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On the topology of poetry

What is a field?

Shockmotion. Reproduced under a Creative Commons License.
March 21, 2012
Whitman was right. Our names are left like leaves of grass,
likeness and liking, the human greenness
tough as grass that survives cruelest seasons.

Robert Duncan, The Opening of the Field


“I see the image of the tree in the middle of the visual field.”
“And where do you see the visual field?”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book
I see these poems as an exercise in flattening. In his ‘Making of the Pré’, Francis Ponge creates a meadow or a prairie (pré) – in the sense of something both self-grown and in preparation – an archive of drafts toward the poem, the field itself. Indeed, Ponge draws a line at the poem’s end, literally underlining the poem, and then signs his name underneath. It is as if he lies buried beneath the line, lying horizontally in the field. From there his initials grow into Fenouil (fennel) and Prêle (Purslane) above the line, making pré: “an expanse of green, an embedded surface, but which also slowly gushes, on all sides, in anonymous appeal (unanimous, anonymous) or response to the rain . . . a habitable place, strollable.”

In the middle of a field, their eyes having been opened, Adam and Eve are hiding. There “they hear the voice of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). The moment is not that of making and creating. God is doing nothing, just strolling in the garden in the cool of the day, accompanying himself [in Hebrew] for a walk. For Adam and Eve, still hiding, this Edenic pause is immediately shattered by God’s question, a straight line compressed into a single word: “Ayeka” – where are you? – which flushes them out of their hiding “in the tree of the garden,” and out of the garden. From now on, it’s up to them to make a field, to till it, produce a lineage, make their own tapestry of lines.

Lines prolong. That’s what they do. But lines are made of chords that leap to complete a step. Dexter Gordon, the tenor-saxophonist playing a tenor-saxophonist in the film Round Midnight, portrays his life work in music as “expanding the chord”. This is field work. Poetry is in the field. It doesn’t go anywhere. But it must make a field in order to move, to get (out) to the field, to reach not the tall and distant space but the near space that spreads beside the movement of writing. Text excerpted from Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies, Vol. 2 (2002) pp. 300-308.
Image © Shockmotion. Reproduced under a Creative Commons License.
  
© Zali Gurevitch
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