could they not have been Chinese? Why could not the early Emperors have discovered America? Tell me, wet streets, what we are coming to, we in this country? Are we doomed? Must we be another Europe or another Japan with our coats copied from China, another bastard country in a world of bastards? Is this our doom or will we ever amount to anything?

Drown me in pictures like Marsden, make me a radical artist in the conventional sense. Give me the intelligence of a Wells. God, Ford is so far beyond him that what Wells says really sounds sensible.

Must it be a civilization of fatigued spirits? Then give me Ford. My God it is too disgusting.

Great men of America! O very great men of America please lend me a penny so I won’t have to go to the opera.

Why not capitalize Barnum —?

Bravo, bravo mon vieux! A noble apostrophe to your country but don’t you realize that it is not a matter of country but the time — The time.

For God’s sake Charlie bring a lemon pie.

So they lay in the little brook and let the cold water run up their bare bellies.

“it is joyce with a difference”—chapter iii of w.c. williams’ the great american novel

III

It is Joyce with a difference. The difference being greater opacity, less erudition, reduced power of perception — Si la sol fa mi re do. Aside from that simple, rather stupid derivation, forced to a ridiculous extreme. No excuse for this sort of thing. Amounts to a total occlusion of intelligence. Substitution of something else. What? Well, nonsense. Since you drive me to it. —

Take the improvisations: What the French reader would say is: Oui, ça; j’ai déjà vu ça; ça c’est de Rimbaud. Finis.

Representative American verse will be that which will appear new to the French . . . . prose the same.

Infertile Joyce laments the failure of his sterile pen. Siegfried Wagner runs to his Mama crying: Mutti, Mutti, listen, I have just composed a beautiful Cantata on a theme I discovered in one of father’s operas.

In other words it comes after Joyce, therefore it is no good, of no use but a secondary local usefulness like the Madison Square Garden tower copied from Seville — It is of no absolute good. It is not NEW. It is not an invention.

Invention, I want to buy you some clothes. Now what would you really like to have? Let us pretend we have no intelligence whatever, that we have read ALL there is to read and that Rimbaud has taught us nothing, that Joyce has passed in a cloud, that, in short, we find nothing to do but begin with Macaulay or King James, that all writing is forbidden us save that which we recognize to be inadequate. NOW show your originality, mon ami. NOW let me see what you can do with your vaunted pen.

Nothing could be easier.

My invention this time, my dear, is that literature is a pure matter of words. The moon making a false star of the weather vane on the steeple makes also a word. You do not know the fine hairs on a hickory leaf? Try one in the woods some time. You will grasp at once what I mean.

But Joyce. He is misjudged, misunderstood. His vaunted invention is a fragile fog. His method escapes him. He has not the slightest notion what he is about. He is a priest, a roysterer of the spirit. He is an epicurean of romance. His true genius flickers and fails: there’s the peak, there in the trees — For God’s sake can’t you see it! Not that tree but the mass of rocks, that reddish mass of rocks, granite, with the sun on it between that oak and the maple. — That is not an oak. Hell take it what’s the use of arguing with a botanist.

But I will not have my toothpicks made of anything but maple. Mr. Joyce will you see to it that my toothpicks are not made of anything but maple? Irish maple. Damn it, it’s for Ireland. Pick your teeth, God knows you need to. The trouble with writing of the old style is that the teeth don’t fit. They were made for Irishmen — as a class.

Tell me now, of what in your opinion does Mr. Joyce’s art consist, since you have gone so far as to criticize the teeth he makes? — Why, my dear, his art consists of words.

What then is his failure, O God. — His failure is when he mistakes his art to be something else.

What then does he mistake his art to be, Rosinante? — He mistakes it to be several things in more or less certain rotation from botany — Oh well it’s a kind of botany you know — from botany to — to — litany. Do you know his poetry?

But you must not mistake his real, if hidden, service. He has in some measure liberated words, freed them for their proper uses. He has to be a great measure destroyed what is known as "literature." For me as an American it is his only important service.

