This conviction denotes the essence of mobility portrayed throughout the text, the individual and collectives while commissioning itself through geographical space and chronological time. This ready-made art is the central organizing symbol dancing interchangeably amongst vitality, identity, reality, and the essence of written portraiture, thus producing the insistence of modernity. This movement in the arrangement of art with life makes a portrait audible and visual, prohibiting the opportunity for duplication. Producing individual uniqueness compounded by past generations. This individuality, this ability to produce a single, authentic portrait creates an intimacy of inner-subjective involvement, that is, a reciprocal interaction of subject and listener where identity travels subconsciously back and forth. Movement is enacted through the essence of excitement by the differentiation of an individuals every action.
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I began to wonder at at about this time just what one saw when one looked at anything really looked at anything. Did one see sound, and what was the relation between color and sound, did it make itself by description by a word that meant it or did it make itself by a word in itself.
What happens when you look at anything, actually, over a period of time say, a year and a quarter every day, carefully, quietly, without many preconceptions as to what that thing is, and then at the same time at the moment of looking, or just after — or as the moment of looking you are writing this, what happens, what do you see? Is there a sort of rhyme between the seen and the heard what if you hear the sound of a bird at the same moment you are looking at a distant ridgeline in fog , and what about meaning — is ridge something seen, or something heard, is the word you are using at the same time you are seeing already always there in the seeing, and so the sound of the word must be there, in the experience of the seeing?
And then there is the writing of the word, later the reading of it, so that the experience in time is repeated in another time in another mind. A portrait repeated as the portrait as repetition is the portrait. As words are things seen and heard, and things seen and heard merge with words.
Each day for a year and nearly three months — February 9, —May 28, — Stephen Ratcliffe wrote a ten-line poem that consisted of five couplets, the first line of each couplet always three characters longer than a second line.
The words of the couplets appear in their published form in Courier font which looks like typewriter font , making the words appear oddly old-fashioned or anyway informal and handcrafted in a removed sort of way.
The impression is that the words are not printed words in a book, that they are somehow more abstract and at the same time more intimate than words one usually sees in books or in online writing. The title of each poem is the date on which the poem was written 7. They do not seem to stand for days on earth but rather as a mathematical series: somber, calm, laconic. Within each of the couplets there always appears a word in parenthesis. It might appear in the first or the second line, it might appear toward the beginning of the line or the middle or end, it might be underlined Steve does not use — and typewriters did not have — italics.
Sometimes the parenthetical word is not a word at all but a letter p. The effect of the parenthetical word is to distance or interrupt whatever is going on in the line.
Though there is occasional enjambment, the couplets appear to be independent of one another. None of the first lines is capitalized. There is punctuation, but none of the couplets ends with period. They are all double-spaced, giving each line and each word that much more attention as such.
The couplets seem to include a variety of subject matter that appears again and again as the long poem evolves, poem by poem, poem after poem. Fog over a ridge. A pot of flowers in a glass vase. Stones on a windowsill. Birdsong in the distance.
A tobacco plant. Words, language, abstraction, relationship between objects in a visual field, the negative space between them. A couple, a man and a women, in intimate — if indefinite and entirely wordless — relationship.
The sea in the distance and close up, swimming in the waves. People seen at a distance. Colors, the colors of anything, distinct from one another. A poem of words — but everything seems quiet, wordless. Notice how I have used, in the above paragraphs, words like appears, seems, might, as if, sometimes. This is because the overall effect of this almost obsessively precise poem is one of indeterminacy. It is not clear what is being described or what is going on.
Despite the luminous clarity of the words and images. Unconcealment , the Heideggerian word. The drops are literally concealed before they form as drops, they are not there at all to the person, to his sight, and then unconcealed when they appear as drops that can be seen as such, and named. Which person writes what? Something happens when you repeat. When you repeat and repeat and repeat. You do it, you repeat, whether you feel in the mood or not. The discipline, the commitment, replaces the sense of the personal, of what you want to be doing or saying.
Whatever you want to be doing or saying — or whether or not you have anything you want to do or say — you repeat. It, rather than you, carries the process along. Something happens that you would not have intended or desired.
This is poetry as practice rather than as expression, or even as communication. It goes beyond the idea of skill or talent. Because this is what emerges when you repeat this way, with this kind of relentless devotion.
You find that you go deeper into what you are, how you are, how language is, how the poem is, what seeing, hearing, writing, thinking, being is than you ever would have been able to do if you based what you were doing on your skill intelligence knowledge personality. I have devoted many years to contemplative practice and see that poetry is or could be the same thing. My own poetry is the same thing: contemplation, poetry as practice. You do it; you simply do it with devotion.
It sustains you for its own sake. You publish to write. The writing as practice — as personal sense of meaning, as salvation — is the thing. Writing that is both more and less than communication. The poet is in his house writing.
It is silent, he is alone. A lonely quiet place, not in a city, in a small town, on a quiet street, no traffic, no street noise, no one around. Wind outside, ocean in the distance. Grey sky. A garden — simple, not lush. The poet has lived in this house many years by now, the same walls, same floor, same view. He is methodical in his habits, arises every morning same time, goes outside, comes back in, writes.
Sees, hears, thinks, remembers: writes words. Once a word is written it is different from the moment before it is written: the word is different, the experience of the word is different. Life is different.
The words come out of the quiet. They come out of the long habit of having seen, heard, felt, these same things in a former time that rhymes with this time, as echo. The closer you look, the more intimate the experience of all this is, the more indecipherable it becomes. The more real it becomes. It is relentless. Outside, the man is walking around a corner of the house; inside, the table is slanted below the sill; in the distance, a cloud brushes against the ridge.
The drops falling from tobacco plant leaves are writing just as much as this that I am doing now is writing or the former writing of Stephen Ratcliffe by now more than ten years formerly is writing: they write a meaning, as much as these words write a meaning. But not explained, perhaps. Or perhaps no one is feeling it but the rose, in being unconcealed, produces or is a feeling. A figure — which maybe is a person — is there, in the background rose in foreground?
Person as part of the field, figure in a landscape. Leaves on trees moving in the wind or leaves leaving? Inside we were before this outside? Or are we inside and outside at the same time? It is so quiet in here you can hear the petal falling when you turn toward it, or is the falling of the petal contingent on your turning toward it, it falls when and because you turn toward it, your movement having jarred the table so that the petal falls, making a sound, but can you hear the sound?
The rock-hard sense of your identity then cracks open: you see blue sky opening through the crack, for the first time you can feel a thought coming toward you from a distance, the thought is a cloud above the ridge, it is seeing itself, the final line of a poem you have been writing for more than a year and now it suddenly occurs to you, quietly, and without emotion, but with a certainty the poem is finished, landscape like something flat and contained leaning against the plane of glass out which you are looking, a thick sheaf of pages full of uniform black lines of words on white.
Listening to Stephen Ratcliffe. Edited by Julia Bloch. Norman Fischer.
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