Dan Beachy-Quick
A January Notebook


The poem founds a world it also finds. “The world is everything that is the case.” Plenum. A sum some call All. The work of reading and the work of writing are the same insofar as both require the active discovery of the world that the poem is—a discovery not limited to images and that which would sensibly fill the world, but also cosmic laws, gravity, light, physics (a kind of logic). The world of the poem may seem very like our own world, but it is unwise, perhaps it is unsafe, to assume similarity signifies sameness. Thoreau: “The logic of the poet is more severe than the logician’s logic.” It is the logic of the poem that puts everything in the poem at stake. World versus abyss (“Abyss has no Biographer.”); word not versus silence, but word that contains in it silence. Silence a fecund law, different in every poem but secretly so, inability of the mind to differentiate and name that which it nonetheless senses. The mind caught in the impossible trap of its own belief, relying on heart for proof, relying on soul for proof—but nothing in the poem can be proven, save that to write a poem, to read a poem, casts us deep into the need of our self as our only resource. (Self that is not simple, that in its solitude is not simple.) Sign of the honest reader: at every line’s end, she asks Where am I? In this world. “The brain—is wider than the sky— / for—put them side by side / the one the other will contain / with ease—and you beside” I like to think imagination enacts impossible forms of grace. One example, to read the poem is to put in the mind a world. It is a world we live in that lives within us. It is a world that in filling our heads may make our heads grow lighter (darkness and weight). It is larger than us, what we contain. Futile binary of “form” and “content.” To contain what contains us. Continually cast out of that place in which we dwell but find it dwelling within us—and then the reverse is immediately true. Poetry as the crisis of the threshold. I read to cast me out of myself into a world I now contain. All this fool’s wisdom. Eden’s never-yet-ending trick. “The only paradise is paradise lost.” Sign of the reader: biting her tongue even as she asks, Am I this paradise? To say it is to see it depart.


Thinking in a poem: not a rational activity, but a propulsive one. Muscular, vascular. Music’s flex into tension, spring-loaded. Also the work of the heart. Empedocles: the heart that thinks, the blood around the heart called thought. How does the mind think? It heaves.

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That the poem must create within its own thinking a momentum strong enough to break its own limits. Form marks the boundary in which knowledge comes to be knowable—necessity of the poem to forge on the blank page the nature of its formal life. Epistemological crisis which the poem creates in order to discover. Not to know what can be known, not self-sufficiency. The poem isn’t a tool of knowledge. It hurls the facts it discovers through itself. Violent grace. The honest way to arrive at ignorance, but an ignorance of use—say, the ignorance of the eye when it opens, the ignorance of the hand when it unfolds. “The Bravest—grope a little—” To learn how to value most highly those poems that contain within themselves the means of their own destruction. It must be done with knowing. What did the poem teach me? How to break it.

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I remember as a child learning that the universe is infinitely expanding. The child’s conundrum of how that which is everything can expand into anything, riddle I could never solve. This first sense of abyss as containing all. Abyss that retreats. Evanescent nothing that world always reaches into in every direction. The blank margins. A feeling I recall when I see a poem printed out on a page.

* * *

Poem: idol with the hammer in its hand.


. . . idyll of the sun on the summer grass, ideal light passing through the clear glass, idle field where the fallow hours pass . . .

* * *

One of the realizations tradition brings is that one must learn to separate oneself in order to forge a genuine link. Perhaps the link is perception, and the work of the poem is to return the whole chain, each link, to perception. “Unto the Whole—How add?” Paradoxical suspicions: Is it that one adds by removing oneself? The helpless return, a kind of fate the poem works upon itself. That one has a voice that is one’s own—to see this not as “creative work.” To dismiss all notions that learning is to form one’s voice. Style might leave one aghast as an aim if the poet must realize her voice is merely her own, a discovery that cannot be helped. This is my voice. It is not a tone, not a style—not a force driving itself through the poem, not even the marker of the poem. Voice as no more than fate’s basic ground, a kind of image of itself—the only means by which the poem can appear outside the self. Expression not as “self” but as image making possible the world it speaks. Voice as the image in which images may appear. Open, but adhesive. Marking the limits of itself or making of itself a limit. The voice when it is a form of fate is inalterable as fate; it marks the separation that makes possible the return. The links of the chain. Simone Weil: “Every separation is a link.”

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Must remember to think of the mind as something other than a jail I walk around in. Must think of the mind as something other than the prison I carry myself around in. Must not think of the eyes as windows. Forgive or forget the ornamented cell.

Emerson: “The poets are thus liberating gods.”

Impossible to think, but must be thought: to add a link to the chain makes the chain lighter. It is where we are bound that we find ourselves free.

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