try to say simple
i noticed that john berryman is celebrating his centenary. good on the ol' chap. i was -- i am -- a huge admirer of his work. it was his sonnet, "I Lift", that set me on the red road of verse. that poem, i mean this with all my heart and soul, changed my life. i soon bought the dream songs
and aped berryman's torsions and agonies. but that writing didn't suit me or my personality.
i imitated every writer i admired. very soon after berryman, or around the same time, i discovered rimbaud and dylan thomas. i was doomed. rimbaud has stayed with me. thomas, not so much. berryman, yes, as a reader, but no as a writer. i take my reading seriously. perhaps more so than my writing. but then i think of reading and writing as being two very like actions. one cannot exist without the other. so when i say yes to berryman as a reader i'm taking his jagged music very seriously.
i can't abide berryman tho as a figure for imitation. first of all, i don't think life is very tragic. perhaps life is a tragic-comedy. there is too much pleasure in life. too much to be grateful for. there is suffering, a great deal of it, yes. but even in the shit, and we have all suffered greatly for we are human and that is the overriding human subject for all of us, i enjoy living.
i've devolved. i try to be as simple as i can. later on i discovered the classical chinese poets, who helped me weather an awful time of personal suffering, and buddhist writers. only then when i read these writers did i come to know a few happy eccentrics who suffered too but also enjoyed the very fact of living. oh, let me throw in thom gunn in the mix, for that dude knew how to take a huge bite out of life.
happiness is not considered a worthy enough subject for art. i mightily refute that assumption. i don't mean a blind, ignorant kind of happiness that ignores, or doesn't process, the horrors of the world. the last two poems i recently wrote take as their subjects our mediated culture and our self-created horrors. but when i say happiness i mean a fully realized life in the midst of all this madness.
because the art of writing is a manifestation of the art of living. berryman took his horrors and created a language of great, but tragic beauty. his language was the result of such tragedy. hence the difficulty of his poetry.
and yet, there are other writers, like the very great, and undersung, lew welch, who wrote a poetry that was also tragic but, i think, celebrated living. welch's poems are less arch than berryman's work, and arguably simpler. not simple by being stupid. i mean a radical simplicity of great beauty. welch gets us to slow down and savor life. berryman tries to speed up life and tie it into knots. welch tries to undo those knots. when i read the classical chinese poets, and poets like lew welch, that's what i am going for. or trying to get to in my own work. i am doing my best to slow down, and undo the knots. i shall fail. we all do fail. the made thing is never the gleaming object we had in our minds' eye. but in my failures i shall do my best to make as good music as i know how. even if that music sounds like a gorilla banging on a rusted pail.
or maybe the better image is of the filmmaker on par with ed wood or al adamson or william girdler. for those guys created uncommon art by sheer luck, determination, and obstinacy. their works are very simple. perhaps inept too. but for them art was not about personal expression but a vision of a body of work that came from fully realized lives. yes, that is what i want. a vision of work out of a fully realized life.