It would be a pity if the French failed to discover him for a decade or so. Now wouldn’t it? Think how literature would suffer. Yes think — think how LITERATURE would suffer.

At that the car jumped forward like a live thing. Up the steep board incline into the garage it leaped — as well as a thing on four wheels could leap — But with great dexterity he threw out the clutch with a slight pressure of his left foot, just as the fore end of the car was about to careen against a mass of old window screens at the garage end. Then pressing with his right foot and grasping the handbrake he brought the machine to a halt — just in time -though it was no trick to him, he having done it so often for the past ten years.

It seemed glad to be at home in its own little house, the trusty mechanism. The lights continued to flare intimately against the wooden wall as much to say:

And what is good poetry made of
And what is good poetry made of
Of rats and snails and puppy-dog’s tails
And that is what good poetry is made of

And what is bad poetry made of
And what is bad poetry made of
Of sugar and spice and everything nice
That is what bad poetry is made of

Here I am back again. The engine sighed and stopped at the twist of the key governing the electric switch. Out went the lights with another twist of the wrist. The owner groped his way to the little door at the back and emerged into the moonlight, into the fog, leaving his idle car behind him to its own thoughts. There it must remain all night, requiring no food, no water to drink, nothing while he, being a man, must live. His wife was at the window holding the shade aside.

A rebours: Huysman puts it. My dear let us free ourselves from this enslavement. We do not know how thoroughly we are bound. It must be a new definition, it must cut us off from the rest. It is in a different line. Good morning Boss said the old colored man working on the railroad and started to sing: Jesus, Jesus I love you. It was Sunday, he was working on the railroad on Sunday and had to put up some barrier. It is an end to art temporarily. That upstart Luther. My God don’t talk to me of Luther, never changed his bed clothes for a year. Well, my dear, IT’S COMING just the same. To hell with art. To hell with literature. The old renaissance priests guarded art in their cloisters for three hundred years or more. Sunk their teeth in it. The ONE solid thing. Don’t blame me if it went down with them. DOWN, you understand. First through the middle of the rose window. You are horror struck. One word: Bing! One accurate word and a shower of colored glass following it. Is it my fault? Ask the French if that is literature.

Do you mean to say that art — O ha, ha. Do you mean to say that art — O ha ha. Well spit it out. Do you mean to say that art is SERIOUS? — Yes. Do you mean to say that art does any WORK? — Yes. Do you mean —? Revolution. Russia. Kropotkin. Farm, Factory and Field. — CRRRRRRASH. -Down comes the world. There you are gentlemen, I am an artist.

What then would you say of the usual interpretation of the word "literature"? — Permanence. A great army with its tail in antiquity. Cliché’ of the soul: beauty.

But can you have literature without beauty? It all depends on what you mean by beauty.

There is beauty in the bellow of the BLAST, etc. from all previous significance. — To me beauty is purity. To me it is discovery, a race on the ground.

And for this you are willing to smash —

Yes, everything. — To go down into hell. — Well let’s look.

“a novel must progress toward a word”—chapter ii of w.c. wiliams’ the great american novel

First published in Paris in 1923 in an edition of three hundred copies, W.C. Williams’ The Great American Novel is, in his words, "a satire on the novel form in which a little (female) Ford car falls more or less in love with a Mack truck." But it is also a serious attempt to write a novel that goes beyond the received set of novelistic conventions. In this regard, it’s worth remembering that Williams’ novel was published only one year after James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

II

I’m new, said she, I don’t think you’ll find my card here. You’re new; how interesting. Can you read the letters on that chart? Open your mouth. Do you have headaches? No. Ah, yes, you are new. I’m new, said the oval moon at the bottom of the mist funnel, brightening and paling. I don’t think you’ll find my card there. Open your mouth—Breathe—A crater big enough to hold the land from New York to Philadelphia. New! I’m new, said the quartz crystal on the parlor table—like glass—Mr. Tiffany bought a car load of them. Like water or white rock candy—I’m new, said the mist rising from the duck pond, rising, curling, turning under the moon—Unknown grasses asleep in the level mists, pieces of the fog. Last night it was an ocean. Tonight trees. Already it is yesterday. Turned into the wrong street seeking to pass the power house from which the hum, hmmmmmmmmmmmmm—sprang. Electricity has been discovered for ever. I’m new, says the great dynamo. I am progress. I make a word. Listen! UMMMM- MMMMMMMM —

