Thursday, January 12, 2012

Conclusion: "Landscape as Activity in The End of America poems"

"Landscape as Activity in The End of America poems"

Part Three

(Part One can be found here.)

I’ve always been interested in altering the relation between form and content in specific poems or groups of poems, and The End of America is no exception. There’s no one formal structure, or content, or relation between structure and content, that can be said to be ultimately, or even most, realist, if by “realist” one means an attempt to describe life as it is lived and experienced. Literary description can never simply show readers the real; it always reshapes it, leaving some things out and highlighting others, exaggerating and understating, tweaking for effect. Literature inevitably intervenes in the world; it reshapes it and so changes it, always.

This fact leads some writers to give up entirely on description, to consider it irrelevant, or to treat it as no more than literary, a created language with no definite relation to anything beyond language, certainly not life as it is lived and experienced. But those seem two extremes: to say either that literature can give an accurate depiction of life or can give no depiction of it at all. Instead, life and literature might share a pattern similar to that of character and environment, a series of mutual interactions that converge and diverge in different ways at different times.

In the various books of The End of America, I conceive of the person as an activity. Thoughts and feelings (whatever distinctions there may or may not be between them) are as much part of that activity as more physically visible ones. In the poems, the social geographic environment is also an activity, one of multiple voices and landscapes, of money and politics and hands gripping fences. Landscape is inevitably not stable; it changes. The person is the focal point for a processing of social geographic stimuli, acted upon by that stimuli and acting upon it, although the limits of the person’s ability to act upon it become part of the process, and a struggle. The person doesn’t always process the noise and reshape it into a clearly articulated response. That can happen sometimes, but clearly articulated responses are hardly the only way that persons process environments. Ultimately the process is less one of final answers than of motion itself, person and environment acting and re-acting. Hardly symbiosis or an easy relation, but one that involves uncertainty and anguish and that’s destructive as well as constructive.

Despite all the poetics I might use to talk about various aspects of the approach, there’s an element of barely filtered survival instinct in The End of America. Here’s what’s happening, here’s what I’m seeing and hearing, and now how am I going to live with it, to make something of it in a way that will help me be part of it? The end of it all, or the making of the end of it, can’t be the goal, since the wearing out of any person is inevitable. It’s the making something of it now, in a succession of nows, that is the most any person or poem can do.

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