Sunday, August 25, 2013


“I believe in the coherent work, composed of many voices.”—Octavio Paz

Reading Michael Wood’s review of The Poems of Octavio Paz—“Real isn't real”—in the London Review of Books, 4 July 2013, I find lines that capture quite effectively the sensation of writing something like Metro Lace.  It’s not surprising, since I would still say that the biggest influence on the “method” of such a poem—after Ashbery—is the anthology called Modern European Poetry (in translation) that I read around the age of 20.  It included some poems of Paz but more importantly it included an international collection of poets all writing in that vein to some degree.  “That vein” being born of symbolist practices to a degree that American verse rarely is, and British verse still less.

Which makes me reflect I still need to go back to reading translated anthologies and maybe to building up my resources again with poems written in other tongues.  In any case, here are the lines from Paz, translated by Muriel Rukeyser, quoted by Wood:

When over the paper the pen goes writing
in any solitary hour,
who drives the pen?
To whom is he writing, he who writes for me . . .
Someone in me is writing, moves my hand,
hears a word, hesitates,
halted between green mountains and blue sea . . .
He writes to anyone, he calls nobody,
to his own self he writes, in himself forgets,
and is redeemed, becoming again me.

True, nothing in this, as writing, recalls Metro Lace.  I would despair of such solemnity, but the process described is quite accurate, and elsewhere Paz, like all symbolist-influenced poets, can employ some of the flippancy that comes with an acceptance that the only world we may remark on is the one we make of words.  In general, though, he’s not primary in that regard and I preferred other poets in that volume who were a bit more insouciant about the existential abyss interposed between textuality and identity.  Still, from Wood’s description, it sounds as if poems like Sunstone (1957) and Blanco (1966) would have something to say to me.

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