 

Ummmmmmmmmm—Turned into the wrong street at three A.M. lost in the fog, listening, searching—Waaaa! said the baby. I’m new. A boy! A what? Boy. Shit, said the father of two other sons. Listen here. This is no place to talk that way. What a word to use. I’m new, said the sudden word.

 

The fog lay in deep masses on the roads at three A.M. Into the wrong street turned the car seeking the high pitched singing tone of the dynamos endlesslyspinning in the high banquet hall, filling the house and the room where the bed of pain stood with progress. Ow, Ow! Oh help me somebody! said she. UMMMMMM sang the dynamo in the next street, UMMMM. With a terrible scream she drowned out its sound. He went to the window to see if his car was still there, pulled the curtain aside, green—Yes it was still there under the light where it would not be so likely to be struck by other cars coming in the fog. There it was as still as if it were asleep. Still as could be. Not a wheel moved. No sound came from the engine. It stood there under the purple arc-light, partly hidden by a pole which cast a shadow toward him in the masses of floating vapor. He could see the red tail light still burning brightly with the electricity that came from the battery under the floor boards. No one had stolen the spare tire. It was very late.—Well, said he, dropping the shade and thinking that maybe when he was busy someone might easily come up from the meadows and take the spare tire—Well, I suppose I had better see how things have progressed.

 

And so he backed out into the main street and turned up another block. And there he saw. The great doors were open to full view of the world. A great amphitheatre of mist lighted from the interior of the power house. In rows sat the great machines saying vrummmmmmmmmmmmm. Stately in the great hall they sat and generated electricity to light the cellar stairs with. To warm the pad on Mrs. Voorman’s belly. To cook supper by and iron Abie’s pyjamas. Here was democracy. Here is progress—here is the substance of words— UMMMMM: that is to say meat or linen or belly ache.— Three A.M. To be exacttwenty-eight minutes past three.

 

And all this was yesterday—Yesterday and there at her window I saw her, the lady of my dreams her long and sallow face, held heavily near the glass, overlooking the street where the decayed-meat wagon passes and the ice cream cart rumbles with its great power and the complicated affairs of the town twitter toward the open sewer in the meadows by the Button Factory. Orange peel, tomato peel floating in a whitish, soapy flow—Her face without expression, the lady I am dying for, her right shoulder as high as her ear, the line of the shoulder sloping down acutely to the neck, her left shoulder also raised so that her head seemed to lie loose in a kind of saddle.

 

Supreme in stupidity and a fog of waste, profit in what is left. Oh what delectable morsel is left. Blessed hunchback, scum of loves weekly praying in all churches— which by the way take up the very best sites in the town. There she sat, her body low down below the window frame, only her face showing, and looked at me dully, looked because I looked— and my heart leaped up to her in passionate appeal that she should be my queen and run with me over the foggy land—Forward—Onward and upward forever.

 

So saying the day had progressed toward the afternoon and under the poplars the dried leaves had begun to collect. It had been unbearably hot. September is a hot month. The leaves had fallen one by one. No wind. One by one pushed off by the buds which swollen by the heat had thought that winter was over. Off with you. You stand in the way of progress, say the young leaves. Sitting on his chair he seemed like any other man but to get to the bed he suddenly descended to the floor. On his long arms—he Apollo, and using the stumps of his legs, apelike on all fours and talking quietly he swung himself up over the edge of the bed and lay down.

 

Over the field—for the fog had left the grasses in the early morning when the sun came up with majestic progression, haughtily leaving the dropping city under him—over the field—for it was late in the afternoon and the sunlight shone in with his poor broken legs, crippled as he was -the sun shone in from the west. The car had turned in to the wrong street and he had gone into the store where the paralyzed Scotchman whom he had never seen before put him on the way—climbing into his bed sent his rays almost level over a patch of red grass hot and blinding. Over the field the heat rose and in it even from a distance due to the blur of light on their wings a great swarm of gnats could be seen turning, twisting in the air, rising falling—over the grass, fringed with the progressing sun.

