Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lost beginnings 3, the end (of the beginnings)

I've known from the outset that I possessed a certain amount of the notebook's early entries -- the parts that followed my daughter's dedicatory note -- because I plundered those first few pages when I was setting up my MySpace page for the Poet to Poet project. I stripped out those entries which (sort of) filled the boxes MySpace sets for its profile. When I went back and stripped them out from that webpage, something occurred to me which relates to those 'lost' books.

I have a great deal of unpublished poetry from the eighties I never quite got round to finishing off or sending out (the tentative volume Poetry in Unglish), partly because the work was inferior or uncompleteable, partly because I was trying influences on for size, discarding some, amalgamating others, and moving on. By the end of that period, one of the styles I'd settled into, alongside the pieces which went into my first books for Bloodaxe and Arc, was montage, where I'd borrow phrases I found and liked the resonance of, and create an amalgam of these with phrases I was generating anyway in a fairly continuous manner.

This wasn't a fifty-fifty split: the proportions would vary wildly from just an epigraph, to an almost completely collage of 'foreign,' though the challenge of course was to create a voice which was itself slightly foreignised. Both Ashbery and MacDiarmid were behind this mode, and I suppose I grew out of it as slowly as I grew out of them, wanting to bring other elements into the work to roughen up its technique, resisting perfectionism and repetition. (Though repetition has its role.)

Anyway, when I abstracted from MySpace those entries I'd already removed from the notebook, I was reminded of that process of assemblage as digestion, drafting as rehearsal for the voice. No doubt, eighteen years or so ago, I'd have been dividing and reassembling these phrases, trying them out in couplets, tercets, quatrains, improvising parallel or contrasting lines based on tone or image or rhythm. No doubt to some extent that's exactly what I continue to do, just as these have lost some reference points only to begin to gain new ones.

One of the things I think I'm engaged in at this point in my writing life is a reassessing of the selves, consecutive or otherwise, an attempt to integrate those ways of working and thinking into a bundle, to echo Yeats, that is both coherent and incoherent in characteristic ways. I'm trying to see what has to be in the painting alongside such self-portraiture, and to accept that this composite self is a much smaller part of a larger multiplicity of patterns than these previous selves assumed.

I already know that its supposed integrities are much challenged by those patterns. I'm curious what the consequences of this is in terms of new work, but I suppose I'm equally curious in relation to old, 'lost' work.

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