 

But with great sweeps and sudden turns a dozen dragon flies seeming twice as large as they really were, from the sun blurring their transparent wings, darted back and forth over the field catching and eating the gnats. Swiftly the gnats progressed into the dragon flies, swiftly coalescingand from time to time a droplet of stuff fell from the vent of a feeding dragon fly,—and the little sound of this stuff striking the earth could not be heard with its true poetic force. Lost. Lost in a complicated world. Except in the eyes of God. But a word, a word rang true. Shit, said the father. With this name I thee christen: he added under his breath.

 

And yet—one must begin somewhere.

 

Deeply religious, he walked into the back yard and watching lest the children see him and want what they shouldn’t have he approached the grape vines. Selecting a bunch of Delawares he picked it with some difficulty spilling a few of the fruit. Then he walked to the other side and found some blue ones. These too he ate. Then some white which he ate also one by one swallowing the pulp and the seeds and spitting out the skins. He continued to cat but no word came to satisfy.

 

Somehow a word must be found. He felt rather a weight in his belly from eating so many grapes. He, himself that must die someday, he the deeply religious friend of great men and women in incipience, he couldn’t find a word. Only words and words. He ate another bunch of the grapes. More words. And never THE word.

 

A novel must progress toward a word. Any word that —Any word. There is an idea.

 

His brother was ill. He must go home. The sun will soon be on the Pacific coast. To bed, to bed—take off the clothes beginning on the outside and working in. How would it be to take off the underwear first, then the shirt—

 

Progress is damn foolishness—It is a game. Either I have or—a thieves’ game. Hold me close, closer, close as you can. I can’t hold you any closer. I have been stealing. I should never touch anything. I should never think of anything but you. I love another. It is a word. I have left you alone to run wild with a girl. I would be tame. Lies flicker in the sun. Visions beset noonday. Through the back window of the shoe-shine parlor a mass of golden glow flashes in the heat. Come into my heart while I am running—jumping from airplane to plane in midair. I cannot stop: the word I am seeking is in your mouth—I cannot stop. Hold me against -You are wrong, wrong Alva N. Turner. It is deeper than you imagine. I perceive that it may be permissible for a poet to write about a poetic sweetheart but never about a wife—should have said possible. It is not possible. All men do the same. Dante be damned. Knew nothing at all. Lied to himself all his life. Profited by his luck and never said thanks. God pulled the lady up by the roots. Never even said thank you. Quite wrong. Look what he produced. Page after page. Helped the world to bread. Have another slice of bread Mr. Helseth. No thank you—Not hungry tonight? Something on his mind.

 

The word. Who.

 

Liberate the words. You tie them. Poetic sweet-heart. Ugh. Poetic sweetheart. My dear Miss Word let me hold your W. I love you. Of all the girls in school you alone are the one

Dramatize myself make it sing together as if the world were a bird who married to the same mate five years understood in the end transmigration of souls.

 

Nonsense. I am a writer and will never be anything else. In which case it is impossible to find the word. But to have a novel one must progress with the words. The words must become real, they must take the place of wife and sweetheart. They must be church—Wife. It must be your wife. It must be a thing adamant with the texture of wind. Wife.

 

Am I a word? Words, words, words—

 

And approaching the end of the novel in his mind as he sat there with his wife sleeping alone in the next room he could feel that something unusual had happened. Something had grown up in his life dearer than—It, as the end. The words from long practice had come to be leaves, trees, the corners of his house—such was the end. He had progressed leaving the others far behind him. Alone in that air with the words of his brain he had breathed again the pure mountain air of joy—there night after night in his poor room. And now he must leave her. She the—He had written the last word and getting up he understood the fog as it billowed before the lights.

 

That which had been impossible for him at first had become possible. Everything had been removed that other men had tied to the words to secure them to themselves. Clean, clean he had taken each word and made it new for himself so that at last it was new, free from the world for himself—never to touch it—dreams of his babyhood—poetic sweet-heart. No. He went in to his wife with exalted mind, his breath coming in pleasant surges. I come to tell you that the book is finished.

I have added a new chapter to the art of writing. I feel sincerely that all they say of me is true, that I am truly a great man and a great poet.

 

What did you say, dear, I have been asleep?

 

w.c. williams’ the great american novel: trying to write himself out of the prison house of language

In the early 1920s in Rutherford, New Jersey, William Carlos Williams had serious doubts that the "Great American Novel," as it was then conceptualized, could ever be written. Though generally known for his revolutionary work in poetry, Williams was also quite an experimentalist in prose, claiming in Spring and All that prose and verse "are phases of the same thing" (144). Williams showed concern for the future of American literature in general, including that of the novel. In response to what he viewed as specific problems facing the American novel, problems with American language, and problems inherent in the nature of language itself, Williams created The Great American Novel in 1923. Williams was troubled by the derivative nature of American novels of the time, their lack of originality, and their dependence upon European models; the exhausted material and cliché-ridden language of the historical novels of his day; the tendency of such novels to oversimplify or misrepresent the American experience; and the formulaic quality of genres such as detective novels. At the heart of The Great American Novel is Williams’s concern with how these conventional novel forms obscure the play of language and fail to engage readers in the defamiliarization that drives his poetics. Growing out of these underlying premises, The Great American Novel engages the techniques of what we would now call metafiction to parody worn out formulas and content and, ironically, to create a new type of novel that anticipates postmodern fiction.

—from April Boone, “William Carlos Williams’s The Great American Novel: Flamboyance and the Beginning of Art.” William Carlos Williams Review, Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2006.

Bookseller Photo 

 

The first chapter of William Carlos Williams’ The Great American Novel:

I
THE FOG
 

If there is progress then there is a novel. Without progress there is nothing. Everything exists from the beginning. I existed in the beginning. I was a slobbering infant. Today I saw nameless grasses— I tapped the earth with my knuckle. It sounded hollow. It was dry as rubber. Eons of drought. No rain for fifteen days. No rain. It has never rained. It will never rain. Heat and no wind all day long better say hot September. The year has progressed. Up one street down another. It is still September. Yesterday was the twenty-second. Today is the twenty-first. Impossible. Not if it was last year. But then if wouldn’t be yesterday. A year is not as yesterday in his eyes. Besides last year it rained in the early part of the month. That makes a difference. It rained on the white goldenrod. Today being misplaced as against last year makes it seem betterto have white — Such is progress. Yet if there is to be a novel one must begin somewhere.

Words are not permanent unless the graphite be scraped up and put in a tube or the ink lifted. Words progress into the ground. One must begin with words if one is to write. But what then of smell? What then of the hair on the trees or the golden brown cherries under the black cliffs. What of the weakness of smiles that leaves dimples as much as to say: forgive me— I am slipping, slipping, slipping into nothing at all. Now I am not what I was when the word was forming to say what I am. I sit so on my bicycle and look at you greyly, dimpling because it is September and I am older than I was. I have nothing to say this minute. I shall never have anything to do unless there is progress, unless you write a novel. But if you take me in your arms— why the bicycle will fall and it will not be what it is now to smile greyly and a dimple is so deep— you might fall in and never, never remember to write a word to say good-bye to your cherries. For it is September. Begin with September.

To progress from word to word is to suck a nipple. Imagine saying: My dear, I am thirsty, will you let me have a little milk—This to love at first sight. But who do you think I am, says white goldenrod? Of course there is progress. Of course there are words. But I am thirsty, one might add. Yes but I love you and besides I have no milk. Oh yes, that is right. I forgot that we were speaking of words. Yet you cannot deny that to have a novel one must have milk. Not at the beginning. Granted, but at the end at least. Yes, yes, at the end. Progress from the mere form to the substance. Yes, yes, in other words: milk. Milk is the answer.

But how have milk out of white goldenrod? Why, that was what the Indians said. The bosom of the earth sprays up a girl balancing, balancing on a bicycle. Rapidly she passes through the first— the second eight years. Progress, you note. But September was rainy last year and how can it ever be dry again unless one go back to the year before that. There are no words. It cannot be any otherwise than as this is built the bosom of the earth shrinks back; phosphates. Yet to have a novel— Oh catch up a dozen good smelly names and find some reason for murder, it will do. But can you not see, can you not taste, can you not smell, can you not hear, can you not touch—words? It is words that must progress. Words, white goldenrod, it is words you are made out of—THAT is why you want what you haven’t got.

Progress is to get. But how can words get.—Let them get drunk. Bah. Words are words. Fog of words. The car runs through it. The words take up the smell of the car. Petrol. Face powder, arm pits, food-grease in the hair, foul breath, clean musk. Words. Words cannot progress. There cannot be a novel. Break the words. Words are indivisible crystals. One cannot break them—Awu tsst grang splith gra pragh og bm—Yes, one can break them. One can make words. Progress? If I make a word I make myself into a word. Such is progress. I shall make myself into a word. One big word. One big union. Such is progress. It is a novel. I begin small and make myself into a big splurging word: I take life and make it into one big blurb. I begin at my childhood. I begin at the beginning and make one big— Bah.

What difference is it whether I make the words or take the words. It makes no difference whatever.

There cannot be a novel. There can only be pyramids, pyramids of words, tombs. Their warm breasts heave up and down calling for a head to progress toward them, to fly onward, upon a word that was a pumpkin, now a fairy chariot, and all the time the thing was rolling backward to the time when one believed. Hans Anderson didn’t believe. He had to pretend to believe. It is a conspiracy against childhood. It runs backward. Words are the reverse motion. Words are the flesh of yesterday . Words roll, spin, flare up, rumble, trickle, foam— Slowly they lose momentum. Slowly they cease to stir. At last they break up into their letters— Out of them jumps the worm that was— His hairy feet tremble upon them.

Leaving the meeting room where the Mosquito Extermination Commission had been holding an important fall conference they walked out on to the portico of the County Court House Annex where for a moment they remained in the shadow cast by the moon. A fog had arisen in which the egg-shaped white moon was fixed—so it seemed. They walked around the side of the old-fashioned wooden building—constructed in the style of the fine residences of sixty years ago and coming to the car he said: Go around that side as I will have to get in here by the wheel. The seat was wet with dew and cold — after the exceptionally hot day. They sat on it nevertheless. The windshield was opaque with the water in minute droplets on it—through which the moon shone with its inadequate light. That is, our eyes being used to the sun the moon’s light is inadequate for us to see by. But certain bats and owls find it even too strong, preferring the starlight. The stars also were out.

Turning into the exit of the parking space he stopped the car and began to wipe the wind-shield with his hand. Take this rag said the other, with one hand already in his trouser pocket. So the glass was wiped on both sides, the top and the bottom pane and the cloth— which looked a good deal like a handkerchief— was returned to the owner — who put it back where it came from not seeming to mind that it was wet and dirty. But of course the man is a mechanic in a certain sense and doesn’t care.

On the highway they began to encounter fog. It seemed in the rush of the car to come and meet them. It came suddenly, with a rush and in a moment nothing could be seen but the white billows of water crossed in front by the flares of the headlights. And so it went all the way home, sometimes clearer, sometimes so thick he had to stop, nearly— ending in his own bed-room with his wife’s head on the pillow in the perfectly clear electric light. The light shone brightest on the corner of her right eye, which was nearest it, also on the prominences of her face.

Her right arm was under her head. She had been reading. The magazine Vanity Fair, which he had bought thinking of her, lay open on the coverlet. He looked at her and she at him. He smiled and she, from long practice, began to read to him, progressing rapidly until she said: You can’t fool me.

He became very angry but understood at once that she had penetrated his mystery, that she saw he was stealing in order to write words. She smiled again knowingly. He became furious.